Thursday, August 28, 2014

Houlding Precision HPF-15 Utility Battle Rifle Review - Irish Curse & Forend

Houlding Precision HPF-15 Utility Battle Rifle Review - Irish Curse & Forend

A year or so ago, I worked with Houlding Precision to tailor fit a lightweight battle rifle to me. The company was just getting started transitioning from a precision agriculture focused machine shop into top shelf firearms. Yep, quite a switch. Houlding Precision has done well… very well. In fact they even make the billet receivers in an OEM relationship for a few notable companies including JJFU - Jesse James Firearms Unlimited. Under their own firearm label, they have grown and grown. In fact the last two years has been painful for them from a growth perspective just the way it has for other top tier AR15 companies.

At that poinT, I had purchased and built many custom AR15 rifles, however Houlding had a different concept which delivered more of a tailor made rifle. A few months after our virtual fitting, I had in my hands what I still consider today one of my favorite and finest quality rifles I own.

As far as I was concerned, my Houlding Precision was so perfect that I wanted to be buried with it when I die… no, really my wife and I discussed it. So, you can understand my reluctance when Todd Houlding asked that I swap out a few of the original spec'ed components with his new Houlding branded components for testing. I asked, “Why mess with perfection.” Well the parts arrived anyway with a note politely requesting I give them a chance.

The Houlding Forend comes complete
with an extended barrel nut and wrench
Houlding Precision, previously named “Houlding Kaufman Ironworks, Inc.” has been around for a while. In fact, the business was originally started way back in the late 1800’s and early 1900s by farmers who began repairing farm equipment; definitely a plowshares into swords story. Today the company is named Houlding Precision and focuses on producing the best custom tailored AR15s available.

The reality was that my original custom rifle I reviewed was so requested that it became a standard configuration in the Houlding Precision lineup called the HPF-15 Utility Battle Rifle, but with a few tweaks many, including me, would argue are substantial upgrades. Instead of my original rifle configuration of Troy Alpha Rail with squid grip inserts, Daniel Defense bolt and barrel, Geissele Trigger, and PWS muzzle brake, Houlding's current version features its own HPF CMX billet forend, Curse brake, and Battle Tested Equipment AR Match trigger with a choice of 16” or 18” Lother Walther match barrel. Mr Houlding politely asked if I could install and review the current version accessories on my rifle which were being offered instead of continually pimping a rifle he did not offer. How could I refuse such a nice request.

I made the forend and muzzle brake swap and what do you know, I now have a Houlding Precision HPF-15 spec rifle with the exception of the barrel, bolt and trigger and I am actually even more happy with.  The Irish Curse brake actually works better than the PWS model and is a little bit quieter for the shooter and shooters around you. I have tested the regular Houlding Curse brake and the shorter Irish Curse brake and I actually like the shorter version better. It still delivers a flat shooting rifle, but with less boom. The Irish Curse is a gorgeous part which has been nicely radiused and then Melonite finished.

The idea of the Irish Curse brake was to mitigate recoil in the shortest possible length while also suppressing flash. The original dual chamber curse actually provides a huge amount of downforce however the Irish Curse has a little different porting and seems to do the same job in less space. Lower ports are angled at 60 degrees to prevent dust kick up in the prone position.

HPF-15 Irish Curse Muzzle Brake
Identical to Curse EXCEPT shorter
Additional top port to compensate for smaller size
1144 Stressproof Steel
Single Chamber
60 degree, off-set porting to prevent muzzle from rising
Smaller Ports to prevent muzzle blast on firing line
CNC Machined for precision
1/2-28 RH Threads - Melonite finish - Laser Engraved
Designed for competition shooting

The only downside for me to move to the Houlding forend was it 2oz heavier weight than the Troy Alpha Rail. Not a huge deal considering the added features the CMX Forend delivers such as Keymod slots at 90, 180, and 270 degrees, 13” or 15” lengths (I chose the 13”), longer and stronger barrel nut design over the Troy, and of course the very trick looking and exceptionally comfortable octagonal shape. 

The Houlding forend is a significantly stronger due to the design of the extended barrel nut. Honestly most of the weight increase is contained within the size and length of the nut. I do miss the Silicon Troy Squid Grips which provided a cooler handguard during high round count shooting, however the CMX actually seems to do a better job staying cooler longer than the Troy Rail.

From a comfort perspective, the Houlding CMX rail is far more comfortable than the Alpha rail due to the smooth exterior and beautiful triangular pattern.  As you can see, I just had to plug in my X Products 50-Round skeletonized drum magazine with the matching triangle pattern.

HPF Handguard CMX
Extruded aluminum
Type 3 Hard coat anodized
Ergonomic octagon shape - Integrated top picatinny rail
Key mod slots at 90°, 180°, 270°
Available in 13” and 15” lengths
All handguards include HPF-Barrel Nut - BN acts as heat sink
Attaches with 8 10-32×3/8 screws - Handguard wrench included
Weight: 18.1 Ounces

Generally when I find something that works, I have a really hard time changing things especially when it comes to an AR15 which shoots extremely well and was for all practical purposes my perfect rifle. That noted, the new Houlding CMX forend and Irish Curse brakes were great upgrades in both comfort and shooting ergonomics as well as adding a bit more style in the process. So yes, you can make a perfect rifle “perfect’er” even though a grammar teacher just twitched that I typed that.  

Though my original rifle was used as a prototype for the UBR-15, the new version has a few tweaks including a RCA Bolt Carrier Group, BTE match trigger and of course the match grade Lother Walther barrel. Houlding actually even has a new rifle which I have ordered called the Wraith which weighs in at an amazing 6 lbs if you want something a bit lighter. I have said it at least once before; the Houlding Precision AR15 rifles are put together right, look great, and shoot wonderfully. One of the gems of the industry.

HPF-Irish Curse Muzzle Brake
Match Grade 16″ or 18″ Mid Length 1/8 Twist Barrel
Low Pro Gas Block
HPF-CMX Handguard 13”
HPF – G2Set Receiver Set
BTE Single Stage Trigger
Magpul MOE Plus Grip
Houlding Super Slick RCA Bolt Carrier Group
Magpul ACS 6-Position Stock
Magpul MBUS Sights
Cerakote Finish
Weight:8 lbs, Unloaded
Length Collapsed: 34 1/2″
Length Extended: 38″

Houlding Precision Firearms -

Monday, August 25, 2014

KKM Precision Glock Match Drop in Barrel Review

KKM Precision Glock Match Drop in Barrel Review

There should be no arguments that 3Gun competitions have lit the custom gun market on fire for shotguns, AR15s, and of course pistols.  Glock has been, and I sure will continue to be, a perennial favorite handgun to run and customize for competitions. The Glock format has also become a favorite for high end custom gun shops as well such as Salient, but the home gunsmith can still do a ton to customize their Glock with just a steel punch.  One of the most popular upgrades is to switch barrels to increase accuracy and add the ability to shoot non-jacketed bullets for practice.

There is a huge variety of aftermarket barrels available for the Glock formats, however one of the most revered replacement barrels by the 3Gun crowd is KKM Precision.

My new 9mm extended and compensated KKM Match batter was added to my already absolutely outstanding Salient International tweaked and tuned Glock 17 which now also features a ALG Defense Glock Magazine well, Tier 1 Salient Trigger, and +2 Glock Magazine extensions on all my mags.

The first thing to get out of the way in this review is that swapping barrels on a Glock is something your average Glock owner could do in a pitch black room. Disassemble the Glock as you would for cleaning, by clearing the gun, dry firing, pull down on the slide releases, remove the slide, pull out the spring and the barrel drops out. Drop in the new upgraded KKM barrel and reassemble - Done!  My model has a threaded barrel which can be left exposed or tipped with a compensator, as I did, or receive any standard suppressor.

So what do you get with an upgraded match quality Glock barrel from KKM?  There is definitely a huge variety of aftermarket barrel manufacturers out there, however what sets KKM barrels apart is the high degree of precision and fit. The KKM barrels dimensionally have a tighter fit than the Glock barrels which delivers a tighter lockup than the stock barrel.  The chamber itself is also a little tighter and is button rifled vs Glock's normal hex rifling.  The later two features deliver improved accuracy, however there is a trade off.

From a dependability level, the KKM barrels are still very reliable and function perfectly with in factory spec rounds, however I noted with the 9mm barrel used in this build that the KKM barrel would not feed some of my 9mm “turds” (sloppy reloads) where the stock barrel chews through them just fine.

The button rifling  also delivers a trade off.  The primary reason Hex rifling was developed was to deliver consistent performance and reliability across a huge variety of ammo, however that all around rifling flexibility does not produce the best accuracy with tight toleranced ammo.

The higher precision button rifling  allows shooters to practice with inexpensive bullets, where the stock Hex rifling begins to clog/lead up and is therefore not recommended by Glock. With the KKM barrel and jacketed bullets, the button rifling delivers improved accuracy, however those benefits will only show themselves with high quality premium match jacketed rounds. Cast and inexpensive low tolerance jacketed bullets actually delivered worse groups for me than the stock barrel, but you can at least practice with them. On the other hand, high quality jacketed bullets, such as those from Hornaday and Sierra delivered the best groups I have ever seen out of any Glock. Think of the KKM barrel as a high end sports car. Sure you can go fast running E85, but the engine is designed for premium fuel and delivers big rewards when fed high test fuel. Feed the KKM barrel with great ammo and you get outstanding groups.

KKM offers a broad variety of barrels for a number of popular competition pistols including Glock. in addition to drop in replacement barrels, they also offer extended, threaded, and compensator equipped models such as the extended Glock 17 model shown. They even have drop in conversion barrels which can convert your Glock 10mm to shoot .40 S&W.

The compensated models, such as the one I reviewed on this Salient Glock, features a compensator which screws on the end of the barrel after installation and gun reassembly. The compensator/brake is then indexed and secured via hex grub screws.

One of my observations was that the hotter the round, the more effect the compensator had on keeping the muzzle down. With lower powered or fast burning powders, there really is not enough gas to make the compensator work properly. As an example, I shot identical rounds side, by side with a stock Glock 17 in one hand and this Salient Glock 17 with KKM Barrel and Compensator in the other. WIth lower powered rounds there was a difference, but it was minimal. Moving to hotter loads or longer burning powders, the compensator had enough gas to work with and kept the Salient G17 almost perfectly flat for some really fast follow shots while the stock G17 was really jumping around.

Coincidentally, this is not a problem at all because most active 3 Gunners are running some pretty hot rounds simply because they want to assure the steel targets they hit go down, especially when shooting a 9mm platform.

The KKM barrels are premium performing barrels which look the part as well. The fit and finish on the all stainless KKM barrels are excellent and on a different finish and quality tier compared to basic replacement barrels like those from Lone Wolf.

For practice, inexpensive reloads such featuring the jacketed Berry's bullets or even cast lead bullets fed and functioned perfectly as long as they were in spec. Having the ability to shoot cast bullets is a huge benefit to having a cut rifled barrel around for your Glocks. I am not sure your need a high end KKM barrel to do that, however its a great idea to practice with the same barrel you intend on competing with.

The KKM barrel is designed to offer the shooter running premium ammo or premium reloads, the best accuracy one can hope for in a Glock format. Yes, with the right ammo, your Glock can consistently deliver sub-1" 25-yard groups off a rest with a KKM barrel. I have done it more than once with Winchester and Hornady rounds.

Would I run a KKM barrel in a defensive pistol? Nope - because I want even the worse beat up ammo to work each and every time in a defensive pistol barrel and I will trade off the precision for reliability. However, the beauty of the Glock platform is that I can swap back and forth between barrels in under minute from competition to carry and back again. If you want to compete, or think you might, I would suggest sending you Glock 17 to Salient for a workover and new trigger and just drop in a KKM barrel when needed. You will have the best Glock carry package available and when needed the best accuracy money can buy in a Glock when you just swap over to the KKM barrel.

All KKM barrels are made using certified 416R gun-barrel quality stainless steel bar stock. These barrels are then heat treated and vacuum tempered to 45 RC. All of our barrels are CNC machined to obtain superior dimensional tolerances over stock. Because of our advanced proprietary button rifling process, all KKM barrels offer greater accuracy over stock barrels. Our Glock barrels come with fully supported SAAMI spec. match chambers for shooting factory or reloaded ammunition.

KKM Precision
Glock 9mm Compensator
Part # G17B1C
$285 Including Shipping


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nikon Monarch 7 Binoculars - The Value of a Good set of Eyes

Nikon Monarch 7 Binoculars - The Value of a Good set of Eyes

Talk to the best hunters and guides and they will tell you that a great set of binoculars is the most essential tool in a hunters toolbox. Some would say without them, the gun is of little use. I think city folk and and non-hunting armchair survivalist believe that hunting is like the old buffalo hunts of the 1800s were roving herds of millions covered the plains. If it was that freaking easy, there would not be a market for camouflage, face paint, deer urine, trail cameras or anything in the Billion dollar hunting industry in the united states. They would just sell bricks or 1lb sledge hammers at Cabelas or Academy Sports so we could just walk up and knock animals in the head instead of wasting the lead and powder. They also would not call it hunting; it would be called "wackem in head".

The reality though is that many hunters come home empty handed because critters we hunt are hard to find in many cases. Sometime said animal is well within the range of our skills and rifle's capability, however they are just invisible to us. Although flushing game out is a different technique, most of use scout stalk and shoot from a fixed position that is if we can see the animal. Binoculars help out with this by increasing our vision at distances and these Nikon Monarch binoculars have been an excellent size and delivered superb clarity and performance for all my outdoor activities.

There are several reasons to use a high quality set of binoculars such as these Nikon Monarch 7 8x30 to hunt of which safety is probably the primary reason. A little hunter safety 101 - you never ever want to use your weapon mounted optic to scout game. Weapon mounted optics are to confirm the intended target and function as a sighting device and are not be used for general observation and looking around. If you are using your firearm optic to see whether that was a deer at 200-yards downrange or another hunter you are pointing your gun at him. This could be a real legal and safety issue should he be looking back at you or if a shot was actually fired. Binoculars are for looking and scopes are for shooting. The now popular quick release red dot magnifiers are also handy for this purpose because they can be used without the firearm.

Another reason to use binoculars is that they increase the dimensional area we can hunt without moving. This increases our hunting efficiency, allows us to cover exponentially more land at a time hunting, and if game is identified, provide an opportunity to properly stalk and position a shot.

As we know, moving makes noise which most game tend to be alarmed by. If your are able to search and identify game downrange without moving, chances are higher you will have a more successful hunt.

In almost all cases, high quality binoculars will deliver more comfortable viewing, a much larger field of view, and brighter low light performance than weapon optics. Whether you are hunting squirrels in the tops of trees or rams at 300-yards, binoculars are as critical to a hunt as your rifle.

Nikon Sport Optics is the same famed camera optics company. Nikon has become fastest growing sporting optics manufacturer by delivering outstanding clarity for far less than competitors. In fact I have featured Nikon products in a large number of articles because they always deliver the best my builds can deliver from their most affordable optics to the high-end Monarch Gold line.  Nikon’s optics are legendary due to their proprietary anti-reflective coatings which offer high-resolution images in most lighting conditions.

Over the years Nikon expanded its sport optics line form binoculars, to rifle & field scopes, to now a mighty fine line of rangefinders. From my perspective, Nikon offers some of the best optics for the money and the their Monarch line are consistently ranked some of the finest optics available. If you want the top end of binocular optics Nikon even has the $2500 EDG line which shares many of its technology in the Monarch line.

Fit and finish? Hey, its a Nikon Monarch series, so naturally it is top quality with a refinement that most companies are still striving for. The size is just an awesome size. The Nikon Monarch 7 8x30 pack in all the most sophisticated features of the Nikon line including a lighter and more compact body design, an improved optical system with 30mm objectives for bright viewing even in low light conditions, a very wide field of view for mid-sized binoculars, and Nikon’s ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass lenses. The resulting features of the Nikon Monarch 7 8x30 deliver about a 6 oz+ lighter and a 2” length and 2” width smaller more compact sized binocular than a larger and heavier binocular, but with higher overall performance.

I use these Monarch 7’s all the time from bird and game watching to seeing what in the hell that guy is doing sitting in his car in front of my house on an otherwise empty road at 2AM in the morning. The other day I saw a giant yellow fluff ball bounding down a grassy area about 300-yards away from our house. It turned out to be a clearly identifiable escaped yellow lab puppy which demonstrates the Nikon Monarch 7 8x30 delivers clarity even at longer distances.

Beyond the light weight small size and full sized performance, the MONARCH 7 binoculars includes a number of excellent and useful features including removable objective covers which attach via rubber rings so you do not lose them in the field. The eyepiece covers are attached to the very nice and comfy neck strap with stretchy neoprene pad. The case is nothing particularly special, but is light and has a velcro closure and belt loop.

What I love about the Nikon Monarch 7 8x30 is that it satisfies everything you could ask of a full sized set of binoculars in compact size and lighter weight. The 1 lb weight is weight well spent as a tool which is paramount to a successful hunt and can easy tuck into the smallest of hunting packs or even cargo pant pockets.

The clarity of the Nikon Monarch 7 8x30 is really quite amazing for binoculars of any size. For around $300 on the street, the Nikon Monarch 7 8x30 are definitely starting to get into the premium price line, however well below the German and craft binocular names. Unfortunately, too many times people don’t spend the money necessary on high quality optics & binoculars, however a high quality set of binoculars really is an essential hunting tool which is also handy for other observation activities.

At first I was not sold on a small set of binoculars since they typically deliver a smaller field of view and image quality suffers. In this case, Nikon has really hit a home run with an easily packable binocular size which still delivers big glass performance.

Compact Sophistication
MONARCH 7 8x30 - $379.95 MSRP - Street $299
The new MONARCH 7 30mm binocular features a new, sophisticated body design that is lighter and more compact.  Its improved optical system features 30mm objectives, a wide apparent field of view and Nikon’s ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass lenses.  

Focusing System Central Focus
Magnification 8x
Objective Diameter 30mm
Angular Field of View (Real) 8.3°
Angular Field of View (Apparent) 60.3°
FOV at 1000 yds 435 ft
Close Focus Distance 7.8 ft
Exit Pupil 3.8mm
Relative Brightness 14.4
Eye Relief 15.1mm
Size (Length x Width) 4.6 x 4.8 in
Weight 15.3 oz
Interpupilary Distance 56-72mm
Phase Coating Yes
Dielectric Coating Yes
Waterproof/Fogproof Yes
Prism Roof
ED Glass Yes


El Paso Saddlery Speed Rig Holster Review - Ruger Vaquero SASS Pistols

El Paso Saddlery Speed Rig Holster Review - Ruger Vaquero SASS Pistols

If classics had no attraction, there would be no interest in old cars, old movies, antiques, or cowboys. But luckily we have a romantic bond with the past which has shaped what we wanted to be when (or if) we ever grew up. I am sure almost every kid, more specifically boys, wanted to be a cowboy at one point or another. For me I seemed to alternate between pretending to be both the good guy and the bad, however I always had my dual cap guns strapped to my waist scaring the crap out of one or another stray cat on the property. I would sneak up on them and "Pow Pow", then giggle like made. Never have liked cats, and still don't. Mom and dad definitely got mileage from that cowboy outfit and accompanying cap guns.

After Mrs. Pandemic an my visit to Oklahoma City and the Western Heritage Cowboy Museum, I felt all those emotions rushing back again. Thousands of strands of barbed wire, stunning custom presentation firearms, and a whole lot of movie and real life history.  If you have not been to the museum, it will be one of the most fun experiences which will drive you to a giddy kid laugh. All the cool stuff you saw in the movies is there from Roy Rogers, to Wild Bill's cowboy western show to, the Three Amigos, to everything from Clint Eastwood. The movie history was a small percentage of the museum and was interesting, however it was the real life history of the West which was interesting and emotionally powerful. One day was not enough.

What made the visit even more fun was that I had just invested in and started shooting a gorgeous matched set of polished stainless steel Ruger SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) Vaqueros single action revolvers and an equally stunning El Paso Saddlery Leather Speed Rig for the revolvers. Yes, I am a big kid and I will tell you that have not had more fun on the range than I do with this setup. With practice, I hope to participate in at least a couple SASS competition. Visiting the museum just reinforced my "investment" and deepened my appreciation for the history of the Ruger revolver set and El Paso Saddlery rig.

If you have a stunning set of revolvers, it only makes sense that you need a stunning belt and holster rig such as this gorgeous El Paso Saddlery Speed Rig. Fit and finish are perfect on the El Paso Saddlery rig with not a stray stitch or imperfect cut anywhere. Based on my research, El Paso Saddlery leather is the premium leather crafter for SASS. It makes sense considering each and every holster and belt is made to order. The wait is around two months and the cost is just under $500 however both the cost and wait is worth it to have a custom made holster and belt rig to your specs. Options include leather (including exotics), leather color, ammo loops on the belt, tooling/decoration, revolver make and model, a second weakside holster, barrel length, and straight or cross draw holster types.

I choose black cowhide with tooling, for my Ruger Vaquero revolver set with left and right side holsters. El Paso Saddlery leather suggests adding 2" to your belt size, however be aware that  measurement is two inches larger than a belt size would be over your clothes and not the belt you use to hold up your pants. Put on a typical outfit and measure your belt size over everything you have on. I miscalculated and only have one extra hole left for food consumption based expansion, so I suppose this is an incentive to assure I don't gain any weight and keep myself in decent shape.  

The Speed Rig belt and holster setup is a El Paso Saddlery tuned design which is a good all around hoster design and is not steel lined but is extremely rigid. Addition safety features are hammer loops on the holsters which essentially lock the hammer down and prevents the pistol from being cocked in the holster or falling out.  

My belt has ammo loops which competitors usually fill with empty dummy rounds for safety, which is what I did. I simply took fired brass and pressed a bullet in place without replacing the primer and no powder. It completes the look.

The belt does require break in; a lot of break in. The leather is full thickness premium leather and has taken me months of wear to get it really settled in and comfortable and still has a way to go. I work out of my home office. The other day, my wife came downstairs to my office/lair/corral to find me in flip flops, a Barnes Precision t-shirt, camo cargo shorts, with my El Paso Saddlery rig on with pistols in place, and my Bond Arms derringer added to the belt... It was quite a look.  

It took her a little by surprise, however it's her own fault. If I would have known she was coming down, I would have slipped on my Lucchese boots and cowboy hat also. Yep, I am a big kid. I have long days of being on conference calls and I find this a great opportunity to break in the belt and practice dry firing. My UPs driver stopped being surprised by me wearing the rig to answer the door And now only asks if the leather is broken in yet.

Jumping into this top tier SASS dual pistol, belt and holster was without question an "investment" of which i am still learning more and more about its use each day ... on conference calls and at the range. This is very much a case of buying a formula one race car an then learning how to drive it, but the challenge has been a blast.

As I watch YouTube videos of the pro SASS shooters, you start to realize how freaking crazy awesome these folks are. My first time out at the range I took it safe and slow, however even at that speed, hitting my steel Action Target with a slow calculated shot from the hip is way harder than it looks, but you are hooked instantly. 400-rounds and hours later, I was hitting the target with decent regularity from the hip.

Fast forwarding a few months and I am able to draw and fire from both holsters quickly and hit the targets reliably, however I still have some work to do especially when shooting Gunfighter Style with both guns alternatively firing. The more you shoot these single action guns, the more you are hooked.

At a time where we are Tactical Everything, it has been refreshing to slow down a bit with this set of single action Ruger Vaqueros mounted up in this stunning leatherwork masterpiece that is my El Paso Saddlery leather rig. Most importantly, I feel like a kid again, get plenty of enjoyment out of it both on and off the range.

El Paso Speed Rig - 2 Holsters and Belt - MSRP $425.00 Base Price
Options includes additional carving and exotic leather options

Every quick shooting advantage has been included in this top of the line rig. The smooth design and attention to detail give the Speed Rig not only a great look, but a quickness that makes it a winner.
Holsters are blocked with specially designed pistols that angle the top line of the holster, making reholstering the easiest it's ever been.
2 1/2" wide tapered belt features 24 loops standard
Leather lined holsters
Cut low in front for extremely fast draw
Full Speed Rig Shell Stamping Standard
Crossdraw available

El Paso Saddlery -