5.56 Timeline

WHY I LOVE GUNS ( a rambling )

I love guns.  I really, really love them.  I love the look of them, the way they feel and balance in the hands.  The way they work and how simple or complicated they are. Their power or their lack of power, letting you enjoy them as soft shooting tools. I love knowing I am holding in my hands a part of history. When it comes from one of Americas oldest gun makers or a rifle that was used in one of the wars by them men we all admire. I love that they will do as they are asked as long as you have the ability and as long as the gun is quality, you have no one to blame but your own lousy ability. And I love that they are works of art, much like the samurai sword. You can buy them made the way you want, or in some cases, you can put them together and build them with your own hands depending on your own skill.  You can even make the ammunition for them by yourself, at any quality level you want.

The most valuable memories I have always include guns.  Guns used during hunting trips with my Dad and Grandafather, vets of WW2 and the war in Vietnam.  Learning hot to work on them with my Dad or friends and the feelings of elation that came with making a shot I had been practicing months for, with my best friends around and watching them do the same. Making a 500 yard rifle shot on a turkey as a friend spots for me and calls out “hit”!  Jumping up two deer and knocking one down on a dead run and having my Dad pat me on the shoulder and tell me what a great shot it was.  Listening to one of my two best friends tell me the history on vintage SWISS military rifles late into the night and going to gun shows after a late night dinner at a sushi bar. And the tired feeling of accomplishment on the ride home from a carbine course with a friend  who is closer then my brother. I would not have these memories and experiences if not for my beloveds.

I can not imagine them not being in my life.  I could say they define me and that would probably be not too far from the truth. To me, they are not just some toy, or a collectible, or a hobby as some people seem to think of it.  Others think of them as valuable or something to have and play with for a bit and maybe show off, then become bored with them and sell them off for another  little distraction or something else to brag about, all the while they never mastered what it takes to use a gun or why it is important to have them.

I have always been baffled by those people. I understand the anti-gun people. I think they are wrong, but I understand why they think the way they do. What I do not understand are those among us who call themselves gun people, or the idiotic term “gun nuts” or shooters.  They have one or two, maybe a few more, but they never really use them.  They have no skill with them, they have no idea of the history behind them or what it is. Most of the time they can not even take them apart for a simple cleaning and they sure as hell can not zero the sights.  They may have one entire box of ammo, but more likely its a box, minus whatever amount the magazine held, after they got it home and shot it a few times. They more likely fired it two or three times then let a friend or a family member blast a round into the dirt or a pop can( which they miss) then all parties nod their heads and agree what a good ‘un it is. A few months later after showing it off to everyone they know, they grow bored with it and sell it for some new gun they will not use, or a TV.  What a waste, I think to myself.  I wonder what the point is because they sure have no intention of learning the skill and they sure do not ever let it cross their mind they may need it to save a life.  I dare say, I have no respect for these types of gun owners.  They are a step up from the gun ban people, but not really by much because they really would not care.  I could never understand this type of person.

My life with guns is who I am. A lot of the good in my life has grown from my love of firearms.  I do have other interests, but guns eclipses them. I don’t like sports( except the shooting sports) I find them boring and watching them doesn’t give me a skill I can use on my own. To me, there is nothing to be admired about any of the ball players. You can not save your kids life with a football. You can not feed your family by killing a deer with a tennis racket no war was ever won because Nazi Panzers  became rendered scrap from a hockey stick or a baseball bat.    Even my other interests usually can touch base with the fire arms world or builds skill that would easily blend well with shooting.

Most shooters I know, like their guns because that’s what they need for a few  activities.  They like to hunt, so they need rifle for deer, or a shotgun for a bird or, whatever.  Hunting is a large part of this locally.  A few more like guns because they like the history of surplus relics or using something for a match and of course the ones who are just dirt blasters.   Sadly almost none of the local people I know understand the point of the gun, to defend themselves from whatever threat may come. They have no interest or desire to learn to use a weapon under stress or threat of life. To them , its a waste of time or crazy.  One person made the most idiotic statement I ever heard come from some one who is pro gun. He told me “mounting a flashlight on a rifle or pistol is the dumbest most useless thing I ever heard of.”   I guess he can see in the dark and can ID  his wife in pitch black at 300Am with bleary eyes under extreme stress. Most of us who use common sense however, will stick to the “dumb” method of using a flashlight.   But that shows the general attitude.

My attitude of always thinking of the fire arms as a martial/defensive tool has caused me great annoyance over the years when dealing with this kind of head in the sand willful ignorance, but I can always find common ground with most shooters. The reason is that my interest in guns and love of everything about them has given me a very large range of  knowledge in them in every way.

I grew up shooting .22LRs like everyone and the odd shotgun and of course my beloved 1911, of which I began my life with at age 9.  After moving up to target bolt action rifles for everything from match to meat I started a sort of scholarly interest in guns.  I have a huge library for guns and their history and everything else about them. Not only that, but book by about the men who made them, used them and wrote about them.   During the mid 90s I spent 3 years learning the more obscure info on guns, ammo, reloading and shooting. I learned of long forgotten subjects like frontal ignition.  I learned how the Japanese bolt gun from WW2 was the strongest of all WW II actions and how it rates on the hardness scale.  I learned why low number Springfield 1903s are dangerous and what made them dangerous.  I learned why some case designs are more accurate then other and  who Harry Pope was.  I spent a long time reading about snipers and sniping and all the men who perfected the art.  I loved every second of it.

I spent years hunting big and small game, shooting for the smallest groups possible during bench rest shooting. I made a 1 mile shot with a 300 Rem Ultra Mag and a 1,000 yard shot using a AR15A2 with nothing more then iron sights, a leather sling and my own hand-loads.    I even was able to shoot aspirin taped to cardboard at 300 yards using an unlimited  BR rifle with a 36x Unertl scope, chambered in .223×35 and 6mmPPC.

I am almost 37 years old now and I have owned close to 350 guns in my life.  I do not regret going through so many guns because I learned a lot from each one.  I just did not shoot them and see how they shot. I learned the history of each one and every technical fact about how it worked, how it was made and the ammo it used along with who made it and what it was meant to be used for.  I thoroughly worked them over to attain my best with them while learning how to tune them if they needed it.

Because of such a wide range of niche interests in all these guns, I made a lot of life long friends. All of my best friends are a gift from the guns we both love.  All of my life long and most trusted friends became so, because of the gun.  You can trust gun people. Gun people understand loyalty and being honest and the skill it requires to be good with, and be safe with fire arms.   Not all gun owners are this way of course, but most really are.  Any friends I have that is not a result of guns, are co workers from some job or another and I was forced to be close to them from working together day after day.  But it is not the same.

Growing up, all of my heroes were gun people.  Movies in the 80s  had mountains of gun fights and heroes who used them to save the day. TV was full of M16s and Mini 14s and uzis and the ever present 1911.   My Dad was in the Vietnam war and carried an M16 and a 1911. Both Colt, and learned he could trust his life with them.  This was past on to me very early in my life and it has stayed with me.  Dad has always been a gun lover and he certainly passed it on to me. Not only the love of guns, but our country’s history of our gun heroes. Dad has always been a lover of history , the same as me. And I heard stories of Audie Murphy and old west gun fighters ( those heroic sociopaths ) and SGT. York.

This is another large part of the gun. The history and the nostalgia of the gun.  When I pick up a vintage gun, like a 1885 highwall with a varmint barrel, I think of all of the work that went into making it. Of the pioneers of accuracy who wanted to perfect our favorite tools, like Harvey Donaldson and Col. Whelan.  I think of open fields in the autumn with some old shooter picking off ground hogs.  Or I hold a M1 garand  and think of some tired  G.I saving Europe’s ass.   It makes me think of the skill it took to build the gun and the skill it took to use it.    the history and nostalgia of guns are a lot of fun. But its not the point. A lot of peope today would be a lot  better off if they could remember that.

The gun takes skill to use despite what the media says.  If you read this site you know its not just point and pull the trigger to make 100 bullets a second come out and kill every one within a 10 mile radius, set houses on fire and kill flowers while the power goes off, the milk spoils and kids cry.  It takes practice.  But its more then just practice. You have to understand a lot of technical points if you truly want to master the fire arm.   Shooting at paper at 25 yards 1,000 times a day for 10 years will not let you make a hit at 1,000 yards. You have to learn to read and adjust for wind, elevation adjustments and so many things I am not going to bother with.  Then being able to do this on demand any time under any conditions and with alacrity, takes skill.

A maddeningly large amount of American gun owners think they are born with the skill to use a fire arm. That they can use it under threat of life when they need to because they shot a pop can once or a deer or play video games.  This is a sorry state for shooters but it is the truth.  So, even with as many shooters as we have now, few really have the skill and mindset to use them.  Shooting really is the American martial art.  It is not as easy as most think and the ability to use the efficiently gives me pride.  Everyone is proud of  any skill they have =, but for some reason, shooting is the one skill a lot of shooters will brag about, when they actually have zero to no ability!  Few will lie and say they can hit home runs every time or can dunk a basketball or whatever utterly useless talent they also admire. But they lie their ass and say they can hit anything, any distance.    To be able to do this is hard and takes a lot of time, practice and ammo.  To be able to do this shows to me, a  serious shooter.  More importantly though is the mindset to understand what it pointless shooting or shooting that will not help you if your life depends on it.   I have always  made this my number one priority when it comes to guns, because that is why they exist.


Of course it is not all about the skill when it comes to guns.  there is something else there  I think.  To use one, you  are deciding to take control of your own life as soon as you pick one up.   When you have a fire arm, and the skill to use it, you take the responsibility of defending your own life, in your hands.  Realizing that shooting IS a martial at, and taking it as serious as any other, you understand the mental aspect that goes with it.   You have to decide if you are going to train yourself to become a helpful part of society if thinks go terribly wrong or just a dirt blaster.   Any one can be a dirt shooter, or one of the gun club boys who plants his elbows into the gun club bench and bang away at 25 yards , but it takes dedication and serious purpose to learn to use the gun in ways to save people in a fight.
This takes all the practice and commitment to the skill as any martial art.  The basics of firing a weapon are the same for the dirt blaster as any one else.  But it is not that simple.  To learn the gun in a way that will help you in a life threatening situation is another matter. A different skill, altogether. Enough has been said on this by others , so I am not going to go on and on about it this time. But, in my opinion, that of all the disciplines of shooting that we see in this country, none are as important or should demand the pride and respect as the skill to use the gun to stop a fight and save a life, even if it is your own.

USMC Scout Sniper Weapons of the Vietnam War

In the past months I have written a bit about the use of and primary rifles used by the USMC for sniping use in the Vietnam war. Now I would like to talk a little about them again along with some of the supporting (spotter) weapons and equipment used by typical sniper teams during the war. Everything used is of course not included, but its a small general example of the weapons used by the majority and most common.

In a fast review of the main sniper weapons, or at least the most well known, we start off with the Pre-64 Model 70 Winchester rifle. The rifles in use at the time were a mix of factory Winchester national match and “Bull guns”,  with the heavy target marksman stock and the sporter stocked Model 70 with factory or custom barrels. The custom work being done by USMC RTE armorers for Competition use at Camp Perry for the national matches and sniping use in asia. The optics were the Unertl 8x USMC contract scope purchases during WW2 for the Marine Corps 1903 sniper rifle.  Some other brands of externally adjustable scopes were used but the Unertl was the most common. A few 3x-9x  Japanese made scope saw some very limited use on a few M70s but very few.

Ammunition for the Model 70 snipers was the Lake City Match ammo made for for the national matches using a FMJ 173 grain boat tailed bullet. One of the things that kept the model 70 from being selected as the sniper standard in the years to come was the fact that this was not a commonly issued round.

The rifle that replaced the M70 and became sniper standard until this very day in the configuration of the M40A5, was the Remington M700-40x. The 40x was a target action of better quality then a standard M700 of the time. The 40x action came with a receiver slot for stripper clips used in reloading when the rifle was employed with target iron sights in high-power rifle matches like at Perry.

The rifle was tested and found to be the best COTS choice at the time due to the Winchester stopping production of the very high quality and very expensive and time consuming version of the Model 70  now known as the “pre-64”

The rifle was dubbed the M40 by the USMC and came with a medium heavy barrel chambered in 308 NATO with a plain dull oil finish sporter stock. It used the clip slotted 40x action, did not have provisions for iron sights and had a metal butt pad. Remington provided the rifle in an entire package with a Redfield Accur-Trac  3x-9x -40MM scope in matte green in Redfield Junior bases.

The rifle barrel of the M40 was later free-floated and the action bedded by USMC RTE armorers in Vietnam after the tropical climate proved almost too much for the rifle to take.

An interesting point is that the two most famous Snipers of the war , Carlos Hathcock and Chuck MaWhinney used the Model 70 and the M40 respectively.  Hathcock having a total of 93 confirmed kills to MaWhinneys 103.  Hathcock used the M70 for his fist tour as a sniper when he got most of his kills including his most famous exploits, but did use the M40 some in his second tour before becoming seriously wounded and being sent home. Unfortunately the rifle was destroyed in the action that wounded him and saw him being awarded a silver star.  Mawhinney’s rifle was found years later and still in service as an M40A1. It was pulled from use and restored to its original specs and is now on display.

The less glamorous but very important spotter in a scout sniper team carried more common weapons that every rifleman was familiar with.  The one that seems the most thought of as the spotters weapon when talking about the USMC sniping teams, is the  M14 US rifle caliber .308 NATO.

The M14 is the US Military’s most short-lived issued rifle. Little more then a slightly more modern version of the M1 Garand, the M14 has a detachable 20 round magazine and fired 308 NATO. The rifle was made in select fire ( full and semi ) and was very much like the M1 Garand.  The M14 was already obsolete by the time it came out of Springfield.  It did and still does have its promoters, but few remember or know that at the time, no one really liked it as much as is thought now.  It was soon replaced by the M16 series of rifles. The M14 did see use by sniper teams in the USMC and the US Army. The Army being the heaviest user of the M14 for sniping developing it into the XM21 that used the ART 1 and 2 optics and night vision optics and sound suppressors. The USMC did use it in a limited way ( compared to the Army) for some night work using the starlight night vision optics.  The M14 was carried by  Carlos Hathcock’s spotter John Burke who used it to great effect when working with Carlos and using match ammo.  The US Army struggled to make the XM21  into a reliable sniper weapon for years and sunk a huge amount of money and effort into it before dumping it for the bolt action M24 SWS ( another remington M700).  Kills could be made out to 600-800 yards with iron sights depending on skill of the shooter and was used for security of the team. The higher ammo capacity and full auto fire would be useful to break contact when ambushed or lay down cover if things went bad.  I have not seen any evidence of it being used to break an ambush in my research but I am sure it happened.

The next rifle is of course, the Colt XM16 and the M16A1.  The rifle  replaced the M14 as standard infantry rifle in the early 60s. The rifle was ideal for jungle warfare and after early blunders by the DOD using the wrong powder in the M193 ammunition and not chroming the chamber, the M16 went on to be our longest-serving weapon and respected world wide.  The M16 lacked the long range potential of the M14 in the spotter’s role, but combat had shown a sniper should not fire many rounds from a position least he be found. Having two people firing was more than the idea of no more then 3 rounds fired by the sniper from one hide.  The M16 was more controllable on full-auto fire, was lighter and the spotter could carry more ammo. Later in the war 30 round magazines became available and gave it even more advantage over the M14.  The spotter, already burdened with security, the team radio and other mission support equipment, benefited from the smaller lighter M16.

The M16 was officially considered for sniping use, but lacking a fast enough twist rate for heavy match ammo, and no match ammo, made the chance of it being the standard impossible at the time. Since then the M16 has been developed into sniping roles as the US Army’s DMR, the USMCs  SAM-R and the  special operational forces M12 MoD 0 and MOD 1. Using the 77 gr.  MK 262 MOD 1 ammo, the MKI12 has recorded kills as far as 800-900 yards and is one of the most effective weapons in the US  military when looking at weapons responsible for enemy kills.  The M16 was also used by some in the USMC as a sniping tool before enough sniping rifles were sent to asia. Usually the rifle user purchased the Colt 3x scope and mounted it on the carry handle. Other special scope bases were made by RTE and USAMTU armorers  for sniping use. When in the right hands, recorded kills out to 900 yards were made with the M16/scope a few times, though very rarely.

The other often overlooked but very important piece of equipment was the spotting scope. Used to ID targets, spot missed shots and scan the area for targets, the M49 spotting scope was carried whenever the misison justified its use. Often times the lower magnification of the sniper rifle optics was not enough to ID a target over a civilian and a shot could not be taken with out proper ID by the spotter and spotter scope. The scope was also used to judge wind, mirage and help judge range so that sniper had the most accurate data possible to make his long range shot.  The scope was also used for spotting artillery and many other uses.

The M49 was a 20x power spotting scope that came with its own plastic carrying case for transport.The M49 is still in use today. The M49 also came with a Tripod for steadying it and for small adjustments to correcting its position so the user would not disturb the scope. The tripod came with its own webbing canvas carrying case that could be hooked to web gear.

The other common items used by the sniper team was the light weight jungle rucksack. The pack originally was intended for mountain troops and had a frame that could be used to carry large heavy loads for mountain and winter operations. It was the common issued jungle pack during the war but was by no means the only ruck used. Some sniper teams used captured NVA rucks or the Indig ARVN packs.

Above an M40 rests across a jungle ruck with the spotters M14 and M49 off to the side.

USMC sniper teams used a wide variety of equipment during the war in asia with this being a small part. The list would have also included radios, binoculars, food, the Colt 1911 as sidearms, maps, hats and camo uniforms and face paint, extra ammo, ponchos, poncho liner, knives etc. These are some of the most well known and famous of the many tools used by the Marines to become the premier sniping experts in the world. Next time I will take a look at some of the uniforms and web gear used during the war and the Army’s XM21 M14 sniper and the M14 and the myth that surrounds it.

Colt 901 Part 4

In parts 1-3 Shawn has pretty much covered most of I would say.

Previously, I owned an Armalite AR10 model 10A4F and I replaced that with a LMT MWS which I quickly got rid of.

The Armalite was about $1500, and was a nice rifle.  However with its 20 inch barrel, A2 stock, and longer then AR15 action, it make for a long almost awkward rifle.  While it did deliver its guaranteed 1.5 MOA, it was neither the handy battle rifle I would have liked, nor a semi-auto precision rifle.  So I replaced it with a LMT MWS.  The MWS had some very nice features, but I had some issues with mine, and sold it quickly.

Now having tried the Colt 901, I much prefer the Colt over the previous two rifles I owned.  The 901 is surprisingly soft shooting.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t have recoil, but that it is a smooth impulse.  Perhaps the M1 Garand might be a good comparison.  The Armalite I owned was not that pleasant to shoot, and the MWS, while nice, was still a much sharper recoil impulse.  When shooting the 901 off of a Harris bipod, the rifle recoils straight back, making it easy to watch my impacts through the NightForce 2.5-10×24 scope I was using.  When shooting offhand with an Aimpoint T1, the 901 recoiled smoothly up and back, I want to say that the recoil impulse is smoother than shooting a M4 with M855.  I don’t want to make some claim that the rifle has light recoil, but I find it extremely fun and easy to shoot.

I have noticed some people questioning the choice of the Vortex flash hider on the 901.  I know it to be an excellent choice.  16 inch barreled 308s have a good deal of flash and blast depending on ammunition used.  This pronged flash hider helped break up the flash and concussion from the shorter barrel, and makes the rifle much more pleasant for those around the shooter.  While a pronged flash hider will ring(most noticeable when dry firing), it is not noticed when firing the rifle.

The 901 is not light, but in my opinion, it balances well.  The Armalite rifle felt very nose heavy.  The MWS, while similar weight, had most of its weight in its barrel, making the rifle far more awkward then the 901.  The 901 handles very similarly to a MK18/CQBR with Daniel Defense RIS II and a suppressor.  It is not light, but it feels far closer to that of a M4 then the MWS.  I found the 901 easier to shoot well then the MWS.

On a side note, when I tried DAG surplus 308 in the LMT MWS, I could only get 6 inch groups at 100 yards with it.  It got to the point where people were making fun of me with my performance with that rifle.  This same ammo gives me 2.5 inch groups in the 901.  So far, in my limited testing, the 901 seems less ammo sensitive then the MWS.

I spent much of the time shooting the rifle with a Magpul CTR stock, the VLTOR IMOD that came with it works very nicely as well.

The Colt 901 is an awesome rifle, but it is not perfect.  So there are some things you should know before you buy one.

1.  The 901 uses a non-standard height front sight, so it comes with a Troy micro rear sight.  Standard AR15 rear BUIS will not work unless you use a rail mounted front sight on the monolithic top rail.

2.  The area where the trigger pins are on the lower is reinforced.  This means if you replaced the trigger, you will want to use the slightly longer trigger pins that come with the 901s trigger.

3.  5.56 PRI Gasbuster charging handles will not work with the 901 lower.  It is unknown if the BCM gasbusting Gunfighter charging handles will work.

4.  The 901 comes with “Colt Spec” .308 PMags.  These Colt Spec mags have an over insertion prevention tab on them.  I primarily ran the 901 with standard Magpul 308 Pmags and had no issues.  When using the standard PMags, think just like using standard GI mags in an AR15, push into the mag well, then pull to make sure it is seated.  The Colt Spec mags are nice, but not mandatory.  With the upper removed, I found it was a non-issue.

5.  The quad rail on the 901 is tall and narrow.  I think that rail panels might not be a good choice for this rifle, but it does work well with ladder covers.  I think that LaRue index clips were a little too slick for the 901.  A Knights handstop and VFGs work well on the 901, but are lower from the bore then I am used too.(I mainly use the Daniel Defense RIS II rail).

6.  The 901 is nose heavy, however it is not too different then a M4 with accessories, or a SBR with suppressor.  I find it better balanced then many of the other .308 variants I have owned or used.

Please don’t read this list the wrong way, I HIGHLY recommend the 901.  It is good to know these sort of things before you buy the rifle.

What I am looking forward to most is having an SBR 901.  I am excited about having a 308 upper, and a short 5.56 upper in the same case, with a single .30 cal can I could run on both uppers.