Mr. Bullet Feeder: Next Step in Press Evolution

Redding Big Boss II single stage press

I have mentioned the Mr. Bullet Feeder (MBF) in my post about the Dillon XL650 progressive reloading press but I feel that the device deserves its own post. It is a product that while obviously working as a part of something larger is in and of itself a remarkable achievement.

For those who started on single-stage reloading presses, the move to a turret press (where multiple dies can be rotated for use above a single case) is a big improvement. It allows the reloader to perform all the reloading steps within a relatively short period of time.

Lee Turret Press

A true progressive press is similar to the turret press. It too has multiple dies in a tool head. The big difference is that the progressive press keeps the dies in place and has the cases move under them sequentially on a rotating shell plate, thus allowing multiple actions with each pull of the handle. Consequently the rate of round production goes up by a factor of X, where X is the number of stations (case/die positions) on the shell plate. With simpler progressives, the reloader still has to perform all the same actions as with the turret press, unless the press is designed to automate additional functions.

Dillon 550B Progressive Press

As press design improved and reloaders wanted more and more automation we got things like the automatic primer and automatic powder feeders, the latter being a huge time saver. Measuring out precise powder loads is of course essential for reloading and once that became automated it really sped up the process. The Dillon 550 press is a great example of a 4-station press that had all these features but it still required manually placing a case in the first station of the shell plate, manually indexing the plate to the next position after each stroke and manually placing the bullet on the case prior to seating and crimping. In the last year or so Dillon has in fact began producing an automatic case feeder for this press so it can be said that the operation can be done without taking one’s right hand off the handle, but the left hand would still have to index the plate and place the bullet.

I’ve already discussed the Dillon XL650 so rather than belabor the point I will simply say that it adds a fifth station and automatic indexing to the already-impressive functions of the 550B. With the 650’s optional case feeder installed this leaves only one task for the left hand: placing the bullet.

As you can see in the picture of the 550B, there is a tray on the left side of the press for placing bullets. This allows quick retrieval and placement of the bullet after each stroke. Many people find this to be a great way to reload. Rounds can in fact be produced very quickly using this setup. Nevertheless, many of us opt for the next evolutionary step in automation by installing an automatic bullet feed system. Once you’ve tried it the system is irresistible .

Mr. Bullet Feeder installed on a Dillon XL650

There are several manufacturers of bullet feeders but the one that has arguably the best reputation is the Mr. Bullet Feeder. I had used the one Glyn has on his Dillon Super 1050 so I knew how much it increased reloading efficiency. When I started using my XL650 without it I realized immediately that my setup wasn’t nearly as quick and efficient. It wasn’t long before I bought one for myself.

The kit for the XL650 comes with a PVC base that holds the main portion of the device (bullet hopper w/ collator plate, motor, guide plates and bullet tube) and this is attached to a simple but very effective bracket that attaches directly to the case feeder support tube. Included in the kit are replacement bolts to accommodate the additional thickness from the added bracket.

The other component of the system is the bullet dropper assembly, which is mounted as a die in the tool head. This device holds a stack of bullets sufficient to produce the downward force necessary to place a single bullet firmly on each case as the case is raised up into the bottom of the dropper. The dropper also houses a sensor switch that tells the collator motor to run when the stack is short. I in fact had a failure of this switch but one quick email later and Rick had the replacement on its way. Gotta love that kind of customer service!

This system takes up no additional space on the reloading bench, is not in the way on the press and perfectly places a bullet on every case that comes by. I purchased kits for 9mm, .45acp and .223. The bullet droppers stay mounted in their respective tool heads so switching calibers takes about 2 minutes longer than before the MBF. You do have to 1) change the collator plate (just like the case feeder), 2) change a small guide plate next to the exit tube on the collator and 3) depending on the caliber, you might need to swap out the tube that connects to the bullet dropper. Very simple.

A reasonable question at this point is “why not put a motor on this thing and reload while you take a nap?” The reloading process as we private reloaders practice it is one of subtleties. The act of pulling the handle not only produces the force that does the reloading but it also provides us sensory feedback as to what is happening within the press. As I pull the handle I know at each point in the stroke what I should feel during a normal pass. If something feels wrong, it probably is. The most common problem is with primer feeding. I know immediately if the primer didn’t seat correctly so I pull that case out of the press and discard it. This would not be possible with a motorized press.

As for the Mr. Bullet Feeder, I couldn’t be happier. The instructions are good, the installation easy and the performance outstanding.

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NOTE: In my original post on the Dillon XL650, I mentioned the following regarding where to mount the MRBF:

“Given that the bullet feeder requires a station and the fact that I wanted to use the powder check die (seeing a pistol go kaboom is an eye-opening experience) I got hold of an RCBS seat/crimp die for station five. I have found this to be an ideal setup for 9mm.”

USPSA Training: Speed or Accuracy?

USPSA focuses on three factors during competition: Power, Speed and Accuracy. Power meaning the use of Power Factor (PF=mass x velocity/1000) in determining relative point values for given hits, Speed meaning simply the time elapsed while shooting a course of fire and Accuracy meaning hits in the highest point-value areas of targets or simply hitting a steel target on the first shot. I’ve seen comparisons done between IDPA and USPSA and there is a clear distinction: USPSA rewards speed much more than accuracy compared to IDPA. What this translates to is that if you shoot a stage perfectly in USPSA then shoot it with several “C” hits but in 80% of the first run’s time, you will actually have a higher score on the second run. In IDPA the same exact scenario will always result in a lower score on the second run.

I first discovered this facet of USPSA scoring when I began to really push through stages, shooting them as fast as I possibly could. I suddenly found myself having significantly higher hit factors (HF is essentially “points-per-second”) than ever before even though my accuracy was much less than before in general. Not only that but it was incredibly exciting and hugely fun. This then creates a dilemma for many of us: do I train for speed or for accuracy? The simplistic answer is “both”, but in reality which you choose to focus on will likely yield different results, some quite surprising.

As many of you may know I am a licensed ham radio operator, KX1Y. I was licensed originally in 1992 in the days when a Morse Code test was part of the licensing requirement. In the intervening years the Code requirement has been entirely removed but the experience of learning it has had a lasting impression on me. When I first began to study the Dits and Dahs, I did it like most folks did: I listened to tapes and on-air transmissions at a very slow speed. The conventional wisdom was to learn the characters, one-by-one, then gradually speed up the tempo until fast enough to pass the necessary test for a given license level. Novice was 5 words-per-minute (WPM), General was 13wpm and Extra was 20wpm.

As you can see, this is similar to how most of us learn and practice shooting in USPSA. We try to shoot slowly and accurately, then we gradually try to increase the speed and thereby improve our match results.

Some years ago I stumbled onto what is now known as the “Farnsworth Method” for learning Morse Code. The concept is simple: begin by learning individual characters at full speed (20wpm) but with spacing between characters only at 5wpm. This forces the brain to process the characters by pure sound/cadence rather than using a mental “look-up table” to convert dits and dahs into characters. Another system called the “Koch Method” involves starting with only two characters and as proficiency builds, add one character at a time until the set is complete.

Once I realized that I could achieve high scores by focusing primarily on shooting really fast, I remembered the Farnsworth/Koch system and thought it might be applicable here too. It turns out that the experience of making numerous shots on targets at very high speed requires a different set of skills compared to slow, carefully aimed shots. Learning to see the sight picture not as a still frame, but as a flow or a progression rather than a snapshot. This involves a very dynamic set of perceptions and actions required by us as shooters.

As the field of Perceptual Psychology has proven, our visual systems (eyes, optic nerves and visual cortex) are by far the most advanced sensory components of our brains. In fact some in that field consider the eyes more an extension of the cortex rather than as a separate sensory organ. There are tons of studies showing that we take in absolutely enormous volumes of data each instant visually but almost all of it is discarded. What we are left with at the back end is a set of summary data that we further process to use in decision making. I think that for shooting at speed we have to leverage this torrent of data to be able to decide not only when it is time to break the shot but when it will be time. This allows us to set in motion the muscle activity to acquire the target, prepare to break the shot, break the shot, precisely time the reacquisition, break the second shot and begin driving the gun to the next target.

So, how does this relate to the whole Morse Code stuff? Well, the classic dit/dah look-up table is analogous to performing each of the above shooting steps as discrete, sequential actions taken independently. Obviously if each step has to stop before the next one begins this will be slower than if several are happening at once. Hearing the dits/dahs as characters is what psychologists call “chunking”, i.e., allowing multiple elements of meaning to be viewed as a single element. I hear “K” or “L” but if you ask me how many dits or dahs are in each I have to stop and think about it.

Similarly the series of shots taken on one or more targets in an array can be viewed as a single event rather than as a series. This may seem counter-intuitive but it works. In practice, the gun never really stops moving. We roll in on the target and break the shot before coming to a complete stop and then break the second shot while beginning to roll out. It is a continuum of perception, motion and action.

So, how do we put this into practice? It’s not as hard as it sounds. Set up some simple stages and try this for yourself. Just force yourself to shoot as fast as you can, anticipating the sight picture and trusting that your eyes will tell you the truth, even if you don’t consciously see that perfect sight picture for each shot. For many this will be very uncomfortable and may require a great deal of effort to accomplish but you can do it. And you will probably shoot better than you expect. Once the speed is in hand, accuracy will improve steadily as you begin to trust that visual system more and more.

So, is this the “One True Technique”? Certainly not. This method may not work at all for some folks. I don’t see myself as an expert but I have seen good results from this method personally. How it works for you is up to you to discover.

Firearms4u: Is it just about gear?

When I started this blog it was primarily to share technical details of firearms and related items. I was spending a fair amount of time writing emails and talking to people about things I had found and stuff I had learned while becoming reacquainted with modern firearms after a lengthy hiatus. The blog was really a way for me to consolidate and organize this information so that I had a handy reference to which I could direct anyone with a relevant interest. It has certainly fulfilled that purpose.

Recently however I have received requests to talk about topics other than gear, such as shooting technique, training principles, match preparation and several others. I have decided that I will give it a try.

I think that even more than equipment preference, technique is incredibly individual and what I have found that works for me may simply not work at all for others. Just look at many of the top USPSA shooters and you will see many of them do things very differently. Let’s face it, if there was “One True Technique” we would all use it and performance would only be a matter of how closely we hew to the line. With that in mind I will share some fundamentals that have given me some measure of success.

While I am certainly no expert I have learned enough to be helpful to those relatively new to competitive shooting. I hope you find it useful and as always, feel free to comment and/or send me questions directly.

Most of all, get out there and shoot!

Towa target paster applicator: priceless device

Sometimes things find their way into our lives with little fanfare or notice, yet when removed the void is dramatic. Such is the case with a simple but extremely effective device made by Towa, a Japanese company specializing in labels and applicators. This tool transforms target pasting from a tedious, time consuming task into an almost unconscious activity.

Prior to my involvement with USPSA practical shooting, I used bulls-eye targets, silhouette targets, reactive steel targets and the occasional water-filled container or hapless vegetable. (As a vegetarian I find this last item is particularly fitting). All this worked fine but once I got into the high-volume round counts typical of USPSA, the need for quickly covering the holes in targets became critical. If you’ve ever hand-pasted targets at a match you know what I mean. peeling individual pasters off the backing and applying them by hand is very slow, not to mention the fact that oils from fingers make the pasters stick less effectively.

Enter the Towa APN-30 applicator. This device was previously known as the AP65-30 and may still be listed as such in catalogs. It was originally made for package labeling but somebody figured out that pasters on 1″ wide rolls would work perfectly in this rig. It can be a little tricky opening and loading the roll, but once it’s ready pasters can be applied as fast as the targets are scored. Each squeeze of the lever produces a single paster out the end, ready to be pressed onto the target. I have found that a gentle downward wiping motion is all that is required for the pasters to be securely applied to the target.

One word of advice: as the roll of backing works its way out the bottom of the applicator, resist the temptation to tear it off right at the bottom of the exit point. This will often result in a jam that stops the device after a dozen or so pasters. Tear the backing away several inches below the exit point GENTLY and it will work just fine.

At $79.95 each these are not inexpensive but they work so well and so fast that most serious shooters have at least one. Shooter’s Connection always has them in stock.

Wolf Military Classic 7.62×39: perfect AK-47 ammo

Russian ammunition has long been available in the US to anyone shooting the classic 7.62x39R AK/SKS caliber. While much if not most of it may look the same, there are significant differences. The vast majority of this ammunition is produced in one of two plants in Russia: Bear in Bernaul and Wolf in Tula. These are enormous plants that are emblematic of the Soviet military/industrial expansion during the Cold War.

While all ammo produced by Bear/Wolf has been steel cased, early production included a lacquer coating to protect against rust. This is all but gone now (a few pallets may remain in the back of a warehouse here or there) with the new cases sporting a polymer coating instead. This greatly reduces the problems with melted lacquer fouling the chamber. Of course, this problem really was only significant with .223/5.56 cartridges and not with the AK round.

What really sets the Wolf Military Classic JHP apart from the rest for me is the waterproof sealant around the bullet and the primer, the tighter quality control (currently at least) and the hollow point terminal ballistics. Interestingly enough, when considering full metal jacket ammunition, the terminal ballistics for .223/5.56 is more impressive than that of the 7.62x39R round. This is assuming relatively short-range engagements. This is because the AK round tends to over-penetrate (through-and-through) whereas the AR round penetrates a short distance, yaws then disintegrates causing massive wounding. In the case of the 124gr JHP round under consideration, this counter-intuitive condition does not exist. Nothing short of a .308 can outperform the devastating terminal ballistics of this round.

So, why don’t I buy some Winchester White Box then reload this round instead of only shooting factory ammo? Mainly it is an issue of cost. For me, the AK-47 fills the role of low-cost, high-powered, dependable defensive rifle, chambered in the second most common caliber in the Western world. Having a highly-tuned round would be a waste frankly. When was the last time you heard the phrase “7.62×39 Match ammo”? Given that the rifle was designed from the ground up to shoot steel cases (unlike most Western rifles) there’s no worry about broken extractors or ejectors due to the introduction of the steel case. So low-cost Russian ammo is perfect for this application.

There are many great online sources for this round. I normally purchase 1,000-round cases so that I can keep plenty of mags loaded with fresh rounds and still keep proficient with the weapon by shooting it on a regular basis. I probably shoot the gun 60-80 rounds a month, sometimes more in the warmer months. Again, this is just to keep familiar and make sure the gun doesn’t get rusty or full of lint or cobwebs.

So, what about practice rounds? Well, given the low cost of this round, it makes sense to simply use the same round in practice that I would for defensive purposes. It makes it simple to buy, shoot, store and plan for my AK ammo.

Sometimes simple is really good.

CED 7000: Shot Timer Supreme

Practical shooting is judged on accuracy, power and speed so correctly capturing the speed of a shooter is critical. There are many manufacturers of timing devices for our sport but one company stands out: Competitive Edge Dynamics. Their CED7000 timer has a ton of features that make it an outstanding choice for use in practice and at matches.

Shot timers perform two primary functions: producing a starting signal and recording the times of a competitor’s shots precisely. The CED7000 has a very loud starting signal but can be adjusted if necessary. It also has a back-lit LCD display that is easy to read and has tons of information on it that is useful, like time of day, battery life and of course the shot number, total time and current split time. You can hold up to 10 strings with unlimited shots per string. This is really handy since you don’t necessarily have to report a first string to the scoring RO before shooting the second string. Reviewing the string can be done easily in either direction, making a detailed time assessment of a run very easy.

Along with the basics, you can also set par times, fixed/random delay or instant start times and the unit can perform in stealth mode for timing other shooters silently. It can also be used as a standard stop watch for those times you may want to check range equipment or any other non-shooting event.

The CED7000 uses a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery that can run for 20-30 hours of practice or match duty. I find that I charge mine about once a month. Given the tiny size of the unit, the loud signal, bright display and low weight (2.9 oz.) this is amazing run-time. The charger is a small “wall-wart” type that is also small and light, making it easy to keep right in the range bag.

The model I bought is the CED7000T, or “tactical”, which is all black. I thought the standard model with all those chrome buttons was just a little too shiny for me. If is functionally identical otherwise.

There are a number of accessories for this timer to make it more useful, like silicone “skins” that protect the device from damage, belt holsters, wrist holsters, storage bags and even an RF module that allows the timer to communicate with a remote “big board” display so that everyone on the line can see the times.

I normally wear the unit on a lanyard around my neck. It is included with the timer, along with a second wrist-sized lanyard. I find it is so small and light that it is unnoticeable, except on rare occasions that involve running hard or very abrupt/awkward transitions during a stage.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the timer even has an automatic power-down feature that saves the battery if you forget to turn it off. This is perfect for me since I often forget.

Given the small size, light weight, terrific battery life and excellent feature set, I find this to be the perfect shot timer for my needs.

Magpul CTR butt stock: my favorite AR stock.

Magpul_logo_animate_bigAs you probably know, I like Magpul products…a lot. How could I not? They make really great things that do exactly what they are supposed to do and they just run and run. I’ve mentioned the CTR stock in several posts but I thought it deserved a direct treatment, so here goes.

The collapsible or telescoping stock has been a standard component of the M4 since its inception. With its shorter barrel, flat top and short stock, the M4 was a light and nimble successor to the M16. In the civilian market the inclusion of a collapsible stock has become de facto. AR-15 owners have grown accustomed to the flexibility of the stock: you can shorten it up for stowing or transport or if you have on a lot of bulky clothing, load bearing gear, or body armor. It can also be extended for bench or bipod/tripod shooting thereby offering greater control when taking aim. There is little doubt of the value of a good collapsible stock. However, the standard model is in my opinion flawed. the latch release on the bottom can get caught on clothing, webbing or anything else that comes near, the sling mount is on the bottom (great for over-the-shoulder carry but useless for ready-carry) and the darned thing rattles around like a broken tailpipe. Luckily the stock comes off the buffer tube by simply hyper-extending the retention lever and can then be replaced.

Enter the Magpul CTR. This little gem has a number of nice features that place it head-and-shoulders above the standard stock. First, the spring-loaded retention pin is released by a lever that is fully enclosed within the body of the stock. No more hooking onto things! Second, the stock has a locking lever on the bottom-front that, once the stock is properly adjusted for length, is locked closed thereby holding the stock firmly in place. No more rattling! Third, the stock has four webbing slots for attaching slings and a Quick Disconnect swivel mount in the frame. This is a huge plus for me since it allows the use of those wonderful heavy-duty Daniel Defense Quick Disconnect swivel mounts I like so much. Also, the mount is ambidextrous and because of its tucked-away location it keeps the sling nice and close to the rifle and keeps the rifle in the proper orientation. It is a sturdy, clean method for mounting a sling. Finally, the commercial version comes standard with a nice rubber butt pad that helps keep the stock firmly connected to the shoulder when raised to the shooting position.

There are two versions of the CTR. Which one you need depends on your rifle. Most civilian AR-15s have buffer tubes with “Commercial” dimensions. Colt is the only manufacturer I know of that uses the “Military” spec on their civilian guns but there may be others. Always check your manufacturer’s specs before ordering your CTR. Even if you get the Mil-spec CTR you can still add the rubber pad if you like.

I have found that with the CTR, my check weld is at just the right location for my Eotech 5.12, Troy BUIS sights or my CompM3 on a 1/2″ Burris XTR Xtreme mount.

With its rugged construction, elegant design and drop-dead gorgeous looks, this is easily my favorite AR-15 stock.