Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The making of an action hero, or things to work on

January is traditionally a month for reflection and goal setting. I, being the cranky old action hero that I am, dislike words like resolution and diet. They come with so much baggage that making a resolution or starting a diet always feels like a self-defeating prospect. So I’m not going to make a resolution. I’m simply going to say what I’ve done and what more I feel I need to work towards.

Last Year:

Last year saw some decent progress on the health front. I lost ground on the weight side—reducing my gains from 40 to 25 pounds. On the up side, I maintained that 25 pound loss over an entire year. Weight isn’t in-and-of-itself something I’m focused on. It’s an indicator of other things. To be clear, you can be fit and fat. It’s better to be just fit, but you can carry extra pounds and improve your health.

That was the philosophy I took in 2014. In 2013, I got the ball rolling. I found that really dedicated diet changes were difficult to maintain. I’ve kept many of them including bringing my own lunch to work, cutting out soda entirely, eating health shakes most mornings for breakfast, almost never ordering out unless we have company, and using my light box. I didn’t keep up the quality of my diet—we eat more processed foods than I’d like among other things. So last year was all about finding a sustainable balance and holding on to as many of the 2013 gains as I could manage.

The really bright spot was starting up a 3-day-a-week gym rotation with Squish and MX. I know for a fact that this has paid off in a huge way. Sunday I managed 2 sets of 8 and 1 set of 10 at 175 pounds on bench. I’m pushing 115 pounds in sets of 8 for military press. My 5 pound clubs feel like nothing. I regularly run the elliptical past its 65 minute tracking maximum—averaging 80 minutes of cardio per visit including my boxing time. Boxing is fan-tastic. I owned that heavy bag yesterday and had energy left over for a good 45 minute run on the elliptical. My endurance, muscle tone, and vitals are the best they’ve been since college with indicators that I may even better that mark. My blood pressure is the lowest it’s ever been. My other metrics are coming down—high but no longer in the danger-danger-danger zone. I still have foot problems, but that’s most often due to a sprain rather than irritated tissue. Best of all, I’ve only missed 3 days in 4 months. The gym is fully integrated into my schedule to the point where I feel bad if I don’t get enough cardio. I used to hate rule number 1, do cardio. Now, not only is it in reach but I feel like I’m pushing hard at it.

The biggest 2014 gain didn’t have to do with any specific metric. For the first time in a while I have the strength, endurance, physical capacity, and general wellness to actually live life actively. There’s always room for improvement, but there are certain minimum tolerances required to be considered “active.” I’m not going to be running a marathon tomorrow. I do feel like I can manage all moderate and several difficult physical tasks. Squish has been talking for a while about getting a tandem bike—a prospect which used to fill me with doubt. I feel like I could make a good showing now. That’s the best part of going to the gym. I don’t have to be afraid of trying new physical activities for fear of coming up short.

Things to work on:

As I’ve said before, I believe that a big part of making sustainable changes comes from being honest about what needs to be done, what you can handle, and what you can push yourself to do. Weight wasn’t a big focus for me in 2014 because I wanted to work on good behaviors. When my scale gave up the ghost I took it as a sign. That being said, I’m at a point where I think periodic weight checks will be beneficial. Studies have shown that people who check their weight make better choices. Starting the last workout day of each month I’m going to have Squish check my weight. I’m in better shape—now it’s time to be honest about where I am and where I want to be. To some extent that has to involve shucking poundage. I think I’m exercising enough that I should be able to turn that monitoring into positive reinforcement.

One of my issues is that I spend most of my off-time at home reading, checking email, and puttering around the kitchen. While I’m all for these activities in general, it puts me in contact with the fridge more often than I’d like. Finishing up the beast cave™ will give me a place where I can work on projects without as much temptation. I’d like to have at least the work space done by the end of March. I have several activities I’d like to work on—care and cleaning for my firearms, learning to sharpen my edged object collection, creative writing, reloading basics, a RPG sound library and soundboard system, and learning first aid/survival/communication—basic prepper stuff. I’d like to establish a pattern of doing “stuff” in the man-cave not only to keep me away from snacking but also to keep me more focused—a long term goal, but one I believe I can achieve.

In the kitchen, I want to work on making healthier, interesting dishes. I have my standard offerings which are ok. The catch is that if I’m going to get to the informal mental goal I’ve set myself for 2015, I’m going to have to really up my game when it comes to lean protein and veggies. The brunette understandably doesn’t like healthy food for its own sake. I’m going to have to work on things like soups, different kinds of salads, and varieties of dishes that will taste good. On the up side, I got a bunch of gear from our pampered chef party. I’m completely capable of grilling, something that’s let me make up some low-fat burgers when the meat-craving gets unmanageable. I’m going to see how to cook chicken breasts with that as well as working on roasting veggies and a few other tricks to spice things up.

I enjoy days where you sleep in for 10 hours, laze around the house, read a book, and check email. Down time is important for mental and physical restoration. I feel that this has become my default setting though. Absent any specific activity, I find my way to the recliner listening to a book where I’ll lose an hour or two. I’m going to work on scheduling down time on purpose rather than just letting hours go by for lack of motivation. I want to do stuff or do more stuff I should say. I’m certainly more active now than I was two years ago. The catch is making sure I’m taking the steps to not settle on my laurels.

I’m going to finish things in 2015. I’m really and truly sick of leaving things on the to-do list half way done. I’ve gotten better but it’s still a thing for me. I have a habit of obsessing over one idea/project/issue and then, after I’ve bought in with time and cash, losing interest in favor of the new shiny. This is one of those on-going kinds of objectives. Not-buying warmachine and hordes models until I have a painter available has helped. Not spending all-day on kickstarter has helped too. Getting the man-cave up and running may help more—and yes, I realize the irony in depending on completing one project in order to increase my completion rate. More broadly this is about my commitment to focus less on aquiring things and more on making use of the things I’ve already aquired. That may involve aquiring more “things” but it will curb the trend of opening up new time consumers and focus drains.

I’m going to be looking seriously at my next job move. I’ve been in my current department for almost 3 years. At first it was a nice change with great perks. Lately though I’m starting to see it as a dead end job. I don’t mind doing the same thing every day as long as that job meets my long term financial goals. Unless I’m in line for a promotion I don’t see myself meeting those goals by staying in my current spot. That means asking some very difficult questions. It means having at least one tuff conversation with my boss. This is possibly the most uncomfortable goal. I’m not good at picking a direction. The thing is, I can’t keep doing this for ever. At some point the bank is going to either find a way to make more of my role accessible or they’re going to get tired of supporting me at a diminished capacity for my job rating. Maybe that happens soon, maybe not. Either way, It’s in my best interest to act soon.

That’s it. I’m getting closer to going big time. The training continues. The bad guys are on notice…I’m coming soon and you’d better be ready.

Range time, or the lack there of.

2014 was a shooting bust. Financial and scheduling concerns limited our access. I didn’t make it to Elk Neck at all. While I enjoy collecting, modifying, and researching guns, I enjoy putting them through their paces just as much. Hitting the range less than 10 times in a calendar year was just piss-poor. This experience forced me to re-evaluate my firearm priorities.

I used to want one of everything. I had a .9mm, a 357, a .22, a .44, a .32, a .45, a couple 38s…etc. My wish list was basically “all of them.” Time, experience, and financial common sense have whittled that list down to more manageable levels. It’s easy to sell yourself on any given firearm, especially if you frequent the gun rags. Each review is a beautifully packaged piece of marketing as to how this one pistol/rifle/shotgun will change your life. What doesn’t get said often is that unless you’re a professional gun-guy, most of the endless parade of clockwork bullet throwers are solutions to non-problems. After the brunette got her first pistol and rifle, I finally had to cry uncle. The gun rags be damned, there was only so much space in our apartment. I had one good-sized locker for ammo, and it was full up. For the first time, I actually wasn’t sure where to store a box of ammo. It was past time to consolidate calibers.

Looking through my collection it was clear that big-bore was the way of the future. Everywhere I looked it was .45 this and .44 that. I’m at the point where a decent range trip involves hundreds of rounds rather than 50 here and 20 there. The cheapest way to make that happen is to get my caliber commitment down to the point where a bulk ammo purchase covers multiple platforms.

So I sold my Colt revolvers. They were still serviceable, but the combination of caliber and parts concerns put them on the block. A friend bought one while I traded the other two for an S&W Governor.

The Governor is Smith’s entry into the hugely popular multi-caliber craze started by the Taurus judge. It is a double action alloy framed snub nosed wheel-gun that can fire 2 3/4 .410 shotgun shells, .45lc, or .45acp using moon clips. I’ve put a couple boxes of each down the pipe and it functions well. The alloy frame, 2.5 barrel, and fixed groove sights clearly mark this revolver as a concealed carry, survival, and backpacking handgun. The governor’s claim to fame is its flexibility and access to .410 shotgun shells. I see it as an excellent self defense choice for apartment dwellers, those who spend a lot of time in the driver seat, and those looking for a kit gun to serve multiple roles. Assuming you use ammunition tailored for judge-type handguns, the governor does well within its design limitations—which is to say close up on man-sized targets.

The governor makes cowboy action .45lc loads feel like firing .22s. Self defense, i.e. higher velocity, .45acp rounds pushed a bit but didn’t hurt. Full on .410 buckshot loads felt like lighting off .44 magnum rounds. I’ll do some more testing but for now it looks like the upper end .45lc and .410 loadings require a strong hand to tolerate in volume. Accuracy was acceptable—about what you’d expect from a snub nose.

I have two problems with this revolver. First, the trigger is atrocious. It is mechanically tight like you’d expect from S&W, but the weight is 10+ pounds—more than my old GP100 out of the box. I had to work at not torking the barrel out of alignment as my hand compressed the double action. It should smooth out with time, but this may be the first revolver I’ve shot that actually requires trigger work. The second issue was the long double action reset. It didn’t happen often, but occasionally I pulled the trigger before the action reset, dropping the hammer on a partial chamber. I’m not happy with this—though it could just be a break in period.

I’ll do a full review after I have some more quality time with the big smith. For now I see the Governor as one of those guns that works for people seeking a single answer to multiple questions. In any given category there are dedicated platforms that do the governor’s job better. The Governor’s value comes with its caliber flexibility and access to specialty loadings.

I also was lucky enough to pick up a Benelli super nova tactical 12 gage. I’ve been looking for a replacement for my old 870 for a while. Its successor, a Browning BPS, was beautiful but damned difficult to clean. I like Mossberg pumps, I just can’t seem to warm up to them enough to throw cash their way. Even if I hadn’t had issues with my original 870, Remington’s current QC problems would have put them out of the running.

The Super Nova has several features that set it above the competition in my opinion:

1. It takes 2 ¾, 3, and 3 ½ length shells. To my knowledge this is the only pump gun that has this versatility.

2. It has a button on the foreend which lets you eject a shell without chambering a new round. This is useful when carrying multiple ammunition types so you can load directly into the chamber or work the action without cutting into your magazine.

3. It comes with a chrome lined barrel. This is a huge bonus to anyone who has had to clean a pump after a big day at the range. Chrome wears well and cleans up better than steel.

4. It comes standard with rifle sights. While this isn’t a deal breaker for me, I’m trying to standardize sights and optics across multiple platforms. This is more for the benefit of new shooters than anything else. I’m trying to keep all my tools in an easily teachable layout.

5. The safety is mounted on the front of the trigger guard within easy reach of my finger—unlike the 870. As a bonus, the guard is enlarged for use with gloves.

6. It comes with built in recoil reduction. Wmtrainguy helped me replace the factory hard rubber pad with a limb saver. The comfortech stock, Benelli’s’ standard rifle stock, has built in soft rubber chevrons which help tame the recoil impulse of heavy 12 gage loads. I’ve learned to distrust mechanical recoil reducers, but the integrated solid state reduction of the Benelli was a nice bonus.

7. The Nova series is built from a thick steel skeleton enclosed in a heavy duty plastic shell. The metal parts are coated for maximum durability. The result is a gun that is fully coated and protected for hard use. If you’re going to buy a ruff duty gun, then it’s nice to have one that can handle getting banged around.

8. The thing feels solid in the hands—at seven pounds, it weighs as much as the all-steel 870. The weight and recoil reduction features really make it a joy to shoot.

9. The Super Nova has excellent fit and finish. Benelli is known for fantastic quality work at reasonable prices. This pump gun validates that reputation.

10. Benelli and Beretta are owned by the same parent company. I want to throw some support Beretta’s way thanks to some of their recent pro 2a business moves. This was the right option at the right time.

I took the Benelli for an introductory date on my last range trip. She is simply a joy to work with. I shot through my remaining stock of Remington tac 8—30 rounds of mild recoil 00 buck. The Super Nova barely felt like it was recoiling. I’m not sure if it was the new recoil pad, the comfortech stock, the light loads, my perspective, or just good ergonomics, but there was 0 push and slap. The gun went boom, the muzzle went up, and a good time was had. I’ve been kicked around more by the brunette’s .45LC thunderbolt.

The Super Nova is a work horse. It doesn’t have the pretty blued steel and walnut fittings to catch the eye. It doesn’t have a bunch of tactical doodads for your inner Rambo. It’s pure function, made to high standards, and a joy to shoot. I wish I’d found this gun back when I was shopping for my 870. The action could use a little smoothing. I need to get the magazine plug out of the tube. That said, I’m very happy with my purchase.

The more I look at what I want my collection to do, the more I find myself drawn to stainless steel and utilitarian function-first designs. I’m getting really sick of depending on other people to clean and maintain my guns. Blued firearms are beautiful it’s true. They’re also more prone to rust than their stainless counterparts. I’m looking at 2014 and it’s clear to me that I need to focus less on expanding the collection and more on getting full use out of what I have. This year I learned how to take down my 1911s. It shouldn’t have taken me that long. I want to learn to take down and care for all my firearms.

So I’m looking at 2015 with an eye toward doing more at home rather than more at the range. Don’t get me wrong, more range time is on the list—I’m just making room for the possibility that monthly range trips may not be easy to come by. Actually, that’s the theme I’m looking at for all my hobbies in 2015—finishing up existing projects. What with no Gencon this year, I have a good bit of vacation to burn…so I’m thinking of trying to push for some extended trips to elk neck and the like. I’ll see if I can convince Wmtrainguy to help me take down my Benelli, my 2 marlins, and my 1911s. I’ll finish up and probably sell off the little .32 as well as my .22 bolt action. These are small things really, but they’re important to me.