31 August 2013

The Purple Zebra

I've been shooting my beloved LWRC M6A2 AR-15 for many years in both CQB-type and longer-range events, but in the last year a number of factors combined so that I could build myself an all-custom AR. I call her the Purple Zebra because, well, you'll see in a moment. First, I'd like to thank the biggest supporters I had in putting together this beautiful rifle, in no particular order: the guys at Lanco Tactical were patient with helping me buy the pair of bare uppers and lowers that started the whole process, J.J. Schroeder at Brownells helped me with all of the fiddly detail parts I needed to finish the build; Brian Torkar of Full Bore Firearms did the fabulous custom paint job; and my husband, Mark, helped me with some of the research and some of the brute force I needed to get the rifle assembled (not to mention his patience with the final bill!).

The heart of my rifle is, of course, the matched stripped upper/lower. Last winter, Lanco did a limited run of aluminum receivers without anodizing or other finish. I picked up two pairs, with consecutive serial numbers. The one is what you see here; the other will be Mark's when he decides to build it out. After I purchased those parts, a few months apart from each other, I began looking for a Cerakote shop and found Full Bore Firearms. Around the same time, I picked up the last pieces to be painted: a Samson Evolution 7" handguard and a Rainier Arms Match barrel  in 10.5"/.223 Wylde with a 1:8 twist. I selected the Evolution because it is one of the lightest free float handguards available and I knew I'd be picking up weight elsewhere in the build. The barrel length was chosen because 10.5" is about the shortest it made sense for me in a rifle, and we picked the caliber to accommodate the widest range of .223/5.56 ammo possible. The Rainer Arms was both a nice quality barrel and in stock, and the twist will maximize longer range performance for the barrel length. Once I had these major parts, I gave the entire package to Full Bore Firearms.

The Cerakote is a custom zebra-stripe pattern in Bright Purple and Stone Grey for the upper/lower receivers and handguard. The barrel is plain Stone Grey. While these parts were with Full Bore Firearms, I began acquiring the other parts I'd need to finish the build. First up was an Adams Arms Carbine Length Lite piston system kit. My LWRC is also a piston-based gun, so I wanted to stick with it. Also, I don't like cleaning. And I may be slapping a suppressor on the Zebra one day.

As I got closer to the projected date when I would receive my NFA registration, I worked with J.J. on the laundry list of other items I would need. Since I already had and was comfortable with the Magpul CTR buttstock, that was a natural choice for this rifle: lightweight, adjustable, and a mechanism I am familiar with. Similarly, I picked out a Magpul MIAD grip (which you don't see in the pictures above as it is currently backordered). The MIAD with the smallest front and back straps fits my hand well, and the straps can get the Brilliant Backstraps treatment...again, just like what I already have. I also ordered a Norgon Ambi-Catch identical to what I installed on my LWRC many years ago. As a left-handed long gun shooter, parts like that are essential to any rifle I use regularly.

Some of the parts I picked were new to me, though. For my ambidextrous safety, I went with the BAD-ASS selector with a standard and short lever. The standard lever is installed on the right-hand side. I splurged on the trigger and got a Geissele Super SSA-E. Geissele is a local-to-me company that supports the shooting sports generously, and they have some of the best triggers on the market. It wasn't a difficult decision to pick Geissele - just which specific model. My lower parts kit otherwise doesn't have anything out of the ordinary. On the upper, the Adams Arms kit came with a bolt carrier. I added a WMD Nib-X bolt and standard firing pin/etc. I also picked out a BCM Gunfighter charging handle. I haven't felt the need for an ambi charging handle before, but figured this would be a good time to try. The rest of the upper parts are standard parts.

After my NFA stamp came back, I retrieved my upper, lower, barrel, and handguard and began assembling. Fortunately, I have generous friends who lent me the necessary vise blocks and wrenches to go with the regular gunsmithing tools we keep around the house. After assembly, I've popped up a generic muzzle brake I had in the parts bin to protect the threads while I decide what to do for a muzzle device, and for now, I have my SWFA SS 1-6x24 optic in an AD-RECON quick-detach mount on top. I'm also deciding if I want to add a Grip Stop or similar to prevent accidentally burning myself on the gas block.

Building my own AR has been an alternately fun and frustrating process. There're a lot of conflicting opinions out there on the 'best' parts to get, and actually assembling it can take a lot more mechanical aptitude than I usually am able to muster up. I'm glad I bought a complete AR first and learned to shoot and maintain it so that putting this one together was much more mentally manageable for me. Now that I'm done, though, the feeling of accomplishment is incredible. I can't wait to go to the range with this gun, and finish out the last details of the build!

12 August 2013

On Dry Fire

I believe strongly in dry fire, more so in the last year or two than ever before. While I've improved steadily since picking up my first gun and slightly faster since I started shooting competitively, dry fire has made my gains come even more quickly and dramatically. Some of my dry fire routine is very focused, based on books and posts from various top shooters and working a particular set of techniques or par times. Some of it is more random - gun pickup and manipulation drills, for instance, or picking a single issue I want to work on. After setting up and making sure I'm following my safety rules, I almost always warm up with 5 (or 10, or 20 or 25...) draws to an IDPA or USPSA target set up against my dry fire backstop. Standard draw, surrender draw, draw from concealment, turn and draw, draw on the move...doesn't really matter, although I'll usually start from the simplest and move to the more complex. Some nights, that's all I do.

However, as you might have been able to tell from my sparse Facebook posts and my even sparser blog posts recently, I haven't been able to concentrate on dry fire or shooting in general as much as I'd like. I've been out at my regular monthly matches but haven't shown up at many extra matches this summer. Some of it is the ammo crisis, but some of it is also due to stress from my personal and professional life. While staying in practice is important from both a self-defense and a competition perspective, there are times when practice makes permanent in negative ways. When I'm sitting on the couch after work and can't summon the brainpower to decide on dinner, dry fire may not only be unsafe, but unproductive. It's not helpful to my shooting to put in dozens of repetitions of a sloppy draw or a bad sight picture. On some of those nights, I've consciously decided not to dry fire rather than set back my progress and increase my frustration.

But we don't always get to shoot matches or defend ourselves when we're feeling at our peak physical and mental condition, and we should allow for that in training. It's important not to stray into the trap of only practicing in ideal conditions. Practice is not a demonstration of perfection. It's working towards perfection. Perfect practice doesn't mean that every draw and every trigger press is flawless. It means that you're paying enough attention to know what you're doing wrong and what you need to do to improve, and to make those fixes as you work through your dry fire routine. That can mean just putting your head down and making it through only 5-10 minutes of slow-motion basics if that's all you can muster up the energy for at the end of a long day. On many of those blah evenings, I've consciously decided I must dry fire and scaled back my routine accordingly so that I wasn't overwhelmed with how much I planned to work on. Some mindful practice has been better than no practice at all, and it's made my mental game stronger because I am practicing getting my head into the game no matter what my mood is on the range. And just like a bit of live fire time can drain stress away, spending some quality time behind a dry gun can have the same calming effect.