Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing

A rifle is the difference between a free human being and a slave. It gives people the ability to defend themselves against physical attack. Whatever the venue and nature of the attack, anyone with a knowledge of history will be able to cite numerous examples of predation by one group against another and individual against individual. Ideally, humankind could all hold hands and dance around, singing songs. History again shows that this is wishful thinking. When conflict does occur, most countries are fortunate enough to have a court system that functions well enough to bring an acceptable end to the conflict. But what do you do if you are waiting for the police to show up to help you or the court system is temporarily not functioning? It would be fair then to say that the difference between a free human being and a slave is a rifle and the willingness to use it in self-defense.

Rifles are capable of inflicting very effective wounds against an attacker at distances far beyond the reach of a shotgun or a handgun. Most commonly found in bolt action and lever action configurations but semi-automatics have gained much attention recently as people begin to understand the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment to the United States constitution. A rifle is different from a handgun in that it shoots a bullet with a smaller diameter but a much higher velocity. The smaller diameter is useful for reducing the wind resistance the bullet encounters as it moves towards its target. Picturing a bullet in flight, the vast majority of the air resistance will work to slow the bullet down. This effect is dramatic, even with bullets designed with low aerodynamic drag in wind. Taking the example of the 308 Winchester shooting a 168gr bullet at a velocity of 2650 ft/sec at the muzzle—this bullet will be traveling at 1774 ft/sec at 500 yards. This corresponds to 1174 ft-lbf of kinetic energy which isn’t bad but it’s a far sight from the 2619 ft-lbf the bullet started with at the muzzle. This energy was lost by moving the air around the bullet and subsequently warming the air around the bullet.

Let’s take a look at the performance difference between the 7.62x25mm Tokarev, itself a powerful defensive handgun, and the 30 Carbine, a small rifle cartridge. Both cartridges are 30 caliber and the bullets to be compared both weigh between 110gr and 115gr. The only difference in the two prior to impact is the velocity (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Kinetic Energy Transfer—Penetrarion Depth

It’s not the speed that kills—it’s the rapid change in direction that the bullet experiences. If your bullet can penetrate far enough to reach the vital organs then the higher the velocity, the better.

Proper rifle selection depends upon where you live and what your perceived target is. Those fortunate enough to live in ‘bear country’ will already own a larger-than-normal rifle like a 45-70 Government as a minimum or perhaps a Weatherby or a Holland & Holland magnum as a primary rifle. These are larger weapons that require practice to become proficient with them. Recoil is not your friend when learning to shoot a rifle—the higher the recoil, the less likely it is that a person will put in (or be able to afford the ammo) to put in sufficient practice.

People ask me what my favorite rifle caliber is. My question is always “favorite for what usage?” When I take a new person shooting, the gun that always comes along is my 22LR semi-auto rifle. The recoil and noise are so slight that anyone can shoot a 22LR. Hearing protection should still be worn though. If your concern is being preyed upon by the masses of people who refuse to take responsibility for the themselves, a semi-automatic rifle or a lever-action rifle is a fine choice.

Figure 2b

Figure 3b

Notice the difference that exists between the two firearms and the distance my head has to be above the cover in order for the bullet to travel towards its target. On the left (Figures 2a and b) is the Winchester Model 94 and on the right (Figures 3a and b) is the AR-15A1. *It’s not as cool as yours, but it’s easier to carry.

Lever action rifles have a shorter distance between the center of the barrel and the top of the front post, requiring you to expose less of your body to incoming fire should you have to shoot over an obstacle.

I’m exposing 35 square inches of body aiming the Winchester 94 and exposing 55 square inches of body aiming the AR-15—a 57% increase in the likelihood of being wounded in this critical area.

You should not fire over the top of a piece of cover unless there is no better choice. But the pictures above help to illustrate the drawback to shooting a gun that places the piston or gas tube over the barrel instead of under it. Here are some of the most common military type rifles that place the piston or gas tube over the barrel and some that place the piston underneath it:

M16 series

AK series


HK series

FAL series

SKS series

That is a lot of guns with a high sight offset. Below are some familiar examples of rifles with a minimal sight offset distance:

Garand rifles (M1, M1 Carbine, M14, Mini-14)

Lever Action rifle

Bolt Action rifle (Iron Sights only)

If the situation is so bad that you will need a rifle, there is a good chance that the other guy started things off by shooting at you. When you are ‘trading shots’, it pays to maximize them as a target and minimize yourself as a target.

Suggestions for the caliber for the ‘only gun’ … i.e., the only gun that you own or practice with regularly include 223 Remington and 308 Winchester. People talk long and hard about the differences between the 223 Remington and the military version called 5.56x45mm NATO just about as much as they talk about the difference between 308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm NATO. I am in the business of testing ammunition and I have shot 223 Remington in 5.56mm chambers and vice versa many times. Same with the 308 Winchester. Nothing negative has happened yet. The benefit of using military cartridges is that you can shoot military projectiles. If the current direction of integrating robotics into military combat roles continues, having the ability to pick up and shoot armor piercing ammunition may prove a godsend in the future.

One of these days, if I get lucky and get to move to a place with wide-open terrain, and dangerous animals (four-legged) living all around me, I will quit shooting my AR-15 and buy a 308 Winchester semi-automatic rifle. While there are many good rifle calibers out there that will fill the same needs, I like the 308 Winchester for the relative ease of finding ammunition, the intermediate ‘power’ of the cartridge and the ability to shoot out to 600 meters (with enough practice.) If the target shows up close, you can meet it with twice the kinetic energy of the 223 Remington cartridge.

Rifles give you the ability to cleanly take down game animals for food (given proper shot placement and ammunition type), defend yourself and just practice the fine art of rifle marksmanship. Contrary to popular belief, rifles can be fired indoors but I assure that the effects must be experienced first-hand to be properly appreciated. A 223 Remington is about all of the blast that I can stand—larger rifles can be used for home defense but the muzzle blast effects are something that you should experience before relying on a rifle for home defense. Rifles of 223 Remington and larger will pierce all soft body armor vests with any type of standard FMJ ammunition. That’s important to know before using surplus vests as a backstop … I’m sure!

There is much said about scopes for rifles. I suggest that if you want to use a scope, that you buy the best scope that you can afford. Money equals a quality image to a large extent when discussing optical gear. Avoid high magnification scopes unless you actually are a long-range shooting practitioner. To help myself when selecting a scope magnification and objective lens diameter, I first ask myself “am I as good a shot as a US Army sniper in Vietnam?” The answer always comes back a resounding “no.” I jest, to make a point. The Unertl MST-100 scope is a popular sniper scope with the US military. It is a fixed 10-power scope, with a 40mm objective diameter which gives you a constant exit pupil diameter of 4mm. The average adult eye will dilate to 4mm diameter when fully adapted to dark conditions. During the day, the light gathering ability of a scope doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does if you find yourself shooting at night. Picture the situation as similar to burning paper with a magnifying glass—as you move the glass closer or further away from the paper, you increase or decrease the diameter of the circle of light that the lens is projecting onto the paper.

For me, I don’t use a scope at all on rifles. Scopes usually are fragile, expensive, subject to fogging, have electronics in them that are vulnerable to solar flares or require batteries. There are some notable exceptions to this among the military-grade red dot sights but it pays to shop around and be absolutely sure that you can manipulate the scopes operating surfaces under stress. If I had to use a scope, I would use a military-issue red dot scope. Scopes that work on other spectra such as night vision and infrared scopes—are worth their weight in gold and I highly recommend you consider obtaining one or more of these such devices.