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Dick Jones

20 Questions To Ask When Buying A Vintage Shotgun

While neither a true sidelock nor boxlock, the Syracuse Lefevers were among the most innovative and possibly the most well designed of the classic American doubles. This refurbished G-grade features moderate engraving and utilizes the ball and screw hinge instead of a hinge pin.
While neither a true sidelock nor boxlock, the Syracuse Lefevers were among the most innovative and possibly the most well designed of the classic American doubles. This refurbished G-grade features moderate engraving and utilizes the ball and screw hinge instead of a hinge pin.

There are great deals on vintage shotguns for those willing to shop, but you better ask the right question before putting cold, hard cash on the table.

The best place to shop for a classic shotgun is online. Always search the most recent listings first. If searching auctions, look at the number of bids. There’s some risk since you can’t actually see the gun in most cases, but most sellers have reasonable return policies, and you can see more guns in one evening than you could by attending 20 gun shows.
The main thing is to ask the right questions. I composed this list when I first became interested in doubles. I’ve added to it a couple of times. There is also an explanation of a few of the questions. Hope it helps.

Vintage Shotgun Questions:

  1. Are there cracks or chips in the wood?
  2. Is there evidence of repair to the wood?
  3. Is the level of the wood lower than that of the metal (proud metal)?
  4. Is the checkering clean and in good shape?
  5. Has the checkering been finished over?
  6. Does the gun’s metal appear refinished?
  7. What’s the length of pull to the front trigger? (Length of pull should be about 14 inches to the front trigger)
  8. Is the forearm loose?
  9. What’s the percentage of case color?
  10. Is the engraving sharp?
  11. What’s the percentage of bluing?
  12. Is the lettering on the blued surfaces sharp? (Poor refinishing often affects engraving and lettering.)
  13. Are the screws damaged? (Screws on these guns were timed, and slots should all orient from front to rear.)
  14. Is the lever right of center? (Lever right of center indicates excessive wear.)
  15. Is there movement between the barrel and receiver with the gun closed and the forearm removed?
  16. Is there sideways movement between the barrel and receiver with the gun open?
  17. Does the gun operate properly?
  18. Are the trigger pulls light and crisp?
  19. Do numbers match?
  20. What’s the length of the barrels?
  21. What are the chokes?
  22. Is there any pitting in the barrels?
  23. Are there any dents or bulges?
  24. Is there any metal pitting externally?
  25. Has the gun been personalized with numbers, initials, etc.?

By asking these questions, you can eliminate 95 percent of the surprises that inhibit most folks from buying on the net or making a bad purchase. If you’re buying in person or on the web, use these questions as a checklist to make sure you check everything.

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

Classic Guns: Great American Double-Barrel Shotguns

They might not be as well-known as some European manufacturers, but there were a number of great American double-barrel shotgun makers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These guns remain highly collectible, and many are also fine shooters.

The All-American double shotguns:

Beyond the fact that old double shotguns are the only handmade shotguns you can buy for less than $5,000, there are other rewards to owning old shotguns: Most vintage American double guns were so well made they’ve survived for close to a hundred years without requiring a repair. Knowing the gun you’re shooting has more history than you do also helps enrich the experience. While it’s rewarding to own such a gun, there are things to be considered before buying one.

The Golden Age

During the golden years of American double guns, there were several primary companies making guns. All originated in New York State except Parker, in Connecticut, and early Foxes originating in Philadelphia, but later made in New York. The Golden age of American shotguns lasted only about 40 years, from about 1890 until the Great Depression. Guns were made after that time, but most collectors agree that quality began to decline after the depression. The only quality American double introduced after the Great Depression was the Model 21 Winchester, showing up in the ’30s. While it was a fine gun and equal in quality to the others, the Model 21 really doesn’t fit with these older guns because of the time frame and because it was a lot more expensive.

Shown here are two original-condition lowest-grade 20 gauges. The upper is a Parker Trojan with its distinctive recessed and rounded hinge pin. The lower is a Fox Sterlingworth. The Fox action is simpler and much more compact. Parker came in multiple frame sizes, but Fox had only three.
Shown here are two original-condition lowest-grade 20 gauges. The upper is a Parker Trojan with its distinctive recessed and rounded hinge pin. The lower is a Fox Sterlingworth. The Fox action is simpler and much more compact. Parker came in multiple frame sizes, but Fox had only three.

All the companies during this period offered guns at different price levels with different levels of adornment and options. Generally, graded guns were a custom-order arrangement with the buyer specifying barrel length, choke and stock configuration, and almost any other option desired. The top grades represented the highest levels of the gun maker’s art and rivaled the finest English shotguns. The lowest grades were affordable to the average working man, though still a considerable investment for the time. All these makers had a field grade level of gun that came in a basic stock configuration with little adornment and different barrel lengths, as well as gauge and choke choices.

Double Gun Considerations

Early guns often had Damascus barrels, and most who plan to use their doubles extensively avoid them. Damascus barrels can be used with low-pressure loads but should be checked for pits, dents and bulges by a competent gunsmith before use. In fact, it’s a good idea to get any gun from this era checked out before shooting it. In quality guns, I don’t worry about Damascus. At the time most of these guns were made, high-quality Damascus barrels cost more than fluid steel barrels.

Guns built in this era had chambers shorter than 2¾ inches. In spite of this, most aficionados of old doubles agree they have no trouble digesting modern ammunition as long as you stay away from high-pressure loads. RST makes 2½-inch shells in case you worry about chamber length, as well as lower-pressure shells for those who worry about 100-year-old wood and metal. Shooting heavy loads in these older guns isn’t a good idea, even for the ones with fluid steel barrels or longer chambers. Metallurgy at the turn of the century wasn’t what it is today, and 100-year-old wood shouldn’t be subjected to the stresses of heavy recoil.

Totally functional while being remarkably beautiful, a fully restored G-grade Lefever and a 1910 Fox Sterlingworth pin gun. Called a pin gun because the earliest Sterlingworths used the same recessed and rounded hinge pins that made Parker guns so identifiable. Only a few thousand of the early Sterlingworths had this feature.
Totally functional while being remarkably beautiful, a fully restored G-grade Lefever and a 1910 Fox Sterlingworth pin gun. Called a pin gun because the earliest Sterlingworths used the same recessed and rounded hinge pins that made Parker guns so identifiable. Only a few thousand of the early Sterlingworths had this feature.

While these guns work well in the field, it should be remembered these older designs didn’t have inertial firing pins or intercepting sears. This makes them a bit less safe than modern guns, so special care should be taken to keep them pointed in a safe direction when they’re closed. On upland birds, I generally hunt with the gun open and only close it when the dog has pointed. Most of these guns had double triggers. Single triggers were available on most models, but the mechanisms were quite complicated, prone to trouble and expensive to repair. Ejectors are an option that adds value, and most systems were reliable, but problems with ejectors can be expensive to rectify.

The American classic shotguns were available both as boxlocks and sidelocks. Boxlocks tend to be stronger and simpler, and most agree sidelocks have a more graceful appearance. Though sidelocks are currently much more expensive to make, they were competitively priced during the classic double gun period because all guns were basically handmade anyway. Today, quality 12-gauge field grade guns from all the American makers during this era can be found and purchased for less than $1,000. Smaller gauges progressively cost more, with 20-gauge guns generally bringing at least twice the price of a 12 gauge. Sixteen-gauge guns generally fall somewhere in between. Guns chambered for .410 and 28 gauge bring a premium.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

Parker Guns

Parkers bring the most money of the American classics and are often considered the best of the American classics. Internally, they were more complicated than some other brands, but they were so well made they rarely have mechanical problems. Parkers come in several different frame sizes for different purposes, allowing for light and handy 12-gauge bird guns and substantial 12 gauges for waterfowl hunting. Parker offered more choices of grade and frame size with twelve frame sizes and ten grades, A1 being the highest and “V” being the lowest grade, with a field-grade gun called a Trojan.

A.H. Fox Guns

Foxes are probably next in the lineup, and I believe they were a better design, though I’m sure this will raise the ire of Parker owners. The Fox design was simple with less moving parts and coil springs. The receiver was also much smaller, with a Fox 12-gauge frame smaller than the frame of a 20-gauge Parker. Fox guns were direct competitors, and a Parker sold for about the same price when new. Fox guns were available in only three frame sizes, but there were four different barrel weights. The 12-gauge guns came in two frame sizes, the larger intended specifically for waterfowling. The same frame was used for both 16- and 20-gauge guns. Fox grades begin with A -grade and end with F-grade. The field grade was designated as the Sterlingworth.

What makes these guns so interesting is the amazing level of detail, even on lower-grade models. This G-grade Lefever has intricate hand-cut engraving bordering the fences and top lever. The beautiful case coloring was part of the hardening process and wasn’t just cosmetic.
What makes these guns so interesting is the amazing level of detail, even on lower-grade models. This G-grade Lefever has intricate hand-cut engraving bordering the fences and top lever. The beautiful case coloring was part of the hardening process and wasn’t just cosmetic.

Lefever Guns

Neither a sidelock nor a boxlock, another truly fine American shotgun was the Syracuse Lefever. The Syracuse Lefever is not to be confused with the Lefever Nitro, a cheaper version of an Ithaca made after Ithaca bought out Lefever. The original Lefevers were both well made and innovative of design, and many consider them the pinnacle of American shotguns. They use a unique and innovative hinge system that’s never been replicated, and I believe it was a superior design to anything made since. Instead of a pin on a half circle, the Lefever hinged on a ball and socket and the ball could be adjusted for wear. Extremely well made and graceful in design, they’re currently appreciating in price faster than any other maker. The AA grade was highest, with the G-grade lowest and a field grade designated the DS for Durston Special.

L.C. Smith Guns

L. C. Smith shotguns were true sidelocks. L. C. Smiths are graceful, slender and pleasing to the eye, but the sidelock design compromised the strength of the stock, and many of them have cracked or repaired stocks. They were available in eight grades and in gauges from 10 to .410. While other makers designated their grades using letters, L. C. Smith guns used names from Field to Deluxe, with only 30 Deluxe guns being built. In higher grades, the side plates allowed more room for engraving, and they have a strong following.

Ithaca Gun Company Guns

Similar to the L. C. Smith in value and quality was the Ithaca. There were more different designs of Ithaca guns than any other American classic, including both hammer and hammerless models. The most recent design was the NID or New Ithaca Double. Earlier versions are not as strong as those of the other manufacturers, and, while they can still be used, they shouldn’t be used with modern high-pressure ammunition on a regular basis.

Baker Guns

Less known than the other brands, the Baker isn’t as well thought of as the other makers, but they were fine guns. Bakers were also sidelock guns, and they sold for a little less than the other brands, but they were very well finished both inside and out.

While neither a true sidelock nor boxlock, the Syracuse Lefevers were among the most innovative and possibly the most well designed of the classic American doubles. This refurbished G-grade features moderate engraving and utilizes the ball and screw hinge instead of a hinge pin.
While neither a true sidelock nor boxlock, the Syracuse Lefevers were among the most innovative and possibly the most well designed of the classic American doubles. This refurbished G-grade features moderate engraving and utilizes the ball and screw hinge instead of a hinge pin.

Parting Shots

Owning old guns like these admittedly isn’t for everyone. They aren’t as versatile as modern guns, they don’t have the same safety features, and they’re limited in ammunition options. They are truly handmade guns, though, and if you do your homework before buying, they are almost certain to escalate in value over time. There’s also an element of pride in their ownership. Every time I take one of my old doubles afield, someone comments on how beautiful it is. The history of these guns captures the imagination.

My favorite gun is a 1917 Fox Sterlingworth in 16-gauge. It has a slim and delicate grip, balances like something alive, and weighs just 6 pounds. I’ve hunted with it all over the country and have taken everything from pheasants and ducks to bobwhite and Gambel’s quail. It’s been restocked with beautiful figured American walnut and functions just like it did 100 years ago when it left the factory in Philadelphia.

Even the field grades of these wonderful old guns were made with real hand craftsmanship, at the hands of men who truly cared about what they produced. They can be used as they are, with the patina of their long years of service, or restored to look like they just came from the factory. Either way, they’re firearms that are a joy to own and be proud of. I often wonder who will be the next owners of my favorite little Sterlingworth after I’m gone. I hope they enjoy this fine old gun as much as I have.

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

7 Hot New Handguns For Everyday Carry

The evolution of the concealed carry gun continues. These are some of the hottest new CCW handguns for 2018.

What are the hot new handguns this year for everyday carry?

The biggest segment of the firearms market is that of concealed carry handguns. In recent years, the number of ordinary citizens who carry a handgun as everyday practice has expanded almost exponentially. Not only are more people carrying, but people who never previously considered firearms ownership are now committed concealed carry citizens.

The result of this paradigm swing is a booming market for effective concealable guns, and the industry has done an admirable job of filling that niche. At one time the choices for concealable handguns were small revolvers, pocket-sized .25s and somewhat antiquated .380s. Now we have reliable 9mm semi-autos that weigh only a few ounces more than those diminutive, awkward and underpowered .25s.

It’s a fact that in today’s market, it’s harder to find a bad handgun than a good one. Polymer frames, modern manufacturing techniques and an industry that pays attention to the market have allowed lots of good choices to those who’ve decided to take an active part in the defense of themselves and those they love. We now have so many excellent designs that the current effort is to improve and refine those excellent designs.

S&W M&P Shield M2.0

Clearly the most popular concealed carry handgun in America by sales is the Smith and Wesson Shield. It’s affordable, reliable, compact and chambered for the most popular self-defense calibers. It’s offered both with and without a manual safety to accommodate both schools of thought. As an overwhelming success, it’s no wonder Smith and Wesson has upgraded it with the same 2.0 features as the double-stacked M&P series.

I don’t subscribe to the mindset that defensive handguns should have light and crisp triggers, but it’s important that the trigger be both safe and manageable. The common complaint with the earlier Shield was a less-than-precise trigger with an indistinct reset. The 2.0 series has rectified the issue of trigger reset. It’s now much more positive and tactile with the added bonus of a crisper and more defined break. Add the much improved grip surfaces and already excellent sights and you have a defensive handgun that fits almost every need. With two magazines, MSRP is $479 and $649 with the Crimson Trace Laserguard Pro laser/light option.

Springfield Armory XDs Mod.2 .45

Since its inception, the Springfield Armory XD series of pistols built in Croatia has had a very strong following. The single-stack compact XDs series has found favor with concealed carry citizens because it’s easy to conceal and easy to shoot well. I particularly like the grip safety. There’s a massive difference of opinion on whether defensive guns should have manual or passive safeties, and the passive grip safety on the XD series is almost unique in polymer striker-fired pistols.

The new XDs Mod.2 extends the line, incorporating the refinements of the Mod.2 series with the power and penetration of the revered .45 ACP round. The undercut trigger guard and improved grip shape allow the shooter to grip higher, meaning better recoil control, and that’s augmented with the upgraded Grip Zone grip texturing.

The sights have been improved as well with the addition of a tritium front sight and a serrated U-notch rear sight that allows for using the front of the rear sight to rack the slide against a solid object. The trigger is also enhanced for a shorter reset. It comes with two magazines, one flush-fit five-round mag for concealability and a six-round backup magazine. The overall weight is 21.5 ounces with the flush magazine, and MSRP is $593.

Bond Arms Bullpup 9

Certainly, the most innovative new concealed carry handgun, and probably the most unconventional handgun in several years, is the Bond Arms Bullpup 9. It’s based on the Boberg XR9-S, an innovative but somewhat expensive and problematic pistol developed in 2003. In function, the Bullpup 9 is a remarkable departure from conventional semi-automatic pistols in that the magazine feeds from the rear instead of the front. The system uses a rotary barrel lockup with the barrel rotating on a cam similar to that of an AR-15 rifle bolt inside the bolt carrier.

The pistol feeds from a magazine located below the chamber in the barrel, with the round coming from the magazine much like a tubular fed firearm. Instead of the magazine spring pushing the round backward, there are a pair of tongs similar to a conventional extractor that strip the magazine rearward, and a lifter then positions it for the slide to carry the round into the chamber as the recoil spring brings it back into battery.

The obvious advantage of this is the short overall length in relation to barrel length. For example, a 3.3-inch barreled Springfield Armory XDs has an overall length of 6.3 inches and the Bullpup 9, with a barrel length of 3.35 inches has an overall length of just 5.1 inches. Another advantage of the Bullpup 9 is an extremely light operating spring. As the slide pulls the round rearward out of the magazine, it creates resistance to the slide’s travel. This additional resistance to the slide allows the use of a much lighter spring than would be normal for the weight of the slide in a 9mm pistol. The result is a slide that’s remarkably easy to cycle, which is an important issue for users with lower hand strength.

With a weight of less than 19 ounces and a thin profile, the Bullpup 9 is an attractive option for concealed carry. The trigger system is double-action-only, providing second-strike capability. Sights are dovetailed three-dot; grips are engraved laminated rosewood. It comes with two magazines and has an MSRP of $977.

Springfield Armory .380 911

One of the most respected and successful handgun designs has been the 1911. In recent years there have been miniaturized versions of the 1911 design, and they’ve found favor with concealed carry citizens. Springfield Armory now has its own version of a reduced 1911 in .380 ACP. The 911 uses a T6 aluminum frame with a Black Nitride or stainless 416 slide. Grips are G10 with texturing on the front strap and mainspring housing.

The ambidextrous safety differs from the 1911 design in that it allows racking the slide to charge the chamber while the safety is engaged. The single-action trigger combined with a G10 Hogue trigger shoe allows a light and crisp trigger break. Sights are a green tritium front sight inside a yellow luminescent circle and a tactical rack rear sight with green tritium inside of white luminescent circles. It comes with a six-round flush magazine and an extended seven-round magazine for backup. MSRP is $599 for the standard version and $789 with an integrated green Viridian grip laser.

Ruger EC9s

While all the above have been performance enhancements to existing models, Ruger’s EC9s is an economical enhancement. The Ruger LC9 went through an upgrade in 2011 with the introduction of the LC9s, an enhanced version that featured a striker-fired instead of a hammer-fired action and had a much better trigger. The LC9s has eclipsed the earlier version, and it’s been dropped from the catalog. While the standard LC9s has an MSRP of $449, the EC9s has an MSRP of $299.

Primarily, besides the price, the difference between the EC9s and the LC9s is the sights. In the original version, the sights were dovetailed into the slide and the EC9s has sights that are integral to the slide. Currently, the Ruger website no longer shows the standard LC9s but lists a collection of standard guns with different color schemes specific to different distributors.

S&W M&P9 M2.0

Smith and Wesson’s M&P line has been extremely successful and the 2.0 upgrade makes the series even better. Recently, the company introduced the M2.0 Compact, bringing functional, much-needed upgrades to an already excellent firearm. Depending on your carry method, the M&P9 might be a bit large for daily concealability, but it’s certainly a viable option if it fits your lifestyle.

The improvements in the M2.0 series corrected issues that kept a good pistol from being an exceptional pistol. The ability to properly grip a pistol increases both first-shot effectiveness and speed in delivering fast follow-up shots, and the new aggressive texturing on the grip is a vast improvement. Competitive shooters who use the M&P pistols universally modify their guns to make them easier to grip by stippling or adding aggressive panels. The new grip surface negates that need. The other complaint with the M&P line has been in the trigger reset, and that’s also been corrected with the bonus of a lighter pull weight and crisper break. Four interchangeable inserts make it possible to fit any hand. MSRP is $569.

Sig Sauer P365

There’s a hot market for concealable 9mm pistols, and recently there have been two schools of thought: One school of thought is that a slim and lightweight gun is a better choice because of comfort and concealability; the other places more importance on magazine capacity. Both camps have reasonable reasons for their preference, but both will agree the other’s position is realistic.

Just revealed at SHOT Show is the Sig P365, a gun that reasonably will accommodate both groups. With a slight trade-off in width, the P365 provides 10-shot capacity with a 1.06-inch width and a weight of just 17.8 ounces. Described by Sig as a Micro Compact, it’s a polymer-framed, striker-fired gun that easily fits into the standard for small 9mm pistols. It has a stainless-steel, Nitron-finished slide and barrel and three-dot Tritium sights. Grips are interchangeable for better purchase and upgradable for a laser.

The trick is in a magazine that’s tapered, wider at the bottom and tapering off to a single-stack magazine width. Magazines are available flush and with an extended floor plate to provide a full grip. It also comes with a 12-round magazine for backup. MSRP is in line with other compact nines at $599.

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

Gun Review: Shooting The Moon With The Smith & Wesson 929

SW Model 929 -7

The Smith & Wesson 929 is a high-quality, moon-clip-fed 9mm revolver that’s ready for anything.

What to know about the Smith & Wesson Model 929:

  • The Model 929 is based on Smith & Wesson's N-Frame revolver.
  • Because of its larger frame, it holds eight rounds of 9mm.
  • Being a Performance Center gun, the 929 has a slick trigger and a compensator.
  • For what you get, the 929 has a pretty respectable MSRP of $1,189.

Before the .50 BMG, before the .30-06, before the .45 ACP — and before dozens of popular modern calibers — there was the 9mm Luger round. Also referred to as 9mm Parabellum, 9mm NATO and 9x19mm, it was developed in 1902 by Georg Luger for what eventually became the German P-08 pistol, commonly called the Luger. The 9mm Luger round might have been around for a long time, but it’s more popular in spades than any pistol caliber introduced since.

For commercial consumption, 9mm Luger is the most popular centerfire caliber … and for good reason. It’s the most economical centerfire caliber to shoot, sometimes getting remarkably close in price to .22 Long Rifle. It’s a great round for training because recoil is manageable for new shooters. It’s powerful enough for personal defense thanks to modern developments in bullet construction, and finally, it allows about 30 percent more magazine capacity than other popular defensive calibers.

Devising A 9mm Revolver

So, if the 9mm Luger is such a great round, why have 9mm revolvers only been available recently? The answer is extraction. The cartridges originally designed for revolvers all achieved their headspace on the rim, and that rim served double duty, also allowing easy extraction in revolvers. Rimmed cartridges create problems in magazines so, like most cartridges designed for semi-automatic pistols, the 9mm Luger normally headspaces on the case mouth.

There’s no problem making a revolver fire a rimless case; the problem comes when you extract the fired case. Of course, single-action revolvers use a different extraction system that doesn’t use the cartridge rim, allowing Ruger to make a Blackhawk .357/9mm convertible revolver several decades back.

The original solution for rimless cartridges in double-action guns came when the U.S. Military wanted to use .45 ACP ammunition in the large-frame revolvers made by Colt and Smith and Wesson. The solution was the moon clip. The original moon clips held three .45 ACP cartridges and were crescent shaped, hence the name. Two moon clips would fill the cylinder of a M1917 revolver and allow extraction of the rimless .45 ACP round. To allow revolver use without moon clips, the .45 Auto Rim cartridge was created.

It took almost a century for someone to adapt the same solution to the 9mm Luger. In 1993, Smith and Wesson introduced a J-frame revolver chambered for 9mm using full moon clips. Instead of being crescent shaped and holding half a cylinder load, full moon clips are circular and hold a full cylinder load. Consensus is that the company dropped the model in 1993 because of poor sales. Taurus brought out a moon clip-equipped 9mm revolver in 2012, and in 2014 Ruger introduced its popular LCR in 9mm using a five-shot full moon clip system.

SW-Model-929-1S&W’s 929 Wheeled ‘Nine’

In 2014, Smith and Wesson introduced the first competition-capable moon clip pistol, the Model 929 and 986 Performance Center revolvers. The 986 is based on the smaller L-frame and is a seven-shot revolver. The 929 reviewed here is on the larger N frame and is an eight-shot gun. The cylinder is titanium, and the rest of the gun is matte finish stainless steel. For better contrast, both the pinned-in, Patridge front and adjustable rear sight are black.

The 929 is a Performance Center competition revolver and is adorned with Jerry Miculek’s signature on the right side plate. When I received the test gun, I looked up my photos from the 2012 Bianchi Cup and sure enough, the gun I got looks remarkably like Jerry’s competition gun in my wife’s hands. The differences I could see were that Jerry swapped the Patridge front sight for a red ramp front, bobbed the hammer, and used an un-fluted cylinder.

Barrel length of the 929 is 6.5 inches with a full-length under-barrel ejector shroud that tapers and is slightly reminiscent in appearance of the Remington percussion revolvers of the past. The gun comes out of the box with a compensator, but the box contains a muzzle cap that interchanges with a single Allen screw. There’s a larger-than-standard hammer surface, and the trigger has an overtravel adjustment screw.

As a Performance Center gun, the double-action trigger pull is predictably smooth and relatively light. The single-action pull was also clean and crisp, but as a competition gun, almost no one will use single action. The grip is a black synthetic one-piece unit with finger grooves.

SW-Model-929-8The True Test

Because this is a competition gun, I decided to shoot a match with it. I’m perfectly willing to try almost any kind of match, but I hold no illusions I’m going to win the match. For shooting the match, I chose the Blade-Tech OWB holster my wife had used a few years back when she shot the Bianchi Cup with a Smith and Wesson R8. To make the holster work better with the long barrel, I did a bit of surgery, cutting the front of the holster down and opening up the sight track. The finished product still works fine with the R8 but allows a faster draw with the longer-barreled 929.

I chose the local plate match at Piedmont Handgunners Association and used the excellent Zero Bullet 124-grain load. Because I rarely shoot plate matches, I suppose a bit more practice would have been a good idea, but I managed a respectable 79 of a possible score of 96. Hardly an exciting score, but I was far enough from last place to keep my head up as I packed up my gear. The Bianchi plate match consists of targets at 10, 15, 20 and 25 yards with a time limit of six seconds at the 10-yard line and increasing by one second every 5 yards.

It was easy to clean the plates at 10 yards, and most of my misses came at 20 and 25 yards. The trigger was certainly smooth enough and the sights were easy to see, the black sights contrasting well on the white-painted plates. I removed the muzzle brake before the match, but I was still pleased with the level of recoil. I had little trouble recovering the sights in the time limit. Even though the sights are nice and black, I used the old NRA High Power trick of smoke blacking them before each 48-plate stage.

There are eight reloads required in the 48-shot match, and I acquired some moon clips and a moon clip loader from TK Custom. Loading the moon clips is easy with the TK Custom tool; unloading is a bit more difficult. I carried my loaded clips in a fanny pack for the match, but there are special carriers available from North Mountain that will carry eight loaded clips with ease. The carrier rides in front of the shooter and the clips ride on posts that retain them.

SW-Model-929-2Dissecting The Details

Of course, no matter how suitable a gun is for use when just looking at it, the real proof is in the shooting, and I really enjoyed the 929. I began by accuracy testing it at 25 yards off sandbags and quickly learned the limitation for group size was directly related to my ability to see the sights. Clearly, this gun/ammunition combination was capable of greater accuracy than I was capable of. Because this is a double-action revolver intended for double-action use only, I felt a better test would be to shoot it standing and unsupported in double action on paper targets.

I fired eight shot strings at 15 yards on a B34G half-scale target with my IPSC Shot Timer app set at 9 seconds. The par time chosen approximates the same split as would be the 7 seconds for six shots on a standard falling plate rack. With an empty weight of just over 44 ounces and a generous grip, recoil from the 929 with target ammunition was minimal. In fact, it felt like I was shooting something between a .38 Special and a .22 rimfire. I suppose I’m so used to guns intended for carry that guns meant for precise shooting feel light.

SW Model 929 -4True to form, the trigger pull caused me no trouble at all, and while some might think this a little strange, many shooters find they shoot more accurately at moderate speeds with a double-action revolver. I suspect this is because pulling a long, light trigger forces a surprise break, and for most shooters better accuracy with a handgun comes when we don’t quite expect the shot.

Drawing the 6 ½-inch barreled 929 from the modified Blade-Tech OWB holster was as easy as if I was drawing a 4-inch revolver because of the surgery performed. Results were excellent, with most of my shots staying in the ten ring with an occasional nine.

SW Model 929 -5Wanting Just A Bit More

Of course, all guns used for competition get tweaked, and I did find a couple of areas for improvement. My first complaint was more related to personal preference than general acceptance: I didn’t like the one-piece synthetic grips supplied on the 929 because they felt too narrow, and I’ve never been a fan of finger grooves. I like my hand higher on the gun than the finger grooves want them to be. Maybe it’s because I’m eligible for a monthly Social Security check, but I prefer the old standard wooden target S&W grips or the Pachmayr Presentation square-butt grips.

My second complaint related to reloading. In events like the Bianchi, where the 929 should shine, the reload isn’t done under time. Each stage has a par time, and the reload occurs between strings. For matches where the shooter reloads during shooting time, the as-delivered 929 would have been problematic because the loaded moon clips needed a bit of jiggling to get them to drop in.

This is an easy fix for a reasonably competent owner. After removing a screw and taking the cylinder off, a Dremel tool with the appropriate grinding spindle will allow putting a slight chamfer on each chamber. I watched a friend do this to his 929 and 986, and it isn’t hard, but on a Performance Center gun, Smith and Wesson should have taken care of this issue before the gun left the factory.

SW Model 929 -6The Bottom Line

In summary, this is a competition-ready revolver that’s capable of winning revolver or production class at a local plate, or Bianchi style match, straight out of the box with good ammunition. Almost all competitors will tweak it a bit, but it’s very good as it comes. With an MSRP of $1,189, you couldn’t modify another revolver to be as good for that money, and it has the bonus of shooting an economical caliber with lots of load options.

No wonder Jerry didn’t let his own version out of his sight.

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

10 Great New .22 Rimfire Guns To Satisfy Any Shooter

From handguns to long guns, and from ARs to lever-actions, manufacturers have recently introduced a number of great new rimfire guns sure to satisfy any shooter.

What's hot when it comes to rimfire .22s:

I’ve never asked any successful shooters — of any discipline — how often they shoot a .22 LR without getting some form of overwhelming praise for the lowly “little” .22 LR cartridge. Developed in the late 1800s, the popular .22 LR is chambered in everything from low-priced utilitarian guns to precision target rifles and pistols costing several thousand dollars. It’s been used in Olympic shooting competition since 1924, and almost everyone who shoots has a portfolio of fond memories of shooting a .22 LR.

One of the most important attributes of the .22 LR is its utility as a training vehicle. Low cost, low noise and mute recoil make learning to shoot with a .22 LR fun and without intimidation. The utility is enhanced when the training firearm looks, feels and operates like the full-sized firearm that will eventually be a part of the program. In recent years, we’ve been blessed with all kinds of useful .22s, and I have my doubts this trend will slow anytime soon.

Ruger LCRx 3-Inch .22 Revolver

One of the first handguns I ever owned was a Smith and Wesson Model 34 Kit Gun. Released in 1953, the Kit Gun was a small-framed rimfire designed for carry any time adventure called, hence the name, “kit gun.” It was small, lightweight and available with a 2- or 4-inch barrel and adjustable sights, and Smith and Wesson recently put the Kit Gun back into the line as the eight-shot 317.

Ruger has now introduced its version of a personal adventure companion revolver in the form of the LCRx 3-inch in .22 LR. I was excited when I shot the LCRx 3-inch .38 Special a few years ago, and at that time I asked Ruger to do it in .22 LR. Apparently, I have more swing with the folks at Ruger than I thought, because it’s here.

While the Kit Gun it mimics had classic lines, the LCRx 3-inch is modern with a polymer/alloy frame and stainless-steel cylinder and barrel. The Hogue Tamer grip is comfortable and offers a pleasant grip in any weather condition. The rear sight is adjustable, as it should be, with a pinned ramp front sight. Capacity is eight rounds and the weight, at just over 17 ounces, is light enough to be unnoticeable on your hip or in your kit bag. MSRP is a reasonable $579.

Henry Frontier Long Barrel 24”

Henry has been a smashing success in the modern firearms world. Beginning in 1996 with a couple of lever-action .22s reminiscent of the Winchester Model 92s I admired as a kid watching countless black and white westerns, the line expanded into centerfires and now includes a replica of the original Henry lever action that inspired the Winchester 66. The company has now grown into one of the most popular firearms companies in the United States … and for good reason.

In a world of high-tech tactical replica rimfires, the Henry Frontier 24” represents a simple and solid rimfire version of the kind of gun that truly won the West, and a lot of the Midwest to boot. The octagonal 24-inch barrel is slim and adorned with a post front sight and an adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight. The black finish and satin-finished American walnut stock are unpretentious, but blend perfectly with the classic Model 92 lines. MSRP is $470.

Smith & Wesson.22 Compact Tungsten Gray Cerakote

Since its introduction, the S&W .22 compact M&P has been one of my favorite training pistols for concealed carry. The common controls, size and weight are similar to centerfire, polymer, striker-fired defensive pistols, and the low recoil, noise and low cost of rimfire ammunition means new shooters can learn fundamentals without the stress and noise of a centerfire. Simply put, the M&P rimfires are pleasant for any new shooter to learn with, regardless of past experience.

The three-dot sight system is adjustable at the rear for both windage and elevation. I equipped one with a Crimson Trace rail laser in green for diagnosing problems with new shooters. The new Tungsten Gray Cerakote finish on the frame gives them a serious big gun look, and the manual safety allows training new shooters who will be using either manual safety guns or standard striker-fired guns without manual safeties. Best of all, they’re fun for anyone to shoot, and with an MSRP of $409 for the Tungsten Gray Cerakote version and $389 for the standard, they’re affordable as well.

Ruger 10/22 Target Lite

Ruger’s 10/22 has been a world changer since its inception. It’s reliable, reasonably accurate and the popularity it’s generated has created an entire industry of accessories and aftermarket parts. With the 10/22 Target Lite, Ruger has built many of the most popular aftermarket options into a complete gun.

It comes with a lightened black laminate thumbhole stock and the new BX trigger system that finally puts a light and crisp trigger under the index finger of the 10/22 fan right out of the box. The tensioned, cold hammer-forged barrel resides in an aluminum alloy barrel sleeve and ends with a ½-28 threaded muzzle cap that facilitates fitting a suppressor.

The weight of the 10/22 Target Lite is just 5 pounds, and the combination scope base adapter allows the mounting of either Weaver style rings or standard .22 tip-off mounts. The combination of its reduced weight, a good trigger and a stable and comfortable stock that’s adjustable for length of pull makes the 10/22 Target Lite a great candidate for the popular Rimfire Steel Challenge matches right out of the box. The MSRP is very reasonable for a gun that comes from the factory already tricked out, at $649.


With the AR-15 being the most popular firearm system of all time, it’s inevitable that there will be .22 rimfire clones. Most of those clones look and feel like a full-sized AR, but few operate on the same manual of arms, and none offer the level of customization of the AR firearm system. Many of the clones allow using AR triggers and furniture, but up until now, no one has offered the ability of choosing other barrel options. The KRISS DMK offers a locking bolt, 4140 chrome molly barrel, functioning forward assist, a full-sized dust cover and forged aluminum receivers — but the most innovative feature is a patent-pending interchangeable barrel adapter.

The system allows use of any aftermarket 10/22 barrel, opening up a myriad of choices to the shooter who wants to create the ultimate rimfire AR. It uses popular .22 AR magazines and comes well equipped with a floating handguard, six-position stock, a full-length top rail and flip-up sights. Based on the fact that it’s the only clone that operationally works just like a full-sized AR, including forward assist, it’s impressive, but adding the capability to upgrade barrels in almost any configuration makes it remarkable. MSRP is reasonable at $799.

Savage B22 FV-SR

Savage has taken the world by storm with its much-copied AccuTrigger system, which allows an extremely light and crisp trigger pull without fear of accidental discharge. This is accomplished by putting a blade that serves as an inner trigger within the main trigger. If the sear is jarred out of engagement, the inner trigger catches the sear before it can discharge the rifle. When shooting the AccuTrigger, the blade is disengaged with the shooter’s finger before engagement of the primary trigger begins. The end result is a trigger that can be adjusted to be remarkably light, while still remaining totally safe.

The addition of the AccuTrigger to a heavy, short barrel and a stock designed for precision creates an economical yet surprisingly accurate rimfire rifle. The FV-SR sports a stock that promotes accuracy with a vertical pistol grip and high comb for good head position with a scope. It comes with a forward bridge mount for an optic and a rigid 16.25-inch barrel that’s threaded for a suppressor. It uses a 10-shot rotary magazine and weighs 6 pounds. Based on Savage’s reputation for accurate and economical rifles, the FV-SR promises to be a serious performer with an MSRP of just $344.

Ruger Mark IV 22/45 Tactical

Ruger’s Mark series of .22 rimfire pistols has been the standard of rimfire pistols since the ’50s. The new Mark IV series was the most drastic design change since the introduction in 1949. The Mark IV series disassembles with the press of a button on the rear of the frame, making the pistols much easier to maintain than previous models. The 22/45 models, introduced in 2004, utilize the more familiar grip angle of the 1911 pistols and locates the controls in much more familiar locations for those more used to modern pistols.

The Mark IV 22/45 Tactical comes with a threaded muzzle, an adjustable rear sight and a Picatinny rail on the frame for mounting optics. Weight is just over 33 ounces, making the Tactical Mk IV perfect as a training pistol with accuracy, reliability and familiar controls. To add further appeal, the MSRP is only $529.

Keystone Sporting Arms 722 ‘PT’

While the .22 rimfire cartridge has utility for hunting and pest control, its greatest utility is training. Most .22 LR ammunition is low in cost, noise and recoil, making it the perfect round for training both new and experienced shooters. Keystone is known for its Cricket and Chipmunk rifles, sized and designed as the first gun of young shooters, but the Cricket line also includes some adult-sized rifles as well.

The manufacturer’s most recent offering is the 722 “PT”, a compact rimfire trainer for the aspiring long-range shooter in a chassis stock with guaranteed accuracy of one MOA. It features a seven-round magazine, an AB Arms Mod X aluminum chassis stock, a target chamber and an adjustable length of pull. With a weight of 6.3 pounds, it comes optics ready with a threaded 20-inch barrel and has an MSRP of $599.96.


Currently, there are multiple .22 rimfire clones of the M16/AR-15. I’ve shot most of them, but the one both my grandsons trained on is the DPMS .22 upper I’ve had for several years. My grandson, Phoenix, learned to shoot with that original upper, and his rimfire training with it translated into him winning a Junior National Championship in his first match, the now discontinued National Defense Match. It was also the first time he fired a centerfire AR-15.

Originally marketed as an upper only, the RFA2 is a complete rifle offered in either M4 clone configuration or as a 16-inch bull-barreled version with a floating forend tube. Both versions use aluminum upper and lower receivers, and almost any AR option you can imagine fits and works. The only exceptions are magazine, barrel and interior parts. Any AR trigger will drop right in. The end result is a training firearm that looks and feels just like the original, but offers low-cost, low-impact shooting with an MSRP of $1,029.

Ruger Precision Rimfire

One of the fastest growing shooting sports is precision rimfire shooting with .22 rimfire rifles, shooting targets at distances of up to 200 yards. Ruger isn’t about to miss the boat on this and has introduced the new Ruger Precision Rimfire rifle to meet the demand. A scaled down version of the centerfire Precision Rifle, it uses a glass-filled nylon chassis-style stock that’s quickly adjustable for both length of pull and cheekpiece height using a single cam lever. The ventilated 15-inch M-LOK forearm tube extends almost all the way out to the end of the hammer forged and threaded 18-inch barrel.

Designed as both a competitive rifle and a trainer, it features an extended 3-inch bolt throw to replicate shooting a centerfire, or you can set it for a standard 1.5-inch bolt throw. The 30-minute elevation scope rail allows getting a zero for really long shots; there’s even an attachment point for your squeeze bag. With a weight of 6.8 pounds, it has an MSRP of $529.

The list above dictates the overwhelming love the shooting public still has for the .22 LR. From handguns to long guns, and from ARs to lever-actions, the diversity of firearms currently being chambered for this mini yet mighty cartridge is immense — so much so that a little bit of research should find you the exact .22 LR to suit your needs and wants.

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

Gun Review: Nighthawk Custom T4 1911

Nighthawk Custom’s T4 is an elegant work of art, but it’s also a fine pistol that serves equally well in defense of life.

Why the Nighthawk Custom T4 is a serious consideration for defense:

  • Nighthawk's “One Gun, One Gunsmith” approach ensures the highest quality production.
  • It features a shorter 3.8-inch match grade barrel.
  • This allows the gun to be concealed but remain highly shootable.
  • The entire gun is beveled and dehorned for comfortable carry.
  • The Tritium night sights are highly useful in low light, when most shootings occur.

The beginning of the 20th century was a classic age for shotguns. High-quality shotguns were being made here in the United States and around the world. Most guns sold were standard-grade guns, perfectly serviceable for hunting and recreational shooting, but during that time — and continuing on through modern times — there has been a demand for high-quality ”bespoke” guns. That desire for firearms that are a cut above the norm continues today in shotguns, rifles and pistols.

I’ve said many times that it’s harder today to buy a bad gun than a good one. Modern manufacturing techniques, the open information stream of the internet and a more educated gun buying public have stifled the sales of inferior, poor-quality guns, and such firearms simply don’t survive.

NIghthawk Custom T4 -1Of course, the computer-designed and machine-formed guns widely available perform reasonably well. They function reliably, they’re reasonably accurate, and they produce the same terminal ballistics as their handmade and much more costly counterparts, but they lack the feeling of being truly crafted by the hands of a true gunmaker.

On a practical basis, there’s no practical reason to spend several thousand dollars for a handgun, but there are several companies across the country who are doing a thriving business building them simply because there’s a demand for a firearm that’s a cut above the norm.

NIghthawk Custom T4 -4A Cut Above
Such are the 1911s built by Nighthawk Custom. According to Tim Lehr, Director of Marketing, “It all revolves around one gun, one gunsmith. Every Nighthawk Custom pistol is stamped with the initials of the gunsmith who builds it.” Forged frames and slides, machined parts, match-grade barrels and bushings, all hand-fitted by a master gunsmith, create a gun that’s not only functional and accurate beyond the capability of the best shooter, but also an heirloom that can be proudly handed down for generations.

Nighthawk’s T4 is such a gun. Designed for concealed carry with a 3.8-inch match-grade bull barrel for more reliability than the shorter-barreled T3, the T4 also features the Everlast flat spring recoil system for more manageable recoil and faster follow-up shots. It’s built on a forged Officer-sized frame, making it more compact — but still maintaining a seven-plus-one capacity in .45 ACP. Other features include a thinned frame for more concealability, weight-reducing cuts on the front of the slide and thinner G10 grips. It’s available in 9mm Luger and .45 ACP.

NIghthawk Custom T4 -3There are coarse cocking serrations on the rear of the slide and 25 lines-per-inch checkering on the front and back straps. The beavertail is generous and melted for comfort, as is the thumb safety. In fact, the entire gun is beveled and de-horned for comfortable carry.

The rear sight is a Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro Tritium night sight with a Tritium front sight, and the blade width of the front matches the rear notch well for fast and precise shooting. To enable a higher grip, the front strap is cut higher than normal and smoothly contoured. Both hammer and aluminum trigger are skeletonized and adjustable for backlash.

NIghthawk Custom T4 -6Where Brawn Meets Beauty
As would be expected on a firearm of this level of quality, each gun is tested before shipping and comes with a target that reflects the name of both the builder and the tester. My test gun was built by K. J. Phillips and tested with three bullet configurations for reliability. The test group was a slightly elongated hole. I suspect there are few, if any, shooters capable of fully utilizing the accuracy capabilities of this gun.

Shooting the T4 was pleasant and comfortable. The front and rear checkering, along with the G10 grips, provided ample purchase but weren’t rough on my hands. The smoothly melted safety was positive in both engagement and disengagement, and the trigger was exceptional, breaking on my scale at 2.8 pounds, crisp and with no discernible backlash.

NIghthawk Custom T4 -2At my standard test distance of 15 yards, it was possible for me to shoot ragged holes in deliberate two-handed shooting. Fast shooting resulted in good groups and follow-up shots easy for a smaller 1911 in .45 ACP. Recoil was mild, partially due to the 34-ounce empty weight but also quite smooth, making it feel less abrupt for a downsized .45.

I fired more than 250 rounds during the test, mostly Winchester Win3Gun 230-grain ammo, but I also ran about 60 rounds of Winchester Kinetic HE 185-grain hollow-points. There were no malfunctions with either, and while this is hardly a definitive test, there’s no doubt of Nighthawk’s reputation for reliability.

Going For A Walk
While shooting targets is the standard method of testing a handgun, the Nighthawk T4 is designed for personal defense and concealed carry. If you live a t-shirt and soccer shorts kind of life, you might find the Nighthawk a bit bulky and heavy. If you wear a jacket or leave your shirt tail outside you pants, the T4 is easily concealable.

It’s slimmer than normal 1911s due to the trimmed-down frame and thinner G4 grips. Yes, it’s a bit heavier than some compacts, but if you like 1911 .45s, it’s only five more ounces than an alloy-framed Commander, and it has a forged and machined steel frame that will last several lifetimes.

NIghthawk Custom T4 -7Other features of the T4 indicate its dedicated mission to personal defense. The safety is easily disengaged, but unobtrusive, and engagement is positive in both on and off positions. When carrying single-action semi-autos with manual thumb safeties in position one — round chambered, hammer cocked, safety on — a vague feeling safety can become accidently disengaged while fastening a seat belt or other maneuvers. That’s not a concern here.

Disassembly for cleaning is a bit off the norm for 1911s, as are all bull-barreled 1911s. To disassemble, clear the chamber and remove the magazine, lock the slide to the rear, insert the disassembly tool in the guide rod, and slowly release the slide. You can then remove the slide lock, and the slide comes off the front. The guide rod and barrel will then drop out of the slide.

I carried the T4 for a few days in a Galco Concealable Belt Holster, and it was quite comfortable, though it would have been a bit difficult to hide in my normal summer dress of shorts and a tucked in shirt. Depending on your preference, a lighter and smaller striker fired gun might be more suitable, but no one will argue that a gun like the Nighthawk Custom T4 is a gun that’s a cut above the average and likely to be passed down to the next generation with pride. Pricing starts at $3,495.


Nighthawk Custom T4
Type: Semi-auto, single-action
Caliber: .45 ACP
Frame: Forged, Officer sized
Barrel: 3.8 in.
Overall Length: 7.4 in.
Height: 4.99 in.
Width: 1.32 in.
Weight: 34.3 oz.
Grips: Thinned, G10
Trigger: Skeletonized aluminum with backlash adjustment
Capacity: 7+1
Sights: Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro Tritium Rear, Tritium Front
Finish: Black nitride
MSRP: $3,495

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

7 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

There’s a lot of information out there regarding concealed carry. How much is fact and how much is fiction?

What are the concealed carry myths?

One of the hottest trending topics in the firearms industry is concealed carry and the issues that surround the concept of daily carry of a firearm for personal defense. Like all other topics relating to firearms, there are almost as many opinions out there as there are CCW permit holders.

7 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

While I’d never suggest a single-action revolver as a daily carry gun for defense, I have no doubt there are those for whom it’s a viable choice, based on their life experiences, living conditions and personal preferences. Likewise, a full frame .45 Auto might be the perfect fit for one person, and a micro .380 for the next.

The following represents my views, based on my research for a recent book, The Gun Digest Guide to Concealed Carry Handguns. Obviously, what works perfectly well for one person is totally unsuitable for another. Personal preference — and your ability to use your gun of choice — is paramount.

Size Really Does Matter

There’s no doubt that a person armed with a full-sized, high-capacity handgun is better off in a deadly force event than someone armed with a gun that’s compromised by small size and light weight. Of course, that same person would be still better equipped with a shotgun or carbine.

 7 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

The reason we normally choose handguns for personal defense is their compact size and relative comfort to carry. In my experience as an instructor who always asks questions, those who choose full-sized guns are much more likely to leave the gun at home, and the first rule of a gunfight is to bring a gun.

Based on this, my general recommendation for a carry gun is for guns with a relatively small profile and a weight of 20 ounces or less. Guns larger than this are difficult to hide in warm-weather clothing and impose a greater burden, making them much more likely to be left at home. Smaller guns admittedly have less capacity and are more difficult to shoot well, but the average number of rounds in a defensive situation is less than three and average distance is less than 9 feet.

Because They Don’t Make A .50

In a deadly force event, power is important — but for many, the trade-off is simply too great. One trade-off is that larger-caliber guns weigh more and are larger. Another trade-off is that many people simply can’t handle the recoil of a 20-ounce .45 Auto with any sort of consistency to be effective in a gunfight situation.

7 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

Modern ammunition is a vast improvement over what was available just a couple of decades ago, and in most cases, the additional capacity and manageability of the 9mm make it a better choice. If you can shoot fast with a 20-ounce .45 Auto with defensive loads, go for it. But as Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I Shoot Well Enough, Right?

There’s no doubt that most who choose to carry a concealed carry handgun can acquire speed and accuracy with almost any gun they choose to carry under range conditions, but a true life-or-death confrontation is a lot different from simply shooting on a range or in a competition. The laws concerning the use of deadly force require a life-threatening situation, and fear and surprise degrade performance. Under extreme pressure, we don’t rise to the occasion as happens on TV; we fall back on our training and conditioned responses. Heard that one before?

You should shoot your carry gun every time you go to the range. Controlled slow fire is good for learning to shoot and building confidence, but real defensive training involves gear manipulation. You should draw from your concealment method, fire an accurate fast shot and repeat the process until it becomes something you can do without thinking about the process.

7 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

Under the pressure of a deadly force event, you want to be thinking about what’s happening — not where the safety is located on the gun. Train until the acts of drawing, getting a proper grip, lining up the sights and managing the trigger all become one process, not a series of actions. If you carry a semi-auto, practice clearing malfunctions until the tap/rack happens automatically.

Under The Hammer

If you can’t feel comfortable carrying a round under the hammer, you’ve chosen the wrong gun. I think the Israeli military guys are tough and smart, but carrying a defensive pistol with nothing in the chamber is dumb. Defensive situations for civilians can occur instantly and at arm’s length. Under those circumstances, it’s unrealistic to think you can fend off an attacker while racking the slide quickly enough.

 7 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

The reaction-to-shot times for concealed carry are already remarkably slow, and adding the process of chambering a round makes them even slower. Few clients I train are able to get an accurate shot off in less than 3 seconds from real concealment, and 3 seconds is a long time. Add the time to chamber a round, and we need a sundial rather than a stopwatch to time you.

Concealed Carry Guns Must Have A Manual Safety

Based on my experience with the average concealed carry citizen, there’s a strong possibility a manual safety might cause an under-trained and frightened defender problems. While many who read this will scoff, I can assure you that dealing with getting off an accurate shot under the pressure of a life-threatening event isn’t like the pressure of out-shooting your buddy at the range or similar to getting a good time in an IDPA match.

Most concealed carry citizens get a permit, buy some rounds and a gun and begin to carry. I suspect less than 10 percent do enough regular training to allow them to draw and accurately fire a gun as a conditioned response. Don’t forget that with guns that rely solely on a manual safety, it’s really easy to accidentally disengage the safety in the tight confines of concealed carry, creating a potentially dangerous condition.

A better plan is to buy a gun you feel is safe for carry without a manual safety. This eliminates all single-action trigger systems that rely on a manual safety. It encourages use of double-action and striker-fired guns. If you don’t feel safe relying only on a striker-fired trigger, the best alternative is a double-action system. Another advantage of double-action guns is second-strike capability, negating the need for extended tap/rack training.

A Revolver? Really?

Remember the numbers mentioned above? Average number of rounds fired — less than three. Average shooting distance — less than 9 feet. In researching my book on concealed carry, I failed to find a report of a single incident where a concealed carry citizen needed to reload. Yes, it’s possible, but primarily, it only happens in the movies and on TV.

7 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

Revolvers have the simplest manual of arms of any other system, and they’re the only defensive handgun system that operates totally on the energy contributed by the user, correcting a malfunction involves pulling the trigger again. Nothing is totally reliable, but revolvers don’t rely as much on the performance of the ammunition chosen as semi-autos. It’s true that revolvers are more difficult to shoot, but everything is a trade-off. Revolvers aren’t for everyone, but don’t rule them out.

The Choice Is Yours

No matter which gun you prefer, I can dream up a scenario where it will let you down. If you live in Alaska or never wear light, warm-weather clothing, a big double-stack service pistol is likely a great choice for you. If you’re nervous about appendix carry with a striker-fired gun, maybe a revolver or double-action semi-auto is the gun for you.
Remember, you get to decide which gun you choose.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gear: Lighting It Up With A Laser Sight

A Laser sight is a powerful aiming tool in low-light defensive scenarios for those trained in their use.

What a laser sight brings to the table:

  • Under perfect conditions, conventional pistol sights are the fastest option.
  • However, in low light, lasers shine, making them great for carry or home defense guns.
  • Lasers shouldn’t be considered for just close-quarters encounters, though.
  • Paired with a scope, a laser sight can paint a target more than 200 yards out.

Several years ago at SHOT Show, at an indoor range on Media Day, I shot an S&W Bodyguard equipped with a laser sight. Out of curiosity, I held the gun at waist level and fired five shots at 10 yards. I put the laser sight on the X in the center of the target and all five rounds went into a ragged hole. I was impressed and decided then and there that any defensive gun I carried would be laser sight equipped. In our house, there are four personal defense/carry guns. All have lasers.

When The Lights Are Down

Viridian offers green laser sighting options for most pistol systems, along with holsters that activate the laser/light when the gun is drawn. - laser sight
Viridian offers green laser sighting options for most pistol systems, along with holsters that activate the laser/light when the gun is drawn.

Under perfect conditions, I can shoot faster with conventional sights. The problem is, most life or death defensive situations don’t happen under perfect conditions. In fact, most personal defense situations occur under poor light conditions, just the time when a laser shines, literally. Under low-light conditions, when conventional sights, or even Tritium sights, are difficult to see, a laser is highly visible and allows faster shooting. In home defense situations that might occur in the middle of the night, your eyes require time to adjust. A laser-equipped firearm aids in visibility and allows you to shoot more accurately and much quicker.

You can now get a laser sight for almost any defensive handgun you can imagine, and while a good laser sight isn’t cheap, it has the potential to be an invaluable aid when you most need one. I prefer the models that activate when the gun is gripped, and for this to work for me, the button must be under my middle finger just under the trigger guard.

Passive Activation

Laser systems for firearms are activated either manually — with a switch or button mounted on the unit — or passively, with switches activated when the gun is gripped or removed from the holster. For defensive use, passive activation is a good idea because concealed carry citizens aren’t accustomed to deadly force events … and the simpler the defense system, the better. If you choose a manually activated laser system, make sure you practice finding and activating it to the point it becomes a conditioned response.

Laser Carry

The Crimson Trace Laserguard Pro is a passively activated system that comes complete with a modular holster. - laser sight 1
The Crimson Trace Laserguard Pro is a passively activated system that comes complete with a modular holster.

When possible, I prefer grip-mount lasers because they allow use with standard holsters. Some of the front-mount units will work in some holsters, but grip-mounted units work with almost any holster designed for that gun. Grip-mount lasers add little or no weight, they’re virtually maintenance free, and they’re easy for even a novice to install. Normally, one or two screws have to be removed and replaced, just as one would when changing grip panels.

For front-rail-mount lasers, Crimson Trace has resolved the holster situation with the excellent Laserguard Pro system that’s currently available for M&P Shield, Glock 42 and 43, and XD-S semi-autos. The system combines the manufacturer’s laser/light unit, passively activated with the middle finger on the grip, with a Bladetech holster that’s convertible for inside or outside the waistband, and for right- or left-hand use.

This rail-mounted system not only offers a laser, but also a powerful 150-lumen white light and can be programed for combinations of laser, light, both and flashing operations. It’s available in both green and red laser variants. The standard Crimson Trace Laserguard is less expensive and doesn’t have the light, but it’s also available in green and red.

On a purely defensive carbine, the Crimson Trace LiNQ system provides both light and laser as a wireless passive activation system. - laser sight 2
On a purely defensive carbine, the Crimson Trace LiNQ system provides both light and laser as a wireless passive activation system.

Viridian has solved the holster and activation problem by creating a holster system that activates the laser sight when the gun’s drawn. The Reactor system is offered for most defensive pistols, and different holster styles are available. The instant-on holster is included with the unit, and the Reactor system is available in both green and red lasers.

The Lasermax solution to the holster problem is to install the laser sight in the guide rod of the pistol. This system replaces the existing guide rod with one with a tiny laser inside the guide rod that’s activated by a switch within the replacement takedown lever. Installation is fairly simple, and it involves only a bit more difficulty than field stripping. The activation switch is ambidextrous, and the one I tested was certainly aligned well enough for defensive use.

Choose Your Color

While red lasers work wonderfully in low-light conditions, green lasers have the advantage of working as well in normal light conditions and might be the perfect solution to shooters with handicaps that prevent getting the sights into alignment with the eyes. Green lasers cost more and have shorter battery life, but the utility of daylight use might make them worth the difference.

Not Just For Short Range

Under low-light conditions, lasers are completely effective at ranges past 200 yards. I learned this several years ago at the Midnight Three Gun Invitational shoot in Bend, Oregon. At longer ranges, with a laser in conjunction with a variable power scope, it was easy to see and hit targets that would have been difficult to define otherwise. Unless there’s dust, fog or smoke, the laser beam is invisible and it paints the target, allowing a shot even when you’re not looking through the scope.

Simple Setup

The Lasermax system solves the holster problem by putting the laser inside the pistol’s recoil spring guide rod. The manual activation switch is in the takedown lever. - laser sight 3
The Lasermax system solves the holster problem by putting the laser inside the pistol’s recoil spring guide rod. The manual activation switch is in the takedown lever.

Once a laser sight is installed, it must be calibrated, and this is accomplished with the hollow head adjustment screws and the provided wrench. Adjustment requires no actual shooting if the sights are properly zeroed because you simply move the laser dot to show just under the front sight when the sights are properly aligned. Adjustments require little movement, and it might take a few tries to get it right, but once you’ve done it once or twice, it’s a 2-minute job.

When aligning a laser, it’s best to align it for a longer distance than normal personal defense distances of less than 7 yards. Like any sighting system, the sight is on a different axis than the bore of the gun, and with lasers, there’s more offset than there is with the sights on top of the barrel.

At short distances with the laser aligned at 25 yards, the offset is of little consequence. An inch or two normally isn’t an issue in a defensive situation. If the laser is aligned at 3 or 5 yards, the offset is exaggerated and can mean a meaningful change of zero at longer range. With the laser aligned at 25 yards, point of impact will be within 2 inches for the first 40 yards or so, providing more accuracy than most people are capable of producing.

This Crimson Trace CMR 206 laser, mounted on the top rail of this Colt CRP 18, offers a closer bore to laser alignment than traditional bottom rail mounting and allows for cowitness with the scope. - laser sight 4
This Crimson Trace CMR 206 laser, mounted on the top rail of this Colt CRP 18, offers a closer bore to laser alignment than traditional bottom rail mounting and allows for cowitness with the scope.

I align my lasers to be just below the level of the front sight when the sights are properly aligned. This allows the shooter to train with the normal sight picture and have the laser available for instant use should the light be too low for effective sight alignment. As an instructor, I’ve learned some shooters begin to rely on the laser instead of the sights, and I believe everyone should have the capability to shoot well with the iron sights in case the ambient light is too bright for easy laser acquisition.

Narrow Beam, Broad Applications

One of the great things about a laser-equipped defense gun is the ability to utilize the gun in almost any position. At a nighttime, laser-only competition I realized the value of this. Laser-equipped rifles, shotguns and handguns don’t have to be held in a position to see the sights. This can be a huge issue in a defensive situation under low-light conditions. Rather than extending the gun at eye level, you can keep the gun closer and lower, allowing totally unobscured vision of the threat in front of you and keeping the gun close to you when the threat’s in close proximity.

I believe every citizen should be capable of defending themselves, and I believe we all have a moral obligation to those who care about us to do so. I carry every day and in every location I can. I carry a firearm that’s capable of doing the job, and I want every advantage available to me. I know bad things don’t always happen under good conditions … and that’s why my daily carry gun will always have a laser.

Editor's Notes: This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Springfield Armory XD-E

The new Springfield Armory XD-E is the manufacturer’s first hammer-fired pistol in its popular XD line and offers shooters several different carry options to suit their preferences.

  • Springfield's new XD-E brings a hammer-fired option to its popular XD line.
  • The hammer-fired design adds an additional level of safety to the gun and offers shooters more choices when it comes to carry conditions.
  • The Springfield XD-E is quite accurate for a carry gun and comes with many of the same features that make the rest of the XD series pistols so popular.
  • At an MSRP of $519, the XD-E is plenty affordable as a carry gun.

The “Wiktionary” defines the term “belt and suspenders” as: “Redundant systems, affording mutual backup in the event of one failing. Example: He believes in a belt and suspenders, booking flights from two different airports on different airlines for important trips.”

When I first saw the Springfield Armory XD-E at the NRA Show this year, my first thought was of Pa Kettle, in one of the old Ma and Pa Kettle movies, being asked why he wore a belt and suspenders. His response was, “A man can never be too careful.”

It seems the evolution of firearms has grown faster than ever in the past few years. We now have more choices, in every description of guns, than I could ever have imagined just 20 or so years ago. This has been a wonderful thing, and that diversity is exemplified in the new Springfield Armory XD-E. While the pistols of several companies have morphed from hammer-fired to striker-fired guns, as far as I know, the XD-E is the first that’s morphed from a striker-fired pistol to a hammer-fired pistol.

Springfield Armory XD-E Review - 1What’s With The Hammer?
Some might question the logic of this decision, but I certainly can see the value. A few years ago, there was a news report about a young mother in a store whose 2-year-old child accessed her concealed carry pistol in a concealed carry purse and fatally shot her with it. I was unable to find the details on the type of pistol, but I’m almost certain it was a striker-fired gun.

Setting aside her choice of concealed carry purses and how she controlled that purse, it occurred to me that although the standard striker-fired pistol is safe and reliable to a point, it’s not the safest system. The striker-fired pistol’s simplicity can cause problems, and the system is not without shortcomings. Passive safety systems are just that and require no conscious action to disable them. Striker-fired pistols have fairly light trigger pulls, and hinges and blades won’t defeat an intentional pull or a piece of tangled fabric as the gun is holstered.

I’ve always advocated that the enclosed hammer double-action revolver is the safest possible gun to carry. The long, relatively heavy stroke of the trigger almost totally precludes the opportunity for an accidental or negligent discharge. For undertrained civilians, there’s no manual safety to find and disengage under the extreme pressure of a deadly force event. As an instructor, I can assure you the majority of concealed carry citizens are undertrained and therefore more prone to mistakes than those with more training.

With a double-action gun, the defender has only to point the gun at the threat and pull the trigger. Deactivating a manual safety adds an additional step to a person already overloaded with actions and decisions that are not part of their normal experience. Under great pressure, simple is better.

The problem with double-action guns is that most people don’t really learn how to accurately shoot a double action. Further, the downside of double-action semi-autos is that the second trigger pull is different from the first and that, after a shot, the gun must be rendered safe manually.

Springfield XD-E Review - 2Safety Through Strength
I admit I was a bit surprised when I saw an XD-E with an exposed hammer in the Springfield booth, but I instantly recognized the potential market. Other than a double-action-only revolver, this system is the safest pistol operating system available.

Like a revolver, it can be carried without worry of inadvertently activating the trigger because it can be carried with the hammer down. Further, unlike a revolver, there’s a manual safety that precludes the unlikely event of the trigger being accidentally fully stroked. The XD-E is the perfect gun for those who like options and are concerned about safety for daily carry.

From the slide rails up, the XD-E is a standard XD-S. There’s a hammer-forged 3.3-inch barrel and a double-captured recoil spring guide rod system. The sights are the standard dovetailed two-dot rear and fiber-optic front, and there’s a tactile loaded chamber indicator on top of the slide.

Springfield XD-E Review - 3The rear of the slide has finger groves that work well in allowing slide operation without slippage, even with wet fingers. A difference I instantly noticed was the slide is considerably easier to cycle. Springfield says it’s 27 percent easier to manipulate than the standard striker-fired system.

While much of what’s below the slide is different, quite a bit remains consistent. Takedown is similar, but there’s no need to pull the trigger to remove the slide. The magazine release is the same, and the now familiar Grip Zone stippling of the Mod. 2 series graces the grip area. Also, there’s still a bottom rail on the frame for lights and/or lasers, and the magazine is interchangeable with other 9mm XD-S models.

Besides the presence of a hammer, there are several other differences. The grip safety I really like on the XD series is missing. I suppose the designers thought there were so many other safety features it was superfluous.

There’s no bladed trigger, but rather a smooth, stamped trigger that cocks the hammer via a steel bar that runs on the right inside the frame. Also, there’s a bi-directional lever safety on the frame that locks the trigger when pushed up and de-cocks when pushed down. As far as I know, it’s the first manual safety on the entire XD series.

Why Double Action?
The XD-E can be carried in four different modes:
1. Israeli Carry: With the chamber empty.
2. Condition one: With the hammer cocked and safety locked.
3. Double action: With the hammer down and ready for a
double-action pull and no additional action.
4. Double action, locked: With the hammer down and the manual safety activated.

As an instructor who almost exclusively trains civilians, I would not advise carry in the first two choices. While Israeli carry can work for highly trained individuals, few civilians will put in the effort to acquire enough speed for option No. 1 to be viable. Even if they did, I see it as a bad idea. Option No. 2 simply isn’t safe enough for inexperienced shooters, especially in the practice of daily concealed carry. It’s too easy to accidently de-activate a manual safety, especially an ambidextrous one.

Since we’ve already discussed the potential problems with manually operated safeties and under-trained civilians, option No. 3 is clearly the best choice, which is exactly the same as carrying a revolver with a shrouded hammer.

Springfield XD-E Review - 4Time With The Trigger
Of course, the proof is in the shooting. The double-action trigger is smooth, with pull weight similar to an average revolver and a longer-than-average stroke. The single-action trigger pull feels very much like a striker-fired gun. There’s quite a bit of the first stage, followed by a second stage that’s better than many striker-fired carry guns. There’s some creep and some backlash, but it’s a reasonable defensive carry trigger.

Accuracy was excellent with the WinClean 124-grain loads I used for most of the testing. At 10 yards in deliberate fire, I managed an impressive 10-shot group on a B34G qualification target that measured 1.08 inches, which is exceptional for a carry pistol. The B34G target is a half-scale target, and the score was a 100-9X. Had it been ¼ inch lower, it would have been a 10X clean.

Of course, deliberate shooting was done single action. I would recommend the XD-E be carried with a chambered round, the hammer down and the safety off (see the sidebar). In this state, the first shot would be double action with subsequent shots fired in single action.

I’ve only a little experience with double/single triggers because I’ve never carried one. I decided the best test would be to fire two fast shots from low ready to determine the difficulty of changing trigger styles while shooting fast.

Springfield XD-E Review - 5I found my first shot to be centered, with my very fast follow-up second shots slightly to the left and just outside the 10-ring. Repetition would likely result in a better transition, but both shots would have been “A” hits on a USPSA target. My judgment is that anyone who can manage a double-action trigger will have little trouble dealing with the XD-E. There’s a bit more muzzle rise with the XD-E than the standard XD-S models because the double-action system requires a higher bore axis than a striker-fired pistol.

There seems to be a lot of price competition in the concealed carry market these days, and the XD-E is competitive in price with an MSRP of $519 and a current online offer for four extra magazines, a holster and magazine pouch for free. Street price will be even better. It’s currently available in 9mm only; if the nine sells, there’ll likely be a .45 ACP to follow.

So, in summary, I think the XD-E is a viable addition to an already successful line, and I expect it to gain a following among those who just feel safer with a more secure trigger system. True, the trigger system isn’t safer than a double-action revolver, but the XD-E offers a capacity of eight plus one with the added benefit of a much faster reload than any revolver could provide.


Springfield Armory XD-E
Action: Short recoil operated
Trigger: Double/single action
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 8+1 and 9+1
Magazines: Steel with round count holes
Barrel: 3.3 in., hammer-forged steel, Melonite finish, 1:10 twist
Sights: Fiber-optic front,
white dot low-profile combat rear
Frame: Black polymer
Slide: Forged steel, Melonite finish
Length: 6.75 in.
Height: 5 in.
Weight: 25 oz.
Accessories: Lockable carry case, two steel magazines, cable lock, manual and extra sight inserts.
MSRP: $519
Manufacturer: Springfield Armory

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

Concealed Carry: What’s The Best Capacity For An EDC Gun?

We take it for granted that higher capacity pistols are the most logical choice for concealed carry, but are they really the best option for the majority of armed citizens?

Do you really need a higher capacity pistol for concealed carry?

  • For armed citizens, slim and light concealed carry pieces make more sense than carrying a full-sized, high-capacity handgun.
  • Smaller semi-automatics can be more difficult to truly master, given they are inherently more difficult to control shot to shot.
  • Women need to take into consideration how prepared they are to correct common malfunctions of semi-automatic pistols.
  • Revolvers clear away many of the technical hurdles of concealed carry firearms, but at the expense of capacity.
  • Overall, the revolver's capacity is sufficient for the majority of self-defense situations and is an easy-to-carry and operate handgun.

Unlike police, civilians never intentionally move toward an assailant. In most cases, by the time deadly force becomes an unwanted option, the civilian has retreated. Civilians very rarely confront multiple assailants, and most of our encounters are at less than 3 yards, with 2.3 being the average number of shots fired. Our defensive firearm requirements are completely different from the needs of a sworn police officer, whose job is to intervene against criminal activity rather than simply defend against it. So why do so many citizens choose to arm themselves with higher capacity handguns that are more suited to police work than to their daily lives and requirements for personal defense?

Those of us who make the commitment to be capable of defending ourselves, rather than relying on society and hoping for the best, almost always choose a handgun as our primary choice. This is because carrying a handgun makes more sense than toting a tactical shotgun or carbine.

We know this choice is a compromise. A shotgun or rifle is almost always more effective in a fight than a handgun. We choose the handgun because we balance the threat against the convenience. Police carry handguns rather than shotguns or carbines for the same reasons.

Since our needs are different than the needs of sworn officers, doesn’t it make sense for civilians to arm themselves with firearms that match their needs rather than the needs of police officers?

Concealed Carry Capacity

In our shooting classes, we advocate our students choose firearms more in line with their lifestyles and the possible situations they might face. We don’t advocate carrying large-capacity, full-sized firearms, unless the person is exposed to a very high risk. We recommend our students choose a firearm that will interfere less with their daily lives, but is still up to the potential threats they may face.

In recent years, there have been several excellent choices in slim, concealable semi-auto carry guns. Guns like the S&W Shield and Springfield XDs offer a smaller and less burdensome choice.

They come in the same calibers as their larger, double-stack, service counterparts, with a reduction of about half the magazine capacity. They’re reliable, and have similar triggers and sights as their larger counterparts. They’re harder to shoot well, but far easier to conceal and more comfortable to carry.

But for many of our female students, operating the slide of the compact semi-autos is a difficult task. In a situation where a malfunction occurs, it would be a daunting task for them to get the gun cleared and running again during a life threatening situation.

Modern semi-autos are very reliable, but they do malfunction for various reasons, and under pressure individuals without extensive training can have trouble getting the gun going again. Let’s face it: Most civilians train very little. Having said that, these guns are very good and offer a viable option with power, concealability, and capability for a fast reload.

The smaller subcompacts are probably the smallest compromise of size and power. For women and others with weak hands, their small size can make them even more difficult to operate.

The standard chambering of .380 is generally considered borderline, but when concealability is the primary issue, they’re very good. Again, they generally have a capacity of six or seven shots and can be quickly reloaded.

Our number one choice — and the gun both my wife and I carry — is a compact five-shot revolver.

The modern five-shot, compact revolver is lightweight, sometimes weighing less than a loaded spare magazine for a full-size gun. Guns that are unobtrusive are more likely to be with you, and guns that carry like a boat anchor are more likely to be left at home.

A .25 ACP in your hand is more effective than a .44 magnum at home. Small guns are much easier to conceal than big ones, and the five-shot revolver is only slightly harder to conceal than the subcompact .380s.

Concealed Carry Capacity

The modern compact revolver is quite accurate out to 10 yards, 3 yards beyond the distance considered critical when facing an assailant who doesn’t have a gun. Remember, the average self-defense shooting confrontation occurs at less than 3 yards. Adding a laser sighting device aids in accuracy, and 70 percent of all defensive shooting situations happen in low-light conditions.

While there are more powerful firearms available, modern defensive ammunition in .38 Special +P and .357 Magnum are viable stoppers. Compact revolvers are among the most reliable repeating firearms in history, and if a round doesn’t fire, you simply pull the trigger again.

I doubt there are many who read this who have more experience in daily carry of a firearm than Chris Cerino. You may know Chris from Top Shot, or from Gun Talk and Guns and Gear on TV.

Chris has spent his entire adult life as a sworn officer, park ranger, police officer, and Federal Air Marshal and Air Marshal Trainer. Chris’ life has been spent carrying a gun and assessing threats.

He’s spent the last 12 years of his life teaching other law officers, military, and civilians how to shoot. His everyday carry gun is a S&W 642 five-shot .38 Special revolver.

In writing this, there’s no doubt there are many who’ll scoff and say five or six shots from a small mid-caliber revolver or semi-automatic is hardly sufficient to stop a determined assailant, and that only a large-caliber, large-capacity semi-auto is a reliable defense firearm. Few of those would argue a shotgun wouldn’t do a better job than the handgun, but of course it isn’t convenient to carry a shotgun everywhere.

Police officers, whose lives are on the line every day, are willing to compromise and carry a double-stack full-sized semi-auto instead of a shotgun or carbine. Doesn’t it make sense for an ordinary citizen who lives a peaceful life to compromise down to a smaller, less obtrusive gun with less magazine capacity?

Editor's Note: This article is from Gun Digest Guide To Concealed Carry Handguns.

Concealed Carry Sights: Which Are Best For Your Gun?

White outline sights offer good visibility even in very low light because they are a bold white shape that catches the eye.
White outline sights offer good visibility even in very low light because they are a bold white shape that catches the eye.

Nothing goes further to ensure you hit center mass than the right sights on your concealed carry handgun. But of all the options, which is the best?

I was in a local gun shop recently when the discussion turned to the viability of lasers for concealed carry guns. One proponent of the laser explained they were the greatest things since sliced bread, something that could allow any novice to shoot like a professional.

The other saw them as the work of the devil, a high-tech contraption that would likely fail at the moment the owner needed it most, leaving the victim standing and staring at a gun that was useless without a laser because it was the only way he could hit a target.

Both opinions are wrong.

Gun Digest Guide To Concealed Carry Handguns, a comprehensive and up-to-date buyer’s guide to concealed carry handguns available anywhere.

As both a shooting instructor who teaches concealed carry certification and a gun writer, I suffer from a form of double indemnity. For some reason, I seem to get into the center of arguments about what constitutes the best options for concealed carry, and these days this is a hot topic.

Practical Sight Considerations
Besides the normal semi-auto versus revolver and high-capacity versus smaller, thinner gun issues, the discussion often turns to sights. After all, the sights are hopefully the only interface between the defender and the assailant.

Before we get too far into the sight issue though, remember that the average distance for a firearm defense occurrence is less than three yards. It should also be remembered that a full extension of the arms to get a proper sight picture at short distance often puts the gun as close to the assailant as it is to the defender.

In really close quarters, extending the arms to get a proper sight picture increases the defender’s level of danger because it can put the gun in easy reach of the attacker. In these situations, conventional sights have no value at all, since they can’t be safely aligned with the eye.

While this obviously leads to thoughts of lasers, lasers shouldn’t be the only viable option available to the concealed carry defender, because lasers are not as effective in bright light conditions. It’s true that 70 percent of defensive situations occur in low light, and green lasers are much more effective in bright light, but conventional sights on a defensive gun shouldn’t be discounted. Even if your gun has a laser, you should do most of your practice with the iron sights.

Lasers are electronic devices, as is the computer I’m writing this on. If your computer never gives you problems, you’ll probably never have a problem with a laser sight because they’re hundreds of times more reliable than my laptop. Still, there’s the potential for the unit to fail or have the light blocked by debris, or for you to fail to properly maintain the batteries.

Standard sights on many carry guns involve a simple groove milled across the top of the gun and a ramp front sight at the front. Systems like this are snag-free, a benefit with carry guns that are often in close proximity with clothing.
Standard sights on many carry guns involve a simple groove milled across the top of the gun and a ramp front sight at the front. Systems like this are snag-free, a benefit with carry guns that are often in close proximity with clothing.

Comparing Irons
Considering the less high-tech methods of sighting a defensive handgun, there are compromises to be made. Good sights that are easy to see and maintain an excellent sight picture are always large.

Large sights don’t generally work well on concealed carry guns because they increase the gun’s profile and increase the chance of snagging on clothing or carry devices. Small, easily concealed sights carry well, but are difficult to see in less-than-optimal light conditions.

The most unobtrusive sight system for a small gun is a simple trench milled the length of the slide or topstrap. This is the prevailing system for small revolvers as a rear sight; it’s normally paired with a ramp front sight, and it works quite well.

In my Concealed Carry Brushup classes, where all the shooting is done at ranges shorter than seven yards, I like to stop the class if a fly or bee lands on a target. I then use my personal carry gun to shoot the fly.

If it’s less than five yards, I’m almost always successful. Even if I miss at seven yards, the shot is so close the impression remains. You can shoot very well with crude sights if you focus on the front sight and get good sight alignment.

Unfortunately, sometimes point-of-aim and point-of-impact don’t agree, and there are few options when this happens with fixed sights. If a gun has fixed sights and doesn’t shoot where you point it, you have to decide if you’re willing to live with it, but remember; almost all concealed carry defense situations happen within seven yards.

There are some excellent small revolvers with adjustable sights available, but they may not fit your requirements for concealability. There are-high visibility options on some small revolvers, and they have merit. The hi-vis options offer a gain in visibility, but often there’s a slight loss in concealability.

Tritium sights actually glow in the dark, showing up in total darkness. In moderately low light situations they have little advantage if any, over simple white outline sights.
Tritium sights actually glow in the dark, showing up in total darkness. In moderately low-light situations they have little advantage if any, over simple white outline sights.

While I don’t like white outline or dot sights for competition, I like them for defense guns. Competition is generally done in good light, at targets with excellent contrast.

Defensive situations rarely offer these luxuries. Bright white outlines show up in low light and can allow a better sight picture. For guns with dovetailed sight mounting, aftermarket options also include both fiber optic and tritium replacement sights at a very reasonable cost. Fiber optic sights gather light to increase sight visibility.

Tritium sights contain a small amount of tritium. The electrons emitted by the radioactive decay of the tritium cause phosphor to glow, thus providing a long-lasting (several years) and non-battery-powered firearms sight that’s visible in dim lighting conditions. Under bright light, white outline, dot sights and fiber optic sights show brighter than tritium, but under very low light tritium has an advantage, even showing up in total darkness when white or fiber optic sights would be invisible.

Laser Sights
Of course, the other options that work really well in low light are laser sighting systems. My reaction when I first saw lasers was skepticism because I imagined they were a total replacement for standard sights.

For life-and-death situations, I don’t like total dependence on anything that runs on a battery. I have since changed my mind.

While responsible defensive firearms owners need to be able to shoot well with iron sights, a laser offers accurate shooting under the low light that most defensive confrontations involve. They also provide the possibility for accurate shot placement when the defender simply can’t align the sights with his eye because doing so gives the assailant too much access to the gun.

Fiber optic high-visibility sights gather available light to catch the user’s eye. Unfortunately, they do little in really low light situations.
Fiber optic high-visibility sights gather available light to catch the user’s eye. Unfortunately, they do little in really low light situations.

A properly aligned laser can provide a greater level of accuracy than most shooters can muster otherwise. They’re reliable and operate automatically in many cases. There have been arguments that lasers expose the defender to the assailant, but in a very high percentage of defensive situations, the assailant already knows exactly where his victim is. Another argument is that the defender will learn to rely only on the laser and be confused if it fails to operate.

While both are possibilities, the advantages of accurate shot placement under low light, or while the gun is kept close to the shooter, outweigh them. I teach my students to align the laser to shoot just below the point of impact and aim. This prevents them from seeing the laser in practice sessions, yet it’s still there if conditions are bad enough they can’t get proper sight alignment.

I only carry guns equipped with laser grip sights. They are unobtrusive and have no effect on holsters and carry methods.

I use the iron sights in practice and set the laser just under the front sight so I can’t see it in practice. In really low-light situations and in situations where light is low and the shot is rushed, there is nothing better than a laser.

Laser alignment is simple, though the first time might be a bit tricky. After the laser is installed, and everything is correct and tight, focus on a perfect sight picture and move the laser beam to the point of aim at the desired distance. This can be done without shooting the gun, provided the gun shoots where it’s aimed.

Then shoot the gun using the laser to confirm the zero. To check the alignment at any time, simply aim at a point on the target and see if the laser co-witnesses it.

Another thing to remember with lasers is they normally have a substantial offset from the bore. Properly set, a laser sight on a pistol should intersect with the point of impact at about 25 yards.

This will allow accurate shooting beyond that distance yet the difference in point of impact at closer ranges will barely be impacted. With good ammunition and a rest, a carry gun can shoot 3-inch groups at 25 yards using a laser in low light.

 In really low light or when there’s no room for an extended sight picture, nothing beats a laser.
In really low light or when there’s no room for an extended sight picture, nothing beats a laser.

There are two primary ways lasers are mounted on handguns. Rail or frame mounts put the laser ahead of the trigger guard, and grip-mounted lasers attach to the gun either as replacement grip panels with the laser and activation button as a part of the grip, or as an over-the-grip unit that wraps around and mounts to polymer-framed integral-grip guns.

When choosing either type, make sure the activation button is easy for you to access. I like the button on the front grip strap because activation is almost automatic, though I can consciously relax my middle finger if I want to leave it off. Rear-mounted activation can be problematic for smaller or thinner hands.

Not only are we blessed with the right to own and carry a firearm in the United States, for the most part, we have the right to choose the firearm we buy and how to accessorize it. Ultimately, no one will argue that a better sight system isn’t an advantage in a defensive situation.

A 27-shot capacity, major-caliber race gun, with a reflex sight would be much better in a gunfight than a small .380, 9mm or .38 Special. A good carbine would be even better, but a race gun or carbine is pretty hard to conceal. The trick is to look at the options, decide where you’re willing to trade off and go with what you like.

My solution for sighting options on my carry guns is to train with iron sights and add a laser sight for low-light conditions. The laser adds little weight or bulk, yet it vastly improves my ability to put the projectile where I want under conditions that are less than desirable.

I know in bright light and with adequate room, a traditional sight picture of iron sights is faster and more effective than a laser. I also know a laser is a much better sighting system in low light. I firmly believe you need to be able to shoot well with iron sights, but I’m a confirmed laser guy for carry guns.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Guide To Concealed Carry Handguns available at GunDigestStore.com.

Tips: Lethality and Concealed Carry Handguns

When considering concealed carry, you must understand how to stop a threat.

Getting a grasp on where an assailant must be shot to neutralize a threat and the power needed from a concealed carry handgun to do so goes a long way in making informed choices when going armed.

Arm your with self-defense knowledge with Gun Digest Guide to Concealed Carry Firearms.

The object of carrying a firearm as a matter of daily routine is based on the conviction that you have the right to defend your life or the life of someone else. While it’s certainly true that the presence of a firearm can prevent violence from happening by discouraging a would-be assailant, the mere presence of the firearm isn’t always enough, and sometimes deadly force must be used.

When this decision has to be made, the object is to stop the aggressor quickly before he can harm you or someone else. Until technology develops Star Trek-style “phasers” that can be set to “stun,” this means imparting enough damage to the perpetrator to cause him to cease aggressive activity.

Some individuals cease aggression when confronted with a firearm. Some give up when shot, no matter how serious or trivial the wound.

Unfortunately, some aggressors don’t stop until they’re physically unable to continue.
When I was growing up, I got the impression that any time someone was shot, they simply froze and fell down, incapacitated. On television, Matt Dillon almost always shot the bad guy in the stomach and the bad guy would grasp the wound, look stunned and fall dead.

Sometimes the person who was shot would survive, but they almost always fell to the ground and became immobile. In later TV shows and movies, the gunshot victim would be thrown across the room or spin around as if hit by a baseball bat and fall. Apparently the modern prop guns are much more powerful than the ones Matt Dillon and The Rifleman, Lucas McCain, had access to.

The fact is that the only certain way to make the aggressor stop immediately is to disrupt the central nervous system.

A shot to the brain stem will cause instant incapacitation because it interrupts the ability to breathe and control voluntary movement. A shot that severs the spinal cord above the base of the neck will prevent voluntary movement of the arms and legs.

While a shot fired to any other part of the body other than the central nervous system can cause the assailant to cease aggression, there’s no certainty that it will.

Modern ammunition have made concealed carry handguns more effective.

Loss of blood will also incapacitate an assailant, but the result will not be instant. The body contains about five liters of blood, and a person must lose about two liters before losing consciousness.

Severing the aorta will cause the assailant to bleed out in the shortest possible time, but will still allow voluntary action for at least five seconds. Any deer hunter can tell you a heart-shot deer can run a hundred yards.

An aggressor with his heart shot out can still have time to kill you and others in your family. Wounds to major arteries can cause death, but it won’t be instant.

Having said this, a high percentage of humans cease aggression after receiving a single gunshot, even if it’s not a fatal wound. The cessation of aggression isn’t because the body is incapable, but because the mental and physical shock of the gunshot effectively takes the fight out of the aggressor.

Individuals with their systems pumped full of adrenalin or drugs are much less likely to give up when dealt a lethal blow. The problem is you can’t count on the cessation of aggressive behavior after one shot.

The old argument was that high-velocity handgun rounds could produce hydrostatic shock that would affect neural function, effectively stopping the assailant instantly. The first mention of pressure waves and the human body that I could find in the scientific literature was presented by E. Harvey Newton and his research group at Princeton University in 1947.

Under the theory of hydrostatic shock, a high velocity bullet created hydraulic shock waves in the body, and these shock waves did collateral damage to organs not directly contacted by the wound channel.

While the concept of hydrostatic shock is generally accepted, there are detractors. My personal opinion, based on multiple post-mortems of whitetail deer and feral pigs, supports hydrostatic shock as a factor, but the example of the deer who runs off after his heart has been turned to jelly illustrates that hydrostatic shock isn’t something that will always provide the stoppage of a drug-crazed assailant.

Ammo for concealed carry pistols and revolvers must be carefully considered.

Compounding the problem for the concealed carry citizen is the fact that few handguns suitable for daily carry produce enough velocity to produce the level of hydrostatic shock the experts agree will sufficiently and consistently cause enough neural disruption to produce hydrostatic shock, much less instantly stop an assailant.

Studies show some evidence that hydrostatic shock does produce results, but not consistently enough to count on. With sufficient penetration, there can be neural effects from gunshot wounds from handguns, but there’s no certainty of instant stoppage, and instant stoppage is the desired effect.

The upshot of all this is there’s simply no way to instantly stop an assailant other than hitting the brain stem or spinal column. Even a shot to the lobes of the brain doesn’t always produce an instant or even fatal result.

Having said this, it would require skills very few possess to accurately place such a shot, much less do it under the stressful conditions of self-defense.

Faced with these facts, it becomes obvious that there’s no magic formula for instant incapacitation other than a feat of almost superhuman marksmanship. The brain stem or that tiny section of spinal cord is simply too small a target to be considered a good choice.

The military and law enforcement choose to put their emphasis on a less difficult target area, from the base of the neck across the chest down to the base of the sternum. Within this area are the heart and lungs as well as the spinal column.

Any shot from an adequately-powered firearm delivered in this area is likely to be lethal and also likely to deliver enough punch to take the fight out of all but the most determined attacker. About the same size as the A zone on most competitive shooting targets, this area is well within the capabilities of a practiced shooter at the distances where most civilian defense situations occur.

While most vulnerable organs are centrally located in an area large enough for an accurate shot to find them, they’re fairly well protected by the skeletal system. For a straight-on shot, the sternum protects the spinal column and much of the heart, which also happens to be the best target.

Like much of creation, the human body is well-designed to protect the most vital areas. Certainly, there are many handgun calibers capable of penetrating the sternum, but the sternum is capable of protecting vital organs against smaller, less effective calibers.

To effectively concealed carry, practice is key.

According to military studies, the third-most-likely target to disable an assailant is the pelvic girdle or the hips. Breaking a hip will certainly prevent your enemy from walking, but it won’t stop him from using a firearm. For that reason and because the likelihood the shot won’t actually stop the bad guy by breaking his hip, it’s suggested that targeting the pelvic area isn’t a good idea.

Almost anyone can manage a level of proficiency that will allow hitting the targeted chest area from normal defensive distances. In teaching the North Carolina Concealed Carry Certification, I’ve learned almost everyone can keep 90 percent of their shots in an 8-inch area at 7 yards.

Of course, this is shooting in good light conditions, with plenty of time, and under no stress other than the normal stress beginning shooters have when shooting for record for the first time in their lives.

In order to perform reasonably well under difficult conditions, most people need to be able to perform very well under optimum conditions. It’s not at all unusual for a police/criminal gunfight to involve several shots fired with no one getting hit, and police generally spend more time in training than civilians.

The best preparation for the armed citizen is to train enough to be confident and comfortable with their carry gun and choose a gun with reasonable stopping power while being small and light enough that it’ll be comfortable to carry every day.

To review all this, we know the only area that’s certain to instantly stop an assailant is too small to target under almost any imaginable set of circumstances. We also know the second choice is large enough for a person of average expertise to hit, but that area is fairly well protected by bone structure.

Based on this information, the well-prepared armed citizen should focus on carry and gun handling skills, marksmanship and carrying a firearm with enough power to penetrate the sternum. Under these circumstances, it’s reasonable to say the concealed carry citizen is properly prepared.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Guide to Concealed Carry Firearms.

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Are you interested in carrying a handgun for self defense, but don’t know where to start? Perhaps you’re already an armed citizen and are looking for a new carry choice? Let the Gun Digest Guide to Concealed Carry Firearms be your complete guide to the fast-growing world of concealed carry handguns. With practical, real-world advice and insight from an author with decades of experience, this guide can help you make the best possible choice for a concealed carry handgun. Get Your Copy Now

Handgun Review: Guncrafter Model 4

Guncrafter Industries Model 4 Review - 1The Guncrafter Model 4 in the potent .50 GI is a high-class 1911 that’s big on performance.

I’ve heard the statement a thousand times, “I carry a .45 because they don’t make a .50.” I like .45s, but that statement is getting a bit old. Now I have a great response: “Sorry, but they do make a .50.” In fact, Guncrafter Industries has been making the .50 GI now for a dozen years. Just slightly shorter than the .45 ACP, the .50 GI case measures .530 inches in diameter. It has a rebated rim, so it would use the same shell holder. A .45 ACP round sits nicely inside an empty .50 GI case. Yes, it’s an imposing round to see, in case you were wondering.

I’ve tested two other Guncrafter guns in the past, both chambered for the clasic .45 ACP round. The CCO and Frag models I tested were as close to perfect as pistols get, with match-level triggers, super slick actions, and ragged-hole accuracy. They didn’t sport high-tech features like full-length guide rods or bull barrels, but they functioned perfectly and shot tiny groups with any ammunition.

Guncrafter Industries Model 4 review - 2 - fitThe .50 GI Model 4 has the same perfect fit and finish. You’d think guns with a price past the $3,000 mark would all be perfect, but that’s not always the case. Not long ago, a friend purchased a prestigious race doublestack 1911. He felt the trigger wasn’t up to par, and when he disassembled the gun, he found upgraded parts he’d paid for weren’t even on the gun. I reviewed another company’s 9mm race gun—a $3,400 gun—and found the trigger was gritty and the magazine wouldn’t drop free, big problems. This hasn’t been the case with the Guncrafters guns I’ve tested. So far, with three guns tested, I’ve found not a single flaw.

Guncrafter Industries Model 4 review - 3 - rear sightMy test gun was the Model 4 Long Slide model with a 6-inch bull barrel. It’s a big gun, weighing just less than 45 ounces, empty. It features a Wilson Combat adjustable rear and a Trijicon Tritium front sight. The safety is ambidextrous, and there’s a blended magazine well and a flush-cut, deep-crowned bull barrel. The front strap and flat mainspring housing are checkered, as is the contact surface of the magazine release. The solid trigger has a backlash adjustment screw, but needed no adjustment. There was no discernible creep in the trigger. It broke crisp and clean at just over 4 pounds, but felt lighter due to the clean break.

The finish is a pleasant and functional matte black Melonite. It provides a classy look and lowers the coefficient of friction while hardening the surface of the parts. It’s also extremely rust resistant. Every Guncrafter gun I’ve tested has been more than the sum of its parts. Choosing the right components is important, but fit and finish are at least as critical, especially with 1911s, where exacting fit produces both accuracy and reliability.

The relationship between the metal parts is impeccable. The slide is smooth and has no lateral or vertical movement, a perfect mating of slide to frame rails. The thumb safety, grip safety and mainspring housing are a perfect fit and are gently melted to remove any sharp edges that contact the hand.

Guncrafter Industries Model 4 review - 5 - loading magLoading the oversized magazines is easy because the big rounds provide a lot of area to push against. Magazine capacity is seven rounds, and there’s a witness hole on the side to indicate a full magazine. Since the .50 GI round has a rebated rim, the rear of the magazine lip is slightly crimped in to keep the round positioned correctly. Magazine insertion is simple with the extended magazine well, and magazines seat easily, even when fully loaded with the slide down. Magazines drop free of the magazine well, as they should. The Model 4 comes with two stainless magazines with polymer bases. It also comes with a takedown wrench for the one-piece guide rod, a ballistic nylon carrying case, and an embroidered Guncrafter towel.

Shooting the .50 GI isn’t much different from shooting hot defensive loads in a compact 1911. The extra weight helps with the added power. Fully loaded with 230-grain copper hollow points, the Model 4 Longslide weighs 54 ounces. The gun’s weight  and carefully matched recoil spring with full-length recoil spring guide helps keep recoil smooth. You won’t forget the factory loads (purchased from Guncrafter) have about 30 percent more energy than a defensive .45 ACP load, but you won’t be uncomfortable. Recoil is a strong push—no feeling of slamming or peaks.

Guncrafter Industries Model 4 review - performanceAccuracy was exceptional. Bench rested at 25 yards, five-shot groups ran a bit above one inch, with my best group measuring just .551 inches. I’m sure there was a bit of luck in that one, but suffice it to say the Model 4 is accurate. The sights are both easy to see and easy to adjust. The Model 4 feels like a regular 1911 in the hand despite the larger frame and magazines. My friend Mike and I tried running the Texas star on his range with the Model 4, but neither of us managed to clean it. We both came close, but it just didn’t happen.

While the .50 GI is certainly capable  as a defensive round, I imagine the extreme penetration of most of the available loads might be a liability. Should one choose to use it for defense, the 185-grain copper hollow point would be the right call. With a muzzle velocity of almost 1,250 feet per second (fps), the solid copper hollow point expands into a perfect four-pointed star when fired into ballistic gel.

Guncrafter Industries Model 4 Review - 6Another reasonable use for it would be as a trail gun in bear country. The 275-grain jacketed hollow point at about 950 fps approaches .44 Remington Magnum energy, with a power factor of over 260. With eight rounds in a semi-auto, it’s an impressive package indeed. There is some extra weight in the Long Slide version, but there’s also a measurable increase in performance, and that weight also results in more manageable recoil and faster follow-up shots.

Accurate, powerful, reliable, beautiful, OK, where’s the down side? Well, there are a few. First is the availability and price of ammunition. Currently, .50 GI is available from Guncrafter Industries. Pricing runs from about $30 for a box of 20 300-grain FMJ loads, to about $50 for a box of 20 copper hollow points. While this seems a lot for the FMJ loads, the price of the hollow points is only about 40 percent more than quality .45 ACP defensive ammunition. I suspect most of the .50 GI guns won’t see daily use as high-volume shooters, so maybe this isn’t a big factor.

Guncrafter Industries Model 4 review - 7Another downside is the initial purchase price, and again, for what you’re getting, it isn’t unreasonable. The days when guns that cost $3,000 were unusual are long past. As mentioned above, I’ve tested several $3,000 pistols, and some have been unsatisfactory. This certainly isn’t the case with the Model 4. It’s as perfectly executed as any 1911 I’ve ever tested, and several of them have run north of $3,000.

This isn’t a pistol for everyone, and I suspect that’s part of the appeal. It’s a quality piece of equipment, unique in many ways, and it performs as designed. Guncrafter Industries isn’t trying to build guns for everyone; they build guns for a certain demographic, and from what I see of the Model 4, they’ve come pretty close to the center of the target.


Guncrafter Industries Model 4
Type: Semi-auto, single action
Caliber: .50 GI
Barrel: 6 in., match-grade, bull
Weight: 45 oz. (empty)
Trigger: 4 lbs.
Sights: Wilson Combat adjustable rear, Trijicon Tritium front
Finish: Matte black Melonite
Magazine Capacity: 7 rounds
MSRP: $4,125
Manufacturer: Guncrafter Industries

This article is an excerpt from the September 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Ruger LCP II Pistol

Ruger LCP II Review - 2The new Ruger LCP II is an excellent .380 ACP pistol that's easily concealed, has some great features and is a solid shooter.

When I was a young man working behind a gun counter, the choices of truly small pistols were severely limited, and none were more than marginally effective. The smallest were the .22 short and .25 ACP semi-autos that offered less muzzle energy than many air rifles currently available. When one was purchased and the buyer was walking out the door, there was always a remark about the value of chocolate grips, or perhaps filing off the front sight in the event someone made the owner eat it or ingest it into some other orifice. There were Remington-pattern two-shot derringers available, but they were single action, heavy and antiquated. High Standard made a little double-action over/under .22 Magnum, and it was the best tiny gun to be found but offered only two shots and was still pretty heavy because it was all steel.

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To get a small semi-auto in a more powerful caliber, one had to go to guns the size of the Walther PPK that Mr. Bond made famous, and a PPK is not a tiny gun by the standards of today. The PPK and other guns of a similar size were available in .32 and .380 ACP, and ammunition was full metal jacket only. I think James Bond was the only guy who saw the PPK as an effective stopper. There’s a new reality with modern defensive .380 ammunition; it’s now more effective than the standard round-nosed lead 158-grain load that 90 percent of law enforcement officers carried just a few years ago, and because of this, I consider a .380 a viable concealed carry gun when you simply can’t hide a bigger gun.

Ruger LCP II review - 1In the process of writing The Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry Handguns, I reviewed the three most popular .380 sub-compact semi-auto concealed carry pistols. The guns I chose for the test were the Ruger LCP, the S&W Bodyguard and the Glock 42. While all were similar as sub-compact .380s, the three guns revealed a noticeable difference in approach to the same issue. The LCP was certainly the smallest and lightest, but with tiny sights and a challenging trigger. The Bodyguard was a bit larger, still with a long stroke trigger, but was a full featured semi-auto with a slide that locked back on the last round and sights that were more usable at a slight cost in concealability. The Glock was simply a sized-down version of the standard Glock product with all the features of any other Glock, smaller, but hardly a miniscule pistol. As a result, the Glock was easy to shoot, the Ruger was easy to hide and I chose the Bodyguard because it had slide lock and second strike capability.

Ruger LCP II review - 3 - comparison
The new LCP II addresses the shortcomings of the original LCP. LCP II (left), original LCP (right).

A Great Gun…But
As I say almost every time I review a gun, we’re currently blessed with some mighty good choices in firearms, and it’s really hard to improve on what we have. Having said this, the LCP II is a big improvement over an already excellent concealed carry pistol. First impression is that it’s a bit bigger, but it’s just barely bigger than the original. When you operate it, you notice the big improvement, the trigger. The trigger on the older version was a long, double-action-type pull. The gun was already small, and guys with average-sized hands had trouble getting a full stroke before the index finger buried itself into their thumb. In spite of the long compression, the LCP didn’t have second-strike capability, meaning a second pull of the trigger wouldn’t fire the striker in the event of a dud round.

Another shortcoming of the earlier design was the lack of slide lock on the last round. There’s no doubt this omission was to allow lighter weight and simplicity, but it’s a nice feature to have, and most of us who shoot autoloaders have grown accustomed to the slide locking back. Still, the LCP was a very good gun, and at just over 9 ounces with a thin profile and shape, it was an easy gun to hide almost anywhere. Ruger sold tons of them, and it took a lot of LCPs to make a ton.

Ruger LCP II review - 4 - triggerStriker-Fired Trigger in a Hammer Gun
The new gun corrects every shortcoming of the original. First is the trigger. It’s an excellent striker-fired-style trigger. The LCP II isn’t a striker-fired gun. It still has a hammer, but the trigger pull duplicates the bladed, two-stage trigger of a good striker-fired service gun. My test gun’s trigger broke at a reasonable 6 pounds. Light triggers aren’t a good idea on defensive guns in the hands of shooters who aren’t highly trained, and 6 pounds is reasonable. The first stage is light; the second stage is well defined, and while there is backlash, it isn’t excessive.

Ruger LCP II review - 5 - slideThe next improvement is slide lock on the last round. The original LCP had a manual slide lock, and though it was a bit difficult for anyone with sausage fingers, it was functional. The LCP II locks the slide back on the last round, decreasing the time required for a reload by what would seem eons if it was required during a deadly force event. Fortunately, reloads for civilians in defensive situations are almost non-existent, but it’s still a great feature.

Ruger LCP II review - 6 - sightsThe third major improvement was in the sights. On the original model, the sights looked like they might have been an afterthought. They were tiny, but in good light, they worked well enough to produce silver dollar sized groups at 7 yards. The sights on the LCP II are substantially larger, though still smaller than the almost-full-sized sights on a Glock 42. These three improvements cover every area of concern I’ve heard about the original LCP and at a cost of about 1 ounce of weight and $90.00. The MSRP of $349.00 is very competitive in the sub-compact pistol market. Still, Ruger is betting the $259.00 price, and slightly lighter weight, merits keeping the original LCP in the catalog.

Ruger LCP II review - 7 Range Impressions
Shooting the LCP II was much easier than the original and also easier than my previous favorite, the S&W Bodyguard. The two-stage trigger is easy to manage, and the sights are large enough to see. The grip is small, but a small gun can’t have a large grip. I fired it with both the flat magazine plate and the one with the finger hook. With the finger hook, it’s a two-finger arrangement. Without it, I could only get about half my ring finger on the grip. Grip texture is lightly stippled. One thing I noticed from the outset was the slide seemed easier to operate. On the original LCP, there was a separate stage at the beginning of the slide’s stroke. On the LCP II test gun, the slide stroke was smooth all the way back. This is not a big issue for most, but of real importance for those with low hand strength, like some women and older shooters.

Ruger LCP II review - 8 - target
The LCP II is a fully capable pistol at close range.

There is recoil. Even a .22 that weighs 10 ounces will generate recoil, and a firm grip is required to keep it properly placed in the hand when shooting fast. Still, it’s capable of shooting ragged-hole groups at 7 yards, and that’s all you can ask of a gun this small. The sights were easy to see, but I think a three-dot system might make it a bit better in low light. I teach shooting to a lot of novice shooters and lining up three dots is an easy way to teach sight alignment to a former non-shooter. The LCP II is a gun that’ll be attractive to those new to the concept of daily, concealed carry. There were zero malfunctions with the three rounds tested.

The magazine release is easy enough to get to, especially for a small gun, and the LCP II doesn’t just release the magazine, it launches it. I particularly liked the fact that I can drop a magazine without it snagging on the heel of my hand, a common problem with many smaller pistols. The gun comes with only one magazine, and I’d have liked to have another to see just how fast I could accomplish a mag change with it. I suspect it would be about as fast as any compact pistol and faster than some.

Ruger LCP II Review - 9 - with holsterThe Fix Is In
In closing, the LCP II is everything one can ask for from a super tiny, reasonably powerful, decently accurate, easy-to-hide defensive pistol. Were I to revisit that test of the Glock 42 and S&W Bodyguard against the new LCP, the result would be different. The LCP II would be the clear winner because it has the best features of the other guns combined with substantially less size and weight. It’s certainly a good choice and maybe the best choice in the sub-compact pistol market.


Ruger LCP II
Type: Semi-auto, internal hammer-fired
Caliber: .380 ACP
Barrel: 2.75 in., alloy steel
Overall Length: 5.17 in.
Weight: 10.6 oz.
Grips: Integral with polymer frame
Sights: Integral on slide, rear notch and post front
Finish: Blued
Capacity: 6+1
MSRP: $349
Manufacturer: Ruger

Performance Data:

Winchester 95-gr. FMJ   
Best Group: 1.72 in.
Worst Group: 2.34 in.
Avg. Group: 2.01 in.

Winchester 85-gr. Train & Defend
Best Group: 1.02 in.
Worst Group: 1.94 in.
Avg. Group: 1.65 in.

Winchester 85-grain Kinetic HE
Best Group: 1.44 in.
Worst Group: 1.99 in.
Avg. Group: 1.88 in.

Accuracy data was the result of five, five-shot groups fired deliberately at a distance of 7 yards from a standing position.

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Handgun Review: Guncrafter Industries Renaissance 1911

Guncrafter Industries Renaissance - 1The new Guncrafter Industries Renaissance represents the American manufacturer’s top-of-the-line 1911, and as such, it is both highly functional and quite elegant.

Forty years ago, when I got involved in shooting, we rarely discussed shooting pistols as a way of improving our chances in a personal defense situation, and the NRA discouraged calling handguns “weapons.” Now, defensive handguns are the hottest segment of the firearms market. Carrying a handgun has become a way of life for citizens across the demographic board. From soccer moms to plumbers, the realization that the option of armed self-defense might be a life-changing practice is now common.

It’s harder today to find a bad defensive pistol than it is to find a good one. Modern engineering, metallurgy, technology and a rapidly growing market have created a perfect storm of improvement in firearms of all kinds. Modern handguns are designed to be easy to shoot well and have passive safety systems that allow a less-experienced shooter to operate them safely. Many offer interchangeable grip options to make it easier for the shooter to properly grip them. Use of polymer frames reduces weight and allows more comfortable carry, and double-stack magazines double magazine capacity. There are no better functional defensive handguns than modern striker-fired guns made by several popular companies.

Guncrafter Industries Renaissance - 3Having said this, the popularity of the 1911 continues in spite of polymer frames, passive safety systems, double-stack magazines and reduced weight. While modern striker-fired designs may in some ways be better, they aren’t 1911s and have no romance. Any sane person would agree that a Toyota Prius is a very functional car, but many of us (including myself) would rather be driving a V8 Mustang with a manual transmission. In fact, I do drive a V8 Mustang with a manual transmission.

With a plethora of excellent handguns available, some people simply wish to own something that sets them apart from the crowd. There’s no doubt that the modern polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol is reliable, easy to learn, and accurate, but some of us are looking for more than functionality. Guncrafter Industries has been fulfilling that wish with guns built on the venerable 1911 design for years. During my career as a gun writer, I’ve tested several of them from the company’s CCO, an Officer’s sized compact 1911, to the big and powerful Model 4 with a 6-inch long slide and chambered in the potent, proprietary .50 GI round the company developed.

Guncrafter Industries Renaissance -7A Reputation for Quality

Every Guncrafter pistol I’ve tested has been impeccably built, flawless in workmanship, accurate far beyond average, and as reliable as a sledgehammer. Guncrafter firearms don’t rely on gadgetry for accuracy; the quality of the build is the focus. Frame-to-slide fit is perfect; the barrel bushing fits so perfectly, it must be carefully aligned for assembly, yet once aligned, it engages into the slide with buttery smoothness. Triggers break with no discernible creep and almost zero backlash. Machining marks are nonexistent, and finish is impeccable. In short, every aspect of the gun spells quality.

Several years ago, I developed an affinity for fine vintage shotguns, and I still enjoy shooting a 100-year-old side-by-side more than a modern autoloader. As I immersed myself in the vintage shotgun mindset, I learned the attraction was more than functionality. The attraction is more an appreciation of the gunmaker’s art. It comes from an emotional attraction to something that is truly exceptional in the execution of its creation. Therein lies the justification for ownership of a Guncrafter Industries Renaissance.

Guncrafter Industries Renaissance - 5A Heritage of Competition

The Renaissance is the highest-quality product for a company that creates exceptionally fine products. Functionally, it’s like a top-of-the-line Excellence in Competition hardball .45. In the era when 1911 hardball .45s were the only guns allowed in the Civilian Marksmanship Program, the best gunsmiths in the country built special 1911s for EIC matches. These guns were designed to shoot the exclusive matches that allowed a pistol shooter to acquire the coveted Distinguished Pistol badge. They were robust guns because the only ammunition allowed in those matches was the 230-grain full metal jacket ammunition issued to troops or the more quality controlled hardball Lake City match ammunition with the same bullet and velocity, but loaded to higher standards for competition use.

Those guns had to be durable because a competitor would shoot thousands of rounds during a competitive season. They also had to be reliable because a malfunction could cost the competitor the match. They were remarkably accurate because they were fired from one hand at a range of 50 yards in slow, timed and rapid fire. The triggers had to break at no less than 4.5 pounds, and for one-handed accuracy at 50 yards, there could be no creep or backlash. At the time, they were the epitome of the 1911 builder’s art.

Guncrafter Industries Renaissance - 8Not Just a Pretty Face

During my review of the Renaissance, I tested it in a Ransom Rest at 25 yards with Lake City Match 230-grain hardball ammunition. My worst group was a bit over 2 inches, while my best measured an absolutely remarkable .409 inches center to center. I don’t consider myself a great pistol shooter, and I know there was a certain amount of luck in that tiny group, but suffice it to say that the Renaissance is accurate. I have no doubt that in the hands of a good shooter the Renaissance could compete against one of those guns.

While all 1911s are similar, there are small things that make shooting some more comfortable than others. Besides amazing accuracy, the Guncrafter Renaissance is gently shaped to remove any sharp edges that make handling it uncomfortable. There’s texture where you need it, and smooth edges where they make the gun more comfortable. The defining thing one notices when shooting it is the trigger. The trigger on my test gun broke like a glass rod at just under 4 pounds, but the smooth first stage and almost indiscernible backlash made it feel lighter. In a group class, I allowed several clients who normally shoot striker-fired guns to shoot the Renaissance, and they were amazed at the trigger and the groups they shot with it. At 10 yards, several novice shooters tried it on the same B34 target with no shots outside the ten zone. It’s an easy gun to shoot well.

Guncrafter Industries Renaissance - 9More Than the Sum of Its Parts

But there’s more to the Renaissance than function, and for the price there should be. Not only was my test gun extremely well built, it was also very beautiful. The finish is a rich traditional hot blue. The grips are smooth. The butt is gently rounded, the slide is tastefully hand engraved at the front and rear of the slide in a floral pattern and done by Jim Downing in Missouri; even the grip screws are engraved. There a lot of guns on the market with scrollwork that’s represented as engraving, but almost all those guns are roll stamped or laser cut. Hand engraving is cut by the craftsman using chisels, making each gun an individual work of art.

Is any 1911 worth $5,000? I suppose not from the standpoint of function alone, but a Timex watch will give you the time and a Ford will get you to work. There’s more to life than just whether or not something will perform the job. That’s why Rolex sells watches and Lamborgini sells cars, and it’s why Guncrafter Industries makes works of art like the Renaissance.


Guncrafter Industries Renaissance 1911
Type: Semi-auto, single action, hammer fired
Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel: 5 in., stainless steel match
Overall Length: 8.5 in.
Weight: 39 oz.
Grips: Polished exotic ironwood
Sights: Novak U notch rear with cocking surface and gold bead front
Finish: High polish, hot salt blued
Capacity: 8+1
Price: $4,995
Manufacturer: Guncrafter Industries

This article is an excerpt from the April 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Springfield Armory EMP 4

Springfield Armory EMP 4 Review - 1The new Springfield Armory EMP 4 provides fans of Browning’s classic design with a dedicated and upgraded 9mm 1911 well suited for carry.

As a writer and instructor, I’m often asked to suggest a quality concealed carry pistol. There are so many exceptionally good pistols and revolvers today that it’s more difficult to find a bad carry gun than a good one. Still, the concealed carry market is the hottest segment in the firearms industry, so manufacturers are constantly striving to upgrade offerings to make them more desirable. While modern polymer frame striker-fired pistols own the lion’s share of the market, there still are many who prefer the old school 1911-style pistols.

Adapted for military service 105 years ago, the 1911 is still a viable choice for self defense. It’s earned a reputation for ruggedness and reliability, and no one in their right mind would argue with over 100 years of success. Modern metallurgy and engineering have improved the already-proven design, and today’s 1911s are even better than the originals.

Springfield Armory EMP 4 - 3Springfield Armory was formed to manufacture the M1A rifle in 1974. A few years later it began producing the 1911 pistol in service grade. In 2001, the company introduced the highly successful XD line of pistols produced in Croatia, but it’s still one of the most recognizable 1911 producers. In 2001, Springfield introduced the Range Officer (RO), a 1911 that came from the factory with competition upgrades. With an excellent BoMar-style rear sight, an ambidextrous safety and extended grip safety, the Range Officer was a basic platform for the competitive shooter and saw considerable success.

The original 9mm 1911 was the Colt Commander, with a 4.25-inch barrel and an aluminum frame. It was more concealable and manageable for service and concealed carry. Recently, Springfield Armory introduced the 9mm EMP, reviewed in these pages. While the 9mm round was easily adapted to 1911s, the magazines always used either a spacer in the rear or a crimped area up front to keep the shorter 9mm round from floating around in standard 1911 magazines. The EMP series of pistols are redesigned in the grip area to better fit shorter 9mm and .40 S&W rounds, with the added bonus of a smaller and more compact grip.

Springfield Armory EMP 4 Review - 2
The EMP 4 features a matte finished stainless steel slide and a 4-inch barrel.

At first glance, you don’t see the difference, but go from the standard size to the EMP grip, and it’s noticeable. Designed primarily as a self defense, concealable pistol, the EMP is definitely more concealable. While the grip is .125 inch shorter from front to back, it’s also .200 inch thinner than the standard 9mm Range Officer grip due to thinner grip panels. The result is a gun that’s much more comfortable for those with smaller hands. Also, the thumb and grip safeties are more smoothly contoured than the Range Officer. The original EMP was introduced at the 2016 SHOT Show with a 3-inch bull barrel and now, there’s a 4-inch version, the subject of this review. Weighing in at 31 ounces, the EMP 3 features a Novak-style rear sight with two white dots and a high-visibility front sight that comes with both red and green inserts. Both sights are drift adjustable for windage. While the slide is matte finished stainless steel, the frame is matte finished black aluminum alloy. There are cocking serrations on the rear of the slide, and in 9mm, racking the slide is easily accomplished. The hammer and trigger are skeletonized, and there’s no backlash adjustment on the trigger, a reasonable choice since it’s designed as a defensive pistol. The front strap and flat mainspring housing are nicely checkered, offering good grip without being uncomfortable. The beavertail grip safety has an enhanced bump at the bottom. Grip panels are checkered walnut with the familiar crossed cannons Springfield Armory logo. The safety is ambidextrous, and the 10-round magazines have a polymer base cap.

Springfield Armory EMP 4 review - 6The EMP 4 uses a full-length one-piece guide rod that requires an L-shaped tool for disassembly. While disassembly is more complicated than most modern striker-fired pistols, it’s still easily accomplished. Trigger pull was a crisp 5.4 pounds with only a small amount of backlash, certainly reasonable on a defensive gun.

Springfield Armory EMP 4 review - 4Shooting the EMP4 was pleasant, with mild recoil, good sights and an easily managed trigger. I experienced no malfunctions during the test, even with a light competition loading of three grains of TiteGroup and a 147-grain coated bullet. I also tested three different defensive loads, Remington 124-grain Golden Saber, 115-grain Winchester Silvertip, and Black Hills 124-grain 9mm+P. At 7 yards, I ran multiple magazines and kept almost everything in the ten ring of the B34G targets I use for training. Accuracy testing was done off sandbags at 25 yards with groups averaging a bit less than 3 inches and my best group at 1.6 inches with Winchester Silvertip 115s. I did find the EMP 4 shot a bit high for me with all loads tested, but most shooters tend to shoot lower than I do anyway.

During my weekly training sessions, I let several clients shoot the EMP and all were favorably impressed. Two were under the age of 16, and both remarked how easy the EMP is to shoot and operate. I think this is because of the smaller grip and light recoil spring.

Springfield Armory EMP 4 review - 5Like many other Springfield Armory products, the EMP 4 comes in a hard plastic pistol case with a holster, magazine pouch, tools, sight inserts, a lock, and three magazines. Due to the changes in the grip frame, standard 9mm 1911 magazines won’t work. With an MSRP of $1,199, the EMP is a moderately priced, premium pistol. Compared to the recently tested XD Mod 2, it’s a bit short on magazine capacity yet noticeably slimmer. Probably the most impressive thing I can say about Springfield Armory relates to reliability. As a gun writer, I’ve done reviews on almost a dozen different Springfield Armory models, from competition guns to carry guns. Of all those guns tested, I’ve only experienced two malfunctions, and both were ammunition related.

Springfield Armory EMP 4 review - 5We are blessed in the number of really good handguns that are currently available. We all have preferences, and the 1911 has a loyal following. Modern 9mm ammunition is much more effective than it was a couple of decades back, and hardly anyone considers it less than effective as a defensive round now. The ease of operation, low recoil, and low cost of practice ammunition have made the 9mm a favorite for personal defense. Springfield Armory has delivered a viable 9mm concealable 1911 that’s bound to find favor in the modern self defense market.


Springfield Armory EMP 4
Type: Semi-auto, single action
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 10+1
Barrel Length: 4 in.
Barrel Material: Stainless steel
Twist Rate: 1:16 LH
Overall Length: 7.5 in.
Height: 5.5 in.
Grip Material: Walnut
Grip Design: Individual panels, checkered
Sight: Two-dot Novak rear, high-visibility front, dovetailed
Trigger Pull: 5.4 lbs.
Weight: 31 oz.
Price: $1,199
Manufacturer: Springfield Armory

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the September 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.