Monthly Archives: September 2020

Situational Awareness in All Moments of an Encounter

This is usually an ‘around the campfire’ sort of story, but I am going to tell it here because there are lessons to be learned. It’s about a situation that occurred around thirty years ago in downtown Seattle.

Your EDC items are just tools, not solutions. Solutions come from your best, most import and effective tool- your brain.

The Story

My friend Kevin and I got on like a house on fire, in part because of similar past experiences. Kevin was my size, at the time about 6’4″ and 230-240 lbs. On the evening in question Kevin, my girlfriend Casey and his girlfriend were sitting in a bar in Pioneer Square sharing a pizza. Neither Kevin nor I drink, but hey, this place had excellent pizza. The front window of the bar overlooked the pay-parking lot where Casey’s car was, in fact on the edge of the lot facing us. I noticed a middle-aged man with a large utility bag stopping next to her car. He was weaping jeans, a flannel shirt with a blue down vest over it. He stood there a moment, then set the bag on the hood of Casey’s car and knelt behind it.

Kevin had also noted this and we exchanged a look. I pulled out my phone, flipped it open and dialed 911. I handed it to Casey and said, “If anything happens press ‘send'”

Kevin and I got up and exited the bar and I quietly told him to act like I was saying something funny. We crossed the street to the corner and I made a gesture for him to turn right while I went straight, exchanging parting words. At the end of the row of cars I abruptly turned towards Casey’s car and the fellow behind it, striding purposely forward. Kevin stopped by the back of the car and turned toward him.

The fellow stood and looked at me approaching (and now quite close,) then shot a glance at Kevin and a look of sick realization came over his face. Kevin and I were 90 degrees apart and he he had nowhere to go. It was obvious if we wanted him we’d have him. I stuck my right hand out as I closed the distance, gave him a big smile and said, “Hi! I’m Mike Pearce and this is my girfriend’s car.” He took my hand starting to look relieved as I continued, “We were kinda’ curious as to what you’re doing?”

The relief vanished as he suddenly realized, ‘OhMyGod I gave him my gun hand and he’s out of the line of fire…

I retained my grip as he quickly explained he was a Seattle Police Officer, off-duty and waiting for his ride when he saw he needed to change the battery on his radio. He carefully used his left-hand fingertips to move the vest enough to show me the badge on his belt. I released his hand and relaxed my posture. He looked relieved and asked where we had come from, and I explained. He said he’d wondered who had boxed him in; it was obvious we’d given him a serious fright, and no discredit to him, either; I’d have been shaken too. I apologized for startling him; I actually felt a little bad.

He said, “Yeah, I looked up and realized I was screwed. Who are you guys?”

We were, well, nobody really. I said, “just concerned citizens.” He said he guessed it was good people were paying attention, and we wished each other a good evening and went back to the bar. A few moments later a car pulled up, he got in and departed. Naturally when we left we checked Casey’s car, but everything appeared fine, and that was the end of it.

The Lessons

Kevin and I had proper situational awareness, noticed an unusual circumstance and responded. We had back-up in place in that our girlfriends were watching and ready to contact police in an instant if things went badly. We never crossed each other’s line of fire, never adopted a threatening posture, did not show aggression, did not display a weapon or even indicate that we were armed. We were spaced so that he could not engage either of us without leaving the other free to respond. We maintained awareness of our target and surroundings until we parted ways with the officer.

The officer made a lot of mistakes, the first of which was behaving in a manner that could be construed as suspicious. It’s likely he didn’t want to announce to the world that he had a Police radio, but it would have been better to either open the bag and replace the battery inside it or, better yet, wait until his ride arrived and do it in the car. Secondly he did not maintain situational awareness, and did not realize he was under threat until it was too late.

OK, let’s not be too harsh on this fellow. He’d worked a long day and there is a natural tendency to relax at the end of shift. He was preoccupied, perhaps focused on getting home. It’s perfectly normal, completely understandable… and if we’d been bad guys he would have been dead.

The third mistake was shaking my hand. This not only gave me his gun-hand, it put him in a position where his left hand couldn’t reach me, and he couldn’t employ his legs without significantly shifting his stance. Shaking my hand removed all his options for a rapid physical response. If he’d tried to correct this Kevin could have intervened. A more appropriate response would have been to raise his hands slightly palm out. This would have displayed that he posed no threat while keeping his options open. OK, he didn’t have any good options, but bad options are better than none at all.

What he did right was to not over-react. He realized he was not in control of the situation and responded in a way that would not make things worse. Sometimes the bad guys have you cold, and there’s nothing to do but wait for your chance. By acknowledging this and acting accordingly he kept the situation from escalating, and it all worked out in the end. I don’t know if he reasoned this out, but it was the right reaction regardless. There’s a maxim in martial arts; ‘Never pursue a failed technique.’ In other words if it’s not working don’t try to force it to work. In this case for him to try to assert control over the situation would have fallen into this category.

The Take Away

Maintain situational awareness. Do not do things that look suspicious or attract the wrong kind of attention. Do not relax too soon (shaking my hand.) Sometimes all you can do is roll with a situation and wait for your chance. Last and very much not least don’t panic! Sometimes a situation is not what it might at first seem.

If you are in the situation Kevin and I were do your best not to inspire panic. Maintain a non-threatening demeanor. Don’t play with your food; keep the pace fast and get to reassurance as quickly as possible to diffuse the situation. This isn’t about power, or ego, or being a badass; it’s about resolving the situation as quickly and painlessly as possible while everyone remains safe.

Be careful and stay safe yourself in these uncertain times.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 September 2020

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EDC Guns in Uneasy Times

OK, things in America are a bit off these days- pandemics, protests, riots, political unrest… I think we can all agree this is true without getting into the specifics or politics, and we won’t. Let’s just all agree these are uneasy times and keep our opinions about the reasons to ourselves.

Typically in recent years I have carried a revolver. It was consistent with the threat (extremely unlikely and limited.) I pretty much figured the most likely threats I would face could be dealt with in 5-6 shots.

My trusty (and a bit worn-looking) .38 safety hammerless was a constant companion around the home and shop for years. Pocket-carry is hard on a finish…

Small revolver in a pocket holster around the house and shop, a K-frame for general purposes. Sometimes a Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45, less because i felt the need of a little extra firepower than that I love it, shoot it well and the manual-of-arms is pretty much hard-wired at this point. But the K-frame was the champ, if for no other reason that it’s curves didn’t print as conspicuously as the little .45.

Rapid-fire 7-yard groups with ‘The Old Dog,’ a model 1902 .38, cut to 3″ of barrel, new front sight, custom stag grips. Updated as a practical carry gun in the modern world. Only six shots, but a superb trigger and as comfortable as an old pair of jeans… but the best choice for troubled times? Arguably not.

I love double action revolvers, and for normal circumstances their limitations, 6-shots and a relatively slow reload, seemed adequate to face probable threats. Formerly around home I’d drop my little top-break snubby in a back pocket and forget about it. In the vanishingly unlikely event that I needed a gun it would probably do, at least long enough to get me to something better. Going out and about I’d strap on the ‘Old Dog’ and grab a couple speed loaders.

Last summer I carried my custom Taurus M85 .38. About the same size as the .38 DA, but capable of using considerably more potent rounds. It also has a Cerakote finish that would tolerate being sweated on better than the old S&W. A great ‘around the house’ gun, but as times have changed I have been less comfortable with it when out and about.

The Tiny Taurus, a custom M85 .38. Punches above it’s weight, but still just a five-shooter.

Then Linda got me a very nice birthday present, a Seecmp LWS32. Ultra-small, stainless construction and at least notably more capable than a .25 auto. Not as capable as the .38 DA, but much more concealable. It’s been occupying my pocket pretty much any time between rising and going to bed ever since. Not an EDC for general carry, but the very definition of EDC. Hell, I can drop it in my pajama pocket and forget it’s there.

The Seecamp LWS32- not extremely accurate, not impressively powerful, but so small it can always be handy. A great gun to carry when you aren’t carrying a gun.

I’ve not been a ‘two-gun guy’ since I quit being a cop, but nowadays I often am because of the little Seecamp. Whatever else if going on it’s always there, even when I strap on a more suitable EDC gun.

Current events have altered my opinion about EDC guns, however. Fortunately as much as I love revolvers I also love semi-autos. I also find them better suited to a ‘heightened threat’ environment, as the police and military have acknowledged for decades. More shots, faster reloads, and reloads that are easier to conceal. Yes, conceal. Not big on open-carry; it alarms the general public where I live, enhances the opportunity to disarm me and announces to the baddies that they need to shoot me first. You may feel differently, and that’s fine, but I’m talking about my preferences because they affect my choices.

The Detonics Mk1 Combat Master .45. The first commercially produced sub-compact 1911. a lot of punch in a small package. Heavy, but a good gun belt and holster counter this adequately.

The Detonics .45 offers many of the advantages in terms of reloads etc., but after years of carrying revolvers I am less comfortable with a ‘cocked-and-locked’ single action that I once was. I’m surprised by this, but these days i prefer a double-action auto.

Then, for largely sentimental reasons, Linda got me another present, a Sig Sauer P6. This is a single-stock, compact 9mm that takes an 8-round magazine. The 8+1 capacity is a definite step up from the Old Dog’s six shots, or even the 6+1 capacity of the Detonics. More care needs to be taken with concealment, but with cooler weather arriving this isn’t a big deal. Yes,a more modern gun would offer significantly more shots and/or better concealability, but i have this one and I am extremely comfortable with it’s ergonomics and operation.

The Sig-Sauer P6. Compact rather than sub-compact and with a single-stack magazine. On the other hand it suits my large hands, I am very comfortable with it and, very importantly, operation is pretty hard-wired and I shoot it well. Being a big guy and since we’re coming into ‘Coat Season’ it’s extra size isn’t much an issue for me.

I’m very comfortable with this gun, and it’s ergonomics work exceptionally well for me. Unlike many guns my trigger finger slides naturally from the frame above the trigger guard to the trigger. The relatively heavy weight (compared to modern sub-compacts) is mitigated by the use of a proper gun-belt and a good holster. Low capacity is less an issue because I can reload quite fast. I’m old and fat, and frankly if I need more than two reloads I’m unlikely to live long enough to use them.

I made this high-ride holster for the P-6. It’s secure and holds the gun tight against my body. Under even a light jacket it hides very well at the four-o’clock position, and the draw is quick and easy. The trigger is covered just enough, and the heavy wax-finished 8-9oz. leather is unlikely to deform and make re-holstering an issue.

So, EDC these days is the Seecamp in a pocket, and the P6 in it’s holster with a reload on the off-side (i haven’t quite gotten around to making a two-mag carried for it yet, but I will.) Am I safer? Perhaps. Do I feel a wee bit more secure? Definitely.

Enhanced Threat Environment

So how big is the anticipated threat level? Do I really think it’s more likely that I’ll need to resort to armed self defense?

In a word- no. Or not significantly more likely, anyway. In the U.S. about three hundred people kill another person with a gun in self defense each year. Given estimates of the number of people in the country that legally have firearms this means your odds of winning the lottery are roughly comparable to the chance that you’ll kill someone defending a life, either yours or someone else’s. Mind you, that’s the odds that you’ll kill someone; most self-defense shootings involve a handgun, and most people shot with handguns don’t die. It is also widely believed that in the vast majority of incidents where a firearm is deployed for the purpose of self-defense no shots are fired. Exact data on this is not available, so we have no good handle on exactly how often this happens. It is believed that the large majority of such incidents are not reported.

In a nutshell my odds of needing to shoot in self-defense could double and they would still be vanishingly small. I don’t think the odds have doubled. I expect it’s still extremely unlikely that I will need to fire in self-defense. But the nature of the threat can change without a significant change in probability of such an event occurring.

In the current climate I think that if I am involved in a lethal force encounter it is significantly more likely I’ll face multiple opponents, in which case more shots and frankly a more visually threatening firearm, will be an asset. It’s also not a ‘happy coincidence’ that I put together a 9mm AR this year.

Whichever side of the political divide you fall on it seems likely that we’re in for a rough ride the next few months. Exercise good sense, be prepared and don’t psyche yourself into over-reacting. Keep your wits about you, keep one eye open and, for the love of God don’t look for trouble.

The Point

I had to get to it eventually, and it’s this- situational awareness is not part time, and includes more than your immediate surroundings in the moment. Be aware of the larger picture too; your neighborhood, county, state and country. Gather enough information to have a realistic assessment of the threat level and parameters, and adjust accordingly.

*Please refrain from political commentary in the comments. I’ve tried to keep this a place where we can come together over our common interest, not be divided by our differences, and I implore you to respect that.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 September 2020

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Chronograph Day!

The Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph G2 was used for all testing. Moderately priced, and can use a free smart-phone .app to record your results. A good, basic, reliable unit.

The COVID19 virus has put a real crimp in my ballistics testing, and some calibers present issues of noise and penetration in my shop, so I have been reluctant to test them. My wife needed to go see Joanne, a friend of ours on her farm near Chehalis, where they just happen to have their own shooting range set up. I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a good couple hours drive, so sadly it’s not going to become a regular thing.

I had built up a lot of loads to run over the chronograph, and thought I’d take the opportunity to do some recreational shooting with Joanne’s roommate Steve as well. I was testing a wide variety of handgun calibers, so settle in- this is going to be a long one.

The Chronograph was positioned at approximately 10′ from the muzzle. Five-shot strings were tested in each case.

Use this data at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. In most cases it is prudent to start 10% under the given load and work up, but in the case of very low-powered loads this can be problematic.

Always insure that any gun, particularly antiques, are safe to fire and in good condition before shooting.

.32 S&W

I had one .32 S&W load to test, designed to be a low-powered antique-friendly load. Testing was done with my H&R Model 732 Guardian, which is chambered in .32 S&W Long. All .32 caliber tests today were shot with this gun, actually.

4″ barrel, 75gr. LFP, 2.0gr. Unique, Federal Magnum SP primer

547 fps. 50ft./lbs ES: 30fps

This is an ultra-mild load, well-suited to punching holes in paper at moderate ranges. The load is reasonably consistent, with an extreme spread of only 30 fps. It should be suitable for any gun chambered for this caliber that is in good condition.

.32 S&W Long

Two loads to test in this caliber, either of which is suitable for target shooting or small game. Both loads are well below maximum listed loads for this caliber.

4″ barrel, 75gr. LFP, 3.5gr. of Unique, Federal magnum SP Primer

918 fps. 140 ft./lbs ES: 133fps.

4″ barrel, 90gr. LHBWC, 2.5gr. of Unique, Federal magnum SP primer

916 fps. 168 ft./lbs ES: 142

I can’t account for the large extreme spread with these loads. It appears counter-intuitive that the heavier bullet with the lighter powder charge would produce essentially the same velocity as the lighter bullet, but the hollow-base wadcutter is fully telescoped into the case, providing a much more constricted combustion space. It is actually a higher-pressure load as well; wadcutter loads in this caliber are designed primarily to be fired in semi-automatic target pistols that require more pressure to cycle, but it should be safe to fire in any quality revolver.

.38 S&W

Again, I brought one gun to test in this caliber, a S&W .38 Single Action (2nd model) modified with a 1-5/8″ barrel.

I refinished this beater S&W to mimic the style of a friend’s gun that I admired. I stripped the tatty nickel finish, cut and crowned the barrel at 1-5/8″, rust blued the gun, mounted a new bronze front sight and finished it off with stag grips. Despite the short barrel, short sight radius and tiny sights it’s quite accurate and groups well.

This is another load meant to be ‘antique friendly,’ using a light-for-caliber bullet and a small powder charge to produce modest pressures and mitigate damage from recoil. It ought to be fine in any gun of reasonable quality that is safe to be fired, but that’s going to require a judgement call. Regarding antiques, when in doubt don’t.

1-5/8″ barrel, 125gr LSWC 3.0gr. Unique, Federal magnum SP primer

598 fps. 99 ft./lbs ES: 85 fps.

First thing to note is that these 125gr LSWCs are sized to .360, so they are well-suited to the caliber. Accuracy was very pleasing; while I didn’t shoot groups on paper today I had no difficulty hitting empty spray-paint cans at 30 yards; not bad at all. Recoil is mild, but these loads proved to be quite smokey.

9x19mm / 9mm Luger

I have a couple of Beretta M1951s, and these do not do well with high-powered or +P loads, so I have been seeking some good standard-pressure loads for them. Both of these loads were created with that in mind.

These loads use my ‘COVID-Expedient’ re-swaged Xtreme Bullets copper-plated hollow points, made from their 115gr. target rounds.

My re-swaged hollow-point on the left, a standard Xtreme copper-plated hollow-point on the right. The standard bullet is a target load, and is not designed to expand.

The test gun for these loads was the robust Sig-Sauer P6.

My P6 is a West German police trade-in made in 1991, and is in excellent condition.

3-3/4″ barrel 115gr CPHP 5.3gr. Unique Federal magnum SP primer

1044 fps. 278 ft./lbs ES: 73 fps

This load did not cycle reliably in the P6. It’ll pick up a little velocity in the longer barrel of the Beretta M1951 and may cycle it. I’ll try it, but I think it’s too weak.

3-3/4″ barrel 115gr CPHP 4.9gr. Universal Federal magnum SP primer

1142 fps. 334 ft./lbs ES: 14 fps.

I’m very pleased with this load. It’s very consistent, and when tested by firing through four layers of denim into Clear Ballistics gel it showed adequate penetration and consistent expansion. It feeds well in my guns, too, and cycles very reliably. I’m going to call this one a winner.

.41 Special

This is the .41 magnum’s little brother, designed to provide a potent defensive load without the excessive muzzle blast and recoil of the magnum. The test gun for this was a Taurus Model 415 with a 2-3/4″ ported barrel.

The compact and relatively light Taurus 415 in .41 Magnum is my ‘pooping-in-the-woods-OMG-is-that-a-bear?’ gun, and full-power loads are called for in that mission. For everyday target practice or EDC, however, something milder is called for. Thus the .41 Special load.

2-3/4″ barrel 210gr. Keith bullet 6.0gr. Unique, Federal LP primer

865 fps. 349 ft./lbs ES: 23 fps.

A good, accurate load with plenty of power, but manageable recoil. I think there is room to spice it up a bit, maybe another 50 fps. without notably changing it’s usability.

Currently I am looking into some 200gr. LHPs to load to 900-950 fps. with this gun, but until then this one will do.

.44 Magnum

Looking for a load for Black-Tail deer. They aren’t awfully big so a very powerful load is not needed. The gun for this test was my U.S. Arms Abilene with a 7-1/2″ ported barrel- the same gun I will be hunting with.

The Abilene was intended as a ‘premium’ revolver for hunting and silhouette shooting in the 1980s-90s. It’s an excellent gun and undervalued today, often selling for $375-$400.

7-1/2″ barrel 260gr. Keith bullet 9.2gr. Unique, Federal LP primer.

1038 fps. 622 ft./lbs ES: 56 fps

Recoil is quite mild (for a .44 magnum) and accuracy is excellent. This load would certainly be adequate for Black-Tails, but in the interest of a clean kill I think I’d prefer to err on the side of caution and add a couple of hundred feet per second to this.

.45 Colt

I used two test guns for the first of these loads, a ‘bulldogged’ 1858 with a 2.5″ barrel and a custom Armi San Marco with a 3-1/2″ barrel. The second load was only fired from the 3.5″ gun.

This custom Pietta snubby still needs to be refinished, but aside from that it’s done. You’ll be seeing more about this gun soon.
I customized this ASM 1873 last year, cutting and crowning the barrel at 3-1/2″, a new bronze front sight, custom steel birdshead grip frame, shortened and lowered hammer spur and a re-engineered ejector that gives a full-length stroke despite the gun’s short barrel.

The goal was to produce mild loads for target shooting. the first load uses Xtreme Bullets CPHPs; these are target bullets and aren’t designed to expand. The second uses a lead semi-wadcutter.

2.5″ barrel 200gr CPHP 7.6gr. Red Dot Federal LP primer

660 fps. 193 ft./lbs ES: 34 fps.

3.5″ barrel 200gr CPHP 7.6gr. Red Dot Federal LP primer

714 fps. 226 ft./lbs ES: 36 FPS

This load produces the mild recoil and consistency I was looking for. Ought to be good for target shooting at ranges out to 25 yards. I think I’ll up the charge to 7.8gr. and see what that gets me.

3.5″ barrel 200gr. LSWC 8.0gr. Universal Federal LP primer

476 fps. 101 ft./lbs ES: 136 fps.

This load is a straight-up failure. Too little power, very poor consistency. I’ll be pulling the bullets from the remaining cartridges and reloading them.

.45 ACP

The gun used in this test is an upgraded 1911A1. The goal was to produce a target load with LSWCs and a defensive load with Speer 200gr HPs.

A dear friend assembled this 1911a1 ‘Frankengun’ many years ago, and when his interests moved on he gave it to me. I changed it to a flat mainspring housing. modified the Pachmayr grips slightly and improved the sights. Can’t say I’m a fan of the green Teflon coating, but it’s a great shooter and has been very reliable.

5″ barrel 200gr LSWC 5.6gr Unique Federal LP primer

849 fps. 320 Ft./lbs ES: 64 fps

This seems a fine load for casual practice or plinking. Mild recoil, and economical in terms of both bullets and powder charge.

5″ barrel 200gr JHP 8.0gr. Universal Federal LP primer

881 fps. 345 ft./lbs ES: 128

Not a success; this hollowpoint really needs 900fps+ to expand reliably, and the extreme spread is pretty bad. While upping the charge might produce an acceptable load I’m not going to pursue this one; the load listed below is much more what I am after, and is more economical.

5″ barrel 200gr JHP 6.5gr. Unique Federal LP primer

920 fps. 376 ft./lbs ES: 45 fps.

This is much more the thing. I’ll test it on denim/Clear Ballistics gel and see what’s what, but it looks good so far.

Other Stuff

Steve had his Savage SA .22, and I’d brought a couple of .22 rifles as well.

My home-made rolling-block .22 based on a Ruger 10-22 barrel. Brass receiver, spring-steel working parts and quilted-maple stocks with a 16″ barrel
My Winchester Model 1906, which will feed .22 Short, Long or Long-rifle loads. It holds 10 .22 LRs or 15 .22 Shorts

We fooled about with the rifles quite a bit, shooting up empty spray-paint cans out to thirty yards or so. I’d mounted a set of Ruger 10-22 sights on the rolling-block and had them roughly sighted in using .22 Colibri gallery loads at close range, and I expected them to need further adjustment but nope, it shot just fine. Needed a good cleaning; empties sometimes stuck harder than I could pry out with a fingernail and I had to resort to the pruning blade on my pocket knife, which did the job easily enough.

The Winchester is just a delight. Accurate and fun to shoot. I tried some CCI low-noise subsonic .22 Shorts in it, and it ate ’em up just fine, and they were dead quiet from the long barrel.

Shooting at stuff outdoors is just so much more satisfying than shooting paper on the range with these rifles, and as quiet as the low noise rounds are I can do it without going far from home- a great discovery!

I probably shot the Abilene .44 magnum more today than I have in total previously, and I love it more than ever. The H&R 732 also got a good workout during the fun phase of our shooting, and I put a good few rounds downrange from the little S&W single-action.

Altogether a great day; good company, lots of fun, a lot of shooting and I cleaned up most of my backlog of load-testing.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 12 September 2020

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