Use of the AR-15 in Dirty/Dusty Environments

Recently, a news story broke about US weapon malfunctions during firefights in Afghanistan.

For many, this was a chance to renew their attack on the supposedly faulty Colt M4s in use by our troops overseas. For others – mostly, the troops who had been overseas with the weapons – this was something to scratch their heads about.

My experiences with issued Colt M4s, M16A2s and FN M16A4s were nothing short of stellar. Despite claims – mostly by the uninformed – of constant maintenance requirements, I only cleaned mine when the outside turned brown. I properly lubricated my issued rifle, and I was also lucky to have a good armorer who made sure that my rifles had parts replaced when necessary. I made sure I had good, working magazines. As a result, I was rewarded with exceptional performance from my M4. I had similar results with my M249 SAW – though I spent far more time maintaining that weapon.

So I’m always a little suspicious when I see claims of M4s going down in combat.

One of the biggest problems is when Soldiers and Marines try to use their rifle in a manner other than that which was originally intended. As I was taught by an 0331 (Marine machine gunner) during a crew served weapon course, “You are there because the rifles have failed.” In other words, machine guns lay down suppressive fire, enabling the rifles to take precision shots, or at least aimed fire at the enemy. When this doctrine breaks down and everyone goes cyclic – that is, firing as many rounds as they can, as fast as they can – either everyone is going to run out of ammunition, or machine gun barrels are going to overheat and warp, or rifle barrels are going to literally split. When things get really hairy, rifles and machine guns are going to be disabled due to enemy rifle, machine gun and RPG fire, as well as indirect fire from mortars and rockets.

Now, the issues here go beyond weapons. The Soldiers were forced to defend themselves against a much larger force that was attempting to suppress the main group of Americans in order to (presumably) capture a few at an observation post. They had no air or arty support, and their leaders apparently didn’t make friends with the local populace – this resulted in the deaths of 9 American Soldiers. Their actions that day in the face of an overwhelming force were heroic, and their sacrifices will not be forgotten.

Unfortunately, an incorrect thought process persists among many officers and senior enlisted – that the rifles should be scrubbed clean as often as possible, and that oil should not be added to the weapon, for it will “attract dust and dirt”. Soldiers and Marines have been dying because of this absolute garbage since the introduction of the Garand in combat operations in the Pacific during WWII. Proper lubrication is vital for any semiautomatic or automatic weapon. I learned that lesson today with my Glock 26 pistol, which had some dirt inadvertently thrown on it during the following test. It malfunctioned 6 times in one magazine before I disassembled it and properly oiled it, as I had been negligent in keeping it lubricated. After that, it functioned perfectly.

Now, with that discussion out of the way – if I were to redeploy to Iraq, or deploy to Afghanistan, I’d feel very well equipped with a Colt M4.

To demonstrate why, I made a short video today while I was at the range with a friend. The rifle in this video is composed of a Smith & Wesson M&P15R upper in 5.45×39 caliber on a cheap forged lower. The upper receiver assembly has been modified from stock – the bolt and bolt carrier, as well as the muzzle device, have been electroless nickel plated for corrosion resistance. The lower receiver, as well, has had its internal parts electroless nickel plated. I use a Spike’s Tactical ST-T2 buffer, as the surplus Russian ammunition used in the test is fairly hot. The rifle was properly lubricated with FP-10.

CProducts, LLC, makes the only 5.45 AR-15 magazines. Unfortunately, they are poorly designed and manufactured, and I modified another magazine follower to work in them – although capacity is reduced to 28 rounds, they now function flawlessly. The followers I used in this test were actually my rejects or seconds, and that is why the bolt was not held open after the last shot in each mag.

112 rounds were fired in almost exactly 1 minute, with no malfunctions.

I would have felt confident repeating the test and would expect similar results, but the weapon was getting very hot – the vertical grip was hot to the touch, the receivers were almost too hot to touch, and the barrel was blistering hot. This test was not a realistic demonstration of how a rifle should be used in combat, but rather a demonstration of what the rifle is capable of when stressed to the limit.

Bobro Engineering Cantilever Aimpoint Mount

After a comparison test I did between the American Defense and LaRue Tactical Aimpoint mounts, I was offered a free Bobro T&E mount by Primary Arms, a Bobro dealer.

When I pulled the mount out of the box, I first noticed that the mount seemed exceptionally well machined, although the design initially appeared to be overly complex. There are a lot more screws and springs on this mount than either the ADM or LaRue, and in my experience, while such designs may initially appear to work well in the lab, field testing normally goes awry.

The method for installing the Aimpoint itself is, in my opinion, preferable to the vertical split rings of the ADM and LaRue. The top half of the ring has studs, to which you attach 12pt nuts. This is very secure and hard to screw up. From an end-user standpoint, this is actually the simplest of the three mounts.

As I spent more and more time with the mount in actual use, I became more and more impressed with it. The reason the mechanism is complicated is that it is self-adjusting. While the LaRue is adjustable, you need a wrench (though needlenose pliers found in a multitool will work in a pinch), and when it’s properly adjusted, it’s supposed to be difficult to remove. The ADM mount is adjustable for a wider range of rails, and this adjustment can be done by hand, but the Bobro is truly unique in that it adjusts itself.

The mechanism, while complex, doesn’t seem to be weak, fragile or otherwise unsuited for hard use. It’s easy to remove and install with one hand on a variety of rails – in fact, when removing the mount, the arm will swing out with enthusiasm, and I recommend not having any fingers in the way. That said, you have to disengage the “lock”, so it’s not coming off on its own. Here’s a close up view of what I’m talking about. The lever is gray, the lock is black. Installation and removal on a rail is a very simple process.

I’ve tested and tested this mount, and it has yet to disappoint. It doesn’t lose zero and you can attach it to any rail, even one covered in dirt. It’s pricey, but I’ve learned that in the world of firearms, you get what you pay for. This is, in my opinion, the best Aimpoint mount available today.

Firearms Training for New Female Shooters

I enjoy teaching folks how to shoot, but in my experience, women make the best students. Besides being a welcome change from the grumpy old men I normally encounter at the range, women approach firearms differently than men. Even though a guy may have no hands-on firearms experience, he’s probably seen action movies or gangster TV shows, and has incorrect ideas about weapons safety and handling. A lot of guys are out to show how cool they are at the range. Conversely, women don’t have anything to prove. They know their limitations – that is, women are likely seek out advice and instruction without being told or asked to do so. They are excellent listeners. If I do my part and start them off with weapons that don’t have a massive amount of recoil, they respond very well to basic instruction and are often shooting very accurate groups within an hour of first picking up a firearm.

If you’re a woman and you want to learn how to shoot, there are several ways to do it. One way is to find a local firing range that rents handguns. Almost all such ranges offer instruction, or, at the very least, a safety briefing – and many offer reduced range fees for women. But take a look at the employees first – if you’re not comfortable with them, or the weapons they recommend for a first time shooter include the word “Magnum”, find another shop. If you are uncomfortable when you are being instructed or when you’re shooting, you’ll probably walk away from the store and never want to fire a gun again.

There are several women-oriented training courses available, such as the excellent Babes with Bullets. However, their courses are often booked for a year in advance. Don’t get discouraged. Once you’ve had that initial safety training, check online for courses offered by shooting schools or traveling instructors. Do some research and see what others, especially women, have said about the course. Although such courses are often populated by military and law enforcement personnel, most instructors I have dealt with welcome women in their classes, because as I said before, women pay attention to important things like safety rules. Be sure to look for courses that offer loaner firearms.

As for handgun choices, that’s another topic entirely, and one that I could go on forever about – so I’ll try to keep it brief. Some women gravitate towards smaller guns, believing that they will kick less. This may not be true. A comparably larger weapon of the same caliber may be easier to hold and, due to increased weight, have less perceived recoil. I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of the 9mm round, and most 9mm semi auto pistols are relatively easy to shoot. A lot of folks recommend revolvers, and I think they have their merits. However, a small, lightweight revolver in 357 Magnum is a handful for the beefiest of men to control, and I seriously doubt that the majority of first-time shooters – male and female – would want fire more than one round from such a weapon. If you think a revolver is best for your needs, get one in .38 Special.

Shooting can be a fun and safe sport, and the confidence you gain from being proficient with a weapon that could be useful for self defense is invaluable. Whatever else you might have going on in your life, there’s only one thing holding you back, and that’s you. If you’ve thought about learning how to safely use a firearm, don’t put it off any longer.

Osprey Defense Scuba Test: Questionable Methods

Okay, if you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of piston/op-rod conversions. But hey, if you’ve got a suppressed full auto rifle, you’re getting closer to the zone of performance where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Some folks may have seen the HK416 OTB test, where it outperforms the Colt M4 – and while that video may also have issues, they aren’t as glaring as this one. The whole point of this test is to show that the barrel can be full of water – as the shooter comes out of the water – and fired with water in the barrel without blowing up. A standard AR-15 can be sealed at the muzzle or allowed to drain for a few seconds, and it will pass this test just fine. Again, if the barrel isn’t full of water, the test is meaningless.

In this Osprey video, some disheveled guy in a black T shirt says some stuff, then a heroic scuba diver emerges from a mud puddle and engages an imaginary target. I know he was only under for a few seconds, but if you’re trying to demonstrate to divers how well your product works underwater, you might want your demonstration diver to properly put on his equipment, to include attaching his low pressure inflator hose (the hose coming over his left shoulder). Otherwise, it just looks very unprofessional to even the most inexperienced divers, such as myself.

First, we’re allowed to see the guy go underwater. Now, in the HK test, the protocol calls for the rifle to be submerged until there aren’t any more bubbles. Here’s the front end of the silencer as it goes underwater. Click on the photos for a larger image.

It’s hard for me to say definitively that there aren’t any bubbles. It’s possible that tiny bubbles are coming out. I’m not seeing any, though. And frankly, with the weapon being submerged at that angle, it’s unlikely that a lot of water would get in there (and it’s likely that, considering the amount of time at which he he holds the weapon at an up angle as he comes out of the water, any remaining water would drain from the barrel). Here is a screenshot just as that silencer goes underwater.

The lack of bubbles alone isn’t definitive enough, but what happens after he starts shooting throws up a huge red flag for me.

See that silver thing hanging off the end of the suppressor? If you watch the video, you can see it flapping as the rifle is fired. That looks suspiciously like some sort of object used to plug the muzzle to me. If there’s some sort of innocent explanation, I’m all ears. At this point, though, the lack of bubbles in conjunction with the apparently plugged barrel makes me very suspicious of their claims.

Edit: An poster whom I know to be honest reports that he is a friend of the diver in the video, and the end of the suppressor was covered in duct tape. Thus, I feel very confident saying that this test was a sham, and the company should be ashamed for trying to pull the wool over the eyes of potential buyers, who will hopefully find another solution.

Spike TV’s Not So Deadliest Warrior

I’ve only got a little time here, but I wanted to debunk a portion of this show. I’ve never watched an episode on TV, but was shown a link to this episode as “proof” that the AK-47 is more reliable than the AR-15. The important stuff starts at around 27:45 or so.

Well, there are a few glaring problems that a lot of people have probably already figured out.

Here, we see both rifles with mud on their sides. Note the mud on the top cover of the AK and near the rear sight. Click on the images for a bigger picture.

And here is the AK as we hear shots being fired. The safety is clearly in the “up” position – the weapon cannot be fired that way. If the safety was off, there’d be a void where the mud hadn’t stuck to the rifle, as we can see from the video, the safety was on when it was slapped with mud. No spent cases are ejected. The bolt does not move. He is not wearing ear protection.

Here is the weapon actually being fired – note the complete lack of mud on the top cover and rear sight. The weapon is never shown from the right side with cases being ejected.

As the “muj” comes off the firing line, we see that his shirt and face are perfectly clean – as anyone who’s fired a muddy weapon with an open reciprocating bolt like an AK-47 or a Garand knows, that mud will come right back at you.

And finally, here we see him wearing orange earplugs, supposedly just as he’s finished firing.

Here is the AR as we hear shots ring out. No cases are ejected, the ejection port cover does not swing open, and we don’t see any steam from the muzzle, as one would expect if the barrel was wet.

More shots being fired. Ejection port cover still closed. In case you don’t know, that means the weapon still hasn’t been fired.

And finally, we see the AR-15 after it “jams” – except that the ejection port cover is STILL closed, and the only way to verify a malfunction is to look through that open ejection port cover.

In conclusion, this test was a complete farce, as is, I assume, the rest of the show. I assume that the impacts we see are just squibs being controlled by the guy on the computer.

Reduced Pay for Executives

Today I saw a bumper sticker that read, “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.”

I don’t know if that person was a liberal who applied the sticker during the Bush administration, or a conservative who applied it after the election of President Obama. Either way, it’s very applicable to our present times.

Today the White House announced that it would move to slash the pay of executives at companies which accepted bailout money.

“Fine, sure,” you say. “Those AIG folks shouldn’t have gotten those big bonuses.” Well, that’s another matter…

But are you aware that the federal government coerced some corporations to take bailout money?

In effect, the government has suddenly, and with practically no opposition, taken over a large portion of corporate America. Soon, I fear that it will be hard to distinguish the two.

To borrow a phrase from a certain scumbag, “Dude, where’s my country?”

Time Magazine, 1941: Report on the Garand

We’ve all heard that the M1 Garand is the “greatest battle implement ever devised”, and many folks speak of it as if the weapon never malfunctioned. It’s pointed to as an example of how a semiautomatic rifle with a piston and an op-rod is immune to external influences such as mud or dirt.

Unfortunately, this article from 1941 tells us that that simply wasn’t the case. One sentence accurately describes the testing: “Sum & substance of the findings was that the Garand was a fair-weather rifle.”

Roy Dunlap’s book Ordnance Went Up Front tells us:

“The M1’s were going to ruin for lack of cleaning in the holes up front-the poor guys did not have anything to take care of them with, and often were not in a position to shoot them often enough to keep the barrels clear of corrosion (grass won’t grow on a busy street-regardless of the corroding primer compound, if a .30-06 barrel gets a bullet through it every six or eight hours it will stay in pretty good shape). As a result of the fouling of gas cylinders and pistons, a large percentage of our semi-automatics were becoming singleshots.”

The Garand was certainly an excellent rifle, but its legendary status in some circles proves to be a little too excessive.

How to Maintain Firearms Proficiency on a Budget

This article is intended for shooters who, like me, can’t afford to shoot as much ammunition as they would like, or as much as they need in order to stay proficient. The answer isn’t exactly a secret, but I thought I’d talk about it anyway.

.22 Long Rifle ammunition has been in short supply over the past year or so, though it’s starting to become available again. I buy the Federal 525rd bulk packs at Wal-Mart for around $13.50, and also the slightly more expensive ~300rd packs of Federal AutoMatch, which functions very well in my ammo-picky Kimber .22 conversion for my 1911.

AR-15 conversion kits are currently available for around $150 including a 26rd magazine, while pistol conversions vary based on manufacturer and the model of pistol. Generally, they’re between $250 and $350, though you might find bargains on used kits. Rifle mags by Black Dog Machine are excellent and cost between $25 and $35. Pistol magazines – again, this varies by manufacturer, but I bought some for my 1911 from Brownells for $20 recently with my FFL discount. If you want to build a dedicated .22LR upper, Spikes Tactical offers excellent examples.

Many people believe that 1/7 twist barrels will cause 36-38gr 22LR ammo to be wildly inaccurate. I have found that 1/7 does reduce accuracy, but the weapon is still very functional for carbine training. Click this link for a video example.

I most often shoot at a small spinning target set made by Birchwood Casey that has an auto-reset function. The steel plates are 2.5″ in diameter, which provide more of a challenge to hit at 25 yards than larger targets. At that distance, these targets approximate shooting a 10″ plate at 100 yards, which is good training for either carbine or handgun. Generally, if you can shoot a smaller target with good accuracy, you will be able to hit a larger target with good speed and accuracy. I spend a lot of time shooting bullseye with small targets and my 1911 conversion, and this pays off when I shoot under more stress.

For those wanting the effect of greater recoil during training, or an inexpensive training rifle that could double as a duty rifle, Smith & Wesson 5.45 uppers and rifles are a great option, and ammunition is around $150 for a 1080 round tin at the moment. I’ve used my 5.45 upper in several carbine courses and even at 600 yard shoots, where the high ballistic coefficient of the .221 diameter bullet means that even corrosive surplus ammunition is surprisingly accurate.

I highly recommend attending pistol and/or carbine courses with centerfire weapons to build basic skills and learn drills, then maintain those skills and practice those drills on your own time with either .22LR or 5.45 weapons. This has greatly boosted my marksmanship abilities, because I can shoot longer and more often, and the cash outlay for an AR-15 conversion, a few thousand rounds of .22LR, and a steel spinner target will still be less than the cost of 1000 rounds of the cheapest 5.56 ammo.

The Failed Promise of the “Piston” AR-15 Conversion

A few years ago, piston/op-rod conversions for AR-15s were all the rage.

We were bombarded with propaganda about how unreliable the standard AR-15 was. We were led to believe that our rifles, which had worked just fine for years, were suddenly obsolete with the introduction of a spigot, op rod, and other parts to replace the gas tube, that we’d have the “reliability of an AK-47” as a result. Many conversions became available in a matter of months.

And for a while, everything seemed fine. Until, that is, people started putting rounds downrange with them.

Most of the conversions were poorly designed, and quite a few people had broken parts as a result. You see, much more force was being put on certain parts – such as the gas block and the bolt carrier – due to additional reciprocating mass. This also has the effect of increasing felt recoil and in some cases led to barrel whip, decreasing accuracy.

Most people are unaware that every AR-15 is piston-operated. The tail of the AR-15 bolt acts as a piston. What the AR-15 truly lacks is an operating rod. You’ll see me refer to “op-rod AR-15s” in this article – I am referring to what others may call piston ARs.

In order to understand why such a conversion isn’t the best option for a standard AR-15, you need to know how an AR-15 works. I’ll try to distill it to one paragraph.

Gases from the fired case (which expands, by the way) travel back through the gas tube, for a specific amount of time based on the distance between the gas port and the muzzle – we refer to this as dwell time. Does this gas simply “push” the bolt back? Not exactly. Gas travels inside the gas key of the bolt carrier and expands rearward, forcing the carrier back, while it also pushes the bolt forward. As the carrier pulls back, the cam pin moves in its slot in the carrier, causing the bolt to rotate and unlock. At the same time, the gas that’s still in the barrel is keeping the case expanded to fill the chamber. Once that gas is vented out the front of the barrel, the case shrinks, allowing the entire assembly to pull back while the extractor continues to grip the rim of the case.

Now, the piston conversion. Some of these items vary based on the exact conversion, but this is a general overview.

As soon as the bullet passes the gas port, gas enters the gas block and pushes against whatever components the individual manufacturer has decided to place in the way. The effect is that the operating rod pushes against the top of the bolt carrier – and instead of having the gas enter the carrier and exert pressure parallel to the bore fore and aft, the rod hits the carrier key – or modified one piece carrier – which has the effect of causing the bolt carrier to move at a tail-down angle. There isn’t any gas pushing the bolt forward while the carrier unlocks, so the carrier just pulls the bolt back and forces it to unlock from the locking lugs of the barrel. The piston/op-rod assembly, which is under spring pressure, starts to move forward to its “at rest” position, however, in some cases it will slam forward with enough force to shear any pins holding the spigot in place – that’s why you won’t see many standard FSBs on piston conversions any more.

I mentioned the carrier moving back at an angle – why is this bad? Well, it rubs against the buffer tube at the 6 o’clock position. No big deal, right? Well, my Ares conversion had enough carrier tilt, as it is called, to knock the unstaked castle nut loose, which allowed the buffer tube to rotate out of position when I twisted the rifle while the stock was still in my shoulder, which caused the buffer retaining detent and spring to fly out from their normal position – which stopped the weapon from functioning. This was obviously an extreme case, and a very compelling reason for a staked castle nut, but it was disconcerting, to say the least.

So, do op-rod AR-15s have a place at the table? Yes, they do. You’re probably confused, because it seems like I’ve been bashing them for a long time now. Well, these rifles do work very well in short-barrel configuration, when dwell time isn’t long enough for the AR-15 to work properly. I’ve owned 7.5″ and 10.5″ AR uppers that functioned perfectly, but if I were to do it over again, I’d buy an LWRC if I was going to 10.5″ and under. I believe that 11.5″ SBRs, with properly sized gas ports and proper weight buffers, will offer the same reliability when compared in numbers and over the long term. I do not feel that this is the case with 10.5″ and under barrels. Many folks who shoot SBRs also use suppressors, and those folks tend to migrate towards LWRC and similar brands. It’s not always the case, but a reduction in blowback is a pleasant change for high volume suppressor shooters.

That’s not to say that a suppressed SBR sans op-rod won’t function. Many shooters have reported 0 malfunctions in high round count carbine courses with such setups, and often suppressed LWRC SBRs get just as filthy as their standard counterparts.

Still don’t believe what I’m saying? Well, I’ll defer to those with far more experience than I. I’m unaware of any experienced instructor who oversees carbine courses on a regular basis who is an advocate of piston/op-rod conversions on barrels longer than 14.5″, and most will say 11″ and under. Even those like Larry Vickers, who was heavily involved in the development of the excellent HK416, feels that they are unnecessary for unsuppressed standard carbine applications, and continues to teach classes using, in most cases, a Colt or Daniel Defense rifle without an op-rod.

This article went way longer than I had planned. However, if you walk away with a better understanding of how an AR-15 operates, and a greater appreciation for its exceptional reliability potential, as well as the usefulness of op-rod ARs in niche applications, I’ve met my goals. Thank you for your time.

Personal Defense – More Than Just a Firearm

I’m a big proponent of concealed carry. I carry everywhere that I legally can.

However, I’m not of the opinion that simply carrying a gun means that I’m “covered”, that I’m “safe”. Yes, Rule 1 of a gunfight is “Bring a gun”. However, my personal defense philosophy is based on the concept of avoiding, or reducing, confrontation. If you haven’t heard the phrase “the mind is the final weapon”, you need to start wrapping your head around it. Your mindset will mean the difference between success and failure in a crisis, and in some cases, it will mean the ability to avoid a crisis.

If you have a job that takes you in harm’s way, you won’t have the options that “regular” people have – for example, if you’re a police officer, you won’t be able to avoid confronting a dangerous person.

However, for the rest of us, the concealed carry Jack and Jills, we need to realize that carrying a gun doesn’t turn us into invincible superheroes. Carrying a handgun does not make us police officers, bodyguards, or the solution to an active shooter at a mall. As tragic as such a situation can be, your first responsibility is to defend yourself and your family or anyone who might be traveling with you. Running to the sound of gunfire sounds romantic, but it rarely ever turns out that way.

If you knowingly put yourself in a dangerous situation – this could be anything from visiting a bad part of town to choosing to escalate a confrontation when you have the option to de-escalate – you’re not doing yourself any favors. Obvious situations like not walking down a dark alley can be avoided by most, but do you pay attention to the mannerisms of people you see or encounter in your daily life? Do you evaluate someone as a possible threat, or does the thought never cross your mind?

I highly recommend the book The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker, who runs a very successful executive security company. While I disagree with his stance on firearms – and find it ironic that he abhors personal firearm ownership while paying his employees a bonus if they have concealed carry permits – he is one of the world’s foremost experts on personal security. Whether you’re a single female living and working in a big city, or a Soldier about to deploy to Afghanistan, you’ll learn a lot from this book.

The tools of personal defense and safety are vital – the flashlight to identify friend from foe, the knife to cut a seatbelt that may trap you in a burning vehicle, the handgun to neutralize a violent attacker, and other items which you may be limited to due to legal constraints, such as pepper spray or a Taser. Being cognizant of threats, however, and of your own limitations, is even more vital.

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