Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sporterized M44 (gun gun gun)

I mentioned in one of my previous posts that I picked up a rifle to take to Alaska, for possible hunting, highly improbable bear defense and most likely a little target shooting.

Since I'm no expert on guns, when I decided I probably needed a rifle for Alaskan bush living, I turned to the experts I know. My friend Gary, a tattoo artist, does a lot of shooting and hunting, including big game. I asked him what he thought I should look for in a rifle. He suggested a "scout rifle." The scout rifle concept is the brain child of shooting guru Jeff Cooper. He described a "... a general-purpose rifle is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target of up to 200 kilos (440 lbs) in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target."

The scout rifle should:
  • weigh between 6.5 and 7.75 pounds
  • have an overall length of 39 inches or less
  • have a forward-mounted scope of low magnification power
  • have a Ching- or CW-style sling
  • be chambered in .308 Winchester or comparable power cartridge
Now, one possibility is the Steyr Scout, a purpose-made rifle that meets Cooper's criteria. It also carries a price-tag of $2000. Since I'm more of a do-it-yourself type, I decided to go a little cheaper.

First, I bought a Russian surplus Mosin Nagant M44 carbine. For the princely sum of $90, I get a bolt-action rifle manufactured sometime between 1943 and 1945 in the Izhevsk arsenal. It's a carbine length with a folding bayonet. It is chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge, which is in the same power class as the .308. Although this is a surplus WWII rifle, there are soft-point hunting loads currently made for it, as well as lots of cheap surplus full metal jacket ammo on the market. It needed a good cleaning to get the cosmoline grease that it was stored in out of all its mechanical workings.

Although the M44 started out with a oiled wood stock, the weight requirement for a scout rifle called for a fiberglass stock. Thankfully, there is a nice one made by ATI available for about $50. I also added a sling, and a forward-mounted BSA 2x20 pistol scope. (Pistol scopes have the long eye relief necessary for forward-mounting.) I also installed an adjustable trigger, which makes a nice improvement over stock.

Already a huge improvement, as you can see. Looks much more like a lightweight hunting rifle. The sling is only mounted in two places at this point, though. That's not a Ching- or CW-style sling. The bayonet has been removed, but the mounting lug is still there. So the next step was to add another sling swivel stud just forward of the magazine, and cut up the sling to make it a Ching-style. That provides two loops, with the middle portion of the sling sliding on the longer portion which attaches at the foregrip and buttstock. To use a Ching sling, one puts his arm in the front of the sling up to his bicep, and then loops his arm back around and grabs the foregrip. The sling stabilizes the gun by pulling against the bicep.

Now, the bayonet lug is pretty unpleasing to the eye, not to mention heavy. It also incorporates the front sight, which is no longer necessary with the scope installed. One can sometimes hammer out the roll pin that holds it all to the barrel, but it wasn't possible in my case. That's okay, though--I wanted a shorter barrel anyway. The stock barrel was 20.25" long. I cut it off just behind the bayonet lug, for a barrel length of 17.25". That's definitely a short barrel (although not short enough to make it a "short-barreled rifle" under the National Firearms Act!) but it shouldn't affect accuracy significantly out to 100 yards. I don't plan to need to make any shots farther than that!

Shortening the barrel required re-crowning, but that's easily accomplished at home with a round grinding bit, a carriage-head bolt and some valve grinding compound. Good enough for a military surplus rifle, anyway!

So it ended up looking like this:

Not a bad-looking rifle, and it fits the scout rifle definition pretty well. The weight is still too much at 8.5 pounds, but that not something that can really be helped when starting with a heavy military surplus rifle like this. The overall length is 37 inches. It has the forward-mounted, low-power scope, and Ching sling. The 7.62x54R cartridge fits the power class for Scout rifle cartridges. It remains to be seen if I'm very accurate with it, but I plan to find a shooting range and practice a bit!

Possible future projects include a bent bolt, since the Mosin Nagant bolt is a straight bolt and harder to operate. A bent bolt provides better leverage. The safety is also odd on the Mosin Nagant rifles. To operate it, you have to pull back on the rear of the bolt and rotate it to one side. This is somewhat difficult to do and leads some folks to simply not chamber a cartridge until they're ready to fire. However, that limits you to 4 cartridges in the magazine rather than 4 in the magazine and one in the chamber. An alternative is to add a "finger ring" to the rear of the bolt to make the safety easier to operate. I may give that modification a try as well.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with this project. It gave me something to tinker with (besides cars) while I study for the Kentucky bar exam, and perhaps I'll actually get a chance to use it in Alaska, even if it is just on paper targets.

(And in case you were wondering about the title of the post, Samara edited it to add the "gun gun gun" part. Apparently when I talk about cars, or now guns, I am pretty boring.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
smell like a steak and seats thirty-five?


We have purchased an Alaska-or-bust vehicle.

It's a 1995 Honda Passport. Features include four wheel drive, fairly new BF Goodrich offroad tires (with newly patched hole from a roofing nail--doh!), and clean enough to eat off of! Seriously, the engine bay is sparkling, the red paint is nice, and the interior looks like it's been detailed. It has plenty of cargo room, and a full-size spare on the back. It has working A/C, a CD player and cruise control. I have no fear that it will make the drive to Seattle, and then be a great car for use in the Alaskan bush.

Without further ado, here's some pictures of what $3350 will get you. (Asking price was $3600 and his bare minimum was $3400. Samara offered $3300 and we met in the middle.)

There's some clear places where the thing was a bit damaged by a previous owner, such as a cracked grille and cracked fender guard. That stuff happened before the last owner got it, and my guess is that it was damage from offroading. The tires, as I mentioned, are BF Goodrich offroading tires, and when I got the nail-hole patched today, I noticed that it had wheel spacers. That widens the track and allows for bigger tires, which are offroading concerns.

It also has a hitch and the wiring for pulling a trailer.

Overall, a good purchase, and my first SUV. I have overcome my dislike for them by convincing myself that they're okay when you actually NEED four wheel drive.

So there you go--one obstacle to the Alaska move is down. And Aleks, I promise I'll do a more detailed post on my Alaska-bound scout rifle, complete with pictures. I've been a bit busy--still studying for the bar exam, and working on other cars.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Progress: Storage, SUVs, Apartments and a Rifle!

We're getting closer.

The big hurdle for me is the Kentucky bar exam. My bar review class ends today, and then I have two weeks to buckle down and study hard. The bar exam is July 29th and 30th in Louisville. Samara's classes end soon as well, sometime around the end of July, and then she'll have her Master's Degree in Public Health.

Besides those major distractions, there's a lot to do. We need to pack up our entire house. We did make a small start on that procedure. We've rented a 10x20 storage space at Storage Center in Lexington. It should be big enough to store my 1978 Toyota Corona project along with anything else that we want to keep but can't immediately take with us to Alaska.

It's fair to say that Alaska is a rugged place. With this in mind, we decided (with a fair amount of influence from my parents) that we needed a newer, more reliable vehicle, with four-wheel drive. Since gas prices are rising, now is a good time to buy an SUV. Everyone is trying to get rid of them, which is good for us. So far, we looked at a 2000 Nissan Xterra. It was a nice one, but it was priced well above the Blue Book value. We offered less, explaining the mistake to the seller. Unfortunately, she had someone offer her more than we did. We also looked at a 1995 Land Rover Discovery today. It was an awesome vehicle. Well, assuming you want to do some hardcore offroading. It had a 9500 lb. winch, giant driving lights, GPS, Satellite Radio, a 1.75 inch lift, full-time 4wd, big knobby tires, and a heavy-duty suspension. Unfortunately, it also seems to be slightly more leaky than I would have liked. That's the nice thing about looking at four-wheel drive SUVs... it's easy to crawl underneath and take a good look. Everything that could leak on this vehicle was leaking, and the exhaust had a pretty big hole. I could have welded up the exhaust, but the leaks were just too much for comfort.

Never fear, though. There are a few more good-looking SUVs listed on the local craigslist. We'll find something comfortable and reliable that will get us to the boat in Seattle and through the long Alaska winters.

Once we get there, we'll need a place to live. We've been working on that as well. So far, the best option seems to be a 2 bedroom apartment in downtown Dillingham. The rent is $1200 a month, which includes heat, water, sewer and snowplowing. That first thing, heat, is a big one. Heating in Dillingham is done with fuel oil, and that stuff is getting expensive! We could rent a nice little 3 bedroom house for closer to $800 a month, but we'd have to pay for our own heating oil. That could bankrupt us, with rising oil prices and a cold winter coming.

One of the best parts of talking to folks in Dillingham about apartments (besides the considerable delay on the phone line) is that they can't give you an address for the property. See, no one really uses addresses in Dillingham. You have a P.O. Box for mail, and while there ARE street names and street addresses, no one uses them. The apartment we're most interested in is past the Moravian Church and the GCI Communications satellite dish, at the end of the street. But hey, it's got a view of the bay!

We still need to buy ourselves some parkas for the cold weather, but I'm already prepared for another possible Alaska-related problem. I'm talking about bears. Dillingham, you see, was once the Salmon Capitol of the World. So the grizzly bears around those parts eat plenty of salmon, and they get BIG. We're talking 1500 lb animals. Hopefully they stay out of town, but it's not a guarantee. Sometimes they come sauntering into inhabited areas, and they're not always friendly. That leaves open the possibility that you might surprise a bear one day. What's a guy to do?

Buy a rifle, of course.

Now, in all seriousness, I hope I never have to shoot a bear. They're much prettier when they're alive, and I'd rather take pictures than shoot them.

Residents of Alaska must take care not to create nuisance situations, such as unsecured garbage, that might attract bears. However, one may legally shoot a bear in self-defense as long as he or she didn't create the nuisance that attracted the bear. There are plenty of other good reasons for a rifle, as well. Hunting is a huge past-time in Alaska. In fact, a fair amount of Dillingham's income comes from hunting and fishing. Some Dillingham residents make a subsistence living from salmon and caribou, while others run bed-and-breakfast and guide operations for hunters and fishermen. So it's possible that I'll get invited on a hunting trip.

Well, now I'm ready. I bought a rifle. I don't have a lot of experience in this area, so I relied on the advice of my friend Gary, who is a tattoo artist and big game hunter. (He took a bison with a bow and arrow!) He recommended a "scout" type rifle. Being the sort of guy who likes a do-it-yourself project, I decided on "sporterizing" a surplus rifle. I bought a Russian M44 bolt-action rifle, manufactured in the second World War, and stored in grease for the last 50 years or more. To spruce it up for hunting use, I replaced the wood stock with a fiberglass stock, installed a scope, installed an aftermarket trigger, installed a sling and shortened the barrel. It came out looking pretty nice. With the 7.62 x 54R cartridge, this is a rifle that will handle almost any game in North America. It might not be the best rifle for moose or large bear, but it's better than throwing rocks!

The best part, of course, is the price. $90 for a surplus rifle, and a few hundred for all the accessories I needed to transform it into a modern hunting rifle. Now I just need to catch Gary on a day off so that we can sight it in and do some practice. That should give me a good break from all-day bar review study sessions.

Oh, and I guess I should mention that we have an escape plan in case we don't really like Alaska... we can come home after a year! We are keeping our house here in Lexington, for now. Our friend Ann is going house-sit for us. Of course, that means that we have to help her move in addition to moving ourselves. Dad's old pickup truck is going to get quite a workout!

Stay tuned for more Alaska updates!

Monday, July 7, 2008

I got excited and bought some crap so I can start packing

Instead of working on my thesis or my project today, I decided to have lunch with a good friend. We went to Linens and Things and I bought Vacuum Space Bags. These things are like giant ziplock bags that you vacuum the air out of.

This is the giant bag laid out on my bed. I was able to fit 1 king sized feather comforter, 1 queen sized quilt, 1 king sized blanket, and 2 full sized fleece blankets.

This is the bag after I sucked all the air out. The package ended up being about 3 feet long, 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep and very heavy! But it served its purpose: shrinking the blankets so I can fit more things in to whatever car we pack. I can't wait to vacuum seal the towels and the pillows and the clothes!

I am looking forward to packing everything up, getting rid of everything I don't need. I have already posted somethings up on Lexington's craigslist like purses, shoes, clothes, toys and I'm sure I'll have more stuff to put on there as time passes.

Friday, July 4, 2008

To heck with this job!

There always this exciting part about moving: quitting the crappy job. Yeah, the Melting Pot sounds like an awesome job, but it is way more fun to eat there then to work there. I was looking at the calendar today and realized that I get to put in a two weeks notice next week. I believe that will make my last day the 28th of July, which is also the last week of classes before I graduate...assuming I can finish up the thesis and this class.

I also have my graduation robes, but I have no intention of walking. The hood is so UGLY. Our school colors are maroon and gold and the public health color is peach...more of a salmon really. And it looks like someone puked on my hood. I can't believe they choose the MPH color to be peach. What happened to neon orange, like a biohazard bag. I might think about wearing that, but peach and maroon looks like vomit.

We still haven't found an apartment yet or figured out how we are moving all of our crap up there. But we have found a house/cat sitter for a year. So that is one thing out of the way. Now all we have to do is EVERYTHING else then we will be ready to go.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?

So how did we get to this? We're headed to Alaska.

It's a bit of a long story. It all started last winter (the winter of 2007), when a fellow law student at the University of Kentucky (and fellow Patterson School of Dipomacy grad), Ross Lovely, told me about a job he'd just turned down in Dillingham, Alaska. It was a law clerk position for a superior court judge. Interested, I contacted the judge, Fred Torrisi, by e-mail and asked if it was too late to apply. He replied that it wasn't, and I applied.

Months passed, and he told me that he was giving his current law clerk more time to decide whether she wanted to stay. It was February by the time he told me that Ruby was going to clerk for him for another year. Samara was disappointed, as was I. She wanted me to look for other jobs in Alaska, but I figured it would be easier to stay in Lexington.

Fast-forward to the end of June, 2008. Judge Torrisi e-mails me and says that Ruby is leaving after all, and he wonders if I'm still interested. I consult Samara and get an enthusiastic response. Neither of us had found jobs in Lexington yet, so we were ready for some adventure in Alaska. I told the judge I was interested still. A phone interview quickly followed, and we seemed to get along well. He sent my background check over to Anchorage and told me he'd get back to me the next day.

Later that evening I got an e-mail. It read: "I guess you aren't a terrorist. Start packing."

And that's how we got the point where we're getting ready to move to Alaska to begin a new adventure. It's just for a year if we hate it, and for forever if we love it! We'll just have to wait and see.

New Jobs and New Beginnings

Aaron has accepted a job in Dillingham Alaska as a law clerk for a Superior Court Judge. I have applied for a couple jobs in the area. Here is the wiki article about the extremely small town of Dillingham. I will refrain from posting too much information from the wiki article. If you look to your left you will see the small down of Dillingham from up high. I'm guessing plane since you can only get to Dillingham from a plane or boat.

We are looking to move about the middle of August to be ready for work come September 1. I'm Excited.