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Dick Jones

Understanding +P Ammunition


Understanding +P Ammo

Why some guns can handle the pressure of +P ammunition and others cannot.

When discussing defensive handguns, a lot is said about calibers that are one-shot stoppers. The object of defensive ammunition is to stop the threat, and in most cases that means wielding a lethal blow to the assailant. But in reality, the concept of a pistol caliber that can reliably stop a bad guy with one shot is not possible under normal conditions.

A recent study of incapacitation data by the FBI Training Division states: “Shots to the central nervous system [CNS] at the level of the cervical spine [neck] or above are the only means to reliably cause immediate incapacitation. In this case, any of the calibers commonly used in law enforcement, regardless of expansion, would suffice for obvious reasons. Other than shots to the CNS, the most reliable means for affecting rapid incapacitation is by placing shots to large vital organs, thus causing rapid blood loss.”

While a single shot to the brain has instant stopping capability, shots to the head in defensive situations are rarely the best choice.

Most law enforcement officers and civilians simply don’t have the capability to make such shots reliably under the obvious stress of a life-threatening situation. As a result, ammunition for defense should be capable of penetrating sufficiently to access vital organs and generate massive blood loss. Until the 1970s, most ammunition for defensive use was the same ammunition used for target practice, training and military use.

None of this ammunition provided bullet expansion. No handgun ammunition for practical defense applications is capable of producing hydrostatic shock, which disrupts tissue far beyond the wound channel. Handgun calibers rely on penetration and the size of the wound channel. Expansion of the bullet helps, but there must be reliable penetration to get to those vital areas.

The energy produced by ammunition is what provides penetration and expansion. The more energy, the better the chance the projectile will penetrate and/or expand. In modern calibers like .357 SIG or .38 Super, all firearms available are of sufficiently recent manufacture to assure they can handle the pressures of modern defensive ammunition. This is not the case with rounds like .380 ACP, .45 Colt or .38 Special.

These rounds have been around for a century or more, and many of the guns chambered for them simply couldn’t handle a sizable increase in pressure. This is why .357 and .44 Magnum rounds are just slightly longer than their non-magnum counterparts. The longer case precluded their use in older guns that couldn’t handle the higher pressures.

Arguably, the first +P round was .38 Super. It’s an identical case to the old .38 Auto, but .38 Super is loaded to about 36,000 psi compared to .38 Auto at about 26,000 psi. While simply changing the name of the round worked, the ammunition manufacturers needed a designation to indicate ammunition made for modern firearms engineered to handle higher pressure, hence the development of +P and +P+ ammunition.

The amount of pressure change isn’t a standard percentage, but rather it’s based on the individual caliber and the design of the firearms available. For instance, the pressure increase for .38 Special and 9mm Luger is only about 10 percent, but the pressure increase for .45 Colt is almost double the pressure of standard ammunition.

This is because the original .45 Colt was a black powder round, and there are a lot of very old guns still capable of shooting that round. The modern guns chambered for the .45 Colt round are almost identical to guns chambered for .44 Magnum and are capable of much higher pressures without distress.

Just because a firearm is of newer manufacture doesn’t mean it’s capable of handling +P ammunition. Guns designed as such will have the +P designation indicated with the caliber. The advantages of +P are obvious, but they do come with the disadvantage of more recoil and muzzle blast.

For defensive situations, more power is better, provided you can handle it. Remember, however, that if you face a life-threatening situation, you’re not likely to feel the recoil, just like hunters don’t notice the recoil when taking game. Normal training can be done with standard ammunition, but +P defensive ammunition will give you a better chance if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to use your gun to defend your life.

This article also appeared in the January 1, 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Steps to Buying a Gun Suppressor

This suppressor on a Mossberg .223 MVP reduced the report to that of a powerful air rifle. No ear protection needed. James Card Photo
This suppressor on a Mossberg .223 MVP reduced the report to that of a powerful air rifle. No ear protection needed. James Card Photo

Misperceptions about the ability to own a gun suppressor abound. Getting one is actually easier than you think.

Choose Your Suppressor

Suppressor shooting events are becoming more common and give you a chance to evaluate models. James Card Photo
Suppressor shooting events are becoming more common and give you a chance to evaluate models. James Card Photo

The idea of firing a shot with little noise is naturally intriguing to many of us who love to shoot, and in the past couple of years I’ve noticed more and more suppressors in the hands of individuals, both at the range and at competitions.

In fact, the suppressor/silencer industry has become one of the fastest growing segments in the firearms market today. One of the reasons for this growth is that many states have relaxed laws concerning their purchase and use, and folks are learning the process just isn’t as intimidating as they once thought it was.

Since the cost of a suppressor can be as much as the firearm it’s attached to, and the tax stamp required costs $200 in addition to the cost of the suppressor, it makes sense to have the ability to use the suppressor on more than one gun. That flexibility should be part of the decision when choosing the right suppressor for your needs.

As in the selection of any other device, there are trade-offs to be made when selecting a suppressor. Rimfire units can be quite small and light but will not work on centerfire guns. All other considerations being the same, larger units are more efficient but, of course, are heavier and bulkier.

Centerfire silencers can be used on rimfires, but they should be made with the capability to disassemble and clean because rimfire ammunition tends to be much more dirty.

If you choose to use your suppressor on different guns, you’ll want a unit that’s easy to remove and replace. In choosing a suppressor, you should also take into consideration the rate of fire. High rates of fire really heat up smaller units and can damage them.

I recently tested a Yankee Hill 9mm silencer that uses a serviceable one-piece baffle and a quick twist ½-inch 28 thread that’s compatible with rimfire versions of M4, M16 and AR-15 rifles. It’s designed to be used on 9mm pistols and rifles, but it works equally well on .22 rimfire ARs, .22 pistols and other rimfire rifles, giving complete versatility in the ability to be used on any gun fitted with an adapter.

If the suppressor is only to be used on a single rifle or pistol, the mounting system can be simpler, and there is some additional cost for quick-change systems. Some guns are integrally suppressed, with the silencer built into the barrel unit for a lighter, cleaner look.

For centerfire rifles, suppressor units can be multipurpose as well. Chris Cerino, of “Top Shot” television fame, uses a Gemtech .308 can on his Remington 700 and has a quick adapter for his .223 AR platform rifles, as well.

“I know there may some loss of efficiency, but the .308 works so well I really can’t tell it from a dedicated .223 unit. The level of sound suppression seems as good, though the unit is heavier and larger than a dedicated .223 unit,” Cerino says. “There’s a great bonus in the ability to get double duty out of the .30 caliber unit.”

Caliber Selection & Sound

Decide what you want to use it for and match the suppressor to the job. James Card Photo
Decide what you want to use it for and match the suppressor to the job. James Card Photo

Of course, if you want truly quiet operation, caliber selection is tantamount. In pistol and rimfire calibers, finding subsonic ammunition isn’t that difficult. For centerfire rifle use, it’s quite a bit more difficult. The .300 Blackout, created by Advanced Armament Corp. in cooperation with Remington Defense, has the same case base as the .223 round and therefore works perfectly in AR-platform rifles and magazines.

The .300 Blackout was developed specifically for use in suppressed firearms, and is capable of taking deer-sized animals with bullets from 200 to 250 grains at subsonic speeds. In supersonic loadings with lighter bullets, it duplicates the 7.62×39. A suppressor designed for .300 Blackout can be used on ARs in .223, as well as rimfire pistols and rifles.

In some states, recent laws have made it easier to obtain a suppressor. For instance, in my home state of North Carolina, a December 12, 2012, change in the law makes the legal requirements identical to federal law, and thus the process simpler.

This year our state passed a law that allows for using a silencer for hunting. Other states have passed similar laws. Your dealer can inform you on the requirements in your state.

With the growing interest in suppressors and the simplicity of obtaining them, this is becoming a fast growing part of recreational shooting. Silencers or suppressors offer practical applications for recreational and competitive shooting, as well as hunting. While the process to silencer/suppressor ownership isn’t simple, it’s only a little more complicated than the process of buying a surplus M1 rifle from the Civilian Marksmanship Program.

Get Your Own

This Walther is fairly compact and handles well even with the silencer attached. Author Photo
This Walther is fairly compact and handles well even with the silencer attached. Author Photo

You can register the purchase of a suppressor in three ways: as an individual, as a trust or as a corporation. All have advantages, but the most expedient for most people is to set up a trust (See “NFA Trusts” page 26). Most silencer companies can refer you to a lawyer who can assist you with setting up the trust, and some claim to be able to process the trust in as little as 24 hours. Currently, 39 states allow private ownership of suppressors.

They include Alabama; Arkansas; Alaska; Arizona; Colorado; Connecticut; Florida; Georgia; Idaho; Indiana; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Michigan; Missouri; Mississippi; Montana; North Dakota; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Mexico; North Carolina; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Presently, gun-rights groups are working in the other 11 states to secure the legal use of suppressors for target shooting or hunting use. Odds are with so many states permitting suppressor ownership, it’s a good bet you are among the number of recreational shooters who can buy and own your very own silencer.

Modern Shooter sponsor Silencer Shop makes getting your own suppressor easy. They walk buyers through the entire application and purchasing process and even track approval of your application with the BATFE. Visit their website at silencershop.com.

Handgun Review: Guncrafter CCO

The match barrel and trigger of the CCO delivered tight, accurate groups.
The match barrel and trigger of the CCO delivered tight, accurate groups. Dan Daessite photo.

The Guncrafter CCO is a thoroughbred 1911 for everyday carry.

The Guncrafter CCO has a unadorned matte stainless finish that lends it a no-nonsense workhorse aesthetic.
The Guncrafter CCO has an unadorned matte stainless finish that lends it a no-nonsense workhorse aesthetic.

As a reviewer of guns, it’s my responsibility to be fair and impartial and come to every review with an open mind. Having said this, I know it’s not possible for a fallible human being to accomplish true impartiality. As a result, I give every effort to approach every review as open minded as possible.

On the same day I received the Guncrafter’s CCO described in this review, I participated in another gun test with another writer. We tested several 1911s designed for concealed carry use. All of them were relatively expensive guns, all were accurate enough for a defensive carry gun and every one of these guns malfunctioned, in spite of the fact that they were built by what I consider to be premium makers. To say the least, I was disappointed.

Having run several hundred rounds through lightweight 1911s the previous day, I wasn’t that excited about doing the same thing the next but a gun writer’s work is gun writer’s work. I had to visit my gunsmith, Mike Byrd of B&B Precision Machine, though, and Mike loves to shoot, especially when someone else is furnishing the ammo. Mike rebuilds almost every gun he gets, and he’s a perfectionist. So when Mike is impressed, so am I.

The CCO is a beautiful gun. I don’t normally wax poetic about 1911s. They’re workhorse guns, and I don’t care for fancy inlays, engraving or ivory grips. I love functional 1911s, and the CCO is functional and beautiful. While the front and back grip straps are checkered, all the corners are gently rounded. There’s a substantial beavertail on the grip safety and a generous bump at the bottom to allow thin hands to engage it.

The officer-sized bottom end has a rounded butt for comfort and concealment, and the magazine well is beveled. The grips are slim, but provide excellent purchase without being abrasive. The medium-sized safety and magazine release are nicely grooved, and the slide release outer surface is checkered for a better feel.

The top of the slide is milled flat with longitudinal grooves. My test gun was the matt stainless version, and the finish was uniform and unadorned, with the only branding being in small letters on the right side, almost under the lower edge of the slide.

Premium Quality Firearm

Guncrafter-CCO-Review-3Of course, pretty is as pretty does, or something like that, and the CCO shoots pretty darn good. My first session impressed Mike and me with how good the trigger is, how accurate it is and how easy it is to manage in spite of being a concealed carry 1911.

It’s also very reliable, and that’s a premium quality in a defensive firearm. We both ran plates at 10 and 15 yards and stayed well under the standard time of six and seven seconds respectively. In fact, Mike ran the plates in five seconds and change from 15 yards. Recoil with hardball .45 was there, but it was manageable and not uncomfortable. As a matter of curiosity, we even tried some light 650-fps plate loads with 230-grain bullets.

I didn’t think a standard defensive gun would run loads that light, but the CCO ran them without a hiccup. We didn’t check the spring weight, but both felt it was a standard spring. I think the gun is just so slick it can run those light loads.

At $3,299, this isn’t a gun that will be purchased on price point. It’s a gun that will be purchased on quality point. If there’s a thoroughbred 1911 carry gun, this is probably it. I’ve mentioned the aesthetics, but the CCO isn’t just about looks, it’s about everything being as good as it can get. The frame, slide and stainless match barrel are all forged.

The skeleton hammer, sear and disconnector are machined from high-grade tool steel. The slide stop is machined from bar stock and there’s an extra heavy-duty barrel bushing with an extra thick flange. There’s a match trigger, and the Tritium sights are extra sturdy to allow for one-handed slide racking using the rear.

The 1911 design is probably the most successful firearm design in history and may be the most successful ever. It’s still at the top of the heap after 104 years, and I see no signs of that popularity fading. Model 1911s dominate almost every pistol-shooting venue shot across the country, from precision shooting at Camp Perry to USPSA, IDPA and even the famed Bianchi Cup. There’s a whole industry formed around the 1911.

Having said this, a 1911 works best in its original configuration, and shortening and lightening it can create potential issues.

The four compact 1911s I tested the day I received the CCO illustrate this perfectly. All those companies can build a perfectly adequate full-sized 1911. I recently tested a compact 1911 that ran flawlessly, but it was a top-of-the-line gun for the maker. It’s possible to downsize for concealed carry, but it’s harder to build a reliable, smaller 1911 handgun.

The CCO represents an effort by Guncrafter to build a quality concealable version of John Browning’s finest achievement. They didn’t cut corners anywhere in the process. They built the best gun they could, and then they figured up the price. I can assure you there are guns that cost this much that aren’t reliable, accurate and well-prepped for daily carry use. I can also assure you that the Guncrafter CCO I tested was all of those things, and the best doesn’t come cheap.\

Guncrafter CCO review. Guncrafter CCO
Caliber:    .45 ACP
Capacity:    7 + 1
Magazines:    Two stainless steel
Barrel:    4 ¼ in. match stainless
Sights:    GI extra heavy, tritium vertical inserts
Frame:    Forged stainless or aluminum, black Melonite or matt stainless finish
Slide:    Forged stainless, black Melonite or matt stainless finish
Length:    7 7/8 in.
Height:    5 in. w/o magazine
Weight:    33 oz. in stainless,
27 oz. in aluminum frame
Options:    Stainless or aluminum frame, stainless or duo-tone finish, ambidextrous safety
SRP:    $3,299
Website:    guncrafterindustries.com

Handgun Review: .380 Carry Pistols


The sometimes-maligned .380 is still a favorite carry choice. Here we test three of the more popular .380 carry pistols side-by-side.

The three test pistols, (top to bottom): Glock 42, Smith & Wesson Bodyguard, and Ruger LCP.
The three test pistols, (top to bottom): Glock 42, Smith & Wesson Bodyguard, and Ruger LCP.

One of the hottest choices of concealed carry guns for the small gun/comfortable group is the semi-auto .380s. They’re very light and extremely slim, and you can carry one anywhere without the slightest discomfort. There are a lot of models, and getting all of them together for a test was a daunting task.

I don’t like daunting tasks, so I chose the three I thought best represented the cream of the crop. They certainly represent the most popular, one being new this year, but having a strong brand following, the other two having strong sales records.

The new gun on the block is the Glock 42. The new .380 may be a single-stack .380, but it’s Glock through and through. The 42 has the same Glock trigger, the standard easy-to-see Glock sights and the same styling and controls of its bigger brothers.

It’s a little bigger than most .380 semi-autos, falling between the average .380 and the smaller 9s like the S&W Shield. While guns like the PPK are larger, I guess you could say it’s the largest of the subcompact .380s.

The second gun in the test is the iconic Ruger LCP. These little guns have probably been as close to the cause of the shortage in .380 ammunition as any other models. The LCP is the smallest of the three and also the simplest.

The Ruger design is double action but doesn’t have re-strike capability. The trigger pull doesn’t completely cock the hammer, meaning a dud round requires a cycle of the slide like the striker-fired Glock. Another distinguishing feature is the lack of slide lock on the last round in the magazine.

The slide won’t lock to the rear on the last shot, but you can lock the slide back manually for safety and cleaning. Clearing a malfunction on a tiny .380 can be a trying and potentially dangerous experience without the slide locked back. For sighting, the Ruger has a small milled bump for a front sight and a milled groove in the rear.

The third gun is the S&W Bodyguard, a subcompact with full double-action-only operation, a slide lock and a built-in laser. The laser switch is activated with buttons on either side of the frame forward of the trigger guard. Slightly larger and heavier than the Ruger, the Bodyguard also has a thumb safety and uses a Baughman Quick Draw ramped front sight and a ramped rear sight. Both front and rear sights are dovetailed into the slide.

All the guns use polymer frames and steel slides. All three also have 6 + 1 capacity, and shoot the .380 or 9mm Kurtz round. All three guns represent what their manufacturers believe to be the best way to build a subcompact .380. All have advantages.

The Ruger is the smallest and lightest at less than 10 ounces, but the slide doesn’t lock back on the last round and it has tiny sights. The Glock is the easiest to shoot because of its size, has the best sights and the benefit of the same trigger as larger Glock models. The Bodyguard has double-action re-strike capability, a manual safety and a laser as standard equipment.

Accuracy at 7 yards was good enough to keep everything in the A zone of an IDPA target, even when shooting fast. Author Photo
Accuracy at 7 yards was good enough to keep everything in the A zone of an IDPA target, even when shooting fast. Author Photo

Shooting Impressions

The Ruger LCP is certainly the smallest of the three guns. It’s also the lightest, but it has the least features. While an extended 380-Carry-Pistols-Test-3gunfight with a .380 seems unlikely, a slide that locks back on the last round is a valuable feature. At least there’s a manual slide lock. Naturally its lightweight property and small size resulted in the most recoil, and though it didn’t feel out of control, I suspect follow-up shots were slower.

The LCP also had the longest trigger stroke and the shortest distance from the web of my hand to the trigger. I suspect this made the trigger feel less manageable, but a shooter with a smaller hand might not notice. The sights are tiny, but I shot a smaller group with the LCP than with the Glock. There were no malfunctions, and even when I held it loosely in one hand, I couldn’t make it not function.

I did notice one issue on the Ruger that might create problems for shooters with poor hand strength. In teaching concealed carry, I have a lot of new shooters and many are older women. Most of those women have trouble cycling the slide on most semi-autos.

I had a few women cycle the slide on all three of these pistols, and all agreed the Ruger was the most difficult. This is partially because of the small size, but it’s also because of the way the Ruger unlocks. As the unlock sequence nears completion there’s a secondary resistance that caused weaker hands to lose their grip of the slide. For older women with weak hand strength, cycling the slide might not be possible.

The Glock was certainly the easiest to shoot well, and it had the least recoil. It also had the best trigger and hand position. Shooting it felt like I was shooting a larger gun. Even though the grip is about the same length as the Bodyguard, it felt longer. I think this is because of the way the shape of the rear tang fits into the palm of my hand.

All agreed the Glock’s sights were the best, but at the expense of small size. Author Photos
All agreed the Glock’s sights were the best, but at the expense of small size. Author Photos

The Glock also clearly had the best sights, though it shot the largest group. If you look at the group, though, you’ll notice that seven bullets went into a knot with an extreme spread of just .641. I suspect I bear the responsibility for the other three shots. The Glock did experience one malfunction—a double feed on the second round from a full magazine. This happened when I was holding the gun normally. It cycled every time with the loose hold, but in one session the slide failed to lock back.

The most accurate of the three was the Bodyguard. It shot a cluster with three shots that were flyers. The total group was the smallest, but the seven-shot cluster measured only .462 center to center. At seven yards standing with a pocket pistol, this is remarkable accuracy. It also shot closest to point of aim, with the seven-shot cluster taking out the 3/4-inch aiming point almost completely.

The trigger has a long stroke, but it’s very manageable, and sights are small but easy to see and line up. It was also the easiest to stroke the slide, stroking smoothly and with a more comfortable gripping area. The safety is an added plus, and while it took a hard push to engage it, it was reasonably easy to disengage.

The Bodyguard was the overall winner, at least for me. Not as small as the Ruger, it has a slide that locks on the last round, a manual safety, good sights and trigger, and a laser to boot. It’s mid-priced of the three guns and cheaper than a Ruger LCR equipped with a laser.

A true double action with re-strike capability, the features simply outweigh the other guns. The women who handled the guns, rating slide stroke and trigger pull, all gave it the best marks. The re-strike capability is invaluable for those who aren’t the best at the tap/rack drill.

Those who have preferences towards a more manageable gun will like the Glock better. Those most interested in small size will likely go for the Ruger, and of course brand loyalty can and will play a part in an individual’s choice, but when I consider the whole package, I have to go with what the Bodyguard had to offer.

Test Your Marksman Skills with Long-Range Shooting

The ability to read the wind in long range is probably more important than shooting ability. At 1,000 yards the slightest change of wind speed or value will put you out of the 10 ring.
The ability to read the wind in long range is probably more important than shooting ability. At 1,000 yards the slightest change of wind speed or value will put you out of the 10 ring. Photo: Dick Jones.

Dick Jones won the North State Regional 1,000 Yard Championship at Camp Butner, N.C., two consecutive years. The competitive shooter relays some of the tricks, tips and considerations of high-performance long-range shooting.

Going Long
I’ve been encouraged by the recent interest in long-range shooting. I enjoy almost every form of shooting, but precision position shooting has always appealed to me.

While I like the precision of benchrest competition because it involves extremely accurate rifles and ammunition, I prefer a broader kind of long-range shooting, where the skill of the shooter is more emphasized. Most of my competitive shooting career was in the field of NRA High Power, and my definition of long range might be different from someone from a different background.

In High Power, long-range shooting begins at 800 yards as part of the Palma course of fire. Mid-range shooting is done at 600 yards, and 200 and 300 yards are considered short range.

For most hunters and recreational shooters, any range beyond 300 yards is often considered long range, and this comes with good reason. Any shot at a game animal beyond 300 yards should only be attempted if the shooter has a good working knowledge of the trajectory of his rifle, and some idea of the effects of wind.

The primary reason for this is that a properly sighted-in rifle can stay within 4 inches of point of aim out to about 300 yards. In most situations, staying within 4 inches of point of aim is a reasonable goal and will suffice in most situations.

Knowing Your Zero
Beyond 300 yards, almost all rifles begin to require holdover or elevation adjustment, and the effects of the wind become much more critical. The ability to consistently make good shots at long range doesn’t require any special talent. It only requires preparation and judgment based on that preparation.

Once you’ve put the work in, there’s no excuse for not getting the elevation right. We now have range finders, ballistic calculators and even scopes with the elevation knob calibrated to the drop numbers of a specific load.

Even though all this information is quite good, there’s no substitute for actually checking the point of impact at different distances for assurances the numbers are correct. It’s been my experience that the numbers are almost always off a minute of angle or so, in most instances due to weather conditions, barrel length and other factors.

The bull’s-eye on the conventional 1,000-yard target is 48” across and looks like the period at the end of a sentence at 1,000 yards. The 10 ring is 20” with a 10” X ring.
The bull’s-eye on the conventional 1,000-yard target is 48” across and looks like the period at the end of a sentence at 1,000 yards. The 10 ring is 20” with a 10” X ring. Photo: Dick Jones.

All the elevation information in the world won’t get you on target unless you can figure out what the wind is going to do to your bullet in the time it takes to get to the target.

At 1,000 yards, it takes a 180-grain Matchking from a 22-inch M1A barrel about two seconds to get to the target. By the time it gets there, my match loads were no longer supersonic, and dropped through the target with no supersonic snap. During this time, the bullet is high above the range.

Remember, to hit a target at 1,000 yards, I had to bring the sights up 38 minutes or about 34 feet. The trajectory takes the bullet even higher than this, so the wind the bullet is traveling through is not just a few feet off the ground.

When scoring and coaching at 1,000 yards, a good coach can pick up the trace of the bullet as it drops through the tree line behind the berm at Camp Butner and follow it into the target. This is a lot of exposure to wind. Miss the wind by 2 mph and you’re going to shoot an eight or seven. Miss the wind by 5 mph, and you’re off the paper with little chance of getting back on.

This all means the little wind meter you hold in your hand may not help. It only measures the wind where you’re standing, and that may be substantially different from the wind where your bullet has to pass.

On KD, or Known Distance ranges, there are normally wind flags, but the apparent angle of the flag can fool you based on your position on the range and these can be confusing. Probably the most reliable wind indicator is mirage, the refraction of light waves by heat.

Mirage indicates wind direction, speed in frequency and amplitude. I find it on average to be the most reliable way to gauge wind. Under certain conditions of low light, there can be an absence of mirage, so it can’t always be counted on.

Long-Range Shooting TipsTo properly read the amplitude and frequency of the mirage, you need some sort of horizontal line to compare. I like to read the top edge of the target, provided that’s a straight edge, as it is on a KD range. At 600 yards, this is a good representation of the space where the bullet spends the most time.

Remember to read an area above the target because it will give you a more realistic reading. Ground speeds tend to be lower than higher elevations where the bullet travels. When you read mirage through a scope, do so with the scope focused at mid-range to give a better representation of strength and direction.

The common theory is that deflection at short range has more affect because it’s exaggerated by the distance, but it’s been my experience that wind deflection has about the same effect through all the bullet’s flight because when the bullet is further down range, it’s going slower and therefore more affected. In competitive shooting situations, most long-range shooters fire their shots in a very short length of time, reducing the opportunity for wind changes.

Learning to reliably read wind is time consuming, and I don’t think there’s any other way to do it but to shoot in the wind in situations where you know within seconds where your last bullet went. Until recently, the only way to do this was to shoot on a range with pit targets where someone pulls and marks your target on every shot.

Now, there are several companies who make cameras that will transmit your group to your IPad, computer screen, or Smart Phone. Most of these devices even flash or mark the last shot. This is going to make learning to read wind a lot easier for those dedicated enough to actually shoot and pay attention.

A view from the 1,000-yard line at Camp Butner, in North Carolina, the tiny targets and number boards are six feet square.
A view from the 1,000-yard line at Camp Butner, in North Carolina, the tiny targets and number boards are six feet square. Photo: Dick Jones

Ammunition choices for long-range shooting are different from hunting or short-range shooting. The aerodynamic characteristics of the bullet become an issue of paramount importance, since the bullet stays in the air for such a long time.

Up to about 300 yards, the shape of the bullet has little effect on trajectory. This is because the trajectory at short ranges is based on the bullet at velocities very near muzzle velocity. Once you get past 600 yards, velocity falls off drastically and the falling rate of the bullet remains the same. As an example, the 600 yard zero on my M1A .308 was just 13 minutes higher from 200 yards to 600 yards but I had to add another 28 minutes to be on at 1,000 yards.

Of course, the effects of wind are similar but quite a bit more linear. Obviously, the faster the bullet travels, the less the effect of both wind and gravity because the time of flight to the target is shorter. This is why high velocity rounds are more popular with long-range shooters.

The problem with the extreme end of high velocity cartridges is throat erosion. Most of the hyper-velocity cartridges suffer will burn the accuracy out of a good barrel in under 1,000 rounds while rounds like .308 Winchester might get as much a 5,000 rounds.

Relating to barrel life is the practice among most conventional long-range shooters of not tailoring loads to a specific barrel/rifle. With a practical barrel life of no more than 1,000 rounds, load testing in lots large enough for statistical relevance to find the best load, could possibly use up the entire life of the rifle’s barrel. The normal practice is to find a load that works well and use it without spending time on load development for a specific rifle/barrel combination.

Putting It All Together
As complicated as all this sounds, long-range shooting is still simply a matter of learning how to accomplish a task, and using that knowledge to accomplish it. No two shots are ever quite the same, and successful long-range shooting requires good skills and equipment, but it’s one of the most rewarding of all the aspects of shooting. Once you’ve put a shot exactly where you want at 1,000 yards, you’ll always remember the feeling, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to do it more than one time.

Editor's note, this article original appeared in the March 27, 2014 edition of Gun Digest the Magazine.


Mastering the Art of Long Range Shooting

You’ll love this long range shooting guide if:

  • You are at any skill level and want to learn more about improving your accuracy
  • You’re interested in the science behind shooting long distance
  • You want to meet and beat standards for competitive shooting, hunting, and battle

New Kid on the Glock: Glock 42 Review

Glock 42 Review.

Perhaps more than any other handgun introduction in 2014, this one caught the attention of concealed carry fans everywhere. In this Glock 42 review, Dick Jones gives his impression.

One of the hottest categories of handguns is that of the subcompact .380 semi-auto. These guns have been so popular there have been off-and-on ammo shortages for .380 ACP throughout recent years. It’s easy to see the reason for their popularity.

Many modern .380s are lightweight, easy to shoot, carry and conceal and they have good reputations for reliability. While no one will ever call it a heavy metal man stopper, recent advances in ammunition have brought the .380 cartridge into unprecedented viability as an extremely reasonable defense round.

This year at SHOT Show, Glock released the long awaited Glock 42 in .380 ACP. I think I can safely say it’s the largest departure from the standard Glock line I’ve seen, and I can’t imagine it shares any parts with anything else Glock makes.

It’s a true subcompact, though one of the largest of the popular .380 subcompacts. It has real sights, not a tiny representation of sights, and the dovetail-mounted sights have the familiar Glock-style white U and dot outlines for low light alignment.

The trigger of the G42 is also standard Glock fare, with the traditional center blade, relatively long first stage and reset. The trigger on my test gun broke cleanly at just over 8 pounds with only a little over-travel, and a little over-travel isn’t a bad thing on a defensive firearm. Magazine capacity is six plus one, about standard for this class of gun, and quite adequate, in my opinion, for a concealed carry gun.

Glock 42 Review

In fast shooting, the little Glock was both mild mannered and accurate enough for a good concealed carry gun. Yamil Sued Photo
In fast shooting, the little Glock was both mild mannered and accurate enough for a good concealed carry gun. Yamil Sued Photo

The G42 is a full-featured pistol with a proper magazine release, and the slide locks back on the last round. Some subcompact pistols have traded the slide lock for lighter weight, and this probably isn’t a good idea.

While most subcompacts are reliable, malfunctions in semi-auto pistols are inevitable. When they happen, clearing a gun without a slide lock can be challenging in perfect conditions and borderline impossible under stress.

Doing a fast reload worked just like it would with the G42’s big brothers except that everything was smaller. The magazine drops when the button is pressed, and the slide can be dropped with the release or with a pull and release.

I’ve recently reviewed several guns in this class, and I can say without hesitation that the Glock was certainly the easiest to shoot well, and it had the least recoil. It also had the best hand position of the subcompact .380s I’ve shot lately.

Even though the grip is about the same length as some of the other subcompacts, it feels longer. The Glock also clearly has the best sights of any of the guns in this category.

Glock 42 Accuracy?

Internally, the G42 is pure Glock reduced in size. Yamil Sued Photo
Internally, the G42 is pure Glock reduced in size. Yamil Sued Photo

The almost full-sized sights certainly were an aid in the excellent accuracy I found in the G42. At 10 yards, standing, my best group was just over an inch, center to center, with six of the 10 shots in a ragged hole less than ½-inch center to center. Most groups were less than 2 inches, but the little Glock is more than up to the job.

While the Glock 42 is larger than most guns in its class, this isn’t really bad news. The tiniest of the subcompact handguns can be difficult to operate, especially for women with low grip strength. The larger size of the G42 allows more purchase of both the gun hand and the slide hand, making it one of the easiest guns in its class to operate. At its widest point, the 42 is only .976 inches, and it weighs less than 14 ounces.

In the process of testing several brands and styles of ammunition, the Glock 42 did experience one malfunction with a full-metal jacket, economy line of ammunition. It was a double feed on the second round from a full magazine.

This happened when I was holding the gun normally, making me suspect the round, but I saw nothing unusual about it. One test I put every defensive semi-auto through is shooting with a limp wrist. I shoot with a very loose hold from both right and left hands. During the limp wrist test, the G42 cycled every time but in one session, the slide failed to lock back on the last round.

This is an excellent little gun that represents a worthwhile compromise in its class by sacrificing some of the lightweight properties and ability to be concealed like similar .380s, but in exchange the shooter gains much more accuracy and manageability.

They’re for defensive use, and they’re often carried for a lifetime without a single use. When you buy a concealed carry gun, you want to carry it, knowing you can rely on it, but never having to use it. I think the little Glock 42 fills that bill nicely.All gun choices involve compromise. Less weight is easier to carry but yields more recoil. More power means a bigger gun and problems hiding it. High magazine capacity means a gun with a much thicker imprint. Concealed carry guns don’t serve the same purpose as service pistols.

Glock 42
Caliber:    .380
Capacity:    6 + 1
Magazines:    Polymer/steel
Barrel:    3¼ in.
Sights:    Dovetailed rear
Frame:    Polymer
Slide:    Steel matte black
Length:    5.93 in.
Height:    4.13 in.
Weight:    13.76 oz.
Options:    None
SRP    $475
Website    us.glock.com

The Striker-Fired Pistol Challenge

Striker-fired pistol challenge.

A range test with three popular striker-fired pistols – Glock 17, Smith & Wesson M&P and Springfield XDm – reveals how this design became a winner.

Glock 17 (top), Smith & Wesson M&P (middle) and Springfield XDm (bottom).
Glock 17 (top), Smith & Wesson M&P (middle) and Springfield XDm (bottom).

Currently, there are three primary striker-fired pistols in contention for the service pistol market. There are other notable guns, but for this comparison, I’m covering the guns with the biggest sales numbers. I chose 9mm as the caliber because, in recent times, 9mm Luger, with the excellent loadings we now have available, has regained popularity with law enforcement agencies as a good combination of manageability and power.

Of the three guns, the Glock was the most compact, the XDm the least, but the differences were fairly minor. All the guns in the test are basic models as would likely be chosen by both civilians and agencies.

First for similarities is the fact that all the guns in the test use a polymer frame. All have nonadjustable rear sights that can be adjusted for wind within a dovetail. All have safety triggers that require complete coverage of the trigger before the gun will fire. All use double-stack, high-capacity magazines with witness holes to allow an external round count.

The Glock and M&P have 17 round capacities, and the XDm holds 19. All three guns have a forward rail for mounting lasers or lights, and all have interchangeable back-straps to fit them better to the user’s hand. All three guns are easy to field strip and clean.

The guns were accuracy tested and several hundred rounds were fired in conducting the tests without a single malfunction. In addition to myself, there were two other testers that helped, Ray Owens, president of my gun club and an NRA rifle, pistol and shotgun instructor, and Mike Byrd, my longtime friend and gunsmith who is a fairly successful action pistol and 3-Gun competitor.

The Glock

Testing the Glock 17.
Testing the Glock 17.

The Glock certainly deserves first mention because it was the pioneer in the field. The gun tested is the Model 17, the first model in the now extensive Glock product line.

Currently, the latest version is the Generation 4. Other than the recoil spring and extractor designs, the changes in the Glock generations mostly are concerned with ergonomics. While all the guns reviewed have followers, the Glock probably has the most loyal following of any handgun in the group.

Glock considers its design as a safety action, and it is such safety features that propelled the Glock to the forefront of the striker-fired revolution; in fact, those features could be said to have created the popularity of striker-fired pistols. The Glock is affordable, reliable and safe, and these are characteristics that make a good service pistol.

Of course, the Glock pistol also has detractors. Glocks use a different grip angle from almost every other service-type pistol, and this generates a fair amount of controversy. The other issue is the trigger.

Of the three testers who fired these guns, all said the Glock trigger was the worst, and none liked the grip angle in spite of the fact that Ray regularly competes in Glock events. The sights are a white dot on the front and an outlined U at the rear.

One of the testers liked the Glock sight best. The Glock was arguably the hardest of the three to field strip because the takedown tabs must be held down to allow the slide to extend forward.

The S&W M&P

The Smith & Wesson M&P test results speak for themselves.
The Smith & Wesson M&P test results speak for themselves.

The Smith & Wesson M&P was introduced in 2005 using a Browning-type locking system. It superseded the Sigma series of pistols with a much better trigger pull and better ergonomics. It’s the only one of the three guns in the test with a manual thumb safety.

While the Glock partially compresses the striker spring on pulling the trigger, the M&P simply rotates it down, which is probably the reason it’s easier to get a better trigger on the Smith.

All the testers felt the M&P had a better feel, even Ray who competes regularly with a Glock. The standard back strap provides a hand-filling grip that doesn’t feel bulky. The M&P was also the winner in the trigger contest, getting two of three votes.

Out of the box, it was crisp and had a good feel. All the testers agreed the M&P had the most controllable recoil, though the best time on six plates at 10 yards went to Mike Byrd, the best shooter in the group, using the XDm. Mike preferred the XDm trigger to the M&P, even though the M&P had a better break. Also, field stripping the gun does not require dry firing the trigger.

The Springfield Armory XDm

The Springfield Armory XDm and I have a lot of history. I’ve shot two Bianchi Cups with my 9mm 5.25 with the only modification being a trigger that Rob Leatham installed. Mine has been as reliable as any gun I’ve ever owned, but this is no distinction in this group of guns, because they all have the reputation for solid reliability.

The XDm has an extra safety feature I really like in the grip safety. For service and duty guns, passive safety systems have proven to have real merit, and the grip safety on the XD is a great idea.

The standard XDm we tested had an excellent trigger, and though it was a reasonable trigger for a service gun, it was the lightest. For some reason, the XD feels tall and a little top heavy. On recoil, Mike and I observed that it seemed to have the most muzzle flip.

I suspect this is because it has the highest center of bore over the grip, but again, it shot the fastest times on the plates. The XDm was the easiest gun to field strip and the only one that didn’t require a pull of the trigger to remove the slide.

I know at least one individual who’s shot his hand disassembling a Glock. (Please, no lamentations that he did the wrong thing, this is obvious, but it is something that happens.) The XDm also has the most substantial frame rails, having what looks like twice the contact area as the other two semi-autos tested.

Can’t Go Wrong

The Glock (right) was surprisingly the hardest to field strip. The Springfield Armory XDm (center) is the only gun in the group that can be disassembled without pulling the trigger. The slide rails on the XDm are impressive compared to the other two guns. Cherie Jones
The Glock (right) was surprisingly the hardest to field strip. The Springfield Armory XDm (center) is the only gun in the group that can be disassembled without pulling the trigger. The slide rails on the XDm are impressive compared to the other two guns. Cherie Jones

All these guns are exceptional firearms with the right blend of accuracy, safety and reliability that make a great service pistol. What makes a great service pistol doesn’t make a great competition or target gun, though all these guns can be modified to do well in competition, and they regularly do. It all boils down to what you like, both in brand loyalty and features.

Of the three of us, the M&P came out the winner by a slight margin. We all liked it better, but only a bit better. The Glock is a really good gun, but since all of us involved in the test have a competitive background, I suspect the trigger hurt the Glock most, while the different grip angle didn’t help. I imagine if you shot a Glock more regularly, you would feel much differently about our observations.

The M&P and XDm both had features like a cocking indicator, grip safety on the XDm and ambidextrous slide release and simpler take down on the M&P. They are three wonderful guns and all are perfectly suited to the task they’re designed for. It’s your choice and you can’t choose a bad gun among them.

This article is excerpted from the July 17, 2014 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

AR-15 Review: Colt LE6920MP USA

The Colt LE6920MP USA AR-15 rifle in .223/5.56 is an excellent rifle for woman shooters thanks to its compact size and light recoil. Patrick Hayes Photo
The Colt LE6920MP USA AR-15 rifle in .223/5.56 is an excellent rifle for woman shooters thanks to its compact size and light recoil. Patrick Hayes Photo

With a nod toward the AR’s patriotic parentage as the platform created for the U.S. military, the Colt LE6920MP USA looks as cool as it shoots.

The open sights on the Colt LE6920MP were great for close, rapid shots. Author Photo
The open sights on the Colt LE6920MP were great for close, rapid shots. Author Photo

When Modern Shooter editor Doug Howlett asked if I wanted to do a review on a state-of-the-art Colt law enforcement carbine, I jumped at the chance.

The rifle we tested is the LE6920MP-USA series. The USA designation indicates a flag of the United States treatment on the stock, pistol grip and forend. It’s sort of Fourth of July camo, and I think it’s fitting since everything about this gun spells U.S.A.

The new Colt is a collaborative effort between two icons in the world of AR-15s. It’s a joint effort between Colt and Magpul, and includes some of Magpul’s most popular furniture for the AR-15 platform. The running gear is the same as the standard carbines, but the LE6920MP-USA sports Magpul MOE handguards, an MOE carbine stock, an MOE pistol grip, the MOE vertical grip and a Magpul back-up rear sight.

The gas system is the standard gas block with an integral front sight. My test gun had a special patriotic flag finish on the stock, pistol grip and forend, which makes it stand out no matter where it is. It is a sharp looking gun for sure.

Basic running gear is a 16.1-inch chrome-lined 1:7 twist barrel with a 5.56 chamber. Basically, there are three chamber choices for .223/5.56 rifles. The 5.56 chamber is the most forgiving of ammunition and will run almost anything. The .223 chamber is a tighter spec chamber meant for a closer tolerance to allow better accuracy. The 5.56 Wylde chamber in my CRP 18 is a compromise, it’s more forgiving of ammunition but still oriented towards match-level accuracy.

Choosing the 5.56 chamber for the LE6920 makes sense because it’s a multipurpose carbine, and the 5.56 chamber and 1:7 twist barrel will accurately shoot any ammunition you can feed it, from cheap steel case stuff to the best 77-grain match ammunition from companies like Hornady and Black Hills.

The gas system is the standard direct impingement system. This also makes sense because there’s little real need for a piston system, unless you’re shooting full auto and/or using a suppressor. Direct impingement is simple and a piston isn’t the answer to all questions. Our M14s had pistons, and they weren’t a totally trouble-free arrangement.

Fit and finish are quite good with only a slight amount of upper to lower receiver wobble. The controls on the LE6920 operated as they should. The trigger was an average service trigger with a little creep at the beginning and breaking at the standard service rifle level of about 51⁄2 pounds. Trigger reset was crisp and positive. With a 16.1 inch barrel and weighing just 6.9 pounds, this is a fast handling little carbine.

I broke it in at Mike Byrd’s tactical range at B&B Precision Machine Co. not far from my home. There were four shooters present from the level of a Master USPSA to me, and I mainly shoot tactical matches for the experience and to better write about them.

All the guys really liked the little Colt and were favorably impressed. While those guys make me look like a rookie with pistols, I do have a little experience with rifles, and I managed 10 consecutive hits on an 8-inch plate in fairly rapid fire standing with the Magpul flip-up rear and standard front sight.

Colt LE6920MP USA Review: Range Realities

At just 6.9 pounds, the author found the Colt to be a fast-handling carbine. Author Photo
At just 6.9 pounds, the author found the Colt to be a fast-handling carbine. Author Photo

Later, and back on my range, I mounted a Nikon 3-12 M.223 scope for accuracy testing. I didn’t expect spectacular accuracy, because chrome-lined barrels rarely shine in the accuracy department. Chrome lining is intended to enhance reliability, corrosion resistance and barrel life.

Still, the little Colt did an admirable job and stayed under two minutes of angle with the excellent Black Hills 55-grain Barnes TSX load. Certainly this is acceptable accuracy for any law enforcement or civilian carbine.

The AR-15/M16 platform of rifles represents the most successful firearms platform in history. Never before has a military firearm evolved so completely, and in so many directions. While you might not find the AR-15 rifle pretty, you simply can’t argue it doesn’t do everything well.

It is a National Championship level target rifle, a defensive rifle, a hunting rifle and, in the form of the M16 and M4, it’s arguably the best battle rifle ever designed. When I shot that original M16A1, I would have never guessed the platform would ever see the success it’s seen, and that later, I’d be a huge fan of the AR-15.

The patriotic red, white and blue finish on the LE6920MP-USA is fitting in that it represents what’s right with America in a time when many are talking about what’s wrong with America.

Colt is an American company, building sporting, law enforcement and military versions of a successful military rifle designed in America. We’re the only country in the world where the current military rifle, in widespread use around the world, could be adapted and accepted across all aspects of firearms use.

To me, the patriotic finish reminds me that without our precious Second Amendment, this could never happen. I’m sure there will be more collaboration between Colt and Magpul, and I’m excited to see the results.

Colt LE6920MP USA Review.

Colt LE6920MP USA

Caliber    5.56 Nato
Action Type    Semi-automatic
Receiver    Aluminum
Barrel    Chrome-lined, six-groove, 1:7 twist RH
Magazine    30-round Magpul
Trigger    Single stage
Sights    Magpul flip-up rear and standard gas block integral front
Stock    Magpul MOE buttstock, Magpul MOE grip and vertical foregrip and MOE handguard
Weight    6.57 lbs.
Overall Length    35.5 in. extended
Accessories    N/A
MSRP    $1,316
Website    colt.com

Handgun Review: The Para Executive Carry

Para Executive Carry review.
The Para Executive Carry.

The lighter and easier-to-conceal compact 1911-style semi-auto has met with considerable success, and for good reason. The Para Executive Carry tested in this handgun review is a top contender in the category.

The author shot ragged, one-hole, 10-shot groups on silhouette targets with the Para Executive Carry, and shooting steel plates at 10 yards was just as easy. Author photo
The author shot ragged, one-hole, 10-shot groups on silhouette targets with the Para Executive Carry, and shooting steel plates at 10 yards was just as easy. Author photo

The Para Executive Carry is a single-stack 1911 with a 3-inch barrel and a lightweight aluminum frame. Magazine capacity is eight rounds in a standard-length single-stack magazine, but the ability to conceal the Executive Carry is enhanced by an Ed Brown-style Bobtailed mainspring housing.

Sights are easy-to-see Trijicon night sights, and there’s a match-grade, skeletonized trigger. The stainless steel barrel is ramped for reliability. The slide is also stainless with an Ionbond anodized mat finish that is not only corrosion resistant but also increases lubricity of the moving parts.

As one might imagine, the Executive Carry isn’t a low-recoil pistol. The full-sized grip certainly makes recoil manageable, though, and I found it to have more than acceptable accuracy for a carry gun. I really liked the full-sized grip.

The oversized beavertail grip safety has a bump on the bottom side to assist with thin-handed guys like me in engaging it, and the machined G-10 grips provide more than adequate hand purchase for fast follow-up shots.

Made for Carry

Galco's Miami Classic Shoulder Holster was the perfect solution for carrying the Para Executive Carry.
Galco's Miami Classic Shoulder Holster was the perfect solution for carrying the Para Executive Carry.

Everything about the Executive Carry is engineered for easy carry and concealing. The edges have all been melted to make it easy to carry without snagging on clothing, the sights are unobtrusive, and the rounded bobtail contributes.

The full-sized grip might create some issues for certain holster choices, but I found it more than acceptable for both appendix carry and the Galco Miami Classic shoulder system I chose for the test.

The Miami Classic shoulder rig made the perfect carry system for the Executive Carry. With the gun nestled snugly beneath my left armpit, the pistol was completely hidden, even when I was wearing nothing but a light jacket. The double magazine pouch under my right arm balanced the outfit and provided me with 25 rounds of Winchester Silvertip defensive hollow points at the ready.

The easiest way to make a great personal protection gun better is to add a laser sighting system. I chose the Crimson Trace LG-401G front activation green lasergrips.

Shooting the Executive Carry impressed me with the accuracy level that can be obtained with a carry .45. At 10 yards, ragged-hole groups were the standard.

I actually do like the modern striker-fired compact-carry guns, but there’s no substitute for the excellent trigger that can be obtained with a 1911, and the Para Executive Carry has a good one; it’s crisp and clean at just over 4 pounds with almost no backlash. I’m sure the Executive Carry was built with a little heavier trigger than the 14/45 Custom I recently tested at Gunsite, because a carry gun shouldn’t have the same kind of trigger as a match gun for safety reasons.

Para Executive Carry review.I expected accuracy from the Executive Carry, because last year at Gunsite I shot its little brother, the Elite Officer. Even with the shortened grip of the Officer, I managed a couple of one-hole 10-shot groups that got the attention of Para’s Daniel Cox and Travis Tomasie.

It’s a shame I can’t shoot this kind of group at race gun speed, or I’d be dangerous. Back on my range at home with the Executive Carry at 10 yards, I had no problem cleaning the plates within the prescribed 6 seconds from the Classic Miami rig or a belt holster.

The sights were easy to pick up and get back on the next plate. Recoil was certainly there, but the full-sized grip and machined G-10 grips helped make it manageable. Having put about 200 test rounds through the Para, I haven’t experienced a single malfunction.

The Executive Carry offers a reasonable capacity but still-concealable 1911 that is an alternative to the current crop of striker-fired carry guns, and that’s just the point. Both schools of thought make for a viable concealed carry gun; it’s just a matter of what you like. Ultimately, the new Para represents just how good a 100-year-old proven design can be as an everyday concealed carry gun.

Para Executive Carry
Caliber:    .45 ACP
Capacity:    8 + 1
Magazines:    Two single-stack magazines with base bumpers
Barrel:    3-inch stainless ramped bull
Sights:    Combat-style Trijicon
Frame:    Aluminum
Slide:    Stainless steel
Length:    7.685 inches
Height:    5.5 inches without the magazine
Weight:    30 ounces
Options:    Crimson Trace compatible
SRP:    $1,399
Website:    para-usa.com

This article appeared in the June 12, 2014 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Handgun Review: Springfield Armory 9mm 1911 Range Officer

Springfield Armory 1911 9mm Range Officer

This accurate 1911 9mm pistol from Springfield Armory is ideal for concealed carry, practice or home defense and scores a “10” right out of the box.

In 1985, Springfield released their 1911, the 1911-A1. Early guns were exact copies of standard issue 1911s from earlier years. Other models soon followed, and eventually the Range Officer was released in 2010.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to who bought a Range Officer back in 2010 has been impressed with the value and quality of the pistol.

Springfield Range Officer 9mm.Don’t forget that it comes with a serviceable holster, a double magazine pouch, an extra magazine and a really good hard-exterior carrying case that provides great protection to it when traveling.

Obviously, there are features that come on more expensive guns that aren’t found on the Range Officer, but the list of standard features is impressive. With a very affordable MSRP of $977 and actually selling for around $800, the Range Officer is designed for competitive shooting and features many of the bells and whistles on guns with a much higher price tag.

In a move that will surely extend the Range Officer’s popularity, the company is now offering the model in 9mm Luger, which makes sense because so many competitive shooters use 9mm.

The cost of shooting a 9mm over a .45 is considerably less, particularly with many matches having round counts that come in somewhere north of 100 rounds.

Magazine capacities are greater in the 9mm, and most importantly, recoil is more manageable with the smaller caliber, yet still effective, handgun. Even if the shooter eventually plans to get into serious competition later, beginning with a nine is a good idea.

The most serious impediment to fast and accurate shooting is poor trigger management and anticipation of recoil. Beginning with a 9mm can help a beginning shooter to better manage the trigger while avoiding a flinching habit.

Cleaning the half scale B34 target at 10 yards was an easy task. One notable advantage to a Model 1911 chambered in 9mm  is much less recoil than a .45-caliber model.
Cleaning the half scale B34 target at 10 yards was an easy task. One notable advantage to a Model 1911 chambered in 9mm is much less recoil than a .45-caliber model.

Everything a Beginner Needs

As a shooting instructor, I see a lot of new shooters who choose to start with a .40 or .45 and develop serious issues with recoil anticipation.

Those issues can have such a disastrous effect on accuracy as to discourage the new shooter, and sometimes they become habits that are almost impossible to break. The Range Officer in 9mm has everything the beginning competitor needs to get started at a reasonable cost, and provides more than enough accuracy for all but the more advanced competitors in action shooting.

Of course, the Range Officer as it comes out of the box isn’t going to win the Bianchi Cup, but it’s a good starting point. Obviously, it could be the basis for a very serious race gun. The 24-time USPSA National champion, Rob Leatham, has had a little more than his share of success using Springfield Armory guns, and he continues to do so.

On the Ransom rest, the Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 stayed around the two-inch mark at 25 yards, just as I had hoped.
On the Ransom rest, the Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 stayed around the two-inch mark at 25 yards, just as I had hoped.

While the exterior finish of the Range Officer is below the level of the pre-70 Gold Cup, the slide and frame fit are as good or better.

The barrel bushing fit on the Range Officer is definitely better. I really like the trigger design, and it works well enough for accurate shooting, though a little finesse from a good gunsmith to lighten it and make it crisper would help.

The Gold Cup’s trigger is a little better, but remember, it was the finest 1911 commercially available in 1969.

When shooting the Range Officer, the first thing I noticed was the sights. They are reminiscent of the wonderful BoMar sights that were probably the most popular addition to early 1911s.

The front is a partridge with no adorning dots, something I like. Dot sights are wonderful for novice shooters and defensive work, but they do little for speed and accuracy in competition.

The rear sight has solid and tactile clicks, and screw heads big enough for regular screwdrivers. While such sights may be a poor choice for concealment, they’re a boon on the range.

The Range Officer is loaded with features found on guns twice the price. There’s a large, extended beavertail on the grip safety and a healthy bump on the bottom for guys like me with sparse palms. I sometimes have a problem with the 1911’s grip safety, but this one is big enough to ensure engagement.

The mainspring housing is the flat pre-A1 style and well stippled, another feature I like. I would have liked the same stippling on the front of the grip frame as well, but it’s smooth. Grips are cocobolo with good checkering and the familiar Springfield Armory logo.

The Range Officer was fun to shoot and capable of winning matches at a club level right out of the box.
The Range Officer was fun to shoot and capable of winning matches at a club level right out of the box.

Ergonomic Features

The hammer is skeletonized and large enough to easily disengage, in spite of the big rear sight, and there’s an extended safety lever.

The trigger is a long one with an Allen screw over-travel adjustment. The magazines are stainless steel and have witness holes. Almost every ergonomic feature you’d ask for on a 1911 target pistol is already there.

Inside, the Ranger Officer is old school. The barrel is stainless steel and is slightly larger at the muzzle end, but otherwise there are no new tricks. The Range Officer is well finished inside and out, and I actually like the old style short recoil spring guide.

Lots of ergonomic features can be found on the outside of the Ranger Officer, accompanied with basic 1911 interior parts. This Springfield gun is well finished inside and out.
Lots of ergonomic features can be found on the outside of the Ranger Officer, accompanied with basic 1911 interior parts. This Springfield gun is well finished inside and out.

Apparently, the old school internals didn’t have an adverse effect on accuracy. My first 10-shot string at 25 yards off the Ransom rest produced a right side flyer, a left side shot and put seven of the next eight shots in one hole.

I suspect the first shot was the gun settling into the grip adapter. Subsequent groups displayed about the same group size without the flyer, but none produced seven shots in one hole. Groups averaged around 2 inches with Remington 115 metal case ammunition, quite respectable for an entry-level priced pistol.

Standing at 10 yards, it was easy to stay within 11⁄2 inches. On plates, the Range Officer was really easy to shoot.

I like 1911s and it felt like an old friend in my hand. Recoil was soft, the sights were easy to see and the adjustable sights allowed choosing the sight picture I like to see.

At my level of competitiveness, I don’t believe the Range Officer would put me at any real disadvantage over a pistol twice or even three times the price.

It’s certainly accurate enough to clean all yards on a plate rack and wouldn’t give up much on the 50-yard shots in the practical stage of the Bianchi.

I do have friends who are much better action pistol shooters than I, and they were as impressed with the 9mm Range Officer as I was. After shooting a little over 100 rounds through it, one of them said, “I like it. I give it a 10.”

“A 10?” I asked. “That would mean it’s as good as your worked over STI.”

“I give it a 10 when you consider everything, including the price,” he said smiling. “My STI is a 10 when you don’t consider the price. When you consider the cost, this one’s a 10 right out of the box.”

Springfield Armory 9mm Range Officer
Caliber:    9mm Luger
Capacity:    9 + 1
Magazines:    Two stainless with witness holes
Barrel:    5” stainless steel
Sights:    BoMar-type adjustable rear, partridge front
Frame:    Forged steel
Slide:    Forged Steel
Length:    8.5”
Height:    5.5”
Weight:    40 oz. with empty magazine
Options:    N/A
SRP:    $977
Website:    springfield-armory.com

Dick Jones is a shooting instructor and competitive shooter. He operates Lewis Creek Shooting School in North Carolina.

This article appeared in the January 27, 2014 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Single-Stack Springfield XD .45, Compact Carry with a Powerful Punch

The good trigger and sights allow real accuracy with these guns. I made no adjustment to get this well centered up group. Ten shots Ten yards Standing, Two magazines.
The good trigger and sights allow real accuracy with these guns. I made no adjustment to get this well centered up group. Ten shots Ten yards Standing, Two magazines.
One way I make my money is in teaching the North Carolina Concealed Carry certification course. I enjoy teaching the classes, and I’m overjoyed that so many people who take my classes are new gun owners.

These folks see the value of firearms ownership as a way to take a proactive part in defending themselves against crime. They are refreshing to teach because their minds are open and they’re willing to accept new methods and equipment.

There’s a whole generation of new pistols for concealed carry, and I’m impressed with the thought and engineering that’s gone into many of them. Recently, I assisted in a test of four .45 ACP single-stack concealed carry semi-autos. I was impressed with the XDs then and when I got a chance to test one myself more extensively, I jumped on the opportunity.

Springfield Armory’s line of XD pistols has been a smashing success. The features of these striker fired guns make them unique in that they are ambidextrous and feature a grip safety, a valuable asset in a striker fired gun that allows a lighter, shorter stroke trigger with a similar or greater level of safety.

I can run the plates with the XDs at ten yards, but I think my time would be a bit slow.
I can run the plates with the XDs at ten yards, but I think my time would be a bit slow.

Living Up to Its Reputation
I used a Springfield XDs 5.25 in last year’s Bianchi Cup. My choice was based on the XDs’ reputation for accuracy and reliability so when my editor suggested shooting production class, the 5.25 was an easy choice.

Made in Croatia and parented by the first Croatian pistol manufactured, the PHP, the XD series of pistols have become viable contenders for the civilian as well as police and military markets. My XDm has yet to malfunction through thousands of rounds.

Like other XD series guns, the XDs is well finished for a utility gun. The controls are similarly placed with the takedown lever and slide release on the left side and an ambidextrous magazine release. The sights are really good with a driftable two-dot rear and a hi-vis front. The trigger is indistinguishable in pull from the larger XD pistols, which is to say it is very good. There is a fairly short initial travel and a distinct second stage that breaks consistently and cleanly.

The standard magazine holds five rounds and there’s an available extended seven round magazine. While the seven round magazine is handy for range use, it increases the profile of the gun considerably. With one in the chamber, 6 rounds is reasonable in a concealed carry handgun. If you can’t do it with six, you should practice more.

Striker fired, with no manual safety, the XDs relies on a blade in the trigger and a grip safety to prevent accidental discharge. Carrying a round in the chamber is, in my opinion, a prerequisite for using a semi-auto for concealed carry and with a holster that protects the trigger, I’d feel perfectly safe carrying this gun with a round chambered.

At 21.5 ounces, the XDs is not a lightweight. With a loaded magazine, it approaches the empty weight of some service level pistols. While it occupies about the same profile as a J frame S&W, it weighs more empty and considerably more loaded.

What this pistol has going for it is that it’s a .45. It is thinner in profile than a small revolver and it carries a lot more punch. That punch also translates itself into recoil. In a recent range session where I fired 300 rounds with the XDs and a couple of other compact .45s, I managed to escape without having a sore hand the next day, but this is not a gun for the fainthearted.

The XDs comes with two five round magazines and there is an available seven round extended version.
The XDs comes with two five round magazines and there is an available seven round extended version.

On the Range
Operation of the XDs is both simple and convenient. The magazine is fairly easy to load, the slide operates well and may be easier to manipulate than some of the larger XD series guns with slides that taper towards the top. The controls are where they should be, making the gun easy to adapt to. With a good trigger and good sights, I expected it to perform well, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I don’t bench test carry guns because the short sight radius makes it difficult. My test is to determine reasonable accuracy for the purpose for which the gun is intended. At 10 yards, two hands, with a magazine change, I managed a 2.5 inch, 10-shot group that was centered in the target. Recoil recovery is slower than larger or less powerful guns, but it was reasonable and the good sights and trigger aided greatly. I fired this with the five-shot magazines because I see the seven shot magazine as too large for every day concealment.

Overall, this is a very good concealment gun for those who feel the need for serious power. It’s larger and considerably heavier than the gun I carry every day, but every aspect of concealed carry firearms choice is a tradeoff between effectiveness and concealability.

This gun is as powerful as any concealed carry gun needs to be. It’s also extremely reliable and accurate. It’s also quite safe to carry in normal carry situations. It’s not a gun for those who have problems dealing with recoil. Once loaded, it’s heavier than I’d want to carry every day, but you simply can’t argue with a gun this small with this kind of power and accuracy.

Springfield Armory XDs
Caliber: .45 ACP
Capacity: 5 + 1, and 7 + 1 with the extended magazine
Magazines: Two aluminum five round furnished with the gun.
Barrel: 3.3 inches
Sights: Steel Dovetail rear, drift adjustable with white dots, front fiber optic.
Frame: Polymer
Slide: Forged Steel
Length: 6.3”
Height: 4.4”
Weight: 21.5 oz.
Options: Seven round extended magazine
Suggested Retail Price: $689
Website: springfield-armory.com


Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense

You’ll appreciate this guide to the use of lethal force if:

  • You’re not sure what your rights are when it comes to using firearms for self-defense
  • You’d like to know how to be prepared as an armed citizen
  • You want a more informed view of current gun laws

Smith & Wesson M&P R8, Keeping Revolvers Competitive

The Smith & Wesson M&P R8 is a modern workhorse that proves revolvers are still competition worthy.
The Smith & Wesson M&P R8 is a modern workhorse that proves revolvers are still competition worthy.

Balanced, accurate and fast, the Smith & Wesson M&P R8 has got game, proving the revolver still has a place in competitive shooting.

My pistol shooting career began in the early days of Metallic Silhouette shooting in the NRA Hunter’s Pistol class. Back then, there was nothing quite like the Smith & Wesson M&P R8.

In those early days, silhouette shooters weren’t using the scoped, specialized pistols they use today; for the most part, we used production revolvers or semi autos. My choice was a 6-in. barreled Model 28. With that gun, I won countless trophies in the local matches and managed to be the second AAA classified Hunter Pistol shooter in North Carolina.

To stay competitive, I eventually switched over to a scoped T/C Contender and somehow, over the years, I let that great old gun slip away. When I picked up the S&W Performance Center M&P R8, my mind instantly went back to that great old Smith that won so many Hunter Pistol trophies for me.

A Modern Workhorse

Like the model 28, the M&P R8 is a workhorse gun, without a shiny, high polish finish. It has the same great adjustable rear sight, the same smooth double- and single-action trigger and the same tough as nails reliability.

The M&P R8 is a little more sophisticated than my old Model 28; in fact, it’s a lot more sophisticated.

It has a state of the art, scandium frame and a shrouded barrel with an under-barrel rail for mounting a laser or a light. The top of the barrel is drilled and tapped for an over the barrel optic mount.

Swinging the massive N frame cylinder out reveals another big improvement, eight chambers instead of the Model 28’s six. The cylinder is also specially recessed to allow using full moon clips that provide super-fast reloads.

Revolver Relevance

In a world of special purpose 1911s and double-stack striker fired pistols, some might think the revolver has been eclipsed. I love semi-auto pistols as much as anyone, and I’m really happy that I can get a double stack 1911, and that the modern striker fired guns are super reliable and have great triggers.

There is one issue, though, that no autoloader can ever get around. All semi-autos use the energy of the previous shot to prepare them to fire the next round. If there’s a bad round, the operator has to perform the task of cycling the gun to get it in condition to shoot again. This is not the case with the revolver.

With a revolver, the operator supplies the energy to bring the next round into position and preload the spring that drives the hammer.

The Smith & Wesson M&P R8 would make a fine service revolver with its eight-shot capacity and weighting only an ounce or so more than the old S&W Model 19.
The Smith & Wesson M&P R8 would make a fine service revolver with its eight-shot capacity and weighting only an ounce or so more than the old S&W Model 19.

Proper Trigger Management

Revolvers can have quite functional triggers if properly set up.

The M&P R8 came with a fairly smooth and decently light double-action trigger. There was little backlash and it was easy to prep the trigger and have only a slight movement when the pull fell through and dropped the hammer.

The M&P R8 is not a glamorous revolver. It is a workhorse designed to serve the purpose the purchaser plans for it.

It would make an admirable service revolver with its eight-shot capacity and weighing only an ounce or so more than the old S&W Model 19, which was the Cadillac of service revolvers when every police department depended on wheel guns. It’s a viable choice as a home defense gun with a rail for laser and flashlight.

It would be an admirable hunting sidearm, coming with a top of the barrel scope mount. Smith and Wesson’s N-frame guns have served shooters well since before the late and great Elmer Keith shot the 600-yard deer and they continue to serve us today.

This article appeared in the April 8, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Handgun Review: CZ Czechmate is Worth Every Penny

Handgun Review: CZ Czechmate

When it comes to performance and price, there are few competition handguns that have shot against the CZ Czechmate.

I review a lot of guns and I rarely review a loser. There’s a reason for this; I’ve been shooting for more than 40 years, and I have a pretty good track record for passing by the losers without the trouble of spending time with them. I’m occasionally surprised, but most of the guns I test are pretty good.

On the other side of this are the few guns that are simply surprisingly good. The CZ Czechmate is one of those guns. At SHOT Show, this January, I was looking for the gun I wanted to shoot in the Bianchi Cup this year. I’ve shot the Cup twice, once with a Metallic Class gun and once in Production. Iain Harrison offered me his 1911 race gun to try, just for fun on a plate range. I was amazed at its performance, and I decided then to try the 2013 Bianchi with an Open Class gun. I tried a couple of other guns and I’m committed to shooting the Czechmate.

Affordable Performance

As pistols go, the Czechmate is about as serious as you can go with an out-of-the-box competition gun. There are only a few companies that offer this type of gun, and the CZ is probably the lowest priced for what you get. It’s not as good as the guns the winners use; those guns probably would cost as much as three times the price of the Czechmate, and it’s not an inexpensive gun at just one cent less than $3,000. Having said this, for your $3K you get a lot more than just a gun.

The Czechmate comes in a suitcase box loaded with accessories. There are four magazines, three 20-round and one 27-round. There is an extra barrel and compensator that convert the gun from a standard 9mm pistol to a 9mm that can handle up-loaded ammunition that will meet major caliber requirements. There is a magazine loader, a C-More competition holographic sight and mount, a standard nonadjustable iron rear sight and a charging handle that replaces the rear sight that makes cycling the slide easy with the optic installed. There are also wrenches and spare parts, including a spare extractor.

This isn’t a perfect gun, but it is a very good gun that has qualities that make it a very good competition pistol. The slide runs on rails that are inside the frame, rather than on the inside of the slide. This reduces the mass of the slide, lowers the center of recoil and allows the side of the gun to be against a barricade without affecting the operation of the gun.

The gun is easy to cycle and operate with the optic installed because of the operating handle, which can be mounted for a right- or left-handed shooter. There is an ambidextrous safety and the magazine release can be converted to operate from the right side of the gun. The first reaction when handling this gun is that it’s a big gun. The Czechmate is all steel and, while the grip panels are thin, the grip is wider than any single stack gun I know of.

Additional Features

The grip angle is a departure from the standard 1911 angle, but it is comfortable and ergonomic. The magazine release is large and easy to find and with a large magazine well, inserting a magazine is easy. I would have liked to have seen witness holes to allow a quick check of how many rounds remained. In shooting tactical, 3-gun and action matches like the Bianchi, this is a great convenience factor, and every company who makes competitive, high capacity pistols should provide this useful option.

I like the shape of the Czechmate trigger. It’s a flat-faced trigger with an upturn at the very bottom to help the shooter interface with the same location on the trigger on every draw. The pull isn’t perfect for precision shooting. I’m an old rifle shooter so I’m really trigger sensitive; there’s just a bit of gritty feel in my test gun, not noticeable in fast shooting but there nonetheless. I shot the Czechmate with the drift adjustable metallic rear sight that comes on the gun, and I liked the sight. It’s nonadjustable, but there’s plenty of sight to allow for filing to the proper elevation with a specific load. The sight picture is an unencumbered blocky post and notch, exactly what I would want in a competition pistol.

The C-More sight and mount attaches to the frame with three conical flat head screws and would probably come very close to a complete return to zero if removed and replaced. It does take a little adjustment to handle finding the red dot, but once it’s found, this is a very fast sight and the standard among the guys who compete with optics. Adjustments are quite fine and getting it regulated wasn’t easy for a guy who’s used to clicks, but once it’s there, it’s there.

I didn’t shoot the Czechmate with the extended barrel and compensator. I was told that regular production 9mm ammunition wouldn’t cycle the gun with the compensator because of the additional weight. I did try some reduced loads for shooting plates, and the Czechmate ran them flawlessly.

TIn prone, the 27 round magazine makes it easier for me to get my eyes on the red dot. Recoil is mild and the gun settles back down for the next shot almost instantly.
In prone, the 27 round magazine makes it easier for me to get my eyes on the red dot. Recoil is mild and the gun settles back down for the next shot almost instantly.

Shooting Performance

Shooting the Czechmate goes as one would expect for a premium, top-of-the-line pistol. Recoil is easy to manage in the standard, noncompensated configuration with production 9mm ammunition. I tested it with Zero Bullet 124-grain hollow point loads I used in last year’s Bianchi Cup and, on the other side of the price point, PMCs Bronze 115-grain full metal jacket load. Accuracy was spectacular with both loads though the Zero had the advantage. I’m sure the Zero 124-grain was more accurate.

To generate those groups, I fired at 25 yards, prone, as one would shoot in the Practical and Barricade events at Bianchi. The Zero ammunition produced ragged hole groups with an occasional flyer. With PMC, the groups were more spread out but still impressive, indicating to me that the combination of Zero Bullet and Czechmate is beyond my capability for accuracy. I’d love to test this combination on a Ransom Rest, I’d be willing to bet the Zero/ Czechmate combination would shoot under an inch at 25 yards.

The only issue I had in practicing for Bianchi was that, when shooting prone or against the barricade, the meat of my right hand tended to push the safety on the right side up and into the safe position. I talked to Jason Morton at CZ USA, and they gave me the option of sending the gun back to them to remove it on the right side or giving me instructions on how to do it myself. There has not been a single malfunction or glitch in the operation of the Czechmate other than this peculiarity that relates to my very high grip.

The Czechmate is a specialized pistol, purpose built for the competitive shooter who doesn’t want to build a gun from scratch. It isn’t as good as the best of those guns, but I’m certain that it’s better than many of them right out of the box. It is a great way for a new practical shooter to get started because it includes everything you need and even provides an option for stepping up to 9mm major. It’s an exceptional gun and worth every penny of the $3,000 price tag.

This article appeared in the June 17, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.