There’s something nice about building something yourself and having it work right away. Or mostly work. I shot my new AR-9 carbine — an AR-15 chambered in 9mm — yesterday for the first time.
I built the entire rifle myself from parts. Some of the parts, like the trigger, I just had lying around. Others I had to carefully research to ensure compatibility. I was apprehensive about shooting it for the first time — I have little love for troubleshooting firearms, something that tends to be expensive and take weeks or months to complete. A gun isn’t something you can fiddle with at your work bench and then take it into the yard to test.
Why a 9mm AR? My outdoor range is currently closed for renovations and indoor ranges don’t allow 5.56mm rifles. A pistol caliber rifle, on the other hand, is A-OK.
Spinta Precision 7075 Slickside Upper Receiver
JP 9mm Tactical Compensator 1/2×36
Aero Precision Quantum 12” Free Float Handguard
Aero Precision Charging Handle
Samson HK (Front) and A2 (Rear) Iron Sights
Spinta Precision 9mm Nitride Bolt Carrier Group
Quarter Circle Glock Small Frame Lower Receiver
ALG Defense Milspec Trigger
JP Lower Parts Kit
KAK Industry 9mm Buffer
Kaw Valley Precision .308/Pistol Caliber Extra Power Carbine Buffer Spring
B5 Systems SPOMOD Bravo Stock
Hogue OM Grip
OEM Glock 10 round magazines and 10/30 magazines.
I shot 70 rounds from the rifle and experienced two “stovepipes”, a failure to properly eject the empty brass casing out of the rifle ejection port. So, a malfunction rate of about 3 percent. I’ll shoot the rifle a bit more to break it in before I start worrying about it.
Recoil was surprisingly strong, similar to a regular AR-15. Unlike the AR-15, the AR-9 design doesn’t siphon off gasses to cycle the action.
Several years ago I did a DNA test to determine my mother’s family origins. There have always been rumors of white people in the family tree. The company at the time, Gene Base, was good at testing but not so great at explaining.
I went back to the site today on break and they’ve made it a little more readable. They don’t break it down “99% Japanese” like 23andme, but they do at least display my DNA heritage by region.
There appear to be two distinct groups here. One shows the plod from Olduvai Gorge in East Africa east to India, then China, and finally to Japan–with maybe a stopover in Russia. That makes sense.
But then there’s some European mutt in here, with traces of Sardinia, southern Italy, Lithuania, Finland, and Czech. Exactly how this person got into Japan is a mystery, since only the Dutch, Portuguese, and Russians could trade in pre-Perry Japan.
It’s possible that the separate identity is primarily Russian, maybe from the Finno-Baltic region, who himself had southern Italian blood. A smooth talker who, like Eazy E, could “smother your mother, and make your sister think I love her.”
The first time I went to the range with my new Howa, I didn’t sight in the scope beforehand. I’ve never had a bolt action rifle, so I was unaware of how useful the “remove the bolt and look through the barrel” technique was. I figured I’d be able to get it sighted in at the range so quickly the prospect of doing so didn’t even bother me.
Well, it should have. My log from the day says:
First of all, I was shooting a new rifle fitted with a new scope. I had leveled the reticle with the Wheeler tool and done everything I thought was necessary to prepare. I did not think I would have a problem getting rounds on paper.
I cleaned the rod per Howa instructions, using Windex as a bore cleaner. That took approximately 20 rounds.
I could not get on paper. Next thirty twenty rounds completely disappeared.
I finally got on paper, but very erratically. (See below.) Switched out the target, and I was off the paper again. To this day I have no idea what happened.
Got back on paper in the last ten rounds, then called it a day. It was closing time.
The more I shot, the more I missed. The more I missed, the more frustrated I was and shot some more. I probably shot about 70 (!) rounds that night, which was a rookie mistake if there ever was one. The more I shot, the more the thin sporter barrel drifted off target. To top it off, despite having a 10x scope I had trouble seeing the holes–what few there were–in the target paper.
Obviously, I was way off and continuing to do what I was doing was not going to get me on paper again. I researched boresighters online, and came up with the SiteLite laser boresighter. The company makes laser boresighters for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and mostly Navy/Marine Corps aircraft guns. I found out that my scope was way, way off–about fourteen inches at 25 feet. No wonder I couldn’t hit anything.
My next trip to the range went a little better. I tightened up my shooting style, controlled my breathing, and did things slowly to avoid making mistakes. A lot of improvement. Here’s the first of three targets. By the third target, I was mostly in the 9 zone or better.
First shot was at the bottom of the paper. Second shot was between the 8 and 9. Third and fourth shots went high, but fifth and sixth shots…well, those were very, very good.
My third trip out with the rifle, second target. Behold:
I could be wrong, but my impression is that the shots highlighted represent .825 MOA. That’s the average distance of all five of the outer shots from the center. This has actually been a lot easier and faster than I anticipated. From here on out, I expect tighter, more consistent groups with every outing. I expect a lot of what’s necessary will be little things here and there, each of which adds a tiny bit to accuracy and consistency, the sum of which will result in smaller groups.I probably don’t need to shoot Hornady match-grade ammo. At 100 meters it probably doesn’t matter what I shoot. The good thing about shooting match ammo though is that it’s expensive and the cost slows down my rate of fire. With a thin sporter barrel I should not be firing more than a round every four or five minutes.
This is…some place in Nevada right over the border. I think the range at Stampede Reservoir. I brought my tricked out 10/22, and with only a few clicks on the scope it was dead on at 50 yards. Probably the easiest zero I ever did, I was bouncing soda cans like there was no tomorrow.
Recently I decided to get into target shooting. I go to the range about 4-5 times a year, and shoot outdoors another 2-3 times a year. Most of it has been fairly ad hoc, throw the guns in the back of the truck and shoot at beer cans.
After almost ten years of this, I started to realize it wasn’t quite scratching an itch. That itch was the satisfaction of knowing I hit something, I knew where I was hitting it, and why. I was growing frustrated of shooting and not hitting, and of bringing a new rifle or handgun to the outdoors, not being able to get it on target, and having to wait another three or four months before I could even figure out why.
Gradually I started bringing AR500 targets and paper target stands on our trips. I got us to standardize on 100 yards and tried my best to ring the gong. My friends, especially those that couldn’t get on target, slowly blasted the targets apart. Undeterred, I threw the parts in the scrap heap and bought more.
It began to pay off. In 2015, under the impression that my friends and I were imminently going pig hunting, I quickly put together an AR-308 rifle whose sole requirement was hitting a pig-sized target at 100 yards. I threw a Leupold 3-9x scope on it and rang the gong at 200 yards with my first shot. I was happy.
Slowly, I began to realize what the itch really was. I wanted to shoot with precision. I wanted to put little holes in paper at long ranges. I didn’t have anything that really was up to the task: the ACOG on my AR-15, although 4x, didn’t have the magnification to see the target really well–at least with my older eyes. My AR-308 had a budget barrel that, although I had not tested, I knew was going to disappoint. It wasn’t the barrel’s fault–the requirement had only been to 100 yards. I needed something else.
One day I ended up at a local gun store and saw a Howa rifle on the rack. Howa rifles are some of the few small arms made in Japan. Howa is actually a precision toolmaking company; the rifle making is practically a side business for them. They also make assault rifles (the Type 64 and newer Type 89) for the Self Defense Forces. I’d always wanted a Howa, if only because they’re nice rifles and the novelty that they’re made in Japan.
I did a lot of reading up on the Howa before I bought one. Nobody has anything bad to say about them–an astonishing feat considering gun owners tend to be a picky, cranky, generally negative lot. I’ve read dozens of opinions and haven’t read one a single negative one on them yet–and that was probably someone who was digging in his heels and said he preferred a Remington 700 over a Howa.
Anyway. My Howa was a 1500 short action, .308 caliber, with a 22″ sporter barrel and a black Hogue OverMolded stock with aluminum column pillar bedding. The price was right, and I figured I could use it to get started in the world of long range shooting. Once I was done with it I could use it as a pig hunting rifle.
As for the scope, it came with a Nikko Sterling 3-9x. It seemed OK but I wanted a bit more magnification to see the holes in the targets at the local range. I also knew it was made in China and wanted a scope made in Japan to go with the Japanese rifle. Considering Japan is the third largest economy in the world, the combination of the two is remarkably rare.
I ended up getting a SWFA 10X mildot scope. SWFA is another brand that, like the Howa, it’s very difficult to find someone disparage online. It’s made in Japan, so it was a natural fit for my project. Built like a tank, tracks well, and it would really let me push out if I wanted to.
About that. The closure of the Sharps Park rifle range in Pacifica–which used to stretch out to 300 yards–made the closest rifle range Coyote Point. Unfortunately, Coyote Point has a limit of 100 yards and the range’s proximity to San Francisco International Airport means you have to shoot from a bench through a mailbox-type slot in a wall. It’s definitely not for everyone.
One hundred yards is not a long distance range. I’m quite aware of that. I’m not looking to start off shooting at 300 yards. That would be a bad idea. I just don’t have the skill. I have no formal training in this, learning mostly from books, web sites, and YouTube videos. Everything I’ve learned I could probably learn in an afternoon from a professional instructor, but this is San Francisco–there aren’t any around here.
Right now it’s important to focus on the basics and repeat them until they become second nature. I had to learn how to sit behind the rifle, instead of to the side. I had to learn to control my breathing, relax, and take things slowly. I had to find my natural point of aim on my own–and am still not entirely convinced I did it correctly.
Go slow, take your time, do it right. Continuous improvement. Repeat again and again and again. All of these things are much more important than shooting at long range–at least for now.
When I was a kid my parents made me take aikido. One of the reasons why I thought it was dumb was that we kept doing the same moves over and over again. I get it now.