Sarges Roll Call

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Friday, April 25, 2008


Whale-watching, along Cook Inlet about 12 miles south of Anchorage on the Old Seward Highway. Didn't see any.

I always wanted to go to Alaska, from the time I was old enough to know where & what it was. Last week, my wife & I spent a week around Anchorage, awaiting the arrival of our Granddaughter, Scarlett. Like the whales missing from the above photo, Lil' Miss Scarlet had other places to be. Mommy (AKA our lovely daughter 'Sunni') was certainly ready for her arrival- but right now, Scarlett is calling the shots. Here she is with her husband Tim, who is easily the best son-in-law any father ever wished for. This is an appropriate moment to express our heartfelt thanks to them, for making our stay so enjoyable.

Sunni thought a walk might speed things along a bit, so we drove up to Chugach State Park for a snowy mountain stroll. There we learned two things:

  • One- The signs telling you which trail to use are sometimes wrong, and
  • Two- The reason snowshoes were invented.

The gray head behind the redhead is mine, and yes I 'sunk to the pockets' before I got her out.

Greenhorns on the mountain trail;)

Sooner or later I'll get back and when I do, I'm going to spend some time in this beautiful preserve, just outside Anchorage. Flat Top is the 'bunny slope' for mountain hikers and there are just fantastic views of the surrounding area.

The snow & sunlight-saturated haze dealt us photography-fits, but here's a look out across Cook Inlet from the state park.

We also made a side trip to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Downtown Anchorage, across the Inlet

We stopped at the Alaska Railroad Headquarters. One of their early 'Little engines that DID' was on display complete with the requisite Totem Poles...

...another of which decorates the front of the Headquarters Building.

Sunni and Tim gave us a tour of Elmendorf AFB, where both are proudly serving with USAF. Highlights were the Eagle Hospital, where injured bald eagles are cared for until they are able to fly.

We also viewed the Memorial to Yukla 27 an AWACS aircraft which crashed at Elmendorf on September 22, 1995, claiming the lives of all 24 crew-members on board.

If you're a candy freak, you'll love the Alaska Wild Berry Products . The place has a chocolate fountain, which was down for service, and the biggest dang Teddy Bears you'll ever see.

Daddy's girl, doing a little bear-bonding;)

AWBP also sells Flying Moose Coffee, some of the finest we have ever tasted.

While most of our time was spent with Sunni & Tim, we did manage a little jaunt down the Old Seward Highway to Girdwood, and the beautiful mountains and valleys near Alyeska Ski Resort. Old Seward runs along the east side of Cook Inlet to Whttier, and the scenery is fantastic. Here are a few pics we took along the way to Girdwood.

Mountain Goats, gawking back at the tourists.

And of course, the requisite dogsled photo.

And finally, a beautiful trail leading toward Mt. Alyeska.

Alaska has a staggering array of state-maintained trails, parks and outdoor resources. I was surprised to learn that Anchorage also has quite a number of them. If you visit that city, you really should eat at the Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria. We had smoked salmon dip for an appetizer, and the All-American Pizza. Both were delicious and everything that passed our table looked & smelled equally appealing. Moose's Tooth also has its own brewery. At this stage of my life I'm not a regular beer-drinker, but I did have a glass (OK, two glasses) of their Prince William's Porter- a dark, full-bodied beer which will ruin you for off-the-shelf beer from the 'mega-breweries'.

The Roll Call is still a gun blog, so a few notes on 'packing' in Alaska. Bears are definitely a consideration for those partaking of the state's enormous outdoor resources. From the state's website, located at

“You are allowed to carry a gun for protection in state parks. Remember, though, that more people are hurt by the guns they carry than are hurt by bears. Select a gun that will stop a bear (12-gauge shotgun or .300 mag rifle) and practice firing it at a rifle range. Any bear shot in self defense must be salvaged and turned over to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. ”

They also recommend pepper spray, which is said to work quite well. I have used it on attacking dogs over the years and it works well on them. Even so, you aren't gonna catch this old country boy anywhere near bear country without a sidearm- at the very least. Every year, several Alaskans are killed or mauled and sometimes within rock-throwing distance of their homes or town. The state's nice little admonition about bear vs gun injuries fails to mention that the vast majority of folks who are killed or maimed by bears- are also the ones not carrying firearms. Much has been written about gun safety on this blog, and the safe and proficient use of firearms is not an insurmountable task. My advice is that if you are roaming Alaska, carry a substantial gun whenever and wherever you can. The safety and proficiency part is up to you.

Since we were traveling light, I took along my .357 Mag SP101 and my old 1911A1. Don't worry about can find seriously-heavy handgun loads at the local WalMart. I grabbed an 18-pack of “Alaska Backpacker” .357's using a 200 grain hard-cast, gas-checked LBT. Upon returning home, I chronographed a few and found them to produce 970 fps from the 2 ¼” SP101. Recoil was noticeable but not unbearable. The load's velocity didn't impress me much- until I started shooting things with it. It easily bored through a 3 inch seasoned oak limb, digging an inch groove in the trunk behind. It shot through an old mower deck- that .45 hardball only dents. This load grouped into about 2 ¼ “ at 25 yards, and the point-of-impact with the little Ruger was only 3” high at that distance. I do believe Alaska Backpacker's 200 grain .357 would shoot through a bear's noggin' and that's about all you can ask of a pocket gun.

Truth be told, I would have preferred some of Buffalo Bore's Heavy .357 as it produces better velocity from short barrels. I wouldn't run from CorBon either but neither was available when I was looking for them. Regardless of the ammo, a .357 is really too light for this duty. If Alaska were my home, a .454 Alaskan or short .45 Redhawk would be my constant companion. The .44 Mag has also proven itself time and again, and my choice of the .45/.454 is based solely on my sticking to one caliber.

So that's about it. While a week in Alaska hardly makes me an authority on this outdoorsman's Paradise, I can honestly say that I now have only one unanswered question about it:

WHEN can we go BACK?!?!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sacred Cow Gored...The “Competition Grip” Is Not Always the Answer

The 'thumbs-forward' competition grip is, as the name implies, quite effective in competition. This is especially so if:

  • The gun used is a full-sized auto
  • The grip is used with only one gun
  • The 'object' is to unload a magazine as fast as possible
  • With enough accuracy to score on competition-style targets

The competition grip works well in IPSC- and it looks good in the videos produced by various competition shooters. Law enforcement and defensive shooters should probably think twice before adopting it.

The problems of the real world and the square range are dissimilar. On the square range, there are no drunks trying to wrestle the gun away, or kick it out of your hands; you're not going to have to hold the gun in one hand and fight with the other. You won't have to change from a two-handed grip to one-handed, in a split second, to move a scared student aside while you address a threat at 90 degrees on your weak side. In competition, you won't be shooting flame-throwers through that magnum j-frame, that fits so nicely in your front pocket.

We all know the importance of getting the first hits but the reality of handgun effectiveness is that that they ALL suck- and peripheral hits do not stop fights. Gunfights are often a flurry of shots followed by one side or the other realizing that 'Hitting THAT SOB in the nose' is what it's going to take to survive. If your initial, IPSC-Master barrage didn't settle accounts, you are now low on ammo. Yes, we shoot until the 'threat goes away'- but Mr. Threat may have friends you haven't met yet. Remember the teacher telling you to “Bring enough for everybody”? That applies to gunfights, too. 98% of the time, dumping magazines in a fight is just plain stupid- the kind of stupid that gets you charged, sued or killed.

If you are still in the fight after the initial flurry- you need precision, and only two things on God's green earth will get it. They are:

  • Seeing your front sight on what you want to hit, and

  • Pressing the trigger.

You can only accomplish that when conditions allow it and speed-shooting isn't going to make it happen.

As long as your grip is firm, consistent and usable in the worst-case scenario, it's good enough. It should be a grip you can acquire without conscious thought, regardless of the gun you're carrying today, or how many hands you can get on that gun. It needs to be simple, without a lot of digital acrobatics. If you have to think about where this or that thumb goes, for this or that gun, you are draining brain juice you might desperately need for problem solving.

Right here is where the 'competition grip' falls apart. Using a thumbs-forward grip with a snubnose .357 will soon educate you about where your weak-hand thumb should NOT be. There are pictures circulating the web at present that show the results of having that thumb too far forward when you're shooting something bigger- like a .460 S&W.

There is another factor at work here, that nobody talks about. Not all combinations of hands & handguns will work with the Competition Grip. The more you introduce stress/unknowns into the training, the more apparent this becomes. Safeties and slide locks get bumped by errant thumbs, and your now gun won't go 'boom' until you fix something besides the problem you were trying to solve with it. I have seen this repeatedly with the Springfield XD, at LE qualifications. I have seen it more than once with HK Compacts and the smallest Glocks.

When this starts happening, I 're-teach' folks to turn the shooting hand thumb down or alongside the grip; and if transitioning to two-hand shooting, to place the offhand thumb on top of it. This resolves all issues about hitting the slide lock inadvertently. It works with any gun, regardless of caliber or configuration. It also facilitates conversion of the shooting grip into a retention grip, without moving anything. Your shooting-hand thumb is a valuable asset in holding on to that gun.

Sometimes people ask me “Well if your way is better, how come (insert big name IPSC shooter) don't shoot like that! Whadda-ya say to that, Sarge? Huh?”

I say “S'cuse me, but didn't you just lock your gun open in mid-string? By the way, IPSC is a game-and this ain't a game to us. Does anybody here want Mr. IPSC Hose-monster running down the hallway of your daughter's school, emptying mags at a dead run?”

Dead silence...

I'm trying to teach these guys the simplest, most instinctive methods to stay alive. I still turn out some pretty good shots, a few of whom have used what I've taught them to get home when things got ugly.

I'm going to call this a 'Retention Grip' simply because it uses the natural anatomy of the hand to help you retain possession of the gun; and that advantage is not compromised in the split second when you transition from two-hands to one, or vice-versa. No, you're not gonna win any IPSC matches using this grip, and the ammo makers won't offer you a sponsorship because you burned an obscene amount of their product in 17.323 seconds. But let's give it a look anyhow.

Hold the EMPTY, and I mean ALL THE WAY EMPTY gun in your strong hand- like you mean to hold onto it, even if I tried to slap it away. Your thumb knuckle will invariably wind up alongside the handle- AWAY from any controls mounted on the weapon itself:

Now extend your shooting hand slightly, and bring your support hand up. Cup your shooting hand in your support hand. Now- whatcha gonna do with that weak hand thumb? Leave it dangling out there in your field of vision? Want some crack head to get ahold of it and bite it off? I didn't think so. Fold it over on top of your shooting hand thumb.

If you have to remove your support hand from the gun for any reason, you still have a solid grip on the gun without shifting it around. Wonder of wonders, it also happens to be the same grip you use for strong-hand shooting. Think that might be a good thing? You betcha. You can shoot it, holster it, or hang onto it; whatever the situation dictates, and with as many or few hands as you have available.

Your thumbs are both out of the way of the slide stop. Yeehaw. Now we can finish a stage of fire without you holding your little hand up like a first grader who needs to go potty- 'cause your slide locked open before your 'buwwets' was all gone.

We may now resume shooting. Thank you very much.