Category Archives: Tools and Equipment

Survival Artillery Update: The Desert Eagle .44 Mag & .50AE on the Range

Posted at AP on 13 March 19.

As you may have read on an earlier post, I recently came into a DE .50AE and ordered a .44 mag barrel for it as I am looking to retire (sell – interested parties may drop me a note at my 629 in the original post as I like the magazine fed DE better than the wheel gun SW 629.  Habit and all.  I still have my favored SW 686, and 66, and a Colt Lawman III, but I like pistols better.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the 629 is a sweet piece, very accurate, and a joy to shoot.  It is, however, to me, a PITA to clean, especially around the face of the cylinder, the inside strap, the forcing cone area, and so forth, the carbon so it looks good (ie, ‘new’).  I am OCD about carbon on a stainless side arm, just sayin’. The DEAGLE is much more forgiving when cleaning, and is very simple to get clean all the way down to detailed disassembly.  For whatever reason, carbon easily comes off standard finishes such as the Israeli DE I own.

On to the range test.  The week before, the new .44 mag barrel arrived, as did the extra magazines I ordered for each caliber (looking pays off as I averaged $38 per mag shipped (both calibers) – which is good for IMI factory mags), so did my new case (I had decided to build a case with both barrels, 4 mags of each, and at least 40 rounds of each caliber for travelling purposes.  Here’s the case:

Didn’t want to pay for a Pelican, and this one, by Plano, serves nicely.  Pretty rugged, and can secured completely for air travel.  I like it so far.  The only nit to pick is the top layer of foam is way too thick.  After I cut the outlines for everything I wanted, the DE had about an inch and a half of foam above it, so it can be jarred.  Don’t like that, so I’ll get myself a couple of thinner layers that hold it where I want.

During dry fire familiarization, I noted the trigger is very nice; no creep and breaks clean.  The standard iron sights are very well centered with no adjustment necessary, but they’re black, so only good for illuminated scenarios (note to self:  gotta get some tritium sights! – Update:  Done.  Gotta get them installed!)

Range Day:  Got everything together and headed out.

Disclosure:  Until the .50AE, I had never fired any side arm larger than .44 magnum before, so I was mildly anxious as to what may occur when I touched off the first round.  I did some research and everything I read said the same thing:  “recoil is significant as is the fireball….” Great, I thought to myself; how’s this gonna look when I fire the first round, put it back in the case and go home???  (I had fired a Desert Eagle in .41 magnum in ’94, but only about 20 rounds, and only once.)

Well, time to cowboy up and put all that away, so….break it out!  I had purchased some .50AE ammo from Steinel; 335 gr flat-nosed FMJ.  Reasonably priced at a dollar per round.   Not ‘nicely’ priced (‘nicely’ to me is a 50% off sale, and then I buy a bunch!); but reasonably priced.  And it should go without saying that at that price, going to the range and popping off more than 20 rounds at a time will be extremely unusual.  Of course, other ammo manufacturers charge way more, so I’m not bitching; just being tight in the wallet (the Steinel 355gr pictured below is no longer made, but they have made a new 300gr JHP with Gold Dot projectiles).

The first 10 rounds of .50AE all hit the target at 25 meters, but the jerk behind the trigger needed some calming down….so I switched to the .44 mag barrel and did about 30 rounds of 240gr Federal American Eagle.  That seemed to help.  I save the last 10 rounds of .50AE for last.

Now, this Steinel ammo is fairly hot, coming out of the 6 inch barrel at 1410FPS.  BIG fireball; VERY loud.   Digression:  It was so loud that a shooter from several lanes down came over when I had completed the first mag and asked, “Excuse me, but WHAT exactly are you shooting?!?”   Of course I showed their party the pistol and they were very appreciative with the male partner asking his female partner if he could save for one…at that point, I decided to go back to my lane and shoot some more rounds.  Digression complete.

Bottom line is that the Steinel ammo shot so well (especially for my first time firing this caliber) that I ordered more for ‘the next time’.  And yes, I’m considering hand loading it also.  Update:  Have ordered 100 rounds of Steinel’s new 300gr JHP (Gold Dot) .50AE for Phase 2 of the range testing.

Ammo experimentation will be on-going; Buffalo Bore, for example, says that their hard cast 380 gr .50AE ammo doesn’t clog the gas port (I still get a kick out of shooting a ‘gas operated’ pistol!).  Here’s a quote from their site:  “Magnum Research warns against using hard cast bullets in the Desert Eagle, as the gas port can become fouled and I suppose this is true with soft bullets (these are very hard at around 22 BHN) with a plain base. Our load features a very hard bullet with a gas check on the base and in several hundred rounds of firing, did not foul the gas port on either pistol. ”  So, I’m considering getting some of that for giggles.  One thing about that hard cast, heavy projectile:  the penetration is amazing!

During my .44 magnum shooting, I also used some Winchester 250gr Platinum Tip.  Both performed very well, as expected, and since it was my first time, I only went out to 25 meters or so.  All in all I shot 80 rounds.  The last 10 rounds I fired were .50AE at 20 meters at an 8.5X11 target pictured below.  Once I get myself disciplined with this new pistol, I think I’m going to really like it for days out in the bush where dangerous things live.  Of course, I’ll carry 5 mags (overkill of course, but hey….).

As you can see, once I settled down, the group did, too.  All 10 rounds would have been immediately fatal.  So I’m happy with the new acquisition and it’s capabilities.

Next up on the improvements is to get Trijicon sights for both the .44 and .50AE barrels installed.  After that, it’s basically practice, practice, practice.

To tell the truth, if I’d have known how well these handle, I think I would have purchased one long ago.  Now, I have 2 calibers that take about 5 seconds to change out from one to the other.   Versatility is great!


Multi-Purpose Tool: Cold Steel ‘Special Forces’ Shovel

Posted at AP on 20 Jan 19.

As readers have seen by regular perusal of DTG posts, we’re ALL about multi-purpose tools, and there’s a good reason:  If you can use one solid tool for multiple uses, it means there’s one or more things you don’t have to have in your ruck.  Makes sense, right?  And that, along with quality and reliability is what guides our choices on gear.  Today’s post is on, what we believe, is just about the best balance between purposes for a general purpose digging tool:  The Cold Steel ‘Special Forces’ Shovel.

                                                     As received from Cold Steel

When this tool originally hit the market, Cold Steel called it the, ‘Spetsnaz’ shovel.  There was no sheath offered originally, either.  They’ve since renamed it the ‘Special Forces’ shovel.  Point of order:  ‘Spetsnaz’ is the Russian term commonly used for ‘Special Forces’.  Must be some sort of marketing thing…whatever.  The shovel itself was modeled after a soviet issue entrenching tool that could be used as a weapon (as all E-tools can be), but it had a niche in that it was very strong, fairly light, and could be used as a stand-in chopper as well as a primary digging tool.

The e-tool I used to carry was a Korean era USGI e-tool because the thing was/is simply bomb proof.  It had the additional feature of a pick, which was nice, but it was an extremely heavy piece of equipment for the dual use capability it provided.  At least 5 lbs, and didn’t balance well.  In the service we had the Korea/Vietnam issue e-tool/picks at first, which is where I first used that model, then about 1980, we traded them into supply for the new-fangled ‘tri-fold’ shovels.  Such a down-trade has never occurred before or since, in this writer’s opinion.  Simply worthless.  Digression complete.

I became aware of the Cold Steel offering almost as soon as it hit the market, but did not want to buy one due to anti-soviet prejudice.  Anything designed by the soviets was to be eschewed, as our indoctrination went.  However, about 10 years ago, I saw a fellow survivalist with one on a weekend outing, and observed how he basically beat the crap out of it without it being phased.  He used it as a shovel, an axe, a machete, and to tend the fire when bunching coals together for cooking.  I was impressed.  To be sure, I could have done the same with my e-tool, but truly, it was a PITA to get ready for use as you were required to unscrew the nut, adjust the shovel blade to the angle you wanted and the tighten it back up for use.  My fellow survivalist’s shovel was ready the second he pulled it out of the side pocket on his ruck

So, I bought one and promptly threw it in the supply pile and forgot about it for a year, still using the Korean era US issue shovel.  Then, one day I was repacking my ruck and became frustrated with my e-tool’s penchant for requiring center line attachment on the ruck because nothing else I carry would balance it piece for piece.

That’s when I remembered the Cold Steel shovel sitting in my supplies!  I recovered it and it’s nice black cordura sheath, and tested the edge on an old piece of 2X4.  Chopped pretty nice.  Just like a small axe.  I’ve since dug all sorts of holes with it in training, chopped brush, saplings, firewood, and so forth, and brought the edge back to ‘machete sharp’ with a simple file.  It keeps on going.

As you can see from the top photo, I’ve painted mine up and it’s seen it’s share of service, no worse for the wear.  The edge is maintained with a fine file, and every now and again I ‘rattle can’ it to tone down that BRIGHT wood and black finish.  I’ve cut medium to small firewood, dug trenches, chopped brush, and it always comes through, so I’m pretty happy with its performance.  One thing, though:  If you’re going to be doing significant excavation, nothing takes the place of a 1/2 to full size shovel.  Saves the back quite a bit.  The problem is portability, which is the niche the E-tool fills.  I carry mine between the ruck and the side pocket of the ruck. Works great!  Oh…and don’t forget to add a plastic garden spade….they’re great for digging cat holes.  Just sayin….

What e-tool do you use?


On Knife Sharpening…

Inspired by a comment I saw over at WRSA (can’t remember on which post) asking if anyone knew where to find good knife sharpening techniques.

Besides my own ‘free hand’ method as well as using systems such as the ‘Razor’s Edge’ and ‘Edge Pro,’ I believe this article from ‘Knife Planet‘ addresses many questions folks have about free hand knife sharpening and how to overcome at least 15 of them.  The latest post as of 15 April outlines a fundamental truth about free hand sharpening:  It’s a learned skill that takes time and patience.

I started learning way back in 1977 after getting my first Camillus ‘USMC’ Combat Knife.  Turned it into a great butter knife with what I knew about sharpening at the time.  Luckily for me, and an ‘old timer’ in my unit (he’d been in for over 20 at the time), took pity on me (after he stopped laughing at me) and showed me things that let me, over time, learn how to put a decent edge on a knife.

Basic Knife Sharpening Facts:

  • The blade grind is the foundation of the edge.  If you have a bad grind (typically, in my world, defined as too obtuse) you’ll never be able to put a razor sharp edge on the knife, and what edge you do get will dull quickly.

Personally, for my knives, I prefer, from left to right, the Flat, Scandi, and Hollow grind.  I’m not a fan of the convex grind, though I know people who won’t have anything else.  My kitchen knives are flat ground, my survival knives are Scandi, and my ‘combat’ knives are hollow ground.  Each grind has advantages and disadvantages.  The advantage of my three favorites is simply this:  They are all ground to the point that I can finish the edge quickly and reasonably painlessly.  The blades all retain their edge for very long periods of use.

  • If you are new to knife sharpening, find and old ‘beater’ knife at a garage sale or flea market somewhere.  Don’t start your education on your several hundred dollar prized blade!  When I first decided to use the Edge Pro Apex system, the very first knife I sharpened was a cheaply made Chinese knock off of a Buck 110 given to me by a family friend.  I didn’t want to play with my Ek or Randall or Gerber and screw them up before I knew beyond doubt what I was doing with the new system.  Same thing when I first purchased the Razor’s Edge hones.  I used a cheap beater knife until I was absolutely sure I knew what I was doing.
  • Keep in mind that you must keep the knife blade at the same angle throughout the sharpening process on every stroke on the hone.  The thinner the grind on the blade, the less degree that is used.  Example:  Kitchen knives – 12 to 16 degrees; Survival & Combat knives 18 to 22 degrees, depending on the depth of the blade grind.

    Grip is firm, but not death like; angle is constant on this hollow ground blade

  • Too much pressure on the blade when honing will remove too much material and will not cause the blade to take an edge more quickly.
  • A coarse stone should be used to put the initial edge on the blade – you know you’re about there when the ‘wire’ or ‘burr’ is raised on both sides of the blade.  Once the burr is raised on one side, sharpening the other side will most likely remove the first burr and replace it with the newly sharpened side’s burr.  This is fine.

  • A fine stone should be used to ‘finish’ the edge and remove the wire, or burr.
  • When removing the burr, only the weight of the knife should be used for the finishing strokes.  The finishing strokes are few in number compared to the amount used in raising the burr on a ‘new’ or poorly ground knife.

  • Know when to quit – Once it shaves a clean swipe from your arm, you’re done.  Clean the blade and put it away.  Don’t fall for the temptation to do, ‘just a couple more strokes’ to make it even sharper.  Chances are you will find yourself back near square one, depending on your error of angle or force on the blade and hone.

WARNING:  Shaving your arm or leg to check sharpness is not recommended due to the chance of lacerating yourself; better to use a piece of paper and shave thin slices from the edge or to use a sharpness tester.

If you’re experienced, what do you do to show beginners?

New UPDATE: Edge Pro Apex 4 Knife Sharpening System


Originally published 26 May 2015 after I had the system for about a month.

In the last year or so, Edge Pro has added some 1/2 inch wide stones in 220, 400, 600 and 1000 grit for ‘recurve knives and/or tantos’. I’ll post a review once I get a chance to use them on a couple of knives that fit the bill.  I’m thinking they’ll do very nicely. 

Also, on the Edge Pro web site, you can find some really good tips on sharpening smaller knifes or knives with a thumb bolt (like spring assisted knives).  If you’ve not given this system serious consideration, you ought to.


In our quest for consistency in keeping our field and personal use knives razor sharp, DTG has owned several sharpening systems, ranging from the very inexpensive to the (so far) most expensive system we’ve found that provides a superb edge (which makes the cash outlay not so painful because the system provides a superb ROI), the Edge Pro Apex 4 system.

This system is worth the read and time spent.  It’s been 4 years DTG’s been using the Apex 4.  In that time, I’ve added another grit of polishing tape to the kit (6000) for a really, really, really nice, although possibly into the realm of overkill, finish on any blade I feel needs it, and a couple of glass blanks, pictured here, for use with the tape.  Makes a difference because the glass is, compared to the aluminum, perfectly flat without any minute ‘bumps’ that may cause an uneven polish with the tape.  Bottom line is that you should save your pennies and get one, if you want to perfect the edge of the knife you’re sharpening.

Every time I pull out my Edge Pro to either touch up a knife or put an edge on something I discover in my collection, I’m not disappointed.  I’ve taken my Wall Model 18 DTG knife into the bush and used it hard and had the edge still very sharp afterwards; brought it back to optimum  in less than 5 minutes.  My CRKT m-16 stays razor sharp with the most minor touch ups (as I used it for anything from opening packages to cutting cardboard to whatever).  My Randall Made knife edges are like a mirror.  I cannot say this enough:  This system has returned the best ROI of any system I’ve owned (spent money on) in the last 10 years for knife sharpening and edge maintenance.

So, how does this apply to the folks putting together a NPT?  In a nutshell, this is a great system for a NPT of up to 16 people, because it can handle all the work from edge maintenance to repairing damaged edges.  It’s also very easy to learn, especially with the tutorial videos on the Edge Pro site.  It’s so robust that I was able to modify a serrated knife to a plain edge knife in about 30 minutes – including final sharpening and polishing!

Here’s the basic video from their site.  You can see how easy it is to use.

Now, obviously, this isn’t a ‘ruck system.’  I imagine it could be packed in a ruck and taken along if absolutely necessary (it’s light enough, that’s for sure; maybe 2.5 pounds for the basic kit), but it’s not a ‘bug out’ system.  In the event my ‘SHTF’ knife started to show signs of becoming dull, I’d take the ceramic rod and handle with me, along with a different whet stone that was a water or dry use stone.  There are some good ones out there for that, but for now, let’s look at this system.

First, the hard news:  The Apex 4 set up which is pictured above, including the optional stone leveling kit, is right under $300.  You could get away with going without the stone leveling kit for awhile, but it’s essential to extend the life of your stones when they start to show signs of curvature from use.  So, yes, it’s expensive.  The old saw, ‘you get what you pay for’ comes to mind, though.  Invest once, and get the return on your investment you wanted in the first place!

Here’s what the Edge Pro folks say in describing the Apex 4:

“The Apex Model Edge Pro is a patented system that will sharpen any size or shape blade (up to 3 ½” wide), including serrated knives. Knives can be sharpened at exactly the same angle every time, making re-sharpening so fast you will never work with a dull blade again. Our water stones have been custom formulated to free you from messy, gummed-up oil stones. They last a long time and are inexpensive to replace. The Apex will remove far less metal than electric sharpeners or grinders, eliminating wavy edges and adding to the life and performance of your knives.

The Apex removes nicks and dings without distorting the knife edge. It creates no heat, preserving the temper of your knives. It sets up in seconds on any smooth surface. No power required and comes with a convenient carrying case. Requires no maintenance other than routine cleaning.

[Our] Patented Knife guide system does not clamp the blade, so you can sharpen any length or shape blade up to 3 ½” wide. Adjustable sharpening angles, from 10, 15, 18, 21, and 24 degrees and infinitely in between.

Manufactured from the highest quality materials in Hood River, Oregon, US.”

edge pro stone leveler

Here’s what they say on this essential piece of equipment:

“The stone leveling kit is a 12” diameter, ¼” thick piece of glass, w/ rubber molding installed around the circumference.  It comes with a ½ pound bag of 60 grit (coarse) silicon carbide. Use the stone leveling kit to resurface your sharpening stones after heavy use. By sprinkling about a ½ teaspoon of the silicon carbide on the stone leveling kit, and adding a little water, you can grind the high spots of the stone down until it is level again. Use the opposite side as a perfect surface for mounting your Professional or Apex model. The rubber guard will help contain metal shavings and deaden the sound created from leveling stones. “

Stone maintenance during sharpening is pretty easy:  saturate the stone with purified water mixed with a drop or two of common dish soap (the dish soap makes cleaning the stones up much easier).  Keep the water handy as you work, because the stones must stay wet.

Setting the angle for sharpening is pretty maintenance free, also, as the user manual/instructions demonstrate how to set the approximate angle for the type of knife you’re using, and also details how to find and use the factory edge as a guide in setting the proper angle for your particular knife.  The methods are demonstrated on the included DVD which makes your first time using it much less worrisome.  Once the angle is set properly (and the DVD will show you how to use a ‘Sharpie’ type marker to get it right very quickly), the grind is going to be very consistent and doesn’t require much more force than the weight of your hand on stone arm.  Very user friendly and effective all the way around!

I wanted to put the system to the test quickly, so I brought out a couple older, not sharp ‘force multiplication’ knives I had to practice on.  The first was an ‘Ek’ knock-off.  Man, oh man, did the edge come to that blade quickly!  About 15 minutes tops, and I went through the 220 to 600 grit before I started to polish the edges with the 1000 and 3000 grit tapes.  The cutting edge is polished like a mirror!

Ek knife

camillus combat

So, after another experiment with a new, old stock Camillus version of the USMC Ka-Bar (famous for not being easy to put a good edge on) with the same results, I decided to finish up my Wall Model 18 pictured below.  It was already shaving sharp, but I wanted to see if polishing the blade would make it ‘scary sharp’.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Wall 18 Pic 1

I’m used to checking edges by shaving an arm for an inch or two; this time, when I laid the blade against my arm as per usual, something happened I didn’t expect.  I drew blood.  The weight of the blade on my arm at just a small fraction off for shaving was enough to instantly cut me!  Ok, shave experiment concluded on THAT knife!

Here’s a few of the other knives I’ve finished the edge on:  Buck 110, Case Stockman (Medium), Case ‘Hobo’, Case Folding Hunter, Ek (a real one, not the knock off), Wustof Kitchen knives (ranging from paring to meat carvers), and a few others.

I can only say that I have yet to find out the limits of this system.  It’s worth the money, and once you master the simple techniques necessary to operate it, you’re going to have a system that will last you many, many years, whether SHTF or not.  A nice bonus:  Made in the USA.  All you need is some water…

We give this system 5 6 stars!

General Purpose Knives – An Opinion

Posted at AP* on 13 Apr 19.

*Originally posted with a pic of my Wall Model 18, which offended the sensibilities of a couple readers.  Maybe the Randall will assuage their angst.

While reading this piece, keep in mind the DTG definition of ‘General Purpose’:  Does does many things very well, some things good, and only a few things poorly.

Here’s our specs for a general purpose knife:

  • Full Tang (must)
  • Blade 6 to 9 inches – 8 inches is optimum:  Longer blades can do almost everything a small blade can do, but small blades can’t do half of what large blades can do when it comes field work.
  • Blade Style – Bowie clip or Drop Point (if clip point, false edge sharpened)
  • Blade Thickness – 3/16 to 3/8 inches (1/4 inch is the ideal, steel dependent)
  • Full Hilt – Provides good protection for the user’s hand – a lot of folks don’t care for them, but they do serve a very good purpose
  • Butt – Any butt that can be used for hammering on occasion
  • Grind – Scandi or Hollow (do not recommend convex as field sharpening is ‘problematic’)
  • Brand – Your call on that, but remember you generally get what you pay for.

For the budget minded, who just can’t afford a Randall, Wall, Black Jack or Bravo series, there are the Case XX, Kabar, Camillus, and Ontario USMC Combat Knife/Bayonet on ebay.  YMMV.  If you’re one of the folks just starting out learning field craft, they’re great general purpose blades that can withstand about 99% of the use requirements training in the bush will come up with as well as the abuse new users will inflict on their knives.  I carried a Camillus version for many years on active duty, and it served me well.  Once I learned how to properly sharpen a knife, it also stayed razor sharp.  In the 80’s we had Gerber Mk II’s, but they weren’t general purpose, so I’m not going to go into them here.  I finished up my career with a ‘real’ Kabar and put it on my hunting rig after retiring.  This Kabar is now carried by my son in law, and before I gave it to him, I literally gutted and quartered a rag horn Elk with it (had no choice; but that’s another story) and a good sized river rock in he Queen’s River drainage in Idaho.  It worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it as bone saws, hatchets, and drop point hunters do the job a lot easier.  The knife performed well; the finish on the butt was marred, but the edge held through it all.  Digression complete.

My first ‘step up’ in the ‘general purpose’ category was a Blackjack reproduction Randall Model 1 , which I really liked, until I got my first Randall 1-7 about 6 years after I retired.  Economics have a lot to do with our choices of knives, which is why I had a Randall 12-9 with a 14 grind made, and gifted the Model 1 to a favored family member after a surprise bonus.  Now I carry a Randall 1-8 from time to time.  It’s a hybrid, technically speaking, as Randall describes it as a ‘product improved Bowie’ and it was designed for troops to use in combat in WWII.  The 12-9 is now with another family member.  On my ‘go to’ SHTF harness, I carry a Chris Reeve ‘Green Beret’ knife.  In my SHTF survival set up, a Wall Model #18 with a 7 inch blade.

On the ‘Green Beret’ knife, some years back, ‘Weaponsman’ (deceased 18 April 2017 – former Green Beret) who had a great blog and shared his experiences and knowledge, wrote a post on ‘Legendary Knives of SF’ and described the current issue Reeve’s made SF knife, the ‘Yarborough’ named after its designer.  Civilians and non-SF military can’t get one – only graduates of SF qualification can.  However, Reeve’s made a very similar knife for civilian/non-SF military purchase – ‘The Green Beret’ and I started saving my pennies because of the construction (bomb proof), the design (sublime, in my opinion) and materials used.  It even came with a Spec-Ops type sheath with the plastic sleeve felt lined and the keeper fitted to the knife.  I’m not a fan of hybrid plain & serrated edges, so I chose the plain edge.  My multi-tool has a fully serrated blade if I need one, but that’s my preference.  Yours may be different.  All in all, the Reeve’s ‘Green Beret’ fits DTG specs for a GP knife….and then some.  We’ll see how she works in the field one day soon.

The reason for all of the above is to illustrate that If you are looking for a general purpose knife, get the best you can afford – a GP knife is not something you want to skimp on.  Stay away from ‘specialty’ blade shapes and points, such as the tanto, dagger, or saw backed blades because they are not great designs for general use as a tool.  They’re great for what they were designed for, but not typical field work, which is why, in my own day, my unit carried at least five edged tools/weapons with us to do those things our GP knives could not do as well:

  • USGI Issue ‘Boy Scout Knife’ – A great tool for opening ‘c’ rations and other small chores.  (We also had a ‘john wayne’ or P-38 strictly for can opening, too.) The one below is a Camillus model made in 1978, about the same year I was first issued one.

  • M-7 Bayonet – Something to sharpen and carry if you didn’t have anything else; a lot of times used for opening ammo and ration cases.
  • Cammilus ‘Combat Knife’ – General purpose blade kept sharp and carried primarily for survival uses.  Took quite awhile to get an edge on it because the grind fights getting/keeping a good edge.

  • Gerber Mk I ‘Boot Knife’ – Last ditch weapon carried in a manner that allowed access from just about any position.
  • USGI E-Tool – Filed edge basically for digging in and chopping wood (if the edge was sharp enough) – team boxes always had a few medium and fine files for this purpose.
  • USGI Machete – Team tool for clearing areas to bivouac in, typically inside the perimeter.

The reason I stated five, and then listed six, is that not everyone had a boot knife, Cammilus, Machete or E-Tool.  The boot knife and Cammilus were private purchases (tacitly approved for use in the field) and the machete and E-Tool were typically ‘buddy team’ items, with each member of the buddy team carrying one.

Today, teaching survival or any skill within SUT, I typically carry a small e-tool on my ruck, a small tomahawk, a ‘GP combat knife’ on my LBE, a multi-tool, and sometimes a small folding knife as a back up.  So that’s 5…even today.  This image is from the company I purchased mine from, which, for a time, was ‘product improving the hawk by dyeing and permanently affixing the head to the shaft and wrapping the handle with US made 550 cord.  I never go to the field without it.  Makes building shelters and other ‘camp’ chores a breeze.

So, back to knives.  There’s a very important thing that must be done with your knife, once you select and purchase it – remove the factory ‘wire’ left on the blade from initial edge sharpening.  Easily done in a few strokes with a very fine stone and a very light touch.  Understand that the burr or wire, is sharp, but your blade will be sharper if you remove it.  You’ll know it’s there by rubbing your finger crosswise against the edge (it doesn’t feel ‘smooth’).  Be very careful when you do this so you don’t end up needing a suture or two.

Digression on sharpening technique:  A good way to see if you’re following the factory edge angle is to take a sharpie type pen and color a small section of the edge, maybe an inch.  Then stone it.  If you’re taking the color off evenly, you’re right on the money.  It’ll take a few strokes to do this, but it’ll pay off as you learn how to keep the knife ‘factory’ sharp by using the same edge angle to touch up the blade.  Doing this by hand is an art that has to be learned with patience and repetition.

Next, for your newly acquired GP knife, USE it for it’s intended purpose.  Carry it on your gear, whether it’s civilian hunting or SHTF kit.  Just like carrying a rifle all day and making it an extension of your body, you need to do the same thing with your knife.  One way is to use it as a camp knife when you’re out on weekend camping trips or attending classes to increase your expertise.

A caution here:  Do not abuse your knife.  Well, you can, if you can afford to buy another, or are doing it purposely to see how much it can take (all knives have their failure point), but you really don’t need to torture test a well-branded knife that has a great reputation.  An example:  A folding knife I carry from time to time in my hunting set up is a Buck 110.  Bomb proof knife.  Has a good edge and keeps it.  Great choice for a folding GP knife.  However, I don’t play ‘mumbly peg’ throwing it into the ground or a tree or otherwise abuse it.  I clean it after I come out of the field (just like a rifle/pistol), make sure it gets a drop or two of lubrication after being out in wet weather or if it gets submerged for one reason or another.  It’s a flat-good knife that I help stay that way.

So, there you have it.  General Purpose knives – specs, and a bit more.

Feel free to leave a comment on your choice of a GP knife and why you chose it.


Beretta M9 Upgrades – Superb ROI!

A word of explanation for the light posts:  I’ve been invited to be part of the crew over at American Partisan , so if you have a mind to, check it out.  We’ve got a team of folks who, when combining what we know, cover just about all the bases survival, prepper, and liberty minded folks would like to see.  I’ll continue to post here as well, but on a less frequent basis.

See this post for background on my M9.

So, after yet another range session and very good results with the M9, this time out to 50 meters, I was doing some reading to see if there were any internal parts upgrades available.  Apparently, not having a M9 for several decades, and therefore not really paying attention to product improvements, I’m about the only person in the free world that didn’t know they were out there. <insert eye roll here>.

First thing I did was get a ‘D Hammer Spring’, which is basically about 4 links shorter than the standard.   You can see the difference in the image below.  The idea behind it is to lower the double action trigger pull from somewhere around 13 pounds or so down to 6 to 8 while still providing the force necessary for the hammer and firing pin to penetrate hard primers.  It also lowers the single action trigger pull down to something near 4 to 5 pounds.  Ok, I spent $11.

Man, does that make a difference!

Second upgrade:  Wolff black steel op rod & 15 pound recoil spring (fits over the op rod if you’re not familiar with it)  Factory is 13 pounds.  The factory plastic (and fluted) op rod just did not provide the confidence I want for a SHTF pistol.  When it comes to the recoil spring, personally, I like just a bit more power, especially when I’m shooting rounds like Federal’s HST +P.  Cost:  $8.50 for the spring and $24 for the op rod.


After that, I picked up a Wilson Combat Recoil Buffer.  Another $10.  This fits over the recoil spring and sits up near the face of the slide.  It doesn’t change or interfere with operations; it simply acts as a pad between the violent rearward movement of the slide and the front of the slide when it hits the face of the locking block.  These are worthwhile; I put them in every pistol I own.  Makes the pistol keep operating as new for a long, long, long time.  And I like that.

At this point I’ve got $53.50 invested.

Then I’m seeing this Wolff Trigger Conversion Unit also sold by Wilson Combat under the same name.  I chose the Wolff version for two reasons:  I’m very comfortable with Wolff’s quality and customer support (should it be necessary).  The Wilson Combat version was $7 less expensive, but they’re out of stock, a LOT, and Wolff has a good supply.

Sooooo, I purchased the ‘Extra Power’ model.  It’s simply a pound or so more than the standard, and it’s designed to eliminate trigger return spring breakage and ‘spring stacking.’  It’s Np3 coated, and is drop in both design and application.  $25.

Now I’m up to just about $79.  Last, but certainly not least, was getting some more aggressive grip panels.  My hands are average, and I can handle the M9 very well, but I wanted just a tad more purchase on the pistol when holding it.  So, I found a pair of ERGO hard rubber grips with medium abrasion (meaning you can hold it well when your hands are slippery) for $20 shipped.

ergo grips

$99 to put everything I want on the M9 to have it continue to look like a service grade and shoot like it’s almost match grade.

I’m toying with putting on the adjustable rear sight; back in the day in the Air Force, we were always provided adjustable sights until the M9, and then, after I retired, I assumed there would be that upfit.  I don’t know, but the sight itself looks a lot like the old S&W M15 adjustable that I was weaned on.  No decision yet; I’m not sure if I want to pay between $75 and $100 for this upgrade when the issue sights and my eyes still seem to work pretty good.  80% hits in vital areas at 50 meters ain’t too bad, so for now, this is on the shelf.

All the improvements above have countless YouTube videos available to demonstrate, from the home grown to official Beretta versions.   I was able to do each operation without too much trouble (meaning it was me and not the pistol or the instruction) and get everything done in minutes.

If you’re a Beretta 92 or M9 owner, check the upgrades out; it might be worth your while.  It certain was mine – this M9 SINGS on the range!!

Range Time: What’s a Good Frequency?

To determine what might work for you when it comes to going to the range to practice the fundamentals with live fire, a presumption must be made that you’re doing dry fire a couple times a week for at least 10 minutes a session.  Yes, boring, repetitious, and tedious, but you need to accept this as a minimum if you want to master your weapon of choice and become very, very good at applying the fundamentals you practice in live fire.  And truly, that’s all renowned shooters are doing when you see them performing very fast and very accurately on the range:

They are simply applying the fundamentals in a quick, effective manner.  Nothing more, nothing less.  No secret techniques, just mastery of the fundamentals.

So, how much range time?  I’ve found that for me to ensure personal proficiency, I’m expending at least 50 to 100 rounds of whatever I’m primarily carrying every 4 to 6 weeks.  If it’s monthly, a box of 50 is fine, if it’s every 6 weeks, 2 boxes of 50.  I might even go as often as every 3 weeks, but that’s because I’m stoked, but it’s not all the time, and no matter what, I do the dry fire as often as I can.  It’s all based on balancing my schedule (personal and professional obligations) and checkbook (even bought by the 1K round case, ammo gets expensive!), and need for simple relaxation.

So, what’s the take away here?  Simply this:  Make the practice of handling/shooting your weapons part of your normal routine.  The skills you pick up are perishable by nature, and if you aren’t careful, life has a way of overcoming your practice, and the next thing you know, you haven’t touched a pistol, rifle, or shotgun in months!  Do not let that happen!

Minimally, if you dry fire routinely (twice a week, 10 minutes each session), you can get away with every 6 weeks.  For self-evaluation, every other range session put yourself through a 50 round ‘qualification’ course.  With a pistol, at 25 yards/meters; with a rifle, do an AQT or NRA High Power type course.  Doing so will have you ‘qualifying’ every quarter, which is much, much better than 95% of all shooters will do.  Your skill mastery will show it, too!

Discipline is key here, because if you’re like me, dry fire gets to be very monotonous.  However, without it, those perishable skills you’ve picked up will deteriorate to one degree or another.  I’d prefer disciplined monotony to suffering regret when or if I need to employ those skills.  Just sayin’.  One way I keep it interesting is only doing dry fire with one platform a session.  One day I might be using my M-Forgery; another a pistol; another, a bolt gun.  I also add different miniature targets any time I can.

One thing in my dry fire that is not negotiable is the application of safety practices:

  • NEVER MIX ALCOHOL WITH DRY OR LIVE FIRE!  It should go without saying that if you’re going to drink, do it after your practice or live fire shooting.
  • ALWAYS remove any magazine before dry firing to ensure it’s empty.
  • ALWAYS check the chamber to ensure there isn’t a round hiding in it (Remember, ALL weapons are ALWAYS loaded until you ensure they’re not!!)
  • NEVER point your weapon at another human being you don’t intend to shoot, even in dry fire practice (tv/movie characters are different – it’s a projection).

See you on the range.

Rediscovering the Beretta M9 – Range Update

Old School becomes ‘New School’ after a fashion.

I carried & qualified with issue M9’s on active duty when our S&W M-15’s were replaced in the late 80’s (the Smith was a great revolver, but not up to tactical employment…just sayin’).  We immediately liked the M9 it a lot – had a lot more rounds, more powerful than the .38 Special the USAF seemed to be enthralled with for so many years, was magazine fed, could be field stripped in about 3 seconds, and was accurate as the Smith (which was very accurate) give or take (the M9 has fixed sites; the Smith had adjustable) for qualification to 25 meters, and if you were serious, you could practice and hit to 50 meters on a human silhouette target to 50 meters.  The decocking lever caused us a bit of anxiousness until we found out it worked, and the safety lever was easy to learn, though  reversed from a 1911 (the 1911 safety is pushed down to go to ‘fire’ and the M9 is pushed up).

Liked it so much I had a Beretta 92C (Compact) POW (Personally Owned Weapon) from 85 until I sold it before I returned home in 92.  I didn’t want to go through the paperwork to have it added to my orders, and then stuck in my ‘hold baggage.’  In hindsight, it was a bad decision, but I digress.

Years flew, and then I started looking at them again a couple of months ago.  Mostly because the M9 is being phased out of the service, and I’m thinking ‘CHEAP MAGAZINES and PARTS.’

Found a safe queen with a purported use of less than 2 boxes of ammo on gunbroker almost new for about $200 less than retail, and it was a M9, not the 92FS.  Basically, the civilian M9 is a military copy (because it’s not property of the US Government) though everything else down to the lanyard loop, (including the markings) are the same, and was sold around the 20th anniversary of the pistol’s service use.  Came with 4 original mags to boot, so how could I lose?  The only thing Beretta did that really isn’t good is the op rod is now plastic (steel replacement already on the way).

After inspection, the round count was probably right; not a bit of wear internally.  It was like taking a new pistol out and looking it over.  It is really sweet, too, except for that famous looooooooooong first trigger pull if shooting double action.  But I can get used to that again.

So, the first thing is to break it down and clean it (and that’s where I was able to see the lack of wear internally).  Especially if it’s a used gun, even though it was a safe queen.  Then, after about an hour of refamiliarization with dry fire, mag change outs, and such, made sure it was lubricated to specs, and ready for the range.  Everything is functional, so it’s off to the range this morning to wring it out with a couple hundred rounds.

That’ll be part 2 of this post.  Until then, here’s what she looks like:

Now, don’t think for a second I’m giving up my Glocks or Kimbers; just adding this to the stable of proven ‘go to’ sidearms.

Get yourself some range time.


Ok, didn’t have a lot of time today, but in 45 minutes I was able to check the inherent accuracy of this pistol pretty well with both deliberate aimed fire as well as some 1 & 2 shot drills.  I fired at 10 meters, indoor range, Winchester 124gr FMJ finishing up with some Federal 124gr HST.  The first two pictures are to simply show the distance and the first 15 rounds.  The pistol is worth having, especially if you’re just getting started and want a reliable pistol.  The offset group to the left of center is not the weapon; it’s my poor vision.  The last picture demonstrates why the M9 eats anything.  The magazine puts the rounds almost perfectly in line with the chamber, so there’s no worry about ‘bullet bump’ that can cause failure to feed.

The indoor range – 10 meters, 50 ft small bore target augmented with a 3 inch Shootnc target.

The inaugural magazine – 15 rounds, aimed, deliberate fire at 10 meters.  My eyes suck, but the pistol is top notch!

Why the Beretta M9 eats any kind of ammo, and yes, that’s Federal 124gr HST getting ready for a trip downrange.