Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Just the Basics - Ammunition Does Matter

This past week I made a range trip to brush off some of the rust in my precision shooting efforts.  The post is entitled “Evaluating Targets” under the “Training” heading.  I used a mix of Aguila ammunition that I had on hand.  I suppose you’d call this “plinking” ammunition.  My primary use is in by introductory handgun classes.  The targets are large, the distance are around 5 yards and the primary thing I am interested in is safe gun handling and very basic marksmanship.  The Aguila works just fine for that.

However, I will confess to some frustration that at 50 yards, 5 rounds per target, my group size was 2”-ish.  To tighten things up I picked the best 3 rounds (smallest group) of the five thus using a rough “average” to tighten up my group size.  With that caveat my group size was right at .5”.  Not bad . . . but the visual of the targets with rounds splattered around bothered be.

When I posted the article to a couple different Facebook shooting groups I received a lot of “why the heck did you use Aguila ammo for precision shooting???” type comments.  Heavy sigh . . . Because I did???  Anyway, I looked through by ammo stash and found 2 boxes of Eley Club ammunition.  I had shot up 8 boxes of a 10-box brick and found I was quite happy with the performance.  So, with a day filled with sun, no wind and mid-30s I thought I’d spend a couple hours at the range just to see how it performed.  I wasn’t disappointed.

First, let’s chat a bit on what goes into making a precise shooting round.  In a word – consistency.  The bullet weights of all rounds are the same.  The Eley Club round is lubricated ensuring consistent loading into chamber.  A precise power load each and every time.  A consistent case size and good application of priming compound inside the rim of the casing.  Do these things, exactly the same, each and every time . . . and you will have a precise cartridge that will perform exactly the same every time it is fired.

Accuracy is the other side of the coin and that is up to you and your rifle.

As a reminder, here is my target from the earlier trip with the Aguila ammunition.  


As you can see, the only way you can begin to detect the accuracy of my rifle and my shooting is by finding the best the shots.  Certainly not ideal and, for me, it was frustrating.  So let’s see how the Ely Club ammunition performed.


As you can see, the difference is stark.  While there are a couple groups that opened up, the precision and accuracy of each round is significantly better.  Other than making myself feel better, what’s the value in this?  Better, more consistent practice sessions.  If I always have to worry about whether it’s just crappy ammunition or a crappy shooter I’m not going to make much progress on all the little nuances of precision shooting.  But, if I have confidence in the performance of the ammunition . . . and I have some thrown rounds . . . I can begin to correct my problems. 

So, about this time my curiosity tickles me a bit . . . how would this stuff shoot at 100 yards?  It turns out that the Eley Club is actually designed to be a 50 yard round.  But surely I can push it out a bit, right.

First things first, the ballistics of the round.  There are any number of ways you can get from here to there – on-line calculators, manufacturer spec sheets, computer software, formulas . . . or how about “there’s an app for that”??

I have an Android phone and have chosen the Strelok Pro.  If memory serves it’s about a $7 app but worth every penny.  It’s rolled through 3 phones with no additional charge and is continually updated.  One of the latest is a Bluetooth link to the Kestrel family of weather meters.  It has a database of 1460 reticles, 3226 cartridges and around 1500 different bullets.  There is a free version that comes with a limited number of reticles, cartridges and bullets though you can define you own if you wish.  It’s enough for you to evaluate the product but for the price it’s a great chunk of software.

It allows you to define different rifles and attach to each their particular scope and the individual cartridge.  Switching between different rifles is simply a drop-down menu choice.  As can see in the image below I’ve selected the Ruger Precision .22 with a Vortex Crossfire II 6x18 44mm scope and it’s reticle.  Also selected is the Eley Club .22 caliber round.  I’ve defined the rifle zero as 50 yards. 

Insert strelok definitions screen here

This yields a couple useful chunks of data.  One a ballistics chart with the hold over required, in this case right at 6 inches.  And it yields an image of what you would see through the scope.  It shows a holdover of 6 MOA or two hash marks.  Since this is not precisely the reticle of the scope I started with a holdover of 2.  


The result looked like this . . .

Notice that the hold over seems to be good but the rounds are about 1.5” right.  That means I need to move the zero 6 “clicks” or 1.5 MOA to the left.  The results of that can be seen on targets 4 and 5.  Each target is 3” with a 1” center.  At this point I had a half box of the Eley Club left so I posted one more target seen below.

This was my first outing with the Ruger PR .22 cal at 100 yards.  The groups the small squares are .25” and I would estimate that all the groups are 2 MOA or smaller with a couple being sub 1 MOA.

Nothing to really write home about for real competitive shooters but I’m not sure I want to invest the time and money getting to a single hole.  I believe I can get to a consistent sub 1 MOA group and will explore some of the competition rounds that Eley makes at the suggestion of a number of very helpful folks on the FB groups.  Other than that, I’ll focus on the fundamentals, do my best to keep the flyers ammunition related . . . not shooter related.

And, I’ll take advantage of this trainer to refine my skill set so I can work with my RPR in .308 and push my range out to 800+ yards with is the limit of a local range.

Bottom line, this little trip again allowed me to learn, grow a bit as a shooter, confirm some of my hardware and software and demonstrated the real difference between the “cheap stuff” and the “good stuff”.  The “excellent stuff” might have to wait until Spring . . .

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Just the Basics – Your Patrol Shotgun

I’ve used the words “Patrol Shotgun” as part of my overall effort to move the mindset for new and inexperienced shooter from “target” shooting or “goin’ to the range” or, in this case, trap or skeet shooting to that of defensive shooting.  You are going to use your shotgun for the defense of your family and your home.  I suspect you won’t be putting it in a rack in your car or truck.

That said, the type of shotgun, the way you equip it and the way you train and practice with it would not change significantly from the way a law enforcement officer would.  Keeping all this in mind I want to talk about your Patrol Shotgun.  We’ll talk about the type of action I prefer and why, what equipment you add to it, types of ammunition and finally we’ll talk about training and ongoing practice to maintain your proficiency.  Feels like it may be a long post . . . so you might want to drag out some snacks and something to wash it down with.

When it comes to types of actions only two make sense to me, either an autoloader or a pump action.  I do not believe a bolt action, a simple single shot or double barrel break action make sense for a defensive firearm.  While it is always possible that a potentially lethal situation could be cured with a single round or two, or that you would have the time and individual discipline required to work a bolt . . . I prefer the simplicity of working a pump action or simply pressing the trigger again in the case of an autoloader.

In the choice between a pump action and an autoloader, if chose a pump action for the simple reason that there are fewer moving parts and I have a belief that in the long run a pump will be more reliable than an autoloader.

I have two Remington 870 pump shotguns seen here laying on the upper half of the photo.  The lower half are my two Patrol Rifles.  I took this while at a LE Instructor workshop I took in October 2019.  For me, any time I take a training course I take two nearly identical weapons, in the case of the photo both for shotguns and carbines.  I also had a duplicate Glock 17 as well.  The reason is simple – good training is expensive.  The course in October including ammunition, food and lodging cost around $800.  I’ve spent as high as $2,750 and as little as a couple hundred dollars.  And just as sure as I am typing this, if I have not taken a spare along my primary weapon will break.  And just like that, I am out the money.  Now the instructor might be a really good guy/gal and have a spare – but I don’t consider it fair to expect that they do – so I bring two of everything.

Patrol Shotgun

So let’s start there.  My primary Patrol Shotgun is a Remington Model 870 Express Tactical pump action 12ga shotgun.  It holds 6 +1 rounds of 2 ¾” or 3”.  The shotgun is typically stored or carried in “patrol ready” meaning 6 rounds in the magazine, chamber empty and closed, hammer down and safety on.  For sights it has a front blade and a rear Ghost Ring significantly increasing the accuracy at longer distances.

There are a couple other pieces of attached gear that I believe are important to make your Patrol Shotgun effective.

Side Saddle

The Patrol Shotgun is typically loaded with 6 rounds of 00-Buck Shot which would be 9 round .32 caliber pellets.  Additional ammunition is in the form of 6 ea. 7/8 oz rifled slugs and are stored in a Side Saddle either fed from the top or bottom depending on your personal preference, method of combat loading and mix of additional buck shot if so desired.  The Side Saddle provides you a total of 12 rounds to fix whatever problem is before you and is much more reliable than just grabbing a “couple extra rounds” out of a stored box and jamming them in your pocket.


Let’s start with the purpose of a sling.

Weapon Retention: It is a good way to make sure your Patrol Shotgun stays on your body.  If you are moving about your house or perhaps your property it insures that in the even you trip and fall or perhaps the intruder attempts to wrest your shotgun from you, that it is secured to your body.

Weapon Transition: Should your Patrol Shotgun stop working either through running out of ammunition or due to mechanical failure, it makes for an easy transition by simply using your support hand to hold it out of the way and then drawing your handgun to continue the fight.  Obviously all of this is dependent on the situation, what precipitated the engagement, whether you even have a defensive handgun on your body, but all that aside it allows you to keep your Patrol Shotgun with you rather than discarding it and moving on.

Load Distribution: Lastly, these darn things can get heavy.  While you may not notice the weight during a short encounter, should things drag on and you end up moving from one point of cover to another, it’s weight will eventually become an issue.  Or, should you take an 8, 16 or 24 hour training course let me assure you that by the end of the day you know you’re toting around more than a few pounds of steel and lead.

There are two primary variations of the sling – a 2-point sling and a single point sling. While there are multiple variations on these two themes, each has primary characteristics.

Two-Point Sling: The sling attaches to two separate sling-points on your weapon. One is usually near the rear of the stock and the second somewhere on the fore-grip. My personal preference is the Vickers padded 2-point sling. It allows for easy adjustment whether I want to snug my weapon to my body during movement or if I want to extend and engage with my weapon. The biggest advantage to a 2-point sling is that when both hands are needed, the weapon can be drawn close to your body so that as your move your hands are free, yet your weapon doesn't bounce off your thighs and knees.

Single-Point Sling: A single point sling attached to a single point on your weapon. This is usually to a ring located near the junction of the stock and frame. It typically has a “shock cord” feel so that while you can keep your weapon close to your body, it easily stretches during engagement without the need for additional adjustments. The biggest fault I find with a single point sling is the amount of movement of the weapon when it is released to hang free on your body. If you do this during movement, you are guaranteed some pretty good-sized bruises by the end of the day. I do not use a single point, nor do I recommend them.

Another big area discussion is “How the heck do I wear this darn thing???” Honestly, to me it’s as clear as day. You want easy access to your secondary weapon system. This is typically a handgun worn on your dominant hand side – therefore, I want that arm to have the most movement possible.  I wear either of these slings by putting my head and SUPPORT arm through the hole. This ensures that there are no obstructions on my dominant side between me and my secondary weapon system.


Another area of consideration are the sights.  The better the sight the more accurate at distance you will be.

My backup 870 simply has a front bead much like a trap gun.  I lay my cheek on the comb of the stock where my eye becomes the “rear sight”.  I sight down the top of the barrel and find the front bead.  Putting the bead in the center of the threat I have my sight picture and am ready to press the trigger.  This is the least accurate type of sight but given the typical range of 50 yards or less, it is typically accurate enough to get the job done.

Next would typically be the Ghost Ring.  The rear sight is simply a larger ring that you look through.  You center a front sight post in the middle of the ring.  Place this on the center of the threat and this becomes your sight picture.  I find this significantly more accurate and I find target acquisition quick and easy.

Yet another option would be a traditional front blane and rear notched sight combination.  Here accuracy can increase but, at least for me, target acquisition is slower.  This would be the most accurate if you’re trying to push beyond the typical 50 yard distance.

Finally, there is the holographic sights – the “red dot”.  These, once zeroed, are fast and accurate.  However, again given the distances we are talking, I find that I have no interest in putting one on my Patrol Shotgun


A weapon mounted light is simply a must.  It will simply not work well if you expect to be able to use a handheld flashlight and still be able to run the gun efficiently.  That said, a handheld flashlight is just part of my EDC kit.  I carry a Surefire G2ZX.  The thing I like about it uses a pushbutton on the butt of the flashlight so I don’t have to mess with switches.  And, it has a wrist lanyard so should I need to “drop it” to help run the gun, all I have to do is to let it go and do what I have to do.  This flashlight is used to help explore an area and to do a general search.  Once I need to transition to run the shotgun I can simply “drop” it and let it hang from the lanyard on my wrist.

As for the weapon mounted light, It’s tough to beat the Surefire TR-1 series.  I use the TR-1s with is a 320 lumen light with a strobe feature.  It also has a momentary on so I can illuminate, identify and then quickly go dark and move.  It also has a “full-on” should I need it and a strobe function that can disorient a threat.  All in all, it’s hard to beat this little guy.

So there you go, a basic Patrol Shotgun setup consisting of the Shotgun, spare ammo carrier, a sling, a sighting system and flashlight.  That’s all you need, keep it simple.


Let’s take just a bit and roll through some ammunition choices.

Bird Shot

No, just no.  In a lethal encounter you want something that will stop the threat.  While you may get lucky with bird shot – please, don’t depend on luck.  Take your defense seriously.  No bird shot.

That said, bird shot, particularly low recoil trap rounds are great for practice and learning to run the gun.  Perhaps the best way to explain the manipulation of a shotgun is to say it’s just plain clumsy.  It’s heavy, you load it a round at a time, there may be instances where you need to feed in a single slug round, throw in a quick round because you ran dry . . . and if you don’t spend some time learning to run the shotgun properly things may not end well should you need to deploy it to defend your family.

The course I took in October 2019 went through about a hundred of the low recoil rounds.  We shot against steel targets and the process worked great.  One thing to keep in mind is that, as with a pistol, you need to spend range time to keep your proficiency with your weapon.  A couple day training course becomes meaningless after a couple months if you don’t spend the time practicing your skills on the range – and low recoil birdshot is a great way to do that.


00-Buckshot consists of 9 .32 caliber pellets.  The typical range for Buckshot is 15 yards or less.  For most types of buckshot once you exceed that distance, they spread out enough that they are not very effective.  One exception is Federal’s “Flight Control” 00-buckshot.  While I’ve not used this myself, it was demonstrated in the coursework and it could keep all 9 pellets on a steel plate at 40 yards.  However, with increased performance comes increased costs – they are much more expensive than traditional buckshot.


The biggest issue with slugs is simple recoil mitigation.  They will hammer the crap out of your shoulder.  As a result, folks shy away from practicing with them.  If you look at the velocity of the Winchester rounds, you will notice that it comes in at 1,600 fps.  That’s a lot of energy.  In looking at different rounds for this course I found a 3-gun competition round that had about half the recoil while sacrificing some speed – down to 1300 fps.  Honestly, for a 50 yard or less shot, the lethality of the round would not change in any significant way while my ability to quickly provide a follow-up shot improved simply because the recoil was so much lighter.  These will become my standard defensive round though I will continue to load the magazine with 00-buck shot and the side saddle with the slug rounds.

Range Results

How do these rounds transfer to range performance?  This is my qualification target from the coursework I took.  The smaller holes are a result of the rounds of buckshot I fired.  It was a mixed course of fire requiring combat reloads and conducted from 15 yards.  Each pellet counted as an individual round.

The large holes were made by the slugs fired from 40 yards (the max distance we could get on their range).

A qualification score for an instructor was 90%.  As you can see the spread of 00-buckshot at 15 yards is well within the outlines of the target.  This should give you some idea of how this type of shot placement would affect a threat.

So there ya have it – my view of a Patrol Shotgun and the rounds I use to defend myself and my family.  I realize lots of folks have their own opinions – I’m always willing to listen.