Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guns: S&W M&P15-22 MOE review - the rimfire doppelgänger

Shooting an AR-15 carbine well takes practice, and practice costs money. A lot of money. Even a modest level of shooting (say, 200-300 rounds per week, across assorted drills and distances) will eat up your disposable income like candy.

And then there's the time and effort involved in getting to a range that can handle rifle calibers. In my case, the nearest outdoor rifle range is 30 minutes away and open one weekend per month, while the nearest indoor range only has four short 25-yard rifle lanes that are perpetually crowded on weekends.

If only there was a way to get trigger time on your AR without all the hassle...Something chambered in the cheap and plentiful .22 LR, but with the same controls and sights as a full-size black rifle...Something made by an established American company, with customer service and accessories...Something like the S&W M&P15-22 MOE.

Overview and Features

Smith & Wesson's line of M&P15-22 rifles have been hot sellers since their introduction, thanks mostly to smart design. The guns are essentially .22 LR polymer AR-15s, with identical controls (the safety, charging handle, mag release, and bolt release all work exactly the same), close ergonomics (the size and balance are much like a regular AR), and even similar disassembly (the gun splits into upper and lower receivers). For someone looking for a gun that mimics the AR manual of arms, it's really one of the only choices.

The M&P15-22 MOE is easily the best version, and the one to seek out. The MOE edition comes equipped with Magpul MBUS sights and MOE grip and stock; if you use Magpul furniture on your main rifle, there'll be very little difference in how the M&P15-22 looks and feels. For me, though, the biggest feature of the MOE version is the rear QD sling swivel attachment point, which allows you to easily throw on a tactical sling for practicing transitions:

Like other versions of the M&P15-22, the MOE comes with an integral polymer quad rail for mounting grips, bipods, lights, and other accessories. Here's mine with my old Primary Arms weaponlight and a DD vertical foregrip.

The magazines work well. They're shaped much like AR mags, and readily fit inside a Blade-Tech Kydex pouch. They should be 100% compatible with the mag pouches on a typical pack or LBE vest.

Range Report

Here's another inside look at the Shangrila Towers testing process: before I actually shoot a new gun, I log which ammo types I'm going to use and my anticipated course of fire. I find that it helps to put it all down in writing beforehand, especially if I encounter problems or malfunctions.

The log wasn't really necessary on this occasion, because the MOE performed flawlessly. Through an admittedly abbreviated range session of 500 rounds, I noticed no problems in feeding, firing, extraction, or locking back when empty - the gun even fed the Remington target ammo that the manual expressly warns against. Fantastic reliability isn't needed since this isn't something you'd use for self-defense, but it's nice to know that you won't have to clear jams every other mag.

Other parts of the gun felt right, too. The gun's trigger is fairly comparable to a military AR trigger - a bit heavy and mushy, with a little creep. I didn't notice any problems with the polymer quad rail, though it's certainly not designed to take the beating that an anodzed aluminum rail can take. The shooting experience, overall, was very close to an AR-15, except with no recoil and almost no strain on my personal finances.

Here are some typical ten shot groups at 25 yards. I only shot standing and with iron sights, which introduces a lot of shooter error - put the M&P15-22 MOE in a benchrest with a decent optic, and I'm sure it could do much better.



There's a bunch of rimfire practice options for the AR guys out there. If you just want a plinker, the conversion bolt kits allow you to switch to .22 LR without even changing your upper. For people that need accuracy beyond 25 yards, a dedicated .22 LR upper is a great choice, since it allows you to train with the trigger and stock you use on your working gun.

The MOE represents a good compromise between these two options. For about the cost of a dedicated upper, you're getting an entire .22 LR, one that functions as well or better than any conversion. You also get a fun way to use your AR-specific equipment, especially if your optics/grips/etc. have quick-detach levers. So, if you like to shoot your AR but hate paying for it, you should probably give the M&P15-22 MOE a try.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Price of Freedom

This Memorial Day found me inside the bustling concourses of Hartsfield-Jackson, where I bought a cup of lukewarm coffee. I had waited in line for awhile, and gotten a little miffed about how long it was taking. I was about to complain to the clerk, when I looked down at my receipt.

She had mistaken me for a soldier (based on my haircut and what I was wearing) and gave me a military discount. 29 cents. I recognized how silly the whole situation was - me complaining about cold coffee on a day dedicated to fallen servicemembers, while getting a tiny discount that I didn't even deserve. I turned around and boarded my plane.

* * *

One of the things everyone should do, at least once, is visit a veteran's cemetery. Not necessarily a fancy one, like Arlington or Colleville-sur-Mer, but an ordinary VA National Cemetery. Find a random grave, search for information on the deceased, and reflect on the price of freedom.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Music: Rock and Roll

For my friends and me, the highlight of this year's SunFest was an age-defying performance from Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Jett filled the stage with her blend of punk rock and raw sex appeal - "Bad Reputation," "Cherry Bomb," and her biggest hit, the chart-topping cover of "I Love Rock 'n Roll," and it had the crowd on their feet for much of the night. It wasn't all good (Jett's new songs like "TMI" and "Reality Mentality" were a forced attempt to appeal to the Facebook/"Jersey Shore" generation), but Joan still rocked harder than anyone else we saw at the festival.

You might be tempted to chalk up this ability to Joan Jett's years of experience, but I think it's mostly talent. I mean, even thirty years ago, Joan Jet had an incredible connection to a crowd. Check out this live version of Lou Reed's "Rock & Roll" from The Runaways' 1977 Japan tour for video proof:

TV: America Revealed

My Dad always says that as you grow up, you become less and less concerned with yourself and more and more aware of the people around you. "America Revealed" is a PBS program that tries to give the viewer a similar sense of perspective about the country we live in:


Each episode of the series follows host Yul Kwon in a cross-country journey about a particular facet of American life: energy, transportation, manufacturing, food. Along the way, the show talks to salt o' the earth types that contribute to the enormous machine that is America circa 2012. These interviews are reason enough to watch "America Revealed" - Kwon is an amiable presenter, and he seems to genuinely admire and respect the power line repairmen, steelworkers, farmers, and the thousands of other people that keep America going.

Being that we're in a recession, the program has its fair share of alarmism (bad news sells newspapers). Our food supply is growing ever more centralized and fragile, our energy production is loaded to the breaking point, our transportation grid is overworked and made for a 1950s population. Somehow, though, "America Revealed" remains optimistic: the problems facing us are big, but they're not beyond fixing, especially for a nation that built the Hoover Dam and created the Internet. It's a perspective worth sharing.

Books: Shooting Information Overload Double Feature

I like reading, and I like shooting, so books about shooting don't have to be terribly well-written for me to read them. This post looks at two such books; both have a ton of raw information, but probably won't appeal to the casual reader...

Boston's Gun Bible

This is a reference-style work (800+ pages) that covers a panoply of topics. There are sections on how to buy a gun, self-defense law, guns for women, and so on.

The bulk of "Boston's Gun Bible," though, is a listing of the pros and cons of dozens of guns in the context of their utility for self-defense and survival. This discussion ranges from the obvious (AR and AK variants) to the off-kilter (surplus guns like the K31), and reads a lot like the world's longest gun forum post.

While the "Bible" is opinionated and subjective (which the author acknowledges), it's obviously backed up by a lot of shooting and testing, too. In the end, most of the recommendations are hard to argue with (Boston T. Party isn't the first guy in the world to tell people to buy a GLOCK). I just wish there was a better way to compare and talk about the guns than table after table of arbitrary scores:

The last part of "Boston's Gun Bible" is political. For the most part, it'll be preaching to the choir - anyone reading the book probably won't mind the pro-RKBA/libertarian politics. Having personally known some of the relevant folks in the federal government (including a BATFE regional supervisor and several agents), I found some of these bits to be strident and over-the-top. Your mileage (and your branch of the ATF) may vary.

Julie Golob is one of the world's best shooters, and there are few people better qualified to write "Shoot," a guide to shooting and competition:

If you're looking for a basic, ladies-oriented introduction to shooting, this ain't it. Julie devotes much of "Shoot" to a listing/description of shooting competitions - IPSC, IDPA, 3-Gun, and the like. I found myself skimming through it at times, rather than chewing through a snore-inducing wall of text about USPSA divisions:

The most interesting part of "Shoot" is a discussion about shooting technique, as it applies to competition shooting. There are nice color photos of Julie and other competitors, and some good nuggets of wisdom from a seasoned professional.  I wish there was more practical advice like this, but perhaps that'll be the focus of another book.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tech: Bated Breath

Posting will be light around here, thanks to the scourge known as Diablo III:

Or, put more succinctly:

Monday, May 07, 2012

Guns: Gas ring etiology

Perhaps no part of Eugene Stoner's AR-15/M16 design has been the subject of as much mystery and misinformation as the gas rings:

They look benign - three thin metal rings set into the end of the AR's bolt - but people have ascribed all sorts of malfunctions to them. Some people say you need to stagger the gaps in the gas rings or you'll have decreased reliability (which is wrong, based on my experience). Some say that carbines can run even with a gas ring or two missing (which I've never tried). I'm not sure what the real answer is, so I'll quote Bartholomew Roberts: "If the tiny gap in the gas rings aligning makes the difference between your rifle functioning and not functioning, you've got a problem somewhere else."

That being said, there is a test for seeing if your rings are worn out, and I do replace rings from time to time, just to be safe. With the bolt carrier group fully assembled, extend the bolt and stand the entire BCG on a flat surface:

If the bolt closes in under the weight, the rings are worn (as in the picture below):

Time for some new gas rings. Unless you have a very well-stocked gun store that specializes in black rifles, you'll probably need to order gas rings online:

Pop out the worn gas rings with a pair of pliers. Gently work the new ones into the bolt recess, taking care not to bend them too much. It helps to get one end of the ring into the recess and rotate the ring in, like a keyring.

After the deed is done, your BCG should stay extended when stood up on a table, and any gas ring demons should be thoroughly exorcised:

Movies: Die Hard 2 - Die Harder

Netflix's instant streaming service usually lacks the latest blockbusters, but it's perfect for seeing cheesy old movies that aren't on TV any more, like "Die Hard 2 - Die Harder":

It's John McClane, and he's facing off against terrorists on Christmas Eve. Again. This time the battleground is Dulles International Airport, but the same old stick applies: crawling through ventilation shafts, blowing %$@! up, facing off with LEO bureaucracy. Despite being overlong and ridiculous, "Die Hard 2" is entertaining, for the most part.

Don't come in expecting witty dialogue. Every gun owner knows about the "Glock 7" quote, of course, but the most grating lines in "Die Hard 2" are those acknowledging the previous film:
John McClane: Oh man, I can't f---ing believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same s--- happen to the same guy twice?
Grant: You're the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
John McClane: Story of my life.

John McClane: Oh, we are just up to our ass in terrorists again, John?

At some point, all the callbacks to John McClane's previous adventure feel like cinematic trolling. I mean, it's safe to say the only reason you're watching the movie is because it's a sequel to "Die Hard" starring Bruce Willis - do they really need to keep reminding you?

Rating: 6/10

Miscellany: Blokus

Learning the rules for a new boardgame can be daunting. As much as I liked Tigris and Euphrates, for instance, it took us three full sessions just to get the hang of the game's mechanics (and we weren't playing the newer advanced version).

If you need something that you can get into fast, or that's more suited for younger players, you might want to try Blokus:

In Blokus, each player picks a color and tries to lay as many Tetris-like pieces as possible on the board. Each new piece must touch one of your previous pieces, but only on the diagonals. The early going is deceptively peaceful since there's plenty of room for everyone, but eventually you'll be forced to outmaneuver, wall off, and scrabble with your opponents for precious open space.

My friends and I liked Blokus, since it takes the elegant territory acquisition of Go and dumbs it down to the point where almost anyone can learn (I was able to teach the rules to a twelve-year old kid who didn't speak or read English). Admittedly, the game is a bit shallow, without the variation of a deeper strategy title. For quick hits of vicious boardgame conflict between meatier sessions, though, Blokus is a refreshing choice.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Guns: Getting the Garand, Part 3 - The Unboxing

I just received an M1 Garand from the CMP, and I thought it'd be fun to document the experience in a series of posts. Here's what to expect when the CMP package finally gets to your door...

The CMP beat its own projections and delivered my M1 Garand last week - total time from order received to shipment was about 17 calendar days. The rifle came via FedEx Priority Overnight in a nice Plano hard case.

And there she is. Like many of the current "Service Grade" Garands, my M1 has a surplus barrel and action, but a new production stock. Though the repro stock has little or no collectible value, it makes for a fine shooter. As a side benefit, the rifle arrived clean as a whistle - no cosmoline removal required.

Each CMP Garand comes with a certificate of authenticity and a tag showing the muzzle and throat erosion. Going from what I've read on the Errornet, 1+ and 2+ is about standard for a service grade, with some being better and some being worse. In any event, it's well within U.S. military standards, and should be able to hold 4-5 MOA with surplus ammo - we shall see.

The Garand comes with an excellent manual, better than most commercial rifles. I especially liked the "M1 Thumb" section.

Disassembling the Garand is a chore, especially one that has a new production stock. I had to use a screwdriver to pull the trigger guard back, and replacing all the fiddly follower and action bits makes one appreciate modern manufacturing techniques. In any event, I got it done, so it's Mulliga: 1, 1930s technology: 0.

Next time, the M1 Garand gets the full Shangrila Towers range report and review treatment as I put the old warhorse through its paces.