Why a Reliable Phone is More Important Than a Reliable Gun

It’s really popular for gun people to talk about needing a reliable gun for every day carry or duty use, but I don’t hear many gun people talking about having a reliable phone. So that’s what I’ll talk about today.

No matter where I am in the world, the likelihood that I will need to use a “communication device” of some sort to summon help from others is greater than the likelihood that I will need my “three pound” to bust a cap in someone’s rear end. Car accidents and heart attacks and so on occur with greater frequency than encounters requiring lethal force.

While I have medical/first aid knowledge, experience, and training, I do not carry an ambulance around with me. I’ll be able to help a stranger – or myself – much more effectively if I can provide some level of care while also calling for EMS with a phone that works.

In addition, I can’t always have a gun, but I can almost always have a phone. The phone is not capable of spewing fiery death at those who would dare challenge me, but then again, the gun can’t summon a pizza. Both have their uses, is what I’m getting at.

This is a radio, but you get the idea.

Why do I say “a phone that works?” Because I’ve had unreliable phones, or phones that didn’t get very good service. I used to use cheap Android phones on a prepaid plan. Yeah, it didn’t cost much – but the service was weak out in the wilderness and the phones would constantly need to have their batteries pulled in order to fix some sort of problem or another.

I now have an iPhone 4S. Not only does it work all the time, but the coverage area (Verizon) is great. Battery life is just okay, but I have vehicle chargers and external battery packs/charging devices with USB cables for the times when I venture off the beaten path.

A camouflaged iPhone 4S operating with dissimilar units in a dynamic environment.

When I leave the country, I use either a satphone or a “world” cell phone from Mobal. No, they didn’t give me anything or pay me or ask me to write this, and I doubt they know I exist as anything other than an occasional customer. The service is very expensive, but it has worked absolutely everywhere I’ve traveled with it – from Baja to the Dolomites to the Maghreb. A gun might have come in handy had I stuck around the latter for a while longer, but the phone was absolutely crucial to getting home.

So if your “carry” phone – no matter who made it or what provider you have – sucks, but your carry gun is super reliable, think about which one you’re more likely to use. Ask yourself if paying a little more for a phone that will work when you need it is worth the added cost. I certainly think so.

Why I Avoid Modifying My Carry Pistols

Whenever I mention that I carry Glock pistols, I am asked what sort of modifications I have done to them – sights, trigger, grip reductions, and so on. When I say that my Glocks are entirely stock, more questions follow – most relating to the word “why.”

Glocks are similar to AR-15s in terms of popularity, and the number of companies offering every part imaginable for both platforms are too numerous to count. Many of these parts are intended to make the firearm more practical for real-world use, or so say the advertising claims. This practical parts plethora puts plenty of pressure on pistol people. It’s not quite at the level of “I don’t have the new flux capacitor assembly from 3rd Millennium Blasterwielder, this means I’ll get killed in a gunfight,” but the atmosphere in the firearm community often overemphasizes the importance of minutiae gear considerations.

Boring photograph of boring pistols

The primary reason why I leave my Glocks alone is that they are functional and reliable as-is. Not all Glocks are, and I am rapidly losing faith in Glock’s ability to do the right thing, but vintage Glock 19 Gen 3s and newer production Glock 22 Gen 4s are generally reliable pistols. In the absence of a clearly identifiable need for modifications, I do not wake up every morning trying to think of new ways to spend money.

Furthermore, I have respect for the engineering expertise of firearm designers at major manufacturers. No, they don’t always get it right, and yes, they often have to design firearms with illogical legal or liability concerns in mind. However, they have the resources to thoroughly test designs before releasing them to market, and recognize the concept of manufacturing the pistol as a system better than smaller companies which seek to modify specific portions of the firearm.

Those who take a myopic view of trigger modifications, for example, often render firearms unreliable (light strikes, failure or inability to reset) or dangerous (disabling or reducing the effectiveness of internal safety mechanisms). This is not to say that all trigger-related modifications are bad – magazine disconnects, for example, are dumb. However, if something sounds too good to be true, such as a 1911-like trigger in a Glock, then it most likely is (I have two requirements for a carry firearm – that it work when I want it to, and that it not randomly shoot my balls off when I’m running, jumping, and climbing trees).

To help you get that image out of your head, here is a photo of some homeless kittens in Africa. I tried to build a little shelter for them, but some kids kicked it over. Fairly representative of what eventually happens to all African relief work, I guess.

As with any industry, a number of companies seek the endorsement of celebrities in order to sell their products. In some cases, the celebrity or personality recognizes the responsibility of this and tests, examines, or evaluates the product in a proper manner – or seeks input from others who may have engineering expertise – on the product before endorsing it. In other cases, names have been attached to products that should not have been released to the general public as-is. I am no celebrity, but at this point I can tell the difference between a genuine T&E offer from a manufacturer and someone that just wants to give me free stuff in exchange for pimping it on my blog.

Before anyone asks about other pistols that I carry from time to time – my Kimbers are far from stock. This is because Kimber didn’t design the 1911 – they just found ways to screw it up. My J-frame has a Crimson Trace lasergrip. The Kel-Tec P3AT is stock with the exception of a…”custom finish.” The Sigs and Berettas are stock. Kahrs are stock. Oh - I used to replace Glock sights before they switched to using a screw to attach the front sight.

Now, if you want to modify your carry guns, feel free to do so. Whatever works for you should work for you. What works for me might not work for you. And as a final note, I do not put much stock in the idea that modifications to carry weapons might be used against a concealed carrier in court. If the shooting is justified, little else should matter.

Why I Avoid Shooting Animals & Reptiles

Whenever the possible uses for a firearm are discussed, defense against wild creatures is mentioned seemingly without fail. Indeed, I have carried firearms in wilderness areas ever since I was old enough to handle and control them. I continue to do so. However, I do not relish the thought of shooting animals unnecessarily, and I take many steps to avoid confrontations with wild animals and reptiles. Here’s why.

Most of the time, wild animals will leave you alone if you leave them alone. I have encountered bears, big cats, wolves, coyotes, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, and other creatures which may be feared by some people. With very few exceptions, they have shown little interest in doing anything other than moving away from me – or at the very least staying where they are and mostly ignoring me. I did run into an aggressive rattlesnake that showed a remarkable interest in chasing me once, but once I moved about fifty feet away, it left me alone.

Gila monsters just want to enjoy life. Which, in this case, involved making little gila monsters.
Gila monsters just want to enjoy life. Which, in this case, involved making little gila monsters.

Many animals, including large predators, play a very important role in the ecosystem. Some of these roles are beneficial to humans. For example, rats eat the wiring in my cars. Rattlesnakes eat rats. Therefore, by chasing rattlesnakes off the road in the middle of the night, I may be saving myself from having to deal with major damage to one of my vehicles.

Killing non-aggressive animals serves no purpose, and may not be legally justified. I may be getting a little too patchouli here for some people, but I’m pretty big on the principle of “live and let live.” Yes, a large bear is a dangerous creature. Yes, it is intimidating to be near a large bear. No, it is not legal to shoot a bear just because you came across one while you were hiking and it didn’t immediately run away from you. While I do not equate human life with animal life, I see no need for the unnecessary elimination of animal life (as an aside, I have no issue with hunters or managed hunting and see it as an essential part of managing the ecosystem).

I grew up in Alaska and carried a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs. Had I needed to shoot a bear, it would have been justified only if I didn’t provoke the bear’s attack and I had no alternatives. In other words, if the bear isn’t about to attack you, you can’t shoot it. Oh, and you also have to pack out many of the “bear parts” such as the skull and hide.

In Arizona, there is no open season on gila monsters, for example. Not that they’re especially dangerous to humans, as they move at about half a mile per hour on a good day.

I can’t cover all of the possible encounters, but you should understand the laws regarding use of force and wild animals before you set off into the woods – or move to a place where development is replacing the habitat of wild animals.

Being a stupid hippie, or a clueless city slicker, and getting killed by wildlife is worse than just shooting it. When a bear kills a human in Alaska, not only is the human quite obviously dead, but state wildlife officials have to track down and kill the bear. Same goes for other forms of wildlife in other states. This latest “bear attack” resulted after an outsider took photos from as close as 50 yards of a bear that was “grazing and not acting aggressively.” The man pushed his luck and ended up getting eaten. The bear is now dead too. Hooray- not.

When I saw Timothy Treadwell’s interview with David Letterman in 2001, I knew Treadwell would die at the claws and teeth of a bear. Sure enough, he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a bear in 2003. Park rangers killed both the “killer” bear and a second bear which showed aggression towards them as they approached the campsite.

Who cares for bears and wildlife more – someone who respects bears but is willing to kill an aggressive one, or someone who forces others to kill multiple bears after voluntarily putting themselves and others in a situation which resulted in their being eaten by a single bear?

It is sometimes necessary to kill wild animals, and I recognize this. There are truly aggressive wild animals out there. They do not form a majority of any one population, in my opinion, but they do exist. Killing them in self defense is perfectly reasonable.

For those with pets or small children, killing a wild animal may be necessary. The actions of pets and young children may not be as rational and logical as those of adults (this depends on the adult), which might result in a choice between killing a wild animal or watching a child or treasured family pet die. In these examples, there is really only one logical choice.

I would advise taking precautions, however. Simply having a gun does not guarantee the safety of everyone in your party. There are “snake avoidance” classes for dogs, for example. Also, you should tell your kids what to do if they encounter wildlife – if they aren’t old enough or smart enough to understand and follow directions, you might not want to let them out of your sight too often. I don’t know, I don’t have kids, but this seems like a good idea.

The bottom line is that if you understand the wildlife in your area and are not a total idiot, you should be able to avoid the unnecessary killing of wild animals or reptiles. You should also be capable and ready to kill aggressive wildlife when necessary.

How To Set Your AR-15 On Fire

Today I shot a Spike’s Tactical midlength AR-15 until it caught fire. The MOE handguard caught fire, that is.

I posted some photos on Facebook, and naturally, it garnered some attention. There were a number of comments about how MOE handguards suck, or plastic sucks, or that normal ARs suck. I am not very concerned about the lamentations of the ignorant, but I would like to address the comments about Magpul products from a quality standpoint.

First, I’ve tested normal and MOE handguards, as well as KAC aluminum handguards, from a heat dissipation standpoint in the past. In my opinion, of the polymer handguards tested, MOE handguards provide the best balance between protecting the shooters’ hands and allowing the handguard and barrel to cool as quickly as possible.

Second, this MOE handguard caught fire the second time my friend Paul and I fired 500 rounds through it in under 5 minutes (semi auto). It cooled fully after the first time, because I put it in some muddy water. It started “breathing.”

Then we loaded mags again and fired the second 500 rounds. At approximately 430 rounds, the handguards caught fire. We stopped to take pics, then kept shooting. We caught up to 500, then tossed it in water again.

This “exercise” is far more than any AR-15 would ever see during normal use. The AR, and M16/M4, are rifles, not light machine guns. I do not think it should reflect negatively upon the MOE handguards that they caught fire. The barrel, gas block, and gas tube were incredibly hot. The receivers of the rifle were too hot to touch with bare hands. The barrel would melt or set fire to any normal object it touched – there will be some cool followups on this.

No one should avoid MOE handguards because of this occurrence.

What is a Tactical Rifle?

I was in a gun store a while back, trying and failing to find anything exciting, when a friend suggested I look at the new Remington 700 SPS Tactical AAC-SD. I thought it was a pretty good deal for a factory threaded .308, until I saw the engraving on the barrel. It said “Tactical Rifling.”


I handed the rifle back to my friend and moved on. Then I started thinking about what actually makes a “tactical rifle.” Is it tactical if you engrave “tactical rifling” on the barrel? I don’t think so. What about a threaded muzzle? Well, the non-AAC-SD “700 SPS Tactical” doesn’t have that. So I guess the ability to mount a can out of the box isn’t required to be tactical, at least according to Remington.

But what about the features of, say, the Mark V Ultra Lightweight I was recently loaned for T&E by Weatherby?

Photo stolen from Weatherby. Sorry, I haven't had time to shoot nice pics of mine.

It has a blackened (fluted, hammer forged) barrel “to reduce game-spooking glare,” the stock is a synthetic tan with black web, it has a really nice adjustable trigger, and it’s in .308 Win – albeit with a slightly less tactical 1 in 12″ twist rate. It weighs under 6lbs, or 7.5 with a scope and mounts, which would make it really easy to carry in the field all day.

In other words, it’s a good hunting rifle. And nowhere is it described as “tactical” by Weatherby. But its features – and performance – would not look out of place if it was sitting next to purpose-built tactical rifles. It doesn’t have a detachable magazine, but then again, neither do the “tactical” Remingtons.

If you want a rifle for “tactical purposes,” don’t just look at the ones that have tactical in the name, on the barrel, or in the marketing material. Many times, these are nearly identical to the non-tactical products from the same company, with minor finish, coloring, or laser engraving differences.

Their real-world performance might be identical, buzzwords be damned. Plus, it’s rare for a tactical product to come at a lower price than the same company’s non-tactical products, for tactical is apparently a premium these days.

In the end, a product is “tactical” if the user is skilled enough to employ it in a manner which helps them achieve a specific goal in an expedient manner. All the tactical rifles and gear in the world will not help you if you are clueless and incompetent.

Shooting Homeless People

A few days ago, I saw Weapon Outfitters link to a post on guns.com regarding concealed carry and homeless people. The topic of that article was a video by YouTuber MrColionNoir. Enough links?

“Dabneybailey,” the guns.com writer, criticizes Señor Noir’s video by saying that the latter’s attitude towards the homeless is bigoted. MrColionNoir’s statements are certainly strong at times, but I dislike the word shifts used by the guns.com writer. I would prefer that you read the article and watch the video in their respective entireties in order to discern the intentions and opinions of both individuals.

Dabneybailey switches out MrColionNoir’s use of the word “shoot” for the word “murder.” I didn’t hear anything in MrColionNoir’s video that implied he was advocating the murder of homeless people. In general terms, it is frustrating to debate with someone who twists what you say. In specific terms, it’s mildly unacceptable to me to seriously accuse someone of having murderous intentions when they clearly do not.

Dabneybailey later attempts to equate panhandlers with “teenagers handing out coupons in front of grocery stores,” because both are approaching you in order to ask you for something. This is, quite simply, ludicrous.

Panhandlers and the homeless are some of the most aggressive people who will approach you and ask you for things. Their body language and voice tone of many panhandlers is often far removed from that of the general population, which includes the door-to-door evangelicals and teenagers dabneybailey compares them to. They may also approach you at a higher rate of speed and move to a much closer distance than other groups of people.

Society sees the homeless as invisible, and they will use this to their advantage in order to pressure their mark from close range. People will give money to the homeless just to get them out of their personal space. Muggers and criminals who are either among the homeless or who will disguise themselves as such use the exact same techniques. The aggression displayed by such people is, without a doubt, worthy of attention. Recognizing and acknowledging these factors does not a bigot make.

A bigot would be more likely to make a shoot/no-shoot decision based on appearance. MrColionNoir never advocated the judgment of the homeless on appearance alone; in fact he did not seem to mention appearance at all. His entire argument centered on the behavior of “the homeless,” rather than the simple fact that they are homeless. Evaluating behavior over appearance is a smart self-defense choice.

Dabneybailey uses images of “harmless” homeless people in daytime holding signs asking for money in his article. His use of these photographs is inappropriate, as MrColionNoir never referred to people sitting on the ground, looking miserable, and holding out a cup for spare change in his video. He spoke only of those who would approach from odd angles and ask for money. He also specified a higher threat level at night, which is correct. This is a further twisting of MrColionNoir’s statements, albeit a more subtle and perhaps even unintentional one.

I do think that MrColionNoir could have worded his statements in a way that would have left himself open to less criticism – perhaps by more exactly defining “the homeless” or using “aggressive panhandlers” instead – but his view of the world is far more realistic than dabneybailey’s. I was not left with the impression that MrColionNoir was a bigot or that he wished to murder anyone. I was left with the impression that dabneybailey was naive and somewhat illogical.

My final issue with dabneybailey’s article was his failed attempt to ridicule MrColionNoir’s grammar through the use of the Latin word sic. First, MrColionNoir was delivering an off-the-cuff message to a video camera, and minor grammatical errors are bound to occur. As someone who delivers lines to cameras quite often, I found dabneybailey’s action in this regard rather petty and uncalled for.

Second, the word sic is italicized when writing for APA or Chicago format. It is not italicized when writing for MLA format. However, dabneybailey’s use of ellipses to condense MrColionNoir’s statements in the very same paragraph should have been enclosed in square brackets under MLA formatting guidelines.

Third, dabneybailey’s use of the word sic – which indicates an exact transcription of a quote which includes an error – was inappropriate, as he incorrectly transcribed MrColionNoir’s use of the word “compassionate” as “passionate.” MrColionNoir may indeed be a passionate man, but I fail to see the relevance of that to the topic at hand. Were I to review dabneybailey’s work further, I am quite certain that I could make liberal use of (sic).

In other words, dabneybailey made sophomoric formatting or grammatical errors in his attempt to humiliate MrColionNoir by pointing out a minor verbal miscue. I highly doubt that guns.com requires its articles meet any specific formatting guidelines (given their location, the most logical rules would be The Chicago Manual of Style), and I do not adhere to APA, MLA, or Chicago in my general blog writing. However, when someone wishes to hold others’ verbal statements to high grammatical standards, they bring a higher level of scrutiny upon their written work.

Tips on Land & Air Navigation

Some people will get nothing from this article; others, I hope, will learn something.

There are a number of skills which I have worked on over my life; one of the most consistently useful has been my ability to locate and orient myself to my surroundings. I strongly urge everyone who plans on going outside of the areas which are most familiar to them to develop similar skills. If you are the type who buys firearms for survival or “apocalypse” type purposes, the ability to navigate should be as important to you as the firearms you buy, if not more.

Navigation, in its most basic form, is not very difficult. It requires a calm and clear head, and is greatly helped by a few basic tools, such as a map and compass. GPS comes in handy, but it has been unavailable to me for a variety of reasons at certain times throughout my life, and I do not completely rely on it as a result.

Start walking. Chow is continuous.

Examples of When Navigational Knowledge & Abilities Have Been Useful To Me

I don’t have any major tales of woe when it comes to this topic, really – only times when bad situations have been avoided, such as when the navigational instruments in my aircraft malfunctioned on a cross country flight near an international border and restricted military operation areas, and when I was trying to lose a plainclothes police tail my first night in Tunis during Tunisia’s “Arab Spring” revolution of last year. I also was in trouble at one point during a long and arduous solo hike through the desert.

In each case, I remained calm, studied maps or accessed memories of maps I had carefully studied prior to setting off on that particular adventure, identified terrain or other features which allowed me to determine my location, and set off in the proper direction to achieve whatever goal I had set for myself. It’s important to note that I avoid saying things like “I don’t get lost.” I do get lost. I just manage to get un-lost relatively well. With preparation and experience, practically anyone can do the same.

During the 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge, a significant portion of the event took place at night – and after the moon had set. Like many of the other teams, my partner and I became disoriented. It was completely dark. There were, at first glance, no easy ways to determine which ridge and which valley was which. A number of teams got lost at this time.

The stars above 24HSAC. I forgot to bring my sextant.

However, we managed to climb to the top of a ridge, identify a cluster of lights near a far-off highway as a small town on our map, determine a reverse azimuth from that town, and then identify terrain features on the map which matched where we stood – a spur surrounded on three sides by dense forest. With the knowledge of our location in hand, we pushed on to the next checkpoint and maintained a healthy lead over most of the other teams. It would be quite accurate to say that land navigation knowledge played a large role in that particular competition.

Some Tips On Navigation

Without turning this into a massive diatribe on navigation – for which I simply, and unfortunately, do not have time to write – here are some basic tips that I have found to be helpful:

– Bring maps (or charts). Paper maps that don’t have batteries. Study them before you leave.

– Take an active role in planning whatever you are doing or going along with. Even if you possess a clear and analytical mind, if you weren’t paying attention during a route briefing or something similar, you’re going to be well behind the curve. If you’re planning the route, pick something that has lots of recognizable landmarks along the way.

– Pay attention to where you’re going. You should definitely enjoy the view, but not so much that you start wandering mindlessly.

– Use multiple methods of navigation when available. GPS, ded. reckoning, etc. If one becomes unavailable – due to power failure or sunset – you will still be able to seamlessly transition to the other. If you have to pause while you switch from one system to another, especially in a moving vehicle like an airplane, you may end up with bigger problems.

At over 200mph, things happen very fast. However, even at a slow hiking pace, you can become very lost in a very short period of time.

– Admit that you might get lost and take steps to avoid it. If you do get lost, admit that you are lost as soon as you can. The sooner you do this, the sooner you can start figuring out where you are. If you insist that you know where you are when you don’t, and you keep going, you are an idiot.

– Remain calm. Yeah, you’re lost. But chances are that you’re not totally screwed yet. You brought a map, right? Maybe even a compass, if you’re out in the woods. If you didn’t, you might still be able to backtrack to a place that you remember. In the wilderness you might try following your footprints – just make sure that they’re your footprints. In an urban area, traveling along a road and passing stores, signs, parked cars, etc that you’ve seen before can jog your memory and put you back on the right track. In the air, you should have some visual reference points, assuming you’re flying VFR. If you’re going IFR and you get lost, use whatever navigational instruments you have. If that fails, go to the next tip.

– Ask for help. Put your head together with your companions, seek out knowledgeable local individuals, etc. If you are in a foreign country, identify which uniformed personnel are most likely to help you. In most quality countries, being helpful to tourists is seen as a virtue. In Tunisia I quickly learned which type of uniform wanted to help me, and which type of uniform was more entertained by pointing their beat-up, but loaded and functional, Steyr AUGs at me and laughing. In the air, attempt to contact a Center or Flight Watch and give them your last known position, as well as heading – they’ll help you out pretty quickly, if your transponder is working. I’d recommend Flight Watch because the frequency is a constant and there’s generally a lot less radio traffic.

– When you do figure out where you are, and are trying to determine where you need to go, stay on a route that will be easy to navigate, if possible. Taking a shortcut through the brush might seem like a good idea, but it could easily get you lost again. Remember those recognizable landmarks. If you can’t identify those very well, keep heading in one direction. One of the more challenging navigational exercises I’ve undertaken was navigating through the city of Milan, Italy. The streets changed names every few hundred yards (meters?), it seemed. Eventually, I gave up and just told my fellow American behind the wheel to “drive that way.” It worked, for the most part.

If there is interest – and if I have time – I may write articles or make videos about navigation/orienteering for pilots, hikers etc. I just don’t have the time to do so right now. I hope that these tips have been helpful to some readers, and have perhaps sparked an interest in the topic.

Highly Modified FAMAE SAF

A friend of mine took an FAMAE SAF and basically modified it to be a lot like a pistol caliber 55X series Sig rifle. Here’s a list of the modifications he made, which he said took about 50 hours over two years:

  • New safety (original SIG Parts adapted) left and right hand use
  • free floating barrel with flash hider
  • adapted 553 4rail
  • one piece toprail
  • front and rearsight removed (that was a lot of work to grind it clean)
  • the whole buttplate for the folding stock was removed
  • an original SIG buttplate was adapted and welded in (also had to correct the shape, so that the folding stock had a smooth junction)
  • the pistolgrip was changed
  • the stock is telescopic and foldable
  • new loading handle in a different angle and SG55X shaped
  • left some space in the frontplate of the handguard, later will mount a flashlight or laser inside the handguard
  • modified fire control group components

And here’s the firearm.

His only payment for the work was pizza and Coke.

The next time I see him, I’m going to bring him some pizza and Coke.