My previous posting Junk, Budget Builds and Gear Reviews touched on, in a very quick manner, (the posting was a 10 minute job) the importance of quality. As I predicted it caused several factions to go collectively into a conniption fit. Generally if any sort of brand name is mentioned, people take it personally because they chose X brand and any talk of advantages/disadvantages is taken as a personal insult. They are married to their choices, for better or worse.
I attended a 3 day rifle class recently. The class wasn’t what I’d consider to be hard on gear in any manner. There wasn’t a lot of movement and banging guns around cover or jamming them in to barricades or cover. There was little adverse weather and the temps were in the 60’s and 70’s. The guns never really got hot from repeated rapid strings of fire. Yet, equipment still failed. In fact some of the same items and types of things championed as ‘duty grade’ previously by the commentariat.
I saw 3 rifles break to where they had to switch to another rifle to finish the class. I’ll refrain from mentioning brands so as not to feel the wrath from the “Budget Builders,” but 2 of those brands were mentioned in the original blog posting linked above. One rifle had been back to the original ‘builder’ once before on a re-check, and it was actually broke out of the box when the owner originally took possession of the rifle. I saw another well known light brand fall off a rifle repeatedly. I’ll say this much; it wasn’t Surefire or Streamlight. I saw a lower tier Red Dot experience flicker issues with less than 500 rounds through it. This was just the things I personally saw.
So not to beat the dead horse carcass any more than absolutely necessary, I think the aspect of quality gear cannot be overstated. Not only does it cause a lot of headaches while trying to actually learn to use a rifle at a class for instance, but then you have to deal with the anxiety of fixing it, spending more money to get better parts, or deal with sending it back out to be fixed, or dropped off at the gun shop for a few weeks while they fix it.
In the backlash from the original Junk, Budget Build and Gear Reviews posting, perhaps the part that people didn’t grasp was the concept of what ‘duty grade’ actually is. For some folks this actually means something. For others, such as casual gun enthusiasts, hobbyists, and even survival types, they often don’t fully understand the concept.
A common retort from this faction is “who cares, it has a lifetime warranty!” I’m not going to trot out the mantra of “it has a lifetime warranty probably because you’ll need it!” because often high end tools, gear, etc has the same warranty. But I will say this, as a guy who has been involved in the professional trades for most of his adult life in some form, and being a hardcore training junky for many years, that warranty doesn’t do jack shit for you at the time it breaks.
If you are out on that patrol you finally get to go on because the balloon FINALLY went up, and your budget optic fills with fog to where its impossible to use, what is that warranty doing for you right that instant? If your budget rifle, that ‘worked fine’ on the range for that ‘high round count’ goes down with a catastrophically stuck casing because your out of spec chamber, after experiencing the heat from an actual live, no shit, Break Contact, what good is your warranty at that moment?
This is not just about gun related things. If you have a life time warranty from that Harbor Freight tool while you are a production carpenter or mechanic, and it breaks, while on a road service call or building an off grid house 40 miles from even a gas station, what good is that warranty at that moment?
I rarely see ‘budget tools’ in the professional mechanics tool box. Generally we know what works, what doesn’t, what certain brand tools will take, and buy accordingly. Yes, absolutely the professional will have a box full of Snap-on, Mac, Matco, and the like. Yes, the 20 yr professional Carpenter is going to have a set of Occidental bags and a worm drive Skilsaw. Yes, the professional logger is going to be wearing Whites boots (or equivalent), and running a well maintained Husqvarna or Stihl Chainsaw. They do not have the time to screw around.
And the same goes for ‘gun gear.’ You generally don’t see gear that has a higher chance of failure used by the professional gunslinger, be they military, privately employed, or gamer. In detective work we tend to call this a clue.
I want to touch on the concept of ‘duty grade.’ I do not know of a specific definition, but I can generalize. It is generally considered to be an item that has undergone extensive testing to determine its durability, performance and failure points. The quality is there to deem it fit for hard use. You hear it quite frequently in the gun training culture. I’ll offer some generally agreed upon examples to give the readership a better idea. For instance, Aimpoint’s are almost universally considered duty grade, where as Holosun isn’t. Streamlight or Surefire is generally considered duty grade, where as Inforce or Thrunight isn’t. Does this mean that either of the lesser brands listed above won’t function for the part time user? No. But it does mean that the Aimpoint or the Streamlight will most likely take more abuse and keep on ticking.
Let’s extrapolate the above concept above of the professional mechanic, carpenter or logger, into the tactical arena. If you knew that tomorrow, you were going to wake up and be put in a situation where you were going to have to defend you and your families lives, would you trust yourself to junk? If you could have any equipment and money was no object, would you choose that Hi-Point over the M+P? Would you choose the 300$ rifle Uncle Bob put together on the kitchen counter or would you take that Bravo Company rifle that has the proven track record of excellence? If you were on the Osama Bin Laden Kill Team, would you opt for the NOD’s you got down at Gander Mountain in the kids section or the most high end set you could obtain that offered the best clarity and rugged durability on the market? I’ll ask this another way, what is your life worth? Sure, in the end, its pretty trivial if the Sears socket breaks and you have to run across town to get another one. But its not so trivial when your gun catastrophically breaks in a deadly force encounter the one time you actually NEED it to work.
Does this mean that Snap-on doesn’t break? That Stihl saws never break down? Absolutely not, but the chances are extremely low, comparatively.
This then leads us to the part time or casual user. Does the home owner, who really doesn’t plan on doing much in the way of handy man stuff around the house, really need a 700$ compound miter saw? Probably not, but it surely wouldn’t hurt his productivity. Does the guy who changes his oil a few times a year, need a 400$ Snap-on Flank Drive+ wrench set? Probably not, a Home Depot set will probably work just fine. Does a home owner cutting brush need a Husky 3120 that a Faller in the PNW might need to run a 60″ bar? Most likely not. A decent farm ranch line saw from Stihl or Husky will get it done.
But, here is the thing, I’m not calling those Home Depot wrenches duty grade. I’m not calling a Stihl MS290 to be in the same ball park as a ported Husky 395xp or Stihl 660 because they are two entirely different saws. Just like a *insert whatever brand* 200$ optic and a 1500$ Nightforce.
Does the casual plinker actually need a higher end, top shelf rifle? For sunny Sunday range plinking, probably not. But please don’t call the 400$ rifle ‘duty grade’ because you put 800 rounds through it over the course of 4 years sitting at a bench. If you are going to make the duty grade claim, you better be able to articulate what you have done with that piece of equipment, how many rounds you have fired without a hiccup, (that round count BETTER be 4 digits, minimum) what abuse the equipment has been subjected too, what independent testing that has been done by which reputable source, what unit or end user has ran the absolute piss out of it to determine that the item in question is actually ‘duty grade.’ If all I hear is, “I put it through its paces! it runs!” and then it breaks before the end of the first day of class or at its first actual hard use event, just sit down.
Let us also not confuse ‘quality’ with ‘price.’ A 400-500$ Glock will run reliably out of the box, almost guaranteed. It doesn’t need to be one of the custom 2000$+ Glock builds that is largely for looks anyway. You’re also probably going to have more luck with a bone stock, out of the box, AK style platform than trying to dick around, with your first hands on project of any kind in life, with whatever AR parts kits you found on sale and assembling your tactical dream stick while watching YouTube videos on the coffee table. At least I know the AK is most likely going to actually work.
Who are we going to take for our Subject Matter Experts in these areas if we aren’t running our gear enough to determine if its duty grade or not? Light use “Gear Reviewers” or dudes who run guns day in and day out for years on end? The guy who shoots 30k+ rounds a year or the guy who shoots less than 1000 per year?
If you are around instructors long enough, you generally see patterns with equipment. There is an instructor who has seen over 20 catastrophic failures with XD pistols over the course of just a couple years. Others have seen Vortex Viper line optics shit the bed under fairly light use. (I’ve owned them, shut up internet) Say what you will about the infamous Yeager, but his view on 1911’s mirrors a number of other high end instructors experience. A well known (in the industry at least) podcast host experienced a catastrophic failure with a brand new, out of the box, higher end 1911 on the first drill of the first class he ran it in.
Again, are we going to take the guy who has put 500 rounds through X brand scope or rifles word for it, or are we going to listen to the guys who have seen 20,000 rounds go down range every weekend for years on end and see what patterns they are seeing with gear?
In closing down this dead horse beat down, I’d like to quote John Mosby of the Mountain Guerrilla blog, in his commentary on the previous installment of this series.
“Software IS more important than hardware, but Ive yet to see anybody trying to run the latest Linux OS on a 1984 Tandy computer either. ”