Guns and Gear

Gettin’ Down on the Mountain

Those that know me personally know that the only thing I’m more passionate about than homesteading and prepping is music.  Music has always been a big part of who I am, whether it is listening or playing an instrument.  And I’m very picky about my music.  It has to be real and emotional.  No pop music really does that for me.  Music is emotional, not a product to be manufactured and marketed to the masses like the latest smart phone or kitchen appliance.  Needless to say I stumble on some unique artists, like Corb Lund.  He’s a fellow from way up north in Alberta.

Corb Lund

I’ve been a fan of his for years now, probably since his debut album.  Most of his music is catchy with sarcastic, witty lyrics.  Songs about getting trucks stuck in the mud or the problems with owning cows speak to the country boy in me.  I love a smart ass, and Corb Lund never disappoints.  His latest album came out a couple of years ago.  The opening track made my jaw drop.  It’s not often a musician talks about prepping or social collapse.  He nailed the mindset perfectly with his lyrics on “Gettin’ Down on the Mountain”.

The song makes use of the word “shit” so if you are easily offended or have little ears nearby, you’ve been warned.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uASQgLwaIs

When the oil stops, everything stops, nothin’ left in the fountain
Nobody wants paper money, son, so you just as well stop countin’
Can you break the horse, can you light the fire?
What’s that, I beg your pardon?
You’d best start thinkin’ where your food comes from and I hope you tend a good garden

Gettin’ down on the mountain, gettin’ down on the mountain
Don’t wanna be around when the shit goes down
I’ll be gettin’ down on the mountain, goin’ to ground on the mountain

When the trucks don’t run, the bread won’t come, have a hard time findin’ petrol
Water ain’t runnin’ in the city no more, do you hold any precious metal?
Can you gut the fish, can you read the sky?
What’s that about overcrowdin’?
You ever seen a man who’s kids ain’t ate for seventeen days and countin’?

There ain’t no heat and the power’s gone out, it’s kerosene lamps and candles
The roads are blocked, it’s all gridlocked, you got a shortwave handle?
Can you track the deer, can you dig the well?
I couldn’t quite hear your answer
I think I see a rip in the social fabric, Brother can you pass the ammo?
I think I see a rip in the social fabric, Brother can you spare some ammo?

 

http://corblund.com/

Doom and Bloom Medical Kit Review

Last year, when the Self Reliance Expo visited north Texas, I assisted Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy of Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine with their booth.  They teach classes during the Expo and have to close their booth if they can’t find someone to cover during these class times.  I was honored to help some good friends out.  Despite my protests, Nurse Amy insisted I take one of her kits home.  In fact, she let me know that she had my address and would mail to to me if I didn’t take it right then.

The kit I was sent home with is called the Mini Deluxe Trauma Bag.  It’s a lot more Deluxe than it is Mini!  It’s a very comprehensive kit that can cover everything from minor scrapes and cuts up to serious traumatic injuries.  Nurse Amy hand packs every kit they offer with the experience gained from a career in medicine.  There are a ton of items in this kit, but each is placed where it needs to be for fast, easy access.  When there is a medical issue, the last thing you want is to search for the product you need to treat it.  That’s what really separates this kit from any competitor.  Everything is easily accessible and prioritized by an expert in trauma medicine.

I’ve generally found that the best product reviews come from actually using a product.  Luckily, I haven’t had to use this product too often.  With that said, it has been used.  With two little girls, it’s always handy to have Band-Aids on hand, even if it is for a placebo.  But there are those times when I go overboard and need to test a medical product on myself.  Most recently I used a mandolin slicer to remove a good portion of my fingertip.  Elevation and applying pressure wasn’t stopping the blood flow anywhere fast enough.  And I really hate making a mess by bleeding all over everything.  Enter the Trauma Bag.  Included in the hemorrhage control part were several options to stop bleeding quickly.  I selected Cayenne pepper powder (primarily because the commercial anti-coagulants are expensive to restock in the kit!).  Viola, bleeding under control!

Most kits you can buy off the shelf would not include a natural remedy like this.  Another benefit to a kit from Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy.  These kits are designed for practical use, and if a natural method works well, it is given a spot in the kit.  Overall, these kits are the best bang for your buck because the are packed by medical experts instead of the marketing department at Johnson & Johnson.

Rather than reinvent the wheel and post everything in this kit and other kits available, I’ll just link over to the Doom and Bloom page where you can see contents, read more about them, and even see videos.

Here’s a link to the Mini Deluxe Trauma Bag.

Here’s a link to the Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine website.

Be sure to stop by and show some love to some great folks that provide a wealth of information to our community.

 

For Want of a Good Rifle

For years I’ve considered buying a rifle or carbine for defensive use.  It never rated high on the priority list since I always considered myself a shotgun guy when it came to personal or home defense.  I’ve spent a few years looking at various rifles and carbines from a noncommittal standpoint and became pretty well versed with what was on the market.  I knew all the specs and read all the reviews online and in magazines.  I’ve even handled and shot a few varieties.  It was safe to say that I was unbiased toward any particular design.  The AK has its strengths and weakness, as did the AR platform.  I knew I wasn’t interested in guns chambered in larger calibers like .308 or 7.62x54R.  These serve a purpose, but not the one I wanted to fill.  I knew my desires landed in the intermediate cartridges like .556 or 7.62×39.  Ammo availability and price are always a concern when I’m looking at a gun.

I let a friend know that I was getting serious about figuring out what kind of rifle I wanted, he invited me to stop by the defensive training range he works at.  He arranged for there to be several rifles there so I could look, feel, and shoot each one to get more familiar with the features I wanted.  This was a blessing since purchasing a defensive rifle can be a pretty big investment.  After some basic instruction on the designs, we hit the range.  I quickly decided that I favored the AR platform.  Luckily there were five variations available to test out.  They ranged from polymer lower guns to a custom competition gun put together by a very competent armorer.

Now that I knew what I wanted, it was time to start the shopping process.  I was back to the internet and magazines to read reviews with a very critical eye.  My budget put me somewhere in the middle of the AR world.  I wasn’t going to be buying a LaRue or Daniel Defense, but I wasn’t stuck looking in the bargain bins either.  With the research done, it was time to get some hands on at every gun store I could get to.  Luckily we have several great tactical weapons suppliers in the greater D/FW area.  Bushmaster, SIG, DPMS…  I handled them all.  After a couple of weeks I ended up at the local Cabela’s retail store.  Their selection is pretty good and prices are competitive.  What was even better was ending up with an employee that was not only knowledgeable, he was willing to spend as much time as needed with me.  I had already handled most of their offerings at other stores, so he handed me a rifle I hadn’t touched before.  Like most people, I’d never heard of Windham Weaponry.  I was leery of a rifle that I hadn’t seen in the gun magazines.

 

The Initial Impression

As soon as he handed me the gun, I went to town with my initial review.  Pop the pins, open it up and see what it looks like on the inside.  Most ARs sport the same features externally, so I wanted to see how well the manufacturer treated areas that usually aren’t seen.  Attention to detail is important.  If a company cuts corners where no one can see, where else will they try to save a few bucks?

Internally, the Windham looked good.  No rough machine marks could be found in the upper or lower receivers.  The bolt looked very good and I was pleased to see that not only was the gas key staked, it was staked well.  Research had told me that Windham performs pressure tests and MPI tests.  Even though there is no way to visually verify that, it means that they are serious about the quality of their components.

Externally, the Windham looks like most other ARs.  All of the pieces fit together tightly and the finish on both aluminum and steel are even.  It has all the features expected such as a dust cover, forward assist, and collapsible stock.  It is a very straightforward offering.  As the cliche in the AR world says, “All the features you need, and none you don’t”.  This was perfect for me since I already had ideas about customizing it to suit me.

So after being impressed with the quality and the very few reviews available, I decided to take the Windham home with me.  What made the deal sweeter was a sale price on the gun.  Those that have been reading my site for a while know how much I love good deals on guns!

 

The Range

To be completely honest, the range review will be a little skewed.  From my previous range date, I knew that I wanted to add some goodies to the gun right off the bat.  Let’s face it, ARs are Barbie dolls for grown men and offer countless accessories.  Before heading to the range, I added a couple of goodies from Magpul.  I opted to install the MOE handgaurd and the ACS buttstock.  The buttstock changes the way the rifle shoulders and improves cheekweld. I also picked up a handful of 30 round PMags.

For the initial testing, I brought a few different rounds: .223 55gr FMJ from Remington, 5.56 62gr FMJ from Lake City, and .223 55gr FMJ steel case ammo from Tula.  The reason the steel case ammo was tested was because of the cheaper price.  Some gun enthusiasts might never consider steel case in an AR, but I believe if it works, take advantage of the cheaper practice!

The Windham digested 2 boxes of each of the brass ammo and I was on my third box of Wolf when I experienced a failure to eject (FTE).  After looking everything over, I found a bit of crud under the extractor.  A quick flick of the wrist with a dental pick and we were back in business.  Since that initial FTE, I have experienced no other issues.  So far I have put about 2000 rounds through it.  If I shoot a few hundred rounds of steel case ammo, I’ll check under the extractor any make sure there is no buildup that might lead to another FTE.

Even shooting as much as I have, I haven’t taken the time to do a true accuracy test.  The range I shoot at is geared to defensive training, so the longest range they offer is around 35 yards.  The most thorough testing I’ve done is shooting some military BZO targets.  These targets offer a small target designed to be shot from 30 yards.  At this distance, the size of the target is the same as a man sized target at 300 yards.  Even with my poor eyesight and using irons, I am able to keep them on target.  The trigger lends to accuracy right out of the box.  There is very little takeup, and the release is about as crisp as I’ve found.  I would compare it to a lot of better bolt guns.

So far, I’ve used this gun for one carbine class.  Even with some rapid fire exercises to heat everything up, the gun ran as well as any other participants’ gun in the class and better that most.

The most telling review I’ve received is from other shooters at the range.  Several law enforcement officers and prior service military personnel have shot my Windham and have been impressed.  The consensus is that it is a well crafted gun and Windham will be able to raise their prices once they develop their customer base.  The gun compares in quality to guns that cost hundreds more.

In closing I’d like to say that I feel comfortable recommending this gun to anyone looking for a solid AR.  I’d also like to thank the guys over at Proactive Defense for putting up with me while I was researching, asking questions, and learning more about the AR platform.  If you need any defensive training in the north Texas area, you can’t find a more knowledgeable, experienced, or friendlier group of guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just another knife? Hardly the case!

It should comes as no surprise that I have a bit of a gear addiction.  It’s also safe to say that my addiction includes knives.  I have knives of all sorts, types, and configurations.  So much so that I pretty much have a knife for every occasion.  I know better than to look at new knives because it usually results in purchase of that particular knife.  The responsible part of me has learned to only buy knives when they fit a specific need (I believe this is called justifying an impulse buy!) and have a fair price tag.  Sometimes this works well for me, and sometimes I buy knives I can’t really justify.  My latest purchase turned out to be the former.

I was looking for a small fixed blade knife that would look appropriate when I’m sporting tactical style pants.  I have a small Marbles knife that has served me well, but the brown leather sheath and stag antler handle stand out like a sore thumb on a BDU belt and tactical pants.  I could usually care less about how I look, but for some reason this style faux-pas was unacceptable.  So the search for the perfect knife begins….

The number of “survival” and “tactical” knives available is staggering.  A lot of them are nice, some are complete crap.  Each one that seems to work well has a cult following.  I decided to delve into the information on the internet to see if I could sort the wheat from the chaff.  As is turns out, only a few knives seem to have great reviews.  With the state of Texas having laws in place that limit us to 5.5 inches, that narrowed it down a little further.  I tend to hate any sort of radical design for fixed blade knives, so now there are even fewer.  That was a lot of searching to find most companies either have a stupid looking design or are made of substandard materials.

I’ve heard of the RAT Cutlery knives for years, and the guys over at In The Rabbit Hole Podcast seem to really like them.  I figured they were worth looking at.  Some internet research revealed that the RAT name is licensed to Ontario Knife, and that the original manufacturer now uses the name ESEE. I managed to snag one at the local gun show for a little less than retail price.  Make no mistake, these aren’t inexpensive knives.  These are top quality in both material and construction.  After much rambling, it’s time to get to the particulars of my perfect new belt knife.

The model I ended up with is the ESEE Izula II.  Apparenty, the Izula is a pretty serious little ant in the Amazon jungle.  The knife lives up to its namesake.  It is sleek, slender, and ready to sting.

 

To save time, I’m going to borrow the specs directly from the ESEE website.  I hope they don’t mind!

O.A Length: 6.75″
Blade Length (end of handle to tip): 2.88″
Cutting Edge Length: 2 5/8″
O.A. Blade Length: 2 3/4″
Maximum Thickness: .156″
1095 Steel – 57 Rc.
Blade Width: 1.0″
Grind: Flat
Handles: Canvas Micarta
Weight: 3.2 Ounces (Knife & Handles Only)
Sheathing: Injection Molded, Black
Pommel: .550″ Diameter Hole To Accommodate Carabiner
Spine: Thumb Grippers
Finish: Textured Powder Coat

My initial impressions were pretty favorable.  The knife balances very well and they handle shape and size is very comfortable.  The Micarta handle offers a no-slip grip.  But as always, the best way to judge a knife is to use it.  Here at Surviving Modern Life, I prefer to abuse the hell out of something before I give it a favorable review.

A weekend camping trip proved to be a great testing ground to see if this knife could handle my particular brand of abuse.  Like I said, I wanted to give it a thorough test, so I wasn’t concerned about marring the finish or chipping the blade.  Turns out, I didn’t need too.  The first round of testing involved wild onions.  They were growing everywhere in the rocky soil around the creek.  Out comes the knife and into the ground it goes.  It turns out that wild onions can really hold on to the ground.  Each onion dug out required digging around it and loosening up all the rocks to get it out.  When you use a knife to dig, you generally don’t like to hear crunching or scraping sounds.  There were plenty of knife killing sounds going on.  I got my harvest of onions then washed the knife off in the creek.  I did dry it on my pants before resheathing out of habit.

The next round came before dinner time.  It was time to start a fire and I went all out on knife abuse.  The blade is less than 3 inches long, so it isn’t optimal for batoning wood.  I’m not one to let “less than optimal” hold me back.  Into a chunk of oak goes the knife and I proceed to beat on it with another log.  Pretty soon I have a neat little pile of kindling and a couple of bloody knuckles.  Now I know why a longer knife is preferable for this technique!  Now I finally have some damage on my knife.  The powdercoat finish on the blade flatten out a little bit.  It didn’t peel off at all, just lost some of the texture.  Functionality isn’t affected at all, just the cosmetics.

Now it’s on to dinnertime.  I could have grabbed my Mora.  I could have grabbed the kitchen knife we brought.  Oh please, we’re in the middle of a gear test!  After a quick washing, the Izula is in the camp kitchen.  Of course I can’t find many ways to abuse it in the kitchen.  The best I could do was some food chopping on the aluminum table.  Since the knife has a Rockwell hardness of 57, I could have cut the table in two without damaging the blade.

At this point I decided to call it on further testing.  I couldn’t think of any other sinister tests that would mimic real life use.  I have to say I was very impressed.  Now onto my not impressed impressions.

The sheath that comes with the knife is a hard plastic job that the knife fits into snugly.  Unfortunately, it’s just a sheath.  It doesn’t even include a belt clip.  These are sold separately.  I ended up using paracord to lash it to my belt for the weekend.  Even if I was inclined to buy a belt clip, the knife would sit way too high on my belt.  There are folks out there that offer leather and Kydex sheaths in a traditional style.  This is the option I took.  I found a great sheath from Endless Mountain Supply on Ebay.

The next issue I take with the knife is the Micarta handles.  They start out a very pretty subdued greenish gray color.  After using it with dirty hands for a weekend, it darkened quite a bit.  Now it’s almost black.  The functionality and grip are unaffected however.

I’m so impressed with the durability and craftsmanship in this knife that I’m now planning to purchase the ESEE 4, which is the same knife with a 4+ inch blade.  I love the size of the Izula, but some jobs require a little more blade.  I can safely say that if you are in the market for a higher end knife, you can’t go wrong.  It has all the attention to details that you usually find from custom makers for a fraction of the custom price.  ESEE gets the Surviving Modern Life endorsement.  I look forward to getting the ESEE 4 and giving it the same style of abusive testing.

 

 

Worried about overstocking? Not with these items!

There are a lot of lists out there on items that you should have in your preps. These include items for barter and items to have on hand even if you don’t know how to use them, “just in case” someone else might know how to use them.  I think stocking items like this will tie up money and storage space that can be much better used for items that you can and will use in daily life or if the world goes to hell in a handbasket.   Having all sorts of great HAM radio gear costs a ton of money to buy and can take up quite a bit of space.  Being a licensed radio operator, I can assure you that just having the equipment will do you no good whatsoever.  There is a significant learning curve on using HAM to make contact with other operators.  Unless you are practicing these skill already, you won’t have the ability to use this gear when you need it.  I encourage everyone to become proficient in communications, but I’ll never recommend that someone buy radio gear “just in case”  For the price of a good transceiver and antenna you can put back a ton of beans.  Literally a TON of beans.   In my opinion, barter items are in the same boat.  If you overstock ammo with some trade in mind, that’s not too bad because you can use that ammo yourself if there is no need to barter.  I hear a lot of people that store liquor for barter, but they don’t drink at all.  I like a good drink, so I know exactly how expensive liquor can be.  Don’t get me wrong, if you drink it’s all good to store some of your favorite beverage.  It will store indefinitely and I can think of nothing better than facing the end of the world with a nice Bourbon to take the edge off.  However, I’m not going to tie up hundreds of dollars to store a luxury item before additional food or medical supplies.  Now that I have my rant out of the way, we’ll look at some items that you can feel confident about storing without worrying about overstocking.  Of course, I’m a proponent of “Store what you eat, eat what you store”, so rotating these items shouldn’t be a major problem.  You should only be limited by the amount of space you have available to you.  This list isn’t meant to be completely inclusive, so use your judgment on what would serve you and your family.  Also, note that the list is not in any particular order, so don’t feel the need to add any items in order of appearance.

Food:

Water – You can never have too much, but it is bulky.  Have a way to purify water from outside sources!
Rice – White rice stores a really long time.  Wild and Brown rice have a much shorter life span.
Beans of all types
Canned vegetables
Canned meats – only store these if you are willing to eat them!
Pasta
Powdered milk – You’ll need to learn to cook with this, so practice now.
Home canned goods.
Dehydrated foods – These take up very little space and store for a long time.
Freeze dried foods – These are a little pricey, but can’t be beat for shelf life.
Dried eggs – Check out the OvaEasy brand.  They are amazing!
Sugar
Flour
Baking supplies
Powdered drink mixes
Coffee
MREs – Try before you stock up.  They are calorie dense, but some people despise the foods within.

Personal:

Soap – Bar and liquid
Toothpaste
Dental floss
Shampoo and Conditioner
Deodorant
Toilet paper
Feminine products
Razors
Shaving cream
Baby powder

Medical:

Band-Aids
Gauze
Medical tape
Q-Tips
Nitrile gloves
Rubbing Alcohol
Hydrogen peroxide
Saline solution
Antiseptic solutions
Hydrocortisone
Over the counter medications
Antibiotics

Supplies:

Batteries – all sizes and types used in your household
Duct tape
Sewing supplies
Cordage – stock a variety of sizes and types
Trash bags
Zip-Loc bags
Foil
Plastic sheeting
Ammunition – This is also a great hedge against inflation since the price only seems to go up!
Propane
Gasoline – Gas must be treated to increase shelf life, so plan for this if you have long term in mind
Kerosene or lamp oil
Seeds – Heirloom varieties ensure a supply of seeds from the garden year after year
Currency – None of us can ever have too much money!
Canning lids and rings

 

Like I said earlier, this isn’t a complete list, nor is it in any particular order.  Each person or family’s needs will vary a little bit, so each of us will need to evaluate what should be in our preps.  If I have any glaring oversights, please feel free to leave a comment so we can build this list up on items that we can never have too much of.

 

 

 

 

Self Reliance Expo Dallas

This weekend the Self Reliance Expo made its stop in the north Texas area.  Sarah and I managed to sneak over for a few hours to see what was going on.  This was a pretty big feat for me since I had to violate a personal rule about crossing into Dallas County.  Dallas has a lot to offer and a lot of cool things going, for most people.  It’s there if I need it, but I can generally make due without the massive 6 lane freeways and the 5 mile long interchanges that involve half of the major interstate highways in Texas.  Couple that with all the drivers that feel like they aren’t moving unless they are passing you.  Yeah, I generally avoid the big city unless something really cool is going on.  Fort Worth can be crazy, but Dallas is usually pure insanity.  That “something cool” was there this past weekend.

We didn’t get to make it out that way until around noon on Saturday.  I like getting to events much sooner to the opening than that, but with prior obligations we got there as soon as we could.  I was hoping that showing up halfway into the second day of a two day event would still allow me to see everything available and meet the folks I was hoping to run into.  I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  We made it just in time to catch the presentation from Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy from Doom and Bloom.  It didn’t take long before they had our full attention.  For an hour they covered medical care for collapse situations.  Everything from broken bones to lacerations was covered in detail with a great slideshow presentation.  I’ve sat in on medical presentations in the past that bordered on boring.  A few have crossed over into true slumberland.  Not this round.  Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy are both good presenters and enjoy interacting with their audience.  Not once did I get the feeling that they were dragging.  I’m looking forward to getting my hands on their new book, The Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook.  I was planning on getting one at the expo, but Doctor Bones explained that they managed to sell every copy they brought with them.

Once the presentation was over it was time to hit the aisles and see the vendor booths.  Food and water are always popular items at events like this, so I got to get myself familiar with the product offerings for both.  Berkey water filtration seemed to be a hit, so it took me a few minutes to get up to the booth and ask a few questions.  I was surprised as the number of options available for filtering water.  I knew about the big countertop units Berkey offers, but discovered they have other options as well.  Of note were water bottles with integrated ceramic filters.  Sarah pointed out this might be a good gift option for friends of ours that spend a few months each year in research in the jungles of Central America.  To say the water should be avoided down there is an understatement!

Next we were on to the food vendors.  The normal offerings were available including Mountain House, Wise and Thrive brand long term foods.  Sarah discovered Thrive’s freeze dried grated cheese.  We’re both a little leery of long term dairy, but this stuff was pretty good.  We’ll be adding some of that to the long term storage.  The hit of the day for me was the booth for OvaEasy Whole Egg Crystals.  I’ve had dried eggs in the past and the results were less than stellar.  After asking the important question… “Are these just powdered eggs?”  I was presented with a fork full of scrambled egg.  That answered the question.  “NO” these are not just powdered eggs.  They tasted like eggs, but more importantly, they had the texture of eggs.  Gonna have to add this one to the long term storage grocery list.

There were several booths extolling the virtues of alternative energy at the expo.  That’s a subject I’m interested in, but the product prices in that field are pretty much off limits for the prepping budget in the short term.  I didn’t spend much time in those booths, but will be sure to the next time the expo comes through town.  I spent a little more time with the custom knife makers, but their wares were out of the budget as well.  My lust for a custom knife will have to wait until more important items are procured.

The folks at Ready Made Resources were there showing off some of their cooler products.  I only got to speak with the proprietor for a minute since his booth seemed to be one of the most popular that afternoon.  They were showing off a solar power pack that looks incredibly portable and useful, but I didn’t get a chance to ask many questions thinking I could find it on their website.  No luck yet, so it looks like I need to give them a call.

On our way out the door, we paused to talk with the folks from Backwoods Home Magazine.  I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time, so I really enjoyed getting to meet Dave Duffy, the editor.  Since I think they do a lot of great work for the Survival and Homestead community, I decided to go ahead and get a magazine subscription.  They make a ton of info available on their website for free, so I wanted to support them on the side of the business that pays their bills.

Overall, I was impressed with the Self Reliance Expo.  I think it was well worth the ticket price to get in the door.  I hope the show was successful enough to expand to other cities, and I certainly hope to see it again in north Texas.  Now I I can just talk them into moving it a little west to Fort Worth so I don’t have to break my “No Dallas” rule again!

Pardner Protector for Protection From Zombies!

Once again, I’ve managed to stumble on a great deal on a great weapon for zombie defense.  My endless hours of reading all things gun related on the internet yielded another interesting firearm I needed to check out.  I love finding good guns for great prices to add to the collection.  The latest find covers that important niche of home defense.  We’re all familiar with the benefits of shotguns in home defense, and how potent they can be if hoards of the undead show up at your door.  I’m a firm believer in the power and versatility of shotguns, and I’ve been a fan of pump guns for their reliability.  I’ve shot dozens of different shotguns over the years from the cheapest pumps up to the legendary “B” guns like Benelli, Browning, and Beretta.  Each has their place, but I always come back to the pump guns.  In my opinion, they are the most durable action available.  This can be evidenced by the fact that they are widely used in police and military applications.  I’m not going to criticize anyone that owns a semi-auto or double barrel by any means, but I personally favor the pump shotguns for most applications.  Now that I’ve got my ramblings about preference out of the way, we can get to the point of the gun in question…

H&R has been in the gun business for over a century.  They’ve long been known for offering reliable guns for a cheap price.  They’ve gone through more than a few ownership changes over the years, but still offer great guns and wonderful customer service.  I own several of their guns and have yet to have a problem.  Their mainstay is the single shot platform in both shotguns and rifles.  I’m a firm believer that you can’t go wrong doing business with them.  Recently they started to branch out and expand their line.  Part of that expansion is into the pump shotgun market.  I was hesitant to jump on board at first since they weren’t manufacturing the guns themselves.  I was unsure about quality and simply put, I prefer to buy guns made in America.  With that said, I did my research about their pump guns and couldn’t find any negative reviews.  I’ve been wanting a short barrel 12 gauge pump for a while and looked at all the offerings.  Remington and Mossberg are the go to in this market, but I was turned off by the price of new pump guns.  That’s where H&R comes in.  They offer their Pardner line of pump guns that are imported copies of the famous Remington 870.  The model that caught my eye is the Pardner Protector.  It seemed to fit the bill on what I was wanting with a much less expensive price.  I hit the road in search of one to put my hands on.  After visiting the local gun show and a couple of local stores with no success, I went to the Cabela’s store here in north Texas.  Luck was with me on that trip.  Not only was one available to handle, it was on sale for Christmas.  The salesman hands me the gun to check out and I begin my overly thorough examination at the gun counter.  I’m sure I irritate sales staff with these examinations, but I like to do my due diligence before forking over my hard earned cash.

The Initial Examination

As I was handed the gun my first impression was “This thing is built like a tank!” It’s a little on the heavy side, but the proper balance is there.  Now I start looking for this little flaws in machining and finish that tell me if the gun is manufactured as cheaply and quickly as possible.  I’m sure it is, but I want to see if attention to detail is there.  Looking over the crown of the barrel and fit of the receiver to the stock, I’m pleasantly surprised.  Everything looks good.  Opening the action reveals the same satisfaction.  All the guts look smooth and they fit together like they should.  The only flaw I could really see is that the oil from the gun interacted with the styrofoam in the box to create this sticky white residue on the top of the receiver.  I can deal with that later.
Now onto the workings… Pumping the action reveals a solid feel with the forearm.  That’s always a big selling point for me.  If the forearm feels wobbly, it’s a big turn off.  I grab this one, shake it a little, then rack the action.  Solid feel for sure.  Sliding the forearm forward feels solid too.  The receiver locks in good and of course it makes that incredible sound known the world over.  I’m pretty sure I was grinning at this point.  A few more racks of the action and I’m convinced.  I grab the barrel to make sure it fits the receiver well with no play.  Another solid fit.  Now it’s time to look at that price tag hanging from the trigger guard.  $159.99 for a limited time only!  SOLD!  Now it’s time for all that fun stuff like Form 4473 and waiting for the background check.

 

The Specs

Now to cover the basics of the gun.  The H&R Pardner Protector sports a black synthetic stock and forearm.  It comes with an 18.5 inch barrel chambered for 3 inch shells.  It doesn’t come tapped for chokes, but I’m not interested in that for a gun with a short barrel.  It does, however, come drilled and tapped for mounting optics, sights, or a rail on the receiver.  The receiver is almost identical to the Remington 870.  Since it is made of steel rather than an alloy, it’s more a copy of the 870 Police model rather than the 870 Express.  This was a big selling point for me since the Police model 870 is pretty freaking expensive.  Overall length is a little over 37.5 inches and it weighs in at 7.5 pounds empty.  That’s a touch heavy for a short barrel shotgun, but it feels balanced in the hands.  Capacity is 5+1 using 2 3/4 inch shells.  Most of the Remington 870 accessories will work on this gun without modification.  The big exception is replacement barrels.  I’ve read that 870 barrels can be modified to fit, but with other barrels available from H&R, I don’t see the point in modifying a Remington barrel.  Magazine extensions are iffy as well.  As far as I can find out, Remington tubes are too long.  Wilson Combat makes a +1 extension tube that is rumored to fit.  I’ll be giving this a shot in the near future.  Another nice addition is the gun comes with sling attachments, including a swivel at the end of the magazine.

 

The Range

After getting the gun home and cleaned up, it was time to figure out when I could get out and put it through its paces.  Luckily, my cousin called me up wanting to shoot a few rounds of skeet.  We got to the range and walked up to the skeet field.  Needless to say I got some chuckles when I uncased a black shotgun with an 18.5 inch barrel.  One of the other shooters asked if I was expecting a riot on the skeet range.  I just took it all in stride and got myself together for our first round.  I step up, load a couple of shells and get set.  “PULL!”  “BANG!”  Then a clay turns into a little cloud of black dust.  Now I’m the one chuckling while a couple of other shooters are wondering if their foot will fit in the mouth.  The first round went well for me and I finished up breaking 20 birds out of 25.  Now the other shooters are interested in what kind of gun I’m using to outshoot them.  We ended up shooting 6 rounds which comes out to 150 shots.  Every time the gun fed the shell in smoothly and put lead downrange.  I was expecting a hiccup somewhere in there since new guns tend to run a little tight.  Not an issue one.  I’m pretty abusive on a pump shotgun when shooting clays, so I was a little concerned.  I’ve actually broken the slide arm on a Mossberg 500 at a previous range trip.  The Protector took the abuse in stride.  150 rounds in rapid succession is a good way to get a gun hot and dirty, especially using cheap shells.  Even when  it got hot, the Protector ran smoothly.  Overall, we had a great time at the range and the Protector proved itself.

 

Final Thoughts

I had concerns about the gun when I was researching before buying.  H&R Pumps are manufactured in China and that can be hit or miss with quality.  After my experiences with this gun, H&R did well when selecting a manufacturer.  They felt comfortable enough to put their name on it, and I feel comfortable giving it my personal endorsement.  I know there are plenty of purists out there that say they would never buy a Chinese gun, but I would point out them that China has a long track record of making some fine firearms.  Anyone will admit that Chinese SKS rifles are top notch, and just about anything else labeled Norinco.  I prefer to buy as local as possible, but I’m also have an eye for a good deal that fits my budget.  The Protector fits that bill.  This gun gets the seal of approval for quality, function, and finish.  I would recommend it to a friend and to any of my readers that are looking for a reliable weapon for home defense or the zombie apocalypse.  I really tried to look for flaws or issues and haven’t had much luck finding anything wrong other than the weight of the gun.  It’s slightly heavier than the comparable Remington 870 Police model.  Even this isn’t much of a flaw since I carried it around for an afternoon without much fatigue.  If you are looking for a good deal, this might be the gun for you.   I plan to add a few accessories to my gun, including a collapsible stock and the Wilson Combat mag tube extension.  Once I get around to these modifications, I’ll revisit the gun in an article to let everyone know how well everything fits.

 

Rolling Your Own For the Shotgun

As promised, an article on the basics of reloading shotgun shells!  If you read the previous article on centerfire ammo reloading, you’ll notice quite a few similarities.  You’ll also notice that there are some differences in construction.  Shotshells do follow the basic process of other ammo reloading in that you still have a case, called a hull, a primer, propellant, and a projectile (actually a lot of small projectiles).  We’ll add to that list a wad, also known as a shot cup.  This is a small plastic device to hold the shot together and protect it from hot gases on its trip down the barrel.  Once the shot and wad exit the barrel, the wad has served its purpose and will fall to the ground while the shot continues on to your target.

Another difference between shotshells and centerfire cartridges is the equipment used to reload.  There is shotgun specific reloading equipment that won’t work for centerfire reloading.  Initial investment can run about the same as getting set up for centerfire reloading, so a lot of people choose to start with one or the other.  At the time in my life when I started reloading, I was doing a lot of shotgun shooting, and I mean a LOT.  It was normal for a couple of buddies to get together and shoot three cases of shotshells over a weekend.  I was lucky enough to have a friend’s dad be a former skeet shooter that no longer wanted to reload.  I was able to buy his press and enough components to reload 3 cases of shells for a hundred dollar bill.  I never did the math on return of investment, but I would imagine it paid for itself within a  week with the amount of shooting I was doing.

Polyformed versus Compression Formed Shotshell Hulls.

Before we get into the actually construction and process of reloading shotshells, we need to look at the types of hulls commonly available.  The two most common hulls on the market differ in the way they are made, and this has a huge impact on reloading.  Polyformed shotshells are the most common in factory loaded ammo because they are cheaper to manufacture.  These are easy to identify because the plastic part of the hull has a slight ribbed texture to them.  Most companies offer these type in their less expensive game and target loads.  They can be reloaded, but the results are less than stellar.  You have to find load data specifically for them to be safe, and the crimps don’t hold very well, so you might have shot leaking out in the box or in the magazine of your gun.  These hulls are also slightly weaker, so they are prone to cracking or tearing when reloaded.  In my opinion, it’s best to leave them out when selecting hulls to reload.
Compression formed hulls are smooth to the touch (they lack the ribbed feel).  These hulls are used in factory loaded ammunition and usually cost quite a bit more.  A couple of examples of factory ammo that use compression formed hulls are Remington STS and Winchester AA.  These offerings can sometimes cost twice as much as other shells.  The compression formed hulls are considerably more durable and can be reloaded several times before they need to be replaced.  These hulls hold a crimp well and offer a better reloading experience.  It’s best to stick with these types of hulls for all of your reloading needs.

The Construction and Operation

Shotshell construction differs quite a bit from rifle or pistol cartridges.  This is the main reason for the difference in equipment.  The concepts and a few components are the same, but shotshells add another component that centerfire cartridges don’t have, the wad.  A wad is a plastic device that looks similar to a badminton birdie.  Its main purpose is to hold the shot charge while it travels down the barrel.  It also serves to protect the shot charge from the hot gases from the burning powder.  Without a wad, the shot pattern of the shotgun would be awful, and the hot gases would deform a lot of the shot, even further destroying the pattern and accuracy.  The next component is the shot charge.  Rather than a single projectile, shotguns offer a charge of small, round pellets that spread out once they leave the barrel.  Shot comes in all sorts of sizes and materials to suit the needs of the shooter.  Since reloading data is measured by weight, what size you use can be determined by your needs.  There isn’t load data specifically for individual shot sizes, but rather how much shot you add.  Examples would be a 7/8oz load or a 1 1/8oz load.  Load data will be the same for the 7/8oz load whether you opt for small #8 shot or larger pellets like #4.
Now that we’ve covered the differences from centerfire, we can look at the similarities.  Shotshells use a primer to ignite a powder charge to generate the force to propel the shot charge down the barrel.  This concept is identical to centerfire cartridges.  The primers are larger, but they serve the same purpose.  When you shoot a loaded shell in a shotgun, the firing pin strikes the primer to ignite the powder which burns to create a lot of hot gases.  These push the wad containing the shot charge down the barrel.  Once the wad and shot charge leave the barrel the shot charge continues on to target while the wad falls to the ground.  Wads are disposable, one-use pieces, so there’s no need to go find them and attempt to re-use them.  Luckily they are very inexpensive.

 

The Process

Most shotshell presses offer “stations” that perform each step.  Some require each hull to be moved manually to the next station and some will automatically move the hull for you.  One feature most offer is that you can have hulls in each station at the same time so as you are completing the first step on one hull, the next station is completing its step on another.  This really speeds up the process.

1. Depriming and resizing.
This step only applies if you are using hulls that have already been fired.  You can skip this step if you are using new hulls.  Basically it is exactly as it sounds.  The spent primer is forced out of the primer pocket and at the same time the brass portion of the hull is forced back to factory specified size.  This ensures your hull will fit the chamber of your shotgun.

2. Priming.
Once you have a hull prepared, the next step is to seat a new primer.  Shotshell reloading presses have a specific station just for this because primers contain small amounts of explosive mixtures.  You have to use the specialized tools on the press to do this.  If you try to install a primer by hand, it’s very possible to ignite the primer.  Different presses have different ways of delivering the primer under the hull, but mine is simple.  I set a primer in a small recess and the press pushes the hull down onto it.

3. Adding the Powder Charge.
Once you have a primer in, you add the gun powder.  Most shotshell presses have a slide bar that you move to one side to drop a pre-measured powder charge.  Once you slide it over, it uses gravity to deliver the powder through a tube into the hull.

4. Inserting the Wad.
On most presses, this step is completed in the same station as adding powder.  You set the wad at the open case mouth and pull the lever to force the wad into the hull.  There are varying amounts of pressure to seat specific wads, so you’ll need to make sure the seating force is set properly on the press.  Once the wad is seated in the hull, you proceed to the next step which is usually done in the same station.

5. Adding the Shot Charge.
With most presses, that same slide bar that adds the powder will add the shot charge.  you simply slide it the other way to gravity feed the shot into the hull on top of the wad.  If you’ve added the proper amount of charge, there should still be a small amount of empty space at the case mouth of the hull.

6. Crimping.
Crimping the case mouth serves to close off the case mouth to hold in the shot charge.  This step should seal up the end of the hull well enough that shot stay in, even with some rough handling.  From the factory, most crimping dies are set pretty well and don’t require much fine tuning to get a good crimp.  Occasionally, you might need to adjust the crimp die.  In my personal experiences, this can be a headache.  Set it too deep and the end looks like a funnel that lets shot out.  Crimp too shallow and you have a funky looking dome that lets shot out.  Adjusting the die just right should result in a crimp that looks identical to factory loaded ammunition.  If you have to adjust the die, plan on screwing it up a few times while you fine tune it.  Patience (which I rarely have) is paramount on setting the dies!

 

Some Thoughts on Specialty Reloading.

The process I’ve just described works for most of your shotshell needs.  I’ve reloaded for target shooting like trap and skeet as well as game loads for dove and small game.  The shot charges are measured in ounces and the press will automatically load the proper amount if you install the correct bushing in the slide bar.

Buckshot varies from the process in that it cannot flow well through the slide bar on most presses.  Once you get to the point of adding a charge of buckshot, you will need to count the individual pellets and add them to the hull.  Larger buckshot requires that you stack it in the hull in a certain way so that the proper number of pellets will fit.  Buffer material is usually added to the shot charge to provide cushion to the lead pellets.  This prevents deformation which can lead to poor patterns.  I recommend using commercially available buffer material.  You might find some load data that recommend using all sorts of things including corn meal.  Just don’t.  It might have been good 80 years ago, but we have better options today.  Cornmeal and other materials might get damp and clump up or bind together.  It is best to use the best materials available for reloading.

Some people are going to want to load their own slugs.  I’ve never loaded slugs so I’m not willing to offer advice on the subject.  There is a lot of information available from other sources,  so if you want slugs you are on your own.  I might learn the techniques at some point and cover it in a later article, but for now I’ll leave it alone.

As always, I have some comments on safety.  When reloading any type of cartridge, you will be dealing with gunpowder and explosive primers.  Safe handling procedures are paramount.  I don’t want to hear about any of my readers losing a finger or starting a fire in their garage.  Please pay attention and follow all the rules and processes carefully.   As I stated in the article on centerfire cartridges, only use PUBLISHED load data.  There is a lot of data people offer up on the internet, but unless it can be verified as safe, stick with the data from component manufacturers.
If you want to start reloading for shotshells, make your first purchase a reloading manual.  This will get you all the load data you need and lots of great information on reloading in general.  For shotshell reloading, I highly recommend the Lyman Shotshell Reloading Handbook.  It has great load data and step by step instructions for safe reloading.  This is the book I rely on most for my shotshell reloading needs.

 

 

 

 

Save Money by Rolling Your Own… Ammo That Is!

A major part of being self reliant is the willingness to take our personal protection into our own hands.  As survivalists and preppers, most of us own firearms and are at least somewhat proficient in their use.  That takes practice and ammo costs money.  I believe that training and practice are worth every penny, especially if you ever need the skills in a defensive situation.  If you shoot much at all, you’ve noticed that the price of ammo is constantly going up.  Honing the shooting skills can quickly get expensive.  The best way to reduce this cost is reloading your own ammunition.  I want to give you the basic information that will let you decide if reloading is an endeavor that would benefit you personally.  I won’t be going into great detail on the processes because I’m a firm believer that the most important information should come from published, trusted sources.  I can recommend where to get technical information about reloading processes and load data.  You should never trust load data that isn’t published in a book from a component manufacturer.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to learning to reload is the misconception that the initial startup costs are too high.  I’ve proven personally that you can get the equipment and components you need for a reasonable price, less than $100 in some cases.  Another major stumbling block is the idea that reloading is complicated and dangerous.  It’s a very simple process and will only be dangerous if you don’t follow simple directions and pay attention to simple safety guidelines.  I’ve been reloading for years and years without any sort of accident or mishap.  Reloading is no more dangerous that filling a car up with gas or using household cleaning chemicals.  With all of that said, we can get into the fun stuff!

The best place to start is to cover how ammunition is constructed.  Then I’ll move into the actual reloading process.  I’m going to be breaking this into two Articles, Centerfire cartridges and Shotshells.  Each has its own basic construction and process, and use different equipment.  Today we’ll be covering centerfire cartridges.

 

Centerfire Cartridges

Centerfire cartridges can be anything from the little .25 ACP up to the 50BMG.  As different as they may seem, these two cartridges are constructed the same way and of the same materials.  All of the components in a cartridge are a case, a primer, a bullet, and a propellant.  Cases are generally made of brass, but some are steel or aluminum.  Brass is the only suitable material for reloading.  Bullets can be made from all sorts of materials, but the most common are lead alloys and lead alloy jacketed with copper.  A primer is the small round button on the bottom of the cartridge.  They are a small metal case with a chemical mixture inside that ignites with explosive force when struck by the firing pin of a gun.  This small explosion is the “spark” to ignite the propellant charge.  Propellants, commonly referred to as powder or gunpowder,  come in various textures and burn rates but all of them serve the same purpose.  They burn rapidly and create a high volume of hot gas.  This hot gas expands rapidly and provides the force to move the bullet down the barrel and out to the target.  Different propellants have different burn rates that are suited for specific purposes.  Generally speaking, pistol and shotgun powders burn very fast compared to most rifle powders.

The process to reloading these cartridges can be boiled down to inserting a primer into a case, adding a powder charge through the neck of the case, then seating a bullet into the neck.  Of course this is stating it very simply and there are a lot of other factors that go into reloading.  There are a couple of steps added if you use cases that have been used before.  Depriming is the first.  The old primer needs to be removed. Resizing is a big step in using fired cases.  This forces the brass back into specified size and shape.  Cases that have been fired multiple times can “grow” in length, so they must be trimmed back to proper length.  Once these steps are taken, the case should be back to factory specs and can be reloaded.  For the step by step, we’ll assume the use of new brass that won’t require additional steps.  The basic steps are as follows:

1. Priming the case

This step is pretty self explanatory.  You use a priming tool to insert a new primer into the primer pocket on the bottom of the case.  Because the case now contains a live primer, it should be handled accordingly.  Treat it as you would a live round.

2. Adding the powder charge

Using published load data for the cartridge and powder you pick, you add a very specific amount of powder to the case.  Different equipment setups do this by different means, but it can be as simple as pouring a measured amount through a small funnel.

3. Seating the bullet

Once powder is added, a bullet is seated into the neck of the cartridge.  The bullets usually are of a slightly larger diameter than the case neck, so it is a tight fit to protect against the bullet falling into the case or coming out of its own accord.  Some processes call for using a special tool to crimp the bullet into place.  This usually isn’t required, but it does have some benefit.

At this point you have a live round of whatever cartridge you are loading.  Now I’m going to get considerably more technical about components.  You can’t just pick powder and bullet combinations at random.  The first step in selecting a combination is finding published load data for the combination you want to use.  The reason you should only use published load data is because the cartridge, bullet and powder combination have been thoroughly tested to ensure they will work together in a safe and efficient manner.  Developing your own load data requires substantial knowledge and specialized equipment.  You might run into some reloaders that claim to develop their own loads by estimating chamber pressures and velocities.  This is an unsafe practice since there are countless variables that can influence pressures and velocity.  Sticking to published load data from bullet or powder manufacturers is the only way to ensure the load you use is safe.  A lot of people decide what bullet they want to use, then look at load data to determine what powder will meet their needs.  For any given bullet and cartridge, there might be a dozen or more suitable powders.  I base my powder choices on several things; recommendations of other shooters, availability, and price are determining factors for me.

Bullet selection should be based on your desired purpose.  Are you going to be using this ammo for practice?  An inexpensive full metal jacket (FMJ) should work well.  Are you going to be big game hunting?  There are hundreds of bullets designed specifically for hunting.  Are you shooting long range at varmints?  “Varmint” bullets are available that basically come apart on impact to prevent ricochet.  Other experienced shooters and reloaders can help you select the right bullet for the job.

Some words of advice and caution…  I’ve been pretty adamant so far about following published load data in this article.  That means follow the load data to the letter.  Do not substitute powders or bullets.  Any deviation from the data can take a safe load into the world of ruined gun and injured or dead shooters. I’ve intentionally been vague on details of each step of the process and the equipment to use because no one should read an article on a blog and think they know enough to jump right into reloading.  At this point, if you are interested you have some reading to do.  A good manual on reloading is invaluable to a new reloader.  A mentor with years of experience is even better, but that’s not always an option for some of us.  I never had a mentor and I’ve been successful as a reloader.  For those that plan to be “self taught”, I cannot recommend a specific book highly enough.  It is Modern Reloading by Richard Lee.  Richard Lee is the founder of Lee Reloading, a reloading equipment manufacturer.  With this one book, you will gain enough information to become a competent and safe reloader.  I’ve read several books on the subject, but this one is by far the best.  The book is very inexpensive, so if you are interested but still unsure if you want to reload, you can buy it without much investment.

Since I mention in the title about saving money, I thought it was only fair to show you how much money you can save by reloading.  I’ll use one of my favorite cartridges as an example.  The .270 Winchester cartridge is a pretty common cartridge so it usually isn’t expensive to buy factory ammunition.  Premium hunting ammunition ranges from $35 to $45 per box of 20 cartridges.  If I reload using comparable components, I can load a box of 20 for $13.50.  If I save by brass cases and don’t need to buy new brass, that cost drops to $9.20.
If I reload the 40S&W pistol cartridge using brass I already have, I can put a box of 50 rounds together for around $11.
With prices like this, practice starts to get a lot more manageable.  I can shoot quality ammunition made with good components for the same price or even cheaper than buying cheap imported ammunition with steel cases and crappy bullets.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me with the first link in the blogroll on the right side of the webpage.  Hopefully this article will give you enough information to figure out if reloading is something you might be interested in.  Stay tuned for a companion article on reloading shotshells.

I’m including this link as a resource.  It is very thorough and contains more information that I can give in one article.  While it is very thorough, I still recommend buying a copy of Modern Reloading to have as a reference.

A Look at FRS/GMRS Radios.

I wanted to follow up on the post about communications with my thoughts on some of the gear I use personally.  Before I get into the main subject, I want to take a minute to fill everyone in on the goings on at Surviving Modern Life.  I haven’t been as productive as I would like to be on getting articles up and published.  I was on a pretty good roll when I managed to herniate a disk at work.  I highly recommend that you do everything you can to avoid injuring your back!  I’m the type to avoid going to the doctor or take medication unless necessary, but it became very necessary.  I think I’ve been to the doctor more in the past two months than the rest of my life combined.  On top of that, prescription pain medication makes me a zombie.  I’ve been the walking dead for several weeks, so my writing ability and motivation have taken a serious hit.  I’m on the mend, so I hope to get back to publishing articles a lot more frequently.

I’d also like to point out that I’ve added links to the Blogroll on the right side of the page.  A new addition is a link to the website of Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy.  I’ve been a fan of theirs for a few months now.  Their specialties are medicine and gardening (and a combining of the two).  Dr. Bones is an MD and Nurse Amy is a Nurse Practitioner and a master gardener.  They offer an incredible amount of GREAT medical advice geared toward the prepper community.  Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.  I also added a link to a new blog from a member of the prepper community.  Prepper Gal is just getting started in the world of blogging.  Stop by her site and say hi!

I’ve added a Gear Sources” page at the top of the main page.  In there are links and descriptions of places to buy any gear or supplies you might need.  Those are personal endorsements from places I’ve done business with, not paid advertisers.  The list will grow as I give my endorsement to other companies that offer good value and great customer service.

Now on to the Communications!!

A few months ago I decided to add FRS and GMRS radios to the comms I have available.  Sarah and I were walking through Academy Outdoors and I found a set of radios on clearance.  I read over the features and they looked pretty impressive.  They were on par with radios from other brands that cost a hundred dollars or more, all for the low price of $55.  So I bought a set of Cobra CXR920 radios.  The two features that made my mind up were rechargeable battery packs and multiple security options.  The rechargeable batteries are a big deal since higher power radio transceivers can really go through AA or AAA alkaline batteries.  That ends up being a pretty significant operating cost over the long run.  THe Cobra radios use Lithium Ion batteries, much like modern cell phones.  They hold a charge for a long time and won’t develop as much memory as NiCD or NiMH batteries.  I’m still not sure how long the batteries will last because I’ve never had them die on me yet.  Granted, we haven’t used the radios in an all day situation yet, but so far it looks very promising.  The security settings are nice in that they can help in areas with crowded frequency use.  Any major event will find a lot of people using FRS and GMRS radios.  Because of this, finding an available channel can be iffy.  By using one of the 38 CTCSS or 83 DCS codes, you have a lot of options on getting your own slice of the frequency pie.  Just to be fully honest, I wouldn’t really call this security as anyone with a comparable radio can listen in on your conversations.  They might have to scan through a lot of channels and codes, but it can be done.  Any time you use radio communications, you should have no expectation of complete privacy.  Now on to the nitty gritty with these radios…

The packaging promised a 30 mile range, but as I covered in my last article, I knew better than to expect that.  These radios operate via UHF frequencies, which means line of sight.  If two people are standing on perfectly level ground with no obstructions, the best you can hope for is 6 miles.  Physics won’t allow an more range.  You can always increase range by increasing the height of the antenna of the radio, but to get 30 miles, you would need one radio to be 360 feet in the air and still have no obstructions.  This is theoretically possible, but not likely in most situations.  In a real world situation with terrain and obstructions doing their best to block communications, I’ve gotten about 3 miles out of these radios.  Anyone that claims to do much better is dealing with better conditions or is exaggerating.

One of the best features these radios offer is probably worth their purchase price by itself.  They receive all 10 NOAA Weather Radio channels.  This lets me kill two birds with one stone.  I’m a firm believer that everyone should have a battery powered weather radio available to them, and if possible, one in the bug out bag.  Now I have one with me any time I have one of these radios with me, which is pretty much all the time.  Being able to keep up with what the weather is doing can make the difference between a normal outing and a true survival situation.  Reception of the weather radio is nothing spectacular, but it is clear enough to understand.

Transmit power isn’t much of a problem with these little radios.  They have 3 power settings that are user selectable.  FRS channels are locked in at low power since FRS radios are very restricted on power by law.  GMRS allows for higher power, so those channels can be selected.  Of course, you always want to use the lowest possible power to get your transmission out.  Not only is this good radio etiquette, it will also greatly extend your battery life.  As a disclaimer…  Using the GMRS channels requires a license from the FCC.  I believe the cost is $80 annually for the license.  There is nothing to prevent unlicensed use other than threat of penalty.  This always stand true unless there is an emergency situation.  In a real emergency, you can use any means available to place a call for help.

Some other features the radios have that I haven’t used yet include VOX (voice activation) and handfree use, memory for storing channels and security settings, A LOCK feature to keep keys from being pressed my accident, and “Maximum Range” which turns off the auto squelch.  This will increase the range of the radios, but at the expense of a lot of interfering noise.

Overall I like the function and operation of these radios.  The quality of the construction is top notch.  I’ve owned Cobra CB radios and have always been pleased.  It looks like Cobra has scored again.  I would recommend these radios to anyone needing short distance communications.  At the bottom of the article, I’m posting a link to the user manual for the radios.  It’s a PDF file of some size, so be warned if you have a slow internet connection.

 

 

Cobra MicroTalk CXR920 Manual