Category Archives: Exclusive Web Extra

Exclusive: Hunter’s Deluxe Survival Kit

While we all agree it’s better to be prepared for a survival situation than not, we would likely take different approaches to getting to the point of prepared. If you don’t have the time or inclination to put together a survival pack on your own, consider picking up a pre-made kit. As you know, some pre-made kits are comprised of gear that, individually considered, might not make your ultimate survival gear list. But taken together as a kit — especially when packaged in a functional backpack that’s as easy to keep in your trunk as it is to haul it into the backcountry — convenience and portability play a compelling role.

DSC_1117_edited-1The Hunter’s Deluxe Survival Kit by Guardian Survival Gear offers a wide range of very useful gear not only for hunters but for anyone interested in keeping a basic kit at the ready in a closet or trunk.

Here’s what the kit includes as well as some commentary from me…

Food and Water:

  • 12- 4oz. Water Pouches
  • 6 – 400 Calorie Food Bars (2,400 Calories)
  • 10 Water Purification Tablet’s – each tablet purifies 1 liter of water


I actually tried the food bars and the drinking water. Remember, this is survival food. It has a five-year shelf life and is not meant to be tasty but functional. The water tasted like water. The food bars didn’t taste bad, but they reminded me of a thick, condensed honey graham cracker with the consistency of fine sand. Still, in a survival situation, I’d gladly eat one. Or two!

Light and Communications:

  • Dynamo 4-in-1 Radio Flashlight
  • 30 Hour Emergency Candle
  • 12 Hour Emergency Bright Stick
  • Box of Waterproof Matches

DSC_1125_edited-1The radio/flashlight is pretty handy, actually. Crank it up for a minute or so and listen to broadcasts or use it as a flashlight. The power lasts for a lot longer than you’d think.

Shelter and Warmth:

  • Emergency Survival Sleeping Bag
  • 16 Hour Body Warmer
  • Emergency Poncho with Hood

These shelter items are very helpful and probably would get used in a myriad of non-survival situations.


  • N95 Respirator Dust Mask (NIOSH approved)
  • Roll of Duct Tape
  • 50 ft. of Nylon Rope
  • 16 Function Knife
  • 5′ x 7′ Blue Tarp
  • Infectious Waste Bag
  • Compact Multi-Function Shovel

More handy items, even for mundane duty in a boat, car, or other vehicle. The multi-function shovel, while not heavy duty, proved useful — mainly as a shovel. It could become a defensive weapon in a pinch.

Hygiene and Sanitation:

  • 24 Piece Deluxe Hygiene Kit
  • Tooth Brush
  • Tooth Paste
  • 8 Wet Naps
  • Soap
  • Shampoo/ Conditioner
  • Dental Floss Pick
  • Hand/ Body Lotion
  • Twin Blade Razor
  • Deodorant Gel
  • 5” Black Comb
  • 4 Maxi Pads/ Bandages
  • Washcloths
  • Shaving Cream
  • 3 Pocket Tissue Packs

DSC_1116_edited-1First Aid:

  • 107- Piece First Aid Kit


  • Deck of Playing Cards Note Pad
  • Golf Pencil

The first aid kit gets called on all the time; the hygiene items come in handy every now and again as well.

Guardian produces several survival kits for different missions. To learn more, visit Wholesale Survival Kits and to find a reseller, choose a company from the Featured Resellers on the right side of the page.

— Mark Kakkuri

Exclusive: One 1911, Two Holsters, Four Seasons

For many, “Summer carry” means snubbies, micro .380’s and single-stack 9’s. And rightly so. Smaller and lighter guns are easier to carry and hide when you’re clothed for warmer weather. But for many, their Summer gun is also their Fall, Winter and Spring gun. And house gun. And truck gun. And so on.

Say you’ve got one gun, a Government 1911. It’s big. It’s heavy. But it is thin. And say you want to carry it in all seasons, including Summer. The 1911 being what it is, you have plenty of holster options. Moreover, some swear that concealing a Government 1911 is no more difficult than any other gun.

DSC_1093_edited-1As much as I’d prefer a smaller, lighter gun, this Summer I’m going to carry this Springfield Armory 1911 Mil-Spec in two holsters: a Cry Havoc Torrent and a Galco Summer Comfort. They’re different holsters with different missions, for sure, but I’ve discovered that they both do a lot of things well, including a decent job of concealment.

The Cry Havoc Torrent ($55.00) sports a stiff Kydex front and back and a straight drop in a familiar belt slide design. The fit of the Mil-Spec in the Torrent is one of the best I’ve seen for a Kydex holster, meaning a firm grip with absolutely no wiggle or rattle whatsoever. Being an outside the waistband holster, what you lose in concealability you gain in comfort and accessibility. I like the Torrent as a carry-around-the-house holster and as a carry-when-working-outside holster. But it does a good job for concealed carry, too. So, you’re wondering, what’s the best way to conceal the Springfield in this holster? Three o’clock with an untucked T-shirt topped by a short-sleeved, untucked button shirt.

DSC_1091_edited-1Galco’s Summer Comfort ($77.95), a well-known holster, usually gets ordered for much smaller guns. Which is a understandable. But this full size rig does a very good job with the big 1911. The fit of the Mil-Spec in the Summer Comfort is excellent; it carries firmly yet relinquishes the gun with a clean upward and forward draw. Being an inside the waistband holster, what you gain in concealability you lose in comfort and accessibility. I like the Summer Comfort as a primary carry holster for this 1911, as long as it’s not for too long as the weight and size of the gun simply gets to be a bit tedious after several hours. For this gun/holster combination, concealment is easy: Three o’clock with an untucked T-shirt.

Any guesses on whether the Summer Comfort will live up to its name? Or will the Torrent be preferred for Summer carry of this Government 1911? How would you carry it?

— Mark Kakkuri


Exclusive: Talkin’ Guns, Gear and Ammo

When my boys (age 16 and 17) and I shoot, we’re usually in a friend’s backyard, fully observing gun safety rules and range etiquette but without the oversight of a real range officer. The other day we visited a real range (Michigan Shooting Centers) and experienced the good and helpful features of range booths, the actions of other shooters, and Joe, the helpful and friendly range officer. With only an hour or so to shoot, we kept it simple: a Kimber Ultra Eclipse II LG, Atlanta Arms Target & Defense Ammo, Shoot N C targets, and Mec Gar Magazines.

mecgar1Shooting, of course, isn’t exactly a sport where you can maintain much of a conversation. But there always seems to plenty to talk about afterwards. Here’s what me and my boys had to say about the gun, gear, and ammo we all had the opportunity to fire.

About the Kimber Ultra Eclipse II LG:

Jack: “Big wallop of recoil but once I got used to it, it was no big deal.”

Harrison: “It was difficult to see the laser because of the sun, but it was easy to see and aim with the regular sights. Pretty accurate!”

Me: [Big smile]

mecgar2About the Atlanta Arms ammo:

Jack: “Looks like pretty mean ammo. I sure wouldn’t want to get hit with one!”

Harrison: “All the bullets end up in the target and all the empty cases end up around our station at the range. This is good.”

Me: “Let’s make sure we help sweep up all cases, okay guys?”

DSC_0961About the Shoot N C targets:

Jack: “The splatter effect is pretty cool.”

Harrison: “I like how you can hang the target on a pin or peel the entire thing off and it’s a giant sticker.”

Me: “I like bringing these targets home because it gives some measure of objective proof that we can actually hit what we are aiming at.”

About the Mec Gar magazines:

Jack: “They seem to work perfectly.”

DSC_1027_edited-1Harrison: “I’m not sure there’s any difference between these and the magazines that came with the gun.”

Me: “Exactly.”

— Mark Kakkuri

Exclusive: Tactical Lighted Survival Knife

I love survival gear, especially when it’s easy to carry and useful when I’m “surviving” in more mundane places such as in my office, garage or back yard. Sure, I’d love to take a crack at challenging Bear Grylls at his own game in some dense jungle in Africa. But I’ve got work to do, a family to raise, and a house to maintain.

So Brite Strike’s Brite Blade — a tactical, lighted survival knife — appeals to me. It combines an excellent knife, mini flashlight (waterproof!), fire starter striking tool, seat belt / cord cutter and window punch all in one unit that doesn’t weigh too much but clips to my pocket and rides easily.

DSC_0928_edited-1The knife — a 3.5” combination serrated and straight edge on this one — features a hollow ground 440C stainless blade with a titanium coating. Because a knife is nothing without a decent “handle,” a word about how I hold it and deploy it: The spring assist offers just the right amount of power to swing the blade out and lock it with a purposeful push by my thumb. The pocket clip provides an opposing shelf for my other four fingers, providing leverage. The whole unit is solid, robust, strong — milspec 6061 aluminum hard anodized.

DSC_0924_edited-1The LED flashlight turns on with a twist and stays in place via a magnet. Or take it out and attach it to something else — the blade itself, the underside of a vehicle’s hood, whatever. It’s bright, waterproof, and durable. No fear of it breaking or accidentally falling out of its unique holder.

The fire starter striking tool works with the blade to create and throw very hot sparks into tinder in the event you need to start a fire. Probably far more useful in the backcountry in a true survival situation but I like having it on board, nonetheless.

DSC_0925_edited-1The seat belt / cord cutter zipped through just about whatever I would pull it through and is sized just right to prevent any skin from getting in there on accident. Its very useful to have a ready cutting tool like that without having to deploy the main blade. Safer, too.

The window punch sports a strong carbide construction and, due to its weight, provides a nice balance to the rest of the knife.

DSC_0926_edited-1Retailing for $150, the Brite Blade weighs 5.35 oz and measures 8.6” over all when opened. So it’s not the smallest nor the lightest. But packed into it are a handful of useful tools — tactical, lighted, survival — that will help you survive whether you’re stuck in an African jungle or your own garage.

— Mark Kakkuri


Why Do We Shoot?

A Culture Of Marksmanship

I enjoy shooting. More specifically, I enjoy hitting the target, hearing the gratifying clang of steel or watching a reactive target do its work. Millions of other people do as well — but surprisingly few marksmen ever ask: why do we shoot?

This question first occurred to me while testing a new rifle at our Oregon ranch. Using a field position (I can freely admit: there wasn’t a bench at the intersection of the state and county road!), I had just hit a 12″ plate three times out of three at 880 yards. Right then, my father drove up, and apparently I still had the silly grin slapped on my face, prompting him to ask what I was smiling about. His own smile belied the practiced grumpiness in his voice.

With ill-disguised false modesty, I relayed my triumph in the blandest terms possible — something about proving my new 168-gr. handloads. With a noncommittal grunt, Dad cautioned me about wearing out the barrel and drove off, leaving me to ponder a dilemma.


The explosion of interest in the AR (Modern Sporting Rifle) has introduced tens
of thousands of new shooters to the fun of precision rifle shooting.


The ability to shoot a rifle with precision can yield results like this. Suzi Huntington
with a custom Model 70 Winchester in .30-06 in Nambia proudly posing next to her trophy Gemsbok.

Mixed Feelings

As I packed the Robar custom rifle in its case, I realized I had mixed feelings. Certainly I was happy with the gun, my handloads and my performance. But I couldn’t help but wonder why did I feel so good? It was something more than simply hitting a relatively small target at half a mile.

Part of the reason, obviously, was the immediate feedback: I knew instantly whether I’d been successful. But what was it about ringing the gong three times in a row to make it feel so rewarding?

Unable to answer this question, I began trying to dissect my marksman’s emotions. The deeper I delved into the subject, the more complicated it became. Clearly I needed help — a larger sampling.

So in 1997, I began taking an informal poll, asking dozens of marksmen from various disciplines — including archery — why they liked to shoot. What is it about hitting a mark with some type of projectile to make it so appealing? After the first few responses I realized some restrictions were necessary if the survey were to hold any relevance. I began narrowing the focus, eliminating generic responses such as “It’s fun” or “I can get away for awhile.”

At this point, I began getting nowhere incredibly fast. When shooters were asked to be more specific, the inevitable response was a prolonged silence, following an “I’ll have to get back to you.”

One important factor emerged early: concentration. As the legendary Rob Leatham says, “When I’m shooting I can’t think about anything else. I have to focus on what I’m doing, and that’s relaxing for me.” Any serious marksman agrees: mortgages, appointments, and politics simply vanish for the duration of the shot or series of shots. Therefore, shooting is relaxing.

“But,” exclaim the antigunners, “so is golf or tennis or tiddlywinks.” Which may be true, as shooting holds some of the attraction found in other accuracy games, but there’s a sensory difference: “Shooting is like golf, only much louder,” according to a Florida pistol competitor.

An Arizona marksman agrees, saying, “The stronger the stimulus, the stronger the response.” Another Arizonian flatly explains, “I like recoil.”


“Why we shoot” is often simply because “messing around” with guns is interesting. Learning
the accessories and even how to build guns similar to this model from Daniel Defense, can
be rewarding. Photo: Robbie Barrkman


Husbands and wives have found spending time honing marksmanship skills can make
a nice change from the routine!


Many competitors say the focus needed to compete helps them to relax and forget the
daily grind. Here, Roy Huntington, editor of Handgunner, takes a turn at the Colt
side match at a recent Bianchi Cup.

Getting Philosophical

Addressing the inherent appeal of accuracy, an attorney places shooting in context, “A whole category of games are based on accuracy: taking this object here and placing it accurately there. Not just combat-based games like archery, but horseshoes, tiddlywinks, darts, bowling, pool/billiards and golf. We like those things because they’re hard to do, and there’s satisfaction in doing something difficult. Getting this ball from here into a little hole over there, 300 yards away, is hard, especially with — as Mark Twain said — ‘an instrument totally unsuited to the purpose.’

“Shooting has the appeal of an accuracy sport as well as a power sport. In addition to controlling power — like motorcycles, horses and airplanes — you get to exercise control of self, another of the essentials of our human-ness.”

Consider this from Seth Nadel, a retired Customs agent, competitor and instructor who compares shooting to other sports. “Why is shooting fun? Why is golf fun? (No really, I’d like to know that one.) Why is horseback riding fun, or skydiving, snorkeling, bike riding or any sport?

“Actually, shooting and riding horses are similar, in we learn to control a lot of power in either case. Politicians crave power over people. Most of us want to have control over some form of power, and guns offer the additional benefit of allowing us, in extremis, to control our environment. While satisfying our desire for control, we also can learn to use safety equipment to save lives.”

Others cited less tangible reasons, such as a California instructor who eloquently replied, “I enjoy the rich history of skill at arms, as well as appreciating the engineering genius behind the birth to these artifacts. My involvement in shooting makes me feel part of the continuum of history and gives me a greater appreciation of the works of historical figures.”


Old-school rifle shooting can be relaxing and a good way to experience some
historical perspective on shooting. This is a Shilo Sharps rifle in .45-70.


Why shoot? For the owner of this Colt Navy, it was to protect themselves. This is
one of a pair of Colts belonging to Wild Bill Hickock. It’s at the Cody Museum,
in Cody, Wyoming.


For many shooting means time spent on ranges with friends.


More and more women are embracing shooting at every level. Here, Suzi Huntington
takes aim at a Missouri deer while hunting from a blind. Pistol is a
Thompson Center Contender.

Some Common Trends

Delving deeper, two key factors emerged from the poll: distance and control.

Shooting has to do with action at a distance: “You do something here, something happens over there,” says a civilian marksman.

A military professional agreed, “Man is a control freak. Not only does he want to be in control of himself, but also over everything he can manage … even at extended ranges.”

Control — especially self-control — is a recurring theme. A Marine Corps sergeant explained, “I think it has to do with man overcoming and controlling the forces or laws of nature. Taking it a step more, I’m sure some would say it all boils down to control.”

Almost as important as common trends, like control, were the omissions. Several respondents listed more than one factor, but nobody cited hunting as a major reason for why they enjoy shooting. While many shooters are hunters, not all hunters are recreational marksmen. Even though filling the stew pot is rewarding for many people, it has little to do with the specific attraction of shooting well.

The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gassett wrote in Meditations on Hunting, “One does not hunt in order to kill; one kills in order to have hunted.” Clearly, the same applies to our survey: thousands of accomplished shooters have never used a firearm to kill anything.

Similarly, the few references to power seemed to belie the old claim firearms represent a surrogate for sex. Presumably, the subject had been put to bed — so to speak — when psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud reputedly wrote in General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, “A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity.”

A word search of the 1920 text produces several weapons references but not the specific phrase. However, online citations indicate he might have made the statement in a previous lecture or a later edition.

In any case, apparently Dr. Freud — who almost certainly was not a shooter — understood what marksmen know empirically: shooting is a mental exercise. The payoff occurs above the neck, not below the belt.


The skill and discipline it takes to learn to safely handle a gun and to hit the target
is almost universally enjoyed by kids. Taking the time to teach gun safety and how to
properly handle a gun is time well invested for any adult. Here, Jack takes very careful
aim during his first lessons with a Savage Rascal .22 rimfire.


A proud Jack shows off his first-ever target!


The challenge of hunting big game will always be a draw as to
“why we shoot.” Here’s a nice Kudu in Zimbabwe.

Inside The Mind

The shooting scribe best known to the public is Pulitzer Prize winner and novelist Stephen Hunter, author of the immensely successful Bob Lee Swagger sniper series. A serious student of the game, he’s devoted considerable thought to the psychic aspects of marksmanship.

“To people who know nothing, we shoot for a sense of power, domination, destruction. We smell blood. We’re on some twisted macho death spiral, carrying ourselves and our civilization to oblivion,” he says.

“I wish it were that interesting! In fact, I shoot not for the inflation of ego, but for its deflation. Next to the gun, I am nothing and my real life, with its complexities, ironies, betrayals, regrets, failures and disappointments, goes away. The gun is a psychic steam bath to cleanse and refresh and reboot. I love the fact Steve Hunter vanishes and there’s only some narrow intellect guiding a somewhat shaky physical plant to achieve the classic strength, calm and perfection of the shot. I’ll never get there, but trying is almost a faith. It purifies you not in the accomplishment, but in the effort.”

Because challenges begin in the mind, a frequently cited reason for shooting is the personal test it presents. Jim Coxen, a Vietnam veteran and cofounder of Oregon IPSC, says, “Some people like to challenge themselves to do something well. With me, it was shooting.

“The challenge is always there to learn to do it better and not to let your performance slide. With me, at least, there’s also been an admiration for warriors and a very strong desire to be one. I fired expert the first time I qualified with a rifle in the Marines, and every time after. I would have been very disappointed in myself if I had lost my qualification.

“I believe when anyone does something well they usually enjoy doing it, which has led me to shooting for fun most of my life. Knowing what I am capable of with a gun also gives me a certain peace of mind.”

Beyond the immediate satisfaction of hitting a mark, frequently sport and survival overlap as motivations. Dwight Van Horn, a former LA deputy sheriff, explains, “Between 1973 and 1976 I shot for fun and to hone my handgun skills. In 1976, I was involved in an off-duty fatal shooting which really showed me how much more I needed to shoot to protect myself and the citizens I was sworn to protect. I started shooting competitively, which gave me lots of trigger time and elevated my skill level and confidence. I shot competitively until 1998, mindful the pistol matches were my continued honing of my skills.

“I retired in 1999 after 27 years as a LEO. I still shoot quite often. In addition to the handguns I’ve always shot I now shoot rifles and shotguns as well. I still shoot to keep my skills honed and to protect my wife and me; she shoots as well.

Shooting remains fun but nowadays my reason for wanting my skills to remain sharp is to protect my freedoms — paid for in blood since 1776. I certainly hope I don’t have to spill my blood to preserve my freedoms, but if I do, I will. My 40 years of shooting will pretty much also guarantee mine won’t be the only blood spilled that day.”


This Colt Dragoon (a replica) is filled with historical significance. History
plays a powerful role in shooting for many. Photo: Jonathan Marmand


The ability to deliver a well-aimed shot at distance (“do something here which affects
something way out there”) is compelling and drives many shooters to hone their skills.

Important Takeaways

So, how do we summarize this survey? Clearly, there are a variety of reasons for shooting, and many — perhaps most — are separate from the practical applications of self-preservation. Very few marksmen directly addressed the initial question: what is the attraction of striking a target, whether at 10 yards or 1,000?

To a large extent, the question answers itself. Shooting by definition involves conquering distance. (Remember: “You do something here; something happens over there.”)
However, nobody conquers distance with accuracy unless he conquers himself, which is why marksmen invariably are “control freaks.” They possess the motivation and the discipline to control their equipment, their bodies, and — most of all — their minds. Fully 40 percent of my respondents cited control of self or their environment as a primary reward for shooting.

Beyond self-defense and hunting, shooting icon Jeff Cooper deemed mastery of firearms “a good thing and it has served to overcome the customary feelings of inadequacy and insecurity encountered while growing up.” He noted after he began shooting at age eleven he had no further nightmares.

Cooper touched upon another little-noted aspect. Other than grass eaters and meat eaters, he believed the world was populated with “copers” and “non-copers.” He wrote, “the shooting master copes, and he is thus heavily armored against those anxieties that come from membership in the human race.”

In the years since my original inquiries, the nation has changed dramatically. Like most of you, I grew up with firearms as part of the environment. To me, they were as present as airplanes — though you’ll look hard to find the phrase “airplane culture.” I hadn’t heard the phrase “gun culture” until a reporter used it when Sandy Froman was elected NRA president in 2005.

Since then, “gun culture” has largely been a pejorative term in the mainstream media, and I realized I didn’t arise from a culture of guns. (Wes Hardin famously stated, “I am a gentleman of guns.”) But I come from a culture of marksmanship.

In the end, perhaps the answer as to why we shoot can only be found within ourselves. Each marksman has a personal reason for his pursuit, and each finds satisfaction and accomplishment within the parameters he (or she) sets for himself. In the end, this is enough.

So next time you take your favorite 1911 or rifle out to the range or (if you’re lucky enough!) the backyard, take a moment to reflect on why you enjoying shooting. And then keep on ringin’ steel.
By Barrett Tillman

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Exclusive: Handling the Beretta Pico

At 5.1” in length, 4” in height, less than ¾” wide, and 11.5 ounces, Beretta’s Pico, a 6+1 .380, carries concealed very easily and almost disappears in hand. Being the epitome of small, thin, and lightweight, the Pico (MSRP $400) surprised me with easy-to-manage recoil. In fact, the first range session with the Pico proved it an accurate shooter — once I learned how to get my hand around it.

DSC_0909Pico’s two magazines each carry six rounds of .380. (Twelve rounds of Winchester PDX1 should suffice for most self-defense scenarios.) One magazine sports a flush baseplate, the other an extended baseplate. The flush baseplate of course means you have only the gun’s stocks to grip. Most of us are used to getting two fingers around a shorter stock; Pico allowed me only enough space to get one finger around it. Switching to the extended baseplate magazine, I could manage all three fingers around the stocks.

DSC_0910Pico’s magazine release offers one of the most non-obtrusive designs I’ve seen, despite offering ambidextrous operation. Manipulating it with my strong hand took some practice. In the end, I preferred to activate it with my weak hand. Regardless, magazines never dropped accidentally but also ejected and seated positively.

DSC_0913Pico’s sights are bright and clear white dots, so they’re easy to acquire on follow-up shots. More importantly, even with only a 3.3” sight radius, Pico proved very accurate at the range, hitting exactly at point of aim — 12” steel plates at a distance of 25 feet —  right out of the box. And if you don’t like the sights, you can switch them out yourself.

But Pico’s most endearing features are its exceptional size and weight. It hides easily, anywhere. Perfect for a gun you’ll carry a lot and probably shoot a little. Pico’s minute dimensions will take some time and practice to get used to, but once you do, you’ll find the gun to be very handy.

— Mark Kakkuri



Exclusive: Backing Up Your Handgun, In Case

So the other day I headed out to a friend’s backyard range to give some attention to a Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911. Fantastic shooter, very accurate, totally reliable. Recoil felt like a big push; nothing harsh. I had other handguns to shoot and you’ll hear about all of them in later reviews. My backup gun, however, was an Anderson AR-15. I like to keep this rifle handy just in case, you know, some fool shows up with ill intent and I need more than a handgun. And speaking of “in case,” I carry the Anderson around in the Red Oxx Varmint Master Rifle Case you see here. This yellow beauty (Red Oxx color: “saffron”) retails for $200, carries and protects its contents well, and provides enough storage for, well, just about everything. Sometimes I put two rifles in it.

! DSC_0819Red Oxx handmakes all of its legendary bags in Montana. They’re overbuilt, really — the kind of bag you’ll purchase once and use forever. At 50” in length, the Varmint Master is more than enough bag for a standard AR-15. Better would be a long-barreled sniper rifle with a monster optic on it. And a bipod. It’ll all fit in the Varmint Master, no problem, surrounded by a soft neoprene lining covered by 400 denier Cordura. But that’s the interior. The exterior of the bag is 1000 denier Cordura stitched with tough UV resistant thread all around.

! DSC_0884Handles sport double box stitching and the shoulder sling adjusts to a myriad of lengths. So it’s easy and comfortable to carry and there’s really no fear of any of that stuff wearing out. Delrin #10 YKK zippers close everything up and endure just about any abuse you can throw at them.

One of my favorite features of the Varmint Master includes the three rectangular pockets. When the case (and the gun inside) is pulling backup duty, I fill the pockets with ammo and magazines. Warning: The pockets carry a lot so the whole package can get heavy. But the bag can take it and you’ll quickly appreciate the padded shoulder strap and rugged construction.

! DSC_0879After a few boxes of ammo through the Springfield 1911, I holstered it and retrieved the Anderson rifle. It didn’t take long to churn through several boxes of Black Hills .223, thereby proving both the Anderson rifle and Red Oxx Varmint Master Rifle Case as worthy backups for a handgun.

— Mark Kakkuri

Exclusive: Ain’t Broke, Now Laser Equipped

You’ve heard the age-old axiom: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s true. But just because something ain’t broke, so to speak, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Take the J-Frame revolver. This well known defensive gun has not only stood the test of time but weathered countless new rival guns that are lighter, higher capacity, less costly, or more powerfully chambered. A J-Frame can be a bit more difficult to conceal comfortably or shoot accurately, but as defensive guns go, it ain’t broke. So there’s nothing really to fix. But it can be improved. And one of the best ways to improve this gun is to add a Lasermax Centerfire Green Laser.

laser 2You know this but I’ll say it anyway: Remember to keep all the gun safety rules as you do this.

Retailing for $199, the Lasermax Centerfire installs in about five minutes, but only if you have to spend three of those minutes finding a small Phillips screwdriver. Once you’ve got that in hand, open the package and set the parts in front of you on the table. You’ll have two halves of the laser unit, three small screws, and an Allen wrench for adjusting the windage and elevation of the laser.

laser 3To install the laser, press the back (right) half of the unit on to the right side of the J-Frame. Then, place the front (left) half of the unit on the left side of the J-Frame so that the two halves match up. Notice how the Centerfire Laser grabs the trigger guard and the underlug. Drop the screws into place and, using that small Phillips, tighten them so that the two laser unit halves draw together. Don’t overdo it on the torque, though. And there, the ain’t broke J-Frame is now laser equipped.

laser 4To operate the laser, press the button on either side of the laser unit. Pressing it once from either side causes a pulsing green laser to emit from the laser unit, directly under the barrel. Pressing it again turns it off. If the laser isn’t showing at point of aim, just make simple adjustments with the Allen wrench. You can also switch to a constant beam if you don’t like the pulsing beam. Notice, too, how your finger doesn’t cover the beam at its source. And now the ain’t broke J-Frame can be aimed accurately without having to rely on the channel rear and ramp front sights.

Ah, but now a dilemma: How to holster the laser-equipped J-Frame for concealed carry. Stay tuned…

— Mark Kakkuri

laser 5

Exclusive: How to Learn How to Disassemble a 1911

For me, part of understanding a complex machine like a firearm includes knowing how to take it apart and put it back together. And I’m not talking about field stripping but the complete disassembly of every single part, pin, spring, and piece. When all the parts are laying on the table in front of me and I know how to put them all back together and have the gun work correctly, that’s a satisfying depth of knowledge. In fact, once I detail stripped a Glock, my understanding of, appreciation for, and confidence in its design grew immensely.

The next challenge: a 1911.

certified1911_patchYou can probably figure out how to disassemble a 1911 on YouTube or through experience. [For a great tutorial on field stripping a 1911, check out Roy’s Insider Tip!]

But, “Experience is a hard teacher,” as someone once said. “She gives the test first and the lesson afterward.” And YouTube of course can be hit or miss. Better, oh so much better, to have a qualified, experienced gunsmith show you how to do it, right in front of you.

So I’m enrolled in the American Gunsmithing Institute’s Certified 1911 Pistolsmith Course. Comprised of multiple sections of instruction, the course provides 27 hours of instruction via DVD, study notes, and a tough online exam. Total price for this comprehensive course: $1,297.

If this sounds like a serious commitment and hard work, it is. But remember how much easier school subjects were when you loved what you were studying? That’s true here.

DSC_0733_edited-1dI started with the The Complete Disassembly & Reassembly DVD for the 1911. On the video, a very friendly and easy-going Bob Dunlap guided me step by step in taking apart a 1911, explaining the nuances of various 1911 designs and providing clear and helpful close-ups of each step. He explained every part and its function, its relationship to the other parts, and what to be careful of as I worked on my 1911 along with him.

At one point I got ahead of Bob and worked a part free before he had actually done so in the video. I was rewarded with a spring flying across the room and a few minutes doing the gunsmith crawl. Classic newbie error but lesson learned.

DSC_0742_edited-1sThe “mule” 1911 you see here is a Springfield Armory Mil-Spec. In the space of just under two hours I was able to properly disassemble and reassemble it, without damage to the gun, all the while learning part names and functions, plus a few handy tricks along the way. All from a professional, certified gunsmith. And even though I’ve only just begun, I have a new appreciation for and understanding of and confidence in the 1911 design.

I could have disassembled it on my own and maybe, just maybe, reassembled it, too. And that would be a form of knowledge but not necessarily a right understanding. Instead, with the AGI 1911 Pistolsmith course guiding me, I’m learning how to learn.

— Mark Kakkuri

Building And Using A Ransom Rest

Taking away the human variable is why the Ransom rest was invented. I was first introduced to the Ransom Rest when I was hired by a DoD contractor to build 1911 pistols for the government. I personally built over 500, and used the Ransom Rest for each one of them. The Ransom Rest has been around since 1969, and really is the gold standard for gun/ammo testing.

I was building a new Caspian 1911 .45 ACP last month and needed to test it, and obtained a new Ransom Rest and insert for the 1911 from the fine folks at Brownell’s. Getting the most from a Ransom Rest means building a mounting board for it, that way it can be secured to the shooting bench at your local range. Most ranges have shooting pedestals made from cinder block with a concrete top. This is a very sturdy basis for attaching the mounting board with the Ransom Rest attached.

Remember, you’re trying to remove as much movement as possible, in order to make sure the pistol returns to the exact same spot for each shot. If the bench you’re attaching the mounting board is wobbly, you’re just wasting your time.

Building a mounting board is pretty straightforward and anyone who is even mildly handy with power tools can build one in a couple of hours. The Ransom people send pretty good instructions, but if you’re like me, if the instructions say ½” thick plywood, I go with ¾” or 1″. Ransom recommends three C-clamps, so, of course, I used four, one on each corner.

I went to my local range, the Bluegrass Sportsman’s League, and measured the dimensions of the concrete table top and made a paper template with the dimensions written on it. Once I had those dimensions, it’s a simple matter to lay everything out using a single sheet of ¾” or 1″ plywood. I then screwed and glued 1/2×3″ strips to the bottom of the plywood. This is to make sure the plywood is suspended off of the concrete table top. The mounting board should only contact the table on the front and rear. I put additional 1/2×3″ strips on the side to add a little more stiffness to the board. The main point is the board should not make any contact with the table top.

Once the board is roughed out and the supporting strips are installed. I added 4″ square metal plates to the four corners. This will help keep the C-clamps from cracking and splitting the wood.


After measuring the tabletop of the bench at your individual range, layout the plywood
and measure out your cuts, then snap a line and make the first cut with a circular saw.
Remember the rule, measure twice, cut once.


I used a table saw to trim the plywood to the final dimension.


Here I’m snapping a chalk line to make a cut for the final width.

Adding The Rest

The instructions included with the rest spell out specifically how and where to place the rest onto the board for best results, and it’s a good idea to follow those instructions. The left side, or gun side, should be on the centerline of the board, and the rest should be placed 2/3 of the way to the rear of the board. I usually lay the rest on the board, mark the mounting holes so I can go back and drill pilot holes for the mounting screws. Once the pilot holes are drilled, screw the rest onto the board with the #10 wood screws provided.

Ransom makes a windage base which the rest mounts into. If you have this, the windage base gets installed onto the mounting board first, and then the Ransom Rest gets installed onto the windage base. The windage base makes it easier to get the pistol centered up on target a little quicker when at the range.


This cut is trimmed for width.


I’m measuring the risers to attach to the bottom of the plywood to raise it up off of
the tabletop. These risers are 1/2×3″, or can be larger or smaller depending on your
budget and tabletop dimensions.


Drill the pilot holes for the #10 wood screws, and then attach the Ransom Rest to
the plywood tabletop. I used a long screwdriver so I don’t have to disassemble the
Ransom Rest in order to attach it to the plywood.


I’ve attached the rest to the plywood tabletop, and have attached metal plates to the
corners to keep the wood from splitting from repeatedly clamping down on the wood with
the C-clamps.


Once at the range, attach the board to the concrete shooting table with C-clamps.
I usually put the target downrange first in order to get the board lined up. Don’t
tighten the clamps down too much as you will probably need to jockey the mounting
board around. It takes a little practice to get the process down.

Some Fitting

Once the rest is mounted I usually take the pistol, and making sure it’s unloaded, mount it into the Ransom Rest and adjust the trigger actuating lever. With any pistol, prior to testing, I usually need to take a box cutter or knife and cut away areas that will interfere with the proper functioning of the pistol. Things like extended thumb safeties and Ed Brown-type magazine wells need areas in the grip holder to be relieved for proper clamping into the rest and for functioning.

It’s best to do this in the workshop or garage, rather than getting to the range and realizing the gun won’t clamp correctly into the rest. Usually any time I add an aftermarket part I’m going to make sure the gun can still be clamped into the rest prior to going to the range.

Remember the trigger actuator will have to be adjusted specifically for autopistols and revolvers. Polymer framed guns are a little different and can be a challenge to use with the Ransom Rest. Because of the flexibility of the frame, it cannot be clamped down has hard as a steel framed gun. Polymer-framed guns have to be fired more in the rest before they will “settle” into the inserts.

With a 1911 type auto, usually 5-10 rounds are enough to get the gun to settle into the inserts and begin to create uniform groups. With the Glock or other polymer-framed pistols, I don’t tighten it down as much, and I usually fire around 30 “settling” shots before I can start testing.


Mounting the pistol into the rest takes a little time. The inserts are a tight
fit by design, and do not slide onto the mounting pegs easily.


Once the pistol is mounted into the rest, and tightened down, do not use the pistol to raise
or lower the fixture, use the flange on the rest itself. That’s what it’s made for.


The elevation screw has a lock nut on top. Once the elevation is set, use the locknut to
secure it. Forgetting to tighten this nut is a fairly common reason for the shot groups
to string vertically.


Always make sure to set the trigger actuator so it’s applying pressure to the center
of the trigger. This is the same technique you would use as a shooter, and works for
the Ransom Rest as well.


This is the set-up for accuracy and velocity testing. The Ransom Rest is paired with
an Oehler 35P chronograph. I would like to use a little larger target, but this isn’t
too bad. It just takes a little longer to set up with a smaller target.

Combining Tests

One nice feature is I can combine accuracy testing with velocity testing by combining the rest with a good Chronograph. I paired up the Ransom Rest with a Oehler 35P and was able see, in real time, which groups produced the smallest, most uniform groups, with the smallest standard deviation and most uniform velocity. What makes this pairing even better is I have hard copies of the targets, and the printout from the chronograph for comparison later. This lets me find the best gun/load combination and I can “tweak” the handloads to see exactly what the results are. I can also take small batches of slightly different handloads to the range and run them through testing to see what small variations do to the group sizes.


The technique for using an auto-pistol is to clock the slide back, raise the pistol
using the flange on the rest, insert the magazine, let the slide go forward, and push
the pistol down using the flange on to the elevation stop to get ready for firing.


I always fire “settling shots” before firing actual groups. Also, I load six rounds and
leave the round in the chamber when switching magazines. If the weather is hot, don’t
leave a round in the chamber of a hot gun for very long when changing out magazines,
as it can drive up chamber pressure and make velocity go up, causing flyers.


I’m getting ready to launch the first round. Note I’m standing back and off to the
side for safety, with my thumb on the trigger actuating lever. Use the same pressure
on the lever from shot to shot for the best consistency. I usually shoot five shot groups.


This pistol is in full recoil with 230 grain ammo.


The Ransom Rest, paired with Federal Match ammunition, made a great combination and shot very well.

Basic Mounting

There’s a definite process to mounting the gun into the rest and getting it ready to fire. Starting with the 1911, I’ll remove the stocks and place the pistol into the right insert, then install the left insert. Before I clamp everything down, make sure the grip safety and thumb safeties are both fully depressed. Install the left plate, washers and the star knobs. The three knobs are labeled A, B and C. The drill is to tighten A and B, then snug up C. The key is to make sure the gun cycles, the magazine can be inserted and falls free, and the trigger resets. Do this adjustment by hand, do not use tools to tighten the star knobs. Once that is set, make sure the gap between the two inserts in equal. An uneven gap means the inserts were not tightened correctly.

The castle nut on the back acts as a recoil stop for semi-automatic pistols in case they go full auto, and needs to be removed for large calibers. I’ve tested several 1911’s that would double in a Ransom rest but shot fine when hand-held. Always keep the castle nut stop in place for semi-autos. I always stand to the side when testing autopistols just for that reason. It’s a little eye-opening when you expect to fire a single shot and see three go downrange while the pistol is climbing! That third shot is almost straight up in the air.


This setup works very well for testing any type of handgun/ammo combination
using the Ransom Rest, with the Oehler 35P Chronograph.


Here I’m ready to test some .45 ACP 200 gr SWC handloads. The Ransom Rest takes out
he human element and is a great way to comparison-test handloads vs. factory loads.


Mounting a revolver into the rest is a similar process to an auto-pistol. Seat the gun
into the right side while pressing the left hand inserts up against the pistol, then
install the plate, then the washers, then the star knobs. Tighten in sequence A then B,
and finally snug up C. Practice and experiment with different techniques to see what works best


The operator needs to actuate the trigger several times with both auto-pistols and
revolvers to make sure the trigger actuator functions correctly. Make sure both
auto-pistol and revolver triggers fully return.


Installing revolvers is a similar process to the auto, but adjusting the trigger actuator is a little trickier since the travel of the trigger is so much longer than the autopistol’s. Again, make sure the gap between the inserts is uniform, and fire 10 to 15 settling shots prior to testing. Remember it’s normal for the initial “settling” groups to string vertically while the handgun settles in, regardless of whether it’s an auto or revolver.

One other technique to remember with the rest is to never return the handgun to the lowered position by grabbing the pistol itself. Always use the shelf on the rest to lower the pistol. Anytime you touch the pistol other than for loading and unloading, you run the risk of shifting the pistol in the rest, destroying that group until the pistol “settles” in again. Repeatability is the key to shooting, and the Ransom Rest does this automatically. You also have to use the same technique when mounting the gun into the inserts, loading the pistol or revolver and actuating the trigger. Varying the pressure on the trigger actuator can influence shot groups. Consistency and repeatability are keys to good results.


I use a similar technique when testing with the Ransom Rest using a revolver as
I do when using an auto-pistol. The difference is it’s not as critical to stand
back and away from the gun. With a revolver there’s no chance of it doubling.


Close up of the castle nut on the back of the Ransom Rest acting as a recoil stop
for semi-auto pistols. The nut should be removed for heavy recoiling revolvers and
single shot pistols.


Always make sure the trigger actuator is centered in revolvers as well as
auto-pistols. This helps ensure consistent results.


Another best practice for using a Ransom rest is to always make sure the part of the trigger actuator actually touching the trigger is placed in the center of the trigger so it’s pulling straight back. The trigger actuator has two adjustments for this and they are easy to use. I always take a small set of tools with me to the range to make sure I’m able to make any adjustments needed.

Another adjustment is the elevation stop and this stop has a stop nut which needs to be tight when testing. Always remember the Ransom Rest has two friction plates and a spring, so the entire mechanism acts like a disc brake when firing. Never make any adjustments to the spring.

The Ransom Rest can give shooters confidence their gun/load combo is performing at a peak level. The Ransom Rest is a niche product not intended for the casual shooter, but the for serious hobbyist or professional, whether they are a gunsmith or avid reloader.

Using a Ransom Rest for testing gun/ammo combinations will pay off big time not only time savings, but also in general knowledge about what works best for your specific guns and loads. The Ransom Rest is the gold standard for ammunition and gun testing and can be mastered by anyone, with a bit of attention and practice.


The Ransom inserts are relieved in critical areas for most 1911 accessories, but always
make sure the aftermarket parts you install fit correctly into the inserts and don’t bind.


The Hornady 230 grain JHP XTP round shot the best in my .45 ACP Bullseye pistol. My custom
Caspian 1911 was not ready to be accuracy tested yet so my old Bullseye pinch-hit for it.
I replaced the target recoil spring for a stouter one since I would be testing full power
defense loads. I also ran some Federal target loads through the gun and they shot well and
functioned very well.

By Steve Sieberts

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