Sweeney’s Equipment Paradigm states that,

"Once any piece of gear has a high enough quality or sufficient durability, extra cost is better put to practice ammo. A $1,000 scope will not serve you as well as a $500 scope and $500 in practice ammo. A $50 scope and $950 in ammo, however, is probably a wasted $50 scope purchase."

While this is often talked about by shooters as a tongue-in-cheek principle, it actually has some merit.

We often get asked to discuss the pro's and con's of two similar guns, that may be hundreds of dollars apart in price.  If you're a new shooter, we may recommend the cheaper option, simply because the extra practice ammo will be far more beneficial to you.  Even an experienced shooter will get a benefit from more practice, though.

Next time you're debating between going with a solid mid-market product, or a top-of-the-line model, considers Sweeney's wisdom.

"Which caliber would you recommend?" is a question we get a lot, from our customers.  While there is no right answer, and experienced shooters will probably give you 100 different answers, here are some points to consider when deciding what caliber is right for you.

  1. Do you have guns in particular caliber already?  The answer to this question could steer you either way, but at least it may help narrow the choices.  Some people may choose to stick with the same caliber, if for instance their spouse already has a gun, in order to keep only one type of ammo around.  Home-defenders and survivalists might choose to stick with the same caliber to make ammo interchangeable during an emergency.  Other people might select a different caliber, to mix things up and experience something new.
  2. Are you purchasing a specific model firearm?  Most models of guns only come in a few, or one, chamberings.  Deciding which model you like best may make the choice of caliber significantly easier.  If the specific firearm you want doesn't come in your favorite caliber, a competing manufacturer probably makes a very similar gun that may be available in a caliber you like.
  3. Get the biggest caliber you can shoot comfortably.  For many purposes, such as personal defense, bigger bullets are more effective, or at least encompass a larger range of uses.  The corollary to this principle is "Don't buy a caliber larger than you can shoot comfortably."  Trying to find the largest caliber you can shoot comfortably, without going over, can narrow down a small range of options.
  4. Stick to popular military cartridges.  Military chamberings become very widespread, resulting in more available, less expensive ammo.  This is not only true of current ammo, such as 9mm NATO or 5.56mm NATO, but also old favorites such as the venerable .30-'06 (a favorite of hunters for over a century).
  5. Avoid new or exotic rounds.  Sure, that .50 Desert Eagle or 6.8mm SPC rifle look cool, and you read all the rave reviews on internet forums, but ammo for them is expensive and difficult to find.  I've had more than a few customers come in looking for bizarre ammo for a revolver, that never gained the popularity originally promised.
  6. Obey Hunting Laws.  In many states, including Colorado, there are legal requirements as to what minimum calibers of gun can be used to hunt certain game.  If you plan to hunt, especially a certain animal, meeting the legal stipulations can help eliminate a range of unsuitable calibers.
  7. How big is your hand?  In semi-auto handguns, the size of the grip frame is directly related to the size of the magazine and bullets.  While there are single and double-stack magazines, if you have small hands, you'll generally need to stick with smaller cartridges.
  8. You can carry more small bullets.  If you're planning on shooting at prarie dogs all day, or wading into a zombie apocalypse, more ammo is a big advantage.  The smaller the round, the more you can carry with you.  Strike a balance between carryability and ballistic energy to meet your needs.

Colorado is an open carry state, meaning you can walk down the street with a loaded gun in a holster.  That said, there are a couple situations to be aware of.

  1. Colorado is not a "pre-emptive" law state.  This means that city governments have the right to make a law restricting open carry.  This does not affect licensed concealed carry, but Denver, for instance, does not allow you to open carry.
  2. If someone becomes concerned, from seeing your firearm, and they call the police, you can be charged with menacing.  The commission of the crime is based only on how your firearm made the person feel, not your intent or if others were alarmed too.
  3. You can not carry (open or concealed), and consume any alcohol or intoxicants.  You can legally carry it in a bar, as long as you are not drinking.  Technically, this law probably includes things like cough syrup too.

NOTE: These are merely a few of my understandings of the law.  Please seek professional legal advice before relying on their accuracy.

Gun cleaning is always an interesting topic, when I talk to new and veteran gun owners alike.  Here are a few tips and recommendations, to keep your firearms in top shape, with the least amount of effort.

  1. Clean your guns after every use:  This seems obvious, but the best way to keep your guns clean is to clean them!  More frequent cleaning will keep your guns in better condition, combat rust, and reduce operating malfunctions.
  2. Get a Boresnake:  The Boresnake is a great, "why didn't they think of that sooner?" item.  Available in the original Boresnake, or the deluxe Boresnake Viper, these are hands-down the fastest way to clean the barrel.  As the manufacturer says, "One pass loosens large particles, scrubs out the remaining residue with a bronze brush, then swabs it all spotless with a cleaning area 160x larger than a standard patch!"
  3. Stay away from corrosive ammo:  This ammo, most commonly found in military surplus cartridges, contains corrosive salts in the powder or primer.  Regular gun cleaning solvents will NOT remove the salts from the bore of the barrel, and the corrosion can ruin it.  Typically the corrosive chemicals must be removed with ammonia-based solvents, but it's best to just avoid it.
  4. Use a multi-function solvent/lubricant:  The US military has relied on the combat-proven Break-Free CLP (Clean, Lubricate, Protect) for decades, and it works wonderfully.  I've recently become fond of Shooter's Choice FP-10, mostly because it smells a bit better.  I also have had good results from ClenzOil.  What all three of these products have in common, is that with a single liquid, you can clean your gun, keep it ready for action, and prevent rust.

  5. Behold, the shaving brush:  A shaving brush is one of the best kept, secret gun cleaning tools around!  It's short, tough bristles let you sweep away dust and debris from hard to reach places, and it's short handle makes it ergonomic and maneuverable.
  6. Clean regularly to prevent rust:  When I lived in Ohio and on southern Army bases, where the humidity is always high, it was necessary to clean unused guns monthly, or more, to keep them from rusting.  Here in Colorado, you can get away with less, but regular application of rust-inhibiting lubricants will keep the red monster at bay - a light coat is all it takes.
  7. Don't forget to clean the magazines:  Magazines contribute one of the largest sources of malfunctions to the gun.  During every cleaning session, use a lightly lubricated rag to wipe the outside, feed lips, and follower of all your magazines.  Periodically, disassemble the magazines for a thorough internal cleaning.  Discard and replace any magazines that cause repeated malfunctions.
  8. Scrape off the carbon:  Carbon will build up on internal gun parts, such as the bolt, and must be forcibly removed.  This is especially true on AR-15 style rifles, that use the "direct gas impingement" method of operation.  It looks like chipped, hard black paint, and should be scraped free with a non-damaging tool, such as the bronze scraper on the Leatherman MUT.
  9. Read the manual:  This one sounds like another "DUH" bullet point, but it's good advice.  A quick read of the manual will most likely teach you exactly where the engineers that designed your gun want you to clean and lubricate it.  This not only makes certain that you're spending time on all the right parts, but it also saves you time that you would have wasted working on less critical areas.
  10. Prevent rust on easily overlooked parts:  Even on guns that are mostly polymer and stainless steel, such as the S&W M&P pistols, there are many parts that are still steel.  What's worse, any steel parts that have engraving, scratches, or grip checkering/cuts/grooves will rust quickly, especially if you touch them often during operation.  Areas to pay special attention to are grooved safeties and fire selector levers, engraved serial number plates, slide and bolt stop levers, grip cuts on pistol slides, etc.  Let a drip of rust-inhibiting oil soak down into these features, and wipe off the excess.

With proper cleaning and maintenance, your firearm will last for decades, maybe even centuries.  Always be sure to put safety first, when handling and cleaning your guns, and put all ammunition in another room when performing cleaning.

So the raging debate between AR-15 / M-16 / M4 family-of-weapons shooters is which operating method to use.  The bottom line to most people is that it won't matter much either way, but lets go through some of the details and arguments.

[contentheading]How do the two systems work?[/contentheading]

Direct Gas Impingement (DGI, or DI for "Direct Impingement"):  Have you ever been at a restaurant, and shot the wrapper off a soda straw?  That's basically how DI works.  There is a tiny hole in the barrel, under the front sight, and a metal "straw" tube that runs all the way back to the bolt.  The bolt has a metal "wrapper" tube that fits over the "straw".  When you fire, the bullet passes the hole, gas is released into the tube, and the bolt is blown back.

Piston:  In a piston driven gun, there is a small piston somewhere along the barrel of the gun.  A small hole in the barrel, similar to the DI set up, allows gas into the piston.  When gas enters the piston, it kicks it back, and a long metal "operating rod" runs from the piston to the bolt, and that operating rod kicks the bolt back.

[contentheading]What are the arguments on both sides?[/contentheading]

There are a number of positive and negative effects of each of the systems.  A factor that is a positive for one system, is generally a negative for the other, and vice-versa.

Arguments for DI:

  • Simpler operation, less moving parts.
  • Less moving parts, so there is less mass moving around to throw off your accuracy.
  • All the top AR shooters use DI.  The piston guns have yet to win.
  • "It's the way it was designed originally.", or "It ain't broke, don't fix it."
  • Cheaper (less parts again).
  • Standardization - all DI guns are basically the same, while almost every piston system is proprietary to the manufacturer.

Arguments for Piston:

  • Increased reliability, and fewer malfunctions.
  • Easier to clean, since the dirty gas is largely restricted to the piston.
  • Receiver stays considerably cooler, since hot gas is not being blown back into it.
  • Most successful military rifles have been piston driven.  M-14, M-1, AK-74, AK-47... all piston driven.
  • Does not necessarily need a buffer tube (some piston designs do).  This allows a folding stock, like on the FN SCAR.

[contentheading]What's the reality of the situation?[/contentheading]

My opinion, is that for most people, the arguments are too polarized, and you'll never likely see the benefits of either system.

There is one big exception, cleaning!  A DI gun gets pretty dirty, even after just a few rounds fired.  If people have to invent special tools, just to clean the carbon-roasted parts of an AR platform gun, any arguments to the contrary are silly.  I like keeping my guns clean, and clean them after every outing, and I generally have better things to do than scrape carbon off the bolt with my knife.

There also use to be some issues with piston guns, specifically the piston conversions to guns that were originally DI.  The physical strike of an operating rod, instead of the gas push of a DI gun, could "tilt" the bolt and wear the bottom rear of it out over time.  There were some other problems, but realistically, the modern piston guns have essentially eliminated them.  Most piston guns now aren't even conversions, since they were designed from the ground up to run with a piston, which means they function as intended.

Beyond that, the pro's and con's are legitimate, but generally too "edge case" for the average person to experience them.  Few of us are such excellent shooters, that we will notice the trivial motion of a thin operating rod knocking our aim off.  Nor do many of us fire hundreds of rounds a minute, where we will witness the heat buildup in the receiver, and get the gun dirty enough to see a rapid reduction in reliability.

DI AR-15s range around $600-1500, while piston guns range around $1000-2700.

Forced to recommend one, I'd say go with the piston gun, if you can afford it.  The ease of cleaning is pleasant in our busy lives, and having a rifle with a folding stock is very handy.  Get one that was designed to be piston driven (e.g. FN SCAR) However, you can still be successful with a DI gun, so there is little harm in that choice.  Choose the one that works best for your needs and budget.