Tuesday, April 7, 2015

DIY Bench Rest Wind Flags

Wind flags on a rifle range during a bench rest competition
Competing in my first bench rest rimfire target competition, I arrived at the rifle range and began to set up my bench rest, rifle, and ammunition. As I looked out onto the range, what I saw was mind boggling - there was a sea of stands with all manner of propeller, pinwheel, and surveyor tape gadgets lined up from the benches to the targets. Virtually every competitor had put a set of flags in place at various yardages. Of course, there was a method to the madness - the wind flags allowed competitors to visually ascertain the direction of the wind, and equally important, whether the wind direction was the same from the bench all the way to the targets.

Single vane commercial wind flag
Double vane commercial wind flag
I had no such gadgets in my arsenal. I never thought that rimfire target shooting would warrant such technical wizardry. We're talking a 50 yard target distance. Would factoring in wind really make that much of a difference at such close range (relatively speaking)? Oh yeah. Once I saw the targets we were going to be shooting at, and once I learned that the winning scores were often 750 out of 750, I understood how wind could have an effect on the outcome of the match. Pre-competition practice shooting proved the point to me - by paying attention to the flags set up on either side of my bench, my 5-shot groups were noticeably tighter.

During the competition, I continued to use the flags lined up on either side of my bench as if they were mine. It was good enough for me to take first place by shooting a score of 748 out of 750 in a 15-20 mph wind that blew mostly from the 10 o'clock direction.

After returning home, I did a Google search on wind flags to find out what they cost and how I could order some for use during competitions and on the practice range. Holy crap! These things started at $40-$50 apiece for the cheapest ones and they didn't even come with stands. A set of 4 wind flags would run me well over $200 and the stands were cheap, flimsy music stands. I don't think so. It was time to head into the garage and see what I could find to make myself a set of these things.

I found some old aluminum arrows, unused fishing bobbers, miscellaneous tubing and metal rods, epoxy, and fluorescent spray paint. I then headed to Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Hobby Lobby, and a local garden center in search for other parts I needed.

The photo above shows my initial booty of materials, top to bottom & left to right, to make a set of 6 wind flags:
  1. Fluorescent spray paint
  2. Four Plastic "For Sale" signs to be cut to size (later replaced by a sheet of foam core)
  3. 5-minute epoxy
  4. Six Garden spinners (later replaced by six plastic model airplane propellers)
  5. Six aluminum arrows
  6. "O" rings sized to fit snugly on the arrow shafts
  7. Pink and green surveyor's tape
  8. Nylon bushings with a 3/8" center hole (the diameter of the arrow shafts)
  9. Plastic sockets normally used for inserting stem casters into chairs or bed frames
  10. Six 2" fishing bobbers
  11. A pack of #6 fishing snap swivels
  12. 8-32 X 1 1/2" hanger bolts
  13. Compression rubber bushings with 8-32 threaded insert
  14. Toro "Funny Tubing" irrigation tubing (the plastic sockets fit snugly inside this black, rigid tubing) 
  15. 3/8" diameter brass tubing (I did not use this but bought it in case I might need it)
  16. Fiberglass rods that came with the garden spinners
I used almost all of the above materials but after getting started some substitutions were made. For example, instead of using the "For Sale" signs for the vanes, I opted for foam core that I spray painted hot pink on one side and neon yellow on the other. As you'll see later, I also ditched the garden spinners for plastic model airplane propellers as shown below.

The finished wind flag with a few deviations from the original parts list
STEP 1 - The Vanes
I started by jettisoning the "For Sale" signs which I thought would make great vanes. After trying to paint them, I wasn't satisfied with the way they looked and bought a sheet of foam core. I cut the foam core sheets to 2 different sizes (shown below) for two different wind flag sizes - the smaller wind flag vanes are 8"X10" (on the right) and the larger two (on the left) are 9"X12". The smaller sizes wind flags are for rimfire use, i.e. target distances of 100 yards or less; the larger ones are for high power rifle target distances of over 100 yards - the larger vanes will be easier to see at longer distances. I marked the location of the arrow shafts in pencil on one side of the foam core, set them aside, and moved on to adapting the photography light stands to serve as my wind flag stands.

STEP 2 - The Stands
Instead of flimsy music stands, I'm using 4 old photography light stands that were gathering dust in my photography studio. A combination of a 1/2" diameter steel rod section cut to 6" length, a 4 1/2" length of Toro tubing, and a plastic stem caster socket were just the ticket (see below) for the transformation of the stands. The 1/2" steel rods fit snugly inside the light stand tubes once I removed the head from each stand. The 1/2" diameter rods also slip firmly into the Toro tubing on one end and the plastic stem caster socket on the other end. One of the assembled light stand adapters is shown below, just above the parts used.

STEP 3 - The Stems
Fabricating the stems that insert into the light stand was accomplished as follows. Using a tubing cutter, I first lopped off a 2" section from each arrow shaft (below). The arrow shaft stem is perfect in terms of diameter, fitting into the plastic stem caster socket nicely - snug enough so as not to wobble, but loose enough so as to not impede the shafts from rotating freely as changes in wind direction cause the wind flags to rotate. On the bottom end of each arrow shaft I inserted a compression rubber bushing that has an 8-32 threaded interior. I then screwed in a hanger bolt using the 8-32 threaded part of the bolt. After screwing in the hanger bolts, I was left with the pointed, threaded screw of the hanger bolts protruding from the arrow shafts. I then drilled a hole in the bottom of one of the nylon bushings (the bushing has in interior diameter the same size as an arrow shaft, through which the wind flag assembly is inserted) and screwed the bushings flush onto the stem assemblies. The pointed end extended beyond the hole in the nylon bushing but a snip with a pair of wire cutters cut them so they ended up barely into the hole.

The finished stem that serves as the flag pivot point (Left). The parts used to make the stem are depicted on the right (the nylon bushing is screwed into the the finished stem after the stem is assembled) 
The finished stem in the light stand adapter with the wind flag assembly inserted into the nylon bushing 
STEP 4 - The Flags
I now turned my attention to fabricating the wind flag. Using the tubing cutter, I cut 4 of the arrow shafts to a 12" lengths and the other two to 14" lengths. The shorter shafts were for the small wind flags and the longer shafts were for the large wind flags.

I drilled two holes in each shaft, punched 2 holes in each flag vane, and bolted the foam core vanes to the shafts using half inch 8-32 screws, washers, and nuts (above). I added grommets on the rear corners of the vanes into which I attached fishing snap swivels and 16" strips of surveyor's tape.

I drilled a 3/8" hole through 6 fishing bobbers and poured one ounce of #7 1/2 lead shot into each bobber. The bobbers were then inserted through the holes as counterweights to the vanes. Although the vanes aren't very heavy, I needed something to offset their weight. One ounce of weight on the front of the shaft was enough to balance the wind flags, providing for smooth rotation of the stems in the socket. I slid the bobbers back and forth on the arrow shaft until I found a good balance point and then used snug fitting rubber "O" rings on each side of the bobber to keep them from moving on the shaft. Topping off the wind flags, I added a model airplane plastic propeller by using the shafts from the garden center spinners glued into the end of the arrow shaft. 

If you remember, originally, I intended to use garden center spinners on the front of the wind flags as my "propellers". When I tested this permutation, the wind flags wobbled noticeably due to the spinners being out of balance. After all, they weren't made for an application that required them to be perfectly balanced and no matter how hard I tried to balance them I just couldn't get the flags to stop wobbling.

While this wasn't the end of the world - the wind flags rotated freely on the stands and changed direction fluidly with subtle changes in wind direction - I wanted to correct this if only for aesthetic purposes. That's when I thought of using lighter, balanced model airplane propellers as a solution. A quick trip to a hobby shop and $6 later, I returned home with 6 plastic propellers that fit perfectly on the shafts I was using with the spinners. The question then became whether this modification would resolve the wobbling. Much to my delight, the propellers solved the problem.

STEP 5 - Storage And Transporting
To transport the flags to and from the range and to keep them from being damaged in between trips to the range, I found a Flambeau plastic storage box in the garage that was tall and wide enough to accommodate the flags. Storage boxes like these can be found at most Sporting Goods stores and WalMarts.

The wind flags nestled inside the Flambeau storage box
A 1"X10" pine board cut to a length that fit at the bottom of the box serves as the base for the flags. I drilled staggered holes into the board and inserted pieces of fiberglass tent pole sections into the holes, cut to lengths that would position the flags to sit just above the board when the stems are inserted into the tent pole shafts. These tent poles came from a bag of replacement poles I had bought at WalMart years ago for one of my tents in case one of the poles needed replacement. They're the kind that come in sections, connected by a shock cord that runs inside, with aluminum tubes on the ends of the sections. The tubes allow you to connect the sections into a long pole, but for my purposes, they were perfect for inserting the wind flag stems.

Placing the finished base for the flags inside the box, I inserted each flag into it's respective tent pole section and the project was finished.

I realize that some of the parts I've used came from miscellaneous stuff I found in my garage or otherwise unused, and if you set out to make yourself a set of flags, you may not have some of the stuff I had. I'm estimating that my wind flag set cost me in the neighborhood of $40. Substituting store bought materials for the items I did not have to purchase, I would estimate that $50 to $60 would cover everything needed to make the flags. In the end, you  have to decide whether it's worth your time to make your own and save a few bucks or just buy a ready made set. I enjoy the satisfaction of making things that are equally functional to what can be bought, so I made my own flags. If you're like me, you can do it too.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Testing .22 Rimfire Match Ammunition

The rimfire ammunition that was tested (from L to R, Top to Bottom) - Ely Match 1064 fps; Ely Match 1070 fps; Ely Tenex; Wolf Match Extra; Federal Premium Gold Medal UltraMatch; Federal Premium Gold Medal Match; RWS Special Match; RWS R 100; RWS R50; and Aguila SuperExtra
I'm a newbie to the world of competitive precision rifle shooting and have been doing everything I can to learn the finer points of the activity. A couple of things I've learned is that every rimfire rifle performs at its best with a specific ammunition and that every rifle is different. A certain ammo may work beautifully with one rifle but can be a disaster with another rifle. Some say that you can have two rifles from a manufacturer, same model number with sequential serial numbers, and what shoots tight groups with Rifle A may shoot horrible groups with Rifle B. Consequently, it behooves one to try as many types of ammunition with one's rifle to determine what works best.

That's what I set out to do with my new target rifle this past weekend.

This Ain't Your Daddy's Rimfire Ammo

Match rimfire ammunition is a far cry from the .22 LR ammo I have used for years in my plinking guns, a Marlin and a Remington semi-auto .22. Generally speaking, semi-auto .22's need high velocity ammo to cycle rounds, although a few can cycle standard velocity rounds without repeated failures to eject. Match grade bolt action .22's, while they may be of the same caliber as my old Marlin and Remington, are as different as it gets from those guns. In the case of match rifles, speed kills - from an accuracy perspective, they thrive on subsonic, standard velocity rounds in the 1070 to 1080 fps range as compared to the 1200+ fps, high velocity rounds that my plinkers gobble up. Go figure. I always thought the faster the round, the flatter the trajectory, and thus the more consistently accurate bullet. This is one of the many preconceived notions I've had to revise in my head since stepping up into rimfire target shooting.

Precision Rifle Shooting…Where Did This Come From?

Mounting and leveling the scope on my Anschutz Model 1907 after its arrival
I've been an on and off plinker most of my life. My first firearm was a Marlin .22 LR semi-automatic rifle that I passed down to my son when he was old enough to learn how to shoot. Over the years I've picked up other .22's as well as other rifles in various calibers up to .308. I've hunted with some of them but I've always enjoyed shooting at targets much more. Recently, I picked up the .22 of my dreams, a barely used, gorgeous Anschutz Model 1907 .22 LR, acquired through some wheeling and dealing. It arrived a couple of weeks ago along with a sampling of match grade ammo - one box of each type - so I could decide for myself what ammo would serve me best. Included in the lot were three different types of Eley ammo (Match, 1070 fps; Match, 1064 fps; and Tenex), three different offerings from RWS (Special Match; R 100; and R 50), and a box of Wolf Special Match.

In a perfect world with unlimited spare time to play, I would have headed right out to the range, got the scope sighted in, and tested the Anschutz with the different types of ammo but, things like work got in the way. Other than mounting and leveling the scope, the rifle sat in its case waiting for the weekend to arrive for its maiden trip (at least for me) to the range. My plan was to take a trip down to Central Florida to spend some time with my son, the family expert in precision rifle shooting. I wanted him to adjust the comb, length of pull, and butt plate angle to fit the rifle to my body. Then we could spend time sighting the rifle scope in and testing the ammo as he taught me the finer points of precision shooting. 

As my weekend departure day approached, I found out about a 50-yard Benchrest Rimfire Rifle competition scheduled for that Saturday afternoon at a gun club near my son's house. Thinking it would be a great way to christen the Anschutz, I decided to enter even though I had never shot in any kind of competition before. Only problem was I didn't have enough match grade ammo to shoot. The competition involved a total of 75 shots at 15 targets with 5 shots at each target. When I added the amount of ammo needed to sight the scope in, practice some before the match, and shoot in the match, I needed a minimum of 4 boxes of the same kind of ammo. I only had one box of several different kinds so I began searching for more match grade ammo locally. You'd think .22 caliber ammo was gold based upon the availability of any kind of .22 ammo - the pickings were slim. I finally found some ammo locally, at least ammo that was touted as match grade - Aguila SuperExtra manufactured in Mexico using Eley primers, and Federal Premium Gold Medal in their UltraMatch and Match versions. I bought a few boxes of each and headed down to Central Florida, hoping one of these would work well enough with the Anschutz to avoid humiliation in the competition.

On Friday evening, we made all the adjustments to the rifle and my son spent a considerable amount of time walking me through the art of precision rifle and competition shooting. Saturday morning, I sighted the scope in and tested the Aguila and Federal ammo. The Anschutz seemed to like the Federal UltraMatch, shooting what I (in my ignorance) thought were decent groups. I decided that would be my ammo for the match. As the time for the match approached, I went through a box of ammo to make sure the scope was dialed in with the Federal ammo and getting in a bit of practice as I settled in for the match.

My three cards from the competition using the Federal Premium Ultra Match ammo
Then, the wind picked up…and picked up…and picked up some more. What had been a relatively calm day turned into a 15-20 mph wind blowing from 10 o'clock. Ignorance is bliss and I started shooting as soon as we were told to start. I shot a couple of sighters and then took my 25 shots at the first card, just barely getting the last shot off as the 20-minute allotted time elapsed. I was sure that I was well out of contention after retrieving my first 5-target card since I missed the "X" ring 10 times. I did however get all my shots in or on the "10" ring which meant a score of 250-15. When the first card scores were called out, I was the only one with a score of 250. The wind seemed to be wreaking havoc on the the other shooters, many of whom were used to shooting perfect scores in these competitions. Relieved that I would not be embarrassed with my showing, I repeated the process two more times trying to shoot a little faster so I could comfortably get all my shots off before time expired. At the end of the day, my score was 748-43, good for first place by 4 points. Not too shabby for my first time, but clearly it was all because of my new magnificent piece of German engineering that was more accurate than all the other Anschutzes on the line.

So, What About The Other Ammo?

My benchrest setup

After returning home, it was time to test the rifle with the boxes of match ammo that came with the rifle.    I was very pleased with the accuracy of the rifle but I hoped that different ammo would provide better groups. Examining the targets from the match, some groups were very, very tight; others were looser and several had a flier or two that were well outside the group. I didn't know if this was the result of the wind, my lack of skill, or just the inherent nature of the Federal ammo in my rifle so I headed out to the range this past Sunday to settle the matter.

5=shot test groups with each box of ammo
After setting the Anschutz up on my benchrest, I took several practice shots with each type of ammo to acclimate the rifle to it before shooting 5-shot groups into targets set up at 50 yards. The test confirmed my suspicion that while the Federal UltraMatch was decent enough ammo, the Anschutz performed much better with some of the other offerings.

The test group with Federal UltraMatch
The Federal UltraMatch (above) shot a group representative of how it had performed the previous weekend during the competition. All five shots were well inside or on the 10 ring with at least three inside or on what would have been the "X" ring on the competition targets. One "flier" (lower left) was outside the group.

The four finalists - Eley Tenex, Eley Match 1070 fps, RWS R50, and RWS R100

Two of the offerings from Eley and two from RWS beat the snot out of the Federal UltraMatch in terms of tight groups with no fliers. Since the scope was dialed in for the Federal ammo, I wasn't concerned about the exact location of the groups if they were slightly off center. I was more concerned with the tightness of the groups as a click here and a click there in scope adjustment would easily center the scope with the ammo later on.

Aguila SuperExtra - it takes more than Eley primers to keep up with the big dogs
By far, the worst ammo was the Aguila SuperExtra. It obviously had the potential to shoot good groups but it shot two fliers out of five with one of them way off.

After weeding out the good, the bad, and the ugly, I put the bad and ugly stuff away to really test the four types of ammo that seemed to have the best potential. First up was the Eley Tenex. Going in, I really thought this was going to be the top dog since it's touted as the favorite of a lot of benchrest shooters and it's the most expensive of all the ammo - $20 a box. But after critically examining the target, I was not impressed and hoped the other ammo would do better.

The Eley Tenex groups. I shot 7 rounds into the bottom left target and six into the bottom right because the first shot into each was a flier

And The Winner Is … A Tie?

5-shot groups with Eley Match 1070 fps
5-shot groups with RWS R50
 The RWS R100 was slightly better than the Eley Tenex but still left a lot to be desired. That's when the RWS R50 and the Eley Match in the 1070 fps rounds stepped up to the plate. Yowsa! Tight, tight groups with only one flier out of 25 shots with each ammo, and the flier on each was very close to the groups.

So, I seem to have narrowed the choices down to two - RWS R50 and Eley Match 1070 fps. I've found a source that has both types in stock and have a brick of each on their way to me so I can settle the issue as to which will be my ammo of choice for competing with the Anschutz. Looking forward to seeing which one comes out on top but either would serve me well in any competition, especially after I have time to develop my skills as a shooter.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

How To Create Fog, Haze and Sunbeams In An Image

Preparing for my first cover shoot for Tallahassee Woman Magazine, I've been thinking about how to pull off the shoot and create a cover image that will set the tone for future covers. When I was hired to shoot covers for the magazine a couple of weeks ago, I was told that they wanted to take their cover images in a new direction - more artistic, edgy stuff. For the January/February issue, they were thinking of a cover image of the person being featured in the magazine shot in the woods with a misty, foggy feel to the image. This is a radical departure from the magazine's past covers which were typically studio portraits of the cover person. I love doing artsy fartsy, edgy stuff and am looking forward to letting the creative juices flow.

Thinking about the upcoming cover, I started playing around in Photoshop to create a mock cover to run by the folks at the magazine to make sure what I envisioned was in line with what they envisioned. This is what I came up with, using an image I took while touring the location for the shoot and adding a stock image of a model reclining on a couch.

The mock cover I created
Below is the original iPhone shot I took of the wooded scene. While scouting the property, I found several sites that I thought would be great locations for the shoot but this particular one really caught my eye - two large oak trees intermingled with magnolia tree branches that looked like huge vines. I had been told during the planning process that there was a moss covered couch available for the shoot and that we could use it as a prop. In my mind, I could picture how perfect the couch would fit in the foreground of this scene, making it the perfect setting.

A few days before I toured the property, I was sent a stock image by the person I will be shooting - a model reclining on a couch - a pose that she really liked. 

Cutting the model out of the stock image, I dropped her into my iPhone shot of the site and went to work in Photoshop to add mist, fog and haze. Here's how I did it.

The first step was to process the iPhone shot in terms of exposure, bringing out the shadows and highlights using the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop CC.

Step 2 was cutting the model out of the background and doing some color correcting. The original image was sepia toned and while I knew I could never get it to have the correct color, I at least wanted it to blend with the woods better than if it was sepia toned. This is what the cutout looked like after I dropped it into the new background.

Now it was time to add some atmosphere and mood to the composite, i.e. fog, haze and sunbeams. If you take a close look at the cutout of the model, you can see that I purposely left some white haze around her head when I cut her out of the background. This was done using the Refine Edge feature of the Selection Tool, adding some feathering to the cutout and then brushing out the feathering in areas other than around her head.

Step 3 was to add a haze to the woods. Here's how I did it as described in the captions to the images below. As a caveat, I'm assuming you're familiar with Photoshop Tools/Palettes and their various features. If not, you will have to familiarize yourself with them before going forward.

Create an adjustment layer in the image
Select Hue/Saturation
Reduce the Saturation to -100
Push the Lightness to +100 
Click on the Gradient Tool and make sure you're using the Linear Gradient feature (first box on the left at the top)
Make sure you are using the Black/White gradient feature (3rd from left)
Move your cursor under the center of the image, right click and move the cursor straight up to just beyond the top of the image. This will create what looks like a thin black line in the center of the image. Release the mouse button.
When you release the mouse button, this is what you'll see….instant, gradual haze. Adjust the layer opacity to taste.
In the image below, I've reduced the opacity of the haze adjustment layer to 65% and brought the model back in to the image to show you how nicely the fake haze is beginning to blend in with the white feathered haze I left around her head when I did her cutout.

OK, Step 4 - creating ground fog around the model and the couch so she will look a little more natural in the setting.

Create a New Layer in the background image (use the Create New Layer icon in the Layers palette or go to the top of the PS Menu, click on"Layer", then "New", then "Layer", then "OK". 
Click on "Filter" and from the drop down menu select "Render" and then "Clouds"
Don't freak out when you see what you get, but this is what it will look like at first
Click on "Edit" in the PS Menu and select "Free Transform" Change the width to 600% from 100%. Looks a lot better, huh?
Using the cursor at the top, click on the little box and move the top line down and reduce the clouds by about 2/3 of the image size. Adjust the Opacity to taste and brush out any areas you don't want. In my image, I brushed out some areas around the model's face and body with a large brush set to an opacity of 10% and a hardness of "0".
After I finished with the cloud layer, I created three more of these layers and blended them in to the first layer with different opacity settings so as to have the fog dissipate from the front of the image towards the back of the image while also selectively brushing out portions here and there (Below).

Step 5 was to add beams of light originating at the top left of the image and cascading down onto the model as if sunbeams were peering through the trees and falling onto her. This was probably the simplest step in the entire process but I think it's what really makes the image pop. Ordinarily, it would have been an excruciating Photoshop process but thanks to UK photographer Gavin Hoey, you won't believe how easy it is to do it.

Gavin's Light Beam brushes depicting their various effects
Go to Gavin's web site (http://www.gavtrain.com/?p=2802) and download his light beam brushes which will create the light beams shown above with one click of the mouse! After you download the brushes, you'll have to unzip the file and install the brushes into your brush tool. Once that's done, here's how I applied one of his brushes to my image.

I selected the brush I liked best for the setting and adjusted the brush size to fit the image
I clicked the cursor inside the image. Voila - light beams.
I opened Free Transform from the Edit Menu 
I rotated the light beams so they would angle down from top left to bottom right
I increased the size of the beams
Badda boom, badda bing - light beams after reducing the opacity
With the clouds, haze & model's layers brought back in
The final steps in the process included playing with all the layers, tweaking their opacity, brushing in and brushing out bits and pieces, and running the model's image through OnOne's Perfect Effects to add some flair. I then flattened the layers and did some additional tweaking of the overall image with the Camera Raw filter adjusting the overall highlights, shadows, color and contrast. Finally, I added the magazine's mast head and ended up with…..

When I do the actual shoot, I will be trying different poses, playing with the lighting as I set up my  lights with different light modifiers, and I'll be using fog machines to minimize having to create same in post (unless the wind doesn't cooperate). The shoot is set for this coming Friday, so fingers crossed it goes as planned.