Homemade Steel Targets


In order to practice for the rimfire matches, I needed some targets that would mimic the various rifle and pistol stages.  Plate racks and dueling trees are all well and fine, but the problem with those types of targets is that they are linear, i.e. they are either horizontal or vertical.  Here is a pic of a dueling tree and a plate rack:


Photo credit: http://www.ar15armory.com/forums/uploads/gallery/album_11/gallery_1_11_267694.jpg

The matches, however, have targets that vary in height and are spread apart.  Here’s a picture of what the targets look like in a match stage:

Stage 4 Pistol

Since the range I’m a member of only has a plate rack and a dueling tree, I needed to find a way to practice that was more realistic.  (Note: I am not a member of the same range that holds the matches.  Been on the waiting list for 5-6 years and still haven’t gotten the phone call yet.)  The only solution was to build my own steel targets.  The problem is that steel plates are really expensive.  I studied the targets used at the matches and decided this was something that I could do.

I sketched out the basic idea and bought the plates from a local gun store.  I ended up with six of the 3/8″ thick 8″ wide round plates.  While the targets in the matches vary in size and shape, round will be fine for practice.  I made each of the stands two feet wide.  The uprights were varied in length.  I made two of each length: 2′, 3′, and 4′.  Since each target could be set up individually, this allows me to move them around and set up various scenarios.  While it won’t allow me to completely duplicate some of the match stages, it gives me a chance to practice shooting targets that are spread out and vary in height and distance.

It is also worth mentioning that the uprights can easily be removed from the bases.  This makes transporting much easier.  Here are the new targets all set up and ready to go to the range.


Now that I had my plates, I had a new problem: how to get them from the parking lot to the pistol pit.  Since I sometimes want to shoot by myself and didn’t want to have to carry them 100 yards every range session, I needed a way to easily move them around.  So I went to Lowe’s and bought a cheap garden cart.  It does the trick.

target cart

There are drag race stages that I cannot emulate without buying some very large plates.  I’ll need two rectangle pieces (18″w x 24″h) and one 12″ circle.  What I’ve got is a step in the right direction, and it only took myself and a friend of mine a few hours to cobble together.  The nice thing about 3/8″ steel is that I can also shoot these with centerfire pistols.  This allows me to practice with 9mm, 38 Special, and 45 ACP.

Who knows if this will translate into making me a better shooter?  Either way, it’s certainly fun to shoot at steel because you get that immediate feedback.  One of my concerns was making sure the steel had the correct rating (these are AR500).  The other big concern was making certain that I wouldn’t get ricochets.  I used a carriage bolt, washers, and a spring to attach the plates to the uprights.  This is how the targets are hung at the match, and thus far my new plates have been safe.  In the future, I’ll be purchasing some professionally fabricated plate mounts.  For now, the goal is to be able to practice inexpensively.  The biggest reason I have chosen rimfire matches is because the time and monetary commitment is relatively small compared to just about every other shooting sport.  A brick of .22LR at Walmart means you can shoot a match without killing an entire afternoon reloading ammunition.  If I wanted an expensive weekend hobby, I’d have picked golf.

If you want to make your own steel targets, I highly recommend it.  I saved a lot of money doing so.  The main things you want to focus on are getting the right kind of steel and making sure the method of attachments puts the steel at the correct angle to eliminate ricochets.  Don’t mess around with the plate attachment.  I can assure you, from personal experience, that you don’t want to dig an extremely deformed 45 ACP round out of your shin.  It should go without saying, but ALWAYS wear good eye protection while shooting steel.  If you don’t feel comfortable coming up with your own plate mount, these are an inexpensive and effective choice:


target hanger

Safe and happy shooting to you and yours,


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Ruger LCP Custom


For several years now I’ve been carrying a Ruger LCP.  It’s been my primary carry gun, and its small size meant that I could carry it in my right front pocket.  While I don’t carry every single day, it is nice to be able to simply throw it in my pocket and know that I had some measure of protection.

As far as the holster is concerned, I’m a firm believer in the DeSantis Nemesis Super Fly.  It has a panel that prevents the pistol from printing in your pocket.  The sticky exterior makes the holster stay put during the draw.  While I like my Ruger LCP quite a bit, it didn’t have much in the way of sights, which made it more of a point and shoot weapon.  It also had an extremely long trigger pull.

For those reasons I decided to “upgrade” to the LCP Custom.  This has two primary advantages over the previous Ruger LCP models.  The first is an improved trigger with a much shorter (albeit still rather heavy) trigger pull.  The second advantage is that it actually has sights.  While this is still a pocket pistol, it does help to actually be able to aim it.

Here’s the old and new LCPs:IMG_1165.JPG

LCPs updated

The next step was to test out a few different kinds of ammo to make sure it would reliably feed them.

All of these are 6″ Shoot-N-C targets that were placed at seven yards.  They represent the first rounds I fired from the pistol, and I’ll admit the trigger takes some getting used to.  A better shooter would no doubt have gotten tighter groups.  But this proves that even a mediocre shooter can keep on target with the LCP Custom, even if they are firing somewhat rapidly.  I broke each shot as soon as the sights were aligned.

Here are the results.  Please note that this isn’t a deliberate test of accuracy.  But for what it’s worth, it seemed that the Hornady Critical Defense did the best for me.  Also, I had a couple malfunctions with the Remington Golden Sabre.  I believe this has to do with the shape of the hollow point bullet.


The most reliable seemed to be the Hornady Critical Defense.  This might have something to do with the shape of the bullet.  Normally, one would suspect the most reliable bullet design would mimic, as close as possible, the contours of a round ball projectile.  However, I believe the aggressive taper of the Hornady Critical Defense is even better.  As the round travels up the feed ramp, the taper of the bullet keeps it from dragging all the way up the ramp.  Instead, it is almost perfectly aligned with the chamber before it begins to feed.  Other bullets may make contact right at the top of the feed ramp, but I don’t believe the Hornady’s have that issue.  At any rate, they seem to feed very well in both of my LCPs.

While I recommend the LCP Custom, the sights do have one small drawback.  The DeSantis pocket holster does not fit the LCP Custom.  The rear sight will often catch on the top edge of the holster when attempting to draw the pistol.  A quick call to DeSantis confirmed that they do not make, nor do they recommend, any of their holsters for the LCP Custom.  In order to get around the issue, I cut away part of the holster so that it does not snag.  We’ll see how it works out.


Safe and happy shooting to you and yours,


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The Revolver Checkout Guide

Revolvers never went out of style, despite the onset of Wondernine syndrome in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Some people have asked me to go with them to pick out a nice used revolver.  One has to be careful because some have serious issues.  Others are diamonds in the rough.  Knowing what you’re looking for and being able to perform a few simple checks will make all the difference.

Back in the heyday of the Firing Line Forum, there was a gentlemen named Jim March who took the time to sit down and write out all the things that one needed to look for in a used revolver.  His first version was made in 2001.  Ten years later, he made a new version.  I’m posting that PDF here for those that would like it.  Thousands of people owe Jim a debt of gratitude, myself included.  I was also fortunate to have been taught by my dearly departed Uncle Guru, though we primarily focused on Smith and Wesson revolvers.

Here’s the thread in question on the Firing Line Forums.  There’s a link to the Google document here.  However, I didn’t want to take a chance that it would get taken down, so I downloaded it and am hosting it from this blog as well.  Here’s the link to view and download the PDF:

The Revolver Checkout Guide 2011

This is a wonderful resource and I hope that those of you looking for a used revolver will find it helpful.

Safe and Happy Shooting,


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Bargain Scopes and Red Dots

by Studentofthegun

This post has been a long time coming.  For a few years, I’ve been using an email I typed up to answer an inquiry about bargain optics.  It included my recommendations along with pictures and links to products.  The email is outdated now, so it makes sense to make a blog post.

First, I want to set anyone’s expectations about this post correctly.  I’m not an expert on optics and I am not claiming to be one.  However, I’ve been exposed to quite a few different options in lots of different price ranges.  What I’m focusing on here are “bargain” optics, i.e. things that aren’t all that expensive but are functional and reliable based on my experience.  The old adage “you get what you pay for” is absolutely true.  My recommendations here are not exceptions to that rule.  Yes, I’ve got a $40 Simmons red dot that has given me over decade of great service.  I finally gave it to a friend to put on his wife’s rifle (which incidentally gets used in 2 gun rimfire matches).  But that isn’t the optic I recommend if you want to put it on an AR-15, and goodness forbid, have to actually use the thing to defend yourself.  So I’m going to break this up into three parts.  The first will be red dots that offer a decent value if you intend to use them on an AR-15 or a short range rifle or carbine.  The second part will deal with variable power scopes for AR-15s.  The third will address scopes for longer ranges, i.e. 200+ yards and scopes that are good for precision .22LRs.

This review won’t mention Nightforce, IOR Valdada, US Optics, Schmidt and Bender, or Swarovski.  This is strictly for people who are primarily punching holes in paper, i.e. casual shooters looking for inexpensive but functional equipment suggestions.

Bargain Red Dots

When it comes to bargain red dots, my first choice is Primary Arms.  The prevailing factors are price, quality, and the great customer service that Primary Arms offers.  Even if I were to buy an Aimpoint, Vortex, Trijicon, etc., I would still buy it from Primary Arms based on their customer service.  That said, Primary Arms has their own line of red dot scopes.  I believe most, if not all, of the Primary Arms branded scopes are made in China.  Pretty much all of the sub $100 red dots are going to be made somewhere overseas.  That said, I really do like the Primary Arms branded red dots.  I’ve used them on AR-15s with no problems.  I’ve been using one on my 2 gun rimfire rifle and it has held zero through four matches now.

Before we get into my recommendations for red dots, I want to first talk about my personal preferences with regard to how the red dot and backup iron sights are aligned, which is referred to via the term “cowitness”.  The two primary types are “Absolute Cowitness” and “Lower 1/3 Cowitness”.  The best way to show the difference between these two approaches is with this diagram:


Diagram credit here.

The Lower 1/3 Cowitness is my personal preference because the iron sights obscure less of the target and the area around the target.  Usually the only sight that presents an issue is the front one if it happens to be a fixed post.  For those that have flip up front and rear sights, this is less of an issue.  One simply folds them down out of the way and the problem is solved.  But I have had some people that have fixed front and rear sights.  For those reasons I always go for the Lower 1/3 Cowitness.

Here are my recommendations based on my own experience as well as the experience of many of my friends and acquaintances

1.Primary Arms Micro Dot with Removable Base.  Click here for direct link.

PA Microdot

One of the really nice things about the Primary Arms website is that you can pick your mount via drop down options.  This is one of the most convenient websites for buying optics.  My personal preference is a riser that provides a Lower 1/3 Co-witness.  This refers to the alignment of the red dot with the rifle’s backup iron sights.

2. Primary Arms 30mm Red Dot.  Click here for direct link.

Primary Arms 30mm Red Dot

Anyone reading this familiar with Aimpoint optics will immediately notice that the Primary Arms products look like Aimpoint clones.  Of course, they are not the same quality as Aimpoint.  They are also a lot less expensive.  This one will also require a mount, which can be chosen from the drop down menu on the Primary Arms website.  This red dot is a bit bigger than the Micro Dot.  It’s still a nice optic for less than $100 (including mount).  Note that this requires a ring, not a riser.  My suggestion would be the Primary Arms High Cantilever 30MM Mount if you’re looking for the least expensive but functional mounting option.

3. Vortex SPARC II.  Click here for direct link.


Photo credit here.

The Vortex SPARC is, by some accounts, a higher quality product than the Primary Arms, but is still less expensive than the Aimpoint or EOTech options.  (EOTech is having some customer service issues at the time this is being written, so I advise caution if considering any of their products).  When the SPARC II is on sale it is not that much more than the Primary Arms.  Personally, I think the differences are slight, but Vortex also has a solid warranty and good customer service.  For me, it would come down to personal preference.

4. Holosun Paralow HS403g.  Click here for direct link.

Holosun HS403G copy

I’ve heard some really wonderful reviews of the Holosun products by competitive shooters.  Some have said the clarity of the glass and crispness of the dot is on par with the Aimpoint.  I’ve looked through a few of them and would agree that they seem to be quite nice for the money.  Note that this would also require a riser to use on an AR-15.

5. Aimpoint ACO.  Click here for direct link.

Aimpoint ACO copy

At this point I might be straining the definition of “bargain red dot”.  But at less than $400 this is a wonderful option, even if it is an entry level Aimpoint.  Clarity is excellent, and the optic itself is extremely durable and dependable.  Sometimes this goes on sale and drops into the mid $300 range, making it a solid option for someone that wants a simple but reliable option for defense or competition.

6. Aimpoint PRO.  Click here for direct link.

Aimpoint PRO copy

The Aimpoint PRO is very hard to beat.  It has many of the same features as the Aimpoint CompML for a smaller price tag (about $150 less).  Like the Aimpoint ACO, it comes with the mount.  The Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic is extremely durable and has a battery life of approximately 30,000 hours.  I’ve had one for several years now and have had no trouble at all despite the fact that it has taken more than its fair share of bumps.  If one is diligent and keeps an eye on the Primary Arms or Palmetto State Armory websites, this optic will go on sale below $400.  I got mine for $399 and no shipping fee.  It’s really hard to go wrong with the PRO.  I prefer it over any EOTech because I prefer the simple, clean dot.  The mount is very rugged and secure.  If the size of the mount knob is not something that you can live with, I would recommend the ACO.  Though I initially though the large knob on the side of the mount would be an issue, it turned out not to be.

Bargain Variable Power Scopes with Illuminated Reticles

Red dots scopes are wonderful for quick target acquisition.  They are simple to use and are very effective in various conditions.  They are especially useful in low light conditions.  However, I find the most versatile scope for an AR-15 to be the 1×4 or 1×6 scopes with an illuminated reticle.

1.Primary Arms 1×4 Illuminated Reticle.  Click here for direct link.

Primary arms 1x4 copy

For these scopes I recommend the Primary Arms Deluxe Extended AR15 mount for those looking to keep costs low.  My personal choice for a mount is the Burris P.E.P.R Quick Detach.  This scope has served me well for years and I recommend it with confidence.  It’s a very simple scope but does include an illuminated reticle.  The reticle illumination is hard to see in bright light, but is really helpful in low light, which is where it is needed.  For the money, this is very difficult to beat.

What I like about these variable scopes is that they can be set to 1x and used in the same manner as a red dot.  Acquisition is still very fast, but the option to zoom in on objects that are at a distance (100 or 200 yards) is a really nice feature.  A rifle equipped with a variable 1×4 or 1×6 optic would be suitable for many uses, whether it be competition, home defense, or even deer hunting.

2. Primary Arms 1×6.  Click here for direct link.

This scope has it all.  It has a reticle with illumination as well as a bullet drop compensator.  Just a couple years ago, 1×6 scope options were few and far between.  What was available was extremely expensive.  However, I believe that more 1×6 scopes will become available and eventually eclipse the 1×4 options.

PA 1x6 scope

The new Primary Arms 1×6 has was is referred to as the Advanced Combined Sighting System (ACSS) sighting system.  The horseshoe shaped illuminate reticle makes short range engagements easier when the scope is set on 1x.  In this manner, it is used just like a red dot sight.  For objects that are further away, the bullet drop compensation reticle works for multiple calibers including .223, .308 and .5.45×39.  The diagram below shows how the reticle works.

PA 1x6 Reticle  copy

This is an extremely versatile scope for $270.  Granted, one must also buy a mount.  But for the price it is very hard to beat.  While I have used many red dots and still have them mounted on several of my rifles, I’ve been slowly moving toward the 1×4 and 1×6 scopes due to their superior versatility.

3. Vortex Strike Eagle 1×6.  Click here for direct link.

Vortex Strike Eagle copy

The Vortex Strike Eagle has received a tremendous amount of positive reviews.  It is on the short list of variable scopes that I would like to purchase for myself.  At $330 it is a little more expensive than the Primary Arms 1×6.  However, the consensus seems to be that it is a bit clearer than the Primary Arms.  The Strike Eagle also features an illuminated bullet drop compensated reticle.  The diagram below shows how it works:

Vortex Strike Eagle reticle copy

Photo source and additional explanation for the reticle can be found here.

Bargain Scopes for Longer Ranges and Precision .22LR

1.Nikon Nikon 3-12×42 Side Focus BDC.  Direct link here.

When it comes to good scopes for hunting, my personal preference is the Nikon Monarch line.  The scope I’m using on my suppressed Remington 300 Blackout is the Nikon 3-12×42 Side Focus BDC.  It is extremely clear and the side focus is a very convenient feature.


This scope is something I would recommend for most hunting applications as the zoom is sufficient for longer ranges.  It’s a really good idea to spring for a decent piece of glass for deer hunting simply because (at least in my area) most of the deer I’ve harvested have been right after sunrise or right before sundown.  The better quality glass will be brighter and clearer and allow more precise shooting in low light.

2. SWFA SS 10×42 Tactical 30mm.  Direct link here.


Photo source here.

These scopes were originally made by Tasco.  But for whatever reason, they were much better quality than the usual offerings from Tasco.  For several years, these scopes were reasonably priced and very desirable.  Unfortunately, the quality control began to slip.  SWFA bought the rights to the scope and brought the quality back in line with the original quality.  I can personally confirm that this scope works very well as I used one of the old Tasco models in an F Class rifle competition at Camp Butner.  The distances were 600 and 1,000 yards.  The 10x magnification was sufficient, even at 1,000 yards.  In some instances, such as hot days when there is substantial mirage, a higher power scope may have a point of diminishing returns.  The more you zoom in, the worse the mirage can sometimes be.

3. Mueller 8-32×44 Side Focus.  Direct link here.


If you want a reasonable priced scope that provides a lot of magnification, look no further than the Mueller 8-32×44.  This scope works well on everything from high powered centerfire rifles to precision rimfire rifles.  I have installed one on a friends rifle and was very impressed.  Currently, several of my friends use them for precision .22LR scopes.  I’ve got a 8.5-25×44 that I’ve had for several years.  It holds zero very well, but the eye relief is a bit sensitive.  Mueller seems to have improved that with the 32x line, and I found the 32x scope was easier to obtain a sight picture than my 25x scope.

Considering that the Weaver 36x that many people use for rimfire benchrest competitions is north of $400, this scope is definitely something one should consider at the $280.

4. Mueller APT 4.5-14×44 Tactical.  Direct link here.


Yes, the scope has the word “tactical” in its name.  Let’s try not to hold that against it, as this is a very versatile scope that deserves consideration.  For an all purpose scope, this one is very hard to beat.  It’s less than $200 and makes a great scope for rimfire or centerfire rifles.  It’s also a fine optic for hunting.  The clarity is excellent and on par with scopes that cost twice as much.  Mueller is a great brand and for reasons I don’t understand, has not received the recognition it deserves.  However, those in the know use them and highly recommend them.  If I were building a rimfire rifle for plinking at the range and varmint hunting, I would be pressed to find a better option.

Further Reading

If you want to know more about optics for AR-15s, there are some great resources at AR15.com.  I would recommend checking out the Optics forum as well as these other links:

AR-15.com Optics Forum

AR15.com Optics Forum FAQs

The FAQ thread has links to many other topics that may help one make a decision on which optics to consider buying.  There is a wealth of information there.

Safe and Happy Shooting,




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S&W Model 15 Front Sight Insert Install

The little revolver was a nice shooter but the front sight was difficult to see.  As mentioned previously, this was due to an amateur effort to modify the front sight.  It is possible it was damaged accidentally, but it seems deliberate as it resembles an attempt to drill a hole.  It looks to me as if the drill bit slipped and they gave up on it and tried to cover it up with paint.  So here is what I was dealing with:


The sight picture was simply unacceptable.  As it turns out, there is a “fix” for this that involves the right materials, some time, and no small amount of bravery on my part.  I’m no gunsmith.  But considering how bad this was, I didn’t think I could make it much worse.

So I got a few things from Brownell’s, such as acrylic, powdered activator, and some orange dye.  Since I didn’t have any files, I ended up ordering one flat file and one triangle file for this project.

The first step was to cut a dovetail or notch in the front sight:

FS 1FS 2FS 3FS 4

Now that the notch was complete, I mixed the acrylic, orange dye, and powder activator together per the instructions provided by Brownell’s.  I then used some plastic shims to make a form to pour in the acrylic compound.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. If you don’t have some parallel jawed vice grips, this is a bit rough.  I ended up cutting some plastic pieces and simply super gluing them to each side of the front sight blade.  This made a form that would allow me to pour in the acrylic.  Ideally, the acrylic should set up in about 30 minutes.
  2. In addition to figuring out it was best to super glue the plastic pieces to each side, I eventually realized that this material shrinks quite a bit.  So what worked best for me was to put the gun in a steep angle in the vice, with the butt of the revolver sticking up and the barrel angled downward.  Then, so that enough of the acrylic material will sit in the form, I put another plastic piece across the front of the sight blade.  The instructions suggested using a two sided “dam”, but it turned out that I needed to make a three sided dam in order to hold enough material.
  3. Making an anchor hole is a really good idea as that will keep the sight insert from sliding from side to side.  Here’s a pic of me drilling the anchor hole.


As some others have observed, getting the right consistency of the acrylic compound is difficult.  I found the best way to do it is to make it about the consistency of motor oil first. Dab the acrylic compound in the dovetail/form you made until the bottom of the dovetail and your anchor hole is full of the compound.

Here’s a pic of the sight when almost full of compound.  Unfortunately, this attempt was a failure and, as I just mentioned, I ended up adjusting the angle of the revolver in the vice.  I also added the third plastic piece across the front of the sight.  You really do need to put in more of the compound than you think.

Forms 2

I should mention that this process takes time.  It takes time to file the front sight dovetail, as this is very hard steel.  The type of file you pick is also important because that dictates how fast it cuts.  I believe the file I chose was the #2 grade.

Once it is set up, you can file down the excess compound.  It bears mentioning that mine took a lot longer than 30 minutes to be ready to file.  I also opted to put orange sight paint on it to make it even more visible.  The compound, when dry, is a lot lighter than when it is wet.


As you can see, this isn’t a perfect job.  The front of the insert doesn’t have a very good shape to it.  The cut is more of a notch than a dovetail, and that might mean I have to grind it out and repeat this process again.  That said, it seems it is in there pretty good.  Since I had some trial and error, I ended up having to grind out the dried compound a few times and start over.  Now that I know the solution, I think the next time I do this it will go a lot smoother.

This is still a lot better than it was, in my opinion.  I can actually see the front sight now.  If all else fails, I will take it to a gunsmith and have them file the front site blade completely flat.  Then, on the raised portion of the barrel, have them machine a dovetail that is the size needed to accommodate a conventional front sight. That might even allow a sight with a tritium insert to be installed, so long as the sight is the right height.  There’s a third option that is often done to these revolvers.  The barrel can be machined such that a front site insert can be dropped in and pinned in place.

This revolver was inexpensive and rusty, but now that I have a sight picture, it is turning out to be a decent firearm.  I don’t have much in it, even after buying the materials and tools for this project.  Even if I end up going a different route with the front sight and get it addressed by a professional, I think this little project was worthwhile.

Safe and Happy Shooting,



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Rescuing the Model 15-4 Smith and Wesson

In the back of the gun shop, a classic piece of American engineering waited to be recognized.  There was no box or paperwork. The little revolver was used by a police department or maybe prison staff. All we know is that the department got new semi-auto pistols and this one had to find a new home. Luckily someone who has been fingerprinted and background checked from here to the moon had some spare change and nothing better to do that weekend. And so the little revolver had a new home…


But we had to take it apart to see what we were dealing with. Oh dear. That looks like rust. A lot of rust. But underneath the rust, there is potential…

15-2And so the little revolver got cleaned. And cleaned again. Then brass brushes and very fine steel wool was applied…


Some parts were better than others…


But the surgeons kept at it with Kroil and powder solvent….and lots of patience….


When it was clean, it was obvious the little revolver had some rough machining marks courtesy of a hung over S&W employee some time in the mid 1970’s. But the chief surgeon had seen this before and knew how to stone the parts just the right way….


And when the little revolver was put back together, it was so happy it produced a group that wasn’t completely horrible. Unfortunately the front sight is damn near an optical illusion due to an amateur attempt at modification. But the surgeons might be able to fix it in the old school manner by filing a dovetail and pouring resin in to make a front sight insert. But that will be a story for another day….


Safe and Happy Shooting,


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Thoughts on Paris by Larry Correia

Here is an interesting take on the Paris attacks by Correia.




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