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Dick Jones

I’m Almost Out!: Low-Round-Count Training

Some low-round-count drills and training tips for when ammo supplies get tight.

We’re in another round of dealing with scarce and expensive ammunition. A combination of new gun owners, political instability and COVID-19 has created our worst ammo shortage at a time when shooting sports and gun ownership are growing at an unprecedented rate. As an instructor, I’m swamped with new gun owners wanting to build their skills while ammo is scarce and expensive.

Shooting skill, like all other skills, requires repetition. New gun owners need to learn the proper fundamentals and repeat them until they become second nature. A new shooter with a lesson in basic safety and marksmanship is at the same level as a driving student after his first experience on the road.


And like driving, repetition develops unconscious competence and allows adjusting strategy while performing at a high level. Meaning, even experienced shooters need to pull the trigger regularly to keep the skills sharp.

To be an effective shooter, as with an effective driver, skills must be developed through repetition. As a driver, you’re constantly situationally aware. If there’s an indication of danger, the experienced driver thinks only of the best tactic to avoid the danger without conscious thought of how he’s going to accomplish it using the controls of the vehicle.

Real skill with a firearm requires the same level of competence.

3 Low-Round-Count Drills:

One Shot, Two Sight Pictures

Since repetition is the mother of skill, this drill renders the maximum amount for skill-building reps with a minimum expenditure of ammunition.

For accurate shooting within the constraints of time, the presentation of the gun must be safe, consistent and fast. The sight picture should be acquired during presentation, and there when presentation is complete. At the time of full acquisition of the sight picture, the trigger finger should be on the pressure wall of the trigger; if the sight picture is there, the trigger pressure should be increased until the gun fires. With practice, this should be accomplished within about 2 seconds from concealment and 1.5 seconds from a belt holster. Once the trigger breaks, the shooter should re-acquire the pressure wall during recoil, resume the sight picture and assess whether another shot is required.

The biggest impediment to accuracy with a pistol, either in shooting slowly or rapidly, is trigger management. Everyone I train can see the sights and hold the gun well enough for reasonable accuracy. Poor accuracy is almost always due to poor trigger management due to anticipation or flinch. Flinch is an involuntary response and as such can’t be avoided if the affected shooter knows the exact instance the gun will fire. The answer to accuracy is the surprise break. If the sight picture is there, the shooter increases pressure until the gun fires. Anticipation can’t occur because the exact time of the shot can’t be predicted.

If you can find it and afford it, shooting until you’re standing knee deep in brass works.

Many of my clients are new shooters, and anticipation is a huge problem. When I explain the surprise break, I see skepticism because they can’t imagine shooting fast and not knowing the exact instance the gun will fire, but the surprise break can be compressed with repetition until multiple shots can be fired from the pressure wall with a fast but smoothly increased pressure to the trigger. Accuracy has to come first, and speed can then be acquired through repetition.

Sweet 16 Qualification

Using a full-sized silhouette, USPSA or half-scale silhouette at half distance, this drill develops an awareness of time versus accuracy, covering almost all aspects of action or defensive shooting. If desired, two targets can be used to include transitioning to another target.

The object is to strive for accuracy while developing awareness of needing more time to get accurate shot placement. I use the BLEA-1-R half-scale target with a 2×3-inch 10-ring. If full-sized targets are used, double the distance.

This drill emphasizes the management of time/distance. To achieve a similar level of accuracy, longer shots require more time. While practice drills build skills through repetition, they also educate the shooter as to his skill level. People who don’t shoot structured practices normally greatly overestimate their skills and in a deadly force event, this could have disastrous consequences.

It truly is about the fundamentals, but once the fundamentals are learned, it’s about repetition.

While the use of the support hand in a defensive encounter is relatively low, this part of the drill generally surprises shooters when they shoot almost as fast and—sometimes—more accurately with their support hand.

When I wrote the Gun Digest Guide to Concealed Carry Handguns book, I searched the web for instances where defensive shooters had to accomplish a magazine change. I never found one. Still, gear manipulation is important and changing magazines builds skill in that area. An interesting addition would be to add a surprise dummy round in the magazine to reinforce the tap/rack mindset.

The 5-yard stage where four shots are fired enforces proper grip and recoil management. If you must adjust your grip after a few shots, you need work in that area.

The Sweet 16 Qualification requires speed in the close stages and accuracy in the longer stages. Hitting a 2×3-inch 10-ring at 2 to 5 yards is pretty simple, but under time constraints even above-average shooters drop points at 7 and 10 yards because they fail to slow down to match the accuracy requirements of the longer distances.


I’ll Be Back

No, this drill doesn’t involve driving a car into a police station like in the Terminator. It does, however, reinforce getting to cover whenever possible. Having watched many videos with citizens involved in defensive encounters, I’m amazed at how people simply stand out in the open when cover is readily available.

The drill starts at 5 yards with the gun holstered or placed on a table at 10 yards. Two USPSA targets are spaced 6 feet apart and cover at 10, 7 and 5 yards. On the timer’s beep, run back to cover behind the table and fire one shot at each target from right and left of the 10-yard cover. Then, move up to the 7-yard barrel for one shot left and right and repeat at the 5-yard cover. Another party loads his magazine with one dummy round at a random point.

The idea is to reinforce the need to use cover if available. I allow shooters to shoot on the way to cover if they’re moving. But the second shot should be from behind cover. Having a dummy round pop up at some point in the high-intensity drill instills the conditioned reaction to tap/rack the gun as soon as they get a click/nothing as opposed to a shot.

Training from a stationary location is valuable, but the ability to move and shoot increases your chances in a deadly force event.

While many shooters simply cycle the slide when nothing happens, this isn’t the best option. Concealed-carry guns are carried close to the body, and the magazine release is compressed to the body, sometimes getting pressure from ordinary movements. Most concealed-carry guns will hold the magazine in place when it’s dropped slightly. If the magazine has dropped below engagement level, racking the slide gets nothing and consumes considerable time because the gun must be re-grasped and another sight picture acquired. Tapping the magazine before racking adds much less time.

These three low-round-count drills consume very small amounts of ammunition while providing a very high value in acquiring skills. They’re valuable to new shooters as well as those who have extended shooting skills. They’re easy enough to not intimidate a new shooter yet challenging to higher skilled shooters when trying to beat previous times.

The adage is to shoot until you’re standing in a pile of brass. Unfortunately, this is currently both difficult to accomplish and expensive. There’s no substitution for repetition, but every session should be concentrated on exceeding previous performance. That’s how real skills are acquired.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Self-Defense Training:

Best Concealed Carry Handguns For Women (2023)

Updated 4/5/2023

The best concealed carry handguns for women as chosen by women.

Editor's Note: This page contains both the original Concealed Carry Handguns For Women article as well as its follow-up piece from the 2022 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Please click HERE to jump to the original article or read on to see the most up-to-date list.

The Best Concealed Carry Handguns For Women (2023)

How The Handguns For Women Ranked:

  1. Springfield Hellcat RDP
  2. Smith & Wesson Shield EZ .380
  3. Ruger Max .380
  4. SIG P365XL
  5. Smith & Wesson Shield Plus
  6. Ruger MAX-9

The guy drove a big diesel pickup, jacked up with huge tires, and walked into the gun shop with a swagger, dressed like he was headed for a rodeo.

“I want to buy a couple of guns for my wife and her girlfriend,” he said. “I want to get them something really special.” He then walked to a display case filled with 1911s and started looking at .45s. Eventually, he chose two identical full-sized 1911s in .45 ACP. He talked to the gunsmith and asked if they could be Cerakoted in pink, and he chose two sets of fake ivory grips.

Over the years, I’ve learned that telling a guy he’s making a bad choice rarely ends well, so I stood by and watched as he paid for the guns and made arrangements to pick them up after the work was done. I smiled, wishing I could see how his choice worked out.

Sometime later, two women showed up for a concealed carry certification class with those two ungodly .45s. Neither of them could operate the slide, and they used my loaner guns for the qualification.

Somewhere out there are two pink 1911s with fake ivory grips, very likely unfired.


Girls Just Wanna Have Guns (That Work For Them)

Women often have different needs in a concealed carry handgun. While men’s clothes fit and wear in the same different pattern, whether it’s for work, casual or more formal attire, women wear a wide variety of styles from form-fitting stretch pants to loose tunics or dresses. Many have relatively low hand strength and are sensitive to recoil. I’m glad to admit there are women who can outshoot me with any gun I have, but they’re the exception.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Gun Digest pointing out some of the best guns for women. As the result of the shooting industry keeping an ear out for what people really need, things have changed for the better. Only two of the original guns in that article are in this test, and they were the first and second place entries. The development of defensive concealed pistols is in a period of unprecedented growth and development, and the result is that what was the best gun is still a great gun, but new models are always pushing the envelope.

The Hellcat’s SMSc red-dot sight made it the accuracy winner. Every shooter gave it a top score in the sights category.

Women need guns that are light, small, easy to operate and easy to shoot well. All the guns chosen are capable of concealed carry use, and all weigh in at about 20 ounces or less. All (but one) have a magazine capacity of 10 or more and have good, usable sights. The guns were tested by 10 women of various ages—from college to retirement—and skill levels. None were sport shooters, and their need was for concealed carry. All were women who have taken instruction in my classes, all related to defensive shooting skills.

The Guns were rated on a scale of one to five, with five being great and one being a no-starter. Criteria included size, weight, grip, operation, sights, trigger, recoil, accuracy and looks. Several women said looks weren’t important in a defensive pistol, and I tend to agree. No ones were scored, but there were a lot of fives. One shooter in the group gave the Hellcat RDP fives in all but two categories.

1. Springfield Armory Hellcat RDP

Hellcat RDP
The Springfield Hellcat RDP was the most expensive gun in the group, and it was the hands-down winner with 410 points of a possible 450. It scored well in recoil, possibly because of the self-indexing compensator and a little more weight. Almost everyone loved the SMSc red dot.

In the sights category, the RDP scored a five by all the testers. There were a couple of complaints about the flat-faced trigger being uncomfortable, and it got low scores in size and weight, but otherwise it was a clear winner. It was the top pick of six of the 10 shooters.

MSRP: Starts At $778 ; springfield-armory.com

2. S&W Shield EZ .380

The Smith & Wesson Shield EZ took second three years ago and for good reason. It’s the easiest to shoot and operate centerfire pistol in existence. It has good sights, a decent trigger and it’s easy to shoot well. It’s the largest gun in the group and weighs the most, but anyone can operate the slide and load the magazine without a loading tool.

While some might argue I should’ve chosen the 9mm version, I felt it was getting a bit heavy for what women preferred. There were a lot of compliments on magazine loading, ease of racking the slide and light recoil. Issues were that a really high thumbs-forward grip sometimes left the grip safety engaged, and the final round from a magazine sometimes popped up vertical causing a mis-feed. The EZ scored lowest in the size and looks categories.

The Shield EZ garnered 366 of a possible 450 points, putting it in a respectable second place once again.

MSRP: Starts At $454 ; smith-wesson.com

3. Ruger Max .380

I almost missed this one, and I’m glad someone told me I must include it in the group. I don’t think there was enough fanfare about the Ruger Max .380. I included the Shield EZ in the group because it’s a favorite with women with low hand strength. In the previous article, I included the Ruger LCP II because it was so light and compact, but the downsides of low magazine capacity and a tiny grip area kept it low in the rankings.

The LCP Max overcomes these obstacles with a few bonuses. With a magazine capacity of 10 or 12 rounds, it certainly has capacity. The sights on the Max are dovetailed into the slide and feature a cocking surface on the rear and a Tritium white outline front that’s really visible.

It’s scandalously light at under 11 ounces, less than an inch wide and super concealable. There’s also a raised wing at the rear of the slide that allows better grip for pinch and pull cycling of the slide. The slightly larger grip makes it easy to shoot well with little compromise in concealability. It scored high marks with the test group, putting it solidly in third place. There was mention that it was difficult to load the last few rounds in the magazine and that clearing the chamber required a definite snap to get a loaded round to clear the ejection port. Testers loved the size, weight and the slight tee shape at the rear of the slide.

MSRP: Starts At $479 ; ruger.com

4. Sig P365 XL

The Sig P365 was the winner last time out and still held its own, narrowly missing third place. If we count purchase numbers, the 365 certainly does well with it being the most purchased gun model in the U.S. While it certainly isn’t dated, it’s been around longer than any other gun in the test. Whereas there wasn’t a single remark against it, no one chose it as their favorite.

I chose the 365 XL because it’s newest in the line. I probably should’ve stayed with the original gun because the extra weight and size worked against it in this group. Size matters; smaller lighter guns allow more flexibility in the way women dress. My personal carry gun is the 365 and I was surprised it didn’t fare better as a larger gun. The P365 XL scored 339 points.

MSRP: Not Published, Average Street Price Is $599.99 ; sigsauer.com

5. S&W Shield Plus

SW Shield Plus
At one time, the Smith & Wesson Shield boasted a 20 percent share of the entire concealed carry market. Introduced in 2003, it was probably the best choice for a concealed carry handgun. The Shield 2.0 was a solid improvement with a better trigger and grip surface but facing a surge of 10-plus capacity competitors, S&W introduced the Shield Plus. With a flat-faced trigger, a slightly less aggressive grip texture and 10- and 13-round magazines, the upgrade is substantial. In short, the Shield Plus is a great gun.

As far as ratings go, the Shield Plus finished fifth. It’s a great gun and would’ve been at the top of a similar test in 2015, but while all the other guns in this test were from the ground-up designs, the Shield Plus is an upgrade of a 2003 design. The Shield Plus is a very good gun. It’s a bit larger than most of the other contenders and carries a little more weight, but it’s accurate, easy to shoot well and reliable as a rock.

MSRP: Starts At $499 ; smith-wesson.com

6. Ruger Max-9

Ruger Max9
My first impressions of the Max-9 were completely positive. I like the sights and trigger and the combination of small size, low weight and good magazine capacity make it an excellent choice. While there were zero complaints about the Max-9, no one scored it at the top, and it finished with the lowest number of points. I suspect a red-dot sight would’ve placed it much higher, because the RDPs optic brought a lot of raves.

MSRP: Starts At $439 ; ruger.com


Over the years, I’ve seen so many times when women came to me for training equipped with a pistol that was a poorly match to their needs. The guy described at the beginning of this article had good intentions, but a poor judgment of what would really work for his wife and her friend. In fairness to him, at the time of his poor choice, none of the guns in this comparison existed.

Handguns For Women Test Results
In retrospect, the Hellcat had an unfair
advantage being equipped with a refl ex sight. It
received a perfect score in the sights category.

The firearms industry has made great strides in supplying concealed carry citizens with guns well matched to the task. Every gun in this comparison is an exceptional instrument for the purpose it was designed for and there’s not an unsuitable gun in the group.

More Info For The Armed Woman:

Best Concealed Carry Handguns For Women

Originally published 2019.

How The Subcompact Handguns For Women Ranked:

  1. Sig P365
  2. Smith & Wesson Shield EZ
  3. Glock G43x
  4. Mossberg MC1-sc
  5. Ruger LCP II
  6. Smith & Wesson 340 PD
  7. Smith & Wesson Shield

When it comes to selecting a handgun, especially when selecting a concealed-carry handgun, women have needs that are often quite different from those of men. Women—from teenagers to well into their 80s—have taken my classes, and their needs and wants vary drastically in regard to handgun preference.

One of the fastest-growing segments of the firearms market is women, and the largest segment of women’s firearms purchases are related to personal defense. For individual instruction and teaching toward the North Carolina Concealed Carry Certification, over half my clients are women.

Women also struggle with daily concealed carry in the wide variety of clothing they wear. For men, it’s fairly simple: We wear the same basic configuration of clothing, and it’s fairly easy to conceal a firearm in the type of clothes we wear. Women’s clothing is often much more fitted and varies with the occasion. As a result, most women prefer a smaller gun that works with all their wardrobe choices. For this reason, I’ve restricted this rundown to subcompact guns.

These factors create three issues that combine to make options in concealable handguns for women more difficult.

  1. A small gun is preferred because it’s easier to conceal, but small guns are more difficult to operate than full-sized guns because of the smaller grip and more perceived recoil resulting from lightweight.
  2. The recoil is intimidating and creates issues with flinch or recoil anticipation.
  3. The short sight radius compounds the problem and makes them harder to shoot well.

Because many Gun Digest readers are often asked about the right defensive handgun choice for the women in their lives, I wanted to cover the best and most likely choices and let women voice their likes and dislikes. In preparation for this, I assembled these choices based on lightweight, concealability and ease of operation—and all this information is derived directly from working with the women in my defensive pistol classes.

The guns in the “test” represent the best of what’s currently offered in a field of truly excellent guns. At no time in history have shooters had as many good guns to choose from. It’s harder today to find a poor choice than a good one, but because of the specific needs and broad range of capability of female concealed-carry citizens, preferences will vary.

Handguns For Women As Chosen By Women

For this article, I had 32 female defensive handgun clients rank seven guns.

Two guns dominated the results: The Sig P365 was a clear winner for women with good hand strength, and the Smith & Wesson Shield EZ was the clear choice of female shooters who had issues with strength or recoil.

The ease of operation of the EZ was apparent. When it came time to shoot it, the women were surprised at how easy it was to operate. The 365 was rated below the EZ in operation, but it was also rated high in ease of operation. Its magazine capacity, power and compact size helped seal the deal for the P365.

The Glock 43X garnered third place, and Mossberg’s new MC1 came in close behind. Fifth place went to the diminutive Ruger LCP II, mostly based on its size and lightweight.

The 340 PD came in sixth, based on safety and simplicity.

The most popular concealed-carry pistol of the last 10 years—the Smith & Wesson Shield—garnered last place. It ranked low in ease of operation and recoil.

The top four guns were all introduced within the past two years; the two other guns are the oldest designs. I believe this is an indication of just how fast firearms development is moving in our modern world.

1. Most Popular Handgun For Women: Sig P365

Like many other segments of the concealed carry market, women gave the Sig P365 top marks. This compact gem is the overall favorite choice in handguns for women.
Like many other segments of the concealed carry market, women gave the Sig P365 top marks. This compact gem is the overall favorite choice in handguns for women.

No pistol in recent memory has shaken up the concealed-carry world like the Sig P365. It seems Sig Sauer did everything right—and all at one time. The standard magazine was a 10-rounder, and a 12-round magazine was available. Now, there’s a 15-round magazine. It’s a bit heavier than the Glock but considerably more compact. It comes standard with night sights and is available with or without a manual safety. With a takedown lever, it’s easier to field-strip than the Glock or S&W. The fire control system is easily removable and therefore easier to maintain. The trigger is good, the reset is short and positive, and the sights are large enough to work well without being intrusive. In profile, it’s only marginally larger than the LCP II, although it’s considerably heavier and blockier. Still, it’s the most compact of the guns in this group (other than the Ruger). Beside the 43x, it looks tiny. I can honestly find nothing bad to say about the P365.

MSRP: Not Published, Average Street Price Is $500 ; sigsauer.com

2. Lowest Recoil, Ease Of Use: Smith & Wesson Shield EZ

Handguns For Women EZ
Of all tested handguns for women, the Smith & Wesson Shield EZ was the easiest to shoot and manipulate.

The first time I put my hands on the Smith & Wesson Shield EZ, I knew it was a winner. Based on the excellent M&P .22 Compact, the EZ is as easy to operate as the .22 version. Like the Ruger LCP II, it’s chambered for the .380 ACP but carries more weight (18.5 ounces), making for remarkably low recoil—a big plus for timid shooters. The trigger is light enough, and the grip safety makes it safer than any other gun in this review except the revolver. Capacity is better than most (8+1), and the magazine is clearly the easiest to load, even employing a button to depress the magazine spring. While its size makes it more difficult to conceal, it makes the EZ extremely easy to shoot well. The three-dot sights, good trigger and low recoil make it the winner for ease of operation.

MSRP: Starts At $454 ; smith-wesson.com

3. Glock G43x

Glock's ability to put together a light and reliable pistol wasn't lost on the women who tested it.
Glock's ability to put together a light and a reliable pistol wasn't lost on the women who tested it. While down the list, the G43x still ranks as a top handguns for women.

If you ask 10 people which company makes the best semi-auto pistols, at least four will say Glock—and no one can question the reliability and service Glock pistols provide. The Glock G43x is recent, and with a magazine capacity of 10+1, it’s a real improvement over the standard G4, which can hold four more rounds than the G43. Sure, it’s not as concealable, but it’s easier to shoot well because of the longer grip (and no one in their right mind will argue that the magazine capacity isn’t a bonus). Its weight comes in at 16.4 ounces—lighter than the S&W Shield and with at least two more available rounds. The slide is easier to operate, the trigger is good, the sights are easy to see and, well … it’s a Glock.

MSRP: Not Published, Average Street Price Is $500 ; glock.com

4. Mossberg MC1-sc

Re-entering the handgun market recently, Mossberg has produced a more than capable pistol in the MC1.
Re-entering the handgun market recently, Mossberg has produced a more than capable pistol in the MC1.

When I saw that Mossberg was introducing a concealed-carry pistol, I was skeptical. However, I remembered that Chris Cerino had recently been to the introduction of something new at Mossberg, so I called him. Chris and I are close, both in friendship and in our opinions about personal defense; and, sure enough, it was the Mossberg MC1 he’d been to Gunsite to see. Chris doesn’t sugar-coat his opinions, and I was amazed that he had nothing bad to say about the MC1. I ordered one for a test—and I agree. At 19 ounces, it’s a bit heavier than the Glock G43, but otherwise, it’s about the same size. It has a flat-faced bladed trigger with nice three-dot sights and comfortable, but grippy, grip surfaces. It’s accurate and reliable and uses a simple—but innovative—takedown system. My initial impression of the see-through magazines was negative. Even so, they’ve proven really tough, and if you don’t like them, this pistol runs just fine with Glock 43 magazines. The slide has front and rear serrations, and it’s reasonably easy to cycle. The MSRP for the base model is $425. However, I found it on line for under $350, making it a real value.

MSRP: $425 ; mossberg.com
Editor's Note: Mossberg has discontinued the MC1 series and replaced it with the MC2 series.

5. Ruger LCP II

Handguns For Women LCP II

Ruger’s LCP II was a big improvement over the original LCP and has proven popular with people who need the smallest and lightest, yet still effective, concealed-carry pistol. While the .380 ACP chambering is considered the minimum as a defensive ammunition, recent advances in defensive ammunition have brought the little .380 up to being superior to the standard .38 Special load that law enforcement used for years.

At fewer than 11 ounces, and with a diminutive size, the LCP II certainly fills the bill for concealability and is the lightest and smallest gun in the group. It still has an internal hammer, but the bladed trigger of the LCP II is light and precise. It feels like a striker-fired trigger and is a big improvement over the original LCP. Magazine capacity is a reasonable 6+1, and the magazine is easy to load. The slide requires only a moderate effort and is smooth in movement. Sights are adequate and unobtrusive.

MSRP: $439 ; ruger.com
Editor's Note: Ruger now only offers the LCP II in .22 LR, but the LCP, LCP 380 and LCP MAX are still available in .380 ACP.

6. Smith & Wesson 340 PD

Of all the handguns for women, the 340 PD got the highest marks for safety and simplicity.
Of all the handguns for women, the 340 PD got the highest marks for safety and simplicity.

In my youth, the Airweight Model 37 was the undisputed king of lightweight concealed-carry revolvers. Today, it’s been superseded by the even lighter 340 and 360 PDs. With a lightweight scandium frame and titanium cylinder, it tips the scales at fewer than 12 ounces—a remarkable feat, considering that it’s chambered for the powerful .357 Magnum. While it’s handicapped by low capacity and molasses-slow reloads, it’s light and powerful and is the safest and most reliable handgun in this review. The 340 PD in the test is safe because the long-stroke, 10-pounds-plus trigger pull is almost impossible to accidentally pull. At 8 years old, my athletic grandson couldn’t activate the trigger, even using both index fingers. It’s also the easiest gun in the group to load and unload (and the most expensive). The reliability comes without explanation. There’s no need for training how to manage malfunctions; simply pull the trigger again in the unlikely event of a dud round. It’s more difficult to shoot well than the semi-autos, but for some people, the extreme level of safety and simplicity are viable trade-offs.

MSRP: $1,139 ; smith-wesson.com

7. Smith & Wesson Shield

Although it's among the most prolific defensive pistols in recent years, the Shield end up in last place in the testing.
Although it's among the most prolific defensive pistols in recent years, the Shield end up in last place in the testing.

No discussion of concealed-carry handguns—handguns for women or otherwise—should overlook the Smith & Wesson Shield. The last I heard, the Shield accounted for fully 20 percent of the concealed-carry handgun market. That’s a remarkable record! For this rundown, I chose a Performance Center Ported Shield with Hi-Vis sights. While it’s an improvement over the standard model, the Shield seems a bit dated because of all the recent additions to the market. The trigger is better on the Performance Center version, and I suppose the porting helps. Nevertheless, the Shield was still the snappiest of the seven guns tested—with the possible exception of the J-frame revolver.

It was also the most difficult to cycle the slide and load the magazine. At 18.2 ounces, it weighs in a bit below the Shield EZ and is slightly more compact—but it’s much more difficult to operate.

MSRP: $536 ; smith-wesson.com

20 Best Concealed Carry Guns In 2023 (Updated!)

Updated 2/23/2023

Looking to go armed, but are stuck in the weeds as to what to arm yourself with? Here are 20 excellent concealed carry guns to cover your six.

Self-defense has moved to the forefront of Americans’ minds, and scores have clamored after concealed carry guns like no other time in recent history. That raises a question. What exactly is the best concealed carry gun? We have some suggestions. But before we move on to our picks for the best covert heaters, we should cover a few key points about going armed and buying a gun for this particular niche. But if the fundamentals are old hat to you, please feel free to skip ahead to our picks.

Concealed Carry Lifestyle

Above all, becoming an armed citizen is a lifestyle choice. By this we mean, your life will conform around your concealed carry gun. Don’t let this scare you off. It’s less daunting than it seems, yet it merits comment.

The greatest demand going armed makes is mastery of your firearm. Just like buying a guitar doesn’t make a musician, purchasing a concealed carry gun doesn’t make you an expert in self-defense nor the use of lethal force. You must educate yourself, practice and continue doing so. Essentially, it’s a lifetime undertaking. Don’t throw up your hands, because it’s the hardest work you’ll ever love with a side benefit of a lot of range time.

Proof of regular firearms training will favor you heavily in the event of a legal battle after a gunfight.
Proof of regular firearms training will favor you heavily in the event of a legal battle after a gunfight.

After purchasing a concealed carry gun, plan on finding a reputable firearms instructor and enrolling in his or her classes. Generally, they’ll offer different levels of training, from basic pistol courses many states require to procure a concealed carry permit, to instruction on advanced concepts such as dynamic shooting, low-light engagements and mindset. Legal education is a must as well. America is a patchwork of self-defense laws, so be certain you find something tailored to where you live and travel so you have a well-formed idea of when, where and how you can justifiably use lethal force.

Once you have basic instruction under your belt, plan on refresher courses in the future. In the meantime, practice. We won’t prescribe a particular regimen here, because it will differ for each armed citizen. Your individual training should result in knowing your concealed carry gun inside and out, from muzzle to butt and all the quirks in between. Range time is the most obvious arena for learning and excelling with your pistol or revolver. But a solid routine of dry-fire drills at home works miracles on a learning curve and doesn’t cost a thing.

Read Also: Dry Fire Traing Guide

The other lifestyle aspect that comes with a concealed carry gun is clothing. Yup, that wardrobe is going to need updating … most likely. Unless you’re still mired in the baggy days of the grunge movement, it’s a safe bet much of your wardrobe won’t keep your gun concealed. Or, if it does, you’ll feel plum uncomfortable. Again, we won’t touch on the fine points here—there are loads of them. Just expect to make a clothing investment along with your concealed carry gun.


Hand-in-hand with clothing is a holster. You didn’t think you were going to tuck that baby in your waistband naked, did you? This is a vast topic, given the numerous types of concealed carry holsters on the market today:

  • IWB
  • OWB
  • Shoulder
  • Ankle
  • Bell Band
  • Pocket
  • Various Off The Body

Each has pros and cons and fit certain armed citizens, but not all of them. However, essentially all of them do the same job: retain the gun, cover the trigger (among the most important), protect you and the gun, enhance concealability, make carrying comfortable, and facilitate a smooth draw and re-holster. That’s a mouthful.

Stick with Kydex for your AIWB holster. Leather will become soft over time ... which is a bad trait for an appendix rig.
Kydex is almost always a solid choice for holster material.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the magic bullet so that you hit the perfect holster your first time out. Nobody does. All we can say is, expect plenty of trial and error—and a closet shelf of rejects—before you find the ideal hanger for your concealed carry gun.

Read Also: Concealed Carry Holster Guide

Concealed Carry Gun Fit

No two concealed carry guns are alike nor are two armed citizens. In turn, the pistol that works for you might be unwieldy to your friend. What this comes down to is fit, and there are two basic factors pertaining to a concealed carry gun.

  • How the gun fits your hand
  • How the gun fits your style of carry

Most new shooters tend to think all guns are alike. They pick a trustworthy name and assume all is right with the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A gun needs to fit your hand properly, facilitating a fundamental high grip, otherwise, there can be control issues. Even the relatively mild-mannered 9mm is jumpy if oversized compared to a particular shooter. Gunmakers have engineered some wiggle room into their guns; most new polymer-framed pistols come with replaceable backstraps and palm swells of different sizes allowing for a level of customization. Take the time to find the make/model that fits you best. A good tactic is to go to a range that has a good selection of guns for rent, and give the ones you’re interested in a test drive. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

This shooter controls the recoil in the Glock G35 with good fundamentals of Stance, Position and Grip.
This shooter controls the recoil in the Glock G35 with good fundamentals of Stance, Position and Grip.

As to carry fit, the whole idea behind a concealed carry gun is to keep it concealed. Depending on who you are, how you carry and your particular lifestyle, not every gun will fit the bill. While a 250-pound trucker might easily keep a Government-size 1911 under wraps no problem, a 98-pound business executive might find it more challenging. Think hard about your usual attire (yes, you’ll update some of it), daily routine and potential carry methods as you go through the buying process. These will provide guide marks steering you to the ideal concealed carry gun.

The Best Caliber?

Hoo boy … here’s a can of worms. Ask 100 people the best caliber for a concealed carry gun is and you’ll get 100 answers—probably including 8.5 Mars, .455 Webley and some other oddballs. The topic is so divisive friendships have been lost and gun forums burned to the ground arguing what’s top dog. Presently, the most popular concealed carry calibers are:

  • .380 ACP
  • .38 Special
  • 9mm
  • .40 S&W
  • .45 ACP
  • 10mm
  • .357 Magnum

So, which one is right? The dirty secret is, all of them.

Given ammunition advancements over the past 20 years, particularly bullet design, every one of the cartridges can save your life. The rub is, some of the smaller and lower velocity options—.380 ACP and .38 Special, we’re looking at you—require more homework to find acceptable self-defense loads. The big boys—10mm and .357 Magnum—require more skill to wield effectively. Don’t let either factor turn you off any of those if the particular concealed carry gun that fits you is chambered thusly. Just expect to spend more time making them work.

The Black Hills 125-grain Subsonic HoneyBadger in 9mm has flutes cut to increase effectiveness at low speed. The old-school 23-grain FMJ is ready to go at subsonic velocities—just as it was over a century ago.
9mm, .45 ACP or another choice?

That leaves us with 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. These are the most popular self-defense calibers on the market. Again, we can’t choose for you, only point out each that is an effective option, capable of neutralizing a threat and are widely available. You need to find what you shoot best and that comes in a make/model that fits your lifestyle. A range that rents guns is invaluable for puzzling this out. Take each for a spin before you buy!

What about a .22 LR and other small fries? While inadvisable for most armed citizens, if that’s all you can get or effectively shoot, it’s better than nothing.

2022 Picks for Concealed Carry Guns

20 of the best concealed carry guns to depend on:

Smith & Wesson CSX

Smith Wesson CSX

In the modern-day, there are precious few hammer guns that make the concealed carry cut. Mainly because the striker-fired options have sucked the air from out of the room, but also because hammer guns by and large flirt with boat anchor status. Not the Smith & Wesson CSX. Introduced in 2022 to relatively muted fanfare, the trim little 9mm is tailored perfectly to EDC offering a unique and reliable defensive system.

Reminiscent of the company’s M&P striker guns, the CSX has a very familiar feel—all the way down to a similarly textured backstrap. However, the gun shuns polymer, instead, utilizing a durable aluminum alloy for the frame tending to leave a more substantial impression in the hand. This isn’t a complete trick of the mind, given the pistol is hefty for a micro-compact—weighing in at 19.5 ounces unloaded. Despite this, the single-action is nimble as ever in presentation, target acquisition ad target transition.

As expected from a single-action, the trigger is snappy as ever, enhanced by a flat-faced shoe. Though, the fact it requires a thumb safety to carry it loaded might leave many cold, after decades of acclimation to pistols sans a manual safety. At least Smith & Wesson has opted for an ambidextrous switch. A few other nice touches are the EZ tab at the rear to aid cocking, a comfortable 18-degree rake to the grip and glare-reduction serrations atop the slide. It’s on the light side for capacity for its class, shipping with 12- and 10-round magazines. But for many, that’s more than enough for a concealed carry gun. MSRP: $609

Springfield Hellcat

Springfield Hellcat OSP Concealed Carry Gun

As pointed out below, the Sig P365 is a game-changer. The Springfield Hellcat is proof. Quicky embracing the micro-compact concept, the Illinois concern cooked up a direct competitor to the popular Sig. And in many respects produced a concealed carry gun option that runs neck and neck with the original.

No larger than a compact .380 ACP, the striker-fired is among the smallest 9mm options available today. By the tape, it measures in at 1-inch in width, 6-inches in length and weighs in at 18-ounce. Pretty dang concealable and easy to carry by anyone’s standards. At the same tick, the Hellcat offers everything you’d expect out of a much larger concealed carry pistol—especially capacity. Out of the box, the 3-inch barreled pistol boasts more firepower than nearly anything in its class, shipping with an 11-round magazine. Invest in a 13-round extended-capacity magazine, well folks, you’ll holster an iron flirting with a full-sized pistol’s capacity.

Outfitted with adaptive grip texturing, the Hellcat offers a positive grip when you need it, yet the ability to reposition your hand when you need to. A flat-faced trigger combined with a featherweight break and short reset ups the pistol’s accuracy resume, as well as allows it to run when needed. Breaking from the heard, Springfield opted for a slightly new sighting system, jettisoning the traditional three-dot sights for a U-notch. Similar in concept, the execution differs in that shooters place the fiber-optic front pipe in the white outlined U-notch. A fast and intuitive system, few will miss the old way of building a sight picture. Additionally, the OSP model offers a slide cut for mounting optics, if a red dot is more your cup of tea.

Perhaps best of all, the Hellcat comes in as one of the most affordable options in its class. In turn, it gives little excuse for not going small for every-day carry. MSRP: $633

S&W M&P Shield EZ in 9mm

M&P9 Shield EZ Concealed Carry Gun

Yes, He-Man types will scoff at the idea of a slide that takes less than a metric ton of force to rack, but the concept is rock solid. Why muscle those with weaker hand strength—due to age, infirmity or other factors—into a less desirable concealed carry gun? Smith & Wesson sees it this way and has expanded its easy-to-manipulate line of pistols with the M&P 9 Shield EZ M2.0.

A hammer-fired pistol, the 9mm requires much lighter springs than the striker-fired options that presently dominate the market. In turn, this means less resistance to work the slide, thus opening up polymer pistols to a much greater swath of the shooting world. Smith & Wesson didn’t stop at springs with the Shield EZ, incorporating several other features to enhance operation of the pistol, such as aggressive cocking serrations fore and aft and a flared section at the rear of the slide for a better grip. It’s also right-sized for carry, with a 3.575-inch barrel and weighs in at a manageable 23 ounces unloaded.

The only knock, at least for some, the 9 Shield EZ is a single stack with 8+1 capacity. Still, it should prove more than enough for most defensive situations. MSRP: $521

Walther CCP M2 .380 ACP

Concealed Carry Handgun Walther CCP M2

If the easy-to-manipulate concept appeals to you, but Smith & Wesson isn’t your thing, don’t worry there are other options. Walther, for one, has dedicated itself to the idea of a concealed carry dgun accessible to the masses. The CCP M2 is the result.

A veritable engineering wonder, the .380 ACP utilizes what Walther calls Softcoil gas-delayed blowback technology. Essentially, it’s a gas-piston system that aids in the cycling of the gun and requires a much lighter return spring—thus a much more friendly slide in which to work.

Following the same lines as the original 9mm version of the pistol, the 8+1 capacity gun has a wealth of convenience engineered into it. Chief among these is toolless disassembly. And the 3.54-inch barreled single stack is sized perfectly for comfortable carry, at 20 ounces in weight and 1.18-inches in width. MSRP: $469

Mossberg MC2c

Concealed Carry gun Mossberg MC2c

Convenience and capacity—it seems like a never-ending tug-of-war for concealed carry guns. Go for one and you typically drastically affect the other. Aiming to address just this, Mossberg might have hit the sweet spot with a welcome advancement of its MC line of pistols.

Minted the MC2c, the double-stack pistol vastly improves on the original MC1sc’s capacity, while keeping proportions nearly the same. Holding 13+1 rounds with its flush-fit magazine (15+1 extended mag), the pistol doubles the firepower of the single-stack 9mm. At the same tick, its barrel-length and height are only fractions of an inch greater than its older brother. Quite a feat, one Mossberg pulled off by turning to steel magazines for more structural support.

As tidy as the original, the MC2c also boasts the same top features, such as flat-faced trigger, oversized trigger guard and simple takedown. MSRP: $556

Stoeger STR-9 Compact

Stoeger STR-9 Compact

Let’s be honest here, there’s not a lot original with the STR-9. Yeah, it has a fairly unique slide with aggressive cocking serrations, but get under the hood and it’s essentially a Glock clone. Nearly a dead ringer at that. Though, it’s one that comes in at a fraction of the price and offers nearly identical performance.

For this, we should all rejoice Stoeger has extended the line of 9mm striker-fired pistols with the STR-9 Compact. Right-sized for concealed carry, the double-stack pistol might be among the best values on the market today. Interchangeable backstraps, snappy trigger, great reset, it has everything you’d want out of a serious defensive piece.

Of course, it tends to the larger side of concealed carry guns weighing in at 24 ounces. But with 10+1 rounds of 9mm on tap (13+1 extended mag), the double-stack is well worth the extra burden. MSRP: $329

Ruger LCRx 3-Inch

Ruger LCRx 3 357 Mag

Ruger introduced the LCRx 3-inch to its line-up a year ago, but the revolver more than deserves its place on this concealed carry handgun list. All in all, it might be one of the top everyday carry wheelguns out there.

What gives the gun its chops is its 3-inch barrel. Just off the performance of a 6-inch barreled .357, the LCRx packs much more of a wallop than similarly chambered snubbies. In short, it’s got the goods to get the job done. At the same tick, it’s still a compact revolver and plenty easy to conceal even in the lightest garb. Maybe it won’t ride in the small of the back or on the ankle like a snub nose, outside of that the 5-round revolver cuts a slimmer line than most anything else. The only areas of worry are the adjustable target rear sight and hammer. However, Ruger has made these minimal and overall these features should cause little concern of snagging on a draw. MSRP: $859

FN 509 Midsize

FN 509

Cooked up for the U.S. Military’s Modular Handgun competition, the 509 has an unimpeachable resume. While the Compact model certainly comes in a smaller package, the Midsize offers a greater accuracy potential thanks to a few key differences. Boasting a 4-inch barrel, the 9mm has a greater sight radius making it easier to keep a sight picture steady. Furthermore, a longer grip, thus divers the shooter more control over the gun.

As far as its ability as a concealed carry gun? Don’t let the 509’s dimensions fool you; it might be a smidgen larger, but conducive to staying under wraps. At 26.5 ounces unloaded, it also won’t weigh you down. Exceptional 15+1 capacity and intuitive controls, the shooters get duty-pistol capacity in a very concealable package. MSRP: $754

Heckler & Koch VP9SK


Nope, no hammer here. Kind of crazy with a Hecker & Koch pistol, but the gunmaker’s modern striker-fired VP9 more than proves it knows more than one tune. As to the VP9SK, it’s the shrunk-down version, offering all the overengineering of the original, in a size perfect for tucking along your waistline. You seldom hear a disparaging word from someone who’s been behind the trigger.

Like most of HK’s wares, the ergonomics are well thought out on the 9mm, with exchangeable backstraps conforming to nearly any hand size. A large trigger guard gives fast access to the trigger, even with gloved hands, and wings at the back of the slide make manipulation a snap. And the trigger itself—{{chef's kiss}}—is unassailable, one of the best you’ll find out of the box. MSRP: $869

Wilson EDC X9

Wilson Combat EDC

Crème de la crème … when it comes to concealed carry guns, you’ve got it right here. Admittedly, a steep price tag will scare many folks off. But if you’re unwilling to compromise on safety the Wilson Combat all-metal masterpiece proves a worthwhile investment.

Essentially a shrunk-down 1911-Hi Power hybrid, the X9 has built a reputation for its reliability—pull the trigger, expect it to go bang! The 9mm does have more heft than many concealed carry options, however, this is a benefit when running the gun fast. It soaks up recoil while maintaining accuracy. As to capacity, it comes with two 18-round magazines and two 15-round mags and an optional magwell. MSRP: $3,210

Glock 48

G48 Concealed Carry Gun

Now, there’s no denying both members of Glock’s slimline series—the Glock 43X and 48—are top-notch concealed carry guns. Yet there’s something to be said about going for the slightly larger model. They both have the same height and only 2-ounces separate them in weight, but the G48 has a longer barrel, which when it comes to steady sight—thus accuracy—makes a huge difference. This especially goes for new shooters.

The 10+1, single-stack 9mm is among the most comfortable pistols to carry, thanks to its very svelte width. This also generally makes it easy for most people to get a handle on the gun, thus control it better. Furthermore, like all Glocks, it’s reliable and accurate, to the point of being mundane. Yeah, there’s the grip rake—a bone of contention for some. But overall, there’s a reason why so many in law enforcement officials, military personnel and armed citizen trust their lives to the Austrian pistol. MSRP: $538

Heckler & Koch USP Compact .45


Compact .45 ACP pistols aren’t the easiest to pull off, but H&K does it eloquently with the USP. The HK USP Compact is a small frame pistol capable of firing the most powerful cartridges in 9 mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP. Based on the full-size USP models, these handy pistols combine compact size with optimum effective shooting performance.

Despite being a hair taller than some concealed carry guns, the UPS still fits this bill. A lightweight polymer frame qualifies it for every-day carry, as does its reliability. Capacity is a little underwhelming at 10+1, but that’s to be expected with a compact .45. Opted for H&K’s LEM (Law Enforcement Modified) Trigger if you go the USP. A modified DA/SA system, it offers an exceptionally light and clean break after the first shot. MSRP: $1,149

Sig Sauer P365


The pistol that changed the face of concealed carry? It’s not too much of a stretch. The Sig P365 has proven among the most monumental handguns to hit the market in a spell, serving up what many consider the perfect on-person self-defense package. That a tall boast, but one the demure 9mm more than fulfills.

Above all, what makes the P365 such a spectacular heater is size. The 3.1-inch barreled pistol is a mere 1-inch in width and tips the scales at a scant 17 ounces or so, creating one of the most concealable and easy-to-carry pistols out there. Sure enough, there are smaller handguns, but in nearly every case they’re a compromise in power or capacity. Not so with the P365. Shipping with two 10-round magazines, the mighty mite has a payload identical to many compact models that come in nearly twice its size. Not enough on tap? Simply solved, given there are 12- and 13-round extended magazines available to improve your firepower.

Shooting-wise, the micro-compact shocks for a pistol its size. An abbreviated sight radius provides a challenge for those unfamiliar with the touchiness of small guns, yet Sig arms shooters with the tools to keep it steady. In addition to aggressive grip texturing, the striker-fired’s exceptionally light trigger ups the gun’s accuracy potential. To boot, the 9mm is also quite easy to manipulate—an often overlooked asset. All in all, Sig cooked up a gun that is a true game-changer. MSRP: $499.99

Bond BullPup 9

Concealed Carry Handgun Bond

You want niche? Here’s niche. Texas-based Bond Arms is long known for its Derringer-style and other micro pistols, taking pride in their commitment to total USA-made production of small, powerful personal protection weapons. Officially introduced in late 2018, the Bond BullPup9 looks to hit its stride.

Chambered (obviously) in 9mm, the BullPup9 is an eye-catcher with its ultra-short barrel and muzzle that sits flush with the front of the trigger guard and Bond’s signature rosewood grips adding a bit of style to the overall look. At just over 5 inches total length, the 3.35-inch barrel posed a unique challenge to the designers: how to feed the ammunition when the chamber sat directly above the magazine.

In most semi-autos, of course, the ammunition is pushed forward into the chamber as the slide cycles. Not so with the BullPup9: Instead, due to its unique design, rounds are pulled from the magazine from behind, lifted even with the chamber and then shoved into the barrel.

While most ammunition will work with the BullPup9, Bond Arms acknowledges that uncrimped ammo, such as rounds made by Blazer, risk being pulled apart in the magazine, as the pull force in the chambering mechanism can yank the casing and bullet apart, spilling gun powder into the magazine and causing a malfunction. So far in testing, Bond has found no other ammunition that causes this problem consistently. If you’re a Blazer ammo fan, this isn’t the gun for you. For everyone else, you’ll be just fine.

The 7+1 capacity, double-action-only BullPup9 comes with two magazines and is made in very limited production – only 150 per month. MSRP: $1,099

Walther PPK

Concealed Carry Handgun Walther

You already thought it, but I’ll say it: Bond, James Bond. Yes, it’s that gun — the legend of the silver screen. Now, before you go off all half-cocked (look that one up for an interesting history of a cliché), we know this isn’t a brand new gun. In fact, it’s a rather old design, first introduced in 1930. But it has been redone for 2019 while hanging on to the heritage that made it famous.

While the gun has a bit of a checkered past (Hitler offed himself in his underground bunker with a .32 caliber version), it’s most recognizable for its stainless-steel frame flashing in the limelight in the hands of one 007. The reborn version, absent from Walther’s arsenal since 1992, is chambered in .380 ACP to hold a bit more ammo than the 9mm version. With a gun this small, that extra round can make a difference. Plus, today’s .380 cartridges are more powerful than in years gone by, so you’re not really sacrificing much with the slightly smaller round.

All the controls are right-handed, as is tradition in older models, both original and redone. The magazine is a scant 6+1. However, for one extra round, pick up the sport (PPK/S) version that features a slightly longer grip with a 7+1 magazine and single color black finish.

Production of this venerable weapon has moved from Germany to Walther’s US headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas, making this a truly American-made gem. MSRP: $849

Kimber EVO SP

Concealed Carry Handgun Kimber

Long known for their hammer-fired semi-autos, Kimber is bringing out their first ever striker offering in the new EVO SP, chambered in 9mm. Available in four different finishes — from two-tone to custom — the EVO SP offers a ton of features in a lightweight, compact package. The frame is aluminum with a stainless slide finished in FNC black. Each variation offers a different grip texturing that feels and looks unique to the chosen style. Speaking of style — where it meets function — all four variations include changeable backstraps.

Target acquisition is made easier through tritium night sites, standard on all four variations, and putting rounds down the 3.16-in barrel onto that easily-acquired target comes through a 6-7 pound trigger with integrated safety.

One of the smaller magazines on the market, the EVO SP holds 6+1, a surprisingly low number of rounds in today’s industry race to stuff as many bullets as possible into compact and subcompact semi-autos. MSRP: $638 to $965

Arm Yourself With More Concealed Carry Knowledge

Glock 43

Glock 43

With an unloaded weight of less than 18 ounces and a small profile, the Glock 43 is slim, light and allows comfortable daily concealed carry — 365 days a year. It has good sights and is simple to operate. The 9mm caliber is a reasonable stopper, and even those who don’t like Glocks won’t argue with the reliability of a Glock. The Glock 43 is easy to learn to shoot and carries enough ammunition in the supplied magazine, and larger magazines are available. MSRP: $538

Kahr CM9

Kahr CM9 Concealed Carry Gun

Lighter guns are more pleasant to carry, and the Kahr CM9 is both reliable and easy to concealed carry at just 14 ounces. It’s smaller than the above 9mms and packs a lot of punch with a six-plus-one capacity. It uses a long-stroke trigger system that feels like a light double action, but it lacks second-strike capability. The trigger is different than other striker-fired pistols, but it works really well for some people. Recoil is greater than heavier guns and not for the meek of heart, but it’s manageable with some practice. For those who just have to have more horsepower, it’s available in .40 S&W and .45 ACP with a bit more weight. MSRP: $528

Read More: Kahr CM9 Full Review

Ruger LCP II

Ruger LCP II

Sometimes you just have to go small, and of the little guns, the Ruger LCP II is a winner. The LCP II corrected all the shortcomings of the very successful LCP by improving the sights, converting to a striker-fired-type trigger and providing slide lock on the last round. The beauty of the LCP II is its diminutive size and weight. If you can’t hide this gun, you can’t hide a gun. Yes, it’s just a .380, but modern, defensive .380 ammunition is better than the 158-grain round-nosed .38 Special loads that were once the standard for law enforcement. Another advantage is how easy it is to cycle the slide, which can be a big issue for older people and women with low hand strength. The LCP II is also quite affordable. MSRP: $419

Read More: Ruger LCP II Full Review

Smith and Wesson 340 PD

Smith and Wesson 340 PD Concealed Carry Gun

The Smith and Wesson 340 PD wasn’t on the website for a few years, but now it’s back and it’s the ultimate Noisy Cricket. Like the explosively powered gun Will Smith fired in Men in Black, the 340 PD packs a serious punch at both ends. True, the 2-inch barrel degrades the performance of the .357 Magnum caliber, but even from a short barrel, it’s on par with a 9mm with a 5-inch barrel. At less than 12 ounces, it’s almost as light as the diminutive LCP II, though it does have a thicker profile. Lighter weight and power come at a price — $1,019 to be exact — and it’s not an easy gun to shoot because of brutal recoil. If you think it’s a bit much, there’s always the S&W 442 in .38 Special at just less than 15 ounces. MSRP: $1,139

Updates were contributed by David Workman and Elwood Shelton.

Editor's Note: This article is updated regularly, but originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Smith & Wesson R8: Above And Beyond The Iconic Model 19

Smith & Wesson R8 1

As far as competition revolvers are concerned, the Smith & Wesson R8 is everything the legendary Model 19 was … and more.

How The R8 Outdoes The Model 19:

  • Boasts an 8-round cylinder compared to the 19's 6-round.
  • Its a few ounces lighter than the 19, thanks to a scandium frame.
  • The revolver's cylinder is cut to accomodate moon clips for faster loading.
  • Its rear adjustable sight is exellent and its front is an interchangable Patridge style.
  • Tapped and drilled, an optic is easily mounted.

Fifty years ago, I was an avid shooter, but I’d never shot in a match. I simply didn’t know how to get started. A close friend let me know there was going to be a police practical pistol match held within 10 miles of my home and that civilians were welcome. The match was being held by the local community college for its law enforcement program. I signed up the next morning.

There were four divisions for active and reserve officers, students and civilians. I won civilian and was in the top 25 percent in the overall results. My gun-of-choice was a Smith & Wesson Model 19, 4 inches. I used a Bianchi lined gun belt and a thumb break Bianchi Model 10 holster. The winner shot a 6-inch Colt Python that was original on the outside but with a smoothed-up trigger.

In those days, the revolver was “king,” and while Pythons were great guns, the Model 19 was the working man’s revolver. In fact, it was easy to buy a Python; they were in every gun shop. But Model 19 Smiths were hard to come by and often brought a price far above retail and often higher than a Python.

The S&W Model 19: All Business

Arguably the most influential law enforcement shooter of the time was Bill Jordan, who carried a Model 19. In fact, Jordan was instrumental in the development of the Model 19. One appears on the cover of his book, No Second Place Winner.

Probably the biggest flaw in the Model 19 was the Baughman Quick Draw front sight. In those days, few holsters had sight tracks, and a vertical front sight often scrubbed a bit of leather as it came out of the holster.
Probably the biggest flaw in the Model 19 was the Baughman Quick Draw front sight. In those days, few holsters had sight tracks, and a vertical front sight often scrubbed a bit of leather as it came out of the holster.

It was introduced in 1955 and, unlike the chrome-and-finned cars of the 1950s, it was all business. It was available with 2½-, 4- and 6-inch barrels and had quality adjustable sights with some options, oversized “Combat” checkered exotic wood grips (either rosewood or goncalo alves) and a shrouded ejector rod. It was based on the K-frame—small enough to be fast and strong enough to handle the powerful .357 Magnum round. To this day, no handgun feels better in my hand than a Model 19.

At the time of its inception, the Model 19 was a remarkable handgun and certainly one of the most iconic pistols of the 20th century. It was capable of serving the competitor, law enforcement officer and sportsman equally well. It won trophies and awards, put bad guys behind bars, defended citizens and protected sportsmen. It was the perfect combination of a reliable, powerful, accurate and easy-to-shoot revolver.

Raise Your Smith & Wesson IQ

Many years later, I was invited to cover the Bianchi Cup for Gun Digest the Magazine. I’ve always been a competitor and don’t shy from trying new things, so I wanted to shoot. I chose to shoot a revolver like the one I shot in my first pistol match. I began to think of what would make the best firearm.

I briefly considered shooting a Model 19. My original M19 was long gone (traded for some other pistol that’s also long gone), but I still had an old, nickel-plated, 4-inch Model 19. It wouldn’t be competitive—but then, neither would I, so the idea was appealing.

Then, I saw a Smith & Wesson R8 at the NRA Convention and knew that would be just the trick. I could shoot the cup with it and also write a review, thus killing two birds with one stone. It did really well, and a better shooter could have placed pretty high in the standings with it.

The Smith & Wesson R8: Deadly Accurate

As good as the Smith & Wesson Model 19 was (and still is), the R8 is better in every category. If law enforcement officers still carried revolvers, it would be the best service revolver available. Out of the box, it’s capable of winning local revolver matches. As a defensive pistol, it has eight rounds, and the opportunity for malfunctions is as close to zero as firearms get. It’s powerful, easy to shoot and deadly accurate. As a sportsman’s gun, it holds eight powerful .357 Magnum rounds and is light enough for daily carry in areas where animals that bite might be encountered. And with an optic, it’s a perfectly capable hunting instrument for deer-sized game.

Eight-round cylinder, almost zero chance of a malfunction and deadly accurate, the R8 is as good as it gets. If law eforcement still carried revolvers, it's a sure bet it'd be the R8.
Eight-round cylinder, almost zero chance of a malfunction and deadly accurate, the R8 is as good as it gets. If law enforcement still carried revolvers, it's a sure bet it'd be the R8.

The Smith & Wesson R8 is everything the iconic Model 19 was … and even more. It’s based on the N frame, larger and now with an eight-round cylinder instead of the six of the 19 and earlier N frames. Because of a scandium frame, it’s a couple of ounces lighter—slightly fewer than 36 ounces—than the all-steel Model 19.

The cylinders are cut to accommodate moon clips for faster loading and ejection. The R8 comes with a synthetic grip that closely resembles the Hogue Monogrip. I’ve never liked that grip and instantly replaced mine with a Pachmayr Presentation rubber grip. For several years now, all K-, L- and N-framed S&Ws feature a round butt frame. Even so, standard square butt grips fit.

The Smith & Wesson R8 is a Performance Center gun with features that relate to a broad range of use, but those features really work as a competition revolver. The rear sight is the excellent S&W adjustable, and the front sight is an interchangeable Patridge style that’s popular with competitive shooters. There’s a bottom rail in front of the shrouded ejector housing, and the top of the sleeved barrel housing is drilled and tapped for a supplied top rail for mounting optics.

In-Depth Testing

Even though I’ve shot thousands of rounds through both these guns, I decided I should go through the same testing procedure I’d use as if I had never fired them before. I ordered 500 rounds of Aguila 130-grain .38 Special and 158-grain .357 Magnum ammunition and set about a serious testing session.

Because both could be considered target guns, I bench-tested them at 25 yards and wasn’t disappointed. I could have easily put an optic on the R8, but I kept things fair and tested both with iron sights. Both guns easily delivered consistent groups of around 2 inches, with occasional groups close to 1 inch (with better eyes and some experimentation with loads, I’d bet you could get close to a 1-inch average). I had to use sight black on both guns to get a sharper sight picture, especially with the Model 19. It had the popular, but almost useless, red ramp front sight so popular in the 1970s.

The Baughman Quick Draw front sight was fast out of those old leather holsters without dragging a wad of leather, but it left a lot to be desired in getting a really good sight picture. The Patridge front of the Smith & Wesson R8 is much better, but I’d add a high-vis front if I were going to shoot it a lot.

State-of-the-art revolver rigs—50 years apart. Leather will always be more beautiful than plastic, but the Bladetech OWB holster makes that old Bianchi seem like a Model A. Notice that it’s been trimmed in the front for a bit more speed.
State-of-the-art revolver rigs—50 years apart. Leather will always be more beautiful than plastic, but the Bladetech OWB holster makes that old Bianchi seem like a Model A. Notice that it’s been trimmed in the front for a bit more speed.

In deliberate single-action shooting, both guns have remarkable triggers. The break gives the impression of being lighter than it actually is, and there seems to be zero movement. You line up the sights, begin pressure on the trigger, and the gun seems to shoot itself.

Recoil anticipation isn’t a problem, because the gun just seems to shoot when the sights line up. Maybe part of this comes from my youth being centered around revolvers, but it’s the most natural kind of shooting I can imagine.

The same is true when shooting standing. I tested both guns with .38 Special for accuracy testing, and it was easy to hold the black on a 25-yard reduced pistol target. (In my youth, I could reliably hold that 5.32-inch circle in the classic “bullseye” shooting pose with one hand only.) I kept most shots inside the just-over-2-inch 8 ring. In that original PPC match mentioned above, you didn’t get to put the support hand on the gun until you reached the 25-yard line and finished up at 60 yards.

Match Fever

Because revolvers do really well at shooting in falling plate matches, I also did quite a bit of plate shooting. I was surprised at how easy it was to run the plates clean in the time limit with the old Bianchi holster and the stock Model 19 trigger. It was easier with the Smith & Wesson R8 and a trimmed BladeTech OWB holster without retention, but the Model 19 held its own remarkably well.

Of course, these guns are chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge, and it simply wouldn’t be right to try them out with some full-power loads.

After that initial PPC match, my appetite for competitive shooting had to find an outlet. Metallic silhouette shooting became the latest rage. I settled into NRA Hunters Pistol and shot my first couple of matches with that same Model 19. I won unclassified with that 4-inch Model 19, shooting standing and with the ram target a full 100 yards away. Later, I switched to a 6-inch Model 28 and won a lot of matches—becoming one of the first three AAA class shooters in the state.

For more information on the Smith & Wesson R8, please visit smith-wesson.com.

Raise Your Smith & Wesson IQ:

Beyond The Gun Safe — Securing Your Collection

Gun Security 6

Good gun security — and financial investment security — goes far beyond your gun safe.

What You Need To Consider Securing Your Gun Collection:

It’s no secret that readers of Gun Digest have been described as “long-time firearms enthusiasts” — “super users,” if you will — with a deeper-than-average knowledge of firearms. That level of firearms knowledge comes from a lifetime of learning.

With that long-term interest in firearms often comes a considerable investment. It’s not at all unreasonable to think that many of the gun gurus flipping these pages have more than $50,000 invested in firearms and related items. In fact, I know many who far exceed that level.

Gun Security 5
A small, fast-access safe provides instant personal defense when positioned near sleeping quarters. Because of this safe’s biometric lock, a defensive gun can be accessed in under one second.

That information, along with receiving my annual bill for insurance on my guns, as well as a story from a client named Alan, prompted me to consider this article on the subject. For Alan, the story was a sad one. For you, I hope for much brighter days. But, as the saying goes: Fortune favors the prepared.

The Tale of Alan

Alan had two gun safes, but he wasn’t a regular shooter. Although he kept most of his guns in safes, like many people who have no children in their homes, he kept a revolver in a nightstand drawer and a .22 rifle in a closet.

Coming home from work one day, he noticed the door was open. On the surface, nothing was missing, but upon looking closer, he discovered the revolver was gone. He then checked the closet and found the .22 rifle still there. He went into the room with the gun safes and found one safe standing open. Some of his guns were missing. He checked the other safe; it was locked. But when he opened it, he found some of his best guns were missing. He estimated his loss at $40,000. His homeowner’s policy paid $2,500.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence. Statistics show that a burglary occurs in the United States every 9 seconds, and there are about 350,000 home fires annually. Of course, not all burglaries involve loss of firearms, but I suspect most losses aren’t sufficiently covered by insurance. Besides financial loss, the possibility of your stolen firearm being used in a crime is daunting.

Gun Security 1
Arguably, the optimum solution is a built-in vault system. Liberty’s Tactical 12 vault door can be built into the basement of a home and provides the ultimate level of fire and theft protection.

Several years ago, when I was running our state’s rifle team, a Director of Civilian Marksmanship M14 was stolen from the home of a team member. It was later discovered in a drug raid in Miami, Florida. (As you might suspect, most firearms used in crime and gang-related activity are stolen.)

Of course, basic firearms security begins with a safe and normal security measures, but there are many other considerations. In Alan’s case, the safe he found open had an electronic lock — and he never figured out how it was compromised. The other safe had a rotary mechanical lock, but it was left in the “fast-access” setting, where only one number opens the safe. Apparently, the thieves knew about that feature and simply opened the safe. So, even if safes are securely locked, theft is still possible.

Several years ago, Mike, a member of my rifle team, had one safe completely stolen, and another was staged at his front door when he came home from a daily routine. Apparently, the thieves knew he owned a lot of guns and had figured out his schedule.

Secure Your Gun Safe Knowledge:

Mike later suspected he was watched and that the thieves left the other safe because they were alerted that he was coming. His safes were bolted to the floor, but the thieves had gone under the house and removed the nuts from the bolts through the floor. Yeah, that’s determination! The only certain deterrent of locks is to prevent theft by honest people. Determined thieves are difficult to deter.

Storing in Safes

Safes are a major part of firearms protection. As in almost any other field, the best costs more money.

Gun Security 3
Guns that are current production models don’t need extensive documentation of condition. A simple group photo will do fine for insurance purposes.

The first thing to note is that any conventional gun safe with a fire endurance rating of UL 72 Class 350 will provide basic protection for the safe contents in the event of a fire. This basic protection means that the gun safe will keep an interior temperature of below 350 degrees (F) for 2 hours when exposed to a fire burning at 1,700 degrees or for 1 hour at 1,850 degrees, depending on the unit’s construction.

Even with that rating, there’s still some possibility of damage: Imagine putting your favorite guns in your oven and setting the heat to 350 degrees and the timer for 2 hours. Safes are great, and they’re a necessity, but there’s only so much a safe can do.

Besides fire ratings, lock systems are the next decision you’ll need to make. Mechanical locks are more secure and reliable than digital locks, but they’re much less convenient. If you’re constantly accessing the contents, an electronic lock might be a better choice, because you’re less likely to leave the safe unsecured. Some electronic locks offer a keyed backup system, and this option works great.

Consider bolting in the safe, adding the use of alarm systems and simply living under the radar. All these little things contribute to an additional level of theft security.

Storage Methods

In the past, I was an avid collector of classic shotguns, and numerous times, I’ve seen really nice guns that were damaged by being stored in gun cases. Gun cases can hold moisture and prevent air from circulating, and they have probably ruined as many guns as they have protected because of those who lock a case and forget it.

Gun Security 4
You should inventory your guns on a regular basis, checking their condition and upgrading your list for insurance purposes.

Commercial gun socks allow air to circulate and will prevent nicks and scratches when guns are moved around in the safe. Often, collectible guns are stored for long periods of time without attention, so make sure you open the safe and wipe them down from time to time.

While I’m fully aware that the following statement will bring the ire of some, I’m a strong proponent of using a cloth dampened with WD40 to wipe down guns. WD40 is a remarkable product that’s widely misunderstood. It isn’t a lubricant; it’s a water displacement product. I’ve used it for decades without a single problem, both with wood finishes and metal. During that time, I’ve never experienced a problem, and I use it exclusively to wipe down guns.

Insurance for Assurance

A safe is the first line of defense in protecting your firearms investment, but Mike’s story indicates just how difficult it is to protect it from truly determined thieves. While we normally think of collectible firearms as the most likely target because of their value, stolen handguns can be very valuable on the black market.

In both Mike and Alan’s cases, their homeowner’s insurance didn’t cover the value of their loss, because such policies have a pretty low limit of coverage on certain items. Most homeowner policies offer riders for firearms and similar items, but the cost per thousand is quite high.

Several years ago, I added a rider to cover my guns. It was quite expensive. However, while at SHOT Show, I found Collectibles Insurance, a company dedicated to coverage of firearms and other collectibles such as art, antiques and coins. I investigated and found a savings of more than 50 percent over my standard insurer.

You determine the level of coverage you need, and the cost per thousand is based on the level selected: The higher the level, the lower the cost per thousand. To determine your cost, simply call Collectibles Insurance with a level of coverage, and you will be given a quote. If you have a loss, the value of the lost items is determined by the company through standard methods, with rare and collectible item values based on searches of auctions and dealer networks. With standard modern firearms, only basic record-keeping is required. However, for high-value and rare firearms, documentation of their condition is important. Photographs are also important in helping dealers and auction houses determine value.

Records: Taking Notes

Of course, record-keeping is important and should be upgraded on a regular basis. Your records should cover serial number, model, caliber, condition, estimated value and any accessories or modifications. Guns no longer in current production should be documented with photographs. Store records in a separate location from the guns — preferably on a thumb drive and in another location. It’s a good idea to recheck your inventory at least once a year. Check for rust or other issues at that time as well.

I know it sounds tedious and potentially unnecessary, but in the event of fire or theft to your firearms collection, that thumb drive containing meticulous records will become as invaluable as your collection.

For many firearms owners, their total firearms inventory is as valuable as — or more valuable than — the family vehicle. Unlike most cars, gun collections appreciate in value. Therefore, it only makes sense to do everything you possibly can to protect that investment so it can be passed down in excellent shape as part of your legacy.

The article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Springfield Range Officer Compact Vs. Nighthawk Custom T4

Springfield Armory Range Officer Compact Nighthawk T4 Custom

If you stack the one-gunsmith made Nighthawk Custom T4 against the production Springfield Armory Range Officer Compact, how do things shake out?

What Are The Highpoints Of Each 1911:

  • The T4 is a high-quality gun built by one gunsmith.
  • Front strap is cut higher and contoured for a high grip to aid in fast recoil recovery.
  • Rear sight is a Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro Tritium night sight with a tritium front sight.
  • Range Officer Compat features a 4-inch, stainless, match-grade, fully supported bull barrel.
  • The pistol's sights are fiber-optic front and low-profile combat rear.
  • Its rigger and hammer are skeletonized, and the trigger is backlash adjustable.

Like a million other subjects for discussion, the question of what makes the best pistol for personal defense will never be resolved—and for good reason. We all have different lifestyles; but if we were all the same, there would be only one universal defensive pistol—and, I suppose, one each of all other categories of products.

The Nighthawk Custom T4

I recently reviewed a truly exceptional defensive pistol that only a few people will choose to carry: Nighthawk’s T4. However, if there’s a group of gun enthusiasts who appreciate this level of craftsmanship geared for everyday use, it’s the readers of Gun Digest.

Nighthawk T4 group

It’s a high-quality gun built by one gunsmith (who stamps his initials on the gun before it leaves the factory) and is built on the officer-sized frame with a 3.8-inch match-grade bull barrel. This makes it more compact but only sacrifices one round of capacity. There are cuts to reduce weight, the frame is thinned, and the G10 grips are thinner than normal for better concealability.

Also available in 9mm, my test gun was a .45 ACP. Everything about this gun spells “custom build.” With 25-lines-per-inch checkering on the front and back straps, aggressive G10 grip panels and coarse cocking serrations, there will be no problems with the T4’s grip. There’s a substantial beavertail that’s melted for comfort, as well as the thumb safety, and every surface is dehorned and shaped for smoothness and comfort.

Nighthawk T4 beavertail
The T4's beavertail is generous, with a grip safety bump for thinner hands.

The front strap is cut higher and contoured for a high grip to aid in fast recoil recovery. The rear sight is a Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro Tritium night sight with a tritium front sight. The trigger is adjustable for backlash and skeletonized, as is the hammer. The T4 comes in a very nice soft case, along with two magazines and a sample target signed by the builder.

As one would expect, the T4 is accurate, reliable and a pleasure to shoot. However, a lot of guns are accurate, reliable and a pleasure to shoot. I suspect that a lot of people would choose a Nighthawk Customs T4 … except for one issue: It has an MSRP of $3,499.

More 1911 Posts:

I live in central North Carolina, where we have mild winters and hot summers. I live an active lifestyle, wear shorts and a light shirt in summer and am frequently in public. When I did the original review, Galco’s Mike Barham was kind enough to send me a Galco Concealable Belt Holster. I carried the T4 in this holster for a couple of weeks. The melted edges and thin profile made it easy enough to conceal under an untucked shirt (although I’m normally a tucked-in kind of guy.)

As noted above, it’s a pleasure to shoot a firearm that has great sights, as well as a trigger that would satisfy the most picky trigger finger. Functioning was 100 percent as expected, and it was far more accurate than I’m capable of achieving. At 15 yards in slow, aimed fire, it shot ragged holes. Controlled pairs and doubletaps were easily manageable, partly as a result of the T4’s 34-ounce weight and partly because of the well-tuned Everlast flat spring recoil system.

Nighthawk T4 Trigger
Every detail of the T4 is carefully shaped and finished for a flawless pistol that has potential as a family heirloom.

The Nighthawk Customs T4 is as good as the gun-making art gets. Fit, finish, materials choices, sights and magazines are the best the world has to offer. There are zero shortcomings.

The Springfield Range Officer Compact

I shoot a lot of different guns, and I’m amazed at just how many excellent guns are available today. It’s harder now to buy a bad gun than it is to purchase a good one. Modern technology and design methods have created a wonderland of excellent firearms at very reasonable prices.

Springfield Armory Range Officer Compact 2
he Range Officer comes in a hard case with a holster, magazine pouch, loader and two six-round magazines. And, with an MSRP of $924, it’s about one-fourth the price of the Nighthawk Custom T4.

Springfield Armory’s Range Officer Compact is just such a gun. It is also an officer-sized 1911 with an officer-sized frame. It features a 4-inch, stainless, match-grade, fully supported bull barrel. It also has a flat wire recoil spring on a full-length guide rod, along with a forged alloy frame and a carbon-steel forged slide. The Range Officer’s sights are fiber-optic front and low-profile combat rear. The trigger and hammer are skeletonized, and the trigger is backlash adjustable.

The Range Officer comes in a hard case with a holster, magazine pouch, loader and two six-round magazines. It’s accurate, reliable and fun to shoot. The MSRP is $924; the gun shop price is well under one-fourth the price of the Nighthawk Custom T4.

Springfield Armory Range Officer Compact 1

In thinking about this article, I pulled my Range Officer Compact out of the safe. I did a review on this gun a few years back—and wound up sending Springfield a check instead of sending back the gun.

As a writer, I’ve tested almost every gun in Springfield’s lineup—from a Super Match M1A to the diminutive 911 subcompact. In testing, I’ve never experienced a single malfunction from all those guns. My go-to production-class pistol is a well-worn XDm 9. Thousands of rounds have gone through it—with zero malfunctions, except for two bad rounds.


I tested the Range Officer and the Nighthawk in the same session and discovered noticeable differences.

Nighthawk T4 Springfield Armory Range Officer Compact

While the Range Officer has a good trigger, the Nighthawk has an exceptionally good trigger. Racking the slide on the Nighthawk impresses one with extreme high-tolerance fit. The Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro rear sight on the Nighthawk enhances the ability to cycle the gun easily with one hand and provides a good sight picture in any light. I have no doubt the Nighthawk is more accurate, although few shooters have the skill level to exploit that accuracy.

So, the question is, Why spend four times as much money for a gun that has similar features and, for all intents and purposes, performs the same functions?

To use an old cliché, “Pride of ownership is what separates us from animals.” It’s the same reason some people wear a Timex watch and some wear a Rolex. No one who wears a Timex watch smiles with satisfaction when he straps it on his wrist. No one ever tells the story of how their grandpa passed his Timex watch down.

Both guns are excellent defensive pistols. Both perform well and will do the job we hope we never need to use them for. It’s your money, it’s your holster, it’s your choice. Isn’t it nice that we get to choose?

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2019 Shooter Guide of Gun Digest the Magazine.

How To Buy A Suppressor

In the market to buy a suppressor? We give you the NFA history, purchase considerations and top new models to help you hush up your gun.

What Are The 3 Best Suppressors For 2019:

In 1934, the National Firearms Act became law. The National Firearms Act (NFA) requires the registration, with the federal government, of fully-automatic firearms (termed “machineguns”), rifles and shotguns that have an overall length under 26 inches, rifles with a barrel under 16 inches, shotguns with a barrel under 18 inches, and firearm sound suppressors (termed “silencers”). Although modern terminology often refers to silencers as suppressors, silencers don’t actually silence a firearm — they only reduce the noise level, but for clarity in this article, I’ll be using the term “silencer.”

Buying A Suppressor 10

Prior to 1934, silencers, machine guns and short-barreled rifles and shotguns weren’t regulated. The idea of requiring a $200 tax stamp was to seriously curtail private ownership of the affected items. In 1934, $200 was a princely sum, equating to $3,774 in 2018 dollars. The cost of the tax stamp has never changed, making it a reasonable addition to the cost of a firearm or silencer.

Because of this and because of the concept of using a trust for NFA items, silencers are one of the fastest growing segments of the firearms market. Silencers have real advantages to shooters who shoot in more populated areas, and many states have adopted laws that allow them for hunting. Silencers potentially make training new shooters easier because the loud report of a firearm contributes to the involuntary reaction we often refer to as “flinch.”

If you’ve never shot silenced firearms, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is to shoot without the need for hearing protection. The report of sub-sonic ammunition is often so quiet that you can hear the action of the firearm, and centerfire rifles like the .223 Rem. and .308 Win. are no louder than an unsilenced .22 rimfire.

Silencers on centerfire pistols are big enough to preclude holster use, but they’re very pleasant to shoot. Notice the higher sights required because of the diameter of the silencer.
Silencers on centerfire pistols are big enough to preclude holster use, but they’re very pleasant to shoot. Notice the higher sights required because of the diameter of the silencer.

There are two systems of silencer operation: dry and wet. Wet systems are quieter and allow the use of a smaller and lighter body, but they are effective for a limited number of shots before replenishing.

We're Making Noise About Suppressors:

Unfortunately, there’s no silencer that will do everything well. Theoretically, you could make a silencer that would effectively work on almost any gun you own, but it would be too bulky and heavy for some applications and impede the operation of some firearms. Because silencers can’t be easily transferred from one individual to another like regular firearms products, it’s a good idea to think through what your needs are and make a wise and informed choice. Serviceability, bulk, weight and level of noise reduction should all be considered to make sure you choose wisely.

Rimfire Suppressors

While no silencers are truly silent, generally speaking, the rimfire silencers come closest to being “Hollywood quiet.” With sub-sonic ammunition, you can often hear the sound of the hammer falling in guns that aren’t semi-automatic.

With a 9mm silencer for pistol and carbine, a .30 caliber silencer for hunting and a .22 rimfire silencer for pistols and rifles, a shooter would be reasonably covered for most noise suppression applications.
With a 9mm silencer for pistol and carbine, a .30 caliber silencer for hunting and a .22 rimfire silencer for pistols and rifles, a shooter would be reasonably covered for most noise suppression applications.

For rimfire silencers, you should consider serviceability. Rimfire ammunition is inherently dirty, and the silencer must be periodically cleaned. Silencers work like the muffler on your lawn mower: There are chambers and baffles that redirect high-speed gasses and reduce them to sub-sonic speeds while enclosed in the housing. Those surfaces pick up carbon and lead from inherently dirty rimfire ammunition. Without regular cleaning, the silencer will eventually be rendered useless. All rimfire silencers are designed to be disassembled and cleaned. Some have individual baffles and some use a mono-core design with fewer parts.

Weight and bulk are another consideration, because most silencers are mounted on the end of the barrel and affect the balance and feel of the firearm, especially in pistols. Providing the same level of sound reducing engineering, the volume of the silencer body contributes to sound reduction, so the smaller silencers are generally not as quiet.

Pistol Suppressors

For centerfire pistol silencers, cleaning is also required — though not as often as with rimfires — provided jacketed bullets are used. Again, weight and volume affect the way the gun handles, and centerfire pistol silencers must be larger and heavier than rimfire silencers because they handle a much larger volume of gas. Because of cylinder-to-barrel gap, silencers don’t really work with revolvers and the added weight of the silencer on the barrel of recoil-operated pistols will cause operational problems unless steps are taken.

While a silencer suppresses the sound of the shot, the snap of the bullet is still as loud as a high-velocity .22. Notice the back pressure pushing gas out of the ejection port.
While a silencer suppresses the sound of the shot, the snap of the bullet is still as loud as a high-velocity .22. Notice the back pressure pushing gas out of the ejection port.

Because most centerfire pistols use the tilt barrel method of operation, the barrel has to move back in the slide and unlock for semi-auto operation. The added weight of the silencer restricts the movement of the barrel due to added weight, and the barrel can’t move properly to unlock, preventing semi-auto operation.

The solution to this problem is to prevent the silencer’s weight from impeding the slide by letting it float forward during recoil and snap back into position once the recoil cycle is complete. Different companies achieve this differently, but the effect is the same: When the gun fires, the silencer compresses a spring and slides forward during recoil, returning to its original position at the end of the cycle. Because of the weight bearing down on a barrel in a slide, there’s likely to be a change in point of impact.

Rifle Suppressors

Generally, centerfire rifle silencers also have to deal with much higher pressures than rimfire or pistol-caliber silencers, and they must be constructed to handle that pressure. As a result, they’re normally heavier and constructed of materials that handle the pressure. The good news is that silencers used for high-speed rifle calibers generating at higher pressures tend to clean themselves. In most situations, direct-impingement gas-operated guns with silencers are likely to require more cleaning because of the back pressure generated by redirecting the gas inside the canister.

Buying A Suppressor 11

Another factor that also applies to pistol and rimfire silencers is the sonic impulse generated by the projectile in supersonic ammunition. As a result, there will be an easily discernable “crack” generated by the bullet, no matter how effective the silencer. This is the reason the .300 Blackout has become a popular caliber for AR 15 platform rifles. Sub-sonic loadings in .300 Blackout are commercially available that will take down medium-sized game like hogs and deer with a much less audible report, making them popular for controlling hog and deer predation.

Top Suppressors For 2019

Bowers Bitty

Buying A Suppressor 9

One of the smallest rimfire silencers is the Bowers Bitty. At just 2.6 ounces with a diameter of 1 inch and a length of less than 3 inches, the Bitty is the smallest and lightest magnum-rated rimfire silencer. It may not be as quiet as larger silencers, but it’s still “hearing safe.” The Bitty uses three baffles in a titanium tube with aluminum caps on both ends for easy cleaning. It has a black Cerakote finish and is rapid fire capable. MSRP: $325

SilencerCo Hybrid

Buying A Suppressor 3

An interesting approach to silencers is SilencerCo’s Hybrid. Designed to handle a broad range of calibers from 9mm to .45/70 Govt., it has a titanium housing and heat-treated stainless-steel baffles. The finish is grey Cerakote and it weighs 13.8 ounces with the direct thread mount. It’s a bit less than 8 inches long and just over 1.5 inches in diameter. It provides hearing safe (below 140 Db) suppression in every caliber from 9mm to .458 SOCOM.

Modular in nature, it’s available with different direct and quick-release mounts, as well as piston housings and front caps for pistol use. Obviously, anything that’s made to work over a broad range of applications may not be the optimum choice for a specific application, but since there’s such a significant advantage to versatility in silencers, the Hybrid is a remarkable solution. MSRP: $799

Gemtech Aurora 2

Buying A Suppressor 8

While it’s easy to see hunting and recreational applications for silencers, silencers can have a viable advantage in personal defense. Anyone who’s ever fired a gun in an enclosed space — like a vehicle or building — knows that the sound is much worse than in an open environment. In fact, firing a centerfire handgun in an enclosed space precludes reasonable hearing for a substantial amount of time and is likely to do permanent damage.

The Gemtech Aurora 2 is designed for just such situations. It’s a wet system micro 9mm silencer that weighs just 3.2 ounces with a length of just 3.3 inches. Originally designed for downed military pilots, it uses eight replaceable “wipes” inside the tube located by aluminum spacers. No booster device is needed for semi-auto use because it’s so light. The “wipes” will only suppress sound efficiently for about 20 shots before they need to be replaced, but the advantage of being able to hear during a defensive situation is potentially lifesaving.

Because lead, frangible or jacketed bullets could possibly begin expansion when they contact the wipes, it’s designated for use with FMJ ammunition only and is also rated for rapid fire. MSRP: $399

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Long-Range Shooting: Old School Vs. New School

Products and theories evolve quickly in the shooting world, but you still get to decide what works for you. A mix of old and new is a lethal combination when it comes to long-range shooting.

How do old and new school long-range shooting methods measure up:

  • Milrads are easier to convert, but it's easier for many Americans to think in MOA.
  • Short, stiff barrels are stiff, but long barrels mean more velocity and resistance to wind deflection.
  • Metering only measure wind where you're at, while mirage tells you what's happening down range.
  • Wind-resistant calibers mean less compensation, but might equate to less barrel life.
  • You get to use the has marks and range find with a FFP scope, but the reticle but is tiny up close and large at long range.

We were on the 400-yard line at Camp Perry, on Rodriguez Range, and nearing the end of the first and only National Defense Match. The match had started at 10 yards with the emphasis on speed, but it ended up at the 500-yard line where accuracy and the ability to judge conditions closed the deal.

On a cross-valley 800-yard shot, the projectile will pass through three different wind zones. The area close to the shooter is where a wind meter will give a reading. The wooded area down the hill will offer almost no wind, and the valley floor can be anything.
On a cross-valley 800-yard shot, the projectile will pass through three different wind zones. The area close to the shooter is where a wind meter will give a reading. The wooded area down the hill will offer almost no wind, and the valley floor can be anything.

The entire match was fired without the benefit of a spotting scope or flags to read the wind. There was a steady right to left wind and a lot of conversation and speculation about how much windage to use. There were mathematic calculations of wind speed versus directional wind value. Smartphones were being consulted and I suspect there was a wind meter involved.

Chris and Colton Cerino (yes, the “Top Shot” guy) were shooting with my grandson, Phoenix, and me. Knowing I’d shot a lot at Camp Perry, Chris asked me how much windage we should use. I plucked a handful of grass and dropped it from shoulder height.

“Put on 3 minutes,” I answered, “Old school wind meter.”

As I was saying it, one of the smartphone guys spoke up, “Looks like 3 minutes.”

I smiled. Phoenix, Chris, Colton and I all cleaned-up on the long range stages.

I’m a bit wary about writing an old school article like this for fear of being accused of imitating Elmer Keith, but sometimes the old stuff works just fine. In fact, I suspect some of the new ideas might be counterproductive.

MOA Vs. Milrads

When I was in 5th grade, I distinctly remember Mr. York telling my class how the metric system was going to simplify the world. He explained how it was a simpler system than our fractional “inch” system, and how easy it was to simply measure in millimeters.

Once we adapted the metric system, he said, there’d be a universal measurement system all over the world and mechanics could work on foreign cars and USA cars using the same set of tools. He was right. We adapted the metric system — sort of — and now a mechanic has only one set of tools, consisting of both metric and inches, sockets and wrenches.

Constantly monitoring mirage and keeping a databook will yield information that can be consulted later. This is only possible at a known-distance range, with pits or with a target camera.
Constantly monitoring mirage and keeping a databook will yield information that can be consulted later. This is only possible at a known-distance range, with pits or with a target camera.

There’s nothing wrong with milrads, provided you’re a person who only thinks in Milrads. Both systems are methods of angular measurement and nothing more. No matter how many scopes I use that are measured in milrads, I’ll always instantly convert the movement in my mind to MOA.

Since most Americans think in terms of degrees, inches and yards, it’s easier to explain and understand MOA. Maybe you can think milrads without mentally converting them to inches, but I can’t.

One MOA equals about 1 inch at 100 yards. One milrad equals 3.6 MOA. One-tenth milrad equals about 1 centimeter at 100 yards. Most of us think in yards, most of us think in inches. Most MOA scopes have turrets graduated in ¼-MOA increments, which equal ¼-inch at 100 yards. Most milrad scopes divide clicks into 1/10 milrads, which, again, equal about 1 centimeter at 100 yards.

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If you mentally think centimeters, milrads are the system for you. You’ve certainly heard countless arguments dictating which you should use. None are right and none are wrong.

Personally, however, I don’t remember anyone I know describing a fish or deer antlers, or anything else, in centimeters. My advice: Don’t feel pressured to switch to milrads if you’re perfectly happy working with MOA. The shooting industry has been using one measurement system for the last 100 years or so, and now we have a new one. Mr. York would be proud.

Barrel Length Conundrums

For the life of me, I can’t understand the recent trend of short barrels on rifles designed for long range. Rifles currently designed for long range now come with barrels as short as 16 inches on semi-autos and 20 inches on bolt-action rifles.

When I was shooting 600 and 1,000 yards in my High Power career, my M14 had a 22-inch barrel and I’d have loved to have 4 more inches of tube out front so I could better compete with my bolt-gun-shooting friends with their 26-inch barreled Model 70s.

Kent Reeve, one of the best long-range shooters in the world. Notice the proximity of this spotting scope. In wind that constantly changes, the shooter must transition from the spotting scope to the rifle in a minimum amount of time. Wind conditions change rapidly.
Kent Reeve, one of the best long-range shooters in the world. Notice the proximity of this spotting scope. In wind that constantly changes, the shooter must transition from the spotting scope to the rifle in a minimum amount of time. Wind conditions change rapidly.

In centerfire rifles, barrel length means velocity — and velocity means less wind deflection. This is why Palma, F Class and long-range sling shooters use 30-inch and longer tubes. Yes, short and stiff barrels can be more accurate than longer and whippier ones, but at long ranges, resistance to wind deflection is important. Won’t somebody out there market a precision .308 Win. with a barrel longer than 20 inches?

Wind Metering Vs. Mirage

Don’t get me wrong: I’d have loved a wind meter when I was coaching at Camp Perry, but I suspect some of the newer generation put a bit more faith in their wind meters than reality merits. Wind meters measure wind where you are, and the wind where you are isn’t the wind you shoot through. At 1,000 yards, I’ve seen the flag at the firing line blowing left, the 500-yard flag blowing right and the 200-yard flag blowing straight downrange. A wind meter is useless in these conditions.

In the introduction to this article, I described dropping grass as a method of doping wind. At Camp Perry, on Rodriquez Range, dropping grass at 400 yards works perfectly well because the range is as flat as a football field in every direction with no obstructions that affect wind speed and direction. A wind meter and falling grass both give you an indication of wind direction and intensity where you are — but only where you are.

Reading mirage, the distortion of light by heat waves, is almost always a better overall indicator because it better represents wind downrange, but sometimes there’s no mirage. In colder conditions and on overcast days, mirage is almost nonexistent. In those circumstances, a wind meter can help, but the wind call that works is going to be a SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess). In fact, every wind call is a SWAG, regardless of wind meters and mirage.

Wind-Resistant Calibers

A bit more than a dozen years ago, Kent Reeve, one of the best long-range shooters in the country and arguably the world, called me and asked if I still had an old .308 Win. bolt gun I’d built and used briefly. “Yes, I still have it,” I reported, “but aren’t you going to continue shooting a .243 Win.?” At the time, the .243 Winchester was the hot ticket across the course because it bucked wind better than the .308 Win. round.

In Palma shooting, the 7.62 NATO round is used with a 155-grain bullet. The normal barrel length is 30 inches, providing enough barrel length to generate higher velocities and better wind resistance.
In Palma shooting, the 7.62 NATO round is used with a 155-grain bullet. The normal barrel length is 30 inches, providing enough barrel length to generate higher velocities and better wind resistance.

“The .243 Win. has less recoil and is better in the wind,” he said, “but barrel life is so short that I have to change barrels in the middle of the season.” It seems Kent was getting about 2,500 rounds out of a .243 Win. and about 5,000 rounds out of the .308s he’d used in the past. Changing barrels means getting new zeros, the need to break-in again and the worries that occur when any top-level competitor changes anything. He bought my old .308 Win. Model 70; I don’t know to this day if he won anything with it or not.

So, yes, I know a 6.5 Creedmoor needs less windage compensation than a .308 Win., but I suspect few production precision rifles are shot at ranges past 500 yards — and up to that distance, there’s almost no difference between the two. At longer ranges, the more efficient calibers shine, but as Wayne Church, an old-school National Guard coach used to say, “A good, hard hold is worth a couple of clicks any day.”

First Focal Plane Pandering

Of all the dirty tricks played on modern-day shooters, the first-focal-plane (FFP) scope is arguably the most nefarious. In the words of some obscure person in my life, “It’s a wonderful solution to a nonexistent problem.” True, FFP scopes allow the shooter to use hash marks for holdover and wind, and it allows full use of rangefinding reticles at any given magnification — but they do so at a high price.

For precise shooting, you need a fine reticle, and for close and fast shooting, you need an easily defined and visible reticle. A FFP scope gives you the opposite. The first variable-power riflescopes were of the FFP design, and when second focal plane scopes appeared, we trashed those FFP scopes and didn’t look back. Why would anyone want a tiny thread of reticle at low magnification for rapid target acquisition and one the width of a 2X4 for precise, long-range shooting? After all, if you need hash marks for holdover and wind, it’s likely a long shot — and why wouldn’t you be using the highest magnification for that?

OK, so I know modern advancements in reading wind, low-drag bullets in efficient calibers, high-magnification scopes and modern ways of dealing with distance and wind deflection are effective and work. I’m an old man and, like other old men, I sometimes just like to argue with new ideas. I can give you a dozen reasons why computers were a bad idea.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

The Training Advantage Of 1911 Conversion Kits

You can get a conversion kit for your 1911 for less money than many new .22 LR pistols cost, giving you a familiar, cheap and invaluable training tool.

Why you should consider a .22 LR conversion kit for your 1911:

  • Less expensive than an identical pistol in the caliber.
  • Ammunition is more affordable, so you'll shoot more.
  • Identical in operation to the larger caliber.
  • Lighter recoil allows you to focus on fundamentals.
  • On most models, easily switches between calibers.

I’ve been teaching people to shoot since 1980. My first experiences were through our local community college, teaching women to shoot. My students were mostly single women who primarily were interested in personal defense and most had zero shooting experience prior to signing up for the class. I suspect I learned as much in that first series of classes as my students.

1911 Coverson Kit 11

My students brought a varied collection of guns to those original classes, mostly .38 caliber revolvers and full-sized semi-autos. Remember that in those days we didn’t have the excellent choices we have today, and gun size was less important because North Carolina didn’t have a concealed carry permit system.

I quickly found that most of my new shooters experienced difficulties learning to shoot with a full-power handgun because of recoil and noise generated. I began bringing .22 LRs to the class and was immediately impressed by how much quicker they learned.

The Teaching Power Of A .22 LR

In retrospect, I should’ve realized the benefits of learning with a .22 since that’s exactly how I learned to shoot because, as a young man, I simply couldn’t afford to shoot the number of rounds required to truly become proficient. Now I know some of the best shooters in the world on a first-name basis, and all of them use .22s for training — both for the people they train and for themselves.

The Nelson Conversion benefits from a fixed match barrel, sights that are stationary during cycling and a full-length guide rod. As a result, accuracy is on par with a fine match pistol.
The Nelson Conversion benefits from a fixed match barrel, sights that are stationary during cycling and a full-length guide rod. As a result, accuracy is on par with a fine match pistol.

When I began shooting in the late 1960s, there were few choices of suitable rimfire trainers for semi-autos. If you were a revolver shooter and wanted to do some rimfire training, there were a lot of options. Smith & Wesson had rimfire versions of their excellent Combat Masterpiece in Models 17 and 18 — and even a 2-inch J-Frame in the Model 34. Colt offered their Diamondback in .22 Long Rifle and the Frontier Scout operated exactly like the full-sized six shooters, but was a bit scaled down.

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Semi-auto shooters had zero choices in guns identical in operation to their full-sized counterparts. Though there were Colt, High Standard, Ruger and Smith & Wesson semi-autos that were excellent pistols, they bore little resemblance or operational characteristics to the big guns.

The Colt Conversion is much more complicated, requiring a floating chamber to develop enough energy to cycle the heavy steel slide.
The Colt Conversion is much more complicated, requiring a floating chamber to develop enough energy to cycle the heavy steel slide.

Colt did offer a .22 rimfire conversion unit for their 1911s, but we’ll discuss this a bit later. Today, we have a lot of replica trainers in .22, and many are operationally identical to the real thing. GSG, Walther and others offer rimfire pistols that are dimensionally and operationally identical to the 1911, but while the look and feel is like the real thing, accuracy is only suitable for close range training and plinking.

The problem was physics. The .22 Long Rifle round doesn’t generate enough energy to carry the slide of a 1911 to the rear to eject a spent case while compressing a spring capable of stripping a round out of the magazine and carrying the slide forward into battery. Colt solved the problem by designing a floating chamber that allowed the chamber to gain enough momentum to cycle the slide.

Instead of the entire slide cycling, the Nelson has a partial slide that moves independently of the sights.
Instead of the entire slide cycling, the Nelson has a partial slide that moves independently of the sights.

Like so many solutions in life, the solution to one problem created another. With the floating chamber, accuracy suffered and the additional surfaces required by having a chamber floating in a barrel required lots of maintenance because of fouling. It worked, but not really well. Accuracy suffered further because the barrel rattled around in the slide loosely secured only by the slide release pin.

Converting For Training And Fun

There’s an option that’s quietly winning the favor of more and more of the best shooters who wish to train with a rimfire, and it’s not only been around a long time — it’s also accurate enough to win matches at a national level. The Nelson Custom Guns 1911 conversion has a long history with competitive shooters. Bob Marvel was well-known for building competition 1911s for both the .45 and centerfire stages of conventional pistol competition. He decided it made sense to use the same identical grip frame for the .22 rimfire stage of a 2700 pistol match and designed his .22 rimfire conversion for the 1911.

1911 Coverson Kit 6
The sighting rib is attached to the slide by two hollow head screws and can be replaced with a scope mount provided by Nelson. Most competitors opt for an extra barrel for optics, precluding the need to re-zero after changing.

In order to get the level of accuracy required, it only made sense to use a fixed barrel, so the Nelson conversion fixes the barrel to the frame via a recoil spring guide rod that tightens the barrel into the frame on the modified slide-lock pin. The slide lock furnished is in two parts to allow the slide lock to function normally, even though the pin portion of the slide lock is used to fix the barrel in place. The aluminum slide has a steel insert that serves as the breech face.

The top of the barrel is milled to accept a recessed rib that is removed with two screws. The ribs are interchangeable so the user can have a rib with the excellent front post and Elliason rear sights, and switch out iron sights for a scope mount. Currently, Nelson is working on a top rib that incorporates both iron sights and a scope mount to allow shooters to use the scope in open classes and remove it for limited class events or practice.

(right) Colt’s original conversion was marketed from 1937 to 1982. Pristine versions commonly bring as much as a new 1911.
(right) Colt’s original conversion was marketed from 1937 to 1982. Pristine versions commonly bring as much as a new 1911.

I installed the Nelson conversion on a Springfield Armory Range Officer in .45 ACP, but the system will work on any 1911 in .45, and with a minor fix, a 9mm or .38 Super. The conversion takes about a minute and will work on both single-stack and double-stack 1911s by using different magazines. Since I’ve had the unit, I’ve run more than a thousand rounds of different brands through it with zero malfunctions. Accuracy is on par with the very best semi-auto rimfires on the market, and I’m not talking about standard across-the-counter pistols — I’m talking about the best guns made by Hammeril and Pardini.

Shooting the Nelson Conversion is like shooting your favorite 1911, except for the low cost and minimal recoil. Unless you have a full race pistol and the very best ammunition, it’s more accurate. The iron sights on my unit are identical to the sights on my 1968 Colt Gold Cup National Match. The magazines are easy to load whether you use the supplied magazine spring compressor or not. Magazines are polymer and drop freely when the release is pressed. Sight adjustments are easy and precise.

Magazines are polymer and available in both single and double stack. Both versions have a 12-shot capacity. The follower has a hole accessible through a slot in the magazine for a loading button.
Magazines are polymer and available in both single and double stack. Both versions have a 12-shot capacity. The follower has a hole accessible through a slot in the magazine for a loading button.

The upshot of all this is the ability of a competitor to shoot the exact trigger and operational system as their centerfire competition pistol. In fact, that shooter is using his competition pistol, just converted over to shoot ammunition at a fraction of the cost, and this benefit comes with accuracy that’s likely to exceed the level of accuracy of the shooter’s competition gun.

While the original Colt conversion was a wonderful tool, it left a lot to be desired in accuracy and reliability. For a design from 1937, it was a remarkable tool for training, but today we have a much better option.

The heavy match barrel features a recessed target crown.
The heavy match barrel features a recessed target crown.

Providing match-pistol accuracy, adaptability to both single- and double-stack pistols and at a price of $480 (which is below that of the average recreational level .22 pistol), Nelson’s .22 conversion satisfies the need of any shooter wishing to utilize the most enduring pistol design in history as a low-cost trainer.

CMMG Guard: The Smooth Operator

The CMMG Guard series of pistol-caliber carbines offers a unique operating system that's right on target.

How the CMMG Guard shoots smooth:

  • Features CMMG’s Radial Delayed Blowback system.
  • System requires a carrier with less mass.
  • This reduces bounce on rapid fire.

CMMG Guard 9

One of the fastest growing competitive shooting segments is the pistol-caliber carbine crowd, which includes events sanctioned by the United States Pistol Shooting Association (USPSA). Known for fast-moving, multi-stage events for race pistols, pistol-caliber carbine matches allow carbines in pistol calibers with a power factor of 125 and a maximum velocity of 1,600 fps. Slings, optical and electronic sights are allowed, as are laser sights — and there’s no restriction on magazine capacity. Because of cost and recoil management, clearly the most popular caliber is 9mm. Besides USPSA sanctioned matches, there are a growing number of carbine-bay matches that include separate classes for pistol-caliber carbines. The growth of competitive shooting opportunities for 9mm carbines, combined with the fact that they’re both fun and cheap to shoot, has spawned the development of a number of new 9mm carbines.

The Struggle With 9mm Carbines

As a result, 9mm might be the second most popular chambering for AR-system rifles. Not long ago in these pages, I reviewed four different PCC guns with varied results. The guns ranged in price from just over $500 for the Just Right JR9C, to more than $2,000 for the Sig MPX carbine. The winner of that test was the SIG MPX because it was the most stable during rapid fire, even though the JR9C was the most accurate.

Stability is important in time/score matches. Most of these events require two shots to neutralize a target. The A zone of the target is 11 inches x 5.875 inches. That’s not a small target, but the matches are scored on speed with penalties for shots outside the A zone. Most distances are under 50 yards, meaning razor-sharp accuracy isn’t as important as speed. The Sig MPX gained an advantage because it was the only gas-operated gun in the test, and gas operation allows for less reciprocating mass … which provides smoother recoil and faster follow-up shots.

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To someone who’s never shot a 9mm carbine in a match where speed is the most important factor, it might be puzzling that we’re talking about recoil from a 9mm carbine. Recoil from the 9mm round isn’t the problem: The problem comes from the reciprocating mass of the semi-automatic operating system.

The Odin Zulu 2.0 adjustable stock adds a few ounces over the original, but the additional weight is next to the center of movement, thus having little effect on speed of transitions. It’s solid and remarkably well made.
The Odin Zulu 2.0 adjustable stock adds a few ounces over the original, but the additional weight is next to the center of movement, thus having little effect on speed of transitions. It’s solid and remarkably well made.

Other than the MPX, all the other guns in that four gun test were blowback operated. In a blowback operating system, the mass of the moving slide or bolt carrier provides enough resistance to keep the gun in battery during peak pressure. The movement of that mass, both rearward and forward, disturbs the gun and carries it off the target. The gas operated MPX has a much lighter reciprocating mass and was the smoothest shooting, and therefore it was the fastest in the test.

A properly tuned AR-15 chambered for 5.56 NATO can be tuned to be as stable as a .22 LR carbine. Because a 5.56 AR-15 is gas operated, the bolt carrier can be lightened to reduce the reciprocating mass, reducing bounce. By using the high-velocity gas generated by the 5.56 round, a muzzle brake can be tuned to control the direction of that movement and stabilize the gun.

Unfortunately, in a 9mm carbine, there isn’t enough gas for a muzzle brake to influence the bouncing mass of the system. Because of this greater reciprocating mass and the lack of gas velocity to compensate for movement, accurate double-taps with a blowback-operated 9mm carbine are much harder to accomplish than with a properly tuned 5.56 NATO.

A New Option

This is where the CMMG Guard comes on the stage. CMMG recognized the problem and addressed it by creating a different operating system for their Guard series of 9mm carbines. They accomplished this by redesigning the bolt and bolt recesses in the barrel, and by creating what they call a “rotationally actuated, dual-pin supported linkage, radial delayed blowback operating system” that’s covered by two United States patents.

The rotary bolt on the CMMG Guard series is angled with matching lugs in the barrel. Recoil pressure rotates the bolt and unlocks the carrier, delaying the system and allowing a much lower reciprocating mass of bolt and carrier.
The rotary bolt on the CMMG Guard series is angled with matching lugs in the barrel. Recoil pressure rotates the bolt and unlocks the carrier, delaying the system and allowing a much lower reciprocating mass of bolt and carrier.

That’s a mouthful, but here’s how it works: When the gun fires, recoil pressure pushes the bolt to the rear and, instead of flats on the bolt lugs, they’re angled. The angled surfaces in the barrel cause matching angles on the bolt lugs to rotate and unlock the system.

The upshot to this complicated technical talk is that the CMMG Guard has a considerably lighter bolt carrier. With less carrier weight, there’s less reciprocating mass, meaning less bounce on firing. Tested beside a tuned gas operated MPX, the Guard wasn’t quite smooth, but it was noticeably more stable than other carbines, such as the JR, JP and Palmetto.

Ultimately, the MPX probably makes the most effective competitive carbine, but with an MSRP of more than $2,000, it still needs modifications to work even reasonably well for competition. The CMMG Guard’s base price is about a third lower, at $1,299. To be competitive with either gun, you’ll have to replace the handguard to reduce muzzle weight for faster transitions, install a better trigger and upgrade the stock.

Changing Of The Guard

As received out of the box, the CMMG Guard was a perfectly workable carbine for normal use. I chose the base model, since the plan was to extensively modify the gun to make it more suitable for competition. If you follow some of my work, you’ll notice that I have developed a recent “family” of parts from specific brands that have come together really well for me … especially when it comes to tweaking for speed. All of these after-market components are great on their own, but when added together on a custom built — things get impressive in a hurry.

The Blackhawk ambidextrous charging handle uses a detent system to maintain closed position, allowing for fast movement without the need to mechanically unlatch.
The Blackhawk ambidextrous charging handle uses a detent system to maintain closed position, allowing for fast movement without the need to mechanically unlatch.

As delivered, the MkGs T has a 16-inch medium taper barrel, threaded ½-28 for a compensator or suppressor. The trigger of the MkGs T 9MM is standard mil-spec — it was workable, but it was hardly appropriate for competition. The handguard is the short CMMG RKM11, and there’s a standard A2 Pistol Grip with an M4 six-position mil-spec receiver extension buttstock. The billet receivers are 7075-T6 AL upper and lower. The Guard came with a Glock 33 round magazine and weighed 6 pounds.

As modified, the weight remained the same at 6 pounds, but with the improvement of an Isler full-length carbon-fiber handguard slotted for M-Lock accessories. This handguard allows pushing the support hand almost to the end of the barrel, steading the gun during the shot and allowing more leverage to get the gun moving for a transition. The full-length Isler tube actually weighs less than the original short tube.

The standard M4 stock rattles around a bit and doesn’t provide much traction from the plastic buttplate. The much more substantial Odin Zulu 2.0 adjustable stock I chose adds a few ounces over the original, but the additional weight is next to the center of movement, having little effect on speed of transitions. The lighter handguard weight in the front countered the gain at the rear. Ergo’s Tactical Deluxe grip was a huge improvement over the standard A2 hard plastic grip. The larger diameter and “sticky” surface make holding the gun in one hand during reloads easy. Speaking of reloads, I also added a Blackhawk ambidextrous charging handle and a Taran Tactical magazine extension that bumps the magazine capacity up to 41 rounds.

Arguably the biggest change was the trigger. Standard, mil-spec triggers don’t facilitate fast and accurate shooting. A really good trigger allows the shooter to keep the gun stable and allows double taps with low split times. For a trigger, I chose the Elftman AR9 trigger specifically designed for 9mm carbines.

The light weight of a reflex sight allows faster target acquisition than is possible with a much heavier riflescope. The Burris Fastfire 3 has a mount designed for proper head alignment with AR carbines and weighs only a few ounces.
The light weight of a reflex sight allows faster target acquisition than is possible with a much heavier riflescope. The Burris Fastfire 3 has a mount designed for proper head alignment with AR carbines and weighs only a few ounces.

Triggers for 9mm carbines can be an issue. Because of the faster bolt speed and shape of 9mm carbine bolt carriers, most standard AR triggers won’t work in 9mm carbines. The Elftman AR 9 is designed to function with those different shapes, and it works perfectly with no doubles or reset problems. It breaks cleanly at about 3 pounds and makes shooting the Guard a pleasure.

The Guard On The Range

The modifications had little effect on benchrest performance of the unmodified gun. Using Aguila 115-grain 9mm rounds at 50 yards with a Burris Fastfire 3-dot sight, my 10-shot groups measured around 3 inches with a tight cluster in the center, indicating my difficulty with dot sights and astigmatism. Group size would probably shrink with a scope, but scopes add weight and weight is an enemy in fast-transition shooting. I was pleased with that level of performance for the task.

The Burris Fastfire 3 has a 3-MOA dot that automatically compensated for changes in light intensity and turns itself off when not in use. It allows both-eyes-open shooting and fast target acquisition. I chose the 3-MOA dot over the 8-MOA dot because some of the stages I shoot involve 8-inch steel at 50 yards, and I felt the smaller dot would allow more accuracy.

So, the upshot is that the CMMG Guard is a better mousetrap in AR-15 9mm carbines. Maybe it isn’t as good as the best-in-class MPX, but it’s far less expensive and is an AR with familiar AR controls and the ability to easily find and attach almost any accessory you can imagine.

The Elftman AR 9 trigger is designed to work with all AR 9mm carbines, and it provides a precision trigger with no fear of reset and chain-fire issues. I chose the flat-front model.
The Elftman AR 9 trigger is designed to work with all AR 9mm carbines, and it provides a precision trigger with no fear of reset and chain-fire issues. I chose the flat-front model.

As delivered, it’s an improvement on every other AR-15 9mm — and when upgraded, it’s a better gun than a basic SIG MPX.

Everything done to the Guard could be accomplished by anyone with a reasonable knowledge of mechanics, and the result is a highly competitive carbine for PCC competition.

CMMG Guard Specs

For more information on CMMG, please visit www.cmmginc.com.

For more information on Aguila Ammo, please visit www.aguilaammo.com.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

How To Read Mirage To Control For Wind

While it takes time, coaching and practice, learning to read mirage will help you own long-range shooting.

Why it's important to read mirage:

  • Gives you not only wind speed, but also value.
  • You can better estimate the wind's effects down range.
  • Requires less reliance on technology to make an accurate shot.

Reading wind is truly as much art as it is science. While a wind meter can’t always give you the correct windage for a long-range shot, if you read mirage in conjunction with a wind meter it can do as much to teach you how to read wind as years of shooting experience. Learning to read mirage normally requires spending time with someone who can read mirage and is willing to share it, or you can spend a lot of experimental shooting time.

Mirage 3

Reading mirage involves observing light waves as they’re disturbed by heat, and using the amplitude and frequency of those light waves to determine the required amount of windage to hit center. The great thing about using mirage is that it shows wind value as it shows speed. An 8 mph wind blowing straight up or downrange appears as a no-value wind, and it looks almost the same as a zero-wind situation. A half-value 8 mph wind looks almost exactly like a full-value 4 mph wind. The reason for this is that wind speed is only observable as to its relative speed perpendicular to the line of sight.

Mirage How-To

To read mirage, focus your spotting scope about halfway between you and the target. The amplitude shows up better on a horizontal line, so if there is one, look for the mirage as it distorts that line. In high power, I focused on the top of the target frame at 600 and 1,000 yards, and the bottom of the frame at 300 yards. The faster the wind speed, the faster the mirage will appear to move. At zero wind value, it appears to not move from left or right, but rather it appears more as a boil. The slower the wind, the greater the amplitude of the waves, and at wind speeds above about 10 mph it almost fl attens out. Above that speed I think in terms of frequency: Imagine a sine wave that flattens as it speeds up.

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Your ability to learn from experience is limited to your ability to shoot. If you can only hold within 2 MOA, your ability to judge your wind calls will be limited to that level. Learning from experience is best accomplished by coaching, or by listening to a good coach while he or she coaches an excellent shooter on the line. Under those circumstances, you can instantly see if the wind call is good or not. When shooting with a coach, the shooter needs to advise the coach if he calls a shot left or right because a shot that comes up right of the coach’s estimate will make the coach believe the wind has more value than is being seen.

Learning Mirage From A Wind Meter

To use a wind meter to learn to read mirage, find a large, flat area unobstructed by fences, buildings or trees. Read the wind speed with the meter, factor in the value that’s based on wind direction, and observe the mirage. Rotate the scope directly into and away from the wind and notice how a boil appears. Observe the difference between a half- and full-value wind. I suspect you’ll learn to read mirage much faster that way than from experience.

Mirage 2

It’s also important to receive instant feedback on your results. This can be done where a dust signature can be observed, though spotting hits in dust can be deceiving. Obviously, it works very well on known distances, in ranges with pits or when shooting electronic targets, but there’s another affordable option in the form of remote target cameras. With a remote target camera, you can instantly see the results of each shot and most will indicate the location of the most recent shot. They’re a great aid to learning to read wind without the assistance of another person.

The ability to reliably read wind for long-range shooting requires time, and a lot of range time, but there’s nothing more satisfying than making the wind call on a long shot in a crossing wind — and nailing it.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Building Your Own Precision AR-15

The precision AR-15 build is designed to keep double-taps within an inch at 10 yards — while maintaining 1-MOA accuracy at 100 yards.

What to consider in a precision AR-15 build:

It was one of those across-the-lunch-table conversations that occur often with guys who like guns. My friend and shooting companion of more than 30 years, Mike Byrd, and I were eating chips and salsa at a local Mexican restaurant and thinking about AR-15 carbines. He’d built a lightweight gun and was surprised that a light AR, which tipped the scales at just past 5 pounds, had repeatedly shot sub-MOA groups.

AR 15 Build 4

Light guns work really well for the fast-paced Carbine Bay matches so popular in North Carolina where ranges past 200 yards are fairly uncommon. We began thinking of how to build a light carbine that would shoot sub-MOA and also be tuned to be stable enough for double-taps that placed both bullets within 1 inch at 10 yards. By double-tap, I mean two shots with one sight picture, fired as fast as the trigger can be pulled.

In general, AR-15s in 5.56 NATO don’t have recoil, but they do have movement. Because of the reciprocating mass of the bolt and bolt carrier, standard ARs bounce about 4 inches at 10 yards in the 2 o’clock direction for right-handed shooters. That bounce can put the shooter out of the A zone on a target or slow down the shooter’s time because he must get the gun back on target for the second shot.

Learn More: .223 vs 5.56: The Ultimate Comparison & Review

For several years I’ve owned a great rifle that will accomplish the task. I tested, and later purchased, a CR 18 Colt Competition Rifle — and it’s been a great gun. I’ve shot two and three gun matches, I won a local NRA High-Power match and shot a mid-master score in the NRA National Championship with it. It’s been a great rifle, but it’s a bit slow and front heavy for those fast-paced Bay Matches.

All the parts laid out before the project begins. The author chose proven and functional components, and he spent money where he felt it was most important.
All the parts laid out before the project begins. The author chose proven and functional components, and he spent money where he felt it was most important.

The object of this project gun was not only to shoot accurately and without bounce, but the gun also had to be fast moving with the weight concentrated toward the rear, making for faster transitions. The goal weight was 6 pounds. And before my Speedy Gonzales lunch arrived, we were working out the details. By the time the tacos, enchiladas and refried beans were gone, we had a plan.


You can spend a lot of money on upper and lower receivers, but the primary function of both is to hold the parts together. Since this project was also to build the best gun for an affordable price, we chose an economical Anderson Manufacturing lower receiver. For an upper, we chose the DPMS Low Profile Competition receiver without forward assist or a dust cover. It’s simple and smooth, has nothing superfluous, and is probably stiffer than a standard receiver. Upper and lower receivers were about $130 combined.


Obviously, choosing the right barrel is important in a gun that’s to be judged on accuracy. Based on Mike’s past experience with them, I chose the Faxon Mid Length Match Series barrel in 16-inch Gunner. It’s a lightweight barrel with a Wylde chamber and a 1:8 twist, which will handle a wide range of bullet weights, and the mid-length gas system is proven to work with proper tuning for stability during fire. Faxon’s reputation for accurate lightweight barrels sealed the deal. MSRP is $225.

Read More: Getting the AR Barrel and Receiver Configuration Correct


The Odin Zulu stock includes sling mount and a spring-loaded buffer to smooth out recoil. It’s adjustable in three axis directions for a comfortable fit and fast gun mount. The foam on the tube is comfortable and the pad keeps the gun firmly in place for fast follow-up shots.
The Odin Zulu stock includes sling mount and a spring-loaded buffer to smooth out recoil. It’s adjustable in three axis directions for a comfortable fit and fast gun mount. The foam on the tube is comfortable and the pad keeps the gun firmly in place for fast follow-up shots.

The first interface between shooter and gun is the stock. I like adjustable stocks, but I don’t like wobble. I chose the Odin Gunworks Zulu 2.0 Adjustable Stock Kit. The Zulu Adjustable is a complete kit that replaces the buffer tube, buffer and stock. The buffer tube is covered with dense foam for comfort. The buffer is spring loaded to smooth out recoil (one of the objects of the project) and the stock is wildly adjustable. It adjusts in every direction I’d want adjustment except cheek placement. It’s also very reasonably priced with an MSRP of $149.

Pistol Grip

Related to the stock is the hand grip. Fast-moving guns must be held in a vise-like grip, and I’ve always been a fan of the Ergo Tactical Deluxe Grip. It’s got a tacky surface and a palm swell that fills my hand. I like the largest, but Ergo has an AR grip to fit any hand. Functional and affordable, it’s a great value at $39.

Bolt Carrier

A crucial part of a stable firing AR is the bolt carrier. After all, almost all the reciprocating weight that causes bounce comes from the bolt carrier. We chose the Rubber City Titanium carrier with their patented adjustable gas key. Titanium carriers lose weight because titanium has the highest strength-to-density ratio of any metallic element, with the bonus of being highly corrosion resistant. This carrier fills the space of an M16 profile while reducing weight substantially. There is a downside, however, because titanium is softer than steel — but RCA’s sister company, H&M Metal Processing, recently developed a new patented thermal chemical diffusion process to treat titanium and titanium alloys for high-wear applications. Another feature of the RCA carrier is the adjustable gas key that replaces an adjustable gas block. I admit I was skeptical, but the proof is in the shooting. MSRP with the adjustable gas key is $409.

More Info: A Word on AR-15 Carrier Life


AR 15 Build 2

There are so many triggers for ARs on the market that I knew making a decision was going to be tough. Mike and I discussed a lot of options, but since this was a test bed kind of project, I wanted to keep an open mind. Before we’d made a final decision, I got an email about Mossberg’s new Jerry Miculek Adjustable Match trigger. I took the email as a sign from above. It’s a drop-in trigger, factory-set at a pull weight of 4 pounds, and it offers a crisp, creep-free break and user-adjustable overtravel. MSRP is $161.

Learn More:  How-To: Trick Out Your AR Trigger


Lightweight, especially at the front of the gun, was an important part of this project, and Mike has been using Isler Custom Gun Works ICGW handguards on the SIG MPX PCC carbines he’s been building. He felt they were the best. They’re made from Aerospace-quality, filament-wound carbon-fiber with CNC machined M-Lok ports. Weight of the 15-inch tube is just 6.8 ounces. The handguard mount is made from 7075 aluminum and attaches to the handguard with Torx button-head screws. The system comes with shims for perfect alignment and a unique barrel nut wrench. MSRP is $299.95.

Find Out More:  Installing A Free-Floated Handguard On Your AR-15

Muzzle Brake

Arguably, the most important component for rifle stability is the muzzle brake. Precision Armament’s Hypertap 556 is tunable without shims because of the locking nut on the rear of the brake. Intensity of gas force is adjustable by drilling out indentions at the top and bottom of the brake.
Arguably, the most important component for rifle stability is the muzzle brake. Precision Armament’s Hypertap 556 is tunable without shims because of the locking nut on the rear of the brake. Intensity of gas force is adjustable by drilling out indentions at the top and bottom of the brake.

Besides controlling reciprocating mass, the most important part of tuning an AR-15 for stability is the muzzle brake. I’ve heard more positive feedback about the Precision Armament brake than any other, and we chose their newest model, the Hypertap 556. It solves one of the most difficult issues in tuning muzzle brakes by adding a lock nut to the system. To get the desired angle for maximum stability, the tuner can rotate and lock the brake in place without using shims. There are also 12 dimples in the brake to allow fine-tuning the amount and direction of side jetting. To gain more side jetting, the tuner drills out the indentions until the desired effect is gained. On the project gun, we drilled out three holes at 2 o’clock to bring the gun to stability. MSRP is $179.95.

Find Out More:  Choosing A Flash Suppressor, Muzzle Brake And Compensator

Buffer Spring

There were other components, but the only other notable one was the use of a Tubb flat buffer spring. Music wire and carbon steel springs are adversely affected by temperatures. Stainless-steel springs retain their values better and are less affected by temperature.

More Info:  Should You Replace Your AR-15 Buffer and Springs?


While the project gun is designed for accuracy, the primary issue is speed because it’s designed for time/score matches. Speed requires lightweight and fast target acquisition, and reflex sights excel in this area. I chose the C-More Railway red-dot with the 2-MOA dot because it affords the ability to exploit pinpoint accuracy, and the brightness level exceeds many other reflex sights. Mike was an integral part of this project and he likes the Railway because it’s so forgiving of head position, which is crucial in events where awkward positions are part of the game. It’s very reasonably priced with an MSRP of $279.

Read More:  What Are Your Options For AR Optics?

Taking It To Task

Of course, the proof is in the shooting. The goal: 1-inch double-taps at 10 yards, 1-MOA at 100 yards, weight at 6 pounds and light in the muzzle.


Our first test occurred before the carbine fired a single shot. On precise scales, we missed our target mark of 6 pounds by a bit more than 2 ounces. A lighter stock would’ve filled the bill, but I like the Odin stock much more than anything lighter. The extra weight is close to the shooter and has little effect on fast transitions.

Double-Tap Testing

Accuracy at 100 yards was excellent for a rifle weighing just over 6 pounds. These groups were fired with less than 50 shots through the rifle. For accuracy testing, the author used the Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x riflescope.
Accuracy at 100 yards was excellent for a rifle weighing just over 6 pounds. These groups were fired with less than 50 shots through the rifle. For accuracy testing, the author used the Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x riflescope.

The next test was stability during fire. We began testing by firing single shots with an unloaded magazine to regulate the gas through the RCA adjustable gas key. We made three adjustments until the bolt failed to lock back. At that point, we were only a half turn from bottomed out. We backed out a quarter turn, achieved bolt lock and installed the locking set screw.

The next part of the tuning was to adjust the muzzle brake. Mike guessed at the first setting, and it was pretty good with a bit of push to the right. We drilled one hole at a time at 2 o’clock until we felt the gun was neutral. Now we were ready for the double-tap test.

Our first double-tap resulted in two shots almost touching — and subsequent double-taps were well within the requirement of the project and some touched. Redirecting gas at that velocity creates sound, and there’s plenty. Though sound was powerful, the rifle was as stable as a .22 rimfire AR-15. It’s almost eerie. Requirement accomplished: Everything we shot was well within the one inch at ten-yard standard.

Accuracy Testing

Real accuracy testing happens with a minimum of five-shot groups. In the real world, not many 6-pound semi-auto rifles are capable of sub-MOA accuracy. To test, I chose five loads: Remington, Winchester, Federal, Black Hills and Hornady. Results are in the included photo. Three of the five loads achieved better than 1 MOA on the first group fired. The worst group in the test was just over 1.5 MOA — all with less than 100 rounds through a new barrel.

The Package

With a firm grip far out on the handguard and the rifle pulled into the shoulder, some of the double taps touched at 10 yards, and holding groups to less than an inch was easy.
With a firm grip far out on the handguard and the rifle pulled into the shoulder, some of the double taps touched at 10 yards, and holding groups to less than an inch was easy.

To wrap it up, the project “AR Frankenstein” turned out very well. With the C-More sight installed, the gun finished out at a svelte 6 pounds, 12 ounces. It shoots sub-MOA with readily available factory ammunition and has the recoil of a .22 rimfire. Total cost of the project, including the sight, was $1,927.

This wasn’t a project to build a gun and save money — the object was to build a purpose-built carbine for a specific goal. I doubt there’s any commercial carbine that would achieve what’s been achieved at this level of expense, and it’s a one-of-a-kind carbine that achieves the goal.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

6 Semi-Auto Pistol Options For Any Occasion

Everyone has favorites — and I’m no different — but I do get to shoot and evaluate a lot of different semi-auto pistols. Here are my favorites by category.

Sub-Sub-Compact: Ruger LCP II


Of the tiny guns, my hands-down favorite is the Ruger LCP II. It was a good pistol to begin with, and they fixed everything I complained about on the original. It’s very affordable, and it’s as easy to conceal as any gun on the market. While I’d prefer a larger caliber, modern .380 ammunition is more effective for defense than the standard .38 Special round-nosed load most law enforcement carried until just a few years back. The trigger replicates a striker-fired trigger even though it has an internal hammer, the slide is easy for weak hands to operate, and it locks back on the last round. For its diminutive size, it’s reasonably easy to shoot well.

Read More: Ruger LCP II Full Review

Low-Effort Defense: S&W .380 Shield EZ


I had to create this category specifically for the Smith and Wesson .380 Shield EZ because it’s the gun I’ve been crying for. There are so many older people, especially women, who simply don’t have the hand strength to operate most guns. People with low hand strength need personal defense and they need a gun they can operate.

Read More: S&W .380 Shield EZ – Smooth Operator

Based on the popular M&P .22 Compact from Smith & Wesson, the .380 EZ is easier to operate than many .22s. The slide is well shaped for grip, the recoil spring is light, the magazine has a loading assist button and there’s a grip safety. I’d suggest the version without a manual safety because those likely to purchase this gun probably aren’t going to do the training required to operate a manual safety under duress.

Sub-Compact Single-Stack: Sig P365


There are a lot of great pistols in this category. It’s the largest category of defensive guns and it’s dominated by the Smith and Wesson Shield. This is a crowded field and it’s really hard to find a bad gun in the lot. Besides the Shield, Ruger’s excellent EC9 is a great gun at a great price. The Glock 43 is the most graceful and handy of these. The Springfield Armory XDs has a grip safety, and I really like that, but I have to give the nod to the P365.

Read More: Sig P365 – Small Package, Big Performance

The SIG P365 has every feature a subcompact single-stack should have, except it isn’t a true single-stack. It isn’t a double-stack either. I’ve put it in that class because its width is just 1 inch, as narrow as other single-stacks. The remarkable thing is the capacity of 10 + 1, giving it the capacity of some double-stack pistols and a weight of just 18 ounces.

More Handgun Info:

It also has a trigger style I like. The trigger is a long, sweeping pull that’s light in weight but with a long enough stroke to make it safe to carry without a manual safety. It’s been my experience that most novices shoot better when they don’t know the exact instant the trigger breaks, preventing recoil anticipation. The price is also reasonable for the class at $599 and will likely settle down a bit more once demand catches up.

Sub-Compact Double-Stack: Springfield XD Mod 2, 3.3


This one has to go to Springfield Armory and their excellent XD Mod 2, 3.3. With a grip that offers enough surface for sweaty hands and a passive grip safety, the shorter Mod 2 is a great pistol. The trigger is good, the passive safety makes it a great choice for less experienced shooters, and the shape of the slide makes it easy to charge and clear. I like grip safeties because defensive guns are hidden away under clothing, and inserting a pistol into a holster surrounded by loose clothing is a great way to generate an accidental discharge. It’s easy to teach new shooters to place their thumb on the rear of the slide when holstering, serving not only to help get the index finger further away from the trigger, but also assuring that the slide is in battery by press checking as the gun is inserted. The Mod 2 is easy to shoot well with great sights and a good trigger.

Compact: Glock 19


There are a lot of great double-stack compact pistols at the gun shop, but I’ll probably get hate mail if I do this rundown without mentioning Glock. The Glock 19 is everything a defensive pistol should be: It’s reasonably priced, more reliable than a Ford F150 and easy to shoot well. It’s been proven since it was introduced, and the only people who say bad things about Glocks do so for emotional reasons rather than functional ones.

See Also: The Top 5 Glock Pistols For Anything

They’re not pretty, there’s no effort spent on bells and whistles, but they do everything they were designed to do … and the G19 is my favorite of the bunch.

Service-Sized Pistol: Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0


Once again, there are a lot of great choices in this category, but my choice of the best service-sized pistol is Smith and Wesson’s M&P 2.0. The improvements to the trigger and grip surfaces bring the M&P to a level of function that deserves note in a field of excellent pistols. With multiple grip inserts that are easy to change, functional sights and an aggressive grip texture that’s the best yet on a production pistol, the M&P 2.0 checks all the boxes. It also benefits from an extensive range of holster and aftermarket upgrade options.

You might notice that I didn’t include a single 1911-style pistol in my picks. Before you push the send button to tell me I’m an idiot, please take into consideration that most people who purchase defensive handguns spend almost zero time on real training and practice. While they’re great guns, 1911s and similar designs require extensive practice and training to handle effectively.

Read More: S&W M&P 2.0 Full Review

Law enforcement officers are required to train and qualify on a regular basis — and yet only a handful of departments issue traditional single-action semi-autos to their departments. This is based on painful experiences of officers having trouble operating a more complicated weapons system. In the hands of a trained up individual, these guns are wonderful and that’s why you see them in competitions, but most civilians simply aren’t proficient enough to be safe and competent with them.

While these are my choices, you likely have different preferences. We all like different things, otherwise, there would only be one gun in each category and I’d have nothing to write about. For that matter, I guess there’d only be one category.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Shooter's Guide 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

7 Considerations To Find The Best Concealed Carry Pistol

Picking the right defensive handgun is important. Find the best concealed carry pistol for your needs and lifestyle by going through this simple checklist.

What do you need to consider to find the best concealed carry pistol:

No matter which category of pistol you’re thinking of, there are dozens of option that might qualify as the best concealed carry pistol for you. The recent growth of the firearms industry and the number of people who’ve decided firearms ownership is a good idea have driven the industry to continue to refine their offerings. There’s never been a better time to purchase a gun over the counter that features everything you want.

You might think you've found the best concealed carry pistol out there, but until you've gone over every square inch and test-fired it you won't know for certain.
You might think you've found the best concealed carry pistol out there, but until you've gone over every square inch and test-fired it you won't know for certain.

That said, never buy a gun without operating every control to make sure it’s comfortable for you. Check the location of the magazine release, location and direction the safety operates, and trigger and slide operation to make certain they work well for you. If the shop won’t let you do this, you’re in the wrong shop.

While it’s nice to own different kinds of guns, consider the potential problems if one gun you shoot a lot has an entirely different operating system from the one you’re considering. Some safeties are pushed down to disengage, others are pushed up. Some magazine releases are a button and some are a paddle. Issues like this can make a perfectly fine pistol problematic for someone used to a different system.

Here’s a quick checklist to work through to find the best concealed carry pistol for your needs and lifestyle.


The size of a defensive pistol depends on the lifestyle, clothing habits and determination of the user. Single-stack guns have a thinner profile and are easier to hide, but the added magazine capacity of double stacks certainly has merit. Consider how you dress, both summer and winter. Look into holster options. Low production guns might be cool, but they have limited carry options. Finally, consider that a larger pistol with a longer sight radius is easier to shoot, but it’s also harder to hide.


It’s been my observation as an instructor that most people feel burdened by a gun heavier than about 20 ounces, and some by anything over 16 ounces. This limits choices to single-stack guns, but if you’re determined and don’t mind the weight, larger guns certainly are easier to shoot well and have more magazine capacity. Figure out what you like.

The Best Concealed Carry Knowledge You'll Find:


The most important issue in shooting a pistol well is manipulation of the trigger. While it’s possible to shoot a gun accurately with a poor trigger, it’s certainly irritating. Double-action triggers are safer than any other trigger system because the hammer spring is not compressed during the normal carry method, but many will struggle with accuracy in double action. Single- or two-stage triggers, like the triggers on 1911-style guns, are easiest to manipulate, but they require a high degree of safety awareness. Modern striker-fired triggers strike a medium with easier control, as well as enough travel and resistance to allow the gun to forego a manually operated safety.


While double-actions have safeties, their function is more useful for competition use and de-cocking than ordinary carry. Some striker-fired guns have the option of a manually operated safety. Single-action semi-autos almost universally have a manual safety because the only reasonable carry method is with the hammer cocked and the safety engaged. The location of that safety and its direction of operation can be an issue if the user has extensive experience with a gun that operates in a different fashion. If you’re used to a gun without a manual safety, you should spend a lot of range time disengaging and reengaging it. Safety operation, both off and on, should be a conditioned response that happens without conscious thought.

Ease Of Operation

The best concealed carry pistol is one you can operate competently, no matter the circumstances.
The best concealed carry pistol is one you can operate competently, no matter the circumstances.

As an instructor, there have been dozens of times when a student came for training or certification with a gun they simply didn’t have the hand strength to operate the slide. Even if you have strong hands, some guns are simply easier to operate than others and, under certain circumstances, this can be a factor in success. Hand strength also applies to trigger management, especially with double actions. Test the trigger before purchase while watching the sights to assure you can manage it without excessive movement.


Magazine capacity is a big issue. Obviously, you can never have too many rounds should bad things happen, but big magazine capacity means size and weight — and both are a detriment to daily, comfortable carry. I carry a smaller gun with lower capacity because I can’t remember a single web report or armed citizen story that involved the defender needing to reload. It happens, but mostly it happens in Hollywood.


There’s no doubt that a big hole in the front of your gun looks impressive. There’s also no doubt that a lot of people carry a gun they can’t shoot accurately because of recoil anticipation. Size and weight play a lot into defensive carry choices, and a light and small gun in a heavy caliber is more than most can handle. While you can’t try a gun at the gun shop, you may be able to test fire the gun you’re thinking of at a commercial range.

If you can’t shoot it accurately, it’s not the right choice for defensive carry because you’re responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun. A well-placed shot with a smaller caliber is more effective than a miss with a big magnum, and the stray bullet that misses can ruin your life.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Shooter's Guide 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Guncrafter HOSS Built For The Long Haul

The Guncrafter HOSS is an overbuilt version of Browning’s classic 1911, designed to address some of the common failure points on that particular pistol.

How this beefed up 1911 is engineered to last a lifetime:

  • The Guncrafter HOSS was conceived as a 1911 that would last a lifetime.
  • To do this, Guncrafter’s engineers addressed common failures in the design one by one.
  • Nearly every facet of the gun is beefed up, from its magnum-sized extractor to a larger barrel link.
  • Additionally, the barrel wall thickness was increased by 56 percent.
  • With extremely tight fitting, the gun performs admirably and is as accurate as fussier 1911s.
  • The 40-ounce Guncrafter HOSS has 8+1 capacity and is constructed from stainless steel.
  • The pistol’s MSRP is $3,700.

If there were a book of firearms successes, probably the first chapter would be dedicated to John Browning’s 1911 pistol. Designed in 1908 and adopted by the U.S. Army in 1911, it’s a design that’s stood the test of time for more than 100 years, and it’s still as popular as ever. There are dozens of companies producing 1911s, but only a few of those makers truly approach the undertaking of building the best pistol possible as a serious challenge.

The HOSS is expensive, sure, but it’s a perfect combination of good looks and rugged durability.
The HOSS is expensive, sure, but it’s a perfect combination of good looks and rugged durability.

Obviously, the pistols Guncrafter Industries — located in Huntsville, Arkansas — makes are built to sell, but they’re built to sell to the most discriminating buyer who’s only satisfied with the best gun money can buy. In my experience as a writer, I’ve tested four Guncrafter guns and never experienced a single malfunction. It’s easy to build a 1911 that doesn’t malfunction, but to build a 1911 that’s capable of shooting rifle-sized groups off a Ransom Rest without malfunctions is another story.

Beefing Up The Hoss

When the HOSS project was undertaken, the idea was to build a pistol that not only was accurate, but also reliable, not just for range sessions, but for a lifetime. Like all other mechanical devices, the 1911 design has weaknesses: Those who’ve shot thousands of rounds through them have experienced breakages that relate to those weaknesses.

The engineers at Guncrafter Industries considered every one of those common failures and addressed them — one by one. The extractor is beefed up, and the slide stop pin is increased in diameter by 33 percent. The plunger tube is also fattened up, and two more location pins are added. The ejector is increased to twice the normal size, and the width of the barrel link is increased and the material improved over standard.

In addition, barrel wall thickness is increased by 56 percent. The lower lugs are beefed up, and, finally, the barrel bushing is not only larger in diameter to accommodate the larger diameter barrel, but it’s also thicker in the front portion that locks into the recoil spring plug.

A tight fit between the slide and frame is always an important factor on a 1911, and Guncrafter’s HOSS doesn’t disappoint.
A tight fit between the slide and frame is always an important factor on a 1911, and Guncrafter’s HOSS doesn’t disappoint.

Each of these modifications represents the elimination, or at least a greatly reduced chance, of failure of these parts. The official reasoning behind the “HOSS” designation of this model is “Heavy Operating Shooting System.” Personally, when Alex Zimmerman described the gun and told me the name, I automatically agreed “HOSS” was perfect, thinking of Hoss Cartwright of the Bonanza TV series.

Maintaining The Hoss' Finesse

So, it’s established that the new gun from Guncrafter Industries is designed to be reliable, both in the short and long-term, but making a gun reliable generally comes at the price of gilt-edged accuracy. Super accurate 1911s have a reputation for being fussy about ammunition and somewhat fragile. Accomplishing extreme reliability while maintaining pinpoint accuracy is where the gunmaker’s art comes into the equation.

Accuracy in a short-recoil-operated pistol requires precise fit of several critical parts. First, the barrel must fit closely in the bushing or bearing surface on the front of the slide where the barrel moves. Second, the barrel must lock up consistently to make sure there’s no barrel tilt when the gun is fully into battery. With a 1911, this is accomplished by careful fitting of the locking lugs and having the correct barrel link to assure the barrel is fully engaged in the top of the slide recesses.

Third, the slide itself must have a minimum of play on the slide rails because it controls the front of the barrel, and the sights are mounted on the reciprocating slide. Proper fitting of the slide on the rails assures repeatable positioning when in battery. All these operations, along with a high-quality barrel, provide accuracy, but of course, the better the work, the more accurate the gun.

Seven components of the basic 1911 were beefed up to produce an even more bulletproof gun than a standard 1911. (Author Photo)
Seven components of the basic 1911 were beefed up to produce an even more bulletproof gun than a standard 1911. (Author Photo)

There are other factors that affect accuracy in terms of the shooter interfacing with the firearm because if the gun has poor sights or an inconsistent trigger, the shooter will be unable to utilize the inherent capabilities of the gun. To allow an improved level of interface, the Guncrafter Industries HOSS is provided with high-quality sights: low mount night sights with Tritium inserts grace the slide and allow heel cocking off the stepped forward face of the rear sight.

While a gun with a mediocre trigger can provide great accuracy, it makes it much harder for the shooter to achieve that accuracy. Guncrafter Industries has provided the shooter with the optimum opportunity to utilize the accuracy potential of the HOSS by shipping it with one the best triggers I’ve ever felt on a 1911. The trigger break is crisp with no creep, and there’s no visible or tactile backlash. My test gun broke at 4.5 pounds, the lightest trigger that should be used for a defensive pistol.

The Hoss Proves A Theory

Of course, I had no expectations of being able to test the HOSS to failure level. The time-tested 1911 has the reputation for extreme reliability in the toughest of conditions, and I expected no less of the HOSS. Still, I decided to run a few hundred rounds through the HOSS, and, as expected, I didn’t experience a single malfunction, even with light-loaded semi-wadcutter match loads. Accuracy was far beyond my capability, as has been the case with every gun I’ve ever tested from Guncrafter.

I tested it with Winchester 230-grain hardball, Winchester 185-grain Silvertip defensive ammunition and even some 185-grain semi-wadcutter match loads. Normally, those light loads won’t run in guns set up for service or defensive loads, but the HOSS is so well fitted and smooth operating that they ran without a hitch. On a couple of occasions, the slide didn’t lock back on the last round, but these loads aren’t meant for use in guns with standard recoil springs and generally give guns with standard springs a fit.


Off the bench, I managed a 10-shot, 1.123-inch group at 25 yards with the Winchester 230-grain hardball. I feel certain a good shooter could win leg points in a CMP Distinguished Pistol Shot match with this out-of-the-box handgun, and that’s quite a statement. My standing 10-shot groups at 15 yards were ragged holes, and fast shooting at that distance produced well-centered groups. While the refined build and quality barrel contributed greatly to this, the excellent sights and trigger made shooting much easier.

Magazine changes were easily accomplished; the magazine release was positive, and the extended magazine well made fast insertion easy. Recoil was manageable, and the night sights were easy to find during recoil recovery.

Alright, I know a pistol with an almost $3,800 price tag isn’t for everybody, and even if it was, the price would be even higher because not many gunsmiths can accomplish what Guncrafter has in the HOSS. The HOSS, like all the other models in the Guncrafter line, is a gun built for a shooter who wants the very best and is willing to pay for that kind of quality. It’s an heirloom gun that will last for generations and provide its owner with the pride of knowing you can’t buy a better pistol.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Concealed Carry 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

6 Top Home Defense Products Of 2018

Taking responsibility for home defense is a serious matter. Here are six new products for 2018 to help in this endeavor.

What are the top new performers?:

We were building the office I’m writing from right now. My brother in law, Bernie, was a builder and he was supervising my business partner, Billy, and me. He was using a nail gun and reminded us they were dangerous. “Guys, when I use the nail gun, make sure you’re behind me. This thing can kill you.”

“Yeah,” Billy said, “Danny Glover used a nail gun to kill a guy who broke into his house.”
Bernie stopped what he was doing and turned around, “Really? How could that happen?” It occurred to me that Bernie didn’t watch a lot of movies.

Billy explained, “Danny was a cop and the guy wanted to kill him to prevent him from testifying.”

Bernie still hadn’t caught on. “So this guy, Danny, used a nail gun to kill the guy and was a cop?”

Now Billy realized that Bernie thought Danny was a real person and that it was a real situation being discussed. I saw his smile. “Yup, in that movie he was a cop.”

In a real life-or-death situation, a home invasion isn’t a laughing matter, and unfortunately, it’s become a much more common occurrence. If a hammer or a nail gun is all you have to defend yourself, that’s better than nothing — but there are much better options. Home invasions happen every day, and it’s only reasonable to be fully prepared.

S&W Shield EZ


Many of the people I train are relatively new to firearms, and most want to purchase only one firearm for their daily protection. For that to occur, the gun chosen must be concealable, so the home defense gun functions as the same gun that’s carried on a daily basis. There might be better options, but any handgun is definitely more effective than a nail gun.

A great starting point for home defense is the personal firearm you carry every day. It’s something you’re comfortable with: It’s capable, and it’s going to be easy to access. Obviously, we have a myriad of good choices for carry guns, but for some people, many of those choices just won’t work. As an instructor, I often train older citizens who sometimes don’t have the hand strength to operate the slide of a 9mm or the double-action trigger of a revolver. For them, those choices are limited.

With the introduction of the Smith and Wesson Shield EZ, that problem has been addressed. The S&W Shield has established itself as the most popular concealed carry handgun in America, and the first point of home defense comes with your daily carry handgun. While the Shield and other similar guns are great guns, they require more hand strength than some people are able to generate.

The Shield EZ resolves those problems by providing a .380-caliber pistol that’s larger and therefore easier to manipulate than the pocket-sized guns. The lighter caliber and slightly heavier slide allow for a very light recoil spring. The rear of the slide is recessed in the gripping area, providing a better surface and shape for hands weakened by arthritis and time. The trigger has a lighter break and is more tactile in reset. Magazines are easier to load, and the Shield EZ has a passive grip safety, allowing safe carry with or without the optional manually operated safety.

The upshot of this is that Smith & Wesson has finally developed a defensive pistol that can be operated by nearly anyone, allowing people with less hand strength the ability to defend themselves both at home and away from home.

Crimson Trace Laserguard Pro


Whether you like lasers or not, most people fail to consider that 70 percent of defensive situations occur in low light. The ability to see is of particular importance in a nighttime home invasion. The Crimson Trace Laserguard Pro light/laser combination mounts to the lower frame of the gun with a rearward extension that provides a front-mounted activation switch.

Normal gripping of the gun passively activates the laser/light in four different chosen modes: light/laser, laser only, light only and flashing light/laser. Changing modes is accomplished by pressing the activation switch and the selector switch for five seconds. There’s also a bottom-mounted switch to turn the unit off. All controls are accessible when the gun is properly held in a two-hand grip.

Properly set up, the laser isn’t the primary sighting system but rather a backup sighting system in the event of low-light conditions. Lasers should be set up so the shooter can’t see the laser when using a proper sight picture because it’s obscured by the front sight. The point of impact is only slightly higher if low-light conditions require use of the laser.

This way, the shooter trains with the sights, but he or she has the option of using the laser in the event of a low-light defensive situation. Equipped this way, the light, sighting system and handgun are all one unit, and the only thing the defender who’s under the extreme stress of a deadly force event has to manage. The Laserguard Pro is available to fit multiple defensive handguns and is a viable asset in home defense.

Mossberg Shockwave and Remington Tac-14


While I’m not an advocate of the Joe Biden-double-barreled-shotgun-fired-off-the-porch method of home defense, there’s no question shotguns are extremely effective in home defense, and they require less training to be used effectively. At close range, shotguns deliver a deadly and lethal blow. Mossberg’s Shockwave and Remington’s Tac-14 represent the ultimate in shotgun handiness and effective stopping power in a compact and affordable package.

With a total length just over the 26-inch minimum length designated by the 1934 National Firearms Act and a weight of around 5 pounds, they’re effective, handy and easily stored. Capacity of the Tac-14 is 4+1, and it’s 6+1 with the Shockwave. Level of penetration of exterior walls can be controlled by choosing shot size from bird shot to buckshot. These new firearms represent a major step forward in home protection against an active invader.

Gun Box


Taking an active role in defending your home means exposing family members, children and visitors to tools of deadly force, and laws require gun owners’ due diligence in keeping firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have access to them. Whatever method of home defense you choose, you must have the capability to secure it. That method of security must allow you fast access and prevent access from others. Gun Box 2.0 does just that and without making it obvious a firearm is present and at the ready.

Available in five colors and accessible by biometric, cellphone or RFID technology, Gun Box is available in sizes to accommodate shotguns, carbines or handguns, and some models even serve as a Bluetooth speaker system. It’s TSA and FAA approved, has a motion-tamper alarm and an internal light, and it opens automatically when activated. It’s truly the most innovative and user-friendly system I’ve seen. Pricing begins at $149.

NovX 9mm Defensive Ammunition

A major concern in any defensive situation is where the bullet goes if it fails to contact the assailant or if it passes through. While civilian defenders have a better record for collateral damage than sworn law enforcement, the fact is, you’re responsible for every projectile you launch. In home defense, excessive penetration is an extreme liability, and the new NovX 9mm ammunition promises to be both safer and more effective in those situations.

NovX ammunition is a radical departure from conventional ammunition in several ways. The case is unconventional in that it’s partially aluminum and partially stainless-steel to provide corrosion resistance and self-lubricating properties for better feeding. The most drastic departure from convention is the projectile. Made from polycarbonate and copper, bullet weight is much lighter, just 65 grains for the self-defense load. A lighter projectile allows a much higher velocity — 1,655 feet per second.

Another drastic departure is that the bullet is non-expanding and achieves a lethal wound channel by spiral flutes that push tissue away from the wound channel and create more damage than an expanding bullet. While it’s still new and stopping effects haven’t been established, the higher velocity and lighter projectile will certainly reduce recoil and reduce the likelihood of projectiles penetrating walls, making collateral damage less likely. Currently available in 9mm only, a round-nosed practice loading is also available.

All of these are new products in a fast-growing segment of the firearms industry. Home defense is a serious matter and should be approached with serious consideration. Take your specific situation when making choices, and remember that any home defense plan is better than simply allowing yourself to be a helpless victim. Also, take into consideration that there are much better choices than a nail gun.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.