Understanding and Training the Female Shooter

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Greg Ellifritz shares some things he learned from Lou Ann Hamblin’s Understanding and Training the Female Shooter class:

When measured on a dynamometer, most men have similar grip strength between their dominant and non-dominant hands (as tested in class, my hands differed by only 2 lbs. of force between right and left). Most women have a HUGE disparity…differences of up to 40% are common. Would that knowledge affect how you teach off-handed shooting for a female student? It should.

Female vision is different than male vision. Women have less depth perception, but better peripheral vision than men. It affects how women see the sights on their guns and how far they have to move their head to do an after-action scan.

Shorter-waisted women have difficulty drawing from many traditional holsters. Their body styles change which gear works best for them.

Women are known to be better multi-taskers than men. This can be problematic in firearms training as some women will try to do too much, taking your suggestions very literally. If you give most women a list of 10 things they are doing “wrong”, they will try to work on them all simultaneously and won’t make as much improvement as if you gave them just one or two things to improve at a time.

Because of differing motivational strategies, competition in training will often yield different results between men and women. Most men really enjoy competition and find it valuable. Because most women are motivated more by social connection than by ego gratification, competition may not give the same benefits. Lou Ann suggested using team competitions (where students are partnered up to achieve a goal) when training women. She believes that women will be better motivated to perform if they are trying to help their partner than if they were trying to win some type of individual award.

“Women need details…but only when they are ready for them. Don’t over-explain things in the beginning, but be ready to explain things in much more detail that you ever imagined necessary when she asks for it. But, she won’t ask for the details if she thinks you are a dick.”

Weapon Laws in Germany

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Jörg Sprave of The Slingshot Channel is famous for his crazy improvised weapons, but he also collects real weapons, which isn’t nearly as illegal in Germany as an American might imagine:

Slaughter at the Bridge

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

The distant past is looking even less like the era of Conan the Corded Ware Maker as archeologists uncover a colossal Bronze Age battle:

In 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank — the first clue that the Tollense Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin, concealed a gruesome secret. A flint arrowhead was firmly embedded in one end of the bone, prompting archaeologists to dig a small test excavation that yielded more bones, a bashed-in skull, and a 73-centimeter club resembling a baseball bat. The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B.C.E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.

Now, after a series of excavations between 2009 and 2015, researchers have begun to understand the battle and its startling implications for Bronze Age society. Along a 3-kilometer stretch of the Tollense River, archaeologists from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Department of Historic Preservation (MVDHP) and the University of Greifswald (UG) have unearthed wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads. They have also found bones in extraordinary numbers: the remains of at least five horses and more than 100 men. Bones from hundreds more may remain unexcavated, and thousands of others may have fought but survived.

“If our hypothesis is correct that all of the finds belong to the same event, we’re dealing with a conflict of a scale hitherto completely unknown north of the Alps,” says dig co-director Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the Lower Saxony State Service for Cultural Heritage in Hannover. “There’s nothing to compare it to.” It may even be the earliest direct evidence — with weapons and warriors together — of a battle this size anywhere in the ancient world.

Tollense 1

The 10,000 bones in this room — what’s left of Tollense’s losers — changed all that. They were found in dense caches: In one spot, 1478 bones, among them 20 skulls, were packed into an area of just 12 square meters. Archaeologists think the bodies landed or were dumped in shallow ponds, where the motion of the water mixed up bones from different individuals. By counting specific, singular bones — skulls and femurs, for example — UG forensic anthropologists Ute Brinker and Annemarie Schramm identified a minimum of 130 individuals, almost all of them men, most between the ages of 20 and 30.

The number suggests the scale of the battle. “We have 130 people, minimum, and five horses. And we’ve only opened 450 square meters. That’s 10% of the find layer, at most, maybe just 3% or 4%,” says Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist at MVDHP. “If we excavated the whole area, we might have 750 people. That’s incredible for the Bronze Age.” In what they admit are back-of-the-envelope estimates, he and Terberger argue that if one in five of the battle’s participants was killed and left on the battlefield, that could mean almost 4000 warriors took part in the fighting.

Tollense 2

Is Shooting a Martial Art?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

“Do you consider shooting a martial art?” I asked Jocko (@jockowillink). “How has your firearms training been like or unlike martial arts training?” He answered, and it went something like this:

Shooting is absolutely a martial art, maybe not the way people picture martial arts nowadays, because we picture a guy in a gi doing karate, that’s the generic picture. But for me that’s not martial arts actually. For me martial art is the art of war, the individual warrior skills which it takes, and firearms are absolutely a martial art. Because it’s something that you train, something that you get good at, something you need to maintain your skill at. To me it’s another piece of the puzzle, another thing that you need to know how to do, just like tactics that go along with shooting are an important part of being a warrior, you need to know how to shoot.

The training is very similar in my mind to martial arts training, in that it takes repetition, you have to know what the basics are, you have to repeat those basics, then you get more advanced.

It’s about movement and getting efficient with your movement, you want to train very similar to the way you train mixed martial arts. And once you get all those mechanical skills down, then you want to train your mind around this skill, so that your mind knows how to utilize it when things are unexpected and when there’s chaos and mayhem going on.

(Thanks to our Slovenian guest for transcribing that.)

From there, Jocko tells a fun story about Nerf “lazer” tag and the importance of good tactical training.

Intensity and Weight of Fire

Monday, March 7th, 2016

With the rise of trench warfare, the German army conducted a number of attacks with limited objectives, which all relied on the effect of artillery — particularly heavy artillery:

For several reasons, the Germans put more emphasis on the physiological effect of artillery and less on its destructive effect, than did the French or British armies at this stage in the war. In part, this was a consequence of the types of artillery each army had available in the war to date. The German army went to war in 1914 with very considerable numbers of modern heavy artillery, importantly, modern heavy howitzers and mortars. These heavy howitzers were capable of firing very heavy shells at high angles, which made them effective against entrenched enemies and against fortifications. Indeed, drawing on lessons from the Russo-Japanese War and the Balkan Wars, the pre-war German army had developed and deployed more high-angle of fire weapons than any other European army, including super-heavy howitzers capable of fire shells weighing 820 kilograms.

In 1914, the Germans used this heavy artillery to good effect to capture first Belgian and then French fortresses and fortifications. However, contrary to pre-war expectations, it was not the destruction wrought by heavy artillery that brought about the surrender of enemy fortifications, but rather its psychological impact. The fortresses of Liege, Namur, Antwerp, and Maubeuge all fell to much smaller forces, which generally attacked after short, concentrated bombardments by German heavy artillery. (Indeed, in the case of Liege, the infantry attacked before heavy artillery preparation.) With a couple spectacular exceptions, their defensive works had remained largely intact, but the morale of their garrisons collapsed under the weight of German heavy artillery fire, leading to their surrender.

The experience of field fortifications on the Western Front reinforced the growing belief amongst German artillerists that it was not the duration of artillery preparation and not the destruction caused by a bombardment that was important, but rather the intensity and weight of fire during a preparatory bombardment. This was expressed clearly as early as December 1914 by Ludwig Lauter, the General of Heavy Artillery in the German High Command, who wrote: ‘Days’ long careful fire causes high casualties among the enemy, but it is not enough to break his combat power before the moment of attack. A short one- or two-hour heavy bombardment, with its moral and physical effect, fulfils this goal much better.’

What killed the duel?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Eric Raymond considers himself an expert on the history of the duel of honor:

First, the undisputed facts: dueling began a steep decline in the early 1840s and was effectively extinct in English-speaking countries by 1870, with a partial exception for American frontier regions where it lasted two decades longer. Elsewhere in Europe the code duello retained some social force until World War I.

This was actually a rather swift end for a body of custom that had emerged in its modern form around 1500 but had roots in the judicial duels of the Dark Ages a thousand years before. The conventional accounts attribute it to a mix of two causes: (a) a broad change in moral sentiments about violence and civilized behavior, and (b) increasing assertion of a state monopoly on legal violence.

I don’t think these factors were entirely negligible, but I think there was something else going on that was at least as important, if not more so, and has been entirely missed by (other) historians. I first got to it when I noticed that the date of the early-Victorian law forbidding dueling by British military officers – 1844 – almost coincided with (following by perhaps a year or two) the general availability of percussion-cap pistols.

The dominant weapons of the “modern” duel of honor, as it emerged in the Renaissance from judicial and chivalric dueling, had always been swords and pistols. To get why percussion-cap pistols were a big deal, you have to understand that loose-powder pistols were terribly unreliable in damp weather and had a serious charge-containment problem that limited the amount of oomph they could put behind the ball.

This is why early-modern swashbucklers carried both swords and pistols; your danged pistol might very well simply not fire after exposure to damp northern European weather. It’s also why percussion-cap pistols, which seal the powder priming charge inside a brass cap, were first developed for naval use, the prototype being Sea Service pistols of the Napoleonic era. But there was a serious cost issue with those: each cap had to be made by hand at eye-watering expense.

Then, in the early 1840s, enterprising gunsmiths figured out how to mass-produce percussion caps with machines. And this, I believe, is what actually killed the duel. Here’s how it happened…

First, the availability of all-weather pistols put an end to practical swordfighting almost immediately. One sidearm would do rather than two. Second, dueling pistols suddenly became tremendously more reliable and somewhat more lethal. When smokeless powder became generally available in the 1880s they took another jump upwards in lethality.

Moral sentiments and state power may have been causes, but I am pretty convinced that they had room to operate because a duel of honor in 1889 was a far more dangerous proposition than it had been in 1839. Swords were effectively out of play by the latter date, pistols no longer sputtered in bad weather (allowing seconds to declare that “honor had been satisfied”) and the expected lethality of a bullet hit had gone way up due to the increased velocity of smokeless-powder rounds.

I’m not sure that’s a new idea.

Why We Picture Bombs As Round Black Balls with a Burning Wick

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

The iconic bomb entered the public imagination after the Civil War:

Ignited, uncontained gunpowder will burn, but for it to explode the gas pressure needed to be built up in a sealed container. Often, a spherical one made the most sense, since the shape was aerodynamic and could be made of two halves with one seal, instead of a box with many sides.

They were also dark, being made of cast iron or other metals, both to ensure sturdiness and to maximize shrapnel after the explosion. The only thing inaccurate about the cartoon depiction of bombs is the string wick, says Kelly. “Fuses were made of wood and they’d be drilled down through the center, and they’d be packed very solidly with gunpowder that would burn at a predictable rate,” he says, “The idea of a string fuse coming out of the bomb is really a fantasy.”

If the Civil War was the last gunpowder war, given the sheer number of Americans involved, it seems likely that many would have some familiarity with an explosive of that kind. But another aspect of American culture helped to popularize that image — editorial cartoons.

By the mid-19th century, many papers across the country featured editorial cartoons. The most famous was probably Harper’s Weekly, often considered the most widely read publication during the Civil War. Their illustrations featured caricatures of politicians, depictions of the treatment of slaves, and of course, battles. In one cartoon, a smoking bomb with the face of who appears to be General Scott is lobbed toward Jefferson Davis. The bomb is round with a skinny, string wick sticking out of the top. Comics like that made it pretty clear just what a bomb looked like.

In 1867, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, which Kelly said was quickly and widely “publicized at that time as the weapon of the people,” something easily accessible and easy to make at home. It seems that spherical gunpowder bombs would be on their way out. But another widely publicized event may have sealed their images in the minds of the populace. In 1886, a labor demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square was thrown into riot by a dynamite bomb, but one that reportedly resembled a stereotypical mortar bomb. According to the New York Times accounts of the riots, a group of men arrived on a wagon, and from it “something rose up into the air, carrying with it a slender tail of fire.”

Three days after the bombing, police searched the house of anarchist Louis Lingg, who was suspected to have made the bombs, and found two spherical dynamite bombs with metal casings. Given that dynamite is enough of an explosive, the metal casings were likely not used to hold in pressure, but to cause damage as metal shards flew into the crowd. The prosecution used these bombs as evidence in the trial of eight suspects, and testified that they matched the chemical makeup of the bombs used in the Haymarket riot.


The trial was heavily covered in the press, and again Harper’s Weekly provided images. In one, a bearded anarchist is seen standing over a spherical bomb, and in another Lady Justice holds one labeled “law” over a panicked crowd. It didn’t matter if they were gunpowder bombs or not. The image was the same.


Special Computing Subsystem 24

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

The Russian Air Force, now known as the Russian AirSpace Force, has been able to maintain a high tempo of operations in Syria, launching a high volume of precision munitions surprisingly cheaply:

Instead of mounting a kit on an old bomb and lose the kit every time, the Russians mounted a JDAM-like kit, but on the airplane.

Introducing the SVP-24:


SVP stands for “special computing subsystem”. What this system does is that it constantly compares the position of the aircraft and the target (using the GLONASS satellite navigation system), it measures the environmental parameters (pressure, humidity, windspeed, speed, angle of attack, etc.). It can also receive additional information from datalinks from AWACs aircraft, ground stations, and other aircraft. The SVP-24 then computes an “envelope” (speed, altitude, course) inside which the dumb bombs are automatically released exactly at the precise moment when their unguided flight will bring them right over the target (with a 3-5m accuracy).

In practical terms this means that every 30+ year old Russian “dumb” bomb can now be delivered by a 30+ year old Russian aircraft with the same precision as a brand new guided bomb delivered by a top of the line modern bomber.

Not only that, but the pilot does not even have to worry about targeting anything. He just enters the target’s exact coordinates into his system, flies within a defined envelope and the bombs are automatically released for him. He can place his full attention on detecting any hostiles (aircraft, missiles, AA guns). And the best part of this all is that this system can be used in high altitude bombing runs, well over the 5000m altitude which MANPADs cannot reach. Finally, clouds, smoke, weather conditions or time of the day play no role in this whatsoever.

Last, but not least, this is a very cheap solution. Russian can now use the huge stores of ‘dumb’ bombs they have accumulated during the Cold War, they can bring an infinite supply of such bombs to Syria and every one of them will strike with phenomenal accuracy. And since the SVP-24 is mounted on the aircraft and not the bomb, it can be reused as often as needed.

(Hat tip to Randall Parker.)

Modernized Nuclear Weapons

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

The US has been using precision munitions for decades, but it has only recently moved to modernize its nuclear weapons — adding not only precision guidance but also a “dial-a-yield” feature whose lowest setting is just 2 percent as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

B61-12 Diagram. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, ‘Smaller’ Leaves Some Uneasy - The New York Times - Google Chrome 1122016 100707 AM


Flash, then Bang

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

If you’ve ever watched a professional fireworks display, you know that the bright flash precedes the loud bang by a few seconds.

If you watch an atomic bomb blast, the bright flash precedes the loud bang by half a minute:

By the way, that bright flash is bright enough “that people can see bones showing through hands covering their closed eyes,” and that loud bang comes from a pressure wave of 0.2 psi, “an immense punch to the whole body” at 10 km.

Also, it is a bang, rather than a boom:

The sound of a nuclear blast is distinctive as more of a bang than a boom because thermal energy is directly proportional to low frequency absorption. or heat soaks up low frequencies. There is a hell of a lot of heat in a nuclear bomb — hence the higher pitched bang sound than you would expect from such a massive explosion.

Over at the Glasstone blog — “a blog all about contradicting the widespread superstition that nuclear wars are unsurvivable and debunking hardened dogma of exaggerated nuclear effects” — our Slovenian guest asked, which comes first, the shock wave, or the bang?

A simple calculation of the arrival time of “sound” corresponds roughly to the arrival time of zero pressure after the shock wave! At very long distances where the shock velocity decays to sound velocity, the blast duration peaks and ceases to increase further. So you can get an idea of the blast wave or sound wave duration by subtracting the calculated sound wave arrival time from the shock wave arrival time!

Some examples. Sound takes 4.7 seconds to travel one mile. So if you are at 10 miles from a 1 megaton low air burst over Trafalgar square, the shock front arrives at 40 seconds after the first flash of the explosion, and zero pressure (sound arrival time) is about 47 seconds, so the total shock duration is around 7 seconds!

There’s some interesting physical mechanisms. Because sound is a longitudinal pressure wave, and is not a transverse wave, it is basically an outward force (pressure = force/area). So you get some simple basic concept physically, like Energy = Force x Distance, or more precisely: Energy = Integral of Force over distance. The distance here is the distance of the outward pressure phase of the shock. Then by Newton’s 3rd law of motion, you get the prediction of the negative (inward directed) pressure phase, which has lower peak (negative) pressure, and so has a somewhat longer duration. Of course, in the very early phase of the blast wave there is no negative pressure, because when the pressure wave is isothermal, Newton 3rd law reaction force consists entirely of the blast going out in the opposite direction, e.g. before the negative phase sets in, the reaction force of the blast force which is going Southwards is simply the blast force that’s going Northwards. After the pressure in the middle drops to ambient due to outward motion of most of the air in the shock front, this reaction force is replaced by the negative phase (reversed blast winds). So it’s possible to get a physical, intuitive feel for the physics of all the details of the blast wave.

The first sound in actual nuclear blast, regardless of the blast duration, is like a pistol shot, according to Jack W. Reed, who saw more atmospheric nuclear tests than anyone else in the West while in the Nevada long-range nuclear blast prediction unit (which had to predict blast reflections from atmospheric temperature inversions to prevent broken windows and injuries in Las Vegas, etc.). Humans can only hear sounds with frequencies of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, so a 1 second blast duration is 1 Hz and is too low to hear. So all you hear in a nuclear explosion is:

1. The crack-like (pistol shot) sound of the abrupt rise in pressure when the shock front arrives (if it takes 1 ms to go from ambient pressure to peak overpressure, that is a frequency of around 1 kHz).

2. The sound of the wind blowing behind the shock front (which is only 40 miles/hour peak wind speed at 10 miles from 1 megaton, but is much higher closer in).

3. Sounds from damage caused like breaking windows, impacts of blown debris.

Travis Tomasie on Mythbusters

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Adam and Jamie from Mythbusters try to shoot and reload rapidly. Then they bring in an expert:

Jerry Shot First

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Jerry Miculek has some fun shooting a replica DL-44 blaster — based, of course, on the Mauser “broomhandle” C96:

Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

The modern Taser was named after Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. The name is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle. And it rhymes with laser, of course.

If you haven’t read any of the original Tom Swift novels, be warned: they could not be more dated. I particularly enjoyed this passage from the 1911 novel:

That’s just what I want. Elephant shooting in Africa! My! With my new electric rifle, and an airship, what couldn’t a fellow do over in the dark continent!

His new invention is not a stun gun, by the way.

What Really Happens When You Get Shot

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

So, Wired has a decent article on what really happens when you get shot — summary: “bullets are magic” — but what caught my eye was the accompanying photograph:

Pistol and Round

Is that CGI? Is that even a bullet? It’s way out of focus, but it looks like a rimmed brass casing. It also looks bigger than the muzzle opening, which oddly lacks any burning gasses. The slide isn’t reciprocating, either. Oh, and there’s no finger on the trigger. Who painstakingly makes such an image?

Firearms, Kings, and the Emergence of the Peaceful Life

Monday, December 7th, 2015

The United States has a higher homicide rate than most other developed countries, and it has more civilian gun ownership — but the causality isn’t straightforward:

There are large gaps among the states when it comes to homicide, with rates ranging all the way from about two to twelve per 100,000 in 2013, the most recent year of data available from the CDC. These disparities show that it’s not just guns that cause the United States to have, on average, a higher rate of homicide than other developed countries do. Not only is there no correlation between gun ownership and overall homicide within a state, but there is a strong correlation between gun homicide and non-gun homicide — suggesting that they spring from similar causes, and that some states are simply more violent than others. A closer look at demographic and geographic patterns provides some clues as to why this is.

The first major factor is race. Blacks lacked the government’s protection from violence through most of American history and even today have higher rates of homicide than other racial groups do. Despite being 13 percent of the general population and owning guns at just half the rate of whites, blacks commit about half of murders, overwhelmingly against other blacks. Drawing on recent CDC data, the website FiveThirtyEight has reported that while blacks suffer homicide at a rate of 19.4 per 100,000, the rate for non-Hispanic whites is just 2.5 — “not so much of an outlier” in the international context, FiveThirtyEight notes.


Whites in 14 states face a roughly European level of violence, with an annual homicide risk of no more than 1.5 per 100,000. Confusingly, these states don’t appear to have much in common culturally. They include liberal states known for gang violence in poor minority areas (New York, New Jersey), mostly rural red states teeming with firearms (Idaho, North Dakota), Upper Midwest states with strong hunting cultures but also large urban areas (Wisconsin, Minnesota), and gun-loving states either purple (New Hampshire) or solidly blue (Vermont).

But there is, in fact, a common thread: They are all in the northern United States. Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, documenting this pattern in The Better Angels of Our Nature, ascribes differences in state violence to a North–South divide reflecting “historical routes of migration.” He notes that “the Chesapeake colonies of Maryland and Virginia started out more violent than New England.” As Pinker and countless others have discussed, inhabitants of the North were relatively quick to establish the rule of law and allow the government a monopoly on violence, while the South developed a “culture of honor” in which individuals took personal slights seriously and handled their disputes themselves, sometimes resorting to violence. This difference suggests that there will be higher homicide rates in the South, regardless of the prevalence of guns. In fact, whites in the most violent states — mainly in the South and Southwest, where gun ownership is high — have non-gun-assault death rates around 1.5 to 2 per 100,000, enough to put them above the total rates of the least violent foreign nations and of white Americans in peaceful northern states. Similarly, to return to the previous topic, blacks nationwide have a rate of non-gun-assault death above 3.5 per 100,000.

Definitely read the whole thing.