Monday, July 11, 2016

Russian TOZ-35m 50 meter free pistol: Part III

Since my last post I've obtained a custom made 3-D printed grip for my TOZ from Andrew at Precision Target Pistol Grips. These start at only $120, which is pretty amazing, as non-custom wood grips will run you close to $400. Choosing wood-poly composite rather than plain plastic raises the price another $25, I think, and the full wrap-around grip is another uncharge. I think the whole package including shipping was around $205.

Like all grips these require a small amount of fine tuning- for mine it was a little bit of work with a rasp and a tiny amount of wood putty. which you can see in the wraparound, in the third photo.  They're very lightweight, which greatly improves the balance of the gun. I liked these so much I'm having Andrew make a set for my Daisy 777, too.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Chiappa Little Badger, part 1

I am a great fan of .22s, miniatures, curious and unusual arms, and guns that cry out for customization, so it was only a matter of time before I found my way to buying a Chiappa Little Badger. My local FFL (Paragon Arms in Berkley, MI) quoted me a better price than any of the stores or on-line discounters, and a few days later I had the little box seen above in my hands. 

Inside, as you can see, there's a backpack case (with a large printed logo-not very low key!) and the gun itself in folded configuration. I loaded up an fired a few Aguila Colibris (a primer-only round with a muzzle energy of 3 foot-pounds) and discovered that the gun has an excellent, trigger, and that the sights are almost unusable for me- either my head is too big, or they're too low. No matter. The gun does come with enough Picatinny rails to please the most ardent fan of the Tacticool style.

However... these rails are made of HDPE, not metal. That's fine for attaching flashlights and hand grips but suboptimal for optics. Luckily you can get an anodized aluminum replacement from Long Shot Manufacturing (, which is what I did.

Here's the new rail seen next to the stock rails:

And here it is installed. You can see it looks identical to the HDPE side plates, but it's a lot more rigid. I used LocTite on the screws to make sure they stayed in place. 

Another interesting feature of the gun is the threaded muzzle- another increasingly popular feature on firearms these days:

I have no plans to buy a moderator for it, but I did think the supplied plastic thread protector was a bit tacky, so I bought this sharp looking steel muzzle brake on eBay for about $15:

The sights were too low for me to comfortably use, as well as being made of plastic, so off they came:

I tried a few different optics on the Badger and decided that the best choice was either a Millet dot sight:

or possibly this compact Burris 4x20:

...which is a bit too close to the hammer. I could use higher mounts, but a better solution would probably be a hammer side extension. Chiappa offers one for $15, and there are several others available from Uncle Mike's and other vendors.

 I also decided that the stock and the rest of the plastic Picatinny rails needed some improvement. The cartridge holder is cheap looking and has sharp edges, and should be removed. Maybe I could make  a walnut forearm and butt- but that will have to wait until my next post.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sightmark Photon 4.5x digital night vision scope

Night vision scopes are very popular these days, especially with hunters of feral wild pigs. They're excellent for all sorts of nocturnal vermin, which is what led me to start thinking about getting one. We've had rats showing up in our city in the last few months and while I managed to bag a few during the daytime with an air rifle I thought it would be more effective to hunt them at night.

After several weeks of debating the various options with myself (cheap Gen 1 scope, better Gen 1 scope, digital scope, unaffordable thermal scope...) I decided to order a Sightmark Photon 4.6x digital scope from Amazon, as they have far and away the best return and customer service policies. It arrived yesterday and I mounted it on my Benjamin Marauder.

Installation is very easy, as it mounts in standard 30mm rings. Setup is almost as easy, as there are only two controls on the scope. One is a power/illumination button. One press turns it on. Successive presses cycle through various levels of IR illumination, and a long press turns it off. The level off illumination is displayed in the viewfinder, along with battery life. The other control is a combined button and knob that normally controls display brightness. Press and hold, and a menu comes up that allows you to select between reticle shape, color, and position. The position adjustment allows for one-shot zeroing, or close to it. Shoot a group at a target, then move the reticle to point to the group. That's it.

Last night I took it out after dark to search for the rats that have been showing up in our neighborhood. Like those of many animals, a rat's eyes reflect light, which makes them very easy to spot, as the IR illuminator turns their eyes into bright white spots- you can see the eyes long before you can pick out a rat's body hidden by vegetation.

The scope uses two AA batteries to power both scope and illuminator, and the manual says they're last from 4-6 hours, depending on how much IR illumination you use. I found the lowest setting was more than adequate at garden ranges, but I might add an external illuminator just to stretch battery life.

At $490, it was $190 more than the cheapest Gen 1 sight I looked at, but from what I've been able to learn from other reviews, the image is much clearer and wider. Sightmark warranties it for three years, which is better than most electronic devices. So far I'm pretty impressed.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Russian TOZ-35m 50 meter free pistol: Part I

The most difficult of all the Olympic/ISSF (International Shooting Sports Federation) pistol sports is 50 Meter Pistol. This is a sport in which a shooter holds a pistol with one hand and fires 60 shots over the course of two hours at a target with a 5cm (2") 10-ring, 50 meters away. Unlike NRA-style bullseye matches, in finals rounds the 10-ring is further divided into zones, so a bullet striking the 10-ring may be scored anywhere from 10.0 to 10.9.  50 Meter Pistol is also known as Free Pistol, as there are very few rules regarding the pistol itself. It has to fire a .22LR cartridge, no optical sights are allowed, the grip can't extend over the wrist, it must be held and fired by one hand, and that's pretty much it.

I have admired the elegance and the simplicity of free pistols since I first saw a picture of a 1950s Hammerli when I was a child. I have long wanted one, but they typically cost $1,600-2,000 or more. A bit much for a sport that I'm not really going to actively compete in. But then not long ago I discovered a less expensive route.

In 1962 the Soviets introduced the TOZ-35m to international competition. The gun owed an obvious debt to earlier Hammerli designs, but included some novel features of its own, including an amazingly adjustable trigger. Like many Soviet made industrial products it was crude externally, but refined in the details where it mattered. It quickly became a world-class competitor, and despite not having been made in over a decade, it still shows up in international competition.

As I noted, there haven't been any new TOZ35m pistols made in a long time, but they still keep showing up in the marketplace as old stores of them are discovered by enterprising Russian exporters. I recently saw a few showing up again at specialist dealers in ready to compete condition for around $1,300. I also saw them popping up in used ("fair" to "excellent") condition at prices ranging from $475 to $575 at various online dealers. I asked knowledgable people at an online forum for ISSF/Olympic shooters if this was a good deal, and the consensus was that I should jump on it while they were available. I asked my local FFL if he could get one, and he found me an excellent, unused one for $585 out the door. The toy account was flush, thanks to some recent sales, and I told him to go ahead and get me one. Of course when you pay less than half of what the specialist dealers are charging, there's a bit of a catch...

Above is the gun as I received it. You will note the handy carrying case full of accessories, and you will probably also note that the grips as supplied are a bit, um, blocker than the one n the gun at the top of this post. There's a reason for that. There were no standard sized grips available for the TOZ. Fit is more critical in 50 meter pistol than in any other shooting sort, and shooters in the USSR were supposed to work with their coaches to make a customized grip that would fit them like a glove. I've done some carving and refining stock blanks beginning in the 1990s, when I customized my Field Target air rifles, but never anything quite this complete. Before, I've usually started with rasps and files. This time I think I'll have to start with a bandsaw, or possibly an axe.