CategoriesGun Reviews

The .50 BMG – The Ultimate Boomer

The .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) is a byproduct of the necessities bred of warfare. During World War I, the need for anti-aircraft weaponry, and subsequently anti-materiel, led military officials to pursue a cartridge capable of disabling aircraft over the battlefield. John Browning ultimately developed the venerable M2 “Ma Deuce” machine gun for the .50 BMG in 1921. Incredibly, the Ma Deuce is still in service with US Armed Forces today.

Many modern cartridges have a “parent” cartridge they’re developed from. The .300 Blackout is developed from a trimmed and re-necked 5.56 case. The .270 Winchester originated from the .30-06 while the .308 Winchester is a distance descendant of the .30-06. While one may assume such a massive cartridge like the .50 BMG was developed out of thin air, it wasn’t. The .50 BMG is actually a scaled-up version of the .30-06. Accordingly, the M2 is effectively a larger, beefier version of the Browning M1917 (designed for the .30-06 cartridge).

A 750-grain Hornady A-Max .50 BMG next to a 2 3/4″ 12 gauge, 7.62x39mm, .223 Remington, and 9mm. (Photo by Zac Hoffeditz)

While the .50 BMG’s history spans over a century, America has yet to lose interest in this caliber. Facilitated by its use overseas and in film, the .50 has a cult following that rivals most other calibers. The size, weight, and energy of the cartridge coupled with the size and weight of the associated weapon platform has considerable interest amongst civilians to this day. While not uncovering anything ground-breaking, I felt discussing this impressive and gargantuan cartridge from the perspective of an amateur and proud owner of a .50 BMG was worthwhile.

The Cartridge

The .50 BMG is, simply, the largest cartridge a civilian can own without approval under the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. A rifle with a bore over .50 inches must have an express “sporting purpose.” Large caliber African-game hunting rifles, like the .700 Nitro, are exempt from this regulation. Accordingly, this is why a 20mm anti-aircraft/anti-materiel rifle would require licensing as a destructive device under the NFA. The .50 BMG, as a result of this act, is the largest caliber military cartridge the average civilian can own.

A 55-grain .223 rests atop a 647-grain .50
You versus the bullet she told you not to worry about. A 55-grain .223 rests atop a 647-grain .50 (Photo by Zac Hoffeditz)

The .50 BMG cartridge measures nearly 5.5” long. For comparison, the average 5.56 cartridge is less than half that length at 2.26”. At the cheap end, .50 BMG costs around $3 per round. Reloading for this hog of a round is dramatically cheaper and can be done at or below $2 per round. I’ve been reloading ammunition for nearly 20 years and was in awe of the staggering difference in the powder charge for the .50 when I first reloaded for it. For instance, a 55-grain .223 powder charge is normally around 25 grains. The .50 has around a 250-grain charge with anywhere between a 647-grain and 750-grain (Hornady A-Max) bullet for most common loadings. Simply, the .223 looks brutally anemic compared to a bullet 12 times its mass.

The .50’s Big Cartridge Energy

The .50 BMG carries approximately 10 times more muzzle energy than the standard 5.56 NATO cartridge. At a whopping 13,000 ft-lb of energy (or more), the .50 is readily capable of delivering a significant amount of kinetic energy to a target — and at distance. For many years, the .50 BMG was the king of long-distance military engagements at or exceeding a mile. As technology and calibers have progressed, the .50 lost its place to calibers with better external ballistics. Cartridges like the .416 Barrett, .408 CheyTac, .338 Lapua Magnum, and numerous others have exhibited far better external ballistics than the .50 BMG.

There are many myths surrounding the energy and ballistics of the .50. The speed and mass of the .50 BMG undoubtedly has more penetration than a .22 Long Rifle. However, others before me have shown the .50 doesn’t magically pass through a car’s engine block and barrel out its trunk like a speed bump in the road. From my experience, the .50 will crack an engine block but, even when using a high explosive incendiary armor-piercing projectile like the Raufoss, is highly unlikely to pass through your grocery-getter’s V6. For this article, I shot an old rotor with an armor-piercing incendiary round. While an impressive sight, the round deviated significantly from its initial trajectory on impact and made a nice dust cloud into the shooting berm behind the rotor.

Since I’ve somewhat burst the bubble on the myth that the .50 can magically pass through anything, it’s worth addressing an additional myth about the .50. Over the years, I’ve heard the .50 produces a massive pressure wave through the air during its flight. The myth normally concludes that a .50 BMG projectile, passing within a foot of an object, can cause significant damage and/or trauma as it flies by.

This myth, while entertaining, doesn’t withstand basic physics. For instance, a 750-grain .50 BMG projectile flying through the air at 2,800 fps generates around 13,000 ft-lb of kinetic energy at the muzzle. Meanwhile, the fastest production car in the world, the SSC Tuatara, travels at a top speed of 415 fps while weighing in at 19.25 million grains. The Tuatara’s energy exceeds seven million ft-lb. The reason these items don’t cause injury as they pass by an object is because (1) their displacement doesn’t cause enough of a pressure wave — like a blast wave — to affect the objects it’s passing by and (2) their aerodynamic nature. Bullets, like supercars, are designed to travel as seamlessly through the air as possible with minimal disturbance around them. Otherwise, the drag would be so profound as to slow down the projectile and/or disrupt its flight. Ultimately, the .50 offers impressive terminal ballistics but is not capable of defying Isaac Newton and his laws.

Shooting the .50

Undoubtedly, the .50 has a significant amount of energy. Energy downrange translates to felt recoil. Most .50 BMG rifles are outfitted with a massive muzzle brake to reduce felt recoil for the shooter. The Barrett M82A1 is outfitted with an iconic muzzle brake that makes this rifle readily identifiable — even to a layman. The rifle used for this article was the “CQB” variant of the M82A1. The CQB, an oxymoronic name for a rifle weighing 31 pounds unloaded, is outfitted with a 20-inch barrel instead of a 29-inch barrel. The muzzle brake, coupled with energy dissipation from the semi-automatic recoil, reduces felt recoil to something comparable to a 12-gauge shotgun.

muzzle brake on the Barrett M82A1
The muzzle brake on the Barrett M82A1 does a phenomenal job of reducing felt recoil, removing debris from the surrounding area, and clearing sinuses. (Photo by Zac Hoffeditz)

As usual, there’s no free lunch. The muzzle brake on the .50 BMG reduces recoil but redirects the blast from the barrel, especially on shorter barrels, into a spectacular display of gas, dust, and debris. This brake brings about special considerations for any items within several feet of it. During photography for this article, we had to ensure the photographer’s equipment wasn’t damaged by thrown gravel and dust.

50 bmg
Keep the blast area clear. Gas from the barrel and its redirection by the muzzle brake silhouetted against the ground. (Photo by Zac Hoffeditz)

I jokingly ask those shooting the .50 for the first time if they’re congested. I’m often given a quizzical look that is answered not long after the first shot. Conveniently, shooting the .50 BMG has an amazing way of clearing up congestion. While an anecdotal observation, the overpressure from the muzzle blast is better than Mucinex at clearing up a stuffy nose for me. Your results may vary.

The .50 Cal Smile

The first time I got behind a .50, the owner asked for my phone and said he wanted to capture my “50 cal smile”. I shot the first round and grinned ear to ear after pulling the trigger. I’ll never forget the muzzle blast it left in the ground after firing a few shots. The flattened and yellowed grass was awesome yet intimidating.

flattened muzzle blast area from 50 bmg
The blast pattern left by the first rounds I ever fired from a .50 BMG. Since then, it’s inspired a joy and respect I’ve found with few other weapons.

There are few weapons the average civilian can shoot and own that have the awesome power of the .50. With such a weapons platform, it has unique challenges and considerations. Not everyone can afford a Barret M82, M107, or a Lynx. However, there are numerous more “affordable” .50 platforms available like the Barrett 95 or 99, Serbu, or an Armalite AR-50. Nevertheless, if you know someone with a .50 and they offer to let you shoot it, say, “Yes!” I guarantee you will enjoy it. Just make sure they get your smile on camera.

The post The .50 BMG – The Ultimate Boomer appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Blazer Ammo: Stock Up!

A lot of ammunition is pretentious. Forgive me if I’m sharing an opinion that upsets you, but it is true. “Firearms enthusiasts,” as I hear people like me called from time to time, are not immune to marketing and hype. Blazer range ammo, though? Completely unpretentious.

In the last two decades, much of which I’ve spent writing reviews and working professionally in the industry, I’ve had occasion to shoot just about every flavor of 9mm. I’ve developed a healthy respect for the humble side of the ammo industry. There’s nothing wrong with most bog-standard versions of range ammo. It works surprisingly well.


Blazer makes 9mm in multiple grain weights and case materials. While it isn’t my first choice for carry ammo, I can’t say a lick of bad about it. In fact, I’ve probably shot 100 rounds of Blazer for every single round of hopped-up bougie carry ammo, mainly because Blazer is affordable.

Aluminum or brass? 115, 124, 147 grain? Blazer does range ammo exceptionally well.

What makes Blazer different?

Blazer is owned by Vista. For those not tracking the portfolios of the larger outdoor industry parent companies, Vista Outdoors may not be a household name. They owned Savage, until Savage bought Savage from Vista a couple of years back. And Vista makes great ammo. They own the Remington ammo brand, and Cascade Cartridges, Inc (better known as CCI), and Speer, and Federal.

That’s a serious portfolio.

CCI is the important one in this equation. Most of us have put in some quality trigger time with CCI rimfire rounds. The brand is known to make some of the most reliable and consistently accurate .22 LR available.

Blazer  and CCI ammo
Blazer makes their ammo with CCI components. The results work very well.

Blazer has, as long as I can remember, been pitched as economical range ammo. Every big ammo maker out there has something like this, but few can advertise that they’re produced with CCI components.

Blazer’s 9mm comes in two case types. The brass cases are reloadable. Don’t reload the aluminum ones. Not a good idea.

The primers, though, are made by CCI. Their primers are widely sought after by reloaders. During the pandemic, they were worth more than their weight in gold. As Blazer is made in the states, under the watchful eye of CCI, this may be one of the most reputable bulk ammo brands available.

Performance of the Blazer 9mm Types

Muzzle velocity is a solid point of reference for the performance of range ammo. If you are wanting to shoot something suppressed, having a heavy round — even for a 9mm — is a bonus.

The 115-grain Blazer 9mm is advertised at 1145 fps. Bumping up the weight to 124 grains adds enough mass to slow a round down a bit, to 1090 fps. The fat 147-grain rounds are advertised at 1000 fps. For something truly subsonic, I’d like to see a velocity under 980 fps, so that’s really close.

I didn’t run these 115-grain rounds through a chronograph. I could, and I assume many have, but life’s too short to clock range ammo in this category. Load the mags and go.

For me, velocity is an afterthought with most factory ammo. There will be variances, true, but there’s little consequence when you are on the range.

Blazer 9mm ammo cartridges
While there’s nothing glamorous about Blazer, the brand is known for its reliability. Sometimes, that’s all you need.


There are two other factors that I do measure. The first is accuracy. When moving between two guns, you may notice that the same ammo acts differently. With range ammo, I like to shoot on paper first, if only to get a really solid read on performance.

If I’m shooting steel, which I almost always do when running drills, I like to paint the plate so I can track the first three or four shots. Past that point, I’m not going to worry about group size — I’m just listening for the hit.

The last element that I tend to check is ejection. Ammunition that performs consistently will eject in a regular pattern from most semiautomatics. With the Blazer, the brass-cased ammo will eject consistently. The aluminum cased 9mm tends to have a more erratic pattern as the aluminum has a different coefficient of friction and drags more coming out of a chamber, especially a dirty one.

Off the Range?

For EDC, I keep hollow points in my mags. The terminal ballistics of 9mm ball leave much to be desired. These lead bullets are well protected by their copper jackets. I’ve seen many of them sift out of dirt berms and some of them have kept their shape so well that I’d swear they could be reloaded.

Holding their shape is fine on the range, but not for defensive use. FMJs tend to punch through. Hardly optimal.

The exception here, for me, is a PCC mag. I’ve hunted hogs with 9mms, and the FMJs can be a benefit (as long as you have a lot of them on tap).

handgun with blazer ammo and mec-gar magazine
I run through a lot of ammo testing magazine reliability. Blazer has been a consistent and available favorite.

Stocking Up on the Bulk Ammo

Blazer 115 grain 9mm is selling for $14.99 for a box of 50. That’s a hair over $.29 a shot. The 100-round box knocks the price up a penny to $29.99.

The 115-grain aluminum cased 9mm sells for $17.99 when it is in stock. I’m not sure why it is more than the brass.

The real deal is the full 1,000-round case, which cuts the price down to about $.26 a round.

The post Blazer Ammo: Stock Up! appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

The Rock Jr.: Caldwell’s Versatile Shooting Rest

When it comes to range gear, it can be hard to get a durable product without paying an arm for features you likely won’t need. Caldwell is a brand I continually return to for new gear. Among the gear I never leave home without is the Caldwell The Rock Jr. shooting rest. Some shooting rests are good, some are terrible, and some come free at the rifle range. But The Rock is infinitely durable, portable, and promotes a stable, but realistic shooting experience at a price that won’t break the bank.

The Rock Jr. makes for an excellent portable rest on the range.


The Rock Jr. is a smaller version of the original Caldwell Rock shooting rest. It is a minimalist rest to support the forestock and does not come with a rear support for the buttstock. Unlike most smaller plastic rests, the Rock Jr’s base is cast iron.

Within the base is a sturdy ¾ inch steel threaded rod with an attached metal base. This large screw acts to adjust elevation by rotating the cast iron collar between it and the base.  A small black set screw in the base is used to hold the elevation screw at the desired depth. A small, green canvas loaded bag serves as the actual rest between the base and rifle or handgun. It fastens to the base via two Velcro straps.

The Rock Jr. can adjust from a height of 4½ to 7½ inches. The kit is complete with a set of non-slip metal spikes and rubber feet that can be put under the legs of the base to prevent the rest from sliding across the shooting bench.

caldwell the rock jr review disassembled
The Caldwell Rock Jr. disassembled.

Range Impressions

There are quite a few good shooting rests out there, but I have taken a liking to the Caldwell The Rock Jr. At five pounds in weight, it is more than portable enough to live in my vehicle and is always available when I need to hit the range.

The Rock Jr. makes for an excellent portable rest on the range when provided resting options are unavailable. It also excels in other field conditions where a full range is not available. If I am headed to an isolated area to do some prone shooting, I am not taking a Lead Sled. I am also not going to take a heavy leaded bag or use a flimsy and crushable shooting bag. I am taking the Rock Jr.

caldwell shooting rest rock jr review assembled
The Rock Jr. is ready to use.

The Rock Jr. does have a few disadvantages. Depending on how you are positioned while shooting, the rest’s adjustment might not be high enough. For example, your seat at the bench could be too high and it can be tempting to crowd low over the rest while shooting. Likewise, the grass in front of you while shooting prone might be too high. You can muscle your way through the discomfort of an unnatural shooting position, but accuracy will suffer.

But in most cases, the elevation adjustment works well on the square range and on well-kept fields. The bigger limitation is the lack of buttstock support. Most larger rests have a cradle for the buttstock of a rifle. The Rock Jr. provides support at the front, but not the rear. It is up to you to cradle the rifle in your shoulder.

If you want to take as much of yourself out of the shooting equation as possible and get the tightest possible groups, the Rock Jr.’s lack of buttstock support can be a challenge. This can be an issue if you are testing different loads for accuracy or seeking to do a sight-in with as few rounds as possible.

sig msr ar 15 target group, shot from The Rock Jr. Caldwell shooting rest
While not the best for the bench rest shooter, it is not hard to sight in a rifle or handgun using the Rock Jr. Caldwell shooting rest.

Parting Shots

Asides from its portability and quality construction, the Rock Jr. will not satisfy a true bench rest shooter. But I continue to stick by the Rock Jr. because it keeps me, the shooter, in the equation. With good shooting fundamentals, the Rock Jr. is still a good rest to shoot groups. But how you hold the firearm and how you see the sights and how you squeeze the trigger comes into play, just as it does in real shooting.

When it comes to shooting in the field, whether it is in competition, hunting, or personal defense, a bench rest won’t be available. If a rest is available at all at the moment you have to take the shot, it will likely be against the window of a deer stand or barricade.  A true bench rest is excellent for load testing. But the Rock Jr. is a better simulation of what practical accuracy you can expect and for most purposes, it gets the job done at a great price.

The post The Rock Jr.: Caldwell’s Versatile Shooting Rest appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

The Holosun 407K vs the Vortex Defender: Budget Red Dot Shootout

It’s never been better to carry a subcompact or micro-compact pistol. The accessory market has been expansive and allowed a micro compact or subcompact to have a ton of modern accessories. This includes lights and optics. The world of micro-optics has expanded rapidly, and there have been several models released recently in the budget category. Today we are going to look at two micro compact red dots, the Holosun 407K and Vortex Defender, and see which budget model works best. 

What They Have in Common 

These optics are very similar in many ways. In fact, they are more similar than they are different. They are both micro-compact optics that use the industry standard Shield RMSc footprint. These little optics utilize open emitters with red dots, and heck, both use a notch in the rear that offers a rear sight to the shooter. Holosun and Vortex both import the optics, and they are both very budget friendly at around $250-ish each. 

Let’s look at both a little more in-depth and the various models available for you. 

The Holosun 407K Models 

Holosun offers four different models of the 407K, which vary in reticle size and color. The 407K comes in either red or green reticle models, and the reticles come in either 2 or 6 MOA variants. The 407K series is currently for sale, as cheap as $225.  

Holosun green reticle optic, HE407K-GR X2.

Vortex Defender 

The Defender CCW is the newest of the two dots and just came out earlier this year. The Defender series has two models, and they only currently vary by reticle size. You can purchase a 3 MOA or 6 MOA model. This is subject to change as the lineup matures. The retail price of the Defender is $250. 

vortex defender ccw red dot
The Defender has a Shield RMS footprint, making it immediately compatible with most optics-ready platforms. (Photo credit: Vortex Optics)

Reticles and Brightness Settings 

Reticle size is a preference for individual shooters, but there is some objective information we can gain regarding the two optics. Both are budget red dots, and you won’t get a reticle that’s as clear and crisp as something like the much more expensive Steiner MPS. Both are certainly clear enough to shoot with, and both are a bit star bursty. 

Vortex defender dot
The dot looks clearest when it’s at max brightness level.

The Defender seems to have a lower refresh rate than the Holosun 407K. When you move rapidly between targets, you’ll notice the lag. The Defender gets a lot better when you up the brightness to max, but the 407K performs better overall with a better refresh rate overall. 

With the Holosun 407K, we get 12 brightness settings. Two are night vision settings, and 10 are daylight bright. The Vortex Defender CCW offers 20 settings, with two for night vision and eight for daylight. Both are daylight bright, even in the brightest environments against bright targets, they work perfectly. No big differences here.  


Let’s Look at the dimensions of the two optics. 

  • Length: 407K 1.6 Inches;  Defender – 1.6 Inches
  • Width: 407K .98 Inches;  Defender – 1 Inch
  • Height: 407K .95 Inches; Defender – 1 Inch
  • Window Size: 407k – .58 X .77; Defender – .65 x .8
  • Weight: 407K – .95 ounces; Defender 1 Ounce

In terms of size, both red dots are impressively small. The Defender is slightly bigger, but not enough to really matter. The window size favors the Defender, but the 407K is lighter. 

Both optics use a dual-button configuration. The Vortex Defender CCW uses large buttons, one on each side. The Holosun 407K uses two small buttons on either side of the optic. While both work fine, I do prefer the buttons on the Defender. They are larger and easier to press. At the same time, they are recessed and won’t be accidentally pressed. 

Battery Life 

Both red dots use a 1632 battery. The Vortex Defender has a battery life of 9500 hours, and the Holosun 407K has a projected battery life of 50K hours. Is it common for companies to exaggerate their battery life? Yes, but there is a very clear winner in this category. 

Changing the battery on the Vortex Defender CCW.
The Defender CCW’s battery pops out the top easily. The Holosun side battery compartment makes it easy to swap batteries.

Both optics have a shake-awake feature. Sadly, only one of them makes sense. The Holosun 407K automatically shuts off when it fails to detect movement for 10 minutes it auto shuts off. With the Defender, it only shuts off after not recognizing movement for 14 hours! 

Both the Vortex and Holosun use smart battery placement as well. Holosun uses a side-loading design that’s clever and easy to swap. Vortex Defender uses a top-loading design that’s also easy to swap. I don’t have a preference for one or the other. As long as it’s not bottom loading, I’m happy. 


Both the 407K and Defender are worthy CCW optics. I’ve dropped them, shot the hell out of them, and used both to rack the slide of my gun with no issues. Heck, I clean them with a water hose, so they can take a beating. 

The Holosun 407K is rated IP67 for ingress protection. This means it can be submerged up to a meter for half an hour. The rating also guarantees it’s protected against dust entrance. 

The Vortex Defender is IPX7 rated, meaning it can also be submerged for half an hour in one meter, but it does have a dust ingress protection rating. As long as you don’t open carry in a sand storm regularly, this isn’t likely to be an issue. 

Both are shockproof, and the Gs created by a reciprocating handgun slide can be quite fierce, so there aren’t any concerns there. Both are well suited for concealed carry and the bumps and bruises a CCW gun might receive.  


Before we wrap up, let’s mention a few extra features that don’t have their own category. The Holosun 407K offers a lockout mode to lock the buttons. The Vortex Defender comes with a front texture to aid in racking off items. Holosun provides a small tool and screws with their optic. Vortex provides a handy tool and an absolute ton of screws, so it fits everything. 

holosun 407k red dot
The 407K features tiny little buttons, but they work.

Holosun provides tactile and audible clicks while zeroing. The Vortex has very faint feedback for its turrets. The Holosun tends to have a darker blue tint than the Vortex, but only ever so slightly. Vortex offers one of the best warranties in the optics market, and it deserves some credit.

These two optics have a ton in common but more than a few differences in their design. I have my preferences, but I’m more interested in yours. Which would you pick, and why? 

The post The Holosun 407K vs the Vortex Defender: Budget Red Dot Shootout appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Sight-Rite Laser Bore Sighters: Zero Your Rifle More Easily

Zeroing an optic is a skill that shooters must eventually acquire, if not master. No matter if you’re a hunter, competitor, or just a weekend target shooter, an improperly zeroed optic is a problem. Perhaps the worst thing about the zeroing process is getting “on paper” so you can dial your reticle in just where you want it. Reaching that point can be frustrating, time-consuming, and ammo-wasting if not done properly. Bore sighting helps avoid all that, but a standard bore sighter can be a pain and not everyone has the space or equipment. Fortunately, Sight-Rite laser bore sighters can help.

Sight-Rite Laser bore sighters are easy and accurate, and they save you time and ammo. (Author’s Photo)

Traditional Rifle Bore Sighting

Bore sighting kits aren’t hard to find, but you need to have the right setup. Ideally, you need about 25 yards of space, plus a gun vise with which to hold your rifle steady. After setting your target, remove the bolt. At this point, you have to look down the barrel using the old Mark I Eyeball, while adjusting the optic. I’ve never been good at that, especially since neither of my Mark Is has ever been especially sharp. I spent a lot of time moving back and forth, and it was tedious. Especially at the public gun range where I used to shoot.

Laser Bore Sighting a Rifle

So, a couple of years ago, I decided to try a laser bore sighter. In fact, I tried a few. Two particular things about the laser appealed to me. First, it saved me from squinting down the barrel. Once I had the bore sighter in the gun, all I had to do was walk the reticle in. Second, I could do it at home. All I needed was a stable base and about 30 feet. I know that you can also go the traditional route at shorter ranges, but, like sight radius, longer is better. I’ve found lasers, or certain lasers, to be more accurate at short range. I’ve also found that 30 feet is about the minimum for the laser, so keep that in mind.

Laser bore sighter on target
The Sight-Rite laser shows you exactly where you need to be. (Author’s Photo)

You can also use lasers at the range, but they can be hard to pick up in sunlight. A reflective target helps in that situation. But I prefer doing it at home and haven’t yet discovered a real advantage to not doing so.

Laser Bore Sighter Choices

There are two basic styles of laser bore sighter. The first, which I tried initially, is inserted in the muzzle. The one I had was “universal” and had spacers to ensure a tight fit for any caliber. It worked all right, though I found that rifles with muzzle brakes tended to be a bit less precise when sighted with that bore sighter. It’s better to put it right into the muzzle itself.

The other, which I have come to prefer, is shaped like a cartridge and inserts directly into the chamber. This avoids any “wobble,” as I sometimes experienced with the other bore sighter. The downside here is that you need multiple bore sighters for multiple calibers. On the plus side, however, the individual caliber bore sighters are less expensive and put me on target a bit more accurately than the first type. Perhaps it saves me a round or two at the range. Finally, the first type occasionally shifted ever so slightly out of its place, meaning I was constantly checking it. That’s not a problem when the laser rests in the rifle’s chamber.

Laser bore sighter in AR-15 chamber
The Sight-Rite laser fits right in the chamber. (Author’s Photo)

Sight-Rite Laser Bore Sighters

I currently use Sight-Rite laser bore sighters to get me on paper. They’re simple to use and I can dial in my optic in just a couple minutes. Here’s how it works:

  • Set up your rifle on a stable surface, giving yourself 30 feet or so to set up your target. I use a portable Tipton Best Gun Vise, but I’ve also improvised, even using one of those AR-15 display stands that works with a magazine. That’s not as reliable but if that’s all you have, it’ll do in a pinch.
  • Set up your target at approximately the same height as your target. I’ve gone so far as to level my rifle, measure the reticle height, and measure the target bullseye. But honestly, I don’t fool with that anymore because it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Remember, all we’re doing is getting as close as possible. Final zeroing will be done with real ammo on the range.

    AR-15 in Tipton gun vise
    Make certain you have a stable base. (Author’s Photo)
  • You either remove your rifle’s bolt or just open the action. Do whichever works best for you. With an AR-15, I just lock the bolt to the rear. I can’t do that with my AK, so I remove the bolt carrier. Hunting rifles vary. Do what works.
  • The Sight-Rite bore sighter cartridges are activated by turning a plate on the “case head.” They each have a tool for that. Use it. Don’t just turn it with your fingers. Ask me how I know. Seriously, you could end up with tiny batteries bouncing all over the floor. Use the tool. This engages the batteries and activates the laser.
  • Insert the laser cartridge into the chamber. Make sure it’s firmly seated to ensure accuracy. I nudge it into place with a small screwdriver, if necessary.
  • Align the laser on your target. I used to move the target around to place the laser on the bullseye. I’ve since determined that it’s not necessary for me. Honestly, sometimes I don’t even use a target. Lining up the reticle on the laser is all that really matters. If you want to use inches to MOA, go right ahead. I stopped fooling with it and haven’t had any problems. Your mileage may vary but, for me, close enough is good enough with bore sighting. You can be as precise as you want to be, but I’m not quite so OCD at this stage.
  • Looking through your optic, walk your reticle onto the laser point until they coincide as best you can see. I like to do elevation first, for reasons I will explain in a moment. If I have an illuminated reticle, I turn the brightness way up, so it doesn’t get lost in the laser. I stop when I can’t see the laser for the reticle. I then dial down the reticle’s illumination until I can see the laser again. I may or may not make a final small adjustment. That usually puts me very close to where I want to be. At that point, I just need to fine-tune it at the range. Keep in mind that different rifle setups will garner different results. Some may require more adjustment with real ammo than others.
batteries and tool
The batteries are hit-and-miss sometimes, but they are inexpensive. Each laser cartridge comes with a tool (right). Use it. (Author’s Photos)

A Few Considerations

Again, you will need to do a final zero at the range. But this will get you fairly close, saving you time and ammo. I like to start at 50 yards at the range and go out from there if I desire. My ARs are zeroed at 50 yards so I don’t have to do anything else; my hunting rifles go further.

My one complaint about laser bore sighters is battery life. This hasn’t been unique to any brand I’ve tried. It’s either the same across the board or I’ve been singularly unlucky. But every single one I’ve tried seems to have an inconsistent battery life. Sometimes I get 30 or 40 minutes. Sometimes I get far less.

That’s why I align my elevation first. There have been times, with brand new batteries, where I’ve only gotten three or four minutes before the laser either cuts off or dims so significantly that it can’t be seen 30 feet away, even indoors. I’ve found that, once I get my elevation right, I can walk the reticle across to where it’s even with co-witnessed front sights and still be very close. If you don’t have front irons, make certain you have extra batteries. Fortunately, the batteries are inexpensive, and I buy ten-packs for $5 or $6. One thing I like about the Sight-Rite bore sighters is it’s easy to change the batteries, unlike some others I’ve tried.

I admit to getting frustrated when the batteries go belly-up, but it’s still much better than wasting ammo at the range. Those little batteries are a lot cheaper than real rounds.

A Useful Product

The Sight-Rite bore sighters come with little drawstring pouches in which to keep the laser cartridge and the tool that comes with each. I have a drawer dedicated to optics tools and accessories and they just live there. They’re quite convenient and I have them for rifle and pistol. Some are good for multiple calibers. For instance, I have one cartridge that works with my .270 Winchester and .30-06 rifles. If I had a .25-06 it would work with that one too. There’s another one that works with .308, .243, and 7mm-08.

Sight-Rite muzzle view
The chambered laser cartridge makes the Sight-Rite bore sighter as accurate as possible. I think I forgot to clean my light’s lens after the last drill session. (Author’s Photo)

Despite battery frustrations, I like these Sight-Rite bore sighters. They’re easy to use and put me where I want to be before I even go to the range. My favorite gun store will bore sight guns for me, but that means I have to drive over there and wait for them to have time to do it. This way, I just set up, bounce the laser off the wall, and dial it in. It takes maybe five minutes. Just remember that bore sighting is not a substitute for zeroing with real ammo. It just makes that part easier.

If that sounds good to you, maybe give these bore sighters a try. If nothing else, they give you another excuse to monkey around with your guns and scopes. Like you really needed one.

The post Sight-Rite Laser Bore Sighters: Zero Your Rifle More Easily appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Radical Firearms: An American Made AR-15 On a Budget

Who? Have you ever heard yourself asking someone that when they mention an AR-15 brand? After all, there are lots of companies out there making AR-15 rifles. If you can afford the machinery and obtain the manufacturing license, you can make AR-15 rifles. But there is a little more to it than that. The things that matter most are the quality of machinery used, the material used, and how well you control the quality of the final product.

Not every little gun company that starts producing guns is a worthy buy. Some are good, some are okay, and some are great. The difficult thing is figuring out which one is which. There is nothing wrong with wanting a budget-friendly rifle, but you still want a quality product. Some people think you should stay away from anything that is priced under $1,000 and doesn’t have a big-name label on it.

The Radical Firearms AR-15, 5.56 NATO sells for a fraction of the cost of other firearms with the same quality. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Most of those expensive rifles will outlast the cheaper ones. But most people will never shoot either version enough to wear them out. If you want an AR-15 for home defense, shooting on the range, or hunting, there are plenty of cheaper options out there. One of these smaller companies is Radical Firearms, a manufacturer based in Stafford, Texas. Like many other companies, they started out small and slowly added machines until they were making most of their own parts. But are they any good? Read on to see the full review.

Radical Firearms RF-15

The RF-15 is a basic mil-spec platform that comes with a free-float 12-inch handguard. The 16-inch barrel uses M4 feed ramps and a low-profile gas block. With budget-priced rifles, the first thing to look at is the type of material used. The barrel on the RF-15 is 4140 Chrome Molly Vanadium steel.

On a higher-end rifle, I like to see 4150-steel with a chrome lining on the barrel, but 4140 will hold up just fine for most applications. If you plan to hunt and want the best accuracy, a stainless-steel barrel works better. If you are wondering what the difference would be, a 4140 barrel is rated for 12,000-15,000 rounds. A 4150 barrel is rated for 20,000+ rounds and I have seen 4150 chrome-lined barrels with more than 50,000 rounds through them. Most people will not be shooting 15,000+ rounds through their rifle, so this would make a great barrel.

If it does wear out, just stick a new barrel on it. The upper and lower receiver is 7075 T6 aluminum, which is a common material for both parts. The trigger, charging handle, flash-hider, and selector switch are all mil-spec parts. The only thing that really makes this gun stand apart from other AR-15 rifles is the price. I’ll talk more about that shortly, but first let’s go over some other details on this budget rifle.

Finish and Performance of the RF-15

One of the things that keep this rifle in the budget price range is the finish. It’s not a bad finish, but there isn’t anything special about the matt-black anodized finish. If I am buying a budget gun, I’m not as concerned about the finish as I am about the performance. Those are two distinct things to remember when selecting a rifle. A good finish will help protect the gun longer, but some finishes are simply cosmetic.

Radical Arms AR-15 rifle.
The handguard has two “forks” that stick out on each side, making it easy to line up the receiver to the handguard. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

If you are buying a high-quality gun with all the bells and whistles, it needs to look the part. So, expensive finishes are nice, but they do not always mean better quality on the inside. Radical Firearms does not make their own BCG but uses Azimuth Technologies instead. Azimuth makes some good BCGs and is certified by the Department of Defense as a contractor for them. The handguard uses a “fork” rail system for lining up the handguard to the receiver. The sides of the rail stick out on each side and slide over the upper receiver, forcing it to align. This makes it fast and easy when putting it back on the barrel. The rail does not have any built-in QD mounts, but it does have plenty of M-LOK slots.

On the Range With the Radical Firearms RF-15

I can’t tell you this budget rifle blew every other rifle out of the water on the range. In fact, there wasn’t anything special about it. But that’s the point, it was like every other AR-15 rifle you shoot. It went bang when I pulled the trigger and it never malfunctioned one time. I shot out to 100 yards and could easily hit 6” gongs with the iron sights.

I mounted a Vortex Strikefire red dot on it and was able to hit the same targets at a rapid pace. The trigger pull didn’t have any play in it and reset quickly. After shooting some metal targets, I fired two 30-round mags as fast as possible to heat it up. Smoke was coming out of the barrel and receiver from the burning oil and the handguard was very toasty. While it was hot, I fired again at the 100-yard targets without any issue.

Shooting the Radical Arms Ar-15.
The Radical Firearms AR-15 shot well on the range and never had a single malfunction. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

I used mostly federal 55-grain ammo but did shoot some 75-grain Frontier 5.56 through it. No matter what I shot, it handled just fine. Some of the other rifles I took with me to the range were my BCM, Black Rain, and custom Aero Precision AR-15s. The action was a little smoother on the BCM rifle, but the Radical Firearms functioned the same as the rest of them.

Need a Budget AR?

This isn’t a rifle that will make your buddy drool, but it’s an impressive gun for the price tag. When I found mine, it was on sale for $450. I have seen them since going from $500 to $650 depending on the model and accessories.

If you want a “bragging rights” rifle, then, by all means, go buy one. You do get what you pay for, most of the time. But if you are on a budget, this is a great choice. Some people look for a cheaper rifle to set up for a specific purpose, and this would be a great option for that too. Make it your fun gun for the range or a home defense tool with a big light attached to it. Either way, this thing will give you the same reliability as most other AR-15 rifles. The only difference is this one won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

The post Radical Firearms: An American Made AR-15 On a Budget appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

High Capacity 12 Gauge Shotguns: A Deeper Dive

One of the areas of innovation over the past few decades has been higher capacity 12-gauge shotguns designed more for home defense than hunting or sporting uses. In my opinion, the Remington 870 pump-action is a great all-around shotgun, but as a friend of mine often says, “I don’t want to ever die due to a lack of shooting back.” This would be the ‘more is always better’ philosophy of available ammo/shells.

There are many options if you are looking for a higher capacity in your home defense shotgun. Five rounds of 12-gauge 00 Buckshot are a lot, but 15-20 shells are even better.

I do believe other factors such as weight, action (pump versus semi-auto), ease of use/access, length, and even cost should be accounted for in the choice of a defensive weapon. However, it is also hard to argue with having more shells, allowing you to cover more potential situations (no matter how unlikely). Additionally, though semi-automatic shotguns can be highly reliable with the right ammo, I generally prefer the overall efficiency and ‘will chew through any ammo’ of pump action shotguns. Semi-automatic shotguns tend to run better with higher velocity shells as the cycling of rounds is dependent on the energy within the shell.

Shotgun Magazine Extensions

Personally, I am a sucker for innovative larger-capacity home defense shotguns. Higher capacity (7+ shells) shotguns come in three broad varieties. The first is a traditional longer shotgun with a tube magazine extension (often adding two or three shells to capacity). All my Remington 870s — strategically placed and securely stored around our property — are equipped with these extensions. Assuming the gun does not have a built-in stop limiting how many shells can be loaded, these magazine extensions are generally affordable and easy to install and add a few more shells to an already reliable system. The downside is these tube extensions only add a few shells and traditional longer shotguns are not the greatest option compared to a more compact weapon that allows better maneuverability in tight home defense situations.

Remington 870 shotgun with magazine tube extension
It’s hard to find fault with a Remington 870 pump-action 12-gauge especially with a magazine tube extension taking the capacity to seven or eight shells, but there are other options.

Detachable Shotgun Magazines

The second way to increase capacity is through the addition of a detachable box magazine. Several companies have come out with variations on this theme in both pump action (Mossberg 590) and semi-automatic versions (Rock Island’s VR80 built around the AR platform). Factory magazines often hold five to ten shells. By adding additional magazines beyond what the factory provides, the overall capacity can be as high as 20 shells. The price point on these additional magazines generally ranges from $35 to $100. The advantage of extra magazines with very high capacity is the overall shell count and the ability to quickly reload. The downsides include magazine weight, and at least for the semi-automatics, some fickleness in what shells the gun will reliably run.

Multiple Magazine Tube Bullpups

Although I have shotguns from the first two categories, the third method of increased capacity appeals to me as the most innovative solution. These are shotguns utilizing multiple tubes for capacity while offering an overall shorter system than most of the other methods. The shorter overall length comes with a bullpup design with the breech of the shotgun behind the primary grip and trigger. Outside of an apocalyptic scenario, these guns, if ever used, would be most likely home defense guns so I also like the reduced length. With reduced overall length comes greater maneuverability if needing to move through tightly confined interior spaces. See Figure 1 for a comparison between these models and a Remington 870 Tactical for comparison.

shotgun comparison chart
Figure 1. The tale of the tape comparing a Remington 870 Tactical to the KelTec KSG-12, IWI TS-12 and the S&W M&P-12.


The first widely seen version of these shotguns was KelTec’s KSG-12 released in 2011 and featured prominently in the movie “John Wick” in 2014. The KelTec KSG-12 is a pump action bullpup design featuring a rear selector allowing the shooter to switch between two seven-shell tubes. Although first on the market, it still wins as the shortest and lightest of the three commonly available multi-tube magazine shotguns. It is also the cheapest.

I have had great luck with mine, running hundreds of shells through it over the years, and with vigorous use of the pump-action I have never experienced any feeding issues. Admittedly, with the lighter weight and cost, there is a certain level of long-term durability that may be called into question by some. For instance, I am not sure I would trust this shotgun in a multiple-day shotgun class that might be rough on the guns.

John Wick with shotgun
I am not one to argue with John Wick, and there is no denying this gun looks awesome and gathers attention at any range. (Lions Gate Entertainment)

The tube magazine selector (alternating between the two tubes) is set within the magazine loading port behind the grip and trigger. This allows for alternating what shell is chambered from which tube, or simply can be switched once a tube is empty. The safety is above the pistol grip and can be conveniently operated by the right trigger finger (to set it to safe) or the thumb (to set it to fire). The action release is located directly forward of the trigger and can easily be operated by the trigger finger. I have mine set up with co-witnessed Magpul flip-up AR iron sights, a Sig Sauer Romeo red dot optic, Magpul vertical front grip, a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, and a Hi-Tech Howitzer70 muzzle break. Though the stock version of this gun is the shortest of the options reviewed, my personal one is longer due to the recoil pad and muzzle break. There is no question this gun gets a lot of looks when it is out on the range.


Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) released their TS-12 in 2018 utilizing a gas-operated semi-automatic bullpup design but featuring three rotating five-round tubes to the front of the shotgun. The semi-automatic nature of this gun is great for recoil reduction, but like most semi-automatic shotguns it is particular with what shells it likes to run. I have only run higher velocity 00 buck through this gun but have had no issues.

When a tube is empty, rotating to the next tube is a manual process but chambers the next round as it is completed. The controls can easily be converted for left-hand dominant shooters. The bolt is accessed at the top of the shotgun, with a safety positioned above the trigger grip (operated by either the trigger finger or dominant thumb). The release for the three magazine tubes is directly forward of the trigger. I have mine set up with Magpul co-witnessed flip-up AR iron sights and a larger windowed Holosun HE510-C green dot optic.


Smith and Wesson (S&W) joined the market in 2021 with the M&P-12, also featuring two magazine tubes with a selector and a pump action bullpup design. Though similar to the KelTec, including loading and front of the trigger action release, there are some differences including an ambidextrous AR-style safety selector above the trigger grip and included vertical front grip. The largest functional difference is that the tube selector is incorporated into the forestock, allowing easy switching from magazine tube to magazine tube with your non-dominant hand. Rounding out my setup on this shotgun is (seeing a trend here) a set of Magpul flip-up AR iron sights and Sig Sauer Romeo 5XDR red dot optic. Like the KelTek, I have run a variety of shells through this gun with no issues.

tube shotguns
The three top contenders in the multiple magazine tube high-capacity shotgun market: the KelTek KSG-12, the IWI TS-12, and the Smith and Wesson M&P-12.

All three guns can take up to 3” shells (at a reduced total capacity) and provide many of the same pros and cons. Pros include being overall shorter than comparable shotguns, high-capacity magazines (though all three require some practice to quickly, easily, and effectively switch between tubes), and the mass and operation of the shotgun are closer in allowing for better control.

Cons include a less-than-perfect trigger experience common with bullpups, and some difficulty quickly reloading compared to a standard shotgun when you shoot the gun dry. Though I like all three for overall feel and function I prefer the IWI TS-12 but recognize that the reduced recoil and coolness factor of semi-automatic fire comes with some ammunition sensitivity.

Have any of these replaced my home defense guns? Currently no, but I also have decades and thousands of shells through my Remington 870s. For now, I’ll leave my experimentation to the range, but I will let you know if I change my mind.

The post High Capacity 12 Gauge Shotguns: A Deeper Dive appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Gun Mounted Camera and Light: The Viridian XTL Review

Viridian Weapon Technologies has a long track record of innovation. They were the first to pioneer the green lasers that are becoming far more common now, and they have led the way in building practical solutions for cameras that mount directly to firearms, like the Viridian XTL Cam in this review.

I’m old enough to have seen a bunch of these gun-cam technologies come and go. I used to tape camcorders to barrels in an attempt to build early YouTube footage. I lived through the era of Picatinny rail-mounted Go Pros. And now, after more than a decade of evolving gun-camera tech, Viridian has cameras that set the bar really high.

Viridian makes a variety of different lights and even some ergonomic switches that will let you run these lights on long guns. Lights, lasers, and now cameras… The XTL, X5L, and X5L Cam all share a similar footprint that will typically fit most large light holsters.

Why do you want a camera on your gun?

Viridian may answer this differently. Much of the camera tech that goes into the X5L and the XTL came from the development of the FACT DUTY gun camera — a light/camera combination built to work as a supplement for law enforcement body cameras.

This is a solid advancement that solves a common problem: the body camera being blocked by the officer’s extended arms once a firearm is drawn. The FACT DUTY comes on when you draw from the holster and begins recording. The footage from these cameras captures the view from the end of the gun — and the potential is easy to understand.

Outside of LE, though, would you want a camera on a handgun or rifle?

Practical Use

The same benefits that would extend to LE also apply to those of us who carry every day. The light on the end of the Viridian XTL puts off 500 lumens in either a Constant-On or Strobe setting. And the battery is rechargeable. Should you be in a situation where you had to draw a firearm to defend yourself or someone else, having the incident on video could prove useful.

I’m not carrying the XTL, though. My EDC gun is smaller and I’m using a compact light. While I wouldn’t have any objection to a camera on the end, it has never been as important for me as the light — though this unit combines the two quite effectively.

The Viridian XTL, for me, is more useful as a training tool. I will often hit a plateau or go through a period where I’m not connecting. When I do, I will set up a camera and record my mechanics.

The unit attaches like most other lights. If there's a hang-up on a holster, it will be where the battery latch clips to the unit, but that's rare.
The unit attaches like most other lights. If there’s a hang-up on a holster, it will be where the battery latch clips to the unit, but that’s rare.

Often, I find my grip is off, or I’m exaggerating movements out of the holster, or I’m not moving efficiently. A solid side-view, or even the view from a camera that’s safely down range will show where I’m off.

The view from the muzzle, though, adds a new dynamic to the equation — one that is just as valuable. Watching how you transition from the holster to the target can instantly identify the problems. The same is true for the reverse motion, going back into the holster, which may highlight safety concerns.

In the video below, for example, I am seeing that my holster isn’t on tight. As I’m holstering, I’m pushing it backward on my hip.


Note: this isn’t an edited video— just the raw footage from the camera unit with no audio.

How the Viridian XTL Works

The video here was shot on a Glock 45. The camera captures the video perfectly, though the audio isn’t syncing on my Mac. Viridian’s website notes that the camera software is designed to work with PCs, leaving us Mac folk in the wind. I’m not sure what’s up. I’m chalking it up to user error.

The lights serve as an indicator of battery life and recording status.
The lights on the XTL Cam serve as an indicator of battery life and recording status.

The controls to turn on the camera require a learning curve. One touch of a button activates the unit. Then two touches of both buttons (take your fingers off the buttons between the touches) cuts on the camera.

You’ll know it’s on when the camera light blinks. There are lights that indicate the status of the memory and the status of the battery. Green is good. Red, not so good.

The true achievement here is that the camera, once activated, records. That seems logical for a GoPro, but it is harder to do when there’s recoil involved. The Viridian cameras can take a beating and never power down or cut the recording. They’re surprisingly robust.

Push both buttons once and it will turn off again.


The Viridian XTL records in 1080. This is a solid format, but not up to the standards of many cameras in use today. If you’re hoping to blend this footage in with other footage, you may notice the difference. In my mind, this footage is less about the cinematic quality than it is about the content capture itself.

I did record some holster time, too. Once, I thought it was off and I holstered the gun and recorded some odd views of my shuffling feet. On another occasion, I recorded the shooting bench after setting the Glock down for a bit.

The indicator lights are on the bottom of the unit, too. This means that you may have to contort the gun in order to check the lights. Do so safely. I tend to set up the camera, get it running, then handle all of the loading that needs to be done.

As a tool for training, I really like the rechargeable battery system Viridian has worked up. I've never had problems with them running dry during a range session, and they're easy to recharge.
As a tool for training, I really like the rechargeable battery system Viridian has worked up. I’ve never had problems with them running dry during a range session, and they’re easy to recharge.

And make sure the gun is empty and safe before you begin monkeying with the buttons again. Be safe and you should be free and clear.

I also like to carry a backup battery to the range. Running a light and a camera at the same time (combined with leaving the camera on while it is sitting on the bench) will kill the battery. Extra batteries are available.

The memory unit in the camera, too, will eventually fill up. Bring a laptop to the range if you have concerns. I’ve gone out more than once with the X5L, which I’ve had for several years now, only to discover that I haven’t erased the previous range trip. Keeping the cord and a computer handy will solve that problem quickly.

The Viridian XTL is selling now for $349.

The post Gun Mounted Camera and Light: The Viridian XTL Review appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

The Winchester 1300: The Fastest Pump Gun?

Winchester first became known as a company that made the best lever action rifles. These were the guns that won the West. At the turn of the last century, they became the pump shotgun company with the Winchester M1897, which was followed up by the Model 1912, or simply the Model 12. The Model 12 became known as the perfect repeater, a title I also agree with. The problem was it was expensive to produce. The parts and receivers were forged and machined. 

Remington came out with the 870, and Mossberg had the 500. Both designs were simpler and more affordable and made use of modern construction techniques. The 870 even used dual-action bars, which was new in that era. Winchester needed to compete and thus turned their sights toward the future. The future would be the Model 1200 series in 1964. These made use of modern production techniques to lighten the cost and improve production capacity. 

The Winchester 1300 is a good-looking shotgun, to say the least.

The 1300 isn’t much different than the 1200 series. Over time Winchester made improvements to the 1200 series, and these culminated in the 1300. For example, the 1200 series premiered with 2.75-inch chambers only but would later also come in 3-inch varieties. When the 1300 series came around, they adopted all those small changes into a distinct gun and also made some changes to the furniture, disassembly procedure, and finish. 

Winchester didn’t just copy the 870 or 500 with their designs. As usual, they produced something a bit different. The gun became quite well-known and would obtain a reputation for being the fastest pump-action shotgun out there. 

The Winchester 1300 Defender 

I love shotguns, and retro shotguns, in general, tease my appetite. I recently got my hands on a mint condition Model 1300 Defender. The Defender variant of the 1200 and 1300 was aimed at military, police, and home defense use. It features an 18.5-inch barrel and a full-length seven-round magazine tube. The sight is a simple bead, and it’s a fairly standard tactical shotgun from the 1960/70s/80s. 

Winchester 1300 shotgun stock
If the stock was a little shorter it would be a bit easier to run it fast.

Mine has classic wood furniture, which, let’s be honest, just looks absolutely fantastic. The corncob forend is tough to beat in style, and while smaller than modern designs, it’s that retro setoff that’s wonderful. The 1300 Defender series might be a bit older, but it would still be fine as a defensive shotgun. 

With all that in mind, I wanted to see exactly what made this the fastest pump-action shotgun. How exactly can a pump action be designed to be just faster than most? It was known as the Speed Pump, so it clearly had some kind of technical magic to it. That, or it was some form of marketing that was made to distinguish the Model 1200/1300 series from the 870 and 500 series guns. 

Winchester 1300 pump
The pump is simple but easy to hold onto when running the gun fast.

Marketing can be magical, and to most people, pump action shotguns are all the same. Well, not to me! Also, not to my wife, who dutifully listens to me describe their differences in detail. (Love you, babe.) 

What makes it the speed pump? 

A basic examination reveals the supposed source of the speed pump design. Most shotguns have standard bolt designs. The Winchester 1200 and 1300 series use a rotating bolt, making it one of two pump action shotguns I know of that use a rotating bolt. 

shotgun pump action bolt
The rotary bolt not only helps unlock the pump but also makes extraction more reliable.

Also, if the gun is uncocked or if you hold the pump release, the action will partially open with no force. My Remington does that, too…but it also has a 17.8-ounce Surefire DSF equipped to it. The light corncob pump weighs nearly nothing, but the pump still opens with no force. 

This might not sound like much, but if the gun comes partially opened when unlocked, it could make a difference. Oh boy, it does. When you fire the gun, the rotary bolt disengages from the barrel extension and the recoil helps propel the pump rearward. At first, it’s an odd feeling, but once you learn to go with the flow, you can run that pump rearward incredibly quickly. 

pump release
The pump release is well-palced, but incredibly small.

Nothing helps you propel it forward, but the action is slick and grit free. You can run that slide forward and get the gun in action without issue. It’s a slick and smooth operation, and with a little practice, you can get lightning fast with the pump design. That little extra oomph acts as a mental ‘go’ to throw the slide back and forward. 

Going Fast

If you run the 1300 against another gun with a timer, you can get a little more objective data. I fired five rounds from a Mossberg 590 and five from the Defender as fast as I could. Same ammo and all. Over and over again, the Winchester 1300 was slightly faster, tenths of a second faster, with the biggest difference being a quarter second faster. 

It bears mentioning that my 590 has a shorter stock and a bigger forend. I’ve owned it for nearly seven years and fired many hundreds of rounds through it. It’s set up in a much more modern configuration but couldn’t beat the Winchester 1300 in a speed contest. Heck, it’s even heavier and should have less recoil, making it easier and faster to use. 

Winchester 1300 shotgun on wood
The Winchester 1300 is a classic pump-action shotgun.

The Winchester 1300’s little assist, in the beginning, makes a nice and easy transition from push/pull to pull/pull. This results in a very fast pump gun. It certainly earns the name Speed Pump. 

The Rest of the Gun 

The Winchester 1300 might seem old, but it’s not older than the 500 or 870 in design. The Winchester 1300 is just out of production, and that gives it a bit of a vintage appeal. This model was most certainly made before my 870 and 590, but it still keeps up with them without issue. It lacks a lot of features we see on popular shotguns these days, but at the end of the day, the design is still fully functional. 

If something goes bump in the night, I’d feel no problems grabbing the old 1300 Defender or really any 1300 shotgun. It’s a shame Winchester and U.S. Repeating Firearms went bankrupt. These days, the closest you can get to the 1300 is the SXP, which is now Turkish-made. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there is something oh-so-sweet about an American-made shotgun from a classic company. 

Maybe for the next comparison, we can get our hands on an SXP and do a head-to-head with the Winchester 1300 Defender? If that sounds good to you, pipe in below and let us know! 

The post The Winchester 1300: The Fastest Pump Gun? appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Henry Big Boy 41 Mag Lever Action: It’s a Blast!

Lever action guns are not really practical when compared to modern rifles. But boy, they sure are cool. The classic lever action rifle has made a comeback in a big way. Legendary companies like Henry Repeating Arms are more than happy to keep making them for us too.

The Henry Big Boy Carbine is a great lever action rifle available in several calibers. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

I remember watching shows like “Bonanza” and “Gun Smoke” when I was little. It made me want a lever action so bad my 10-year-old imagination could turn just about any stick into a rifle that even John Wayne would approve of. Lever actions started to fade away for a few years, but now they are back with all sorts of twists. Classic models and modern ones are both flying off shelves. The idea of a “tactical” lever action is relatively new, and I will admit, I think they’re cool.

A classic gun with a Picatinny rail, red dot, and threaded barrel is just a cool combination. But I also like the classic-looking lever-action and they are even fun to shoot. One of the most recent rifles I picked up is the Henry Golden Boy 41 Rem Mag. I took it to the range and was surprised at how well it shot. Let’s go over this thing from butt to muzzle and see what it’s about.

41 Remington Magnum

Before we get into the details of the rifle let’s talk about the cartridge. After all, .41 Magnum is not a common round. It was originally designed as an alternative to the .357 Mag and the .44 Mag for use in revolvers. The .41 Mag has more stopping power than the .357 but does not kick as much as the .44 Mag. In a revolver, this would be a noticeable and important difference. In a lever action, it shoots like a charm with almost no kick at all.

.41 Magnum ammo.
The .41 Magnum cartridge has been around since the mid-1960s. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

When fired from a rifle-length barrel, the .41 Mag generates enough energy to be used for hunting and home defense. I picked up some Precision One 210 grain ammo at the local gun store. The weight of this bullet brings the speed down to about 1200 fps. Lighter grain bullets will get up to 1600-ish fps when fired from a rifle.

The only drawback to a .41 Magnum is the lack of options for ammunition. Most gun stores I visit only have one or two options available if they have any at all. At more than $1 per bullet, it can be expensive to shoot, but if I want to plink around all day, I’ll use a .22 caliber rifle.

The Henry Big Boy .41 Magnum Carbine

Henry makes a few options of lever action rifles chambered in .41 mag. The most popular is the Big Boy Classic rifle. The one I picked up is the Big Boy Carbine, which has a shorter barrel. The first thing that catches your eye with the Big Boy is the classic combination of American Walnut and brass. There are cheaper versions available that are not in brass, but if you are going to own a lever action rifle, you need at least one classic.

Henry .41 mag Big Boy rifle.
The shorter octagon barrel is part of what makes this Henry Big Boy carbine such a great-looking gun. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

The octagon barrel does put it on the heavy side, but in this case I kind of like the heavy feel of the gun. It weighs a little under eight pounds when loaded. The overall length of the rifle is 35 inches. It has a semi-buckhorn sight and a brass-beaded front sight.

The front gold-bead sight with the white diamond on the rear sight makes it easy to line up. The tube-fed rifle will hold seven rounds so there is plenty of ammo in the rifle. Like most lever action rifles, you do need to cycle the bolt in a quick fluid motion, or it will not eject the cartridge and load the next bullet correctly. Henry used a large loop lever to accommodate any size of hands, or those wearing gloves. One nice feature of this classic rifle is the drilled and tapped holes for a scope rail.

On the Range With the Henry Big Boy Carbine

The .41 Mag is a pistol round, but it can be a great choice for hunting or protection against larger animals. Some compare it to the 10mm round when talking about defense against bears and other large animals.

On the range, I set up targets at 50, 75 and 100 yards. The extractor failed to pull the shell from the chamber with the first three shots. I’m not sure what was going on with it because it never did it again after that. Ammo for this thing is expensive so I only fired 50 rounds through it, but I never had another issue after those first three rounds. I didn’t have any trouble hitting the targets clear out to the 100-yard range. I will admit I’m not a good lever-action shooter, so I was taking my time in between shots. But the accuracy was great. There wasn’t much of a drop at the 100-yard target compared to the 50.

Shooting the Henry Big Boy .41 mag rifle.
Shooting the .41 Magnum Henry Big Boy rifle is a blast. This would make a great backpacking rifle. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

One feature I like about this rifle is the transfer bar that slides inside the hammer. I wanted to test it out while I was on the range. I racked a bullet into the chamber and pulled back on the hammer and released it without pulling the trigger. Nothing happened and the transfer bar worked correctly. This is an important feature to me because I may want to carry that + 1 bullet in the chamber sometimes. With the hammer down, there is no way the gun can go off because of a notch in the hammer. Without the trigger pushing the transfer bar up in front of the hammer, the gun is safe.

Is a lever action for you?

I didn’t give any of the “Western” guns a second thought once I was older and started a career in law enforcement. I liked the cool tactical weapons and considered all other guns obsolete. But when you start expanding your knowledge of firearms and their history, something changes. You gain an appreciation for the classic and even primitive weapons.

Every gun we have today is here because of the designs and inventions of the great gunmakers that came before us. Not every gun needs to be for battle or even self-defense. Although I think this rifle would make a great self-defense weapon in some cases. There are several things this rifle could be used for. And yes, that includes hanging it on the wall just so you can look at it every day.

If you don’t want a caliber that is so expensive, they make several other calibers including a .357 Mag that can also shoot .38 Special. This would be a great option for those who own revolvers and already have ammo. Regardless of what you do with it, there is no question, the Henry Big Boy is a great classic rifle that you will not regret buying.

The post Henry Big Boy 41 Mag Lever Action: It’s a Blast! appeared first on The Mag Life.

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