New Friends Are Only 8,078 or 19 Miles Away

I had to land for a four hour layover in Dubai during my recent flights to and from South Africa. On the way to SA as soon as we landed I went to the Duty Free which actually is the entire airport area near the boarding gates in Dubai Airport now. I needed cigarettes. Wasn’t going to buy them in California at 8 dollars a pack and I was told they were 2-3 dollars a pack in SA. I didn’t figure they’d have any of the rather rare smokes I like though so I checked around the Duty Free and found cartons of Djarum Black for $13.26US and immediately bought a carton and headed to the nearest smoking lounge.

After I’d finished my first smoke another guy, middle eastern looking, walked in and sat at the next seat over around the same ashtray as me. We exchanged greetings and queries of where you going, where you from and such. The were are you coming from question for both of us had the same answer, San Francisco Bay Area. Our destinations couldn’t be much different. He was going to Afghanistan and I to South Africa.

Whiskeys of Scotland in airport of Dubai. My budget almost vomited. There are $30,000 bottles in that case.

Turns out the guy worked with our boys in brown over there during the war’s heyday and had moved at the first opportunity to California where he loves the climate and culture and clean & safe everywhere sort of feeling. The last remnants of his family, I gather, are in Afghanistan taking care of the last of their property holdings.

We chatted for a long while about religion, politics, war and sports and found that despite our mutual distaste for each other’s system of beliefs that we were perfectly happy to be in each other’s company and to talk, entertain and educate each other. After a while both of us were hungry and we retired to the nearest place where one can get shawarma. Having never really had an authentic regional copy I asked if I should get the sandwich or Arabic version (a wrap lightly grilled). He suggested the Arabic version and so we ordered. The food place had nice seating but didn’t serve alcohol so we both had what they called tea though it was doped with sweetened condensed milk and cardamom so heavily that it really resembled the taste of horchata more than tea. I was unused to the flavors but tried to enjoy them without a preconception. The tea worked to soothe and really broke the shawarma flavor up. The shawarma was, according to my companion, terrible if edible. I thought it would be spicier but was otherwise getting the distinct sensation that a Greek had introduced them to the gyro but called it shawarma so they wouldn’t get offended at it not being a local delicacy.

Arabic style shawarma. Broiled thin sliced meat, flatbread, salad, wrapped & grilled.

In the end we ate till just before my boarding time and then I ran full out to my gate to make my flight. My companion, whose name is Ghani, turned out to live not 20 minutes from my house so we traded contact info and agreed that we’d try to find a decent shawarma and continue our conversation upon our respective returns to the States.

In almost every way, the pair is incompatible. Opposites in so many ways. The salve for that problem though was to simply leave aside distaste and to engage in open and honest conversation where we didn’t bog down in the rote definitions of words. We defined the words with contentious possible meanings ourselves and left the “well that’s not what I call that” over to one side. It really made the conversation entertaining and educational.

If countries, religions, political movements and most of all groups of people could accomplish what we did there would be no international conflicts and fewer conflicts within individual nations. Live and let live gets you only so far. Sometimes you really need to deliberately set aside distrust or dislike and simply coexist.

Hi Ghani! Be safe in your travels and let me know when you’re back in the States. This time the dinner is on me.

Africa and Back – A Brief On My Trip In Pics & Text

My recent trip to South Africa was partly to do a couple hunts and partly to see what the long range precision rifle scene there was all about and how it could be well served. What products and services were available, what are needed and what just won’t play there. They have their own competitive rifle sports that are very like some of ours but different enough to have special needs. They also have a budding long range precision scene in the more common American influenced sports like F-Class.

Along the way I met a huge number of people: Gunsmiths, Knifemakers, Suppressor Makers, Farmers, Competitive Shooters, Guides, Importers, Exporters, Collectors, Legendary Hunters & Soldiers and 3 of the toughest, most well behaved polite & intelligent teenagers it’s possible to raise in this world.

I took some time to teach a few basic ballistics classes for some friends and we even got down to doing some long range live fire work complete with challenging drills and tests of both bravado and ability. Shots under 500m were there but we focused on shots over 500m and I have to tell you, these guys in South Africa are not fooling around. They’re motivated, well educated and not afraid to spend money if it’s going to return results.

I learned not only what biltong is but how to make it and why it throws jerky straight into a cocked hat. I saw fully 15 species of antelope, along with warthogs, ostrich, cape buffalo, and more. I got to experience what it’s like to be an ethnic super-minority and a chance to learn a little Afrikaans.

Afrikaans is a lot like Dutch but to the ear it sounds like there’s a lot of Hebrew or Arabic language influence with some of the sounds. I found it greatly difficult to understand spoken Afrikaans with my hearing loss eliminating vast wadges of the audio inputs and lip reading it is right out, much like Hebrew and Arabic. I did manage to toss a bit of surprise around when I picked up a book about wildlife which was written in Afrikaans and I started translating it to English on the fly, out loud.

For those that don’t know, modern English decends from Old English with tons of Norse, Latin and French tossed in. This is why English seems to lack a coherent set of rules… there’s nothing but exceptions to the rules it might otherwise have because all the languages it’s based on have different rules. Old English itself is largely descended from Dutch, or a Dutch relative and a surprising number of the words they use are pronounced identically (cheese, bread, meat, beer, blue, etc…) but are spelled in a way that would make Chaucer giggle. Once you figure out how they use vowels and some odd uses of the letter “g” though translating the language to English is almost unnecessary as it’s so much the same as English and the rest you can get from context pretty well. For someone that truly sucks at languages, this was a nice experience.

If you’re thinking of a trip remember that you don’t have to know a lick of Afrikaans to get along. Everyone there, EVERYONE, speaks English pretty fluently if with various accents and sets of commonly used phraseology. All the signs are in English. The retail infrastructure is quite a lot like a mix of European and American. It lacks the number of big box stores and has oodles of smaller more specialized shops (though big box stores are there).

It’s almost like visiting San Diego in a lot of ways, especially in the visual appearance of the landscape. Apart from the racial makeup (who is in the minority) you’d have trouble figuring out you’re not in a city in the American southwest somewhere, other than all the cars are diesel powered and they drive on the other side of the road.

Also, for your first time especially if you’re an American: DO NOT RENT A CAR TO DRIVE THERE. You really need a primer trip where you get driven around first so you can see how the locals actually drive or you most definitely will find yourself in a surprising situation or two and may piss someone right off by trying to be safe instead of polite. If you’ve driven in India you’re probably not going to be surprised as much but otherwise, take the first one with a local driving you around.

PICTURE TIME!

Knife made for me by Danie Joubert.

My Eland.

.308 150gn Sierra Game Kings working springbok innards.

Draining blood and guts from my eland.

One of the two toughest little girls I’ve ever met.

My eland on the ground.

Tracking my eland as it walks off to die.

Rough country doesn’t mean you can’t prone out properly.

Filling my guide in on where the eland went to die.

Getting our stalk on.

Africa is as austere a place as it is beautiful.

The tall thin trees are actually aloe’s. 3m tall aloe. Just wow. Never knew they grew into trees!

Authentic South African Boer recipes. In Afrikaans of course.

A braai of livers, hearts and sausages. OMG that was good.

My springboks getting their cool down on.

That’s a happy hunter.

With a poker face carved in stone.

My trophy springbok.

My first springbok.

Egyptian geese.

Wildebeest

Bontebok

A landscape that says, “You’re totally alone here. Don’t get injured.”

Outline for a little classroom ballistics session.

It wasn’t a formal class, actually greatly condensed. Still, we wanted everything to look nice.

Sakkie and his bride. A more amazing pair of honest, hard working, kind and generous people I have not met. Only James Yeager comes close (if you haven’t met James, you don’t know him).

It’s winter in Africa. And quite cold and windy.

Landowner warthog trophy.

Landowner bushbuck & caracal trophies.

A caracal trophy.

Kudu trophies.

My impala ram.

My impala ewe.

The buckey (what South Africans call a pickup truck)

Jacques confirming zero.

Black giraffe not 100m from our accommodations.

Ostrich

Johannesburg, SA suburbs. They name restaurants very strangely there.

Teaching ballistics eventually leads to a range session.

Dubai looks cool from the air.

Russia looks greener than I ever imagined it.

Teaching a little ballistics to a few friends.

Cruising through acacia trees on dirt roads. Like being a kid again.

These guys are great people, great shots and great students.

A landscape you just can’t find anymore. Empty of apparent human activity.

Episode 4: A New Logo!

In a continuation of our re-launch from the close call earlier this year, we’re launching our new logo. This new logo will begin adorning the website and all new versions of BallisticXLR, BallisticPRS, BallisticRexLR and our latest product being announced separately. Big thanks to my ever present partner in crime Wouter for crafting this killer logo.

Remember: Don’t run. You’ll only die tired.

 

 

Progression of Project Rolling Stone – Mossberg MVP .223

When I picked it up, I got it only because it could take my 20 & 30 round AR-15 magazines and I was in to squirrel shooting and preparing a trip to Cedarville, CA for their annual Squirrel Wars event. I was going to not spend all day loading mags this time and didn’t want to use an AR-15 again. Bolt action seemed better.

I ran over to my closest Big5 Sporting Goods and they had one on the rack with a $50 off sale price. So I snagged that right up. It was a 24″ varmint model and I was happy as a clam, for about 2 days. Within those 2 days I pulled it apart and found it was bedded with plastic, the stock leaned to the right down the barrel channel and action screw torque was unrepeatable. Fine. It’ll shoot. Right?

Iteration 1. Bushnell ET-1040 Mil/Mil and a Harris 6-9″ Swivel bipod w/ podlock.

Well, I tossed on a Bushnell 10x40mm optic, some Burris Signature Series 1″ rings and a bipod and went to the range with some steel cased russian 55gn FMJ. The gun printed nothing inside 1.5″ at 100yrds. Ok, let’s start replacing parts. That’s always the right thing to do. Right? Using better ammo wouldn’t help, obviously. That said, I did start some handloads for it and found it had certain proclivities toward heavy weight bullets and being pushed to primer popping pressures.

Round 2. FIGHT!

So, I found out the Bushnell optic was not tracking consistently. While it was back at Bushnell being replaced (This is a common theme with the 10×40’s. Of 4 of them I’d bought, 3 needed RMA’d) I added a 16×42 fixed power SWFA SS optic and 30mm Burris Signature Series rings. I took that out squirrel shooting and was not impressed. Accuracy with 40-55gn ammo was horrid. With heavier stuff it started performing though. So, change of plans. It’s not a squirrel gun anymore. It’s a match rifle. See, I’d just gotten into a regular local prone long range precision match and needed something inexpensive to shoot there. Well, one trip in and that factory stock was shit-canned. Replaced with an MDT LSS chassis, DPMS PSG-1 pistol grip and a Magpul MOE buttstock. That did really well and I managed to turn in the 2nd highest score ever with a .223 at my regular long range match. That still stands. I haven’t bested it to date.

US Optics Scopes, MDT LSS chassis and Burris Signature Series rings on Project Rolling Stone (5.56) and Project Gabriel (7.62)

Not too much time passed and I came into a big bonus so I wanted a major optics upgrade. A quick call to US Optics and I had 2x ST-10’s on the way for various rifles. Epic scopes. Simply wonderful. I took that out with my spotter/best friend, The Disco Tripper, and we turned in some groups on steel. Man that combo could shoot. Running 70gn Berger VLD’s and 75gn Hornady BTHP it was an easy gun to hit long range steel with. I mostly kept those ST-10’s on my bigger guns and used the 16x SWFA optics though. They’re a lot harder to use than an ST-10 but I wanted the extra magnification for the aim-small-miss-small thing.

650m results from Project Rolling Stone

Once we got to this point my coach started harassing me about trying a bedding job on the chassis. So we grabbed some epoxy and fully bedded the recoil lug and skim bedded the action. I also added a MOE cheek riser to the butt. Instant improvement came from the bedding in that no more flyers plagued me. That settled her ass down nicely and I shot quite a few matches as well as a bunch of informal plinking sessions with the gun. The cheek riser had the rifle as comfortable as if it were injection molded around me. I’ve not yet gotten the rifle in its current form to fit quite that nicely, mostly due to time.

The day I set the 2nd place .223 record, setting up for a 900 yard shot, which I hit. Waiting for my spotter to figure out a set of binoculars.

I have been able to shoot the living piss out of it regardless of whatever else is going on because it’s a .223 and very inexpensive to load for. That’s been a saving grace with this project.

Up on The Grassy Knoll. Stage 2 at Avenal. About to start missing.

It was about the time that my barrel was starting to really age that I also decided to upgrade basically all of my scopes. I started with some more US Optics in the form of an ER-25 for my .308. Not the best choice. It worked great on the big 7mm Remington Magnum (below far left) but not so much on the .308. It was also just too damned big for my safe. No rifle fit in there with the ER-25 on it so I had to bounce that optic and began a long journey of horse trading to end up with what I have now which is more US Optics but these fit in my safe and you’ll see them further down in this article. One thing I was really trying to nail down was parts commonality so I could take parts off of one and put them on another if the occasion arose that it was necessary. My mindset was really into TEOTWAWKI at the time. I’m in a better place now that President Daddy is in the White House.

Some of MeccaStreisand’s long range rifles. 7mag, 7mag, .308, .223, .223

It wasn’t too long after I’d bounced the larger US Optics ER-25 and an ST-10 in favor of a set of Vortex Razor 2 HD’s. One in 3-18×50 and the other in 4.5-27×56. They are excellent scopes but I hate hate hate pinch screws on turret knobs for exactly the reason that I bounced those Vortex optics. They loosen enough to not adjust when you twist em’ but they still click and it happened multiple times on both turrets of both scopes. Plus they’re heavy as all get out and the 3-18x on the MVP was in MOA because that’s what I could get at the time. All combined I just was not happy. So, I looked around and looked around and finally after almost a year found a US Optics B-17 I could sell the 3-18x Razor and buy. Excellent choice. I guess I’m just a US Optics guy.

I ditched the factory trigger early on and got myself a Jard and a Timney. The Timney spends most time on the rifle. The Jard is special purpose and breaks at just ounces. It’s not a safe trigger for most use cases but it’s brilliant when I’m trying to hit chicken eggs at 500m. The Timney doesn’t have that annoying blade in the middle of it but otherwise is set about the same, 2.5lbs.

All in the family. Upgrades coming rifle by rifle, step by step.

The first Razor 2 to go away was the 4.5-27x Razor II because I had a buyer for it and something on the line to replace it with. I sold it and had enough money left to buy a used US Optics SN3 3.8-22×44 ERGO on a 35mm tube in MOA with a really slick Dragunov style reticle that heavily uses chevrons. It’s a battle ready optic for sure. My coach decided to get into long range prone though and needed a scope so that went on his gun. Now I needed another. Begin the long look for just the right swap.

Black Hole Weapons barrel. Wrong thread patten but that’s a simple fix.

I shot Project Rolling Stone in variations of one form for a good long time. Long enough to burn out the barrel. Truth be told I’d more or less killed that barrel the week I got the gun. I had a bunch of steel cased Russian bulk ammo with bullets that were copper washed steel and started the gun on those. That must have eaten half the barrel life. By the time I’d had around 3K rounds out of it (IIRC, it’s been a while) that barrel just wouldn’t reliably hold the match level accuracy I needed. It was fine for a sportsman, and I gave that barrel away to a sportsman later on, but not for a match long range precision gun. Thing is, only 1 outfit had reportedly made any small ring MVP barrels and they made them shouldered instead of barrel-nutted. I also wanted a particular barrel maker’s barrel. Black Hole Weaponry. Why? Well, their pipes are just too easy to deal with, shoot excellently, clean easily, are inexpensive, stainless and come threaded at no extra charge.

Once I got that barrel situation settled then I wanted to do a little something with the finish. So I got the idea to make it look like a Sonoran coral snake. 3 months of beating on my local Cerakote guy and getting nothing but excuses later I finally got it back, literally hot from the oven and the scale pattern was backward. Fuck! Well, such is life. Only dorks and herpetologists ever notice. What everyone notices is he didn’t finish the last 4 inches of the pipe. Dick! I eventually got it back and had my 26″ pipe at 1:7 twist in Caudle 3-groove polygonal rifled 416R stainless steel. I bought a bunch of 73gn ELD-M projectiles and a ton of new PPU brass and have been swatting steel on the regular with it since.

Sonoran Coral Snake Cerakote

It was such a hassle dealing with the Cerakote guy that I did my .308 barrel with rattle can spray paint and it actually turned out pretty cool despite me not having much experience with this sort of thing. I used the mesh plastic thingy they send barrels in to make the scale pattern and 3 colors of paint with blue painters tape.

.308 barrel with Texas Coral Snake pattern by Krylon and me.

Then at some point one of the guys at Primary Arms and another guy from Accuracy Solutions were both interested in how their assorted products would do at my monthly long range prone match. Being a good sport and a bit curious, I set out to find out. I added a Primary Arms 4-14x FFP ACSS HUD/DMR optic and an Accuracy Solutions BipodEXT to the gun. I also switched out the Magpul MOE based butt section for an XLR Industries Tactical stock to gain full adjustability which I wanted for various reasons but mostly because I needed a proper cheek weld with the PA optic on there. The Primary Arms scope works if you trust and use the BDC reticle and did not do well at all when using the mil dots and calculating. This also is predicated on getting the bastard to establish or hold a zero. This isn’t my first rodeo with the PA 4-14×44 FFP. So far every one that’s been to one of my classes has been what I’d call defective in one way or another. Glass is routinely milky, turret click values are wishes at best and inconsistent click to click and across the range, getting one to hold zero is almost as fun as trying to establish a zero. You’ll end up needing a screwdriver to beat the shit out of the scope with after each adjustment. The BipodEXT was brilliant. It put the axis of rotation out in front of the muzzle which increased the lever length enough to make it like shooting from a machine rest. All wiggle was gone! I would recommend the Primary Arms low end line as targets rather than as optics. The PA Platinum line, on the other hand, are fantastic optics that work as advertised, just like the price suggests.

The Snake Gun equipped with BipodEXT and Primary Arms 4-14x FFP ACSS.

Having finished with testing stuff I didn’t want to use long term and written the appropriate articles, I went back to perfecting the combo and slapped a US Optics B-17 on top. To finish the whole thing I bounced my usual Harris 6-9″ swivel type bipod and put a new AccuTac BR5 into my kit. That’s a beast of a bipod.

Project Rolling Stone in its current form.

I get a lot of strange looks and a lot of people stopping by to make comments from snide to supportive about the rifle and all my rifles for that matter. It’s my toy and I’ll play with it how I like to so I don’t mind when they get snide or chiding. All my match guns are meant to elicit a visceral response. Partly that’s to destabilize my co-competitors mentally so I have a better chance of them doing shitty. Part of it is just for conversation starting. Part of it is, I like these rifles and I like to make them look how I like them to look. I betcha you’ll never find another coral snake gun or another hot dog gun but everyone and their sister has a Hello Kitty AR-15 or a grass pattern on the entirety of their AR-15 or Air Force style shark teeth, etc… Just because they’re unoriginal repeating pieces of camel poo doesn’t mean I have to be unoriginal.

Project Gabriel in its current form which I call “The Hot Dog Gun”

If you do the math, this gun has cost me a pure fortune. $600 for the base gun, $750 in various stock parts, $5500 in various optics, $400-ish on triggers, $500 on barrels, $300 on rings and mounts, $10 in muzzle devices (A2 birdcage) and $100 in Cerakote and spray paint. So there you go. I’m about $8,000 in if I’d had to buy each piece at full price. Thankfully, I did a lot of swapping this for that and either reselling or directly trading most of the time so my actual spend on the gun as it sits is closer to $2500US in real money spent.

That said, for $2500 I’ve got a .223 that will easily swat a bad guy or a critter to well beyond the effective range of the bullet it shoots and shoots under .75MOA. It’s got the best parts on the aftermarket on it without resorting to blatantly overly expensive bits that are just more expensive without being any better. I know a lot of folks with $2500 in an AR-15 that couldn’t shoot a 3/4MOA group to save their skin. I’m pretty happy with what I have here.