The company we keep

On the admin side of things, the software for this blog tells me when something here has been linked somewhere else. Its kinda nice because then I can go over to where I was linked and look around and see in what context it was about. Usually its other preparedness blogs or that sort of thing that I wind up getting these pingbacks from. Yesterday I got my first pingback from a ….questionable…website – Stormfront.org

I’m sure this will somehow put me on the ‘black list’ (or, I suppose, ‘list of color’) with the race pimps at Southern Poverty Law Center. I cant control who reads this stuff, folks…

Guns as investments

Lately I’ve been trying to cut back on gun-centric posts and limit myself to one every Friday. Oddly, I missed last Friday’s.

Ever see people post about ‘guns as investments’? They’ll point out that if you had bought [gold/index funds/California] a certain number of years ago and at the same time bought a [AK/AR/case of ammo], the gun stuff would have realized a higher percentage profit than the other stuff. Thus, guns are a sound investment.  At least, that’s the argument.

Let’s establish a few terms. An investment is putting capital (money usually) into something with the intention that after a certain amount of time you’ll be able to get back your capital and then some. Contrast this with items that are purchased not to increase in value but rather to hold a value (or a purchasing power)…like gold.

Buying guns as an investment can make sense if youre buying something truly funky and perhaps one-of-a-kind. Pat Garrett’s Colt revolver, the handgun Clinton lieutenants used to kill Vince Foster, Annie Oakley’s .22 rifle, a toolroom prototype from S&W, etc, etc. Sometimes, if you’ve got your finger on the pulse of things you can predict something will be on the market a very short time and therefore become quite valuable..a Colt Survivor, Ruger Hawkeye, Winchester 88, S&W 76, etc, etc. Or…if you like to gamble, you can invest in something that isn’t rare, isn’t hard to get, isn’t too expensive but someday will be. For example, the HK93 I bought in 1986 for $600 would bring about $4000 now. An AR bought in 1993 became worth two or three times its purchase price in 1995.

The biggest drawback to guns as investments is the regulatory aspect. By and large, trading an ounce of gold among people in the US is fairly benign…you can sell it to convicted felons, ten-year-olds, or pretty much whomever youd like, wherever you like. Guns, on the other hand, come with a whole bunch of regulatory strings attached. The longest string and the one likely to wind up choking off your daylight is that if you sell enough guns or make enough money you might come under the BATFE’s definition of being ‘in the business’ which means they will expect you to have a license. Now, every one of us has at some time or another picked up a gun at a gun show for a song, walked to the other side of the show and sold it to someone else and pocketed a good profit. Seems reasonable to me but I saw a fella at the Helena gun show get in trouble with ATFE for that sort of thing. I don’t have all the details, I just know that they paid him a visit and while he didn’t go to jail it pretty darn near wiped him out and shaved a few years off his warranty.

In short, guns as an investment is a mediocre strategy for high returns in normal times. The only way you can really make it work is if you have a huge amount of money to lay out and you can afford to tie up that money for years before seeing a return. If you can afford to head down to your local gun shop, buy five AR-15s, seal them up in a box and shove them in the closet and not touch them for ten years….yes, you’ll make money. Of course in the meantime you probably could have made more money by investing in other things during those ten years.

Now, to be totally inconsistent, there is at least one circumstance where during normal times firearms are good investments for realizing high returns. That circumstance is if you are thoroughly knowledgeable on the guns, have the opportunity to buy them at very low cost (garage sales, gun shows, ‘motivated sellers’) and have an avenue to sell them (GunBroker, a shop, etc.) However, in those circumstances you’ve gone from ‘investor’ to ‘having a job’. Scouring classified ads, Craigslist, gun shows, auctions, estate sales and then purchasing, cleaning and pricing firearms to be sold, if you can find a buyer, is work. At that point, surprise, you’ve pretty much become a dealer. I’ve done it before…I had a guy come in with a Savage 110 in .300 Win. With a Leupold 3-9x on top of it. Gave him $250 for the package. The scope brought $150 and the rifle brought $275. A good investment? Absolutely. Repeatable with any predictability? Not at all. You can go a long time between deals like that. You can also wind up buying a package like that and have it sit on the rack for several long, hungry weeks or months.

But…that’s during normal times.

When the LA Riots occurred, the demand for firearms and ammo was amazing. I’ve no doubt that in the aftermath of Katrina you could pretty much name your price and get it for a Mossberg 500 and a box of shells. If another more oppressive and permanent assault weapon ban comes down the pike you can bet that the price of pretty much anything with a trigger will go up. A fella with a footlocker of cheap AR carbines might wind up making quite a bit of coin.

Is it worth buying guns strictly as investment tools to be cashed in after things get weird? Maybe. A used SIG 9mm will run about $400 right now. When the end of the world occurs you could trade it, quite easily Im sure, for food, medicine or fuel. On the other hand you could also take that $400 today and buy food, medicine or fuel and stockpile it for later. There are folks who feel that should civilization truly run off the rails things like gold, silver, ammo and such will become the new currency. There might be some truth to that, after all civilization is still limping along and you already have plenty of people who are willing to take those things as currency for goods and services.

I almost never pass up a deal on ‘cheap’ (pricewise) firearms. Even if it’s a caliber I have no earthly use for, I’ll go ahead and pick it up if the price is right. Someday that oddball bastard-caliber handgun or rifle, with a box of appropriate ammo, may wind up being just as valuable, to me, as a stack of greenbacks is today. I remember reading a fairly forgettable post-apocalyptic book years ago called ‘Wolf & Iron’. One of the characters was a fella who traveled with his daughter as a sort of traveling merchant. They had a wagon full of trade goods and theyd do a circuit through various towns and villages. Tied to the back of the wagon were horses that were always saddled and ready to be ridden off in case they were attacked or ambushed. Each horse had a pack on it that contained all the essentials of survival including a couple small handguns to be used for trading purposes. For some reason that always made an impression with me.

Years ago I had the opportunity to buy a bunch of police trade-in revolvers. This was back when the transition from revolvers to Glocks was in full swing at many police departments. I think I paid between $150 and $200 for each S&W .38 Special I picked up. Some were in great shape, some were not. All worked, though. I remember thinking that I could take one of these pistols, add a cheap holster, a box of ammo, a cleaning kit and a speedloader or two, throw it in a small ammo can and it would make an ideal package to use for trade someday if I ever needed it. Of course, it also makes an excellent package to hand out to an undergunned friend who may not have a pistol.

“Waitasec, wouldn’t it be foolish to trade guns and ammo to someone who may wind up using them against you?” Yup. So don’t trade them to someone like that. There’s only two ways that’s going to happen – either youre so desperate that you cant be choosey or youre doing it from a position of overwhelming strength.

Are firearms a good investment? If your goal is to spend 100% of ‘x’ on firearms and a year later get 125% of it back, no. It might happen but the risk and opportunity cost probably isn’t worth it. If your goal is to have some sort of high-value ace-in-the-hole for the day you need to bribe someone, get desperately needed [medicine/food/fuel], or equip a trusted friend…then, yeah, it’s a good idea.

Cases

A lot of the stuff we acquire for preparedness is fairly middle-of-the-road in terms of  cost. Some stuff is cheap, some stuff is mid-range, and some stuff is just downright spendy. Take those spendy items and put them in the environment that we are preparing against (earthquake, flood, fire, zombies, etc.) and you’ve got a recipe for frustration and loss. Some of the more expensive items are things like guns, radios, optics, GPS, range finders, cellphones, etc. So it stands to reason that we want to protect those items as best we can until such time as we need them.

There is no shortage of scenarios that damage gear – it’s 2am and its time to leave in a hurry. Its pouring rain, the ground is muddy, and the only space left in the vehicle is in the back of the uncovered bed of a pickup truck. You drag your radio gear out of storage, trip on the steps and it goes flying to land in the mud. You pick it up, run to the truck, and heave it into the back where it sits in the rain for twenty minutes as you frantically run back and forth from the house grabbing as much as you can. Then it’s a two hour ride in the rain, gear bumping and jostling against itself, gravel and dirt flying around, and crushing weight as the load shifts back and forth on the rough roads. But, finally, you make it to your destination of relative safety and you start unpacking. Now there’s two endings to this drama – your radio gear is either in more pieces when you started, and soaking wet to boot or its dry, intact and ready for use. The biggest factor in the outcome is how you protected it. And the same goes for your guns. Or your binoculars. Or your laptop.

To me, the qualities Im looking for in a hard storage case are pretty straightforward: durability, survivability, adaptability, utility, and affordability. Not necessarily in that order.

The best things I have found are the hard plastic cases made by Pelican and Hardigg. Hardigg was doing a great job of giving Pelican a run for its money so Pelican did what any smart business would do – buy them out and recapture market share. I’m going to use the term ‘Pelican case’ to describe the hard plastic cases made by Pelican and Hardigg interchangeably. In its simplest form, the Pelican cases are briefcase-shaped cases of various dimensions made from near-indestructible plastic, gasketed to be watertight, and foam padded on the interior. They are pretty much the last word in readily available consumer-marketed (meaning available to average joes and not just .mil) cases out there. I bought one of their big rifle cases for my .308 bolt gun and have been very pleased with it. I can heave it into the back of the truck, take it to the range and know that the gun will be just fine. This sort of security and peace of mind doesn’t come cheap, though. The rifle case cost me $200 all on its own. Would a $75 Dosckocil case have done the trick? For a while, maybe….but I’ve ‘sprung’ a few of them in air travel and while theyre great for traveling and keeping a gun in the closet or basement they wouldn’t be my first choice for fleeing advancing hordes of zombies in the rain or snow.

The guys at Pelican offer their cases in various sizes from stuff small enough to fit just your iPod to cases the size of footlockers. All of them are quite durable and all of them aren’t cheap. But, you do get what you pay for. On the bright side, Pelican (and Hardigg) cases can be found new and used on eBay at big savings. Often they’ll be without the foam inserts or the foam will have been cut to a shape that doesn’t suit your needs. Not a problem, the foam inserts are replaceable and can be ordered from Pelican. I often remove them altogether and put my gear in nylon pouches and then pad it with some eggshell foam…this way the gear is ready to go and still protected for transit and storage. If you can afford them, the Pelican cases are outstanding ways to ‘ruggedize’ your gear for travel and storage in adverse conditions. A year or two ago I found a closeout on small Pelican cases that had been used by Nikon for their digital cameras. Other than a Nikon sticker (easily removed) these were brand new Pelican cases. I bought all they had, sold a bunch and kept a few for myself. One of them serves as my “Glock first aid kit” containing a bunch of spare parts, disassembly tool, test cover plate, and a few other items. They also make excellent indestructible containers for personal pocket/pack-sized first aid kits.

Of course, not everyone wants to spend $125 on a Pelican case the size of a phone book. I can totally relate to that, Im one cheap bastard myself. The next step down from the Pelican case is the tried and true surplus ammo can. Assuming that the ones you get are in good shape and haven’t been dinged up too badly they are usually watertight and their metal construction certainly affords a great deal of protection to whatever you put inside. Drawbacks are the limited sizes, sketchy availability, rather distinctive military look, and lack of internal padding. On the other hand when you can find them in the size you need almost nothing works as well. I have far more ammo cans than I do Pelican cases and I use them for storing all sorts of stuff that needs to stay dry, protected, and clean.

Other than expensive electronics and guns what else needs this level of protection? Well, pretty much anything that absolutely needs to stay dry, clean and in one piece. First aid gear comes to mind. I’ve a couple Pelican cases that I bought used for about $20 each. Theyre kinda cube shaped and just the right size to hold a large first aid bag. Some folks get a large rifle case and make it into a ‘backup gun package’ – a rifle, shotgun, pistol and a couple magazines all in one place ready to be tucked under a house, left in the loft of a barn, or hidden under some deadfall. One of the larger Pelican cases or 40mm ammo cans make an excellent bombproof container for complete kits or storing a 3-day bag.

Although I try to take good care of my gear I do realize there are going to be times when babying stuff just isn’t going to be a possibility. For those times I want my gear packed in such a manner I can throw it around, leave it in the snow, bounce it around in a truck, lash it to a pack from or cache it somewhere.

As I said, eBay is an excellent source for used Hardigg and Pelican cases. Many military surplus cases are on the market these days and although they may be scratched, nicked and painted they are usually still just as good as they were when they were new. While they aren’t cheap, by any stretch of the imagination, they most certainly are cheaper than having to replace a critical piece of gear that got destroyed because you left it sitting out in the open.

Patriots’ Day

Ah, ’tis Patriots’ Day. Note that is Patriots with an ‘s’, not to be confused with the faux holiday, Patriot Day.  Succinctly, the day marks the beginning of the American Revolutionary War where ‘beginning’ is determined by when the first shots officially flew. The day is always met in two ways with me – first, rumination and reflection of the events and people involved and secondly, a trip to the range.

How important a holiday is it? Well for almost 20 years now April 19th is a red letter day at Federal law enforcement levels…heightened awareness is the rule of the day since those of us that mark the holiday get labeled with some unflattering descriptions like ‘possible threat’, ‘domestic terrorist’ and my personal favorite ‘anti-government extremist’.

Come to think of it, this nation was founded by ‘anti-government extremists’ and ‘possible threats’. And, according to Joe Biden, this nation was founded by unpatriotic types….because, as Biden says, “paying taxes is patriotic”.

Its a glorious holiday with somber notes as well as celebratory ones.  Like any war remembrance its easy to overlook the loss and suffering that occurred. Some fella kissed his wife goodbye, risked losing his farm and his family as well as his own life, and marched with lousy equipment for minimal pay because of his ideals. Everyone talks about ‘taking a stand’ and ‘opposing tyranny’ but it seems no one ever does…at least, not in that sense. As an interesting exercise, think about what it would take for you to quit your job, walk away from your home, push your family away, and join an insurgent group that has no guarantee of winning and a high probability of putting your neck in a noose.  Interesting stuff.

Anyway, I’ll be at the range today with some form of ‘assault rifle’ practicing and shooting. I recommend, as I do every year at this time, that you do the same.

Article – Nuclear blast victims would have to wait

Yoyo = “Youre on your own”

A brief article, with a link to a very interesting .pdf, on how the .gov response to a nuclear ‘incident’ might take a little while. But don’t worry, “What citizens need to know fits on a wallet-sized card”.

I’d expect that theres going to be a delay of a lot more than several days before .gov can mount any real, meaningful response. Partly because .gov isn’t the best at responding to disasters of any magnitude and also because, realistically, if someone nukes Denver the .gov is going to be too busy doing ‘security’ stuff to focus on the aftermath…they’ll be shutting down borders, mobilizing response teams, staging military units, etc, etc. In short, they’ll have their hands full doing the ‘Homeland Security’ thing. Another reason to have your own ducks in a row…when the .gov finally does get its act together it’ll most likely consist of guys with guns forcing people to stay indoors ‘for your own protection’ as they try to find their butt with both hands.

Bookshelf musings

One of these days I’m going to take a high-quality pictureo f my bookshelf and post it so you can zoom in and see all the titles of the various books in there. I have one seven-foot high bookcase that is dedicated to nothing but preparedness-related books. Of course, deciding what texts are and are not related to preparedness is pretty subjective. Food storage, first aid, gun stuff, beekeeping, water supplies, home improvement, etc, are all fair game. I dont think many of us would disagree that those topics would fit in. Then we get a little more esoteric – cookbooks, politics, history, economics and a few other unexpected subjects.

Cookbooks are pretty easy to figure out. I like to eat. When the economy finally runs off the rails, infrastructure fails and the dead walk the earth Im still going to like to eat. So, I learn to cook. In addition to the usual stuff I cook I also check through cookbooks and cooking magazines for recipes that involve foods that store well. Theres plenty of books out there that are dedicated to cooking with food storge but, honestly, some of those recipes are pretty unappealing. I’d rather go hunting through Food Network, Food & Wine, Sunset, and a few other cooking magazines and hunt down recipes that I can look at and say “Hey, if I used canned [ingredient] instead of fresh [ingredient] I could make this using only stuff I have in storage!” I get to expand my skillset, add a new recipe to the Post Apocalyptic Lunch Menu and get to eat more yummy food. Win-win. So…cookbooks.

History books are fairly specialized. When I was a kid I had very little interest in history. As I get older I discover that everyone, once they hit a certain age, start developing an independent interest in history. Some guys become fascinated with the Civil War. Some guys become World War Two buffs. A lot of guys get into the frontier/Old West stuff. My interest in history almost always revolves around misery and suffering. I’m fascinated with historical accounts of famines, plagues and disaster. I’m always keen to read first person accounts of the Great Depression, behind-the-lines refugees, lost-at-sea stories, etc, etc. Anything that recounts in detail how a person (or persons) coped with terrible hardship and trial is something that I find fascinating to read. I’ve no idea why, I suspect its because I dont ever want to be one of those people. As of late, the last year or so, I’ve been fascinated in the day-to-day lives of people in occupied Europe during the war, the partisans living in haylofts, the refugee family eating boiled grass and hay, the dissidents living in hiding, etc. I’ve also been especially drawn to accounts of peoples experiences in the times that preceded those events…Im guessing thats probably just my paranoid side wanting to find eerie parallels to todays situation and hopefully discovering insight into figuring out when its all going to come to a head. Regardless, theres more than a few books on the shelf about that sort of thing.

Politics is always a tricky subject. I have several books on the American revolution, biographies of Franklin, Washington, Reagan, etc. and a few of the standards like Common Sense and that sort of thing. How they relate to preparedness is a bit hard to describe but I think it goes towards understanding government better (if such a thing is even possible) and thereby gives me a better baseline of measuring just exactly when .gov gets a little too big for its britches. Its all fine and dandy to stand up and yell “Thats unconstitutional” but you have a bit more credibility when youve actually read the Constitution and the history behind it. Theres also a few more current books on politics in there too.

One shelf is mostly fiction. I do believe that fiction has a place in preparedness. Remember the scene in ‘The Matrix’ where Neo is first dropped into ‘the construct’? Morpheus explains to him that the construct is a computer generated reality that they use to practice and learn their skills…if youre a Star Trek fan, you could liken it to a holodeck. To me, fiction is that ‘practice arena’ for exploring concepts and ideas. No one really believes that zombies are going to start shambling down the street and start munching on your neighbors. However, the books like ‘World War Z’ are useful because they make us think about situations we may not have thought of before. Yeah there are no zombies but what if the bridges were choked off and we had to get outta here? How would we do that? That sort of thing. So I have Pournelle, Ahern, Ing, Straub, Frank, Smith and others sitting there on the bookshelf. One thing I dont normally advertise is that I have some …questionable…books there in the fiction section as well. The most notable is The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist manifesto in fiction form. Why is it there? Well, I dont support the ideas espoused in it, but I am interested in how cell structures are formed, underground movements are organized, and insurgencies planned…these are things this book covers so I read it. Too many people assume that if you read something you must believe in it. Hardly. I read stuff because I want to hear all sides of the argument, all sides of the story, see all the perspectives. I’ve read white supremacist literature and I’ve read Reconquista literature. I’ve read the Christian bible and I’ve read the Muslim Koran. I’ve read Ayn Rand and Ive read Abbie Hoffman. I’ve no problem exposing myself to new ideas… deciding which ones to keep and which ones to discard is probably the thing I most equate with freedom – the freedom to make up my mind for myself on an issue. I suspect that this is why the notion of censorship and bookburning always enrages me.

Economics didnt used to interest me and it still doesnt. I mean, Im not interested in it for its own sake…Im interested in economics for what learning about it will do to help me survive these bizarre times we live in. Theres some books like ‘Conquer the Crash’ and similar titles telling how to make it through recessions, depressions, inflation, deflation, etc, etc. The best book I’ve read so far has been Hazlitt’s Economics In One Lesson. Its a dated book that explains various economic policies and why they dont work. I cant be dure I agree with all of it but its fascinating to read about the fallacy of The Broken Window, why a machine that replaces fifty workers won’t lead to unemployment, how rationing increases shortages, etc, etc. An excellent book.

The very bottom shelf is where I keep references. Mostly military TM and FM manuals, gun catalogs, maps, dictionary, thesaurus and stylebook (yes, theyre preparedness related…you cant learn if you cant communicate, and if you cant learn you cant survive), Flaydermans, world atlas, etc. These are books I dont get into too often unless I need to shore up my understanding of something. Wouldnt want to be without them, though.

Often Ill randomly grab one book off the shelf and read it while in bed. When I finally turn out the lights I can mull the information over in my head until I finally fall asleep. Good stuff. If you havent started a similar bookcase for your own collection, I highly recommend it.

Review – Allied Armament X-91 drum magazine

You guys remember a few weeks back I posted about a company that was making a 50-rd drum for the HK91 rifle? I said that while I admired the company for making a product like that available, I would probably have to take a pass on getting one because..well…I’m poor. (Hangs head in shame.) But, I didn’t feel bad about it because it really seemed to me to be a niche item that, in some circumstances, might be just what the doctor ordered but more often would simply be a pile of money tied up into something whose practical application (doing a real-life version of The Omega Man and fighting to escape zombie hordes) may be quite a while in coming. (However, to be fair, when you do need heavy firepower you usually need it badly and then you’ll become quite the believer in the phrase ‘money is no object’.)

I guess I made an impression somewhere because a fella from the company that manufactures the drum magazine commented to the post saying that for the guy who needed a large volume of fire this thing was just the ticket and that it was a crowd pleaser at the rifle range. I respect the honesty of someone who says how their product has a practical use and in the same breath says ‘and it looks cool too!’. The only thing that would have pushed more Guy Buttons would have been if he told me each one is hand delivered by the Swedish Bikini Team. I said that if they’d send me one to try out I would be happy to play with it a bit and post the results. I warned him that I’d write about what happened, good and bad, and he said that was perfectly cool with him. So…he said he’d get one in the mail to me and for the first time in a while I have been as excited as a kid waiting for Christmas morning. While waiting, I figured I should start thinking about the criteria for evaluating this magazine. After all, if they trust me enough to send me one to try out the least I can do is give the thing a good, honest test drive.

A box arrived the other day and its funny…you wouldn’t think you could fit so much excitement into a little cardboard box but I pretty much shredded the cardboard open with my bare hands. I might have run a couple stop signs getting back to the house in my rush to put this thing into the PTR and see how well it fit and how cool it looked.

The very first thing I noticed upon opening the box was that this magazine is not the plastic-bodied feeding device I thought it would be. The magazine body is aluminum with a Cerakote  finish that seems to just suck all the light from around it.   It has a very no-nonsense appearance and everything about it gives the impression of quality. Its almost elegant in its streamlined, no-frills appearance. The magazine came with a several page set of instructions and a few spare parts. The back of the magazine is clearly marked:

Marketing 101

Now, I recall the 1994-2004 stretch of magazine insanity that was the Clinton Assault Weapons ban. Mags made during that time, if they held more than ten rounds, had to be marked as law enforcement or military use only and be datestamped. Possession of a ‘restricted’ magazine was against the law for us mere civilians.  It was an insanely stupid law and once it ‘sunset’ in 2004 you could have all those ‘restricted’-marked magazines with no legal issues (in most jurisdictions..some states/cities kept their own version of the ban. Fortunately, they’re places where you probably wouldn’t want to live anyway). Those magazines are now reminders of those unhappy days and I always chuckle when I come across one. Why is the Allied Armament X-91 marked this way? Good question. I fired off an email asking why and promptly received a reply.

The answer, I’m told, is pretty simple – people want something more when they think they can’t have it. Thats right, its a marketing gimmick! Unless you live in one of the enclaves that still has magazine restrictions (NY, CA, etc.) you can own this magazine with no problems despite whats written on the back.

For testing and demo purposes I’m using two rifles – one PTR-91 that is a couple years old, and a genuine HK-91 that is more than a couple years but in like-new shape. I’ve shot both guns before and know that both are good, reliable shooters and perfect platforms to test the AA X-91 drum.

50 rds. + drum + HK91 = !!!!!!!

The first test is the most simple – how does the magazine fit in the magazine well? Tight? Loose? Easy in/easy out? Initially its a bit awkward because after years of using a rectangular magazine it takes a moment or two to figure out just how to grasp the bulbous drum and position it in the hand to seat it in the magazine well properly. The magazine required a sharp upward tap to get it to seat and lock in the magazine well. Fit seemed quite good although there was some forward/backward play, however it seemed to make no difference in performance. The magazine release operated as it should..no drag, tension or other concerns. The magazine didnt drop free when empty but was easily removed with the off hand. The magazine body, as opposed to the magazine feed tower, is at a slight angle so if you grab it and pull/push it into the magazine well youre pushing it at a slight angle off of the angle you would normally insert the magazine. This is just something thats part of the learning curve- having used regular 20-rd magazines for the last several years it takes a few manipulations and some time ‘playing’ to find what works best. In both the PTR and the HK it seemed that when loaded the magazine needed to be seated in the gun with the bolt open. The magazine fit into the magazine well of each gun just fine, although in the HK it was bit looser fit than in the PTR. On the other hand, the HK has almost 20 years of age to it so perhaps things have loosened up a bit. Giving the mag a little love tap on the bottom will ensure that the magazine is seated solidly and locked in place. More about that later.

This picture contains 200% USRDA of Awesome

Loading the magazine is pretty straightforward. The easiest way, and the way advised in the accompanying instructions, is to turn the ‘ratchet’ at the front of the magazine slightly to relieve the upward tension of the follow. Ever slide the follower in a .22 pistol magazine down with your thumb so you could load rounds into the magazine easier? Same idea. The magazine loaded easily and without problems. I would give the ratchet at the front a turn, load four or five rounds in, shift my grip to give it another turn, repeat. I had never loaded this magazine before so I timed myself. The first time it took 3:08 minutes to load all 50 rounds . On the second loading, having gotten the knack of things, the time was reduced to 2:21. Once you develop your own ‘rhythm’ (turn ratchet, add four rounds, shift grip, repeat) it goes much smoother and faster. A stripper clip guide arrangement would be nice but even without it getting the magazine loaded wasn’t as onerous a chore as one might think…especially when you’re  anticipating the fun of emptying the magazine.

Shooting was accomplished in the following manner: the magazine was loaded with 50 rounds of military ball ammo and inserted into the rifle with the bolt open. Once the magazine was seated the rifle would be worked to load a round from the magazine. The rifle would be rested on an object and be fired one round per second. Any failures to feed would be noted and compared against a similar test in the other test gun. The instructions that came with the magazine said, quite clearly, that the magazine was designed for optimum use with FMJ military-style ball and that use of softpoint, hollowpoint or other non-FMJ ammo ‘may’ cause reliability problems. I normally jealously guard my supply of South African battle-packed ball .308 but if this magazine was designed for military FMJ ammo then thats what it was going to get tested with.

Military ball ammo ready for loading

First up was the PTR. I seated the magazine, got comfortable, let the bolt ride forward, flipped the safety off, pulled the trigger and was rewarded with a bang and the magazine dropping out of the magazine well. Ooops. Replaced the magazine, gave it a firm tap on the bottom to make sure the magazine catch engaged it and went back to sending bullets downrange. Fortynine rounds later the hammer fell on the empty chamber. Other than my little goof, the magazine functioned without a hiccup.

Next up was the HK91. Same drill, except this time making sure I seated the mag properly, and fifty rounds went downrange with no drama whatsoever. In fact it was rather monotonous in its reliability which is actually a good thing.

What does dumping fifty rounds out of the rifle in under a minute do to your barrel temperature-wise? Glad you asked. A buddy brought a digital infrared thermometer and each rifle had its barrel temperature measured before and after shooting. All temperatures were taken from an average of five readings. Keep in mind the PTR has a thicker, heavier barrel than the HK91. The PTR, before our little bullet party, clocked in at 58 degrees. Fifty rounds later it registered 340 degrees. The HK91 started the day at 52 degrees and after fifty rounds of fun was a smoking 320 degrees. Both barrels cooled pretty quickly, dropping into the 200 degree range in a couple minutes. You definitely did not want to touch the barrel and, in fact, even the handguards were a little toasty.

The barrel does get a bit hot

The magazine, fully loaded, weighs a bit under five pounds but, as Im sure you can imagine, it gets lighter as you shoot it. Does it change the balance or handling characteristics of the rifle? Not as much as you might think. Sure, you’ve added five pounds to the weight of the basic rifle but the gun swings just the same and balances almost the same. The magazine, because it is wider than a 20-rd magazine, does bump against you when you have the rifle slung or carried with the 3-point sling. Even with the drum the rifle was still comfortable to carry in a low ready or ‘patrol’ position. Where this sort of thing shines, however, is as a static weapon. The drum only protrudes about an inch longer than the regular twenty round magazine so there was plenty of clearance for getting flat on the ground, flipping out the bipod legs and becoming a one-man roadblock.

Naturally, there are going to be comparisons between the Allied Armament X-91 drum and the Beta C-mags. I’ve a little experience with the C-mag so I can make some observations. First and foremost, the C-mag is plastic bodied while the X-91 is aluminum. While I wouldnt want to drop either one on a hard surface if I could avoid it I suspect a fully loaded x-91 would survive the impact better than the C-mag. When fully loaded the C-mags are a bit noisy..they rattle. The X-91 didnt have nearly the noise signature..loaded, partially loaded, or unloaded. The C-mag does have an option to have a clear back to allow the shooter to keep track of how many rounds are left in the magazine whereas the X-91 has no way of showing how many rounds are left. Witness holes might be a possibility but I’d imagine that any holes would let in dirt and grit which wouldn’t do anything beneficial to the magazine. Personally, I would throw a few rounds of tracer in there to give myself a visual reminder if it were really important. Beta is showing on their website that they are offering a C-mag for the M1A now so in terms of .308 drums, the C-mag is twice the capacity of the x-91 at around the same price. But, the C-mag isnt available for the HK platform and the x-91 mag isn’t available for the M1A platform. (Although both companies are working to correct that.) If you are talking solely in terms of the HK91-style rifles, as far as I know no one is offering anything close to the magazine capacity Allied Armament is offering in their X-91 (unless you find an original HK drum on Gunbroker…be prepared to pay close to two grand for it!)  At the moment Beta seems to have sewn up the drum magazine market for .223 but AA seems to have the potential to do the same in .308. AA’s website says that they’re working on drums for the popular .308 platforms – the M1A, FAL, AR-10 and SCAR-H. (At the moment CMMG offers an AR-10 lower that take G3 mags. If this drum works with those lowers then AA will have been the first to the punch with getting a drum into the AR-10 platform.) With several outfits bringing gas-piston AR-10 rifles to the market I’d be mightily interested in getting one and kitting it out with a drum (or three).

Would I make any changes to the AA X-91 drum? I’d like to see a protective plastic cover or cap for the magazine to protect the feedlips when the magazine isn’t in use…the magazine isnt cheap and I’d hate to drop it or ding the feed lips and watch my expensive magazine become a paperweight. A carrying pouch of some kind would be nice. Milling a flat spot on the bottom of the mag so it will sit upright would be handy (or adding a couple nubs to act as legs to keep the mag from rolling around when you set it on a flat surface.) Making the follower in a high-visibility color would be a nice touch as well.

So to wrap it up, what did I think of the AA X-91 drum mag? In a word ‘cool!’ If I could use three words the third would be ‘cool!’ ,  the first would be ‘very’ and the second would be unprintable. The magazine is very well made and finished, reliability was flawless, loading was simple (if tedious) and the unloading process was awesomely fun. For the fella that wants or needs to have a compact package of firepower this thing is, at the moment, unique in the marketplace of HK accessories. If the FAL and AR-10 versions  come to pass I suspect AA will have its hands full keeping up with demand, especially if the quality, finish and function are as good on the FAL and AR drums as they are on the HK drums.