CategoriesGun Reviews

AK-47 vs M16 Power – The Mag Life

It’s a fight as old as time: is the AK47 or the M16 better? Paul Harrell takes on the AK-47 vs M16 question in the video below and tries to demonstrate which is more powerful. The main problem is that one is 5.56 and the other is 7.62 but he tries his best to get to an answer for us.


Paul admits that this subject has been done so many times, but people still want to hear about it from different sources. To take on the subject, he decided to focus on one aspect only — power or energy foot-pounds. He also admits that ballistic charts don’t always give the best view of the topic because there are too many variables in play. Variables such as weather, ammunition brand, bullet weight, and barrel length, just to name a few, can really affect your test results.

Paul Harrell takes on the age-old topic of whether the AK47 or the M16 is the better rifle. He focuses on the aspect of power for his testing video.

Here’s some quick background in case you need it.

A typical 5.56 or 223 round has a velocity anywhere from 500-800 feet per second more than a 7.62 or 308 round. On the flip side, a 7.62×39 round has a heavier bullet that will give total energy foot-pounds higher than a typical 5.56 round. That information gives a good example of how just quoting numbers from a chart can give a one-sided view. Paul gives the great example of a bumblebee that on paper is not aerodynamic and shouldn’t be able to fly but yet can and does fly.

For the AK-47 vs M16 test, he shoots four mediums:

1. Log cabin wall
2. Cinder blocks
3. Gallon water jugs
4. Car doors

To help keep things constant for the test, he wants to show both rifles head-to-head at the same target. Paul decides to keep with the same ammunition for each test, except for one. For the M16 he uses Federal XM193 ammunition, a true 5.56 NATO round with a 55 grain jacketed spearpoint bullet. For the 7.62×39, Paul chooses Wolf 7.62×39, a 123-grain spearpoint jacketed bullet.

First up for the test is the log cabin wall.

He uses 6” poles stacked on each other. With the curve to the poles, he is aiming for the center of the logs, placing a target behind the wall, and shooting from 25 yards. 

Paul Harrel stacking six inch poles to simulate a log cabin wall for his AK-47 vs M16 test
Paul stacks 6” poles similar to a log cabin wall. The AK-47 has better penetration for this test with no tumbling of bullets. The AK-47 has better penetration for this test with no tumbling of bullets.

He shoots the M16  first and all rounds went through. The target is peppered with secondary projectiles, such as splinters, and just about every bullet hole is sideways indicating a tumbling bullet. For the AK, all shots go through with no tumbling or splinters. He believes that the AK-47 is better at accurate penetration through this medium.

Next up is the cinder block test.

Paul arranges ten blocks like bowling pins with three filled soda bottles behind them. It takes the M16 31 shots before the bullets finally penetrate to the soda bottles. 

AK-47 vs M16 cinderblock test
The second test Paul does is against 10 cinder blocks stacked up. The AK47 round chews through the blocks faster than the M16 rounds. However, the AK round doesn’t actually puncture the soda bottles; they were knocked over by debris from the blocks.

With the AK-47, it takes around 20 shots to penetrate the blocks, but the rounds never actually hit the bottles, knocking them over instead. Paul concludes that the AK47 rounds ate through the blocks faster than the M16 rounds.

The third test is with water-filled gallon jugs to demonstrate hydrostatic shock.

For this test, he actually switches up the ammunition to something he would hunt with. For the M16 he shoots 223 Remington 55 grain soft point. This round is the same bullet weight as the 7.62 bullet, and it does a fair job at blowing apart the jugs. For the AK-47, he shoots Silver Bear 125-grain soft point bullets that also do a fair job of blowing the jugs apart. 

Paul Harrell water jug test for AK-47 vs M16
To replicate soft tissue, Paul uses gallon water jugs. In this test, the M16 round edges out the AK47 rounds thanks to the round velocity. But both eat through the jugs pretty well.

In a side-by-side comparison of the jugs after the test, they all look roughly the same as far as damage, with a slight advantage going to the M16 due to the higher velocity.

The final AK-47 vs M16 test is shooting into a 1995 Isuzu Rodeo.

Typically, when vehicles are used as targets, they use the front doors for one gun and the back doors for another weapon. This is a problem because the physical make-up of the doors is drastically different as well as the placement of internal mechanisms. So, for this test he shoots 15 rounds through open doors, front and back, with a three-sheet thickness of plywood placed behind the doors.

The M16 test has bullet fragments, lots of fragments, and tumbling into the second door. The plywood has eight impact holes with seven exit holes. For the AK, there are lots of secondary fragments as well as a broken window. The plywood has nine impact holes with only six exit holes. Paul concludes that there is no clear winner for this test thanks to all the variables in the car door.

Paul Harrell car door test.
In the final AK-47 vs M16 test, rounds are shot through open car doors. Neither round does very well, partially due to the internal components in the doors. Regardless, Paul stresses that a car door is not a good cover location in a shoot-out.

AK-47 vs M16 — Which one wins?

In conclusion, Paul says that the log cabin and the cinder tests go to the AK. The water jugs test iss a win for the M16, but with the car, there is no clear winner. He says it comes down to two things. One, no matter the conclusion, the debate will continue to rage on. And Two, there is no solid winner from the power test. He suggests that you take the results and make the choice for yourself.

Want another take on this debate? Check out this article: Face off: AK-47 vs AR-15 — Accuracy.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Brownells BRN-180 Breathes New Life into a Classic Firearm: Armalite’s AR 180 Updated for the 21st Century

My personal experience with the AR-180 started about 30-years ago. I saw one on a wall in my local gun shop and was intrigued. I knew its price was probably a little out of my reach but I asked about it anyway. The clerk quoted me the wrong (as in much lower) price and I walked out the door with my new-to-me rifle.

It was a decent rifle that was like a combination between the AK-47 and the M16/AR platform and had a side-folding stock.

Originally, it was designed as a select-fire military weapon known as the AR-18 intended for countries that could not afford to forge M16 receivers because folded and welded sheet metal receivers were cheaper to produce. Interestingly enough, the AR-18 was never adopted by any military throughout the world. It would go on to influence other designs and its civilian semiautomatic-only version known as the AR-180 would be more familiar to most shooters.

If the original AR-180 or AR-18, if you prefer, was manufactured like the BN-180 it might have made actual inroads with regard to military service beyond a handful of third world countries.

The AR-180 was made by Armalite of Costa Mesa, California, and under license by Howa of Japan and Sterling of England. Its greatest claim to fame would be its use in the 1984 movie, The Terminator, wielded on-screen by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold Schwarzennegger with an AR-18 in the film The Terminator
The Terminator carries his AR-18 at the ready. (Credit:

While I liked the light recoil, available carrier, and side-folding stock, the rifle was not as accurate as my AR. The main problem I had with it was the proprietary magazines. I only had one and as the rifle was out of production, factory magazines were non-existent. Ram-Line (aka Jam-Line) offered a magazine that was compatible with the AR-180, AR-15, and Ruger Mini-14 and it was abysmal in all 3 with regard to reliability.

I sold the rifle off during the period in which US citizens lived under an oppressive and noxious piece of legislation known as the Federal Assault Weapon Ban for nearly 4X what I paid for it. I liked it enough that it would stay somewhat on my radar. That is, if I were to find another at a reasonable price with a stash of magazines, or if someone would improve the rifle by allowing it to use standard STANAG AR-15 type magazines.

Roughly 25 years later, my prayers would be answered by Brownells when they rolled out their AR-180. To be fair the company which took on the name Armalite (Eagle Arms) did produce aversion known as the AR-180B between 2001 and 2007. It used a molded polymer lower receiver and the rifle took standard AR-15 magazines. Unfortunately, it did not prove to be a popular seller.

Brownells makes good guns better

If there was any company that could pull off a correct redesign of the AR-180, it was Brownells with their BRN-180 design. The original Armalite version had crude sights and a wonky scope with a mount. Brownells solved this issue by adding a Picatinny rail to the top of the upper receiver so the shooter could add whatever sight or scope option they preferred.

I have no idea who made this stock, but it is similar to the original AR-180’s albeit better plastic/polymer.

Like the original, the charging handle is side-mounted and reciprocating. As it extends from the right side of the receiver, shooters should not have the locking hardware on that side for their mount as it could be problematic. The rear of the upper receiver is sealed and there is no way for the gas to vent or bleed through the upper as it would on an AR-15. This makes the BRN-180 a good candidate for suppression without the use of an automotive silicone sealant, oversized charging handle, etc.

BRN-180 charging handle
The BRN-180 features a reciprocating charging handle stays up and out of the way like the original.
Closeup of the BRN-180 controls
Controls on the BRN-180 are very similar to the AR-15.

The barrel on this build is a standard 16” version made from 4150 carbon steel with a 1:8 twist to the rifling. It is chambered in 223 Wylde, allowing the use of both 5.56 NATO and 223 Remington ammunition safely. The barrel is threaded ½ x 28 and features a three-prong flash suppressor like the original.

If you want to remove the factory muzzle device, it is secured with a jam nut. You will need to rotate this nut counter-clockwise (toward the receiver) and then the flash suppressor will turn off correctly.

Should you want to add a silencer, there is another important step. On the 16” and 18” versions, the piston cup will need to be swapped out to run the rifle suppressed. The10.5” version is equipped with an adjustable gas block and the rifle-length versions may be shipping that way as of this writing, but this version needed the change.

Detailed instructions are given for this procedure, but you will most likely need a solid rubber mallet to beat the handguard off the rifle because it did not move easily at all for me. Once removed I mounted a SilencerCo Saker in order to run this rifle suppressed.

BRN-180 scoped and suppressed
Scoped and suppressed with the ability to fold the stock into a compact size makes the BRN-180 one hell of a weapon.

Brownells initially offered the upper receiver of the BRN-180 as being able to be mounted on any mil-spec AR lower receiver. The only problem with that is the cost of adapters if you want to take advantage of using a side-folding stock. A Sig Sauer MCX lower should host the BRN-180 upper but as of this writing, that has never been available from Sig as a stand-alone item.

BRN-180 left profile with folded stock
Unlike an AR-15 with a LAW adapter, you can fire the BRN-180 with the stock folded.
BRN-180 right profile with folded stock
Like an AK-47, you can shoot the BRN-180 with the stock folded.

Fortunately, Brownells came to the rescue by releasing a BRN-180 lower receiver a while back. Completing one is on par with assembling an AR lower, with two notable exceptions: the threaded pin for the bolt catch and no need to install the buffer tube/receiver extension, etc.

I used a standard lower parts kit with a few upgrades including a Geissele Maritime bolt catch, Blackhawk Industries pistol grip, a tan Seekins Precision magazine release, and a CMC trigger.

The rear of the lower receiver has an M1913 Picatinny rail to attach a stock or brace and I went with Sig’s excellent aluminum side folder. Unlike an AR, you can fire this rifle with the stock folded if you choose.

With the BRN-180 completed to this point, I marveled at how much better the new version was. The look of the forgings was superior to the old stamped sheet metal of the original. The aluminum stock and forend were light years ahead of the old plastic furniture developed in the 1960s and most importantly, there is a near-endless supply of magazines out there.

BRN-180 pistol build
The 10.5” bbl version of the BRN-180 makes for a good braced pistol or SBR.

BRN-180 Accessories

I decided on a Sun Optics USA low-powered variable optic for this build. The Mantis is a 1-6X24 LPVO with an illuminated reticle and a Weaver tactical cantilever mount with wing nut mounting screws on the left-hand side. There are several illumination settings and the reticle resembles a horseshoe with a rangefinder off to the side.

BRN-180 extended scope mounting screws
If you have extended scope mounting screws, be sure to place them on the left side of the rifle so they do not interfere with the charging handle.

Additional accessories included a nylon suppressor cover to wrap the rear of the handguard and a Mid-Evil Industries 360 degree vertical foregrip. Off to the 6 o’clock position I mounted a Streamlight equipped with a Fire-Tail.

Fire Tail flashlight attachment
The Fire-Tail flashlight attachment is a quick, clean and effective solution to the tape switch problem.

The Fire-Tail attaches to the body of a handheld 1” diameter flashlight with a push-button tail cap. The activation arm rests against the push button itself. It is especially useful for mounting lights on rifles on the opposite side of your support hand without having to use a remote switch.

At the range

Being that we are still in the midst of an ammunition shortage, I did not have the opportunity to do a 1,000+ round torture test but was able to shoot 200 rounds in one session with a later session of 300 rounds.

BRN-180 with suppressor cover over the handguard
I found a cheap suppressor cover makes for an excellent way to deal with a hot metal hand guard for extended shooting sessions.

The rifle functioned flawlessly with a variety of magazines between GI and PMAGs. Felt recoil is about on par with a typical AR-15. The twin carrier springs are more than sufficient.

BRN-180 with ATI Schmeisser 60-round magazine
The ATI Schmeisser 60-round magazine is a great way to maximize the BRN-180’s potential.

As far as suppression with the SilencerCo Saker goes: the can meters at about 136 decibels. The SilencerCo crew chose Stellite for the baffles and stainless steel for the body of this unique can. Even though small in stature, its durability is never a question, and its 14.2-ounce weight and 5.5” length simply screams maneuverability. The sealed rear of the upper receiver made it downright pleasant from a gas perspective.

With regard to accuracy, the first session was ringing steel at various distances and the report from the steel was louder than the actual shots fired it seemed. Flat range time in the second session was devoted to accuracy and 1.5 to 2.2” at 100 yards seemed to be the average from the bench using range bags. A bipod or tripod might have helped improve this.

Brownells now offers the BRN-180 in 300 Blackout and if you want a piston-driven rifle in either 300 Blackout or 5.56 NATO caliber this is a good way to achieve that without going the typical AR route.

left profile view with cover on the handguard
The BRN-180 is an effective and capable rifle.

The AR-180 may have seen like a niche firearm when black rifles were more of a novelty act in the 1980s, but Brownells managed to bring this one back to life with some very much needed improvements.














The post Brownells BRN-180 Breathes New Life into a Classic Firearm: Armalite’s AR 180 Updated for the 21st Century appeared first on The Mag Life.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Review: Immediate Casualty Care IWB Medical Kit

Ask yourself: if a life-threatening injury occurs, will you know what to do? Will you have the skills and trauma care equipment necessary to render aid to yourself, your family, and innocent bystanders until medical personnel arrives? Your answer to this question can spell the difference between life and death, so it’s a topic you should take seriously.

When Seconds Count

From the moment a traumatic injury occurs, the clock is ticking. Uncontrolled blood loss from a broken limb or gunshot wound can lead to death in as little as five minutes. But, according to a 2017 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Emergency medical service units average 7 minutes from the time of a 911 call to arrival on scene.” The report continues, “That median time increases to more than 14 minutes in rural settings, with nearly 1 of 10 encounters waiting almost a half-hour for the arrival of EMS personnel.”

You should learn how to quickly apply a tourniquet to your own limb and to someone else’s. Repeat it enough to make this action automatic, and practice one-handed as well.

It’s not difficult to learn how to pack a wound, wrap it in a compression dressing, and apply a tourniquet — even kids can be taught these basic skills. Organizations such as Stop the Bleed offer free virtual and in-person classes throughout the United States. We highly recommend taking one of these courses, or a more advanced wilderness first aid class, and periodically taking refresher courses to keep your skills sharp.

Trauma Care Tools

Training is critical, but it must be paired with the right tools. Now is the time to prepare a trauma care kit — often known as an individual first aid kit, or IFAK — that contains the essential resources for a life-threatening bleed. At a bare minimum, your kit should include the following:

  • Tourniquet from the CoTCCC approved list
  • Gauze (hemostatic and/or compressed)
  • Compression bandage or emergency trauma dressing
EDC kit including an Individual first aid kit
Medical gear is only one element of an every-day carry loadout, but it’s all too often overlooked.

There are plenty of other tools that could be added to your kit — for example, chest seals are highly recommended. You may also include helpful accessories such as nitrile gloves, medical tape, and a permanent marker. Once you’ve started to train with your IFAK, you’ll be able to customize it to match your experience level.

Staging & Every-Day Carry Considerations

Immediate accessibility is essential for any first-aid kit, especially one focused on major trauma. It’s wise to stage larger kits in your home, office, car, and range bag, but it’s even wiser to have the key components on your person at all times.

Inside the Waistband EDC medical kit

Although it’s perfectly legal to carry basic medical gear most places, including airports, openly carrying these items may lead to some uncomfortable questions from family or coworkers. Sadly, there are those who will assume your preparation is a sign of paranoia. For this reason, you may want to conceal your medical gear.

There are many ways to do this, including pocket IFAKs, ankle IFAKs, and inside-the-waistband IFAKs. Today, we’ll take a look at a good example of the latter — the IWB-Flat medical kit from Immediate Casualty Care (ICC).

About Immediate Casualty Care

Immediate Casualty Care is a veteran- and a first-responder-owned company that builds covert personal trauma kit carriers. All of the materials and hardware are sourced from the USA, and the kits are built in the USA.

ICC standalone TQ pouch pictured with an SOF-TT tourniquet.
ICC standalone TQ pouch pictured with an SOF-TT tourniquet.

Several configurations are available, ranging from a standalone tourniquet pouch (pictured above) to various complete IFAK carriers. Each kit is built from strong latex-free elastic with stitched seams. The standard stainless-steel clips can be worn over a belt or the hem of a pair of pants. For an additional fee, buyers can upgrade to sturdy Discreet Carry Concepts belt clips, tuckable UltiClip 3+ clips, or non-metallic clips and hardware that won’t set off metal detectors.

ICC IWB-Flat Medical Kit Review

Immediate Casualty Care IWB Flat Medical Kit
Immediate Casualty Care IWB Flat Medical Kit.

I tested the Immediate Casualty Care IWB-Flat, which offers storage for IFAK components in a wide, slim configuration. At 12 inches wide by 8 inches tall, it wraps around the waistline with a single layer of pockets. Other ICC kits place these pockets in a two-layer configuration, producing a smaller but thicker shape. I prefer the single layer to avoid any visible bulge underneath my shirt.

Since I carry my Glock and spare magazine in the appendix position, there’s plenty of space for the IWB-Flat IFAK anywhere on the back half of my waistline. If you carry strong side, you may need to shift the medical gear to the opposite side of your waist.

Kit Contents

Immediate Casualty Care IWB Flat Medical Kit Contents.
Immediate Casualty Care IWB Flat Medical Kit Contents.

Each kit comes unloaded, so it’s up to you to choose the contents. I loaded my kit with the following items:

  • C-A-T Gen 7 tourniquet
  • Celox hemostatic gauze
  • H&H Medical mini compression bandage
  • Hyfin Vent chest seal twin pack (not pictured)
  • Grey nitrile gloves*

*Note: Black gloves are not recommended. Light-colored material contrasts with blood, and makes it possible to detect injuries quickly with a “blood sweep.”

While this is advertised as a medical kit, there’s no reason it couldn’t be used to carry other EDC items. Pistol and rifle mags, pepper spray, fixed-blade knife, passport, emergency cash — the sky’s the limit.

Wearing the Kit

I slid this gear into the IWB-Flat medical kit, clipped the IFAK into my waistband, and went about my day. For the most part, I was able to forget I was even wearing it. The elastic material is comfortable, and the standard belt clips held it firmly in place. Personally, I find this more comfortable than an ankle kit, and I’m able to keep it concealed while wearing shorts (a necessity in the desert).

IWB Flat IFAK included with the rest of the defensive EDC kit.

After a few days, I noticed that one of the clip screws had worked its way loose and fallen down my pant leg, never to be seen again. Lesson learned: always use thread locker on all the hardware for your EDC gear. Thankfully, I scavenged a compatible screw from an old knife sheath and was able to replace the missing part immediately. No problem.

There’s only one critique I have for the ICC IWB-Flat medical kit, and it’s mostly a byproduct of the contents. C-A-T tourniquets are covered in hook Velcro, both on the windlass retention band (when staged as seen in these photos) and the TQ strap. This exposed Velcro tends to snag on shirt hems, eventually pulling loose threads and leading to frayed areas. If you prefer the SOF-TT tourniquet, you won’t have these issues thanks to its Velcro-free design.

Recently, ICC released a “2.0” version of the kit with a high-back design that prevents contents from rubbing against the wearer’s skin. This is an improvement, but I’d like to see a version with an elastic cover that slips over the Velcro, similar to North American Rescue’s outside-the-waistband TQ carrier.


The ICC IWB-Flat has become my go-to EDC medical gear carrier. Its contents are supplemented by additional gear in my car and range bag, but it feels good to know I always have these basic trauma care items inside my waistband.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Springfield Armory’s XD-S Mod 2—A Classic?

The Springfield XD-S is a kickass compact single-stack. That sentence may read, to some, like an oxymoron. I’m finding it harder and harder to justify carrying a single-stack, what with the absolute ubiquitous dominance of so many guns that are almost exactly the same size, but with bigger gas tanks.

Are we to the point where we can call all single-stack 9mms obsolete? I’m not ready for that. They are marginally lighter. They are marginally smaller, sometimes. Surely that still counts for something.

One thing the single-stack design has going for it is a thin mag. The guns are easy to conceal, and so are the mags.

And they’re marginally thinner. In a world that fights for absolutes—the world’s thinnest this, or the world’s lightest that—single-stacks still give those of us in marketing an edge. But what about the practical distinctions?

Springfield Armory saw the potential for the gun almost a decade ago. In that time, it has remained one of the most popular single-stack 9mms available—and certainly the most popular EDC .45 ACP that isn’t a 1911.

The genius of the design is easy to understand.

Even with the short barrels, these handguns run respectable concealed carry calibers. A small gun that can deliver on the promise of the .45 ACP was instantly appealing.

They’re small enough to fit in a coat pocket without drawing any attention. The Springfield XD-S is big enough to carry in a traditional OWB holster and small enough to carry in any of the traditional concealed carry positions (though it is likely too large for ankle carry on some).

Springfield Armory XDS with viridian e-series laser
The XD-S made waves because it was thin but still big enough to control.

The XD-S is small enough for EDC, but still large enough for effective ergonomics. When I picked up my first XD-S (one of the earliest .45s), I was cautiously optimistic about close-quarters accuracy. I shot with the aid of the sights—no problems. I ran all manner of drills—no problems. In short, it worked.

Even in its original .45 ACP configuration, the gun was relatively easy to control. There was much more muzzle-flip than you’d find on a 5″ 1911, but that was to be expected in a gun this light and small.

The sacrifices you make for size, no matter what gun we’re talking about, are real. And the Springfield XD-S provided an easily concealed .45 ACP, so long as you were willing to accept slighter slower split times.

The same could be said for the 9mm version, really. It is easy to conceal, though.

The  Springfield XD-S at long range

It wasn’t until I began shooting at distance that I realized the compact design would allow the XD-S to perform the tasks of a larger pistol. There’s enough working surface on the gun to get a solid grip and the sights, even in the first iterations, were good enough to hit a 12” plate at 100 yards—and easily.

Not that you’d ever need to make a 100 yard shot with an XD-S. That’s not the point. You can, though.

Breaking down the Mod 2

No discussion of the XD-S would be complete without a nod to the Grip Zone. When I have substantive conversations with gun companies about design elements, I warn against adding elements that will ultimately date a firearm design. The first XD-S guns had what I’d call a tire-tread-like texture to the grips and that didn’t age well.

But then Springfield Armory redesigned the grips. The texture was 100% better, but they did write Grip Zone on the grips. I wasn’t a fan of the nomenclature, but I liked the texture.

Much of the Mod 2, though, was familiar to fans of the XD-S. They jumped in and addressed the texture, which was the only thing many XD-S owners seemed to grouse about.

Springfield Armory Mod 2 XD-S new sights
The new sights on the Mod-2 XD-S. Very easy to see.

They also changed up the sights.

Something about fiber-optic sights has always felt fragile to me, but I carried an original XD-S off and on for ages, and I didn’t baby the gun. I never damaged a sight. They seem to hold up to the throw-it-in-a-bag kind of treatment.

Still, Springfield replaced that fiber-optic sight with a traditional front post on the new versions. The rear sight is also a step up. The muzzle side of the rear sight has a nice flat shelf.

Where most EDC sights are sloped down to the frame (including those on the original XD-S), these provide an extra working surface for one-handed manipulation. You can rack on a boot heel, or a table, or even the edge of a sturdy belt—all by catching that sight on something hard and pushing down.

Springfield Armory XD-S sight picture with new front sights and red Viridian laser
The glowing green front sight is easy to see, even when moving fast. Having the red dot of the Viridian laser makes it that much faster.

While you could argue about which set of sights might be faster for target acquisition, it would be splitting hairs. Both sights are reasonably fast. Both types of sights are easy to draw from a holster in concealment (as in they’re not so high that they drag). So it all comes down to personal preference.

Springfield has finished the Mod 2 line with Melonite. This aids in that knock-about ruggedness.

The extras

For those looking for something extra, Springfield has you covered. The newest versions are red dot-ready. With the right holster, an XD-S with a red dot would be even better for EDC.

Springfield XDs Mod 2 in DeSantis Mini Slide holster compatible with Viridian laser
DeSantis makes a Mini Slide for the XD-S with a Viridian E-Series laser.

Red dots, and lasers too, once seemed like gimmicks. Not anymore. Viridian makes dedicated lasers for the XD-S, and the small rail on the front allows for other multi-fit lights and lasers, too.

DeSantis OWB holster with Springfield XDs
The DeSantis is an OWB, but it is still concealable with the tail of a shirt.

It’s still a single stack

Capacity is always an issue. I’ve never carried an XD-S without carrying a spare mag. You shouldn’t, either. The 9mm holds 7 rounds in its standard mag, and 9 rounds in the extended version. The .45 holds 6 and 7 rounds, respectively.

DeSantis OWB holster with Springfield XDs
The XD-S mags are stainless steel.

For many, this is game-over. While better than a slim 5-shot revolver, it still can’t compare to some of the other guns out there.

And for those who want to get into the weeds about how thin the XD-S is, I’d challenge them to test, side by side, a 9mm XD-S and a Hellcat. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can claim, legitimately (and by this I mean practically, in a real-world sort of scenario) that the Hellcat is harder to conceal.

Springfield Armory XD-s
The XD-S is just barely big enough for OWB carry, but many still think of it as a backup option only.

What is the XD-S really good for?

When the XD-S first hit the EDC scene, it was popular with just about everyone. Remember—this was way before the Hellcat or P365. It was years before the G43, even. There were other prominent concealable single stacks–going all the way back to the PPK, if not before, but nothing quite like the XD-S (especially in .45 ACP).

Springfield Armory XDs sight radius
The sight radius on the XD-S is respectable. No milled channels here.

As guns have improved, there’s still a loyal fan base for the Springfield XD-S. I’d guess it is still dominated by those who carry it alone. Many others, myself included, really see this in more of a backup role. The XD-S is a reasonable one-gun type of gun. It is a better second gun.

The XD-S can go from the nightstand to the pickup to the small of the back. If your spouse, for example, keeps a close watch on the number of guns you own, the XD-S may be ideal. Or you may want to take a look at the smallest of the XD line, or the Hellcat (assuming you’re brand loyal).

Other versions?

The XD-S started something. The Mod 2 lineup now includes standard 3.3” guns, optics ready versions, 3.3” guns with external hammers, and 3.8” guns, and even a 4.5” version.

So long as the Springfield XD-S continues to perform and people keep carrying it, I can’t say it is obsolete.

But the XD-S still has a devoted following. I think this is easy enough to explain with the way the gun works. If you want more capacity in your magazine, the XD-S isn’t going to be your top choice.

Lately, I’m carrying the Springfield Armory Hellcat. It is a hell-of-a-gun and has even taken the starting spot from my old G19 for EDC. If there is an argument to be made for the classic status of the XD-S, I’d blame it on the Hellcat.



CategoriesGun Reviews

Mission Essential Plate Carrier and SHOTSTOP Plates

I spend a good deal of time wearing body armor. I train at Alliance Police Training Facility a lot. So far, in 2021 alone, I have accumulated more than 400 hours of serious training time at Alliance. Some as a student. Other times as a “helper.” Some time as an assistant instructor. Many of those courses require rifle-rated body armor as standard PPE. Others require the use of a plate carrier to help carry the gear needed for successful completion of the course. Many times I’m wearing my PC and plates, a Defense Mechanisms Mission Essential Plate Carrier and ShotStop plates to be specific – for both reasons.

That’s why I’m talking about plate carriers and body armor…

The bottom line for me is that I have spent a lot of time wearing body armor and as a result, I’ve formed some opinions about what I like and what I don’t.

You can set up your MEPC however you need to. Flexibility is the key.

You might be actively shopping for a plate carrier and plates for a variety of reasons. Maybe you have coursework planned, such as a live-fire shoot house course where plates are part of the PPE. Or you could be looking for a setup to use in your professional work. Or, maybe you are searching for a carrier and armor to use in a worst-case scenario.

On this carrier, I am using a pretty basic setup. The placard is composed of two layers. The bottom layer is a 3 mag M4 base and the second is a full-width pocket. The ability to easily and quickly customize is one of the reasons the MEPC is my favorite.

Regardless of why you are shopping, I think my thoughts on my current setup might help you to determine what plate carrier and plate combination is best for you.

The DM Mission Essential Plate Carrier and SHOT STOP Armor

After experimenting with several different setups I have finally come to rest on a Defense Mechanisms MEPC carrying SHOTSTOP Duritium III+ PA Plates.

This combination provides a superior balance between performance, versatility, and comfort.


I have received goods from both Defense Mechanisms and SHOTSTOP at no cost. Plate carriers, accessories, and plates were received by me in the hopes that I would provide feedback and media coverage (like this article) of those products. You should know this. You should also know that the gear I received was given without the expectation of a positive review—just a fair and objective opinion. You should also be aware that I have spent plenty of my own money with both of these companies. I placed the very first order that Defense Mechanisms ever received and I have purchased 4 sets of SHOTSTOP plates with my own coin.

What I think you should take away from this disclosure is that I have objectively evaluated this gear and it is not only worth my effort to write about it, but I also spend my own money on it. I can’t think of a stronger endorsement.

The Defense Mechanism MEPC

The Defense Mechanism Mission Essential Plate Carrier is a lightweight durable carrier that can easily be customized to fit your mission even if your mission changes.

My original Defense Mechanisms MEPC, ready to run slick.

The foundation of the MEPC is the front and rear plate bags. Both of the bags are built from 500 denier Cordura for durability and feature a 3D mesh liner for comfort and enhanced airflow. The front and rear plate bags are connected and fitted with a set of overlapping hook and loop straps. These straps are secure and provide a wide range of adjustability to fit a wide variety of people.

The hook and loop shoulder straps are secure, easy to fit, and allow for a large range of adjustability to ensure your plates are where they belong.

The two plate bags are sized to fit the size plates they will carry, not the size of the person. The plate bags can accommodate plates up to 1” thick. If you have thicker plates you should increase the size of your plate bags one size.

With the hook and loop flap pulled back you can see the plate is secured in place with a retention strap.

Plates are held in place in both the front and rear bag by a velcro strap that lifts the plates to the top of the bag and then enclosed by a second velcro flap. 

Here you can see that the SHOTSTOP PA plate is held in with both the retention strap and a flap to ensure the plate stays where you need it.

Front Plate Bag

The Front plate bag of the MEPC features a zippered admin pouch, a loop field for use with patches or nav tools, and QASM buckles to attach a placard. The QASM buckles can be removed if you want to use a G-Hook Placard base or simply run your front bag slick. The front bag has a generous loop field for the attachment of a hook cummerbund and is compatible with any hook and loop cummerbund.

The QASM buckles are easily removed to allow for a G-hook placard to be used, or simply to run slick.

Rear Plate Bag

All of the rear plate bags are equipped with a set of hook and loop shoulder straps that mate with the front bag, a hook and loop field for patches and or PID lights, and a fold-flat drag handle. Just like with the front bag the plate is secured with an adjustable hook and loop strap and an additional hook and loop flap.

The rear bag flap helps to hold the rear plate in place and also covers the rear hook and loop of the cummerbund to help prevent snagging.

The flap also acts as a cover for your hook and loop cummerbund to help prevent snagging. When it comes to the rear plate bag you have a choice between two options, slick or Molle. My first DM MEPC setup was a slick rear plate bag. The slick rear bag is lighter weight and contains a single row of Molle with a loop face.

DM MEPC Recondite
The optional Molle MEPC rear plate bag allows for the addition of gear to the back of the carrier. I added a Recondite Rear Pack to my carrier to tote a bit of food, some layers, and additional first aid gear.

My current setup is the Molle rear bag which allows for the attachment of gear to the rear plate. If you are looking to run comms, breaching tools, or a Recondite bag on the rear plate bag, as I do, you are going to want the Molle rear bag.

Mission Essential Plate Carrier Options

What really makes the MEPC excel in my opinion is the modularity of the carrier. This is achieved through add-on options that enhance the performance of the plate carrier. From communication sleeves to placard options DM strives to be a problem-solving company. Their mode of operation is to innovate and solve problems experienced with traditional gear setups.

I’m currently running my MEPC placard with three layers. I may pair this down to streamline my kit a bit.

The MEPC options begin with assembling a custom placard that can be changed at any time. The placard can have the foundation of 3 AR-15 mags, or simply a hook and loop placard base where you can customize multiple layers to carry exactly the gear you need.

The hook and loop system allows a wide variety of gear to be carried easily. In addition, it is easy to quickly refit your setup to meet your needs for the moment.

In addition to the placards, you can outfit your carrier with additional options such as split communication sleeves, various cummerbunds, additional pouches for communications gear, or for specific tools such as the Liberty Dynamics Enhanced Diversionary Device.

My kids both have plate carriers as well. Of course, they have a placard set up to meet their needs. The AR-15 mag pouch holds a tourniquet, the pistol mag pouch usually carries a snack, and the velcro pouch carries whatever they don’t want me to see.

SHOTSTOP Diritium III+ PA Plates

Inside my DM MEPC sits a set of SHOTSTOP Diritium III+ PA plates. SHOTSTOP’s Diritium plates are lightweight, comfortable, and durable. The materials and construction of the plates are both proprietary and lend to the overall effectiveness of the plates. I’ve had the opportunity to watch these plates be absolutely abused—to the point of being set on fire and shot with multiple rounds of 5.56, .308, and 7.62×39 including edge hits. The plates simply perform.

As I’ve watched the plates be systematically, intentionally, and violently “disassembled” it is clear that the solid construction is a series of layers of proprietary polymer. These layers are able to absorb the energy from rifle rounds and dissipate it into the plates with minimal back face deformation. Of course, the plates are NIJ certified and they grossly exceed the standards the NIJ sets forth for certification.


SHOTSTOP Level III+ PA plates
The double curve PA plates from SHOTSTOP are certainly worth the upgrade. They are more comfortable, thinner, and have a 15-year warranty. As a result, they are of tremendous value.

In addition to being lightweight, the SHOTSTOP PA plates feature a double curve. As someone who has worn single curve plates, I have to say I am a huge fan of the double curve. Our bodies are built with more than one curve so it only makes sense that the stiff armor plates match our shape as closely as possible. Having the plates fit your form is worth the extra cost. A set of plates that matches your body is more comfortable alone. When laden with gear, that closer fit helps to distribute the weight of your kit evenly. In addition, the double curve exploits the thinness of the plates. Together, the thin plates and the multi-curve design help to bring the gear closer to the body. The result is increased comfort and reduced strain. That is a win.

Body Armor Value

One of the attributes that help SHOTSTOP stand out in my mind is value. The PA III+ plates really stand out compared to the offerings standard in the industry. The PA plates are positively buoyant with a 10×12 shooters cut plate weighing in at just 2.7 pounds. The thickness of the double-curved plates is just .7 inches.

All those specs are great. What is really impressive is that the PA plates are backed by a 15-year warranty. The industry standard is 5 years. The SHOTSTOP plates are priced lower than the comparable plates. In addition, they have a 15-year life which increases the value of the plates by 3x.

The relatively new padded split comm sleeve. Certainly a better solution than a blade and a flame.

Why the DM MEPC and SHOTSTOP PA Plates Stand Out

After 4 different carriers and 3 sets of plates, I’ve finally settled in on what works best for me. The combination of the Defense Mechanisms MEPC and the SHOTSTOP III+ PA plates is the ticket. The system is lightweight, modular, and comfortable to wear. The result is the perfect setup for me. I can quickly and easily configure my gear to suit my needs and my rig is comfortable to wear. This leads to more time, effort, and energy invested in my training and less wasted effort, wearing, donning, and doffing my gear.

The folks at Defense Mechanisms are problems solvers and they pay attention to their customers. Rumor has it that the relatively new split comm sleeves were born when the Owner of DM, Tim Marshall, watched me take a blade to my traditional one-piece comm sleeve to thread some cables.

Both the Mission Essential Plate Carrier, its accessories, and SHOTSTOP plates are available through the Defense Mechanisms website making the actual shopping just about as easy as setting up and using this plate/carrier combination.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Sig MCX Rattler / M13 Suppressed

Have you ever looked at your .300BLK and thought it’s just a little too big or a little too loud? Not super likely, but Sig has an option for you anyway. Garand Thumb takes a deep look into the Sig MCX Rattler, (or in the gamer realm—the M13), and tells you why you should consider this one.

The Sig MCX Rattler is essentially a .300BLK on an M4 platform, with all the controls being virtually the same. With the same controls and functions, the Sig MCX is an easy-to-learn rifle, according to Garand. His thought is that some version of this weapon will be the next one adopted by the military.

He starts by going over the technical details of the rifle. It has a very short 5.5” barrel. With being that length, Garand says that the fired round only touches a little over 3” of the barrel. It’s a short-stroke gas-piston-operated platform that is very similar in design to an AR18.

Both Sean and Garand believe that due to the modularity of the Sig MCX Rattler, that some version of this weapon will be the next one adopted by the military.

Sig MCX Rattler — Review


They feel that the system is very cool. They say that there isn’t anything exactly new about the MCX, it’s built off the existing systems that already work. They, Garand and Sean, say that the weapon is very prevalent in video games due to the modularity of the system. You can take the rifle as is, or you can swap out just about everything on it, from the rails to charging handles to buffer tubes and it will still run without hiccups. When it’s compared to an AR15, this one is built from the ground up to be modular.

Suppressor Recommendations

With the rifle being from Sig, you’ll probably use a Sig suppressor on it, but regardless of what you choose, Garand recommends using a direct thread. The rail that comes with the rifle is short and he chose to install a longer rail to one that covers the suppressor. His main comment with that is that it helps keep the barrel from flexing if you happen to be leaning up against something while shooting, which we all know will damage the system if you do that.

Gas Block Access

Even with a longer rail, which gives you more accessory mounting options, it doesn’t interfere with the system or the ability to access the adjustable gas block. That’s right, there is an adjustable gas block built into the system that can be adjusted for rate of fire, gas bleed on the system, or what have you, all on the fly. Not only that but there are markings on the receiver itself to tell you which way to turn for adjustments. They both say that feature makes the weapon “Army proof”.

Sig MCX Rattler at the range
Garand and Sean can’t stress enough just how modular this rifle is, saying it was built from the ground up to be customized to the end user’s needs, from suppressors, rails, or stocks.

.300 BLK

While the 5.5” barrel isn’t ideal for a .300BLK, it is very reliable. The point that Garand keeps coming back to is that the weapon is super modular. The rifle can shoot both sub- or supersonic rounds, all with minor adjustments from the aforementioned gas block. He really likes the .300BLK round and this rifle, even if the round doesn’t always have the range when compared to a 5.56. He thinks that it is a great military rifle with a gentle recoil and is extremely quiet when shot suppressed. The sound of the round hitting the target is actually louder than the cycling of the rifle.

Recoil and Blowback

The rifle also does a great job of dissipating the gas within the system. It’s funneled back and then down into the mag well. With very little blowback in the face, it’s very enjoyable to shoot. With the dissipation, the recoil is very insignificant. Piston guns generally have more recoil, just because of the design, but this one is very gentle.

Garand Thumb shooting the Sig MCX Rattler.
With the help of the built-in adjustable gas block, both supersonic and subsonic rounds can be shot through the Sig MCX with only minor changes. To Garand, it is a very soft shooting but a very accurate system.

Garand does mention a couple of things that he didn’t like:

1. The brass deflector is made from polymer. This is a problem in the long run as it will get eaten up by ejected casings and will probably need replacement.

2. Subsonic rounds don’t run well through non-.300BLK magazines. He recommends either Lancer or Magpul mags.

Garand Thumb
Garand Thumb reviews the Sig MCX Rattler.

Garand rounds out the review with talk of the stock. The stock attaches at a 1913 rail, giving way to plenty of options. With the collapsible stock, it’s only 16” without the suppressor and very concealable under a car seat or bugout bag. Like everything else on this weapon, it is
simple and very easy to swap things out.

Garand, and Sean, close out the video by saying that it’s a very cool gun that is super fun to shoot. But just like with any weapon, you need to train with what you have, saying: “All cool dudes get training”.

CategoriesGun Reviews

Weird Magazine Designs — Breaking Down the Odd

This is GunMag Warehouse, and it’s always interesting to cover different things about magazines. Often, mags are an untouched topic in terms of historical analysis and coverage. So, combining my interest in magazines with my interest in weird stuff, I found a few weird magazine designs to cover here. I’m specifically going to talk about weird magazine designs that are removable because if we also cover fixed mags it might get a bit long.

Rotary — The Most Common Weird Magazine

The first rotary magazine was patented in 1856, and as far as weird magazine designs go, this is one of the most common. Well, one of the most commonly produced for a specific popular firearm. The famed Ruger 10/22 utilizes a rotary magazine. The Johnson rifle used a fixed rotary mag, and the Savage Model 1892 also used a rotary mag.

Ruger Magazines are the most common rotary magazines.

This weird magazine uses a cylindrical sprocket that’s moved by a torsion spring. Cartridges fit between the tooth bar of the sprocket, which sits on a spindle. Rounds are rotated into the feeding position automatically. These rotary magazines come in various capacities, and as the Ruger 10/22 has proven, they are quite reliable.


Helical magazines are real weird magazine designs that are also quite rare. The famed futuristic-looking Calico carbine system sported a 50 to 100 round magazine positioned above the gun. The Russian Bizon submachine gun also utilized an under-mounted helical magazine. The North Koreans apparently have a helical magazine for the AK 47 series, although no one knows if these things actually work.

Russian Bizon submachine gun with helical magazine.
The Bizon sports a Helical magazine.

Helical magazines are essentially drum magazines in which the round follows a spiral path around a specialized rotating follower. The drum tends to be more expansive horizontally than vertically and, as such, does not restrict shooters in the prone position. This weird magazine is complex and expensive and not always reliable. Outside of North Korea, no military force utilizes them.


Casket magazine sounds like something Hot Topic sells, but in reality, they are an expansive box magazine. Both modern box magazines are a double stack design. Casket magazines are a quad stack design. Thie weird magazine design has that unique casket shape, and that’s where it gains its name.

Surefire weird magazine design, AR-15 223 Remington 60-round aluminum casket mag
Surefire makes a modern Casket magazine.

Casket magazines can expand capacity without extending the length of the magazine excessively. A 60 round casket magazine will often only be the same length as a 40 round magazine. Casket magazines are not uncommon, and models from Surefire and ATI exist. The biggest downside is reliability. The streams can get crossed when the tip of one projectile covers the other. This often occurs when the magazine is dropped while partially loaded.


Pan magazine designs are rare and have fallen out of favor. We saw pan magazines most famously in the Degtyaryov light machine gun as well as the American-180 submachine gun. Pan magazines were essentially a top-loading drum that offered a low-profile source of firepower before belt-fed light machine guns became popular.

The Lewis Gun has a weird magazine design: the Pan mag.
These weird magazines are mounted to the top of the gun, and they wouldn’t interfere in the prone position, and they could make prone reloads easier. 

Pan magazines relied on gravity and either a ratchet and pawl mechanism or an unwinding circular spring. These magazines fell out of popularity because they are somewhat prone to failure and offer no advantages over a belt-fed design.


As far as I can tell, the only horizontal magazines out there are the P90 and HK G11 magazines. A number of firearms use the P90’s design making it the most popular horizontal magazine. This weird magazine design sits horizontally over the barrel, and the cartridges sit flat and horizontally. This requires the magazine to rotate each round into position before it can be fired.

FN P90 horizontal magazine
Each round rotates into position before it can be fired in this weird magazine design.

Horizontal magazines allow for a relatively high-capacity magazine that sits flush with the firearm. This reduces parts and pieces hanging off the gun and limits its ability to get caught on environmental crap. The P90 magazine is quite reliable, but due to the relatively complicated design, they tend to be fairly pricey. They also don’t seem conducive to regular rifle rounds due to their length.

Tubular Magazine

Tubular magazines tend to be fixed. Shotguns and lever-action rifles famously used fixed tubular magazines. However, they aren’t always fixed. The Spencer rifle, for example, used a detachable tubular magazine that was inserted at the stock of the rifle. It’s a fairly simple tube design that was relatively easy to use.

Spencer rifle with tubular magazine
The Spencer was such a cool rifle.

The Spencer holds seven rounds, and while the magazine was removable, it wasn’t intended for the user to carry multiple magazines. Why no one saw the potential in this is beyond me. A man with the unfortunate name of Erastus Blakeslee invented a cartridge box that held seven rounds that could rapidly charge the tubular magazine.

This weird magazine design didn’t go far but helped the repeating rifle enter the mainstream.


I’m not sure if most people count this as a magazine, but it fits the definition to me. A cylinder magazine is essentially a revolver’s cylinder. As you know, most are fixed and not made to be rapidly reloaded. However, the Remington model 1858 famously boasted a very easy means to remove the cylinder and allow for a reload with an additional cylinder.

Cylinder mag - weird magazine design
Does this count as a magazine?

In the age of percussion revolvers, this was an extremely fast means to reload and keep fighting. Big Army didn’t see the point and never issued extra cylinders. However, this weird magazine design fits within our rules or being both weird and removable.

Rotating Tubular Magazine

Another oddball and weird magazine design comes courtesy of SRM Arms. Their 1216 shotgun uses a rotary tubular magazine, and each tube holds round rounds. Each magazine has four tubes, and the guns have a 16 round capacity. These magazines are removable, and the user can easily reload on the fly.

SRM 1216 tubular magazine system with 16 rounds of 12-gauge - definitely a weird magazine design
16 rounds of 12 gauge is universal for “Wrong House”

The system is essentially four shotgun tube magazines welded together, and the shotgun allows you to rotate the tubes at will to top off or reload your source of ammunition. The SRM 1216 is the only weapon I know that uses a rotating tubular magazine.

Weird Magazine Designs

Weird magazine designs vary a fair bit. Most throw themselves into the zeitgeist of firearms technology. Eventually, they either get lost in the technology of firearms or get spit out on the other side as successful. Rarely does a weird magazine make it through, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the general weirdness of magazine designs. At one point, the detachable box magazine was weird, and now it’s commonplace. I think I got all the weird magazine designs out there, but if I missed a notable example, let me know below.


CategoriesGun Reviews

We’re all about lever gun love!

The lever-action rifle is an iconic piece of Americana. Many of us feel a fierce and terrible lever gun love…everyone else is wrong. Whether you love lever-action rifles for their practicality, their history, or just because, we have a few examples to share with ya…and we’ll drop some ammo knowledge on ya too. 


Practical Appeal: Henry Lever Action PCC

Looking for a capable pistol caliber carbine that isn’t built on the AR platform? Henry lever-action rifles are a great place to start.

Steampunk Marlin 336? Holy Brass Patina! 

It’s isn’t from Bas-Lag, Fullmetal Alchemist, or anything by Jules Verne…but it could be! 

Lever action rifle cartridges: .357 vs .44

Running a lever gun PCC? Should you choose a .357 or .44? 



The Practical Appeal of a Henry Lever Action PCC

David Higginbotham


Most Henry lever-action rifles fill a distinct niche. These are rock-solid working guns that pay an homage to their historical roots, but don’t shy away from modern configurations and set-ups. As such, hunters and sportsmen have a brand dedicated to functionality and reliability that can take the abuse that regular use can dish out without stripping away any historical value.

And these rifles tend to look better with a few battle scars. This .357 is getting a few of those scratches and dings. Back in May, Mag Life Editor David Reeder ran it through a Practical Rifle course taught by Rainier Arms. More on that to come.

finish on the Henry Big Boy Color Case Hardened lever action gun
The depth of the finish isn’t mesmerizing, but it still has a genuine beauty that gives the Henry character.

Let’s break down the gun.

This is a Big Boy Color Case Hardened Side Gate .357. That’s a mouthful, but an accurately descriptive title of this compact Henry lever-action rifle.

  • Barrel Length: 16.5″
  • Barrel Type: Octagon Blued Steel
  • Rate of Twist: 1:16
  • Overall Length: 34.1″
  • Weight: 7.41 lbs.
  • Receiver Finish: Color Case Hardened Steel
  • Rear Sight: Fully Adj. Semi-Buckhorn w/ Diamond Insert
  • Front Sight: Brass Bead
  • Scopeability: Drilled and Tapped
  • Scope Mount: Type BB-RSM
  • Stock Material: American Walnut
  • Buttplate/Pad: Black Solid Rubber Recoil Pad
  • Length of Pull: 14″
  • Safety: Transfer Bar
  • Best Uses: Target/Hunting/Large Game
  • Embellishments/Extras: Swivel Studs, Side Gate

I’m not sure where the Big Boy concept comes from. Maybe this is the gun the Bob’s Big Boy mascot would carry when he was a way from the restaurant.

Henry lever gun
I’m hardly small, so this carbine feels a bit small in my hands—almost like a toy at first, but that wears off fast.

The Case Hardened part is easier. The steel frame of the gun has been color case hardened. This is a technique used on many older guns to add an element of aesthetic refinement to steel. It has the added benefit of adding a modest amount of protection, too, through the hardening of the surface layer of the steel.

The Mag Life Blog editor David Reeder running a Henry Big Boy Color Case hardened .357 lever gun
The Henry runs better when you are wearing a cowboy hat, as TML Editor David Reeder demonstrates.

Most color case hardening is done on highly polished steel. When done right, the technique forms bands and clouds of color that look almost like smoke in clear water. It is mesmerizing.

Henry lever gun color case hardening on the back side of the action
The backside of the action. You can see some of the battle scars that we’ve put on this workhorse.

The Henry has the color case hardening done on an almost brushed finish. This is an odd new look for the technique. The colors are still there, as is the protection from the hardening, but the depth to the surface is absent. Light still plays off of the imperfections left by the grinding or brushing—whatever the final surface preparation is.

Henry lever gun large metal loop
The loop on this lever is large, which may take some getting used to. But it is meant for use in all weather conditions, even those that require gloves.

The Walnut stock

That’s not to say that it isn’t still handsome. This is a good-looking gun, it is just different. And that difference doesn’t feel as precious or as delicate as the more traditional color case hardened finishes.

The parts that aren’t blued or color case hardened are equally attractive. The walnut stock is plain and not overly adorned. It is finished well and will pick up character as it takes a beating. Walnut is not a super-hard hardwood. Though durable and well suited for rifle stocks, walnut dings as easily as any wood.

lever gun speed loading trick
Here’s an old-school speed-loading trick. Keep a few extra rounds handy, if you know you’ll need them.


lever gun speed reload with extra rounds of .357 between fingers
Between your fingers, the extra rounds of .357 are close at hand.

As I’m not one to baby anything I might consider to be a tool, I don’t see this as a problem. Every scar tells a story. This is a gun that would rather be in a truck or on an ATV than in the safe.

Clearly, the look won’t be for everyone. If you are after a wall-hanger, or a nostalgic lever-gun to add to a working collection of functional history pieces, this isn’t it. If you want a rock-solid gun you won’t hesitate to drop behind the seat of the truck, this is it.

The practical side

Henry’s Big Boy Color Case Hardened Side Gate .357 is compact. The overall length is under 3 feet. That makes the gun maneuverable and easy to carry.

It also means that the Henry lever action can feel a bit small for larger shooters. While some Henry rifles in larger calibers offer more to hold on to, this one is more of a true carbine length.

And at more than seven pounds, it isn’t a featherweight either. There’s a substantial amount of steel in its octagonal barrel. While this adds weight, it is part of what makes the gun so easy to keep on target during rapid-fire shooting.


Henry has added more side-gate loaders to their line-up in the last few years. These allow you to thumb in a round easily, without having to remove a magazine tube from under a barrel.

No magazine change with Henry lever gun, keep extra rounds in your pocket
There are no mag-changes with a .357 Henry Big Boy. Keep some rounds in your pocket.

You can still remove the tube to unload some rounds, as needed, though anything in the chamber would have to be freed with a throw of the lever.

There’s a trick to loading these. Push a round in about 2/3 of the way and then use the nose of the next round to seat it all the way in—and end at the 2/3 point with that round—rinse and repeat.

load side gate lever gun by leaving one round partially out, then use the nose of the next round to push it in.
When loading a side-gate, leave one round partially out. Then use the nose of the next round to push it in.

This saves your thumbs and, maybe more likely, your thumb nails. I finger-pick guitar with the same hand I use to load a lever-action, so my loner-than-average nails tend to get in the way. Before I go to a class like this, or spend any serious time on the range, I’ll trim them back, but I’ve found that keeping my thumb out of the side gate helps immensely.

The .357

Most people think of the .357 as a revolver round. And for good reason. There are not many rifles chambered in the caliber anymore. But it is a damn-good round.

Some .357 rounds will top out at speeds over 1,500 FPS from a rifle this size. And there’s no loss of energy at the cylinder gap. That makes for an exceptionally effective round in close quarters scenarios.

Henry Big Boy Color Case Hardened .357 lever gun
For the Rainier Arms class, we were looking for speed and accuracy. At 200+, it helps to hold anything steady to blend the two.

The .357 is even a solid round for a brush gun. With solid shot placement, it has impressive terminal ballistic potential. And the recoil is almost nothing.

Sling wrapped around the arm helps stabilize the Henry lever gun
Wrap that sling tight around your arm to stabilize long-distance shots.

The Henry will also run .38s, so there’s an even better option for the recoil sensitive. Shooting .38s from the Big Boy produces about as much kick as you would get from a light .22 LR. Almost nothing to speak of.

If you are looking for a rapid-fire fun gun, the Big Boy running .38s shoots flat and fast. You can drive the lever like a mad man and keep the Big Boy humming along until that last click. The gun will hold 7 or 8—at least 7 and one in the chamber.

What’s the best way to top the Henry Big Boy?

The gun comes with Henry’s traditional iron sights. These work fine. I’ve reviewed a bunch of Henry’s rifles over the years and I’ve never once found reason to complain about the irons. The brass bead on the Big Boy is easy to pick up, and the semi-buckhorn rear sight has a diamond to help speed up target acquisition and fine-tune longer-range shot placement.

Pheonix Weaponry red dot mount on Henry lever gun
The Phoenix Weaponry red dot mount is an excellent addition. And without the red dot, it doesn’t obstruct the iron sights.

For this review, we set up the Henry with a Holosun Micro Red Dot (a 507c). This was a pretty radical choice for a lever gun, but one that was made incredibly easy by the mount that we got from Phoenix Weaponry.

Phoenix Weaponry red dot mount with Trijicon RMR two-screw, two-pin pattern
It may be hard to pick up, but this version uses the Trijicon RMR two-screw, two-pin pattern.

This little thing is milled to match the drilled holes in the receiver. Phoenix makes them in a variety of optics patterns. When we began the review process, I went looking for options for optics. Phoenix had what I was looking for—but there was some confusion—mostly on my part—about fit with the various Henry models out there (as there are big-bore Big Boys, and PCC Big Boys and they’re not the same size). After a quick conversation with the team at Phoenix, I was set.

Henry Big Boy lever gun with Holosun 507c red dot sight.
Having the Holosun 507c on top makes the lever-action a much faster platform and a viable contender for a self-defense gun.

And the mount provides the security to hold the Holosun steady. After shooting all day in the rifle class, there had been no shift in zero from the optic or the plate. And the plate added just the right amount of rise to the red dot—getting a solid cheek weld put my line of sight exactly where it needed to be on the gun.

Henry lever gun shot group made with the Holosun dialed in, the accuracy was easy to achieve, even on the move. This was from 50, running the lever all-out.
With the Holosun dialed in, the accuracy was easy to achieve, even on the move. This was from 50.

Henry Lever Action Accuracy

As this isn’t a bench gun, I didn’t put it in the rest to zero the optic. During the rifle class, we were shooting on the move, from prone, standing, kneeling…. We were putting rounds on steel, so we zeroed the Holosun standing in front of a paper target until we were on.

Sighting in Henry lever gun with iron sights.
Sighting in—working in the irons at close range before installing the Holosun.

And the emphasis of this gun is stability and speed. First-shot accuracy is dependable and second-shot accuracy is spot on. This rifle smoked the split times of the bolt-action guns that were running the same course of fire. From initial target acquisition to multiple target engagement, the Henry performed well.

running a lever gun from prone position
Running a lever-gun from prone is easy enough, you just have to make room for the lever throw.

Where it suffered was at distance. At 200 yards, with a red dot, you can imagine the challenges. And as this was a high-round count class in the midst of the 2020 ammo shortages, we shot a lot of .38. With a shooter and a spotter, walking shots in off the impacts on the berm was easy enough, but it would have been more difficult alone or without the benefit of small dirt puffs 200 yards downrange.

With .357, connecting at 200 yards was more consistent. Either way, we were ringing steel at that distance.

In the end

I’ve got a deep respect for what Henry’s doing with their catalog. They keep bringing new twists to familiar favorites. And this gun is no different. The Henry lever action is, at least in this form, a testament to craftsmanship.

Henry .357 lever gun with holosun red dot, shooting 200 yards.
Shooting 200 yards with a red dot is a challenge, but the Henry .357 can connect reliably, once you have your hold-over set. .38 at 200 was less consistent.

The price, MSRP is $1,141.00, seems on point for what you get. Like most of the other Henry rifles I’ve run, this could easily be a rifle that is passed down to the next generation and the next.




Steampunk Marlin 336

An unusual lever gun indeed!

Jon Duty

Holy brass patina, Batman! Just take a moment and look over this Steampunk Marlin 336! 

Go ahead…we’ll wait.

A gorgeous -and fully functional - Steampunk Marlin 336.
A gorgeous and fully functional Steampunk Marlin 336.

Steampunk Marlin 336 lever gun

This thing looks like something James West & Artemus Gordon would’ve used to fight off that wily-ass Dr. Loveless in that Wild Wild West movie. You know, the reboot of the old show, with Kevin Kline and Will Smith?

This Marlin 336 would be perfect for that!  

Steampunk Marlin 336 lever gun

Indeed, it would’ve handled the Doc, shortened the storyline, and paved the way for more screen time for the real reason we all watched that movie…Salma Hayek.

At the very least, Agents West and Gordon wouldn’t have had to fight the giant mech-spider thingy at the end. 

But I digress…

Steampunk Marlin 336
Speaking of Kevin Kline….this would have made Silverado Mal’s scenes a lot more interesting…though he preferred Henry Rifles.

Steampunk Marlin 336 Build

This Marlin came into David Wilson at Silverfox Coatings as a pawn shop find and got the full-send steampunk treatment. This thing is crazy in the details. I literally had to look at each picture a couple of times to catch them all. 

David says this rifle had more than 100 hours put into it. The stock was reshaped, refinished, had custom hammered metal accents, and copper gears added, along with a working clock and a humidifier gauge. The lever got an extra finger ring welded in, and the handguards were replaced with a Midwest Industries MLOK set. The scope is actually an original working antique scope from the 1900s. It stayed as is because…well…it’s cooler than your ex’s heart just the way it was. 

Steampunk Marlin 336 lever gun

David hit this up with a custom mix cerakote on the barrel to round it all out and complete the look. He did the receiver in a copper/gold/silver patina cerakote finish.

Steampunk Marlin 336

All in all, this little Marlin got a complete makeover. Still, it’s not the first time Silverfox Coatings has stomped out a spot in the Cerakote applicator forest. So go and give them a follow on Instagram @silverfox_cerakote and see their other work for yourself. Or, if you’re in the Dallas, TX area, and need some Cerakote magic sprinkled on your roscoe, hit them up! 



357 or 44 Magnum for that Lever Gun?

A look at two lever-action rifle cartridges

Kat Ainsworth

Lever action rifle cartridges: .357 vs .44

Lever-action rifles have been getting more attention, and we think that’s a great thing. Levers aren’t just the classic guns that won the West anymore; levers are versatile, useful, and fun. Of course, they also come chambered in quite a variety of calibers, so you might need some help deciding which one to add to your collection next (after all, you’re going to need more than one in the long run). In this video, Chris Baker of Lucky Gunner does a comparison of levers chambered in 357 Magnum and 44 Magnum.

lever guns in .357 magnum and 44 magnum
Levers in 357 Magnum and 44 Magnum? Yes, please. (Photo credit: Lucky Gunner)

What Distance Can 357 and 44 Magnum Levers Shoot Accurately?

Although estimating effective range depends somewhat on your gun, ammo, and shooting skills, there is always a general accuracy range to consider. Chris Baker talked about the effective range of 357 and 44 Magnum levers:

“Best case scenario, a 357 or 44 Mag lever-action is probably about a 150-yard gun unless you’re just a real superstar in range estimation. Realistically, for most of us, for any practical purpose, it’s more like a 100 yard or 125-yard gun with maybe some wiggle room. If you use one of the flatter shooting loads and you played around with your zero, you could maybe stretch it out past 150 in a pinch. Personally, if I thought there was a decent chance I might need to shoot something that far away, I would just go with a true rifle caliber.”

How did Chris figure out effective range?

Well, he checked velocity and documented drop rate:

[Earlier] when I shot…groups, I also took velocity readings with our LabRadar. This device measures velocity at the muzzle just like a chronograph does but it can also tell you the velocity in various increments as the bullet moves down-range. I had it set to give readings at 50, 100, and 150 yards. I also tried 200, but it had trouble picking up the bullets that far away. There’s a lot of cool stuff we can do with these measurements.”

Check out the video for a closer look at the results of velocity testing and for other information about the 357 and 44 Magnum levers:


What can my lever-action rifle do?

Lever-action rifles and carbines have a lot of uses. Remember, there was a time when they were the hottest thing around in the gun world, and they were used for just about everything. Today you can use them for a lot, too, such as:

  • Hunting
  • Home defense
  • Self-defense
  • Brush gun
  • Truck gun
  • Cowboy action shooting
  • Range time
Lucky Gunner performance testing of .357 and 44 magnum
Lucky Gunner did quite a bit of testing to find out how 357 and 44 Magnum loads performed with lever-action rifles. (Photo credit: Lucky Gunner)

You should definitely consider getting a lever-action rifle or three in your gun safe. Not only can you use them for just about anything, but they’re also flat-out fun to run. If 357 Magnum and 44 Magnum aren’t your thing, they do come chambered in a lot of other calibers like 444 Marlin and 30-30 Win, among others.

Do you own a lever gun or several? What’s your favorite caliber? Drop a comment below to let us know.

CategoriesGun Reviews

The Holosun 509T at 10k rounds

We’ve all seen reviews on optics after a few thousand rounds and they look awesome. But what happens to it after 10,000 rounds? Aaron Cowan over at SageDynamics took a longer look at the Holosun 509T optic and put it through its paces to see how it would hold up.


So, first, let’s do a quick background. The Holosun 509T is the Titanium enclosed reticle option with a staggering hour battery life. It has a 2MOA dot and a 32MOA circle in the sight. The optic comes with its proprietary mounting plate straight out of the box as well as a special tool for adjusting to get to zero.

Part of Aaron’s testing for the Holosun 509T was the shoulder height drop test. Over the course of his test he dropped the pistol and optic 20 times with no loss of performance.

For the testing Aaron had the following steps:

1. Drop testing from shoulder height onto a hard surface
2. Test in extreme heat
3. Test in extreme cold
4. Single handed manipulation

Aaron originally did a 2,000 round review of the Holosun 509T and liked it but wondered if it would last long term in duty use. The main component of the test was the drop test. He said this was important for the review in that it simulated the possible wear and tear or stress on
the firearm during duty use. He went on to say that he’s still using the original optic that he received and didn’t need to get a replacement and that it still functioned properly. Long story short, it passed the test with flying colors.

Holosun 509T drop test damage to solar panel and delamination
After the testing, the only real damage was to the solar panel on top and some delamination on the unit. But it still held zero with no problem.

He went on to talk about the battery of the optic. It takes a 1632 battery and has side access for replacement, so you don’t have to take the whole thing off the pistol to change the battery out. Not only does it have a ridiculous battery life (up to 50,000 hour life), but it has a solar panel or a combination of solar and battery. He used it strictly on battery and has yet to replace the battery.

So how did he go about the testing? Well, the drop test was done after every 500 rounds. Yes, that’s 20 separate drops over the course of the testing. The only real damage was the delamination of the optic, but that’s purely aesthetics and no loss of zero. The single manipulation was to help simulate how many law enforcement folks are trained and show any loss of function for the optic. None occurred and it performed adequately.

Holosun 509T solar panel
This optic can be run on battery, solar energy, or both. With up to a 50,000-hour battery life, it seems unnecessary to have a solar option. But it looks cool.

During his testing, he only had two major complaints or recommendations. Firstly, the button for adjustment for the optic requires a special tool so you don’t want to lose it. He tried using coins, like you can use on other optics on the market, to no avail. The second complaint he had
was that during the 20 drop tests he did, the back ledge of the optic got beat up and he would like to see Holosun actually enlarge it to help protect the rear lens better.

In closing, he said that this is the best-enclosed reticle for a duty gun. It’s well-made, durable, and accurate. Not only that, but it’s compatible with several holsters currently available and easily concealable.

CategoriesGun Reviews

The Concealable Armor Vest — Conceal it With Premier Armor

The civilian use of body armor has exploded in the last few years. We are in a unique time where anyone can easily acquire a vast degree of armor. We’ve got rifle-resistant ceramic plates to modern high-tech polymer plates and everything in between. This also means soft armor. In the last few years, soft armor has exploded in popularity. This includes vests, as well as soft panels for packs, purses, and the like. Today we are looking at the latest piece of soft armor from Premier Armor, the Concealable Armor Vest.

Introducing the Concealable Armor Vest

I’ve never worked for Premier Armor, but at one point, I had an idea to mix a Premier Armor soft plate with a Tru-Spec armor shirt. This created a very low-profile concealable armor combo that inspired Premier Armor to combine the shirts and plates to make their own concealable armor. From there, they produced their latest Concealable Armor vest to act as a step between that shirt and a standard soft armor vest.

Who needs this? cops, first responders, tow truck drivers, cash couriers, etc.

The goal of the Concealable Armor Vest was to provide the protection of the standard soft armor vests worn by law enforcement with a concealable design. As you’d imagine, it’s bulkier than a soft panel in a shirt but also provides 360 degrees of protection and a lot more of it than just your vitals.

The Concealable Armor Vest packs an IIIA rating which means it will not stop most rifle rounds. In fact, it’s best used against handgun and shotgun rounds. An IIIA rating prevents penetration by most standard handgun rounds, including 9mm, 40 S&W, 45 ACP, and up into a 44 Magnum Semi-wadcutter design, moving at 1,400 feet per second. What’s important to understand is that the soft panels are NIJ Certified.

Premier Armor Concealable vest, freestanding
It’s a great vest and stands on its own merit.

Lots of armor companies build to NIJ standards, but certification means the company has sought independent testing for the NIJ. Simply put, the armor is legit. It’s also special-threat tested against 12 gauge slugs, Liberty Defense 9mm, and 5.7×28 SS197SR.

The carrier is pretty dang legit too. It’s machine washable and made from a moisture-wicking material. It’s lightweight and water repellent, and plenty adjustable. This is not a one-size-fits-all affair, and users should order the right size for their frames. Adjustments allow you to better tailor how the Concealable Armor Vest fits.

Who Needs This?

Who exactly needs a Concealable Armor vest? Well, obviously, the usual suspects can benefit from a high-quality vest. This includes police officers who might want something a little higher end under their uniform or plainclothes officers in general. Security personnel, VIP protection, and the like can also benefit from such a vest. Sadly, lots of EMS personnel are now wearing vests because scum takes potshots at them.

However, beyond those in armed and first responder professions, there are plenty of roles where a Concealable Armor Vest makes sense. I worked as both a repo man and a cash courier in my post-Marine Corps career.

concealable armor vest
The Concealable Armor Vest is easy to wear and easy to hide.

Neither job allowed you to be armed, and both jobs made you a tempting target.

I had to dress professionally but would’ve loved a concealable armor vest to feel a little bit safer. Especially since my employers didn’t seem to care much about security and safety. On top of other oddball professions, this is a great option for someone who’s just been met with credible threats. Maybe through no fault of your own, you’ve made an enemy, and the most you have is a restraining order, a firearm, and a vest to keep you safe.

Comfort and Fit

Tossing the Concealable Armor Vest on isn’t tough. Well, once you’ve got it adjusted just right. The short waistband keeps the rig nice and tight, and tight is good. Tight helps with concealment and comfort. You don’t want the vest bouncing around as you move throughout the day. That would decrease comfort and increase visibility. Also, don’t forget, a tight fit is a proper fit that helps ensure your vitals are covered when necessary.

Premier Armor Concealable vest adjustment flap
Keep the flap tight and the vest tight for maximum coverage and concealment.

I do recommend wearing a shirt under your concealable armor vest. If not, I fear the chafing your nipples might receive. That being said, with a shirt in the way, the inside of the vest is super soft and incredibly comfortable. It’s not too heavy or overly bulky.

concealable armor vest moisture wicking material
The internal material is quite soft and comfy.

The only problem you’re gonna have is heat—nothing you can really do about that. Adding armor is like adding a sweater. Things that stop bullets rarely breathe well and accommodate the breeze. It’s the nature of the beast so just make sure you double down on your hydration if you plan to be working outside a lot with the vest on.

wearing the Premier Armor concealable vest.
The carrier with its armor is light, but it gets hot. Undershirt highly advised.

Also, make sure you remember you wash the external carrier cause it’s going to get gross if you don’t

How Does It Conceal?

I tested the Concealed Armor Vest with a standard white dress shirt, a Dixxon flannel, and a normal light jacket. I did this in August, and it’s blazing hot, so I hope you animals appreciate it. Under the shite dress shirt, the black carrier barely shows. It looks like a muscle shirt under my shirt. It adds a little bulk but so do all those pizza rolls I eat.

Premier concealable armor vest under white dress shirt
The armor vest fits perfectly under a dress shirt, even a white one.

However, the armor does its job of remaining concealed. You’d have to look close, and if I wore a suit jacket, you’d have to undress me like I was Don Draper to find the vest. Under the Dixxon Flannel and light jacket, it’s most certainly invisible. This thing won’t disappear under a plain t-shirt, but under a button-down, it’s invisible.

Premier Armor concealable vest under a Dixxon Flannel shirt
Under a tactical flannel is disappears with ease.

Make it a black or flannel button-down, and it’s really invisible then. If this particular model still seems too bulky for you, check out their Executive design. It’s a little smaller than the Concealable Armor Vest.

side profile showing how the Premier concealable armor vest doesn't add any bulk under a Dixxon tactical flannel shirt
It adds hardly any bulk to the body.

However, for many of us, this vest will work perfectly. It hides easily and provides a brilliant degree of protection from common threats.

Staying Safe

I love combining safety with a low-profile protection system. In fact, the industry seems to be going heavily towards low-profile awesomeness, and I love it. It takes vests like this out of the realm of just armed professionals and offers it to the everyday Joe and Jane. The Concealable Armor Vest from Premier Armor combines NIJ-certified protection and a low-profile design for everyone who needs armor. 

Buy your Mags at GunMag Warehouse!



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