Volume: 54 | Back to issueSubscribe Now
column By: Terry Wieland | January, 22
“Uh, sure, no problem,” I said, always eager to please the editor. Little did I know.
There was a time a guy could talk about rifles fairly intelligently, knowing only a few key terms – action, rifling, trigger, bolt handle – and a few catchalls – thingy, doohickey, whatsit – and be considered, if not the pool-hall expert, at least not a dweeb. (I had to look up ‘dweeb,’ and that is correct usage.) Along with these, terms such as smoke pole, charcoal burner, twist-tube and front-stuffer would clearly indicate that you were up on the latest terms, a chat-room veteran and not a ‘newbie’ (condescending slang for someone who is none of the above).
For those who seriously wanted to know what they were talking about, there was always Steindler’s New Firearms Dictionary or Olson’s Encyclopedia of Small Arms, two helpful tomes that appeared in 1985. If John Olson or Bob Steindler couldn’t help you, there was probably little hope.
By coincidence, 1985 was about the time the term CNC (computer-numerically controlled) crept into the national consciousness, along with a vague belief that technology could do anything. As computers and smartphones took over the world, so did techno-speak; if you couldn’t lard your conversation with words like byte, pixel, and double-click, you were nowheresville. (That’s a term from the 1960s, or maybe it was the 1950s, meaning out of the loop.)
In 1992, the U.S. led a successful international effort to take Kuwait back from Saddam Hussein, and suddenly the military was back in vogue after several decades of post-Vietnam unpopularity. This was magnified several times after 9/11 and the rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and suddenly anyone three years or older was wearing head-to-toe camouflage, spouting military jargon and wearing cartridge belts as a fashion statement. Along with this, military rifles – or anything resembling a tactical firearm – became all the rage (a term from the 1920s meaning wildly popular, probably in the short-term.)
It’s now 20 years after that life-changing event, and the rifle world is completely dominated by military hardware: sniper rifles, assault rifles, tactical rifles – anything angular, with sharp edges, and the obligatory Picatinny rail or, even better, several Picatinny rails. The muzzle is threaded to accept a muzzle brake or a silencer (an old-fashioned word for suppressor, commonly used in the 1930s when they were highly illegal). The stock looks like something conjured up with a Meccano set (an 1898 English forerunner to Lego blocks) and is adjustable, collapsible or removable altogether.
At one time, we might have characterized these as made of wood and steel, or steel and plastic, or steel and fiberglass, but no more. Now, they are made of titanium, esoteric alloys with names like F11/G230b-Ni, or aircraft aluminum with designations equally incomprehensible to anyone but a doctor of metallurgy, if there is such a thing. (I guess there must be.) Stocks that used to be plastic (a pejorative), fiberglass (inexact and outdated), composite (vague), or Kevlar (too 1990s), now must be carbon fiber at the very least.
Here is a recent rifle description, lifted from a website, for the Remington 700 5-R Stainless Threaded:
• Legendary Model 700 Stainless
Steel Action featuring the “3-Rings
of Steel” makes this the strongest action on the market
• Black CERAKOTE finish for
additional protection against the elements
• 5-R hammer-forged with tactical/target-style rifling like that used in famous M-24 military rifles for the utmost in shot-to-shot consistency
• 5-R increases barrel life and accuracy, causes less friction and bullet deformation
• Tactical bolt knob for easy bolt manipulation
• Six longitudinal LTR style flutes reduce barrel weight and increase heat dissipation
• H.S. Precision Sand color composite stock with black webbing features full-length aluminum bedding blocks for enhanced stability and shot-to-shot consistency
• Dual front swivel stud system for convenient mounting of bi-pod and sling
• X-Mark Pro externally adjustable trigger
• Silencer ready with 5⁄8x24 Threads
Actually, that one is relatively simple. Anyone familiar with how a rifle operates (which, in fact, has changed little in 120 years, weird terminology notwithstanding) can probably figure it out.
This one, for the Hardy (of New Zealand) Hybrid, imported by Legacy Sports, is more cryptic:
• 4140 alloy steel
• H13 Hot work die metal
• Chrome silicon
• 7075 T6 aluminum
• Carbon fiber composites
Exactly what they’re referring to is anyone’s guess, really.
In 1952 – 70 years ago! – one Milton Smith coined the word “bafflegab” to describe language that pervaded press releases and politicians’ statements of policy. These were intended to sound impressive while conveying little or no actual information – at least none that anyone could be held to when, as inevitably happened, whatever they were announcing fell short, or whatever they were defending turned out even worse.
Far be it from me to describe the language of modern rifle descriptions thusly. I’m sure, if you have an engineering degree or studied integrated modular avionics (That one’s real. Seriously.) they are perfectly comprehensible. But they are not terms you toss lightly around over coffee down at the gun club. However, it would help to know what they mean. Herewith, I offer some definitions of some of the most commonly encountered baffl…er, jarg…er, terminology of the modern rifle maker:
1. Modular tactical shooting
platform: Used to be called a rifle. Modular means it comes in attachable bits. Tactical means it looks military even if it isn’t.
2. Chassis: More impressive word than frame or action, but essentially the same thing.
3. Carbon fiber: The substance from which stocks are made, and with which barrels are wrapped, mostly for stability and heat dissipation. I think.
4. M-LOK slots: Stands for “modular lock,” a system for attaching extraneous bits, similar to the Picatinny rail.
5. Modular & tactical: You can bolt a bunch of things together, or switch interchangeable parts around, with the essential word “tactical” to tie it to the military and justify the camo headband.
6. Free-floating (as in “handguard”): Unattached to anything,
or at least as few things as possible. Promotes uninhibited accuracy – the kind any barrel yearns to deliver if not interfered with.
7. Over-moulded (as in “grip”): A method of injection moulding that binds two materials together to make one object, such as a pistol grip with a metal alloy core and composite outer covering.
8. Furniture: On a 1910 Purdey, this would be such parts as the trigger guard; it is now loosely used to mean the stock and other undefined bits.
9. Buffer tube: On an AR, the tube that holds the recoil buffering mechanism.
10. Scary accurate: A refreshingly straightforward and evocative term meaning, well, very accurate.
11. Integrated Picatinny rail: I thought they meant “integral,” which means manufactured as a part of the whole, not bolted on later. Turns out they did mean integrated, i.e., fitted to the action. But then, what good would a Picatinny rail be if it were not? The rail itself was developed at Picatinny Arsenal, and is a “Rube Goldberg-esque” evolution of the original Weaver base. (Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist in the 1920s who drew impossibly complex and fanciful machines.)
12. ROT: Rate of twist, which is rifling, and why just “twist” won’t do, I can’t imagine. But acronyms are all the rage (see above) and if you can replace a word with a puzzling acronym, it presumably sounds more impressive.