Ben Avery

Last weekend I went to the Ben Avery range, which is located a bit north of Phoenix.

For the price of $7, I was afforded access to one of the crown jewels of shooting ranges. The main rifle range has 67 firing positions, and allows any firearms (including full-auto, which several people were shooting that day) with caliber restrictions on the .416 Barrett, .50 BMG, tracers (fire risk), and AP. The main range has target positions from 5 yards to 200 yards, with other ranges including excellent shotgun facilities and a 1000 yard range, not to mention archery facilities.

Each firing position has a sturdy, stable concrete table and steel-and-wood seats that are well-maintained, sturdy, and comfortable. There’s a screen between each position that prevents shooters from being struck with brass from the neighboring positions. Every aspect of the main public range was well-maintained, in good repair, and modern.

There’s a substantial number of attentive, well-trained safety officers that routinely walk the line, check that guns are cleared during cease-fires, and answer questions. I was extremely impressed by the safety officer’s professionalism; in my experience it’s not uncommon for RSOs to be somewhat curmudgeonly, old-fashioned (“Why do you need an ‘assault rifle’?”), and the like, but the Ben Avery staff was excellent. Even the cashier (they take Visa and MasterCard, in addition to cash) was polite, cheery, and professional. There’s a hot dog and drink vendor in the parking lot, right near the grassy field and playground for children.

While I was there, I was also impressed by the extreme diversity of people there. The staff was a mix of men and women of all types, both old and young, and the shooters included a mix of just about every conceivable group: men and women of every skin color, age group, size, shape, and experience level were there. There were women in their 20s who were training with expensive match rifles, a grandfather teaching his grandson to shoot a .22 rifle, a middle-aged black couple shooting what looked like a matched pair of revolvers, a couple who looked to be in their early 30s shooting a suppressed .308 rifle, and some folks shooting full-auto at the extreme end of the range. I overheard several languages being spoken. In the parking lot, vehicles ranged from pickups to Priuses. Open carry was common, but by no means ubiquitous. Truly, a cross-section of humanity, all coming together for a fun, safe afternoon at the range.

I’ve written about a few ranges in the past, many of which were well-equipped and praiseworthy, but I’ve never been as impressed with a range than I was with Ben Avery. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish runs a fine range, and I’m glad such a place is not terribly far from where I live. Like the Swiss, Arizonans take shooting seriously.

One of the best experiences of the day was being (politely and cheerily) told to “please take a number and we’ll call you when a lane opens up” — even with the economy not doing so hot, there’s evidently enough people interested in shooting that they’ll take the time and resources to head out to the range that there’s a waiting list to get in, even with 67 public firing positions. Truly, this is why we win.

In addition to being so massively impressed with the range, I also got some shooting done. I re-zeroed one of my ARs for a new ammo and was shooting some targets at 25 and 100 yards. While the rifle is as accurate as ever, I’m woefully out of practice and my groups were embarrassingly large, especially considering I was shooting from a bench. I really should go to an Appleseed shoot at some time.

Anyone in the Phoenix area want to go shooting on a semi-regular basis?

Trigger Time

After a long dry spell with no time behind the trigger, I visited the Southeast Regional Park Shooting Range, a range run by the Pima County Parks & Recreation Department, with my friend Ian.

I had several objectives:

  • Try out a new range.
  • The Great Rezeroing — I’ve switched my primary ammo in my ARs from Federal XM193 to Prvi Partizan M193 and so wanted to rezero.
  • Try out Prvi Partizan 69gr and 75gr match ammo.
  • Actually get some shooting time in, rather than just taking new shooters to the range.

All of these objectives were accomplished

The Range
The range consisted of 30 firing positions. Each position had an ambidextrous concrete table from which one can shoot. One could also shoot prone, if one wished.

The entire line is protected from the elements by a corrugated steel roof. Range staff frequently walk the line to ensure that everything is safe (and the ones from today were very nice, not grumpy). Firing periods consist of 15 minutes of shooting and about 5 minutes of target-checking. The change in periods are announced over a loudspeaker.

During the cease-fire periods, shooters needed to unload their firearms. No unloaded-chamber-indicator flags were necessary. No handling of any items on the shooting tables is permitted during the cease-fire period.

The fee to shoot there is $7/all day per person. Additional fees are charged for rental items like earmuffs and eye protection ($1/each), spotting scopes ($3), rifle and pistol sight-in rests ($5/$3 respectively), boresighters ($3), and a chronograph ($10, with the caveat that if you shoot it, you buy it). Additional targets are provided for $0.25.

The range provides wood target frames, which seemed to be kept in good repair. Taller frames, marked with bright orange paint on the top, are required when shooting in such a way that bullets passing through the ordinary-height targets could bounce over the berms (e.g. shooting a handgun at close range). The taller targets allowed the bullets to pass through and continue on to the berm, rather than bouncing off the ground.

Small carpets are available to place on the concrete table, so as to avoid scratching the finish on one’s gun. Additionally, carpet-covered wood blocks and sandbags are available for free.

The range is divided with two berms separated by a long, tall concrete wall running perpendicular to the firing line. The closer berm peaks around 75 yards, and allows shooting at distances up to 50 yards. The longer range berm is located at ~225 yards and allows shooting at distances up to 200 yards. There are sockets in the ground placed at convenient intervals (e.g. 5, 10, 25, 50, etc. yards) for one to place target frames. Sockets are numbered to avoid placing one’s target frame in someone else’s lane. If one wishes to bring one’s own target frame for shooting at arbitrary distances, this is permitted so long as the frame is made entirely from wood.

No full-auto fire is permitted. Range staff will inquire about NFA items, like suppressors, but it is not necessary to declare these items ahead of time.

The range staff keeps the range quite clean, and will often pick up brass during cease-fire periods when one is downrange. Reloaders should ensure that they collect their brass often, or ask that the range staff not pick up brass in their immediate area. Obviously, one should pick up after oneself simply to be polite. Buckets are available to deposit brass.

All in all, SERP was an excellent range. The Three Points Shooting Range (also known as the Tucson Rifle Club) is larger, has longer ranges, often has fewer people, and does not have a hot/cold period on the range. SERP is a bit smaller, has a few more shooters, and has active supervision from range staff. SERP is also $1 more per person, if this matters. Both ranges are excellent and well-maintained, though SERP has better tables and stools.

One more note: there is a drinking fountain available at SERP, but no sinks for hand-washing. I didn’t notice any restrooms either.

The Great Rezeroing
I printed out a few of the M16 zero targets from here and setup a target frame at 25 yards. After a few three-shot groups of Prvi M193, I was able to dial in both my 20″ and 16″ ARs.

I then moved the target back to 100 yards, put on some Shoot-N-C-type targets and took slow, aimed shots. Shots were striking 8″ high and 8″ to the right of the point of aim. Shots were consistently grouped in a ~2″ circle. To ensure this wasn’t an ammo issue, I switched ammo brands and had the same deflection.

The target was then moved to 50 yards. Again, rounds were striking high and right. I moved the target to 25 yards and re-zeroed (just using Shoot-N-C, rather than the zero target, which I had used up). After re-zeroing, all shots were striking within a reasonable radius1of where I was aiming, both at 25 and 50 yards. I have no idea what caused the rounds to strike so high and right after the first zero, but it was somewhat frustrating. Hopefully things are where they should be.

Prvi Partizan Match Ammo
Most of the day consisted of firing three-shot groups to get the zero dialed in. Unfortunately, with the brief exception of the 100 yard attempt, most of this shooting took place at 25 or 50 yards — hardly an adequate distance to judge the quality of  match ammo.

Even so, I fired 60 rounds of 69gr and 20 rounds of 75gr Prvi Match ammo.

The 69gr stuff is quite good, and had small, consistent groupings at all distances. Even when the point-of-impact was distant from the point-of-aim (totally the fault of my sights being off, not due to any ammo problems), the groups were pretty tight. The ammo’s certainly more accurate than I am. For reference, the lot for the 69gr stuff is 0901.

The 75 grain ammo was also quite good. My 1:9″ barrels stabilized the bullet at the distances I fired it. There were no keyholes or sideways strikes. I will test this at longer ranges and see how it performs, as a 1:9″ twist is supposed to be marginal at best for >72gr bullets.

One downside, though: one of the primers in the 75gr ammo popped out and could not be located. It wasn’t in the action of the rifle, so it must have ejected somehow with the casing. The casing was found a minute or so later with the head all covered in soot and the primer missing. This has never happened to me before. The lot of the 75gr ammo is unknown, as Prvi puts the lot number on a little slip of paper and evidently someone at the store had opened the box and the paper probably fell out.

Even if the Open Tip Match bullet was suitable for self-defense (the jacket is the same thickness, and not designed to peel back and open), the fact that a primer could pop out and gum up the works troubles me. I’ll stick with crimped primers for Serious Business ammo.

Getting Trigger Time
It’s been a while since I’ve been to the range. Most of my previous visits involve taking new people to the range, so even then I don’t get to shoot much. Today, I went with Ian, another avid shooter, and actually spent some time behind the trigger.

In addition to the Fun Happy Times chasing my zero around, I also wanted to function-test the 9mm Federal HST jacketed hollowpoints I recently purchased. I really like HSTs in .45 ACP, but have been carrying my 9mm Glock 19 recently due to its more compact size. The fact that I also have a SERPA retention holster for the Glock also comes into play. I’ve been carrying Federal Hydra-Shoks in the Glock for years, and they’re certainly excellent rounds, but the HSTs seem a bit better to me2. I wanted to ensure that the rounds would feed and fire reliably in my pistol, so I bit the bullet (ha!) and burned through $22.95 worth of HSTs3 today. Granted, 50 rounds is not sufficient to make a proper statistical analysis, but it served my purposes: there were no failures and the rounds hit where I was aiming (the Hydra-Shoks had a tendency to shoot a bit to the right).

Conclusion
All in all, a great day at a new range. I got a bit of sun, got some trigger time, zeroed my rifles, and tested out my defensive pistol ammo.

Now, if only I could afford to do this more often…

  1. Nothing is perfect, especially not my shooting. []
  2. Any difference is likely academic. Both cartridges are excellent. []
  3. A 50-round box. Yes, I have started counting ammo based on cost, rather than round-count as I’m a poor student. []

Small World

I was at the range today with a few friends (including two new shooters — post and pictures coming soon), and when we were winding down at the end of the day, we started chatting with a few of other folks at the range.

The topic of taking new shooters to the range came up, and one of the gentlemen we were talking to said “Hey, this blog I read had a good post on getting new shooters to the range…have you heard of the Arizona Rifleman?”

I was stunned. Indeed, I felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi when Luke Skywalker asked:

Luke: You know him?
Obi-Wan: But of course I know him. He’s me.

After mentioning that I was, in fact, the blogger in question, the conversation became quite a bit more animated. It turned out that this gentleman was a reader (hi Richard!), and had emailed me about getting in on some of the group buys for AR magazines.

Perhaps it’s not really a small world, as we were both in Tucson, but for having <50 readers subscribed to the RSS feed, randomly running into one is, nevertheless, fairly unlikely. Very cool.

Range Visit: Elsy Pearson

Last weekend I took part in a Fark Party, an event where members of the website Fark.com get together in person.

In this case, we decided to visit the Elsy Pearson range in Casa Grande, AZ. The aerial photograph is a little old, as there is now a range in the upper left where there appears to be cars parked, as well as a range in the lower-right. There’s also a chain-link fence. According to the range description on file with the NRA, it has a 250 yard rifle and pistol line. I eyeballed our range at 150 yards, but I could be mistaken. There was a few other ranges in the complex that may have been longer, but we left to get food before I could investigate further. There was also a shorter (maybe 50 yard) range where a bunch of NFA folks were shooting.

It’s an unsupervised range, with no safety officers. The rules are printed on a big metal sign — there was about six rules, all basically saying “be safe, don’t be an idiot”.

The range is run by the Casa Grande Parks & Recreation Department and is free for public use (having grown up in the San Francisco suburbs, this is nearly unheard of for me!). There’s a nearby range for police use only, but it was much the same as the public range. There is also the Casa Grande Trap Club about a quarter-mile north, for those who prefer shotguns.

The public rifle range is simple and spartan (metal roof, concrete benches, and not much else), but well-maintained. Large berms serve as backstops, and there’s a Big Honking Hill beyond the berms to catch any stray bullets. Unfortunately, air moving down the hill created some gusty winds at times, but not much cross breezes, so it didn’t really affect accuracy.

I didn’t look closely, but the range doesn’t seem to have any “facilities” — no bathrooms, no soda machines, etc. I don’t know if the range even has electricity running to it, but I doubt it.

There doesn’t appear to be any restrictions on the type of firearms used (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they restricted tracers and incendiary rounds for obvious fire safety reasons) — there was a bunch of folks with full-auto at range just north of us. From the look of things, it was a bunch of NFA owners having fun on a Sunday afternoon, rather than a match. No police cars were evident and a variety of guns (from heavy machine guns to MP5SDs) were being fired, so it didn’t seem to be cops either. It was refreshing to see so many NFA owners out there.

It’s a bit out of the way, but if you go South on South Isom Road from the intersection of West Arcia Road for about a half mile, it’ll be on your left. The Google Maps are accurate, as was the GPS (Garmin StreetPilot c330 — a device worth its weight in gold!) directions taking me to that intersection. Both Isom and Arcia are unpaved roads, but are smooth and well-maintained. My Toyota Camry had no trouble, nor did the Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Tiburon belonging to other members of the party.

If you find yourself in the vicinity of Casa Grande, the Elsy Pearson range is a well-maintained, clean, and free place to shoot. It’s nothing fancy, but ranges don’t need to be.

Being a Jerk: A How-To Guide

One of the wonderful things about living in Arizona is the huge amount of public lands on which one can shoot — there’s no cost, no lawyer-inspired regulations, and a beautiful view.

One such place is the Coronado National Forest (it’s more of a “scrubby desert” than a “forest”, but oh well). I find myself going up Reddington Road to the forest most weekends and having a great time shooting with friends.

Normally, there’s a few things to shoot at lying around: a cardboard box or two, one of those reflective A-frame road barricades, a traffic cone, etc. One can tape paper targets to these, and they make decent makeshift target frames. There’s also usually a little bit of clutter lying around (plastic bags, cardboard ammo boxes, spent shotshells, etc.) but it’s not usually that bad. I make a point of cleaning up after myself, picking up brass, taking down my targets, etc. I also try to take at least a bag or two of trash out with me, so as to leave the range a bit cleaner than I found it.

I enjoy shooting aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and the like. They tend to burst dramatically, but don’t fragment, making it stupidly easy to clean up. Glass shatters and is next to impossible to clean. Shooting old fruit (oranges, apples, melons, etc.) is fun, and the critters on the range take care of the cleanup for me.

I recognize that most people try not to make too much of a mess, and occasionally are unable to locate every piece of brass, or little piece of trash they created. People don’t often think to bring trash bags, and so aren’t able to take out a lot of garbage at the range. It’s understandable, and I don’t fault them for it; I’ve had such days myself. I just try to make up for it when I head out the next time.

Then there are the real jerks. You know them…they folks who haul an old TV or dishwasher out to the National Forest, shoot it a bunch, then leave it there. People who drink a couple bottles of beer, then set the empty glass bottles on a rock and shoot them, leaving shards of glass everywhere. People who shoot a bunch of shotshells, but leave the hulls lying around. What really gets me are the people who deliberately shoot the signs posted by the National Forest Service asking them to not shoot the signs and please pick up after themselves. Jerks.

In the last year or so, I’ve bagged and hauled about 1,500 pounds of trash from the shooting spots at the National Forest near Tucson. That’s 3/4th of a ton, and it’s barely made a dent in the garbage there. There’s still gobs of litter out there, both big and small. This last weekend, my cousin and I removed about 150 pounds of trash, including a shot-up dishwasher that left fragmented plastic all around.

Is it that hard for people to clean up after themselves? Did their mothers teach them nothing? There are ample signs saying that the National Forest Service doesn’t clean up after people, and that it’s one’s own responsibility to make sure things are picked up.

These few jerks make the rest of us shooters look bad. Indeed, things have gotten so bad that the 4th shooting spot in the forest up on Reddington Road has been closed. There’s a new barbed wire fence blocking cars, and posts saying “Restoration Area”. According to the sign, foot traffic is permitted — it’d be nice to get some folks up to the area to clean it up sometime. Maybe if we can really clean up the place, the National Forest Service will see that some shooters care and will re-open it.

Here’s some pictures of the area:

In order, these are pictures of one of the non-closed shooting areas suggesting how badly littered it is, my cousin Patrick picking up some trash at the site (we rotated between bag-holding and trash-gathering), the newly-closed “Restoration Area” range, and a sign from the Forest Service.

In short, if you want to be a jerk, just trash the public lands where you can shoot for free. The National Forest Service will close those ranges when things get too bad.

Don’t be a jerk.

Update: I’ve started a thread at AR15.com to coordinate a clean-up effort. If you’re in the area, please join in.

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