Sunday, August 28, 2022

SwampFox Slide Assembly

Welcome to the third post in this series.  It's time to assemble the slide and put this gun together.  Previously we finished the Lone Wolf Lower, installed the parts kit and now we will take a SwampFox slide and put it together with a Brownells Glock completion kit.  If you want to see the other posts in the series, check them out below:

This will not be a super detailed assembly post.  If you need to know the entire process, I suggest looking up a complete build as this is my first attempt at building a Glock clone.  I chose a Swampfox Wolverine slide for a couple different reasons.  I have been running a Glock 17 MOS with an RMR for several years now and wanted to stay with a red dot option.  I also wanted to try running the red dot with the iron sights in front of the optic.  The Wolverine slide was a decent price, had the sights in front of the dot and came with a set of fiber optic suppressor height sights.  And with a discount through ExpertVoice it was a really competitive price.


With Brownells Glock parts kit laid out, I started the process of putting the slide together.  Take a look at the photo below.  It shows the firing pin, spring and extractor spring pieces lined up for assembly.


Below is the installation of the firing pin safety and spring.  The spring should be facing the top of the slide, which in this photo is down on the table.


Next, while holding the firing pin safety down, the extractor can be installed and should be held in place with the firing pin safety.


Next install the parts for the extractor spring and firing pin.  See the photo previously that showed the order of the parts, also below is the black plastic spacer pictured below.


With everything aligned and installed as shown above, insert the slide plate as picture below.  You will have to press the springs in as you move the plate, but it is a pretty easy process.


Once you have those pieces installed you just have to install the sights and put in the barrel and recoil spring just like a normal field strip and re-assembly.  I forgot to take photos of the sight assembly.  Ideally you would use a sight pusher to install the rear sight properly.  The Swampfox and some other sights come with an aluminum tool that allows you to gently tap the sight into place.  In this build I used a SilencerCO threaded barrel from Brownells and replaced the plastic recoil spring that came with the parts kit for a Lone Wolf Stainless Guide Rod.  For magazines I bought a handful of the Glock GL9 Glock magazines.  Finally, the pistol is topped with a Holosun 507c X2 to take advantage of the RMR footprint, but at a little lower price point.

Now that the pistol is all set up, the next post in this series will talk about shooting and running the gun.  And as a spoiler, there were some issues that came up...



Monday, June 20, 2022

ETS C.A.M. Universal Loader for Rifles Review

Last year I picked up an MP5k clone made by PTR Industries.  I have really been enjoying the gun, I even registered it as a Short Barreled Rifle and put a stock on it a few months after owning it.  One day I was walking through a local Murdoch's and noticed an ETS Universal Loader for rifles.  I noticed that they said it could be used for pistol caliber magazines in addition to rifle calibers.  They claimed it would work with 9mm, .223, 300 blk, 5.45x39, 7.62x39 and 308.  I figured that loading my MP5 magazines and potentially Colt SMG magazines easier would be worth the price, so I bought it to try out.

MSRP for the C.A.M loader is $30, which is pretty close to the price of a MagLULA loader, which is around $25.  I already had a MagLULA for the Colt SMG magazines and another for pistol magazines.  It works great, but you load one bullet at a time and for the Colt SMG or MP5 magazines you need a specific loader for each magazine type.  The C.A.M. loader doesn't lock onto the magazine, but it does give you the option to use one loader for most double stack rifle magazines.

First off, I typically throw all of my reloaded pistol ammo in bulk boxes, so I had to find some factory ammo sitting around to be able to strip the rounds properly.  You can single feed the rounds from a bulk box onto the loader, but you lose some of the speed of using a speed loader.  With a factory 9mm box you can run the loader length-wise and pick up 10 rounds at a time.  Once the rounds are on the loader, you use the handle to push them down into the magazine.  If you hold the magazine into the speed loader as you pick up rounds and have the handle ready to use, you can load a 30 round magazine in a matter of seconds.  


First Impressions

When I first tried this with the MP5 magazines I was expecting it to work OK, but potentially have some issues with getting the last few rounds in.  With MP5 magazines from HK and ETS I found all 30 rounds went smoothly and quickly into the magazine without an issue.  After one range session I was sold on the speed loader and picked up some plastic 9mm boxes to be able to store my reloads.

Since this was a "universal loader" I wanted to try as many other options as possible to see what worked and what didn't.  Sticking with the 9mm theme, I also loaded some Colt SMG magazines and tried out some borrowed CZ Scorpion magazines.  I then tried loading 223 into Magpul and USGI style magazines and finally loaded some 6.5 Creedmoor ammo into 308 pattern Magpul magazines.  Overall, the loader worked well with everything I tried.  I'll mention a couple quirks with the Scorpion down below and unfortunately I didn't have any 7.62x39 or 5.45x39 options to test out.

It's been over a year since I bought the loader and I am very happy with it.  It primarily gets used for the MP5 magazines and the occasional Colt SMG magazine.  With a handful of magazines, several boxes of ammo set out and just a couple minutes I can have hundreds of rounds loaded.  

Complaints

I have had a couple issues.  The narrow MP5 magazines work really well, but the fatter Scorpion magazines, primarily those from Magpul can be a pain.  You have to have the Magpul Scorpion magazine lined up just right for the rounds to feed smoothly.  This isn't a major issues, especially after you try it a few times and get used to where to line up the magazine.  

The second issue I have had is with 308 sized ammo.  There are two grooves that pick up ammo, a small and a large.  The small grove works for 9mm, 223, etc and is deeper in the loader.  The larger groove is towards the outside edge and is for 308 and large case heads.  When I first bought the loader I could run 308 or 6.5 Creedmoor rounds into a Magpul AR-10 magazine with ease.  Since I don't normally use those magazines, I didn't try it again until making the YouTube video above.  When I tried it for the video, I noticed that the larger channel barely allowed the rounds to move and I couldn't get them all the way down to the magazine.  I'm not sure what caused the issue, but it looks like the bottom portion that holds the magazine in place is bent in, creating a gap too narrow to feed larger rounds.  

Conclusion

Overall, I've have been very happy with this loader for what I bought it for.  It has worked great for 9mm and 223 magazines.  If you are wanting to load 308 case sized ammo, I'm not sure if this will work as well for you.

Have you used this loader, or do you prefer a different one?  Let me know in the comments below.


Thursday, June 2, 2022

90 Day Form 4 E-File

Tired of waiting a year to get your suppressor?  In December of 2021 the ATF opened up the e-file system for Form 4 transfers by individuals and trusts.  Claiming 90 day transfers, what does the system really look like?  Take a look at this review and the video below to hear my experience with the e-file Form 4 and my 99 day approval.

Over the past several years I have purchased several suppressors and had to wait anywhere from 4 months to just over 13 months to get the paper Form 4 approved by the ATF.  As a comparison, you have been able to build a suppressor with the Form 1 e-file process for a few years.  In fact, I have created 2 SBRs with the Form 1 process and both were within a couple days of a 30 day approval.  That's a huge difference compared to the current wait of nearly a year for paper Form 4s.  See an older video towards the bottom of this post that talks about the Form 1 process.

Around the Black Friday shopping season last year (2021) I decided to take advantage of the SilencerCO buy one get one sale to buy a second Omega 300 suppressor.  Not only would this allow me to avoid swapping a hot suppressor at the range, but I would get a free SilencerCO Octane.  I bought the suppressor through Silencer Shop and was contacted about e-file.  The ATF was claiming that the e-file system for Form 4s would be available in December of 2021.  

Silencer Shop asked if I was interested in waiting for the e-file system to come online to submit my Form 4, or if I would rather just submit the paper form and get it started.  I looked up the trends on paper Form 4 and noticed that they were running about a year from submission to approval.  The ATF was expecting and Silencer Shop was pushing a 90 day approval time frame.  I figured there may be some difficulties and a mass submission as they started, but decided that I would probably still come out ahead compared to the year long wait.


As expected there were some issues with the ATF getting the site up and then being able to keep it up and running as thousands of people submitted tax stamps.  Added on to that, there was some learning curve for Silencer Shop and my local dealer to figure out the proper way to submit the form online and have me as the customer certify it from my end.  Ultimately, it wasn't until January 27th that the dealer completed the Form 4 and it was officially in the hands of the ATF.  

As I've been through the Form 4 process a few times before, the next item of business was to sit back and wait.  Finally, on May 6th I received an e-mail from the ATF that my Form 4 was approved and a PDF of the tax stamp was attached.  About an hour later I received an e-mail from the dealer that they received confirmation that it was approved and I could come pick up my suppressor.  

All together it took 99 days for the stamp itself to be approved, or about 5 months total if you count the wait before the actual submission of the paperwork.  When I checked the trends for paper Form 4 approvals at the beginning of May, it looked like they were taking around 10+ months for approval.  So even with the two month wait, I still received approval in about half the time as I would have with a paper submission.

Overall, I was pleased with how much faster the approval took.  A couple weeks after I picked up my Omega 300 I was notified that the BOGO Octane from SilencerCO was at my dealer.  We submitted that second e-file about a week ago and I am curious how long it will take for this second suppressor to be approved.

Have you used the e-file process yet?  Are you more interested in purchasing a suppressor with the reduced wait time?  Let me know in the comment section below.


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Lone Wolf Freedom Wolf Lower Parts Kit Installation

In this post we are going to install a Lone Wolf lower parts kit into a Freedom Wolf 80% frame.  The last post covered completing the frame and getting it ready to install the parts.  You can check view the series here:

As I mentioned in the previous post, I'm not going to make this a complete how to.  There are others out there if you need details for every step, but this will go through the general installation.  The Freedom Wolf takes mostly Gen 3 lower parts, but some, like the magazine release is a Gen 4 part.  Also, a lot of the lower parts kits out there don't come with the locking block that you need.  You can piece together what you need, but I decided to use the kit that comes from Lone Wolf as it comes with all of the right parts.  You can get it from Lone Wolf here: LWD Frame Completion Kits for Timberwolf.  I ended up buying mine through Rainier Arms for about $10 less than from Lone Wolf: LWD Frame Completion Kits for Timberwolf.  Rainier doesn't have it in stock as often, but they offer it a little cheaper.

I started off by installing the small spring for the slide takedown lever.

Make sure the spring is pressed all the way down, then hold it down as you slide the takedown level into place:

Next I installed the magazine release, first by installing the spring into the magazine well and holding it out of place while I inserted the release.  It's difficult to get a great picture, but here is an idea of it:


The Lone Wolf parts kit has an adjustable trigger stop, which has to be installed before the fire control assembly is installed:


Since this isn't designed to be a complete guide, you may have to look up the detailed assembly steps, but it should look like this before it goes in the gun:



With it assembled, install it in the gun and pin it in place:

I installed the locking block and pinned it in place with the trigger:

For the next step I didn't get a good picture, but you install the slide stop and spring and pin that in place.

With all of the lower assembly parts installed, it's time to install your upper assembly of choice.  In the next post in this series I will be assembling a Swamp Fox slide to complete this build.  Then we will take it out for test firing.  

Take a look at the links at the top of this post to see each of the posts in this series.  Have you used the Lone Wolf lower parts kit, or Freedom Wolf 80% lower?  Let me know in the comments below.
































Friday, May 20, 2022

RTS Tactical Advanced Sleek 2.0 Plate Carrier Review

Looking at buying a plate carrier, but you want something lower profile than the typical flak jacket looking vest?  RTS Tactical just released their Advanced Sleek 2.0 Plate Carrier that provides a lower profile option, more along the lines of concealable body armor.  But this carrier still accepts level III+ and level IV ballistic plates for protection against rifle threats.  Let's take a look at this new carrier and what it offers.

To get started, RTS Tactical sent me this plate carrier to review.  They didn't provide any other compensation or requirements, just asked for a review.  

So, taking a look at this carrier, a few things stood out immediately.  The plate carrier appears to be very well made and it looks comfortable to wear.  The carrier holds smaller trauma plates and has a breathable cordura mesh on the inside of the vest that allows the plates to stand off your body for airflow.  

The carrier has a sleek exterior, unlike many other carriers that have MOLLE attachments for pouches and accessories.  The Advanced Sleek 2.0 carrier only has velcro on the exterior.  Patches at the top and bottom are for the strap system.  Both the front and back have patches of velcro for identification or morale patches depending on your need.

The waist straps are wide and have plastic covered ends that make for donning and doffing of the vest extremely easy.  The straps also have very clever pouches sewn in that can hold two AR-15 magazines per side, or two pistol magazines and a rifle magazine per side.  You could also use the pouches to hold other accessories such as a tourniquet.  

The straps to sit a little high, so it will help with concealing magazines under a jacket, but could cause some reach issues for users with limited shoulder mobility.  It is also somewhat difficult to get magazines back into the slots, especially pistol magazines that have elastic loops within the larger magazine slot.  This isn't much of an issue to me, as with a concealable plate carrier you probably will not need to stow magazines once they are deployed.  

The slots for installing the armor plates use a large flap with rubber loops on the corners.  This allows for easy opening of the velcro flap, but the large patch of velcro gives a very secure hold for even the heaviest plates.  In dozens of open and close cycles as I test out the carrier, I did not notice any deterioration of the velcro surface.

Another feature that I really like is the cordura mesh on the back of the plate carrier.  The mesh has a spongy yet firm feeling that allows it to hold the armor away from your skin, allowing more airflow through it than a typical carrier that only uses a thin layer of fabric between the plate and your body.  Anybody that has worn armor for a shift or deployment knows that it typically gets hot and sticky very quickly.  Although I haven't worn this carrier for a shift, the testing I have done with it so far shows that the mesh helps to keep the temperature more tolerable and your shirt drier.

As for plates, I tested the carrier with some ceramic plates that I had on hand.  A 7"x9" front plate and a 8"X10" back plate.  There was a little extra room in the carrier, but not a lot.  Ceramic tends to be lighter than steel, but I found the carrier was very comfortable with the plates in it.  Armor steel plates would be heavier, but I'm confident they would also be comfortable.

RTS Tactical makes several other plate carriers that offer MOLLE attachments, larger plate areas and even side plate options.  The Advanced Sleek 2.0 carrier certainly isn't a replacement for those larger carriers when you can afford the bulk and weight of a complete carrier.  It does, however, give you the option of rifle rated level III+ or IV plates in a compact package that can be worn under a light jacket or thrown over concealable body armor.

If the concealability and low profile fit your mission, I think this carrier is worth considering.  At $129.99 on the RTS Tactical website it is a high quality carrier for the money.  If you need a complete package, RTS Tactical also has kits that include the carrier and armor.

What do you use for armor?  Let me know in the comment section below:



Monday, May 2, 2022

Vortex Crossfire HD Rangefinder

Last week Vortex Optics released several new rangefinders with HD glass.  I had the opportunity to test out the Crossfire HD rangefinder when it was released.  The Crossfire HD is the entry level to HD glass in Vortex Optics.  The glass quality is definitely on par with higher end optics, but overall the price is still affordable to a lot of users.  Let's take a look at the features of the Crossfire HD rangefinder.

Vortex announced this rangefinder with an MSRP of $269.99, but as is typical with a lot of the Vortex products, the actual street price is about $199.99 at places such as EuroOptic.  This is a competitive price for a rangefinder that is rated for 1400 yards on reflective targets and uses HD glass.  I can tell you my old rangefinders before I switched to the Vortex Fury HD rangefinding binoculars had glass that left a lot to be desired.  

Before we take a look at the specs, check out my video on the Crossfire HD here:



Now, let's take a look at some of specs:

Max Reflective Range-   1400 yards

Tree Range-                    950 yards

Deer Range-                    750 yards

Minimum usable range- 5 yards

Weight-                    4.8 ozs 

Dimensions-            4"L x 1.3"W x 2.9"H

Field of View-         367 ft @1000 yards


You can see more info about the actual distances that I was measuring in the video above, but overall their projected numbers are pretty accurate.  I couldn't quite get to 1400 yards on a building, but I was getting at least 950 yards on trees and open field areas.  The more expensive rangefinders in the Vortex lineup will offer longer effective distances, but for most hunters and shooters the near 1000 yard tree ranging distance should be plenty.  

The display is a red LED display that is adjustable for brightness.  The default brightness in the middle might be a little dim for some eyes, especially if there was a lot of snow on the ground.  Fortunately, I found that the brighter settings were plenty bright enough for pretty much anything you will need.

There are two ranging modes available, a Horizontal Component Distance (HCD) and Line of Sight (LOS).  The HCD mode uses the distance and angle to give you an equivalent total distance.  This is a yardage that your bullet or arrow "thinks" that it is flying.  It allows reasonably accurate shots out to around 800 yards without having to calculate the angle of the shot.

If you want to be more precise, the LOS mode gives you a reading of the straight line distance and angle up or down towards the ranged target.  This allows you to add your own specific angle compensation.

There is also a first and last mode.  If there is grass, branches or other objects around what you are trying to range, you can use these modes to get a more accurate measurement.  If the animal or target that you are trying to range is in front of grass or trees, use the first mode to get a range to the target and ignore what is behind it.  If you are trying to range an elk through the trees, use the last mode to get a distance to the furthest object.

Even though I prefer rangefinding binoculars, I really like what the Crossfire HD rangefinder offers in such a small light package.  This is a great option for an archer, or shooter that doesn't need the range or ballistic software of some of the more expensive options out there.  If you want to check out the Crossfire HD at EuroOptic use this link to take a look at support this site.  It doesn't cost you anything and helps me to fund other reviews that aren't provided by the manufacturers.  

If you're interested in rangefinding binoculars, check out my video on the Vortex Fury HD here:



Monday, April 25, 2022

Lone Wolf Freedom Wolf 80% Lower Build

80% pistol lowers have been around for a few years now and have a following for a variety of reasons.  Some like them because the frame is not serialized and does not require a transfer through a dealer.  Others simply like the changed geometry and grip angle compared to a stock Glock pistol.  And finally, if you are going to customize your handgun, starting with an 80% frame lets you customize every single part that goes into the gun.

I have considered 80% builds for several years, but when I have looked into the cost and the time involved, I put off the project time and time again.  Most 80% builds are not going to be cheaper than just buying a stock Glock off the shelf.  You might be able to get close if you source the absolute cheapest parts that you can find.  But those cheap parts are more likely to cause reliability problems and take away some of the joy of making a custom gun.  I also worried about making a mistake with the drilling and filing, or just having issues with reliability due to the variety of parts that were installed.

Last Black Friday I received an e-mail from Rainier Arms advertising the Lone Wolf Freedom Wolf 80% lower for $50.  The listed MSRP is $150 and currently you can find the lower on the Rainier site for $100 here: Freedom Wolf 80% Lower  For $50 I decided it was a worthy winter project to try out.  


This post is going to talk about the completion of the lower drilling, filing and gluing.  I've decided not to make a step-by-step guide as there are already several posts and videos about it.  Instead I'll show a few photos from the build and some thoughts about the process.  In following posts I will discuss:


The Freedom Wolf completion process is different from a Polymer 80, which is probably the most common and popular 80% Glock style lower out there.  I haven't built a Polymer 80, but in watching videos and reviews for both, the process has some significant differences.  Most notably there is less plastic to remove, but instead of oversized slide rails to pin in, the Lone Wolf design relies on smaller rails that are glued into place and end up looking more similar to the Glock Design.  

The first steps are to remove some of the plastic that is blocking the area of the locking block and two areas along the guide rod.  Here is the initial image before clean up with the areas that need to be removed.

I was able to remove most of the plastic with a pair of needle nose pliers.  The plastic tabs broke off fairly clean, with some mass along the frame and on the bottom that needed to be cleaned up.  Some files and a dremmel are handy for the final touch up.  Make sure you go slow here and don't remove too much material.  Here is a photo with the tabs removed via pliers.  You can see there is still some material, primarily towards the bottom that needs cleaned up.


With the internal tabs removed and cleaned up, it's time to drill.  The frame comes with a jig and two drill bits.  3mm and 4mm.  According to the instructions, you have to make sure that the jig is fully installed and they recommend using a drill press and a vise to hold everything in place.  The vise was definitely helpful, just make sure you don't tighten it too much and cause the frame or jig to deflect.  I saw several complaints in the reviews that the jig didn't seem to be secure and users were concerned that the frame could move around.  I drilled out two frames, one for me and one that my brother bought at the same time.  Both of the jigs locked into place on the openings for gluing in the slide rails and seemed very secure.

I did not clamp the vise down and as you can see below I quadruple checked the alignment of the drill bit with the hole before powering on the drill press.  Once I was completely confident that the bit was aligned, the drill was turned on and I drilled half way through.


After drilling out the two frames, I would not recommend trying this with a hand drill.  The instructions recommend drilling halfway through the frame from each side and not drilling all the way through from one side.  When drilling the hole through the rear of the grip frame, the jig doesn't contact the frame where the hole will go.  This means that as you pass through the jig, there is a decent amount of space that could cause a hand drill to bite into the plastic at an angle.  With the drill press this isn't as much of a concern.  


With all of the holes drilled, it is time to install the rails.  There are four rails, one for each side, front and back.  The shape is pretty obvious for front and back and there is no left or right for the rails.  You will have to pay attention to the left and right of the pieces of plastic that are installed over the rails in the back, as they are specific.  Here is the back space.


There is an included epoxy that helps to have a small paintbrush to install.  They claim the glue is quick drying and that absolutely appears to be the case as the brush would start to harden in between rails that I installed.  You start by spreading the epoxy into the space for the rail and then pressing the rail into place.  Make sure that you install the rails facing out!  This is important to ensure that they actually hold the slide.  Below you can see the installed front slide rail.  You can see that the shape of the bottom helps to hold it in place.  There are also lego style holes that allow some additional lock up between the frame and the piece of plastic that is installed over the metal.


Now that the metal piece is glued in, you add more epoxy and install the plastic piece over it.  I have seen some complaints that people don't like the way the plastic pieces are still visible once they are glued into place.  You do see the outline of the installed piece.  On mine the front pieces fit flush and the back have a very small area that is raised and you can feel if you run your finger over it.


With the pieces glued in and left to cure, the basic completion of the lower is complete.  We will take a look at installing the lower parts in the next post.  I was very happy with how easily the parts installed and how well the holes were lined up.  




The following post will discuss the installation of the slide parts kit and then next will be a post about the reliability and function of this build.  

If you have any questions about the process let me know in the comment section below.  This is my first attempt at an 80% lower build, so if you have any helpful tips for others completing their own  builds, add those to the comments as well.








 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Christensen Arms MPR Hunting Rifle

A couple years ago I bought a new rifle to serve as a mix between a hunting rifle and a match rifle.  After getting used to AR-15 rifle ergonomics and bolt action rifles with chassis, I wanted something similar for a hunting rifle.  At the same time, it was important for me to be able to shoot with a suppressor while hunting or at the range.  In order to keep the weight down in a precision rifle that can support a suppressor, I knew that a carbon fiber barrel would be the best option.  After a lot of research on different rifles that were available or options for building my own, I decided to give the Christensen Arms Modern Precision Rifle, or MPR a chance.  This is a chassis style rifle with Christensen Arm's proprietary carbon fiber barrel, their own Remington 700 clone action and a Christensen Arms chassis made with aluminum and carbon fiber.  Check out the full review below: 


In the above review I had some issues with extraction and talk about Christensen Arms sending me a replacement extractor and spring.  I have replaced both and continued to use it, even taking an Antelope with the rifle in really dusty, dirty conditions.  So far I haven't had any more issues with extraction or ejection.  Check out the video on that below:


I bought my Christensen Arms MPR from Sportsman's Warehouse.  Use this link to check the rifle out:  https://bit.ly/2Hz281x  I liked the rifle enough that I bought a second one in 6.5 PRC last year, which I’ve already used to take a cow elk and a mule deer buck.  I have the pair set up with the same model scope so they feel very similar, but the 6.5 Creedmoor vs 6.5 PRC gives me a couple options for different, but similar ballistics.



This site does use affiliate links.  They don't cost anything for you, but if you click on the links it helps fund these gun projects and allows me to create more videos and written content.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Future Content and the Direction of this Blog

When I first started this blog I wrote a mixture of posts on outdoor activities from hiking, fishing, photography and geocaching to shooting, hunting and gunsmithing posts.  I noticed that there was very different engagement from the readers that came for some of the hiking posts, to those that would read the firearms or hunting related posts.  I decided to split this blog, leaving the generic outdoor topics here and migrating the firearms and hunting related posts to http://theblackrifle.blogspot.com/ 

The second blog did okay, but hasn't received as much traffic as this blog seems to.  Over the last couple years I have found that I don't have a lot of time to write and post content, so I am torn as to which site I will post content to.  My interests lay in the middle, with a variety of outdoor pursuits that don't just focus on firearms or hiking/backpacking.  Those subjects can attract very different crowds, which are not always very positive towards each other. 

I don't consider myself a survivalist or prepper, but I would say that the totality of my interests and hobbies probably align more with that community or group that any other specific personality.  For example, I started to get into Ham radio as a way to have a communication option when I am backpack hunting elk in wilderness areas that have zero cell phone reception and very few other people around.  Those pursuits have encouraged me to get more into bicycling as a way to improve cardiovascular fitness, try Summits On the Air (SOTA), as a way to mix hiking and Ham radio and pursuing long range precision rifle competitions to increase the range I am comfortable taking a shot in a hunting scenario.

I have also noticed over the last couple years that many of the visits to this site and the sign-ups to my e-mail list are more spam related than actual individual readers that engage in the content.  I'm still interested in writing at least occasional content, but have decided that I want to merge this site and http://theblackrifle.blogspot.com/ back together to more accurately reflect my own personal interests and to make it easier to find the time to write without splitting interest between different sites.

If you are reading this and/or receiving this through the e-mail notifications and don't want to stick around, no hard feelings.  If you are interested in staying subscribed and continuing to read the articles that I write, please let me know what you want to see more of.  I have thought of a variety of topics, from hiking, backpacking, fishing, hunting, shooting, long range precision competition, radio communications and more that I have dabbled in over the last few years.  

I have several ideas of posts that I will write over the next few weeks and months, but I will also start bringing some of the posts from the Black Rifle blog over here so that more of the content is together in one place.  I will also look at the formatting of the site and will try to start updating it and maybe even move away from the basic Blogger formats that are so consistently used throughout the internet.

Let me know what you want to see and I will try to start generating more content that matches the interest of the readers of this site.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Introduction to Summits On The Air (SOTA)

As an avid outdoorsman, a large part of my initial interest in Ham radio was in having a means of communication available in areas that were remote and lacked cell phone coverage.  As I studied for my exam and learned more about the uses of Amateur Radio, I discovered a portion of the hobby called Summits on the Air or SOTA.  Summits in the Air is an awards scheme that rewards "activators" who climb mountains to make radio contacts and "chasers" that talk to the activators from any location, to include other mountains, while mobile or even at their home shack.  This gives everyone the opportunity to participate, no matter their physical ability or skills in the wilderness.  Let's take a look at the SOTA website and see how to activate or chase a summit.


First off, if you want to officially participate as an activator or chaser, you will need to create a free account at the SOTA website, https://www.sota.org.uk/  I would highly suggest checking out the website to take a look at the official rules.  From there you can sign up for an account, log your activation or chase logs, check out the various peaks, etc.   


How to Activate a Summit

 

Since there are mountains throughout the world, SOTA summits are broken down first by an "association" then further refined into regions and summit numbers.  Let's take a look at a local mountain for me, Mt. Bailey.  The association for Colorado is W0C, the peak is in the front range region (FR) and based on the total height, Mt. Bailey is the 62nd highest peak in the region.  The designator for the peak is therefore listed as W0C/FR-062.  You can view the specific page for Mt. Bailey here: https://summits.sota.org.uk/summit/W0C/FR-062  


That page will show you the summit identifier, altitude, number of points for an activation, the latitude and QTH locator, give you options to view the peak on Google Maps, aprs.fi and other mapping sites.  It also shows the total number of activation and displays the call signs of the latest 5 activators.  It also allows other users to write notes or link to other websites that can help explain where to park, what route to take to the summit and other notes.

 

Just how many peaks are included in the SOTA database? Colorado alone has 1,797 summits that can be activated for points.  


Let's take a look now at the points and how to activate a summit.  Each summit is given a point value from 1 point to 10 points.  These vary based on the elevation of the peak and relative difficulty to climb the peak.  Not surprisingly, all of the Colorado 14ers (peaks 14,000 feet or higher in elevation) are worth 10 points, whereas a lower elevation peak like Mt. Bailey is worth 4 points.  In order to activate the summit the activator has to be within a contour line of 25 meters or about 82 feet of elevation of the summit.  You can't be next to or attached to a vehicle and you have to make at least 4 contacts via a simplex connection.  Any band or method you are licensed to use is fair game.  It is common to see VHF, UHF and HF contacts and those may be voice, CW, Single Side Band or even data modes.  The activator simply calls CQ for as long as they want to stay on the summit and working through any of the frequencies they want to work. 

 

Most of my SOTA attempts have been using VHF and I simply check to see that a calling frequency isn't being used and call CQ.  I typically use 146.52 FM and have contacted a number of hams that are listening to the calling frequency and aren't specifically familiar with SOTA.  For each summit that I log the required 4 contacts during an activation I receive points.  Each summit can be activated once per year and there are bonus points for activating during the winter.

 

In order to increase your chances of reaching your required 4 QSOs, you can go to

https://sotawatch.sota.org.uk/ and post an "alert" as depicted in the picture below.  An alert lists the approximate time, your call sign, the peak you will be activating and the frequencies and modes that you plan on attempting to use.  This allows chasers to know when you will be activating so they can be listening. You can also add notes that warn that your time window is approximate, or that they can watch you on APRS to see you approach the summit.  I have activated APRS on my Anytone 878 so chasers can see where I am at on aprs.fi as I hike towards the summit.


Check out my summit report from activating Mt. Bailey here: http://www.rmadventure.com/2020/04/mt-bailey-my-first-sota-activation.html




How to Chase a Summit

 

The other side of SOTA is the chaser.  There can't be an activator if there isn't a chaser on the other end.  Any ham can be a chaser, they don't even have to know about SOTA to count.  They just have to make a contact with an activator and preferably share a signal report in both directions.  I have made contacts with several local hams while on Mt. Bailey and most of them have not officially logged the contacts on the SOTA website.

 

If you are interested in trying to chase, a great resource is to check out the SOTA Watch site at https://sotawatch.sota.org.uk/.  In the photo below you can see the default view for "spots."  These are chasers that had a conversation with an activator and are logging the call sign of the activator, the peak, time and frequency used to allow other chasers to have an idea of what frequencies to use to make their own contact.  In the example below you can see a variety of contacts using VHF, HF and not only FM voice conversations, but several CW and SSB contacts as well.






By checking the spots and adding one of your own, you can see who is currently active and be more likely to tune to the right frequency at the right time to talk to an activator.  As a chaser you get points for each activator that you talk to.  You can only get points for a particular summit once per day, but unlike the activators, chasers can get points from the same summit multiple times per year. 

 

What to do with the points?

 

So what do you get with the points?  Nothing really, just bragging rights.  You can use the SOTA website to see who the top activators and chasers are for a certain region.  There are some digital rewards for certain milestones, such as receiving 1,000 points as an activator or chaser.  There are also recognitions for activating or chasing a certain number of regions.  As a fundraiser there are awards that you can order from the website to display your accomplishments in your own ham shack.  But in the end, SOTA is really more about getting out into the wilderness and connecting with others through amateur radio.

 

If you are interested in activating or chasing, check out the links above to get more familiar with the rules and procedures for logging your contacts. 

 

Whether you activate or chase, I look forward to making a SOTA contact with you soon!