Handload Anywhere With Lee Precision

IMG_0866The most common question asked by nearly everyone getting started in handloading their own ammunition is “What press should I buy?”

The easy answer is to simply tell them to buy a single-stage press and leave it at that. The problem is that there are dozens of single-stage presses out there and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Cost is, naturally, one of the major deciding factors when choosing a press. For that reason we wanted to take a close look at what is quite possibly one of the most versatile and inexpensive presses on the market: Lee Precision’s Breech Lock Hand Press.

Unlike most other single stage presses, the Breech Lock Hand Press does not mount to a bench. In fact, it doesn’t require a bench at all. As its name implies this press can be hand-operated nearly anywhere. Weighing in at a mere 28 ounces Lee Precision’s Hand Press is easily portable. In fact it’s so compact that the press, dies, bullets, brass, and all other accessories you need to load a cartridge can fit inside a .50 caliber ammo can. That’s actually what I use to store and carry my own Hand Press.

IMG_0865Experienced handloaders who have access to a range where they can set up a chronograph and spread out their accessories will love the convenience of the Hand Press. I don’t have access to my own personal range just outside my work shed, but I can tote Lee’s Hand Press down the road to a local private range and develop my loads right there on the spot. This makes the process of working up to your final load much quicker and easier than loading a variety of cartridges at home, firing them at the range, and then taking your notes home for further development. Many ranges will not allow handloads at all, much less permit shooters to load them site, so always check with the management first before you break out the powder and scale.

For someone who wants to start reloading on a budget, this tiny press is a boon. The Breech Lock Hand Press kit that Lee advertises has an MSRP of $68.00, but you can probably find it retailing for as low as $49.99. The total package includes a funnel, lube and a single Breech Lock Quick Change bushing. Additionally the kit comes with the Lee Ram Prime. Add in a reloading manual, some dies, a shell holder, clean brass, primers, bullets, powder, and a scale and you have all of the basics you need to begin handloading.

The Breech Lock Quick Change Bushing utilized on the Hand Press offers an advantage often only found on more expensive presses. Once you have your dies set at the proper depth and locked down, using the Quick Change Bushing there’s no need to ever have to reset them. Simply remove the bushing by pressing the round locking pin on the press and remove the busing and die as a single piece. With two more bushings, available as a set of 2 from Lee for only $9.98, you can have a complete 3-die set locked in at the proper setting.

Naturally, the Hand Press is not without its drawbacks. Leverage is incredibly important, particularly when resizing brass. Even when using clean and well lubed brass, it can a significant amount of force to close the Hand Press. Bench mounted presses typically have long levers with a large round knob to reduce the amount of muscle power required for each operation. Because the Hand Press places a premium on size, this mechanical advantage is much reduced. After depriming and resizing 100 rounds of .44 Magnum brass I could definitely feel the burn in my bicep and shoulder. My wife, by comparison, was simply unable to close the press at all.

Given the fact that straight-walled ammunition like .44 magnum are much easier to resize, I have to conclude that using a full-length resizing die on rifle cartridges with prominent shoulders is probably not the best use of this press. It can surely be done as Lee Precision’s Hand Press will handle cartridges with an overall length of up to 3.65 inches, but unless you’re a powerful weight-lifter it’d likely wear out your arms in short order.

Are you ready to get started handloading your own ammunition without breaking the bank? Perhaps you’re an experienced reloader looking for something that is easily portable, or simply don’t have room in your apartment or loft to store a larger press. Whatever the reason, Lee Precision’s Breech Lock Hand Press is an inexpensive investment that will fit your basic needs.

Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in Western Shooting Journal.

B.A.G. Day Purchase

DPMS_LRLSo I picked up a new (to me) DPMS rifle for B.A.G. day. Got it for a steal really. It came with a Nikon scope with a .308 BDC reticle and Burris P.E.P.R. mount. The rifle looks like it’d hardly been fired at all. Functionally it works well, but the scope installation had me wondering if the previous owner really knew what they were doing. I haven’t shot it yet, so we’ll see if I actually got a deal or just bought somebody else’s problem at a bargain-basement price.

First step is to fix the optics on it and then I’ll take it out for a test drive when I’m done.

Off-Season Chores Ensure Hunting Success

IMG_0397Hunting season is over, but that doesn’t mean that you’re stuck waiting until the leaves begin to turn before getting ready for next season. There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.”

All too often I’ve found myself waiting until the season is about to begin, usually around the time I pick up my hunting license in late August, before beginning to check my equipment and scout the properties I have permission to hunt. This is a recipe for an unsuccessful season and has left me fruitless in my search for wild game on more than one occasion. With just a few chores out of the way however it’s possible to be prepared when opening day sneaks up on you this year.

To start with, don’t neglect any equipment kept out on the land itself. If you have a deer stand that stays up year-round, it’s a good idea to clean it out periodically so that you’re not sharing it with a bunch of spiders, wasps, mice, and other pests on the first day of deer camp. In states where it is legal, tend to any bait stations and game cameras you have set up. Replace the batteries in game cameras and feeders where necessary.

In areas where electronic monitoring and baiting is not legal, take the time to make notes of recent activity. Scouting like this is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure you have a successful season. Patterning animals during the summer months will help you to better determine where the best areas to hunt will be once the season begins. Simply by spending more time in the same environment as your prey will better allow you to understand their routines and note any changes.

Take a walk through the area you normally hunt. Deer and other game animals change their habits over time. Was a scrape that is normally active ignored this year? What about bedding areas? Has excessive rain or a drought changed the areas where water can be found? Changes in weather will affect what foods are abundant or scarce. I carry a handheld GPS with me during these little scouting trips so that I can mark areas of interest.

Of course it isn’t always possible to venture outdoors on a regular basis. Perhaps the area you hunt is far away, or family and work obligations take priority. There is still quite a bit you can do in the evenings at home. During the heat of the summer, when the blazing sun makes it more comfortable to stay indoors with the air-conditioner on full blast, I like to take the time to detail strip and clean my hunting rifles and shotguns.

IMG_1178The first step, after ensuring the firearm is unloaded, is to field strip it. Next remove the forearm and stock from the barrel. Clean out any dust, dirt, or other debris that has found its way in there. Spending hours prone in the dirt, climbing into and out of trees, and wandering through thick undergrowth is a fantastic way to get all manner of gunk in your gun and none of it is good for its accuracy and reliability.

While we’re on the topic of firearm maintenance, when was the last time you removed all of the copper from your barrel? Use an ammonia-based compound to clean out any copper fouling and follow that up by scrubbing the barrel with a non-embedding bore compound.

That done, it’s time to detail clean and re-oil the bolt and trigger assembly of your rifle. The bolt itself should be broken down according to the manufacturer’s instructions, cleaned, re-oiled, and reassembled on an annual basis. The trigger assembly should also be cleaned and lightly oiled, though a total disassembly is usually not recommended. Instead, use a toothbrush to remove dirt and debris and re-oil or grease according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

If you use an autoloading shotgun or rifle, take care to inspect and clean the recoil spring. In most models the recoil spring tube extends into the buttstock where it tends to attract dirt and grime. The recoil spring in an AR-15 style rifle for example is generally fairly easy to service. Other makes and models will require a bit more work, but it remains important to clean out and lightly oil the recoil assembly on your automatic.

Scope bases and rings should also be checked for play or loose components. Use a bit of thread lock on any bolts or screws that have come loose. Sling swivel studs should also be inspected for any excessive play. I usually just snug them down if they are loose and add a very small bit of RTV silicone around the base where the stud touches the stock to keep dirt and moisture out.

If there is any equipment that should be sent to a gunsmith or archery shop for service or repair the summer months are the perfect time to do so. August and September mark the beginning of the busy season for these businesses and you may face a long wait before your equipment is ready. Get your bow, rifle, or shotgun into the shop now and you’ll be all set to hunt when the season starts. Additionally you’ll help to support the businesses we rely on when their budgets shrink during the off-season.

Finally, if you hunt from a tree stand, you owe it to yourself to carefully inspect your safety harness and all of the straps and ropes on the harness and stand itself. If there is any sign of fraying or stitching that is beginning to come loose, replace the equipment immediately. Falls out of tree stands or elevated platforms kill more people every year than any other cause while hunting. Don’t become one of those statistics.

If you take care of your equipment during the off-season, it will be ready for you when the season begins. Know the land you hunt on and know your equipment. Even if maintenance is not required, the increased familiarity you’ll gain with your gear and the territory you hunt will pay off dividends.

Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in Western Shooting Journal.

New Boots from LOWA

LOWA Renegade GTXRecently had a pair of LOWA’s Renegade GTX boots shipped to me to try out. If they work out nicely these will be my hunting boots this fall.

First impression?

HOLY COW these things are LIGHT! The little food scale in my kitchen showed them at a feather-weight 2.42 pounds. Yes, that’s BOTH of them together.

They’re comfy too. I have small feet. And by small, I mean tiny. It’s incredibly difficult for me to find boots that fit (unless I shop the women’s aisle…) my size 9AA narrow feet. Most boots sized for my foot length leave my feet sliding around from side to side no matter how tightly they’re laced. Not these. They fit like a glove.

Now I’m off to go start breaking them in and do some training in the mountains of New Mexico. I’ll be doing a more in-depth review later.

Loading Your Own Ammo: Is it for you?

Hornady's progressive reloading press.

Hornady’s progressive reloading press.

With ammunition shortages occurring more and more frequently, and prices on cartridges going ever skyward, it seems like growing numbers of people are becoming interested in handloading or reloading their own cartridges.

Availability during shortages, and a fear of high taxes on ammo or restrictions on sales, is a big motivator. Of course, you could just as easily store large quantities of cartridges. Some components such as powder will degrade over time simply by sitting on the shelf, and this can present a problem. Not all powders degrade safely. Additionally, if exposed to too much humidity it won’t fire, at least not very well, when loaded. If you find yourself without certain necessary items during a shortage, primers for example, your ability to load your own ammo will be seriously curtailed. It takes a bit more planning, but by keeping tally of the date of manufacture of your components you can avoid problems.

It used to be that economy was one of the biggest reasons to handload, but with production capacity of large manufacturers growing and the steadily increasing cost components such as lead, copper, and primers, the price advantage has dwindled. You can still save a few pennies per round on common calibers such as 9mm and .45 ACP, more on rifle cartridges, but when you take into account the startup costs of getting the required equipment it’s possible that it may take far longer than originally anticipated to recoup the investment. You might find that unless you simply enjoy the meditative aspect of handloading your time might be better spent doing other things.

Having control over the quality of your own ammunition is the primary reason I handload my own cartridges. Sorting bullets by size and weight and using exacting standards when preparing your brass and measuring your powder charge pays off in dividends when extreme accuracy is the goal. For competition rifle shooters, especially those who fire benchrest or compete in extreme long-range events out past 1,000-yards handloading is nearly a requirement. Crafting precision ammunition to such fine tolerances can be a hobby by itself.

Specialty applications such as Remington .22 BR and 6.5-284, or obsolete calibers such as .577-450 and 7.7×58 are all perfectly suited for handloaders. Benchrest shooters not only load for exacting quality, but also because many of the calibers favored by those in the sport are not commonly available. The same goes for antique and C&R (Curio & Relic) collectors who own and enjoy shooting firearms chambered for ammunition that is no longer available.

Still thinking that rolling your own ammo is for you? There are some startup costs to consider. A press, scale, dies, scoops, and a reloading manual, on top of your cartridge components (powder, brass, primers and bullets) are bare minimum requirements and can set you back a hundred dollars or so. More expensive setups and additional accessories such as tumblers and media, case trimmers, and trays can jump the price up even more. If you handcast your bullets for low pressure rounds you might save a little on components, but the molds and lead-pouring equipment will add some to your startup costs.

Getting into handloading or reloading ammo is a bit of an investment. Storing your equipment will take up a significant amount of room and you’ll need a well lit area to spread out when it’s time to load. If you’re like me, convincing your spouse may also take some effort. The rewards however, whether it’s economy, availability, or precision, may make it worth it.

Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Western Shooting Journal.

Hunting Extinct Antelope

In the past, vast herds of oryx once roamed the deserts and steppes of Chad and Niger. Now the only large herds are found in breeding programs on massive game ranches in Texas, in addition to the smaller herds located in zoos and wildlife parks

In the past, vast herds of oryx once roamed the deserts and steppes of Chad and Niger. Now the
only large herds are found in breeding programs on massive game ranches in Texas, in addition
to the smaller herds located in zoos and wildlife parks

Heads low, the two antelope emerged from the brush along a fence line. Massive horns curved up, arcing back for nearly three feet before ending in delicate and horribly sharp tips. Both antelope were white and nearly free of markings, save for a bit of burnt orange across the neck. I peered through the lens as they approached, my heart beating fast. The image was so clear through the 50mm objective that it seemed as if I could reach out and touch them.

The scimitar-horned oryx is an antelope that is native to the Sahara region of Africa. Over time their population dwindled away from habitat loss due to the deleterious effects of decades of war, as well as over hunting. For an animal that was declared officially extinct in the year 2000 these two scimitar-horned oryx seemed awfully real.

Gently I increased the pressure on my index finger. The camera shutter flickered once, twice, three times as I snapped away photographs. As much as I would have liked to be out actually hunting, it simply wasn’t possible now. For over a year a de facto ban has been in place on any killing of the scimitar-horned oryx.

In 2005 the scimitar-horned oryx, as well as the addax and the dama gazelle which were both facing similar fates, were added to the United States’ endangered species list. Normally this would have put an end to almost all hunting activity where the species were concerned, but a prior partnership between ranchers, the Exotic Wildlife Association, and local wildlife preservation organizations such as Fossil Rim Wildlife Center had already created a wildly successful breeding program. They had been working together successfully since the early 1980s to rescue all three species from extinction.

The USFWS saw the success of the breeding program and wisely allowed it, and hunting of the species on private game ranches, to continue under a special exclusion to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This permitted ranchers to continue to profit from the hunters, each of whom pay over $5,000 for permission to kill a scimitar-horned oryx. The end result was a huge net increase in herd size, with numbers rising from only a few dozen to over 11,000 animals on Texas ranches in early 2012. The success for the Addax is even more striking: their population hit a rock-bottom low of 2, one male and one female, before rebounding to over 5,000.

From the early 1980s on through 2012, the program worked wonderfully. In the heat of summer, with the spring turkey season over and deer season not yet begun, hundreds of hunters would travel to any one of the dozens of enormous ranches that stretch for miles and miles across south and central Texas. These high-fenced operations make available dozens of exotic species, including American bison, Aoudad sheep, North American elk, and axis deer, as well as many native African species such as the scimitar-horned oryx, for anyone willing to pony up the dough. Because they are considered non-game species by the state of Texas, they are not governed by wildlife hunting regulations and can be taken at any time.

Not that a successful kill is a sure thing. Animal rights activists have long lambasted high-fenced ranches that offer hunting opportunities to anyone willing pay the thousands of dollars just to have an opportunity, calling them “canned-hunts” and worse. Nothing could be further from the truth. These ranches often take up tens of thousands of acres. Simply finding the game animal can be a challenge in itself without the help of skilled guides and ranch hands.

As they were in the wild, scimitar-horned oryx in Texas remain wily creatures adept at evading predators, including those of the two-legged variety. Dense scrub and mesquite thickets frustrate attempts at even finding the herd among the thousands of acres through which they freely roamed. These are not domesticated or even tamed animals by any stretch. Once located, getting close enough for a clean shot is delicate work. At the slightest hint of danger the herd will turn and disappear into seemingly impenetrable brush.

It was, in fact, as close as one could get to a true African wild game safari without actually leaving this continent. Some ranches even went so far as to provide large tents and decor reminiscent of safaris in the 18th and 19th century.

For a while it seemed that everything was going well. That is right up until Friends of Animals successfully sued to stop the USFWS exclusion. The animal rights organization secured a court ruling that took effect on April 4th, 2012 which effectively put a stop to all hunting activities by eliminating the exclusion that the USFWS had put in place. This in effect brought the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax, and the dama gazelle under the full protection of the ESA, even for those massive herds kept on large Texas ranches.

At the end of the day it comes down to money. Breeding programs for the scimitar-horned oryx were nearly completely funded by Texas ranchers. They made the program profitable, and part of the way they did that was by selling hunting rights. With the onerous permitting procedure required to kill any species protected by the ESA, a process which can take 16 weeks or more, and the increased regulatory inspections required of ranchers who raise such animals, it no longer made sense financially for breeding or hunting to continue.

The industry took a massive hit, and herd populations tumbled. Some ranchers increased the number of animals taken through cull hunts, both to get what profit they could before the ruling took effect, as well as to help maintain the genetic diversity of the stock. Others simply got out of the business entirely and sold the herds they had, preferring to work only with other less threatened species.

In February of 2013 Representative Steve Stockman (Republican, Texas) introduced House of Representatives Bill 576: the Save Endangered Species Act of 2013. The main point of the law is to roll back the ruling against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) which virtually eliminated hunting of the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle, addax, and other “extinct” species in the state of Texas. The meat of Stockman’s bill states that “the Secretary of the Interior shall reissue the final rule published on September 2, 2005 (70 Fed. Reg. 52310 et seq.)” basically restoring the ability of ranchers to manage their herds and to sell trophy hunts to eager hunters.

Despite claims by animal rights activists to the contrary, breeding and hunting programs have done more to save endangered African species from outright extinction than any all other conservation efforts combined. The fees paid by hunters have allowed ranchers to create a profitable breeding industry. The vast herds they manage may one day be used to repopulate the native habitats of these endangered species, but only if they are still around in a few years.

It seems counter-intuitive to some people: the popularity of the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax, and the dama gazelle as trophy animals may be the salvation of the species. Hunters understand however. We work to conserve wetlands, deer, elk, and various other habitats with the full knowledge that it is our responsibility to both the animals and to ourselves in order to preserve our hunting traditions.

We’ve found ways to save various exotic antelope and gazelle from the brink of extinction, though whether or not these methods will continue to succeed financially remains in question. Without legislation to allow conservation solutions by private commercial interests such as high-fenced game ranches, it’s possible that these species will still face actual extinction.

Author’s Note: This article(*.pdf) originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Western Shooting Journal.

Interview with 3-Gun Competitor Jesse Tischauser

3-Gun1Author’s Note: A condensed version of this interview appeared in the May 2013 issue of Western Shooting Journal.

Jesse Tischauser is a competitor on the 3GN Pro Series who appeared out of nowhere to make a name for himself as a serious contender. When I first met Jesse back in September of 2010 at the TacPro fall 3-gun match I was blown away by his speed, accuracy, and the fluidness of his transitions. We were squadded together at the event, and I could tell even then that he was extremely capable of making some serious waves in 3-gun competitions. Jesse placed second in that event so it was no surprise to me when Stag Arms made the announcement that they had picked him up as a sponsored shooter on the 3-Gun Nation Pro Series.

Like most shooters of his caliber Jesse is a very friendly guy eager to help out people who are new to the sport. When I gave him a call to see if he’d be willing to do an interview he was more than happy to oblige.

What’s your background in shooting? Did you grow up in a hunting or shooting household?

I grew up around shooting, really hunting more-so. My dad was an avid hunter. Heck, I was shooting squirrels with my BB gun before I can remember. My dad also had an FFL (Ed. Federal Firearm Licensed gun dealer). He was a big gun collector. I think, when he passed away here a few years ago, he had probably fifty different Ruger pistols of all different calibers and barrel lengths.

That’s really my background, just growing up with him.

We hunted deer. I grew up in central Wisconsin and everybody up there deer hunts and bird hunts. Growing up in the country, that’s pretty much what I did when I wasn’t in school or mowing the lawn.

Did your father get you started in any shooting competitions?

No, my dad really didn’t do a lot of that. He actually didn’t hunt as much as I would have liked to. I had five brothers and sisters, so money was tight. I can vividly remember arguments between my mother and father about him buying another gun or another knife, or some other thing to fuel his addiction to firearms. He always managed to justify his purchases by buying one of every caliber or color for each of my brothers and I.

Sometimes we never got to shoot them because they were a part of his special collection, or something that was unfired and new in the box. That was the way he justified it to my mom was buying one for Jesse, one for Jeff, Joel, Jim, and so on down the line.

If your father didn’t get you introduced to competitive shooting, how did you get started? What was the first shooting competition you entered?

The first actual scored competition I entered was when I was working in the oil field back in 2001. I was a member of the organization Society of Petroleum Engineers. Here in Oklahoma, being a gun-happy state, they would shoot sporting clay tournaments. It would be a 5-man team and we’d all go out and just have fun. I enjoyed the heck out of that. It was the first time I’d ever shot organized clays or anything. I’d never shot trap or skeet, though I’d done some stuff with my father growing up but we never went to the range and didn’t have the financial means to do so. At least not to go to an actual club and that sort of thing.

So I shot that stuff, we’d do it once or twice a year, and I loved it. I went out and bought a brand new Beretta 391 Tekyns Sporting Gold. That was probably the most expensive gun I’d ever purchased. I went out and practiced and then did the tournaments and eventually got pretty good at it. I didn’t get really serious into it however, between the time and cost.

That same organization had an indoor pistol league, and they called it a “Defensive Pistol League” because it was roughly based off of some guys who had shot IDPA and they were the ones who kinda’ ran it. It was indoors at the H&H gun range in Oklahoma City.

I really got into that. I remember thinking “Wow, this is aweseome!” You get to run around, shoot your gun, move, run some more, shoot some more, reload, and all that good stuff.

I was hooked. I went back to work the first time after doing it and was talking to some guys from Houston that I worked with and they said “Hey, that sounds like IPSC.”

I said, “What the heck is IPSC?”

I got on the internet and Googled it and found out that the Oklahoma City Gun Club was seven miles from my house and that it was one of the larges USPSA clubs in Oklahoma, and probably in North Texas, Kansas and Arkansas. We had at our last monthly match around 110 shooters.

That’s kinda’ where it all started. I think I shot my first USPSA match in early 2009.

That’s not very much time between shooting your first ever USPSA match and making the Pro Series of 3-gun Nation. Did you do any formal training?

Yeah, it’s really not that long at all. I really dove in head first once I got started.

We’ve got the United States Shooting Academy up in Tulsa and there is an organization called TDSA, The Defensive Shooting Academy, also in Tulsa. We’ve got some really good firearm training opportunities here.

Oklahoma is pretty much a hotbed for top competitive shooters. We’ve got USPSA president Phil Strader that lives here. Mike Seeklander was an instructor up at USSA when I first started.

About six months after I started I went and took Mike Seeklander’s class at USSA. It was a competition based class. I had worked my way up to C-class shooter and then took the class and it really took me to the next level. That’s when I learned all the things I was doing wrong and it gave me the foundation to build upon.

After that I took two of Phil Strader’s classes and I went to another local guy who teaches some indoor classes at our little indoor range here. I trained with Max Michel and Kurt Miller here in Oklahoma City. He’s one of the top 3-gun guys. I took his 3-gun class, and his rifle class. I pretty much soaked up as much training here locally as I could get.

You were in the US Army for a number of years where you worked your way up to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Was there any particular training in the military that helped you become a better 3-gun shooter?

Yes and no. The reason I joined the military was because my father was in Vietnam. He was drafted back in the late ’60s. He was a truck driver attached to the 82nd Airborne. Being a gun nut himself, he always had me shooting and taught me the principles of trigger control and all of that good stuff like how to line up sights.

In the Army I never really did any competitive shooting. Part of the reason I joined the Army was because I liked to shoot, and I really thought that it was going to be a lot of shooting. Unfortunately, the military isn’t like that, especially not the fun kind of shooting you get to do at competitive shooting matches. Being in the National Guard you really don’t get to shoot a lot. Most years we’d qualify and that would be the only time we’d touch our guns except for summer camp where we’d do a little scenario type stuff.

Luckily I was in the Army when there was nothing going on in Iraq or Afghanistan so I didn’t have to go do any of that stuff.

No, the military didn’t really influence my competitive shooting. I didn’t even own an AR-15 when I was in the military.

You started out shooting sporting clays, then IDPA and USPSA… At what point did you make the transition over to 3-gun?

It was tough. When I first started shooting USPSA I got on YouTube.com and was looking for videos of some of the top guys to watch their stuff and see some of the big matches around the country and learn a little bit. I think I happened upon Kelly Neal who had a blog that he would write and post his videos from some of the big matches. When you’ve never even shot a match and you see some of those major matches you stop and go “Wow! Look at these cool targets and cool scenarios, the house-clearing CQB type stuff or jumping out of an old helicopter they’ve got set up as a prop.” I thought “I need to do some of this!”

Our local club had done some 3-gun matches in the past. Curt Miller was our 3-gun match director, but they had stopped doing them because there just wasn’t enough interest.

Because of that I didn’t shoot my first 3-gun match until October of 2009. The closest match to me was the state sectional USPSA match that the Old Fort Gun Club in Fort Smith Arkansas put on.

I kinda’ got learned-up on YouTube and on the Brian Enos forums and learned a lot from the guys over there. I went out and shot that match with a lot of rag-tag gear. I remember my scope mount, I don’t remember who made it, but my scope would touch the top rail on my AR-15 and I couldn’t rotate my variable scope ring whatsoever during a stage. It was just terrible.

One of the cool things about that match was that Taran Butler would come out and shoot it because there weren’t that many matches around the country back then. I was squadded-up with him and Rustin Bernskoetter. Rustin started out probably a few months before I did.

I shot with those guys and, watching Taran shoot, I was like “Wow, this is amazing. Look how fast this guy is at just everything,” and even Rustin was really good for what was, I think, only his second match. It kinda’ worked out funny that he and I are shooting the Pro Series now together.

You and I first met when we were squadded together at one of the outlaw matches at TacPro Shooting Center west of Fort Worth, Texas. Outlaw matches like that and the one at Old Fort Gun Club are really where 3-gun got its start. Let’s talk about how it’s grown from these humble beginnings scattered among various clubs with different rules and no sanctioning body to where it is now, a nationally televised event watched by millions each year.

Well, I think it’s definitely good for the sport, having 3-gun Nation. They started out as a TV show and have progressed into, I won’t say a governing body, but they certainly have the most control over keeping things organized and leading the way. I think USPSA tried to do some of that but it wasn’t really their focus. They never had a president or a board of directors that really pushed them that direction. Having the TV show gives it so much more notoriety and visibility that it has really taken off.

Outlaw matches are great. I’m never going to stop shooting those because they offer a bunch of diversity that the 3-Gun Nation Pro Series doesn’t offer right now.

Just based off of the sheer number of people on AR-15.com, the 3-Gun Nation forum, and the forum I run BoomerShooter.com, the sport has grown significantly. There’s so much more of it out there. It’s really taken off.

You made it to the finals in Las Vegas this year where you competed against the best shooters in the world for a chance at $50,000. Tell us a bit about what that was like. What did you do to prepare for that challenge? Was it any different than a regular 3-gun match?

Well, I’d like to say there’s not a lot of pressure, but you kinda’ put all of that on yourself just like you do at a club match. You get amped up and you try to remember all of the different things you planned to do. 3-gun is like 30-seconds of controlled chaos. Everyone is going to make some mistakes. I don’t know if I’ve ever shot a perfect anything. Doing it at the national level with TV cameras following you, you really just have to shut all that stuff out, memorize your plan and go through it over and over in your head so that it is almost sub-conscious. That way when you’re going through the stage all you’re thinking about is your sight and your target and you let everything else happen around you. If you think to much about it it will get to you. That shoot-off we did in Vegas, there was something about that, what with having so many people watch you, having fellow competitors watching every run and scrutinizing everything and planning their own game based on what you did or didn’t do. It was exciting. It was a lot of fun.

I know when I go to a match as soon as the buzzer sounds my mind goes blank and any plan that I thought that I had goes completely out the window. This sounds like Vegas would be exactly the same for me: sheer panic.

Well, I don’t know if that’s the case, but it is kinda’ like that. I don’t know if anyone shoots a perfect anything ever. There’s always something you can do better. It’s not like a golf swing where you can take one swing and then you get to stop and wait 10 minutes before you get to do it again. You’ve got a multitude of things going on, and you’ve got to try and control all of the things that are going on. That’s really what you’re focusing on.

“OK, this didn’t happen so I need to do this,” or “This did happen so now I can do this.” You make little stage markers to recognize “Here’s the one target I’m going to do this way,” and “There’s that target I was going to do that way,” and try to keep it basic enough so that you don’t have to think about nothing but that. This way you can still focus on your sights and your game plan.

We’ve talked about all of the training classes you’ve done, but let’s discuss how much practice is required to be able to compete at the level that you do. Do you practice on a weekly basis? On a daily basis?

Well, I don’t practice as much as I’d like. I don’t think anyone does. Even the pro level isn’t as professional yet as we’d like it to be.

When I first started out back in 2009-2010 I dry-fired my pistol everyday. I’d dry fire my rifle, just trying to get all of the gun manipulation, magazine changes, all of that stuff to be second nature. I wanted to get to the point to where the magazine change just happens and you don’t have to think “Oh! Change your magazine. There’s the magwell, now stick it in,” so that none of that goes through your conscious thought process. It just happens when it needs to.

As a new shooter, that’s something that you have to spend time on. You can either do it with live ammunition on the range, or with dry-firing. I probably changed magazines on my pistol who knows how many thousands of times while just sitting there watching TV in my room at home.

You get all of those basics down pat so that you can manipulate the trigger without upsetting the sights, and then you no longer have to practice that stuff all the time. You might practice some to keep it fresh right before you go to a match, but you don’t really have to think about it. You don’t pick up the gun and go “Oh! So that’s what a sight picture looks like.” You just practice to keep it fresh. You’ve already mastered all of the skills you need by that point and it just becomes maintenance.

Do you do this every night? How often do you get out to the range?

Well when I first started out, the first year that I practiced regularly during the off-season from November through March I would try to get up every morning 20-30 minutes early and I would load my shotgun one day and practice reloads on my pistol or magazine changes on my rifle another day. I would say that I’d average over those three to four months at least five days a week until I was really really proficient at it.

Now I don’t have to get up and do that because it’s become ingrained. Some things like the shotgun reloading are perishable skills, so I’ll try to practice them out on the range as well as in dry-fire because, obviously, ammunition costs money. You can practice shotgun reloading a bunch at the house.

I don’t do a lot of dry fire anymore. Not as much as I should, but I do get out to the range pretty regularly. I actually built and moved into a new house, partly because it’s closer to work but I also had about two acres of land that I turned into a small gun range. I’ve been here about a month and the plan is to get out and shoot two or three days a week and run through 50 rounds of pistol or 50 rounds of rifle each session. That way I can keep my skills fresh all the time and when it’s time to head to a local club match or major match I’m not trying to get out to the range to brush up on the basics. I’ll have that stuff already ingrained.

Do you have any ammo sponsors right now?

Once you get to the Pro Series level, people are more than willing to give you discounts on stuff, but getting ammunition is like the Holy Grail. You can never have enough ammunition!

Stag Arms helps helped Kalani and I out with rifle ammunition some. I do get some help from Fiocchi USA. They help me out with my rifle and shotgun ammo. In 2012, I used nothing but Fiocchi .308 ammo to win 2012 3 Gun Nation Heavy Optics Title. I also used a bunch of Fiocchi Spreader Shot Shells and Fiocchi Low Recoil Aero slugs to win the 2012 Rockcastle Tactical Shotgun Championship Open title and the 2012 High Plains Shotgun Challenge Pump title.

Prior to the current ammunition drought we’re experiencing, how many rounds would you run through on an annual basis?

One of the questions that is always asked in the training classes I took when I first started is “How much do you shoot every year?” Because you want to know what these guys are doing to make themselves so much better. I think it was Max Michel who told me he shoots around 75,000 pistol rounds a year. I was shocked.

I think my first year I probably shot 5,000 rounds, and my second year maybe 10,000 to 12,000 rounds. That was when I was shooting mostly pistol. This last season I decided to take notes and keep track and I did it online so other people could do it and see and follow what I was doing. I shot almost exactly 21,000 rounds in 2011 between matches, practice, everything.

To be honest with you, that’s about a third of what I wish I would have shot.

The current shortage in the ammunition market is unprecedented in the scope and scale it has reached. How is that affecting your practice and your ability to get rounds for competition?

Thankfully I knew the Pro Series was coming up and I knew I was going to be shooting a lot, so towards the end of last year I bought 15,000 rounds of pistol and I stocked up on the same amount of .223. Shotgun ammunition isn’t really short yet, though slugs and buckshot can be hard to come by. I still keep 2 or 3 cases of that stuff around since I like to buy ammunition in case-lots. That way I know that all of the ammunition is made at the same time and I know it will all shoot to the same point of impact.

I had enough ammunition to make it through this year. My thinking was that I should buy it now, that way I don’t have to order stuff throughout the year, wait for it to come in, and hope that it comes in time for a match. So, I’m good to go, but we’ve got a lot of guys who are just starting out. They’re having to mix and match, or borrow ammunition, or pay these outrageous prices, just so that they can shoot a local match.

As good as everything was progressing with 3-gun growing in popularity, this has really put the brakes on things.

From your perspective then, this ammunition crisis could really have a detrimental impact on the shooting sports and our ability to get new shooters participating. It could potentially set us back a number of years.

Yeah, I would think so.

If you just bought your first AR-15 and your first pistol and you’re planning on coming to your first shoot, but you don’t have ammunition, you’re in a world of hurt. I’ve had people that I haven’t talked to since high school sending me emails and messages asking “Hey, do you know where I can a rifle?” or “Do you know where I can find some ammunition for the rifle I just bought?”

So yeah, if you’re wanting to start out now you’re either going to have to pay for it or you’re just not going to get to play.

Let’s step back a second. We were discussing how much practicing you do on a regular basis earlier. That, combined with a full time job and commitments to your family has to make it difficult to coordinate your schedule in order to make all of the matches you go to. How do you balance work, family, and practice, with your career on the 3-Gun Nation Pro Series?

It’s really tough to be honest with you. There are maybe a dozen shooters out there you could say that they are truly “professional shooters” where that’s all that they do for a living. Most of those guys aren’t just professional shooters either. They don’t get paid only to go shoot. They do training, or they work for law-enforcement agencies, or they are in the military, or something to that effect.

As far as the guy who stays at home and practices two or three hours a day and then goes and competes in matches and gets paid for it, I don’t think that person exists yet.

If you look at most of the guys on the Pro Series, you’ll find that they’re in the same situation I’m in. My wife and I run a business that she and her father own and it’s given me the ability to take off on Thursday or Friday to go to a big match, or to sneak out of work early to go practice. If you look at a lot of the guys who are “pros” you’ll find that most of them have some sort of job where they get more time off than the average guy, or they own their own business.

That’s pretty much where I’m at. My wife and I don’t have any kids and she travels with me to the matches which definitely makes it easier to get away. The business we run is a greenhouse and we sell plants in four or five states across the south, so in the spring time we’re really busy. I actually have to miss the first 3-Gun Nation Pro Series match this year because we just can’t get away from the greenhouses in April. In June however we don’t have anything going on, I mean we’re literally not working, so I can travel around the country and go to a major match every weekend if I want to.

Just today 3-Gun Nation emailed out the schedule and details for how all the new things are going to work this year. They’re going to choose the squads based on your finishing rank last year. The top twelve guys will be in the “Super Squad” so to speak, which will be the primary TV squad. I finished 17th, so that will bump me down to the second squad, but I’m also going to miss the first match.

I emailed them back and asked how missing that first match will affect my ranking. They replied and said that I’ll be bumped all the way down to last place since I won’t have a score after the first match. That’s definitely going to hurt me.

I’m going to have an uphill battle coming into those last three matches.

That’s really going to put the pressure on you. What’s your plan?

My number one goal is to not get DQ’d.

You have to shoot three out of the four matches to earn the score you need to get into the top thirty shooters and qualify for the trip to Vegas. I’m only shooting three matches. If I get DQ’d or if a gun breaks and I zero a stage I very well could miss out on the top thirty and miss the trip to Vegas and the chance to win $50,000, I’d also have to earn my spot back in the Pro Series next February in the qualifying match.

I’m definitely going to shoot a bunch of rounds before that match that I get to go to in May. Thankfully it’s up here in Tulsa at the United States Shooting Academy where I shoot all the time. I’ll probably spend a day or two up there looking things over and then come back to my range and set some of it up so that I’ll be completely ready for exactly what they’re throwing at us.

Here’s my one bit of advice for you: superglue. Superglue your pistol to your hand so that you don’t drop it.

Exactly.

Seriously, I’ve had that happen to me. I got DQ’d two times last year in major matches, and it wasn’t anything I could really do much about. I had a gun jam and I set it down and it wasn’t empty. I thought it was. It’s little things like that which can ruin your day.

Let’s change gears a little bit and talk about your sponsor. You got picked up by Stag Arms back in 2011. Stag is well known among most shooters as the “Left-handed AR Company” but they do much more than that.

In 2011 Stag decided that they were going to sponsor 3-Gun Nation and they also picked up myself and Kalani Laker. At the time however, they didn’t have a gun that was really set up for 3-gun.

With our help, they came out with the Model 3G. It is basically an 18-inch heavy-barreled rifle with a fluted barrel and rifle-length gas system. It has a long 15-inch handguard which we all like to use in 3-gun. It has a Geissele Super 3-Gun trigger, which was specifically developed for 3-Gun competitions. They put on a Magpul grip and Magpul stock, and what they created is really one of the best bangs for your buck out there.

For a new shooter looking for an AR-15 specifically for 3-gun it’s pretty tough to beat the gun that they built. Before Stag built theirs, I think only JP Enterprises had some competition stuff targeted at 3-gun, but this was the first mass produced 3-gun ready rifle I believe. It is by far the most cost effective way to get started in 3-gun.

You can literally take it out of the box and go shoot a match and it’s not going to hold you back one bit.

It’s a competition ready gun, but since 3-gun is a reality-based action shooting sport, it’s also the ideal personal defense weapon.

Yeah, exactly. Most people who are buying AR based rifles look for military-style designs. You saw a lot of M4 type designs recently because of the wars going on in the Middle East. Now that the wars are coming to an end and 3-gun is taking off in popularity, I think you’ll see more of that design.

Guys ask me what I use for home defense, or what I use for hunting. I shoot my 3-gun rifle more than anything I’ve got in my safe. That’s what I’m going to grab. When you think about all the features, there’s nothing on that gun that is only useable for 3-gun. It has a long forearm, and if you’re out hunting you might need to lean against a tree to steady the rifle. You don’t want to lean your barrel against the tree, so why not have a 15-inch handguard instead of a 12-inch?

What you’re saying is that the Stag Model 3G rifle will make me a better, faster shooter.

Of course it will!

Seriously though, let’s talk about tips for new shooters like myself. I’m so slow that match officials use a calendar instead of a shot clock. I also don’t have a lot of money to spend on ammunition and range time. What’s the best way to get noticeable improvements in my game?

You definitely can’t go out and just buy a better game. You can’t go buy a pistol or rifle or shotgun that’s going to do it all for you. Obviously there are things you can do that will give you a moderate improvement like better sights, a better trigger, or a more accurate barrel.

If you’re a new shooter who is just getting started there’s no reason to go and spend a bunch of money. My recommendation to guys is to just take what you have and come out and shoot a match. There are all kinds of lessons that you can’t learn on the internet or in a magazine but that you will learn by shooting a match.

I hear guys saying “Well, I need to practice a little first,” but really you don’t. As long as you know how to safely handle your firearm you’re ready. Get out there and shoot and talk to the guys you’re shooting with. It’s a lot more fun to learn while you’re doing it anyway.

As far as things to do to get faster, if you don’t have a lot of time to get to the range or resources for ammunition, you can literally become a Grand Master in USPSA just by dry firing. Just practice the fundamentals and all of the weapon manipulation tasks. You can see guys in matches who don’t do that and they do things like forget where their safety is while under stress. That’s something that you shouldn’t even have to think about. Flipping your safety off should just be automatic.

If you watch a new shooter running with a rifle or a pistol they are awkward and have this little hitch or jump. Heck, I did it too. It’s like running with scissors, and when you’re new sometimes it’s scary to do it. Just becoming comfortable running with your firearm is a huge thing.

There’s shooting, and there’s everything but shooting. In 3-gun we do a lot of transitions from one weapon to another, and that’s something else you can practice at home. You can drop your rifle and draw your pistol. All of this stuff, everything that happens in between each shot is something you can practice at home.

Wait a second, you said that I can become a Grand Master level shooter just by dry-firing?

Yes! Steve Anderson, he’s from Oklahoma, and he’s got a book out there Refinement and Repetition, Dry-fire Drills for Dramatic Improvement, and that’s exactly what he did. He literally dry-fired his way to Grand Master in under a year. I mean, obviously he fired some live rounds for practice and at matches and stuff. There are a ton of drills in his book covering draws, transitions, reloads, and all of the gun manipulation things that you have to do.

Not a lot of people follow his advice completely, but if you do follow all of his drills, and I think he even says so, that if you use his program that you can become a Grand Master.

I was talking with Brad Engmann a while back, you probably know him from Top Shot, and he’s another very big proponent of dry-fire practice. One of the other things he did was set up a little range in his basement using sub-sized targets and an airsoft pistol.

Definitely. My teammate Kalani Laker said he bought an airsoft rifle to practice with. He even will take it out to the range to get cheaper additional trigger time. One time he told me he shot 5,000 BBs in a single night. That’s not even really possible with live ammunition.

I actually bought a couple of Glock airsoft pistols and a 1911 style pistol as well as a bunch of airsoft knock-down targets from this one company. They actually make a stop-plate for Steel Challenge stuff that you can hook up to your timer. I have another friend who has a Texas Star designed for airsoft use.

Airsoft is really the next step above dry-fire. Dry-fire gets boring, and that’s why a lot of people don’t do it. That’s a problem, because if it’s not fun you won’t continue to do it. I know I’ve slacked off recently, but airsoft is actually fun. I’ve taken my pistol down to my buddy Chris’s garage and he’ll have thirty or so knock-down airsoft targets set up in there. We’ll run competitions and set up stages and time each other.

Competing is fun. It gives you a goal. It’s much more motivating than just dry-firing by yourself.

That’s a really good point. People don’t like to do dry-fire because it’s boring. If I get bored with a workout I’m going to stop doing the workout because it becomes a chore. How do you keep things fresh? What do you do to keep things interesting?

Well, probably the most expensive thing was building this range in my backyard. I’ve got thousands of dollars in steel targets from MGM, and I just bought a 6-point star that hold clays because we’d shot a couple of those a matches last year. Obviously having all of the stuff you have at a match makes practice a lot of fun.

If you’re at home, on a budget, you just have to challenge yourself. Set goals. When you set a goal and strive to accomplish it there’s a sense of satisfaction that keeps you driven. When you succeed, or even just have measurable progress, things are good. I’m not a psychologist, but I know I’m always shooting to beat a certain time.

Having a journal so you can track your progress is very important. You don’t want to be there going “Well, I think that was faster than I did last time.” You need to know whether or not it was.

OK, so if I can’t afford to build a range in my back yard, I should just get a shot clock and track my times on paper.

Yes. That’s very important. Right after you buy a holster you should buy a timer. If you’re trying to get better at 3-gun or USPSA there’s no excuse. There are even apps on iPhone or smart phones you can get very cheap or even free. I think SureFire has one, and Taurus had one at some point.

Shot timers are a necessity.

Those are some great points there. Thanks again for sharing your insights and giving us some tips and tricks.

Zombie Deer

ArcheryMedFirst off, going for a headshot on a deer with a bow is idiotic. Your chances, even if you hit the brain, of a clean kill are somewhere between slim and none.

Second, this is also why I don’t do headshots on deer with a rifle either. It’s too easy to miss, and if you don’t miss cleanly you have a zombie deer with grievous but not immediately life-threatening injuries.

So when I see articles like this (warning: graphic), I just have to shake my head.

A hunter’s arrow that had pierced both sides of a young deer’s head has been successfully removed, according to state officials and the woman who first notified authorities about the animal.

Staff from New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife tranquilized the deer Saturday afternoon in the backyard of Susan Darrah’s Rockaway Township home, removed the arrow, treated the wound and released it back in the wild, Darrah said today. DEP Spokesman Larry Hajna confirmed the arrow removal.

Shots to the vital area of a deer just behind the front legs, whether from a bow or rifle, are always fatal. Don’t risk injuring a deer by trying for a head shot. It just isn’t worth it.