Kel Tec P-3AT the be-all, end-all test Part II

If you haven’t already, you can read part one here.

This is the first gun that I’ve ever kept a round count on. It’s neat to have documentation that we have put exactly 725-rounds through this little pistol. I kind of wish I’d kept track of how much ammunition I’ve put through some of my other guns. Granted, judging by its condition alone, the M&P .38 special has been shot about a billion times. You’d swear that three quarters of the lead that exists on the planet has been down that bore twice. But, I’d love to be able to authoritatively say how many rounds I’ve put through my S&W 29, or my Winchester 1300, for that matter. It’s been a fun journey regardless.

I wanted to post something on this last week, but I didn’t really have anything to say. The initial range session for this test was just so routinely boring that it would have been the shortest blog post ever. As I wrote in my previous post, when we first shot the gun, I had not even cleaned it, and we put 125-rounds through it. It was still relatively clean after that, but I at least wanted to get the manufacturer’s preservative out of it and give it a little lube, no deep scrubbing necessary. I field stripped the little gun and blasted it out with some Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber and hit the moving parts with some Otis Bio CLP. I racked the slide a few times and dry fired it a few times to get the CLP in the works. I also used the Gun Scrubber to rinse out my three magazines.

To prepare for the test, I numbered the magazines “1,” “2,” and “3” with a silver Sharpie and scotch taped over the numbers to keep them from rubbing off. I figured we would try to evenly rotate them, and if we started having consistent problems with one of the magazines, we would know to take it out of the rotation. I set up a detailed spread sheet where I could record data – round count, who was shooting, magazine number, ammunition box number, and potential failures.

On Sunday, November 15, we took the gun out to the family farm with some steel targets and clays. Over the course of an hour or so, we put 200-rounds of Magtech (95-gr, FMJ 951-fps) down range with no incidents to note. I shot the initial 150-rounds and Jennifer shot the 50 remaining. It shot flawlessly for both of us. I offered to let Isaac try it again, but he declined. It was nice to get out to the farm at least, and it was a fun range session. I then stripped it for inspection. There was slight wear in the finish on the rails, but nothing else noteworthy. So, I reloaded it with My Hornady Critical Defense and put it back in my holster. Really the most interesting thing that happened was that I got a bloody sore on my trigger finger from where the trigger guard had pounded on it during the range session. Pro tip – if you’re going to pack a Kel Tec, it might not hurt to take some emory cloth to the inside of the trigger guard to smooth it out. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

On Saturday, November 21, we took it to one of the local indoor ranges. this time, we preemptively applied 3M Nexcare foam bandages to our fingers where they’d previously been chewed on by the trigger guard, for a little protection. In this session, the three of us managed to put 350-rounds of Magtech through the little gun. With the gun running like the Little Engine That Could, just imagine how excited I was when we had our first failure at the 421-round mark! I pulled the trigger and got an unexpected “click.” Of course, I unloaded the gun and cleared the spent brass out of the chamber. It was evidently a failure to eject. The good news is that I had my GoPro taking close-up video at 240-frames per second in 720p. The bad news is that it was a lot darker in the range than I realized, so the video came out pretty grainy. Still, we’ll take a look at that later for analysis.

Of course, a failure to eject could be the fault of the gun, the shooter, or the ammunition. By that point in the range session, I was starting to fatigue, although my grip looks pretty steady in the slow-motion video. Jennifer and I are wondering if there’s a perceivable difference in the muzzle flash on the offending round in our high-speed video, which could but would not necessarily indicate an undercharged cartridge. As I wrote above, we’ll take a closer look at that later. Regardless, other than the one failure to eject, this little pistol has run 550-rounds of ammunition flawlessly since I cleaned and lubed it. Subsequent inspection was yawn-inducing, as the gun seems to be in perfect condition outside of carbon build up.

When I first put out the feelers to find a company to sponsor this test, I actually reached out to Kel Tec directly, who didn’t respond to my messages. I found that to be rather damning. It’s one thing that they put a lifetime warranty on their products, but if they won’t even answer a proposal on this kind of test, it does beg the question as to how confident they are in product durability. That being said, I could not be any happier with this gun thus far. It has rewarded me with reliability, durability, and shootability beyond my most optimistic imagination. If by the end of this test, I break it beyond repair, I would gladly pay the ~$250 these guns command for a replacement.

As a side note, This Magtech ammunition has been as clean shooting and as consistent as I hoped it would be. If you haven’t tried it before, and if you need some good plinking ammo, you should check it out! Again, I’d like to give a shout out to Ammunition to Go, who made all this possible with the ammunition donation. When you’re shopping ammo, please do keep them in mind for your needs. They didn’t pay me for a good review, but donating the ammo isn’t the first pleasant experience I’ve had dealing with them.

So, we’re a little over a quarter of the way through the test, and all is well. 550-rounds down and 1,450 to go! If we make it to the 2,000-round mark and the gun is still running strong, I’m thinking of continuing with some different ammo. I have more of the Hornady Critical Defense that I’d like to shoot into water jugs as well as some frangible ball ammo, and another 100-rounds from Richardson Reloading. Although his loads seemed to be a little light for this gun initially, it will be interesting to see if they play nicer together after this much of a break-in.

Kel Tec P-3AT, the be-all, end-all test, Part I

Much to my surprise, as well as the surprise of others, I actually placed fourth in the 2015 Kilted To Kick Cancer drive. This left me with a lovely prize package which included a brand new Kel Tec P-3AT. Ironically, I’ve been wanting a micro pistol for several years now, but had not gotten around to picking one out and buying it. Jennifer and I were still debating the pros and cons between micro 9mm versus .380 ACP. The .380s are typically a little smaller, but we’re never in a great hurry to add a new caliber to the household. As we didn’t already have any .380s in the stable, I was leaning more in the pocket 9mm direction. However, KTKC made the decision for me.

Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked about the little pistol. I’ve been told that Kel Tec’s quality is spotty at best, and I’ve handled a few of their guns that in my eyes, had some glaring failures. I had largely written them off as a “not for me, but maybe for you” type of company. That was before I received the P-3AT. Upon receiving it, I was immediately impressed with the overall quality of the gun. Although diminutive, it felt solid. Within its limitations, which I’ll point out below, this gun does not feel like a hunk of junk, but a very well-built tiny pistol.

To build a pistol as small as possible, it is necessary to simplify, and this pistol is no exception. It honestly has fewer parts than anything else I shoot. It is true that it has no safety, save an internal hammer block. The slide does not lock back, either on an empty magazine or by manipulation. The sights are rudimentary and machined directly in the slide. The trigger pull is long, and the reset is nearly to the point of full trigger release. Those that want a .380 with a good trigger should look to Smith & Wesson’s BG380 or Glock’s Model 42. That being said, the Kel Tec’s trigger is smooth and even, if a little heavy and a lot long.

Whenever I pick up a new defensive firearm, I like to shoot it a lot for several reasons. 1) Many gun models have a “break in” period in which they just need to be run so everything settles in for future reliability. 2) It’s essential to establish a gun’s reliability before you put it into defensive service. There’s nothing louder than the “click” when you expect a “bang.” 3) I like to familiarize myself with the machine. The Kel Tec’s sights and trigger have proved to be perfectly usable, but no gun is going to do you any good if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at.

So on Friday, prior to even cleaning and lubing the gun, Jennifer, Isaac and I went to the range and put some lead down range. Included in the KTKC prize package were 250-rounds of ball ammo donated by Richardson Reloading. So we shot 150-rounds plus a 25-round box of Hornady Critical Defense. The Richardson ammunition seemed to cycle the action a little more slowly, and I did get a few failures to feed which were easily corrected with a good rack of the slide. By contrast, the Hornady made authoritative balls of fire, and cycled the action robustly. Subsequent conversations with Cody Richardson revealed that he loads his ammo toward the lower end of SAAMI numbers, and that some manufacturers use 9mm recoil springs in their .380s. Without confirming that this is the case, I’m assuming that it is so, and that even though the Richardson ammo is great stuff, the Kel Tec likes to run cartridges that are a little hotter. I’m looking forward to running the additional 100-rounds once I’m confident the gun is really broken in.

At the range, every round went bang. As I stated above, a few rounds didn’t want to strip from the magazine, as though the slide had short-cycled. At five yards, it was clear that Jennifer and I have not been practicing often enough, but we did manage to make fuzzy holes in our paper targets. The gun is far more accurate than I expected it to be, and the minimal sights are very usable, even if they take a little more work than some others, or a laser, for that matter. I was shocked at how very shootable this gun is. Even with the Hornady’s sound and fury, I found it to be very comfortable to shoot. Isaac complained that he wasn’t confident of his grip due to the diminutive size of the frame, but it was comfortable for both Jennifer and me. Being able to put all of ones fingers on the grip frame is something that affects every individual different, so your mileage may vary.

The Torture Test

There are bloggers around the internet who have been performing a 2,000-round, no cleaning, no lube test on several pistol models. It has come up in conversation with friends that it would be interesting to perform such a test on a mouse gun such as Kel Tec’s P-3AT. Just how durable are these things anyway? Search engines failed to provide a documented test like this for this model. Kel Tec has a lifetime warranty on their guns, so they presumable believe them to be durable enough for it.

Several years ago, Jennifer and I got a last-minute invite to a defensive pistol class for which we would need about 1,000-rounds of .45 ACP. We wound up ordering from Ammunition to Go, who were able to get us our ammo cheap and fast. So, when we started talking about this torture test, I reached out to a few online ammunition retailers, including Ammunition to Go. They were fascinated with my proposal and seemed eager to facilitate the test. It looks like they’ll have 2,000-rounds of Magtech .380ACP delivered to me by the end of the week.

The Specifics

As the gun has already had 175-rounds put through it, I plan to give it a thorough cleaning with Hoppes #9 and whatever canned spray stuff I can get my hands on, and light lubrication, probably with Breakfree CLP. I will continue to carry the gun as my EDC as long as I’m still confident in its dependability. The moment it begins to act funny, or when we witness that something is broken or worn, I intend to pause the experiment and contact the manufacturer. I’m going to try to get in a few hundred rounds per session, and strip the gun for inspection, without cleaning or lubricating it, until the 2,000-round mark or catastrophic failure, whichever comes first.


These tiny pistols, in 9mm and smaller calibers are widely regarded as “disposable” pistols. They are generally seen as the gun that you carry when you can’t carry a gun, but if you shoot them too much they’ll fall apart on you. I’m really looking forward to challenging that stigma, as I don’t feel like they’ve been given a fair chance. In my short time with it, this little pistol has exceeded all of my expectations. Prior to this, I would have assumed out of hand that such a torture test would be insane. At this point, though, I’m not so sure. I will proceed, and proceed with appropriate caution. So, stay tuned and let’s take this journey together.

Oculus Rift – First Impressions

Last week Jennifer emailed me a link to Super! Bitcon. This was the inauguration of what is intended to be an annual event. We deliberated over whether or not we wanted to attend. Money has been tight for a while now, and we have tried to be careful how we spend it. Ultimately, we decided that we really didn’t want to miss out on the first shot. So, that’s what we did on Saturday. There was a Commodore 64 present and an Xbox One, and everything else in between was also represented. There were costumes (pics to come), there were contests, there were demos on hardware and software, there were arts and crafts, and there was a lot of stuff for sale. One vendor had a Nintendo GameCube for $18, and another had one for $60. At one table, they had a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with the original box and manual fairly priced for $85. Another vendor had a similar example and quoted me a price of $40.

In the rear of the main floor there was a vendor who had a pair of Pioneer Laseractive controllers, new in their original boxes. For those of you who don’t know, these puppies are basically Sega Genesis Controllers that have the Pioneer logo printed on them. I wouldn’t mind picking up a pair of them to run on our Atari 2600. These two were priced at $70 each. I chatted with the vendor for a few moments about them. I told him why I wanted a pair, but that I wasn’t prepared to spend what he was asking, although his pricing was not out of line for such mint examples. As we were surveying his wares, I turned around to see why people were standing in line behind us.


“Jen!” I said breathlessly, “that’s an Oculus Rift!”

I was a big fan of the concept of virtual reality in the 90’s. I remember some mobile arcade thing that was set up at the Dallas Galleria in about 1992 that was selling a few minutes of VR gaming for about $6. At the time I took the bait and put on the heavy goggles. I was immersed in a world of giant polygons. There was a degree of depth perception to the vector graphics, but it was mostly just laggy, hard to control, and bad. The landscape and characters were bland and glitchy from what I can remember. It was an interesting experience, but They cheated me out of my $6; live and learn though. Indeed as a teen, I checked out quite a few products sold under the umbrella of the term ‘virtual reality.’ The vast majority of them were flimflam pieces of gimmick that didn’t really deliver, but were designed to separate consumers from their money. Most of them didn’t offer any actual depth perception at all, but simply put a screen or two within eye-strain distance. Arguably the nail in the coffin was Nintendo’s sadly executed Virtual Boy, which sold poorly due to excessive pricing and sad underdevelopment. The industry got ahead of itself and sold a product it didn’t really yet have the technology to back it up with. Whatever the cause, VR seemed to be swept into the dustbin of history. But, not everyone gave up on it so easily.

OculusVR is a company that was born out of the attempt to improve on these forgotten devices. A Kickstarter with a quarter-million-dollar goal sourced nearly ten times as much funding. Now with the backing of Valve and FaceBook, the money and software support are definitely on hand to make this virtual reality a technological reality. The device itself is still in the development kit phase. These units are far better finished than a rough prototype, but they’re essentially betas. Jennifer, Teen Bot, and I stood in line to take our turn for a few minutes with the demo. (Duh.)


The experience was remarkable.


The eyepiece is a lot lighter than I expected, a fraction of the weight of the old units that I remember from twenty years ago. It has motion sensors installed that turn and pivot the point of view with the literal motion of your head.


The graphics are well implemented and deliver true depth perception as though you have stepped into a digital world. Note the monitor showing a representative view of what I was experiencing in the following picture:


To steal a cliche, this is the real deal. The screens wrap to the peripheral vision and make for a very convincing show. Even only as a visual display, the sound of the real world seemed to dull and quiet into the background. It was disorienting. I understand that the final release will have higher resolution monitors, which is definitely lacking in the Development Kit. There is a nearly imperceptible lag between in the motion that is dizzying. Each of the three of us experienced this phenomenon and felt as though we were about to fall down when we moved too fast. I actually stumbled as my eyes were giving me slightly different motion information than the rest of my senses. The final version is supposed to be faster, which should mitigate this issue as well. Assuming they address these two minor complaints well, and assuming they can keep the purchase price down, this piece of tech may be about to revolutionize the way you interface with your computer just like the multi-touch screen did with your cell phone.

With what this device promises to be upon release, there are some somber implications. With modern graphics, stereophonic sound, and motion controls, games will become a truly immersive experience in a way that they have never been able to before. I don’t consider myself to be a big gamer, but a really good game will suck me in. A game of that quality experienced like this would certainly make me lose track of everything else. I’d have to set a timer to limit myself. I have to admit that I’m excited to see what OculusVR brings to market as the example we played with on Saturday was quite impressive. Even so, it’s a cautious excitement. We haven’t seen VR like this before, and we don’t really know what it will do to the industry or to society. I will be patiently waiting for the first news stories of gamers who injured themselves by falling down using these things. This thing plus alcohol is guaranteed to result in accidents. It’s only a matter of time before we hear of someone getting their home cleaned out by robbers while their senses are cut off from the rest of the world, or someone getting assaulted while using this in an unsecured fashion.

“Smart” Guns

My lovely wife points this out.


The pistol itself is pretty. It has lovely lines and is pleasing to the eye. Although I’d like to get on board with the whole idea of techy guns, I live in real life. Jennifer brings up the question of batteries, which is a good one. When you need to charge or replace the batteries in your watch or gun, does that mean that the gun isn’t available for defensive use? Damn, someone is breaking down the door, but my gun is on the charger with my phone and e-cig! The question of batteries only scratches the surface of the fail here.

The concept of my gun only working for me is a lovely one I guess, but I know that two out of three printer drivers won’t work on my laptop’s OS to send print jobs to the laser printer. The one driver that does work doesn’t like certain image files or font sets.

I know that there are movies that won’t play on our Blu Ray player unless we have the latest firmware, and it’s difficult to predict when it will happen. What happens when your pistol needs a firmware update? Cleaning guns is one thing, but how would you like the routine of clean and download/install firmware?

Sometimes our router crashes and our network fails to network. I know how often I have to restart the router because the network has crashed. Better not have a gunfight during an update.

Remember sliding a cartridge into your Nintendo only to have the game not boot properly, and trying it all over again? Ever blow into the end of a game cartridge to dislodge offending dust particles? Kids, ask your parents. It would be a crap ton of bad luck if you feared for your life and had to reboot your gun. That’s just a smidge more than rack-tap-bang. Try blowing into your gun to see if that will fix it. There are people out there that only carry DA revolvers because the reboot process consists of simply pulling the trigger once more.

There are many of us who can’t wear a quartz* watch without it going dead. Does the control watch itself have EM shielding? Are the electronics in the watch and pistol water/shock/freeze proof? A gun that shorts out and won’t work in the rain is as useless as a paperweight.

As a kid, I remember playing with remote controlled cars and planes with my friends. You couldn’t run more than two at a time, because of RF interference. It would be embarrassing at the range and deadly in a struggle if such interference locked up the gun. I need to defend my life against this bad guy, but I can’t get too close to wireless device because my gun won’t work there.

With any device that has complications that may cause failure, users must be diligent in confirming function. Does owning one of these guns necessitate a home range with a backstop so you can fire one off before you holster it for the day? You know, just to make sure you don’t have to reboot it or reestablish the link to the watch so you know that it will actually go bang instead of locking up like a blue screen of death.

Just as many people carry revolvers as opposed to semiautomatic pistols, the more than century-old semiautomatic shotgun has not eclipsed the pump-action or break action for home defense, sporting purposes, or range time. This is because in the case of a defensive weapon, or any life tool for that matter, simplicity is king. We pull the lock flags out of our S&W revolvers so the mechanism won’t lock up and brick our guns when we’re at the range, in competition, in the field, or defending ourselves. If we hack a pistol such as this so it’s functional without its activation watch, we risk giving ammo to a prosecutor. Remove and/or bypass the electronics in this beauty like we mod an Xbox for better function, and a jury of your peers will hang you. I don’t even particularly like electronic sights, because as useful as they may be, the fear that they may fail jaundices them to my eye, and the likelihood is far less than the failure of the can of worms that this pistol system is.

I fear that legislators are pushing for technology such as this. If we were ever put under such onerous encoding, what would become of legacy guns? Would they be grandfathered or would we be required to retrofit or simply ordered to turn in our dumb guns? I shudder to think of the sight of my S&W M29 with some retrofit device bolted to it. And, many of us have guns that represent historical significance or family heritage and it would be many levels of natural crime to deprive us of them, even if these pieces never fired another bullet downrange for the rest of their future existence. This is the essence of the danger of people who don’t have any knowledge of gun culture or gun function getting into gun design or legislation. They outlaw the shoulder thing that goes up or mandate fictional technology that optimistically is dodgy in its execution.

No thanks. I carry a polymer frame pistol. It has a flashlight on it. That’s about as high-tech as I’m going to get with it. Whenever something like this comes up, we must be diligent to stomp it out like stray embers from a camp fire. Because, just like so many stray embers can burn down the forest, high-hope technology like this threatens our culture and our literal survival.

*edited for spelling

Economic Personal Armory

I mused a bit of a thought experiment with Jennifer over the weekend. When we purchased the vast majority of our guns, we were cumulatively making fairly decent money. We weren’t at all wealthy, but we had the bills paid off and there was enough left over to play. As such, each of our first guns were revolvers out of Smith & Wesson’s custom shop. Indeed, we invested in some very nice defensive and sporting pieces. It’s no secret that things have been significantly tighter over the last few years. I posited that if we started now instead of then, our accumulation of arms would look significantly different. I thought that this was interesting enough to write up here. The three major defensive/utility gun configurations are commonly accepted as the handgun, either semi-automatic or revolver; a repeating rifle, usually in a carbine length, and a repeating shotgun, usually with a barrel length between 18 and 22 inches. In a life or death fight, we use our handguns to get to our long guns. If the fight is a close-range one, use the shotgun. If there’s some distance in the fight, use your rifle. Rule one in a gun fight is have a gun. A hand gun is the gun you have on you, and is therefore the beginning of the conversation.

When I made the decision to carry concealed, I decided that my 6.5-inch .44 Mag with factory hand engraving was ill-suited to the task. So, I picked out a S&W 586L-Comp as my carry piece. Since I tend to be an ambidextrous shooter, I bought a second 586L-Comp to carry as a backup, in a mirrored holster. Were I to arm up today, there is no way that I’d purchase a matched pair of Performance Center revolvers for concealed carry. That much money can be spread over entirely too many bills and debts for that. I did wind up with a M&P45c for daily carry, but I’d likely go with something more economical than that even. I’d more than likely pick up a used Glock 22 or 23. Jennifer asked me, “why .40?” This is an excellent question, as we don’t have anything in the house chambered in .40S&W. The primary reason we don’t, is that we have 9mms and .45ACPs. No matter how careless you (or your guests) are, you will never get a 9mm cartridge chambered in a .45. There are things one caliber is good at that the other isn’t, but there’s not a whole lot you can do with .40 that you can’t with either 9mm or .45ACP. However, if you could only have one gun, .40S&W is a longer-range cartridge, is far more compact gun frame than .45ACP, and is deer-legal in Oklahoma from at least a four-inch barrel. Glock models in .40 have been so ubiqutous that used varieties can easily be found for less than the $500-mark with a lot of life left in them. They’re cheap and easy to get accessories for, and their magazines are interchangeable with some non-Glock models.

This leads us to defensive carbines. Jennifer and I each have name-brand AR-pattern carbines in 5.56 NATO. Even though we love our little M4geries, I would not purchase one on the budget that I have today. Frankly, they are overpriced. Sure, a basic model doesn’t command $3,000 as it did for a weird four months or so of the Obamascare, but even what is commonly sold as a $800-$1,200 rifle is often an assortment of parts that should cost more like $500-$600 in a fair and unbiased market. This goes for AK clones as well. If a decent gun could be had for $300-$500, then everyone should have one. With the prices they command, I believe I’ll still pass. If I were purchasing my defensive carbine in today’s market, I’d be looking at Kel Tec’s Sub2000 in .40S&W, or perhaps a Hi-Point carbine also in .40S&W. Either one will happily share magazines and ammunition with the aforementioned Glock models. *01/22/2014 – EDITED FOR CORRECTION – Cyberludite points out in the comments that Hi-Point carbines do NOT in fact use Glock magazines. I’m not sure why I was thinking that they did, but I was indeed guilty of being a guy saying something wrong on the internets. Thank you Cyberludite and I’m sorry world.* I would most likely stock up on a few of the 22 or 29-round magazines, as well as shave the grips down on both guns so they would be short enough to accept Glock 27 magazines too. Although .40S&W isn’t the long range shooter that 5.56 or 2.23Rem, out of a 16-inch barrel (or 17.5, in the case of the Hi-Point), it’s producing more energy than 9mm, and it can reach out further than .45ACP. Again, this rifle configuration would be legal and effective against Oklahoma white tail.

Jennifer and I love our Winchester pump actions. This is like being a Studebaker fan. Most sane folks justifiably choose a current offering from Remington or Mossberg, or perhaps one of the high quality semi-automatics. I wanted an old Defender, and when I couldn’t find one, I basically built one out of a 120 Ranger, which is a variation of the Winchester 1300 platform. I left the vent-ribbed barrel at 22-inches and added a magazine extention. After the fact, we managed to find a lightly used Defender for Jennifer. These things tend to be relatively inexpensive, and also tend to be pretty solid guns. Expect to see workable examples in pawn shops for $200, give or take $50. If I didn’t have my Winchester, and was looking to score a house gun, I’d probably get the cheapest used Mossberg pump I could find that was still serviceable, chambered in 12-gauge. Jennifer suggested a police retired Remington 870 as an option. Remington’s 870 is a fine gun in my opinion, at least as good as the old Winchester 1912, 1200, or 1300 pump actions, but even used and beat up, they tend to command a price that would buy two or three similarly worn Mossburgs. Indeed, I’ve seen Mossies in pawn shops priced close to $100 if not less. If it has a long barrel on it, chop it down within the legal minimum limit of 18-inches. I like my shotguns at around 20 to 22-inches, because this seems to be a pretty good compromise between payload velocity and keeping the gun maneuverable. Whether it has plastic or wood furniture, it will still put lead downrange. Whether it has a super long eight-round tube magazine, or a four-rounder with a plug limiting it to two rounds, training and practice will make it work just fine. When you practice and get good at feeding rounds in through the ejection port, you’ll find that the missing two or three rounds of magazine capacity will not be your bottleneck on shooting speed over the course of 25 to 50 rounds of ammunition.

In such a hypothetical situation, I probably wouldn’t worry so much about a backup handgun, but would focus my attention on making sure that my primary was in excellent working order at any given time. However, if I were to add one as a fourth gun, I’d probably be just as likely to choose either the cheapest, serviceable, used Glock 27 (for magazine and ammo compatability), or a .38Spl snubby in whatever brand was available. Although I do love my S&W revolvers, they tend to be expensive, pulling in close to $500 for even the cheapest of the J-frames. Conversely, I’d be looking at whatever used examples I could find from Taurus, Rossi, Charter Arms, and probably a few others, just as long as the timing was right, and the cylinder locked up satisfactorily. But even then, this would be way low on my list of must haves, as I feel that the expense would be better spent on practice ammunition and training.

Previously, I would have said that a .22lr, either rifle or a high-quality pistol would be a must-have in such a setup, for practice, training, and for small game hunting. But recently, it’s been so hard to come by .22lr ammunition, that I’m not convinced it would be well-advised. For the going rate of .22lr when you can manage to find it, you can hand load any common centerfire handgun cartridge for less money, so there’s not a significant cost savings if you have access to reloading equipment. Small game that can be taken with a .22 can also be taken with lighter 12-gauge loads, or even some centerfire handgun loads.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation but you started out with a revolver instead of a semi-auto, you might consider a lever-action carbine in the same chambering as your wheel gun. There’s something about ammunition commonality that is quite charming and useful. Frankly, it’s kind of weird that Jennifer and I have not wound up with any lever actions in .357 or .44 Magnum yet. Just as the pump action shotgun, with practice, these can run really fast and accurately. A .357 Magnum load out of a carbine-length barrel can get close to actual, rifle cartridge velocities, which puts it at an advantage over the .40S&W as discussed above. Plus, your .357Mag lever gun will shoot mouse-fart .38Spl wadcutters just as happily as your revolver, making it equally effective for small game hunting or paper killing.

At any rate, we do live in interesting times. It is my hope (and frequent prayer) that we’ll see real improvement in the economy. For those of you who may be trying to cobble together a defensive system under a serious budget duress, I hope this proves useful to you. Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll do my best to round up the answers. If any of my readers have anything to add, I’d love to hear that too!

Life without HDMI

Well, almost.

For many years, Jennifer and I had an “entertainment system” that was cobbled together with a ~19-inch TV complete with knobs on the front, a VCR, and an old Radio shack AV receiver. We had a passive subwoofer hooked up through an old PA amp, and a quartet of speakers, an off-the-shelf pair, and a pair of homebrew towers in the front. When the VCR died, we replaced it with a DVD player. We didn’t have a lot of tapes, and the machines were similarly priced at the time, so we took the opportunity to upgrade. One year, we got a healthy tax return, a.k.a. white trash savings account, and upgraded from the tube to a multimedia projector. We painted a 91-inch screen on the wall with a special paint. We’re still using and enjoying our Optoma HD72. It’s only 720p, but it suits our needs for the time being. Around the same time, we picked up a Marantz SR4600. It was deeply discounted because the HDMI models had just come out. We didn’t feel like we needed the new hotness, but we still wanted excellent sound quality. The Marantz is one of the cleaner sounding solid-states that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but it became clear that we needed a good center channel speaker, which I sourced on the internet.

When the Playstation won The Great HD Format War, we picked up a Samsung BD-UP5000 that was on clearance at the local electronics money pit. We were able to pick up a few HD DVDs at the time, for little to nothing for the same reasons. For full disclosure in reference to the title of this post, we do have an HDMI cable running from this player to the projector, for video only. Even though the Marantz didn’t have HDMI ports, nor decoders for HD audio formats, it did have 8-channel discrete inputs to plug in analog auto, and the Samsung had 8-channel discrete output. So far, so good! My friend, Beej even gave me a pair of Marantz towers that she picked up at an estate sale so we could have true 7.1 surround.

Some time in there, we picked up a pretty nice laserdisc player at a garage sale, bundled with a small collection of discs. Well to be fair, we went through a few players before we wound up with our Pioneer CLD-D406, but for the sake of brevity, let’s say we picked up a laserdisc player. It’s an A/B side player that even has AC3 output for Dolby Digital. I wound up sourcing a Marantz DP870 to descramble the digital audio. This sound processor does a great job at that, but it has discrete 5.1-channel output. This is where we started running against a wall. We now had two units with multi-channel output, and only one set of inputs on the receiver. We don’t watch laserdiscs very often, and the only title we have that is in true Dolby Digital is Showgirls, which we rarely have a driving urge to watch. So, although this was a problem, it was not a huge one.

When Avatar came out, many of our friends, whom we respect, reported that it was a really good movie. Conversely, many of our other friends, whom we also respect, regarded this film as a giant, steaming pile of thinly veiled white guilt cliches. Naturally, we had to check it out. We rented the Blu Ray from the local store and settled in for the evening. Our Samsung wouldn’t play it. So, I went off to Samsung’s website to find that they had just rushed out a firmware update for our player, specifically to tackle the Avatar issue. With the update installed, we were able to *ahem* enjoy this film. And, by “enjoy” I mean facepalm, exclaim “WTF?!?!” and generally hate it, joining in the latter mentioned camp of our friends.

And, that firmware update was the beginning of a pretty crumby experience with our player. It had difficulty with almost all new releases from Disney and Fox. Subsequent firmware updates did nothing. I chatted with Samsung support, got nothing in return, and told them that I was tempted to avoid Samsung products from then on because of the experience. By this point, it was getting difficult to find a Blu Ray player that had alternatives to HDMI, and I was not about to buy a new AV receiver. I decided that I would work towards replacing the player with the next HTPC, which we started on last year for Christmas. My research indicated that playing Blu Ray discs on a computer was not without its caveats, and we still haven’t accomplished the task.

I knew that I was going to eventually have 8-channel sound coming from the HTPC. So, that makes three devices with discrete output going to a receiver that has one input. It was now time to get creative. I needed an 8-channel analog sound switcher. Somewhere I found such a device online, but it cost as much as a new receiver. I put my head together with my brother’s, and formed a plan. I took a dead Pioneer SL-PG440 single CD player and gutted it for the project. I drilled out the back of the box to mount 40 RCA jacks that I sourced on the internet.


And, I even printed out an overlay to stick on the back of the unit to label the connections.


I shaved the front off the faceplate with my router table and rebuilt it with a sheet of dark colored plastic where a selector knob could be mounted.


I sourced some heavy-duty, Japanese-made, four-pole relays. These are discontinued new old stock, and are built like little tanks.


I discussed circuit options with my brother, and let him put it together, as he has done a lot more of this kind of work than I have, and he’s got a good soldering station.




When powered up, the relays make an authoritative “clack” between input sources. The switch has six positions, with the outer two wired as off, and the inner four switch between four input sources. I have not personally listened to sound through it yet, as I lack the cabling to wire it into the system yet. My brother has wired it for sound and reports that it is extremely quiet as far as noise is concerned, that it transmits the sound signal as if it is not even in line. This is exactly what I was after.

So in short, in avoiding purchasing a new AV receiver, my brother and I built a home theater electrical component from scratch. Now, we should be able to wire the discrete sound from the laserdisc sound processor, the HD DVD/Blu Ray player, and the HTPC without having to swap a handful of cables. And, I’ll have an extra input just in case we happen to pick up some other device that we have not yet thought of. Whenever I can manage to get it plugged into the system, I’ll let you know how it runs for me.

Oh, and back to the Samsung firmware issues… Jennifer’s parents gave us the new Die Hard movie for Christmas. When we threw it in the player, it did its annoying trick of sticking on the splash screen. After fiddling with it a bit and threatening to throw the player in the street, I checked the internet for a new firmware version. I didn’t expect to find anything as it had been several years since the last update. But lo and behold, Samsung released a new firmware version in October! I got that installed and we were watching Die Hard in no time flat. I’ve since been able to test the machine playing Tron Classic and Tron Legacy, two titles that have never worked on this player, much to my despair. So, the Samsung has a new lease on life and I’m not feeling quite as pressured to get the Blu Ray drive installed and configured in the HTPC.

Hawk Ammo – First Impressions

I’d like to take a moment to introduce Hawk Ammo.


This is a brand new ammunition company that was started earlier this year by Jeffery Havard, an old friend of mine. His goal is to produce match-grade ammunition at big box prices. He dropped off a box of 20-rounds of .45 ACP for me to review several weeks back, and I have not had a chance to go shooting since. This is a shame, and I wanted to at least give a preliminary look at what he’s doing and what he provided as an example. His boxes may not have the foil-embossed, multi-color print that Federal and Hornady employ, but don’t let the humble monochrome packaging fool you.


He’s started with brand new Starline brass,


and stuffed it with 185-grain Gold Dot hollow points.


He lists a box of 20 .45 ACP hollow points loaded for self defense at $18, which puts it toward the cheap end, if the quality is what it appears to be, which I fully expect.


It may have to wait until after the first of the year, but I will carve out a little time to run this stuff into targets and across the chrony, and I’ll have more to say about it then.


Personally knowing Jeff’s attention to detail, I expect no surprises here. I predict that these will be consistent and accurate. But, that proof will have to wait for another day. You can check out his website, or shoot him an email if you have additional questions.

FDE Is the New Black

It’s the new fad anyway. And, I don’t say that disparagingly. I think flat dark earth is cool when executed properly. You all know of Jennifer’s famous pistol.


Heck, some of my favorite customers have FDE guns.


And of course, Jennifer has been working on building her new rifle, based on an Aero Precision lower receiver finished in flat dark earth.


She will certainly have something posted about her progress soon. I will throw in that this stripped lower is top notch. From what we can see so far, these things are hard to beat for the money.

But still, as cool as FDE guns are, this is a current trend. It’s a fashion. I suspect tack blactical will always be with us, even as manufacturers taper off their offerings of other trendy colors, just as automotive manufacturers tapered off production of tail fins as though they were an embarrassing piece of the past to be ashamed of. My parents once had a refrigerator in harvest gold that they had purchased new. Almost twenty years ago, it was still running like a top, but was horribly out of style. so, they had it refinished in white. It has since died and been replaced. A good refrigerator will last decades. A good gun will last several lifetimes. As people accumulate guns in pink, purple, flat dark earth, and olive drab, as opposed to the classics in stainless or blue, black and wood, will they ultimately fall out of fashion and look gauche or do these trendy colors have staying power?

In twenty years, will we see people painting black over their FDE guns? I certainly hope not! As I previously stated, guns last a long time. What is trendy today will fall out of fashion and look hokey; this is inevitable. However, let time continue to do its work beyond that, and it will come back around and rather than unfashionable, these guns will suddenly become retro. Jennifer and I nearly bought a house that had a complete kitchen straight from the harvest gold era. Only, the appliances were olive green. The tile was brown and the cabinets were all walnut stained. Although it was very dated, it was well done and clean enough to have charm in its apparent age. Had we purchased that home, we probably wouldn’t have changed a thing in the kitchen.

I didn’t have much experience with guns in FDE when OldNFO opened up his Pelican case of toys and pulled out his FNP45 Tactical. It was a full-on assault on the eyes. Although the action was tight, and the gun had an overall feel of quality and competency, it was that weird color: not quite brown, not quite green. He commented on how much he hated it, but not because of the color. It was because of the decocker. You can carry the gun cocked and locked, but as an avid 1911 shooter, OldNFO would hit the safety hard enough to decock the gun, defeating the purpose of carrying it ready for an initial single-action shot.

Contrary to his personal code, OldNFO sold us that gun, and Jennifer has loved it for the last two and a half years or so. I eventually got used to the color scheme. It’s gotten comments from fellow range patrons, blog meet goers, gun manufacturer reps, and others. In our stable, it is joined by Jennifer’s new rifle project in the same color scheme.


There is not a doubt in my mind that these will go out of style and look goofy next to more classic offerings or whatever the new trend turns out to be, but I’m at complete peace with that. Just as it’s a conversation piece now, it will be a conversation piece in half a century, or probably even more so. Besides that, it’s fun to talk about an evil black rifle that isn’t black. Indeed, the next rifle I build will probably be in a funky color instead of Scary Black. Keep on buying those funky colors, and carry them proudly, even when they’re no longer cool!


Sadly, Ruger has already abandoned the gold anodizing on their 22/45 LITE in lieu of a more easily marketable black anodizing. I will still cherish my obsolete gold model though, complete with the pink ivory grips I made to fit it. So, to celebrate the trends that will almost certainly fall by the wayside, I write these words while wearing my pale tan western boots with brown lizard wingtips. Where did I put my disco shirt anyway?