Dyspeptic Gunsmith Goes On A Rant ( again)

You likely know DG from the comments here and weaponsman.com. The other day the maestro conducted another of his masterpieces in the comments and it was good enough to be worth sharing.

Of course we old farts know what we’re talking about.

The worst thing for the American gun buyer has been the “tacti-cool mil-spec” wave of marketing in firearms.

For those who don’t understand why I get down on “mil-spec,” allow me to elaborate. My first job out of school was working for a defense contractor. For me, the term “mil-spec” means “lowest bid, cut-throat cost cutting, cheapest POS we can ship and still pass the contract requirements” level of quality. People who equate “mil-spec” with “quality” are likely from that segment of the US population who have a) never served, b) never been involved in making materials for the DOD, c) and they don’t pay much of anything in the way of taxes, and they just laugh at reports of $640 hammers.

I don’t rant about “mil-spec” just in guns. Example: Just this morning, my ass was in a 5-ton military truck that has been repurposed to a fire truck, ferrying it for our VFD. Folks, I don’t care if you get a boner like Bert Gummer over military trucks while you’re standing on the curb, watching them go by in a parade. Once you’ve sat your ass in one and had to move it around, you’ll know that there’s “no there, there.” They’re durable, they might have been cheap, but the idea that they’re something to wish to drive? Utter nonsense. If you still lust after these trucks once you’ve sat your ass in one and had to drive it, then there’s nothing I can do for you: you need some strong therapy and some medication. My nightmare is having to drive that wretched POS two+ hours to a fire.

Same deal with modern “mil-spec” guns. If you’re willing to toss ludicrous amounts of money after a modern “mil-spec” firearm… well, you do you. Don’t waste my time asking how it can be made “better on a budget.” Something made prior to 1960? Let’s talk. Something made after the Beatles showed up? No.

Since the early 90’s, I had seen the quality of US firearms go down, down, down, down. Since becoming a gunsmith and handling/disassembling/repairing many more guns than I’d ever see if I were just buying them myself, it is beyond question that in the 1980’s (a decade earlier than I perceived the decline as a gun buyer), the quality started declining – rapidly. At first, the quality decline was seen by only those of us who do detailed strip/re-assembly of firearms. By the 90’s, the rot and progressed to the outside. Today, it’s shit through and through. Sometimes, my fingers get shredded while pulling apart a gun – because the manufacture could not be troubled to take the burrs off the metalwork inside the gun. That’s beyond shoddy – that’s a company that doesn’t care what you think about their product. That company, BTW, is Mossberg. They can’t be bothered to de-burr their action rods.

When you look back at the fit/finish/workmanship of guns from about 1960, and then you compare them to guns from the 1990’s, there’s no comparison. None. Compare 1960 to today, and all you can do is shake your head and ask “WTF happened?” Well, firearms customers got stupid, that’s what. They’ve been bamboozled that “mil-spec” is a good thing, when it’s a highly dubious appellation to use as an indicator of quality. But it is now what infects the US firearms market. Then they delude themselves by thinking that their dollars are still worth something when purchasing something tangible. Why is it that gun buyers will happily spend $40K (and up) on a pickup to haul their boat, but they’ll piss and whine about spending $2K on a quality shotgun or rifle? When I was a kid, you could buy a pickup for $3500. Is it because the bank won’t give you a loan to buy the shotgun?

High Standard is (or was) well known for their quality .22LR target pistols. They were popular, accurate and reasonably priced compared to S&W 41’s and Colt “Match Target” pistols. Nicely finished, straight blowback pistols. The 1200 line of shotguns were solid guns, built with steel receivers, and had a basic (not “nice” but basic) finish of blue and basic, low-figure, walnut stocks. You can find 1200’s from the 1960’s for sale in the shotgun market for between $150 and $300. The 1200’s were cheap shotguns in their day – but compared to the shit being shipped out of major companies today, those low-end High Standard shotguns look pretty damn good today. That gives an indication how far we’ve fallen. High Standard fell on tough times in the late 70’s and early 80’s, like so many other quality firearms companies in the US.

And people wonder why I go on epic rants about the quality of firearms available today…

Howard and I both would quibble with DG over the denouncing of all mil-spec guns and modern guns in general across the board. Milspec now a days not so much “lowest bidder” as it is best value. and milspec does meet a standard that it has to conform to and we know what we will get with milspec and what kind of performance and longevity. Many companies just make up whatever standards they want with no track record of proven performance or can’t even meet the low end requirements of milspec. They just don’t tell the buyer that is the reason they don’t try to use the milspec yardstick . Of course milspec is not the end all be all but it is a baseline if that is useful and trustworthy for hard use combat guns for hard work. but I think Howard and myself would agree with where he was going with it.

Problems behind the scenes

We had a massive attack against our site. This was overloading the servers so our host shut down our account.

I’m not real thrilled with our server host right now. I contacted them via web chat first, after waiting about half an hour I got to talk to someone who said they couldn’t help, but an email with info was sent to me. The email said to call. I called, waited 45 minutes on hold to hear that I needed to email them about the issue. Finally heard back via email 8 hours later with vague instructions on what I needed to do. It has been a mess to get things back up and running.

We have added some protection to prevent such an issue in the future. Also, at the moment, we are also using cloudfire for protection.

Right now the Weaponsman mirror at Weaponsman.Looserounds.com appears to be down. I’m not sure why, but I will trying to fix it tonight. If it doesn’t get fixed tonight it will be fixed tomorrow. We are still working to gain access to the Weaponsman.com domain, but I do not know when that will happen. Fixed.


2 fucking letters! 2 wrong letters in a setting cost me about 12 hours of work getting this running.

Anyways. We have another mirror of Weaponsman.com set up at Weaponsman.LooseRounds.com

I just got it up and running, so if you see any issues please post them as a reply to this thread.

The goal is still to get everything set up with the original domain name, but at the moment this is better than nothing.


We know.

We are working on it.


As some of you know, we have been wanting to move Weaponsman.com content to our webhost so that we can cover the upkeep costs. Unfortunately we have not gained root access or access to the domain host.

That said, we were able to make a backup of Weaponsman.com a while back. Not as good as having root FTP access, but it was still done.

I don’t know why Weaponsman.com is down right now. But I have been working on uploading the backup to a subdomain here. I’ve run into lots of issues which is why it isn’t up yet.

Part of the content backup with corrupt. We lost maybe a dozen images. That is unfortunate, but a relative small price to pay.

Current issue I am having is that I am running into all sorts of issues trying to import the sql database. phpMyAdmin keeps telling me “incorrect format parameter” and everything I have tried so far has not worked.

The data base is larger than the import tool allows, so I am having to have it done via tech support. I’ll keep you all updated.


This week’s post from weaponsman.com is a quick lesson in land nav. Like every week we share some of the best posts from our friend Kevin O’Brien, who passed away too young coming up on two years.


The best case is to have a map and a compass. If you have a general idea of the terrain you can navigate without either, of course. But if you have to choose one or the other, unless the map is complete crap, choose the map.

Why not choose a GPS? A GPS depends on things that you cannot control, including satellites (vulnerable to interception and destruction in wartime, and failure in peacetime) and the electromagnetic spectrum (vulnerable to jamming, meaconing, EMP and other QRM — manmade interference — and sunspots, areas of bad radio propagation (like iron-rich geological formations), and other QRN — natural interference.

Jamming GPS signals is child’s play, because (1) the frequencies used are fixed and published, and (2) a satellite is sending a very low-power signal from very far away.

A GPS also depends on something that has a knack for letting a guy down: batteries. GPS navigators and other smart devices are an update of the old pilot’s joke about a flashlight: something you put in your bag to hold dead batteries. (There are circumstances in which this joke is the very living soul of not funny).

What’s a Topographical Map?

A map is a graphic description of a physical place in (usually) plan view, meaning from an imaginary viewpoint overhead. There are innumerable kinds of maps. Planimetric maps are drawn to scale (of which more in a moment), show borders and boundaries, (usually) cultural features like roads, and coast- or water-lines. If you own a house or land, you have probably seen your lot on a planimetric map. A Mapquest street map page is a planimetric map (it’s also a thematic map, which is a kind of map that has a theme, naturally. Thematic maps can be planimetric, but don’t have to be).

A topographical map is a type of planimetric map that also shows the height of the terrain. How do you show the Z axis of the real world on a two-dimensional map? The convention for depicting height on modern topographic maps is to use isometric lines. That scary foreign word just means “same distance,” iso metric, see? So each height-depicting line on the map represents the same vertical distance as the others. This has some useful applications in the real world, which is where we want to use our maps, right?

It is the isometric lines or contour lines (so called because each line follows the contour of the land at a given height relative to mean sea level) that set a topo map (as we call them to save keystrokes) apart from other kinds of maps.

Unless you have occasion to work with very old maps, military topographic maps will be calculated in SI units, with isometric lines a fixed distance apart in meters and marked elevations (of benchmarks, hilltops and other significant Z Axis features) in meters as well, and distances and a scale in kilometers. In the US, topo maps made for civilian use will have these items marked in Imperial units — feet and miles.

Globally, topographical maps are very similar. Anyone who has used a British Ordnance Survey Map, USGS Map, or NATO military map can pretty much make the translation to the others no problem. Even a Russian or Chinese map is very useful (the Russians have always made superior maps). Even if you can’t read the language you can still see the terrain. The various grid systems used are not always interoperable, though. (We’ll get to that).

What’s On A Topographical Map?

There are essentially three things: the geological features, which include the basic shape of the terrain, things like hills, rivers, coastlines, and slopes; the cultural features, which are the things that grow on the terrain or that people build on it, like forests, villages, roads and railroads; and navigational and informational features, including various things that let you use the map.

Geological Features

HILL terrain feature

A map can give you a good handle on terrain features, if you read the contour lines. This bit of instruction uses the topography of human hands to walk you through the most common terrain features. There’s a lot more the lines can tell you, and you pick it up instinctively sooner or later. For example, on any given map, since contour lines come only at one interval, the closer together the lines on the map, the steeper the terrain. You will notice that watercourses are always in the low point, and that contour lines form a V across the watercourse, with the narrow end of the V pointing uphill and upstream. Bodies of water and watercourses are geological features, and they are always depicted in blue.

This web page recycles government training materials meant to train soldiers to understand the association between the contour lines on their maps, and  the terrain on the ground. It shows the basic terrain features; the hill above is one of them. (The page may have an annoying popup. Just dismiss it).

Cultural Features

Cultural features include vegetation, usually shown as green, and anything humans built on the land, including roads, bridges, trails, railroads, power lines, structures, cities, etc. As a rule of thumb, geological features are more stable and useful for navigation that cultural ones. Barring Air Force intervention, a hilltop’s height isn’t going to change. The shape of roads and borders of towns change all the time.

Navigational and Informational Features

There are many of these, including the Legend, which describes the sorts of features you might see on the map; the declination diagram, which we’ll deal with in the next installment; the indicator of north (part of the d.d.) which is rather important; and information about the datum used (this is the mathematical description of the shape of the Earth that undergirds the navigational features) and the grid system. This is where we run into differences by nation and even by purpose of the map and its recency. Datums are occasionally updated and this means grids aren’t interoperable (some US maps still used the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27)  during our service, and other maps used WGS83 or another datum — a hazardous combination when you’re slinging lead and steel around). The Russians and their allies, for example, use a different grid system (Gauss-Krasovskiy) than NATO and their allies (MGRS, which is a superset of the Universal Transverse Mercator system). This gets interesting when you have lots of nationalities interoperating in one battlespace, but for most of you, the way to deal with this is:

  1. Check that everybody’s map has the same Datum and grid system.
  2. If not, get help! Your friendly SF intel sergeant can probably do MGRS to GK grid conversions, and your weapons guy can deal with artillery tuned with different numbers of mils in a circle.
how grids work

Maps have grids that are set up for a military-type grid reference system, which should let you plot a point quite accurately, or alternately for latitude and longitude, depending on their intended use. Lat/Longs are hard to use in an on-foot situation, because in most of the world parallels and meridians don’t intersect quite squarely. The good news is, that even a map only gridded with lat/longs usually has ticks you can use to set up a UTM grid.

Grids are always read right and up. In map terminology, that’s easting and northing. How and why the grids are set up is part of every military map reading class, but do you know what? You don’t need to know it, any more than you need to know how a torque converter works to drive a car. Yes, it’s great to have knowledge in depth, but right now, you need knowledge you can use. 

Some Homework if you want it:

Reading Topographic Maps, by the OK Geological Survey.