Leupold Mark AR Scope Review

I have been in the market for some decent optics for my flat-top AR. With the economy the way it is I initially tried to keep the cost down and crashed and burned with the NCStar Mark III. Thankfully Midway USA made the recovery much easier with their no hassle return policy. After that experience I put aside some money for a little while until I was able to save up enough to order a Leupold Mark AR from Optics Planet with a coupon. I also purchased a one-piece Burris Scope Mount from Midway to go with the scope.

The Leupold Mark AR comes in a 1.5-4×20 model and a 3-9×40 model. You can buy it with Duplex or Mildot reticles and the lenses are coated with Leupold’s Multicoat 4 System. This coating is supposed to result in increased brightness, contrast, and clarity. The view through the scope looked good to me although I did have some issues making out 22 cal holes at 100yds.

I bought the 3-9×40 version with the Mildot Reticle. It is a one inch tube in matte finish. 
The elevation knob is adjustable in 1/2 moa increments and includes a built in bullet drop compensator calibrated for the M193 round. A 55gr bullet at 3200fps. Leupold offers the ability to purchase a custom calibrated compensator for the load of your choice.
I mounted the scope to my AR using a Burris one piece mount.  This particular mount is really intended for AR platforms with shorter stocks. I was very impressed with the amount of eye-relief that this scope offered. The optics were clear and easy to see.
For the real test I used some more of the Black Hills 55 gr ammo that I got on sale back before the election of ’08. I bought a whole lot at the time, one because I got a good deal, two because I was under the impression that Black Hills was some good stuff. I have gone through quite a lot of this in the past few years and I have not been impressed. It is supposed to be 3200fps but I have had it chrono from 2800 to about 3120 and everywhere in between. Not the most accurate in the world but it was cheap and good for plinking.
I didn’t have a lot of time this day so I got it sighted in and then started firing 3 round groups starting at 9x. 3 at 9x, 3 at 8x and so on down to 3x. You can see the results here 21 shots at 100yds. Not the best shooting in the world but I am happy to report that I did not have any real change in the point of Impact like I did with the NCStar. The next chance I get I will take some of my handloads out and practice for a little while. Even though the Leupold and the mount together were about four times the cost of the NCStar, there is a noticeable difference in the quality and I think it was worth saving up to purchase.

Dillon Powder Measure Tuning

I love reloading on my Dillon. I usually use it for straight wall pistol ammunition. Once it is set up and dialed in, I can crank out plenty of 9mm and 45 to feed our shooting habit. My wife even likes the Dillon as it saves money on ammo and she thinks that the sound of me reloading on the Dillon and reaching into the brass bucket reminds her of the Pink Floyd song Money.


In the past I have usually reloaded my rifle ammunition on a single stage press. For no particular reason I wanted to reload some rifle rounds on the Dillon. I started with 30-06 as I had the dies and I could use the shellplate, buttons, etc from other rounds that I already reloaded. I set the Dillon up with the 30-06 dies and filled the powder measure up with some IMR-4895. This load was going to be for the Garand so it will not be too hot. About 45 grains of 4895 behind a 168gr SMK. I was trying to get the powder measure dialed in but I kept on noticing that when I brought the handle up I still had grains of powder dropping out. After about ten repetitions of handle I had a noticeable amount of powder sprinkled around the shellplate and surrounding area.


Long grain extruded powders are known to have a bit of an issue metering through the Dillon but this seemed to be problem to me. I decided to throw about 30 rounds and I would weigh each one on two different scales to see what kind of a shot to shot difference I was getting. I measured each round twice and then added the powder back into the powder measure.


30 measurements everything stock

Min: 44.4
Max 44.9
Range: 0.5
Mean: 44.62
Std Dev: 0.16

I then tried to add a powder baffle from UniqueTek. This baffle is supposed to provide an uniform flow of powder  even as the level of powder in the measure changes. Since I was pouring the powder back in after every measure I did not really test the baffle for what it was designed for.


30 measurements with powder baffle

Min: 44.1
Max 45.4
Range: 1.3
Mean: 44.84
Std Dev: 0.33

That did not work out very well. A 1.3 grain difference and the standard deviation doubled.

I took the baffle out and while I had the powder measure apart I pulled out my dremel and some went to work. I started with a scotch brite pad bit and finished up with a polishing pad and some jewelers rouge. I polished up the entire funnel, the mouth, and all parts of the powder bar inside and out. I did not remove any metal but I polished it up and made it smooth. You can see the difference between an untouched measure and an “improved” measure.

Now I put it back together without the baffle and measured another 30 rounds. This time I also decided to slow down the stroke I was using. When reloading pistol ammunition you can crank out some rounds but when reloading rifle and using extruded powders you should slow down a bit. I chose a 4 count from the time the powder bar starts to move until the the powder bar stops moving. Four was an arbitrary number but it seemed to be about right and I needed to make each stroke as repeatable as possible. It is not like I just made some numbers up called my self a climate scientist and made a movie about it.



30 measurements with polished funnel and 4 count stroke.

Min: 44.0
Max 44.3
Range: 0.3
Mean: 44.15
Std Dev: 0.08

Now that is what I am talking about! 30 rounds and the largest difference was only 0.3 grains. I think that will be accurate enough for me. I just need to hold the rifle steady now. Just to ease my curiosity I put the powder baffle back in and tried again.


30 measurements with polished funnel, powder baffle, and 4 count stroke.

Min: 44.3
Max 44.8
Range: 0.5
Mean: 44.595
Std Dev: 0.13

Again the standard deviation increased with the baffle installed. Granted, I did not test with a varying amount of powder in the measure but to have this much of an impact on the measurement at this stage makes me want to leave it out. So what does all this mean. When reloading bottle neck rifle cases on a Dillon with extruded powders you should polish up your funnel and powder bar and sloooow down with handle especially on the down stroke.

NCStar Mark III Tactical Scope Review

Up for review this month is the NC Star Mark III Tactical Scope. I got this from Midway with a coupon for about $115. I was kind of apprehensive about this purchase as I had read a couple of not so hot reviews and I am usually of the mind that you get what you pay for. Anyhow this is a 3 to 9 variable power scope with illuminated mildot reticules. It comes with an integrated quick release weaver style mount. My intention was to put this scope one of my flat top ARs.

The package from Midway was packaged adequately as usual and I pulled the scope box out to take a look. The box packaging looked decent and I did not see any damage to the box.

 The end of the box shows the 3-9X with a 42mm objective. the actual model number is STM3942G.

I carefully removed the scope from the box and checked it out. One of the reasons that I picked this one is that it has the built in bullet drop compensator that is calibrated for 223. It is actually calibrated for a 55gr M193 round and I usually shoot 69 or 75 gr. Supposedly you sight it in for 100 yds and then you can adjust the compensator out to 500 yds. I never actually got that far with it.

Some of the negative reviews I read indicated that the mount did not hold onto the rail very well and would come loose. I followed the instructions and mounted mine, then put a drop of loctite on the locking screw. I do not forsee this thing coming loose and after 200 rds it has not budged at all. Here is a shot if it mounted on my AR.

Here is another shot zoomed out a little bit with the included dust covers on.

Now I have never had a scope with illuminated reticules before so I wanted to try this out. Supposedly the illumination will help in low light situations. However I found that even on the dimmest settings the illumination destroyed my night vision and I could barely see anything well enough to shoot it. Here is a shot from the aft end of the scope at night. It is a little out of focus but you can get the idea, it is very bright and that is lowest setting.

The view was only a little better with the green light. Again it is a little out of focus but you get the point I hope. Alright enough of the fancy stuff how well does it shoot? I was not expecting great clarity out of a scope this price but at 100yds and with the scope at maximum magnification 9x, I could make out most ( not all ) of the 22 cal holes. Not that bad I suppose. I went through 200rds of 55gr ball ammo that I got on sale back before the election of 08. Not the most accurate stuff in the world but it puts holes in the paper. As I was shooting something seemed strange and I was not sure what was going on. So I opened up the bipod and set up the bench to make myself  nice and stable. I got the rifle sighted in so that I could put my shots into a group the size of a quarter at 100yds with the scope at  9x.

Then I loaded up the magazine hunkered down and put 6 shots into the center of the target. I then carefully moved the power from 9x to 8x and took 3 more shots. Then moved the power to 7x and took 3 more shots. I continued this at 6x, 5x, 4x, and finally 3x. You can see the results to the right. With each change in power the point of impact changed. After 5x I was no longer even on the paper. At this point I was kind of disgusted and it was starting to get late so I called it a day. I don’t know about you but the point of impact should not be moving when I change the magnification level. I could accept a little bit of a change but to be off the paper is unacceptable. There is supposed to be a lifetime warranty from NCStar on these. At this point I am glad I bought this with my American Express as I can definitely get my money back. I am undecided if I should deal with trying to get warranty replacement or just return it. At this juncture in time I cannot recommend one of these scopes. Let me know what you think in the comments.

M1 Garand Tune-up – Tightening the Gas Cylinder

When shooting an M1 Garand and here I am talking about a service or field grade rifle not a match grade rifle, there are three areas to check. Like buying a used car there are usually a few areas you want to examine to insure the car will operate properly. Three areas to check that will ensure your Garand will shoot fairly good groups are tightness with the gas cylinder, rear sight, and stock lock-up.

The gas cylinder is held in place by three splines on the barrel, the gas cylinder lock, and gas cylinder lock screw. What is important here is that there is no movement, wiggle side-to-side of the gas cylinder on the barrel. A loose gas cylinder will effect grouping or cause several groups on your target. There is an easy fix to eliminate this problem.

What you will require is a ½ inch socket, small hammer, 1/8 inch steel punch, and block of wood. When looking at the barrel from the muzzle end there are three splines, one at 12 o.clock, another at 4 o.clock, and another at 8 o.clock. You first want to lay the barrel with the top spline up and the 6 o.clock position of the barrel on the block of wood. (See figures to the right)




Lay the ½ inch socket along the spline approximately 1/8 inch from the front of the spline which makes it easier to get the gas cylinder started when installing on the barrel. Hit the socket with the hammer a few times to slightly bend in the spline edges. You do not have to overdo this. Next turn the barrel to the spline at the 4 o.clock and with the 1/8 inch punch and hammer peen along the spline (just one side) along the top, center, and bottom a few times. (See figure to the left) Again, you do not have to overdo this. Do the same for the 8 o.clock position and you are almost done. An option is to use the ½ inch socket on all splines.either method will work.

The final step is to re-install the gas cylinder on the barrel. Slide the gas cylinder onto the barrel and push into place. It may be necessary to hammer into place with a block of wood. Be sure to align the window in the top of the gas cylinder with the gas port hole in the barrel. There should be a space slightly less than a dime’s width between the gas cylinder and the stock ferrule. This allows for expansion of the handguard eliminating binding against the gas cylinder and changing the POI as the rifle heats up during firing. Take the gas cylinder lock and turn into place. Ideally it should stop at the 6 o.clock position. If it goes slightly beyond that.s OK. Lastly, take the gas cylinder lock screw and tighten down onto the gas cylinder lock by screwing into the gas cylinder. The gas cylinder should be good and tight with no side-to-side wiggle. Next time I will discuss the rear sight.

Happy shooting!


Shooting Chrony Beta Master Review

I have been reloading for a long time but it was usually just to save money for target practice, so I usually just used the starting load in many of the books. Sometimes I would modify a few things to see what would happen but for the most part if went boom when I pulled the trigger it was good.

For a number of reasons I wanted to collect some data on how my reloads were performing, so I decided to buy a chronograph. I was doing a lot of research on what kind to buy and I was leaning towards a particular model when I received an email from Midway and the Shooting Chrony Beta Master was on sale for $99!. The one I was considering was quite a bit more and that was why I was hesitating. For $99 I went for it.

Shooting Chrony has quite a number of different models available. The three main models are the Alpha, Beta, and the Gamma. The biggest difference between the three is the amount of memory for storing velocity readings. Each of the three models are available in the base model and the Master model. The base model has the LCD screen on the unit and the Master model comes with a remote control that housed the LCD screen and about 15 ft of phone cable to connect the remote to the main unit.

On opening up the box I was amazed at how small the box was. I had imagined that it would be larger but apparently that is one of the selling points of the chrony. It folds up into a small package.









As I mentioned earlier I opted for the Beta Master. This means that I have room for storing the velocities of 60 shots divided into six strings of 2 to 10 shots each.










I opened up the box to see what was inside. The obligatory instructions, the chrony itself, the multi-part diffusers, and the support rods.









I unfolded the Chrony to take a look at the inside. You can see the remote unit and the phone cord rolled up nice and neat. I was not able to get the cable and remote rolled up tight enough to fit back in there once I took it out. You can also see the two sensors that detect the bullet passing over them.










Here you can see the remote unit and the phone cable pulled out. For normal use the battery is plugged into the main housing. But you can take the remote unit and plug in the battery and read off you velocities at home without having to hook everything up.









In this closeup of the remote unit I have plugged in the battery and turned it on. It is displaying BE for Beta. Once it has passed its power on test it displays the BE and it is ready for business.











To test the chrony I set it up on a camera tripod so that it was level with the rifle rest on the shooting bench and the center of the two sensors was 10 ft away from where I was shooting. The instructions stated that 10ft away should be far enough away to avoid issues with the muzzle blast causing erroneous readings. I plugged in the remote unit and set it on the shooting bench and prepared to have some fun. For these tests the temperature was 48 degrees Fahrenheit and it was overcast.









Due to the fact that I only have one chronograph I could not directly compare reading between two different models. I figured the next best thing to test the accuracy of the chronograph was to use some factory ammunition for which I had published velocity information available. I also had some reloads that I wanted to try out along with the factory ammunition.


In order to familiarize myself with the operation of the chrony and make sure that I could shoot with out hitting it I decided to start with my Kimber 82G .22 rifle first. This rifle has a 25″ barrel and I was firing .22 long rifle that I purchased from the CMP. Supposedly the CMP currently gets its 22 ammo from Aquila and what I am using is Golden Eagle Target with a velocity of 1100fps out of a 20″ barrel. I fired my first shot and the chrony displayed the velocity of 1301fps. A little high but I fired nine more for the following results.



Kimber 82G
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 1262 fps
Standard Deviation: 27.4 fps

Now 1262fps is a little over the published velocity of 1100fps but my barrel is 5 inches longer than the test barrel. These velocities are comparable to what this guy in the CMP forums is getting with this ammo. I have also read that a standard deviation of 30 is normal for factory ammunition. Next I tried the same ammo out of my Ruger 22/45 with a 4.5″ barrel and we see that the velocities are quite different out of the shorter barrel.

Ruger 22/45
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 979 fps
Standard Deviation: 29.5 fps

I then wanted to try some 223 out of my AR15 that I recently put together. For the first string of shots I fired 10 rounds of M193. If I read the specification correctly M193 should have a velocity of 3250fps out of a 20″ barrel.

AR15 18" Barrel
M193 55gr
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 3213 fps
Standard Deviation: 32.7 fps

Not bad at all. 10 rounds with an average velocity of 3213 fps. The next string is some Bulk Black Hills 223 that I got on sale back before the 2008 election. It is rated at 3200fps.

AR15 18" Barrel
Black Hill 55gr
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 2983 fps
Standard Deviation: 34.9 fps

Looks like the Black Hills stuff is a little slower than advertised. For a twist I have some Prvi Partizan 75gr Match ammo that is advertised as 830m/s. Converting that to fps by multiplying by 3.28 yields a velocity of 2722fps.

AR15 18" Barrel
Prvi PPU 75gr Match
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 2584 fps
Standard Deviation: 15.3 fps

Again my readings are a bit lower than advertised although I am firing these shots out of a barrel that is 2 inches shorter than the test barrels. Time to move up in the caliber world. I am going to fire some surplus HXP M2 ball out of my Garand. The M2 ball is supposed to be 2805fps. I am only going to fire 8 shot strings out of the Garand.

M1 Garand
8 Shots
Mean Velocity: 2810 fps
Standard Deviation: 23.9 fps

That is looking pretty good. Now for the first of my reloads. I have a 168gr Sierra Match King over 44gr of IMR 4895. This should be a little on the light side of a full power load but this is one of the reasons I wanted a chronograph.

M1 Garand
168gr SMK 44gr IMR 4895
8 Shots
Mean Velocity: 2549 fps
Standard Deviation: 21.3 fps

The velocities are higher than I expected but I am pleased with the results. Now for another rifle that prompted me to buy a chronograph. My 1899 Krag Carbine is over 110 years old now and I do not want to push the envelope on this one. These loads are 220gr Round Nose on top of 40grs of H4350.

30-40 Krag
220gr RN 40gr H4350
5 Shots
Mean Velocity: 1830 fps
Standard Deviation: 21.7 fps

I also wanted to test my 9mm and see how the velocities compared. The first ten shots are Federal HST 124gr and should have a velocity of 1150fps out of a 4″ barrel. Today I am using a M&P9C that has a 3.5″ barrel.

Federal HST 124
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 1083 fps
Standard Deviation: 23.2 fps

The velocity is pretty close. While I was at it I tried a string of Federal HST+P 124gr that should have a velocity of 1200fps.

Federal HST 124+P
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 1164 fps
Standard Deviation: 7.7 fps

For comparison I shot some factory Federal American Eagle that should have a velocity of 1150 fps.

Federal American Eagle 124
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 1053 fps
Standard Deviation: 20.7 fps

That was lower than I expected but this is the “value” ammo from Federal. Now I want to try one of my pet reloads for the 9mm. I like to use 4.0 grs of Titegroup under a 124gr FMJ. This should make power factor for IDPA and it is a nice shooting round that won’t kill my hand after shooting a few hundred rounds.

124gr FMJ 4.0gr Titegroup
10 Shots
Mean Velocity: 983 fps
Standard Deviation: 11.8 fps

Out of my 3.5″ barrel M&P9C my reload is making 983fps. I need to reach 1009fps to meet the Power Factor for IDPA. Since the rules call for measuring the velocity out of the longest legal barrel allowable, I think that these reloads will reach 1009fps in a 5″ barrel but I will have to test and make sure.

Most chronographs work by sensing a disturbance in the amount of light entering the sensors. Since it was overcast the day I did the testing the light was rather diffuse and I did not use the diffusers. On a sunny day or if there are partial clouds the amount of light entering the sensors can change and cause erroneous readings. The diffusers are there to help eliminate the problems caused by erratic lighting. I have even seen some people put a white piece of poster board of cardboard over top of the entire chronograph so that only reflected light gets to the sensors instead of direct light.








Overall I am rather pleased with the Shooting Chrony Beta Master. If I had to pick one thing to complain about is that to get the velocity statistics out of the unit you have to press a combination of buttons that is just not intuitive at all. I ended up entering all of the velocities into a spreadsheet and calculating the results there. I understand that they probably used less buttons to keep the costs down but the menu system was kind of convoluted. I am going to continue using the chrony and see what some of my other firearms and loads can do. I would like to get out to the range with some one that has a different chronograph ans set the two of them up serially. Then fire through both at the same time and compare velocity readings to see if they both read the same or if there are differences.

Console Vault Review

Up for review this month is the Console Vault by Unique Security Solutions, billed as the Ultimate High Security In-Vehicle Storage System. For those times when you need to secure your personal items in your vehicle, and stuffing them under the seat just doesn’t seem like the smartest idea in the world, the console vault may be just what you need. The Console Vault is advertised as a specially designed insert that fits into the console space of your truck or SUV while still allowing the console to close normally. The vault is constructed of 12 gauge steel and has a five point high security locking mechanism with a spring assisted lid. The manufacturer claims that the unit can be installed in under 10 minutes without any modification to the vehicle. Models are currently available for over 26 different trucks and SUVs.





In the past I have owned some of the other in car safe like containers. Most were built from rather flimsy metal and did not hold up well. One container in particular that comes with a long cable for securing the container into the car and can be purchased for about $29.95, was not very secure at all. I was able to pry it open in under five minutes with a large screwdriver. Still it is better than nothing.


My first impression of the Console Vault is that it is a solid bit of kit. It is rather hefty and does not feel cheap at all. Time to take a look and see if it holds up to scrutiny.


Rolling the vault over and getting an overall look, one of the first things that catches my eye is one of the mounting holes in the bottom was not punched all of the way out. You can see that the top right hole in the picture was not punched all of the way out. I was able to knock it the rest of the way out with a hammer and a punch.









Continuing to look the vault over I noticed that from the inside I could see daylight through some of the joints. Taking a better look at the welds on some of the joints that you can see in the picture on the right. I don’t think that I would expect this thing to be watertight but I think some of these welds could have been better.








I measured the thickness of the steel at the side of the vault. At the point that I measured the steel is folded over on itself to form the edge. Therefore I should measure a thickness that is twice the normal value of 12 gauge steel. As you can see in the picture I measured a thickness of 0.184 inches and according to The Engineers Edge the thickness of 12 gauge sheet steel is 0.1046 and since this edge is doubled over it should measure 0.2092 inches. It looks like it is a little thinner than 12 gauge. 13 gauge sheet steel should be 0.0897 which is 0.1794 inches doubled over. I am not positive about the tolerances in measuring the thickness of sheet steel but it seems a lot closer to 13 gauge that 12 gauge steel. Now in reality is the difference between 12 and 13 gauge steel going to make much of a difference.






My curiosity was piqued by the description of the five point locking mechanism and the spring assisted lid, so taking a better look at the underside of the lid we have the picture on the right. I can make out the spring assisted hinge and in fact the lid does open rather smoothly. With small bumpers under the lip. the lid opens and closes without a metallic sound, a very nice touch. As far as a five point locking mechanism, unless they count every part of the hinge I have to wonder where they learned to count.










Enough looking at it, lets get it installed. The only thing in the box was the vault itself and a skimpy set of instructions. Most of the instructions were about how to change the combination. Since there were no screws in the box we should probably use the ones already in the vehicle and indeed there are four screws in the console of my truck that line up nicely with holes in the bottom of the vault. After taking the screws out I was a little disappointed to to see that the four screws are your typical automobile dashboard screws. I don’t think that they would provide much in the way of holding force so I went a little further and took the console even further apart and found a few brackets underneath that are spot welded to the body and I used a longer carriage bolt to bolt the vault down to the bracket. This ended up taking me more than 10 minutes but I won’t hold it against Ford or the console vault because I wanted to be a bit more secure with my install.



I put the console back together and secured the last few screws. The vault came with a piece of fabric to lay in the bottom of the vault to cushion your belongings. On the left is picture of the vault installed in my truck. Overall the fit into the vehicle is nice. There is plenty of room in this model. Enough to fit at least two 1911s and a GPS with room to spare. Although if you have a different model truck your console size may be different.








Here is a shot of the vault closed. You can see the combination lock which uses a three digit combination. I prefer a combination lock to a key as I don’t have to worry about losing the key.




I can close the console all the way without any problem.










Overall I am impressed with the fit and functionality of the Console Vault. The finish quality left a bit to be desired and I still don’t get the “five-point” locking mechanism but once it was installed it blends in nicely and usage on a daily basis is very nice with no complaints. It did take me longer than 10 minutes to install but again I went further than I needed to because I did not have confidence in the screws that were already in place. Most of the time you will find the Console Vault listed at about $250 online. At that price I was hesitant to buy it. However I found it at Costco’s online store for less that $200 shipped during a sale. It is normally $250 at Costco but I have seen it on sale two different times now and Costco’s sale items seem to repeat every quarter or so. There are a few quality issues that I may be overly picky about, but this appears to be one of the best ways to secure personal items in you vehicle with the possible exception of a steel box welded into your trunk. It is definitely better than most of the other options out there.

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