Long Range Starter Kit–Part One

The Slot at Coyote Point range.

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.

Where the Venn circles of target shooting and having a newborn intersect.
Where the Venn circles of target shooting and having a newborn intersect.

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.

This was a really nice place to shoot. Up near the Oregon border.
This was a really nice place to shoot. Up near the Oregon border.

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.

The first iteration of the LR-308. Harris 6-9" bipod, Aero Precision lower, DPMS upper, Griffin Armament comp, Leupold Mark 1 AR 3-9x rifle scope, Bobro scope mount, Geissele G2S trigger. And a mediocre barrel.
The first iteration of the LR-308. Harris 6-9″ bipod, Aero Precision lower, DPMS upper, Griffin Armament comp, Leupold Mark 1 AR 3-9x rifle scope, Bobro scope mount, Geissele G2S trigger. And a mediocre barrel. List of changes to come.

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.

Pictures from my Rock Slider and Roof Rack Install

A couple of months ago I found an ad online from a metal fabricator who specialized in third gen Toyota 4Runners. He’s a former AC-130 gunship maintainer who got his certificate in welding and then started making racks and rock sliders.

I drove up north past Sacramento to his place to have the work done. As I’m driving down this road with Beale Air Force Base over my left shoulder, a U-2 spy plane flies low and slow overhead. That was a good sign.

Here’s pics of my guy at work, as well as the final product:


John in his workshop/garage. I hung out in the yard with the goats and the chickens…including a rooster whose days were numbered.


Ready to mount.


Rock sliders aren’t going anywhere.


Rack installed. The front crossbars made a whistling noise when I went past 35 miles an hour, and worked up to a pretty good howl at 60. Installing a Thule rack fairing, while kind of a kludge, fixed the problem completely.

Work in Progress: Meng 1/35 Bradley M2A3 w/TUSK III


Love this kit. It’s well presented and very well engineered. The pacing is good: although there are 60 individual steps, each step isn’t overwhelming. Instructions are clear and well illustrated. Excellent detail, minimal flash and the injection points aren’t huge like Dragon, meaning I break fewer parts getting them off the spruces.

I’m only 1/3 of the way through, but in my opinion Meng is the equal of Tamiya, which I consider the gold standard. Much preferable to Dragon or Trumpeter. Definitely my not last Meng kit.

Yeah...paint will cover that up.
Yeah…paint will cover that up.

Ruger 10/22 Changelog


My original Ruger 10/22 from 2002. I decided it was finally time for some upgrades.

Power Custom Titanium extractor. I installed this circa 2006 after an average of 4 out of 10 rounds of bulk .22LR would fail to eject properly.

The new extractor didn’t help, but I think my rifle just doesn’t like cheap ammo. It happily consumes CCI Stinger .22 HV.

UTG Low Profile Rail Mount for Ruger 10/22. Meh, it was eight bucks on Amazon. Seems to do the job. I do need to threadlock the mounting screws, but I keep forgetting which color Loctite to use. Blue, I think. I guess if I’m wrong it won’t matter very much as I need a scope mount anyway.

Tasco 3-9 Rimfire scope. A simple $40 scope. The scope rings didn’t mount to the UTG rail mount, so I threw some old Leupolds I had on it. At least I think they’re Leupolds. Anyway, the reviews are good and the scope functions decently for what it is.

Volquartsen Target Hammer. The trigger on the 10/22 has always been heavy and gritty. You would think that after making 7 or 8 million of these rifles Ruger might improve the trigger, at least marginally. Anyway, this took the trigger down from about 10 pounds to what feels like two or three pounds.

A much better option than buying a completely new trigger set, especially the new Ruger one. The Volquartsen kit cost half as much. The installation was more involved, but once you get the hang of it can be completed in five minutes flat.

Note to Volquartsen: your instructions for this product are terrible. I am not sure how anyone with a casual interest in 10/22s can follow text-only instructions printed on a piece of paper the size of a folded-up playing card. Good thing I had YouTube or I would have been unable to figure out how to install it.

Volquartsen Bolt Hold Opener. Another thing you’d think Ruger would get around to fixing–the inability to close the bolt by pulling backward on it. You know, like all rifles.

Caldwell Pivot Bipod. Nice, and will allow me to easily shift targets downrange. Another Christmas present from the wife.

TacSol 10/22 .920 16.5″ Barrel, Threaded and Fluted. By far the most expensive upgrade to this rifle. An easy install, provided you have some sandpaper lying around to sand down the base to make it fit.

I decided I was tired of black rifles and would go with the “Quicksand” color, which kind of looks gold in the photos I’ve seen. I decided I would either love it or love irritating my friends whenever I whipped it out and outshot them with it.

As it turns out, it’s actually flat dark earth.

Hogue Overmolded .920 Bull Barrel Stock, Ghillie Tan. I really didn’t want to buy this, as my 10/22 already had a Hogue OM stock on it. Unfortunately the new TacSol .920 barrel wouldn’t fit my older stock.

I had some misgivings about the fleks and crap in the mold of the rifle. As it turns out, it looks pretty good, especially paired with the Quicksilver barrel.

I haven’t shot the upgraded rifle yet, but from an ergonomic standpoint I like it a lot. The shorter, squatter, heavier barrel brings the natural balance point farther forward, making it a lot easier to handle. It reminds me of the M-1 Carbine, my favorite-handling rifle out of  the hundreds of different types I’ve held.

It actually looks like a new rifle, except for the banged up ejection port on the receiver. I thought about touching up the marks or even sending the entire receiver out to be Cerakoted, but have come around to keeping them. I think it adds character. This rifle wasn’t born yesterday.


January 23: The ProMag Extended Magazine Release I attempted to install blocked the Volquartsen Automatic Bolt Release from working properly.

Swapped it out with the Volquartsen Extended Magazine Release part and everything was cool.



Area man enjoys driving car after 30 years

Love at first sight.
Love at first sight.

Last July, I had to cat-sit for a week for my best friend. He and his family lived roughly two miles away, in a quiet neighborhood, and the route from my place to his is fairly quiet. For most people that’s not really a problem. For me, that was a problem.

Despite growing up in San Francisco, with its traffic, hills and occasional traffic, I was never comfortable with the idea of driving. My parents drove a stick shift VW van, parking on 30 degree hills, wedging themselves into tiny parallel parking spaces, and dealing with San Francisco’s notorious scarcity of parking spaces.

All the time I was a carefree passenger, reading day or night, window open blasting cold, foggy San Francisco air. I rode for years without a seatbelt, sticking my head out of the passenger window like a dog, spotting for my parents as they pulled out of a tight parking spot, and completely oblivious to the difficulty of driving a stick shift up and down the city’s hills.

Mileage estimation, something I constantly think I understand and consistently fail to grasp.
Mileage estimation, something I constantly think I understand and consistently fail to grasp.

Unfortunately, none of this familiarity actually helped me when it was my turn to drive. In my junior year I took driver training and dreaded actually being put behind the wheel. I was terrified. I only did it twice, briefly, driving very slowly around the Inner Sunset, as though some catastrophe could happen at any moment.

My father took me out again during college, and had me drive around Lake Merced. It went badly. I drove at about five miles an hour, petrified that somehow I might end up driving the family’s brand-new SUV into the lake. Cars drove around us, infuriated, honking.

Dad never brought up driving again.

My wife, who got her driver’s license at sixteen, has done most of the driving. She’s done it mostly without complaint but there have been times, such as the time she broke her foot exploring tidal pools and I made her drive home, that I really needed to drive but couldn’t step up to the plate.

What was the problem? Other people, mostly. I was afraid that other drivers would, not paying attention, crash into me. Regardless of who was at fault, any accident was mine to worry about.

Toyota dealership had a cased replica of Oda Nobunaga's armor. That was strange.
Toyota dealership had a cased replica of Oda Nobunaga’s armor. That was weird.

I picked apart every possible driving opportunity. Contemplating even a short drive to the store, my mind filled contemplated disaster at nearly every driven foot. What if the car doesn’t start? What if I can’t make that turn? What if I get stuck in the middle lane and can’t turn? What if I get a flat tire here? There? Anywhere? What if I can’t find parking when I get there?

Ultimately, was driving to the book store worth getting killed? Which could—and was—reduced to is driving to X worth getting killed? Not surprisingly, I could not think of anything that was.

Of course, all of this is basically true. There are a lot of idiots driving. The car might not start. I might not be able to find parking. All of these possibilities, sometimes seemingly an infinite number of them, always negative, could indeed happen. And there is a lot of willful ignorance by drivers as to how dangerous driving really is.

Bu it’s also absurd. You can sit around all day and watch videos on Liveleak and watch cars bash themselves apart, catch fire, and hurl themselves off cliffs, but the chances of any of that happening to me was exceedingly remote. I knew that, but still.

First day home. It's a nice place to park it, but glad I found garage parking.
First day home. It’s a nice place to park it, but glad I found garage parking.

Also—I was not a bad driver. On the contrary, people told me I was very good. When I drove. Unfortunately that didn’t make much of a difference. It was a frustrating situation to be trapped in for years.

Back to last July. My friends were out of town for an entire week, and that meant making the trek to feed the cats every day. On the first day, my wife gently reminded me of the obligation and suggested I drive there.

“Yeah, ok.” I said joylessly. In the previous year, I had probably driven a total of ten minutes. Driving there and back I have little recollection except realizing the trip went pretty well.

The second night I made the trip I realized I was not afraid, and I was actually enjoying the trip. Upon arriving at my destination I parallel parked in a very generous space. But then I did something strange–for me, anyway: for the next fifteen minutes, I practiced getting in and out of the space.

I never practiced driving. Who practices for something they don’t plan on doing? I began to realize that something extraordinary was going on, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

The third night after making the trip I drove around my neighborhood. I wanted to. I was also testing the boundaries of this new, good feeling, seeing if it had any limits. I drove for an extra twenty minutes, going places I used to loathe going, doing things I had begun to think I would never do.

Spare tire stored under the frame was pretty rusty but serviceable. Strip sanded, two coats of primer, two coats of top coat.
Spare tire stored under the frame was pretty rusty but serviceable. Strip sanded, two coats of primer, two coats of top coat.

By the end of the week I had come to a realization: at some point in my recent past, my anxieties and fears about driving had subsided. Completely.

In fact, driving felt great. I felt more peaceful and calm driving than I felt sitting alone, by myself, with nothing to do. Driving was relaxing.

By the third week, I started looking at cars of my own. All of the sudden, I liked cars. Car culture made sense to me. I stayed up at night looking at cars, measuring them, looking at aftermarket parts.

All of this amounted to a very noticeable lifestyle shift. “What happened?” People ask.

“I have no idea.”

Maybe it was getting older. Maybe it was frustration bubbling over. Maybe it was shooting dangerous guns and not finding it dangerous at all, and that sort of lending a perspective things. Maybe it was being shot at and facing my own mortality, and realizing it hadn’t really bothered me–driving was nothing compared to that.

Maybe it just happened.

I told my wife I wanted a car. One month after I started my cat sitting mission I had my first car, a 1999 Toyota 4Runner 4 wheel drive with a single previous owner. It’s reliable, the body styling still looks good, and mechanically it will easily last another 100,000 miles. And, if I want to totally lose my mind, I can pump thousands into aftermarket parts such as bumpers, rock sliders, and roof racks.


I’ve already put a fair amount of work into the truck. I had it wired for iPhone connectivity and installed a backup camera. I had the upper and lower ball joints replaced, the radiator replaced, off-road shocks and springs installed and virtually everything that could fail checked. It’s all good to go. It’s nice to know that if I woke up one day and decided I wanted to see the Panama Canal, I’d almost certainly make it without any problems.

A lot of the work, like the light bulbs and refinishing the spare tire, I did myself.  I spent hours underneath the truck with a power sander, wearing a respirator and eye protection, knocking off rust that the truck picked up during a two year stay in upstate New York. After that I covered the affected area with a rubber underlayment and gave myself a pat on the back. Lying on my back, feeling the crunch of broken glass and asphalt through my t-shirt, hands going numb grasping the power drill was a wonderful feeling.

(Then I panicked when I realized I sprayed underlayment on the catalytic converter, but my mechanic was able to get the stuff off and didn’t even charge me.)

Did I drink the driving Kool-Aid? I did, like everyone else, and it was delicious. Driving is expensive, yes, but it’s fun and opens up nearly limitless possibilities. Could I still die horribly in a car accident? Sure. But I probably won’t. In the meantime, there’s places to go.

Mono Lake, November 2015.
Mono Lake, November 2015.

Popular Mechanics

When I was a kid, whenever I found a copy of Popular Mechanics I would pick it up and look for the 1-2 stories per issue that were on military and defense stuff. I would read them, look for any articles I missed, then read them again.

Today, I write that stuff. I’m now a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics.

8 Interesting Things From China’s Military Parade



j-20_2015_11. No Chengdu J-20

This is a curious one, because China is awfully proud of its first 5th generation fighter, and as you can see, it’s been flying for several years now. Not even a straight pass by a single plane. Why?

No J-31, either.


2. China intends to be a rich man’s army

The trucks in the foreground appear to be carrying a variant of the FL-3000N “Flying Leopard” close-in weapons system. Flying Leopard is meant to be a point defense anti-missile system similar to the U.S. Rolling Airframe Missile.

Similar U.S. systems are designed to destroy air-to-ground missiles, rockets, artillery and mortars. The new standard for a rich man’s army is not just relying on counterbattery to deal with enemy artillery, but to blast enemy artillery shells out of the sky. China apparently intends to be a rich man’s army.

The camouflage scheme suggests this system is for deployment with PLA marines. Such a system could protect Chinese marines that have conducted a successful landing and then protect them from counterattack — tactical missiles, aircraft, and even naval gunfire support (which the Japanese are practicing right now, FYI.)


This PLA infantryman was riding in a 4×4 armored vehicle and was apparently told one billion people were watching him. I’d probably feel the same way. Anyway, there are two things about this shot that are interesting.

3. The PLA is now using a Multicam/Scorpion W2-like camouflage pattern. This is basically copying the U.S. Army, which adopted Scorpion W2 last year. The British adopted a version of Multicam a few years ago.

4. The PLA is now issuing body armor to ground troops. This has been a weak point in the PLA soldier’s kit, but this appears to be a full-on bulletproof vest with neck guard. The soldier also has a chest rig and matching gloves with knuckle protection.

The Chinese obviously wanted the world to see this. No wonder this was the only ground vehicle with a wireless HD link to CCTV’s news feed.


5. No more white-walled tires

In the past, PLA heavy wheeled vehicles on parade had white-walled tires. It was anachronistic look, like something out of a 1950s Red Square parade. Someone thought it had to go.

The old look:




6. PLA airborne troops still use a variant of the AT-3 Sagger Missile

The AT-3 Sagger is a nearly sixty year old anti-tank missile. This model may have an extended nose probe for dealing with reactive armor, but this is an old missile. It needs to go, Xi.


7. Missiles helpfully labelled in English

The DF-15, DF-21D (pictured above), DF-26 and DF-5B were all labelled exactly that in the parade.

Can you imagine an American nuclear missile on parade with the name printed in Chinese on the side?


8. DF-15 nose cones look like the Pershing II missile nose cones.

This is not my screen grab — I stole this from the Economic Times of India. But yes, the nose cone of that missile looks a lot like the nose cone of this missile, a 40 year old U.S. design:



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