Sunday, June 22, 2014

Guns: S&W Governor review - Judge the book by its cover


Introduction

On paper, the Smith and Wesson Governor sounds like the kind of bullheaded, "F--- Everything, We're Doing Five Blades" one-upmanship you'd only find in a corporate boardroom. I can see the S&W executive meeting now: "The Taurus Judge is selling like hotcakes, so let's make one of our own, but with a six-shot cylinder, instead of five. And have it chamber .45 ACP using moonclips. And make the frame with scandium. And stick on a tritium night sight. That'll show those Brazilians!"

Yours truly was skeptical. From my comments three years ago about the Governor:
Against all odds (and common sense), the Judges continue to sell well. S&W is just following the money – can’t really blame ‘em.
The scandium frame means this sucker will be expensive, though – not sure how many people will pony up for a premium Judge. Especially since people who spend that much money on a revolver probably know better.
Well, I bought it, despite knowing better. I bought it even though the gun is an ungainly, cartoonish revolver of Samaritan-like proportions. The S&W Governor was awkwardly compelling enough for me to buy one, if only to have something to write about, and home it went.

First Impressions

A big selling point for the Governor is that it's a Smith and not a Taurus, which means that it's better built than any Judge. The ball-detent cylinder locks tight. There aren't any weird toolmarks, rattling parts, or crooked alignments. Things seem to be fitted together in a workmanlike manner.

In hand, the fat six-shot Governor is muzzle-heavy compared to the five-shot Judge, but it handles well enough. Smith is shipping the Governors with the same smoothly pebbled, non-tacky hard synthetic grips that come on most of its revolvers. If you don't like 'em, most K/L round butt grips should fit, including Crimson Trace lasergrips.

Sights and Trigger

You might need those lasergrips because the Governor has surprisingly small fixed sights, especially considering the outsized frame. Up front is a minuscule tritium bulb that's minimally visible in dim light, and in the rear is a shallow trench. I guess they thought that most people wouldn't use the sights at close range. I wish they were larger.

As for the trigger, it's very much like other modern full-size S&W revolvers, though a bit heavier overall - approximately 12-14 pounds double action and 4-5 pounds single action. The double action's pretty smooth, but nothing to write home about, and I didn't notice any weird stacking or hangups in the single action trigger.

Ammunition


The Governor is chambered for .45 ACP, .45 Colt, and .410 shotshells. Due to the incredibly high price of factory .45 Colt (a dollar per round, usually), the ability to shoot .45 ACP is a huge plus, and probably the single biggest advantage the gun has over a Judge. You will need a demooner tool to unload the spent cases from the moonclips, but if you're really on the cheap, you can improvise one from sprinkler parts:






Range Report

The Governor shot about as well as any sub-3" barreled .45 I've ever tried. Here are some offhand groups at 10 yards with Federal and Winchester 230 gr. ball ammo.



Recoil was quite soft with the .45s, partly because the gun is big, partly because the short barrel and elongated cylinder decrease muzzle velocity (the Governor spits out .45 ACP bullets at around 700 fps, with about 250 ft-lbs of energy). .45s are still usable for defense in the Governor (especially +Ps), but it's not the Hammer of Thor performance you might expect from such a big revolver.

The real point of the Governor is the .410 shotshell capability. When using .410 for defense, please, please, please avoid the novelty birdshot loads and stick with buckshot or slugs. Birdshot is for shooting tiny 14-ounce quail and fragile clay pigeons, not determined attackers.

If you're dead set on having some strange buck and ball load, Hornady puts out a "Triple Defense" combo of a .41 caliber slug and two .35 hardcast lead balls under their Critical Defense line. It's widely available and patterns reasonably well:




However, in my opinion, the Federal Premium 2-1/2" handgun-specific buckshot ammunition is the hands-down best choice for the Governor. Out of the S&W, each shell sends four 70-gr. .36 caliber pellets out at 800 fps - roughly equivalent to shooting four .32 ACP rounds at once. Penetration is not exceptional (you'll be lucky if they get to 12"  in gelatin), but using four separate projectiles, you're much more likely to land an incapacitating shot. Patterns are also excellent due to Federal's use of a longer than normal wad, designed to keep the shot together for as long as possible:




In contrast, here are some groups from an unoptimized Winchester Super-X 000 buck load, the kind that you might find on a Wally World store shelf. As you can see, there's a pretty stark difference in terms of effective patterning. If you use non-handgun specific .410, any shots outside of about 5 yards are going to lead to missed pellets and possible injury or death to innocent bystanders:




Conclusion

Is the Governor the ultimate self-defense handgun, or a useless gimmick? The truth falls somewhere in between. If you stoke the thing with leftover birdshot scrounged from a drawer, or generic Wally World 000, you're not going to be happy with the results (and I pray you never have to actually fire the thing in anger). But if you know the gun's many limitations, match it with the right ammo, and have an idea of its real world ballistics, the Governor is as durable, reliable, and even accurate as many of Smith & Wesson's other revolvers. So, in the end, I guess the Governor is what I thought it was.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Food: Rhino Doughnuts & Coffee

Rhino Doughnuts & Coffee doesn't have any locations in South Florida yet, but I'm going to give them a shout-out anyway. They gave me one of their maple bacon doughnuts for free, and it was fantastic. If they ever open, they're well worth a try.

News: Jon Meis, Certified Badass

Jon Meis, a student at Seattle Pacific University, pepper-sprayed and subdued a gunman who was pausing to reload his shotgun. Meis's decisive action saved countless lives, and for that, he gets the official Shangrila Towers Certified Badass Award™:

 
(In case you were wondering, it looks like Meis likes firearms and supports the RKBA. He also apparently co-founded a school Airsoft club. Probably why he was able to counter-attack when the guy was reloading his shotgun.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Miscellany: Forbidden Desert review

"Forbidden Desert" is designer Matt Leacock's latest and greatest cooperative board game. Much like his previous games, "Pandemic" and "Forbidden Island," it pits two to five players in a race against time - in this case, an ever-worsening sandstorm and the pitiless desert sun. You must work with your teammates to excavate an ancient flying machine to escape...before you're buried by the sands or die of thirst:



It's a great premise, and the setting informs all of the game's mechanics. The board starts off as a grid of unexplored desert tiles, with a blank space in the middle for the sandstorm. Each turn, an adventurer gets four actions, chosen among several options: move, clear sand from a tile, excavate a tile (i.e., flip over and reveal), or pick up a part of the flying machine.

At the end of the player's turn, though, it's the storm's move. The storm can dump sand on tiles (which can trap players and prevent them from exploring), or the sun can beat down, forcing each player to deplete his or her own personal water supply. Allow too much sand to pile up, or allow anyone to run out of water, and you lose.

Each adventurer has a unique special ability.  For instance, the Climber can move through sand, while the Water Carrier can spend an action to collect precious water...if you've found a well. Likewise, ancient equipment recovered in the desert can instantly blast away sand, reveal water supplies, or protect from the sun. It'll take full exploitation of your abilities, judicious use of items, and a little bit of luck to get the flying machine together and everyone aboard before they're swallowed by the sandstorm:


My friends and I really liked "Forbidden Desert." The game is easy to learn, quick to play, and yet requires a fair amount of strategy and cooperation to succeed. The randomly generated map and different adventurer roles provide a lot of replayability, and the components are all high quality. If you're in the market for a coop game that'll appeal to a fifth grader, a hardcore gamer, or your parents, you should probably check out "Forbidden Desert."

Monday, June 02, 2014

TV: Hannibal

My friends got me into NBC's "Hannibal," which was recently renewed for a third season. The series is loosely based on the Thomas Harris books, but it's set well before "Red Dragon" and "Silence of the Lambs." The two stars are Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (who plays the eponymous serial killer), and the gorgeous dinners prepared by food stylist Janice Poon:


Mikkelsen's Hannibal feels like an artfully crafted collage of his prior roles, one part refined-but-brutal Le Chiffre, one part Danish outcast, one part supernatural menace. It's an interesting take on the character, and miles away from Anthony Hopkins's campy version. Mads-as-Lecter is a manipulative killer, with no wink to the audience to lessen his deviousness.

As for the food, it's incredible. Hannibal is a master chef in this version, and the lovingly shot meals are both delectable and symbolic (anyone up for some sacrificial lamp chops?). Check out Janice Poon's "Hannibal" blog (warning - spoilers) to see some of the beautiful culinary arrangements she's cooked up for the show.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Music: For Angel (All India Radio vs. Don Meers Mix)

Trip-hop, chilltronic, drowntempo - whatever portmanteau electronica genre you're into, "All India Radio" has you covered. The brainchild of Martin Kennedy, AIR is an Australian band that mixes atmospheric electronic tracks with bits of various musical influences and sounds (think Thievery Corporation). One track might feature Ennio Morricone-esque trumpets, while the next might be thrumming ambient.

Today's song, "For Angel," is kissed with sitars like a late '60s Beatles song, and features some stirring vocals by Chloe Hall. If you like the song, the entire AIR back catalog is being offered for free download at their Bandcamp page.


Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Books: Mars Sci-Fi Double Feature

From Wells to Burroughs to Bradbury, the Red Planet has long been fertile ground for science fiction. And while enthusiasm for Mars-based sci-fi dampened a bit when we learned that the surface was actually an ice-cold, vacuum-sealed desert (with no fantastical civilizations or mysterious invaders to speak of), today's books solve that problem in the most logical way possible - sending people to Mars...

Red Rising, by Pierce Brown

"The Hunger Games" has spawned a hojillion like-minded works, but few are as engrossing as Pierce Brown's "Red Rising," the first in a (you guessed it) trilogy of novels:



In the book, Darrow is a member of a literal underclass of miners toiling below the surface of Mars. After realizing that his people will never be free so long as the ruling Gold class controls the planet, Darrow joins a rebellion against the Golds. His first task? To infiltrate the Institute, a school where the elite Golds fight each other for dominance - or die trying.

As you can tell, the plot is more than a little reminiscent of "Ender's Game," "Harry Potter," and dozens of other young adult books centered around scholastic mock warfare, but Pierce Brown's take on it features some nice inner turmoil. Of course, there's no question that our Hero will eventually win, but at what cost? Has Darrow, in imitating the Golds, become like his masters - cruel, sadistic, patrician?

The Martian, by Andy Weir

"Gravity" and "Apollo 13" proved that you don't need aliens to conjure up white-knuckle thrills in space. The lack of everything that makes life on Earth possible is more than enough danger to drive a plot:



"The Martian" presents the ultimate Robinson Crusoe scenario - if you were accidentally marooned on Mars, with limited resources and millions of miles away from the nearest human being, could you figure out a way to survive until help arrived? Astronaut Mark Watney is in just that predicament, when he is separated from his crew on one of the first manned missions to the Red Planet. The reader follows him through every failed plan, explosive decompression, and jury-rigged solution as he learns to live on Mars.

Aside from impressive attention to scientific detail, "The Martian" is good at generating sympathy for Watney, who approaches the struggle for air, water, food, and shelter with black humor and determined optimism. The downside, I guess, is that passages written from the perspective of other characters are a bit weaker. It would have been interesting to see what the book would be like without the occasional departure from Watney's POV, but "The Martian" is a fine page-turner nonetheless.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Guns: FN SLP review (Standard model) - The Belgian Bruiser



Introduction

I've owned half a dozen pump shotguns in my lifetime (including an old 870 and a new 500), but until the FN SLP came along, I had never owned an autoloader.  I suppose the only reason for that was my prejudices, built up from years of gun magazines and firearms forums.  After all, semiautomatic shotguns were more expensive, sensitive to different loads, and not practically faster to operate than a pump, right?

Well, it's always dangerous to go through life with no hard evidence. When a very lightly used FN SLP came on sale at RRPSI Firearms for $800, I decided to put my prejudices to the test...

First Impressions

The SLP standard is smaller and lighter than I expected it to be. Lengthwise, it's extremely close to an 18" barreled pump action Remington 870/ Mossberg 500 (38.75" vs. 38.5"), and it's only about a pound heavier. Most of the additional weight is in the receiver, too, so the gun balances fairly well.

FN has a pretty good reputation in the gun community, and the SLP is obviously well made and well fitted. You can tell that the gun was made to take a beating. The all-black finish is tough, and the bore is hard chromed.

Sights and Controls

The standard SLP comes equipped with robust fixed ghost ring sights, adjustable for both windage and elevation. The front post is attached to the barrel and protected by M16-like wings, while the rear is clamped onto the receiver-mounted Picatinny rail (which can also be used for a red dot).

The trigger is a fairly standard single-stage, with a crossbolt push-button safety. The bolt release latch is also a push-button, located forward of the ejection port near the charging handle. I have small hands, and both the bolt release and charging handle are too small even for me. I'm also not a fan of the layout - the position of the release makes it possible for someone to interfere with the bolt going forward, if they're not careful with their hand placement.

Operation, Disassembly, Accessories

The FN SLP is gas-operated, introducing an additional layer of complexity not present in a pump. Oh, the gun is easy enough to disassemble, with a fairly logical spring system and two different pistons (light and heavy), but the added components are just another thing to wear down and break.

A word of warning: I recommend staying with the "light" piston unless you're exclusively shooting 3" shells. The "heavy" piston doesn't give the system enough gas with typical 12 gauge loads. For instance, the Winchester buckshot pictured below cycled fine with the light piston, but did not cycle at all with the heavy one.



Variants

The SLP comes in four flavors: the "Standard," the "Tactical" (pistol grip stock and tube-mounted accessory rail), the "Mk1" (22" barrel, 8-shell capacity, cantilever optics mount with folding sight), and the "Mk1 Tactical" (a Mk1 with the Tactical accessories).

For self-defense, the Standard and Tactical 18" barreled models are my pick, as they're shorter, handier, and still hold 6 shells in the tube.  If you're planning on shooting in competition, though, go with either of the Mk1 versions - the extra barrel length and capacity are essential, and the cantilever mount allows you to keep an optic mated with the barrel it's zeroed for.

Range Report

I patterned the gun with various 00 buckshot loads at 15 yards, using the improved cylinder choke tube. As you can see below, basically all the patterns came in at about ~15" in diameter. I wish the patterns were tighter (every missed pellet is a liability), but they're about par for an 18" barrel factory 12 gauge, and they're not big enough to be worrisome.


Remington Express 00 buckshot:




5 shells' worth of Remington Express, fired as rapidly as I could (my point of aim drifted up a little). I didn't have a timer, but it was obvious that the SLP was much faster with repeated shots on a single target than a pump, at least in my hands (I can rack a pump fast enough to hit doubles in skeet, but I'm still faster with the SLP than I am with my 870 ). I can't imagine any real-world scenario where I'd have to empty this much lead into one place, but you never know:





Winchester military buckshot:





Estate buckshot (hole in the upper left is not part of the pattern):



 
 
Rio Royal buckshot (these shells are slightly longer than spec, so it was hard to load them into the tube, and the gun would only hold 5 of them):





Spartan buckshot (overall, the best value for the money - great load to stock up on):





Winchester commercial buckshot:

 
 
 
 
Slug accuracy was good, though I didn't have enough loads on hand to do a comprehensive test. Here's five Remington "Slugger" shells at 25 yards, offhand:

 
 

Final Thoughts

Notwithstanding my preference for pumps, I found my FN SLP to be tough, reliable (with the light piston), and easy to shoot. There's also a good amount of accessories and aftermarket parts available for the gun, thanks to its popularity in practical shooting competitions. While I wasn't fond of the controls, they didn't really hamper my shooting, and I could easily get the hits I needed to with the SLP, weird bolt release placement and all.  So, if you're in the market for a 12 gauge autoloader, it's hard to go wrong with the FN SLP.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Food: Subculture Coffee review

I was a bit dismayed when Habatat Coffee Company, my favorite coffee joint in West Palm Beach, closed down last year. The disappointment was only temporary, though, because Habatat owner Sean Scott was teaming up with local restauranteur Rodney Mayo to form something even better: Subculture Coffee.

Nestled on Clematis Street near another of Mayo's establishments, Longboard's, Subculture Coffee is part of the latest generation of craft coffeehouses and microroasters. The centerpiece of the place is the imposing Diedrich roaster, for roasting microbatches of coffee beans.


Next to that is a small kitchen, where sandwiches and salads are made by hand:

 
The coffee here is exceptional. It's made from specially sourced beans, roasted no more than 25 pounds at a time, and brewed by people who know what they are doing. Sean's been serving coffee for years now, so it's no surprise that Subculture Coffee's offerings are rich and complex. Pair that artisan coffee with an assortment of treats, wine, beer, and wi-fi, and you have pretty much the best coffeehouse in South Florida.
 
4/4 stars

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Books: Lines of Departure


"Lines of Departure" is the sequel to Marko Kloos's first novel, "Terms of Enlistment," and it's a pretty good read for any fan of military science fiction. The book, like its predecessor, follows Andrew Grayson and humanity's battle with the "Lankies," giant aliens so advanced that they consider our species as pests, not threats. Aside from a brief sojourn on an overpopulated Earth, Grayson flits from deployment to deployment, waging war against both Lankies and (depressingly) other humans.

I liked "Lines of Departure" a lot, though there are still some things that could be improved. As with the first book, Grayson is essentially the perfect soldier, hyper-competent and loyal to his comrades, without ever really being afraid or outfoxed. Likewise, the Lankies make for an imposing, inscrutable enemy, but the eventual weapon used against them seems a little too convenient (and obvious), so much so that Marko had to explain it on his blog (SPOILER ALERT).

All that said, this is good sci-fi that had me turning pages well into the night, and it's well worth a look.

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