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Mark Kakkuri

The Glock 30S for Concealed Carry

Glock 30S.
Glock 30S.

Comfortable to carry and packing 10+1 rounds of .45 ACP, the Glock 30S is the latest member of the Glock line-up. It packs the ultimate punch in a concealable package.

Glock 30S: Defining a Subcompact

Glock currently offers four variants of this pistol: a standard Model 30 (the original), the 30SF (reduced frame circumference for an easier trigger reach), the 30S you see here (slimmer slide on an SF frame) and the Glock 30 Gen4.

Experiment mounting the holster inside the waistband between the 4 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions  (for lefties try the area from 9 to 8 o’clock spots) in order to determine what works best for your comfort.
Experiment mounting the holster inside the waistband between the 4 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions (for lefties try the area from 9 to 8 o’clock spots) in order to determine what works best for your comfort.

Gen4 Glocks feature a new grip texture, recoil spring assembly, enlarged and reversible magazine catch and adjustable backstrap. Practically speaking, all the 30s are the same gun, offering the 10+1 capacity of .45 Auto in a smaller but thicker to hold package.

Unloaded the 30S weighs 20.28 ounces. Loaded it jumps to 30.16 ounces. Hard data aside, the gun never really feels heavy in the hand nor in the holster. In fact, it is well balanced and, depending on the holster, relatively easy to carry for long periods of time.

Glock Reviews You Need To Read

The size and weight of the Glock 30S prevents you from carrying it in your pocket or in an ankle holster. Even though it is relatively small and lightweight, it’s not that small nor lightweight. Laws of physics and common sense all but demand that this gun be carried in an inside or outside the waistband holster.

Carrying Inside the Waistband

With most holsters, carrying inside the waistband maximizes concealability at the expense of some comfort. While this was mostly true for the Glock 30S, carrying it in an inside the waistband holster demonstrated the benefits of this pistol’s relatively light weight. While dimensionally smaller guns exist, few can boast being chambered in .45 Auto with a 10+1 capacity.

So, the main draw (pun intended) for the Glock 30S becomes a matter of being able to carry the maximum in concealable firepower. Consider: 10+1 in any caliber is a good number of rounds for concealed carry. 10+1 of .45 Auto is heavy duty, literally. With 230-grain self-defense rounds tucked in your belt, that’s 2,530 grains of hollow-point bullet at the ready.

Carrying the chunky Glock 30S inside the waistband in the Galco Scout holster, a relatively thick holster, resulted not in the feeling that you were trying to hide a small animal on your hip, but actually felt pretty good and carried well.

The High Noon Slide Guard holster is a good match with the Glock 30S for shooters that like the gun to ride outside the pants and on the belt for quick access.
The High Noon Slide Guard holster is a good match with the Glock 30S for shooters that like the gun to ride outside the pants and on the belt for quick access.

Outside the Waistband

If carrying the Glock 30S inside the waistband just won’t work, then carrying it outside the waistband is probably the next best means. While a little less concealable than inside the waistband, it’s definitely more comfortable.

A High Noon Slide Guard was on duty for this part of the review, excellently enveloping the Glock 30S in high-quality cowhide while securely attaching to my belt. As a new, custom-made, leather holster—every High Noon Slide Guard holster is—it exhibited some new, custom-made, leather holster tendencies, namely, a very tight fit for both gun and belt.

The High Noon Slide Guard seemed to conceal the Glock 30S best at 4 o’clock, just like the Galco Scout. With this outside-the-waistband holster in this position, my concern was less about concealing the stock and more about concealing the back of the slide, which stuck out the most. Cinching up my belt another notch helped, but in the end the best concealment again came from a loose, untucked T-shirt or unbuttoned casual shirt.

Shooting the Glock 30S

Glock 30S Review. At the range, the Glock 30S proved to be the best kind of boring. Every round of the Winchester PDX-1 self defense ammo I was using fed, fired and ejected properly. So did the Remington and HPR .45 Auto I fed it. In fact, just to make things interesting, I loaded a magazine with two or three of each kind of round, staggered, to try to throw the 30S off and cause a hiccup. No problems.

Firing at a paper silhouette target right at 10 yards away and using the Glock’s standard sights, in no time a jagged hole about the size of a softball appeared. The vast majority of the rest of the rounds would travel through this opening.

The beefier build of the 30S contributed to a good grip during the range time and handled the recoil well, making this an exceptionally comfortable gun to shoot.

In one sense, the Glock 30S is big, pushing the limits of what could reasonably be considered “subcompact.” In another sense, the Glock 30S is a marvel: How else can you comfortably conceal a handgun with 10+1 rounds of .45 Auto? While smaller, lighter guns exist, they may be lacking the capacity or reputation of the Glock 30S.

In the end, the Glock 30S is not only a capable shooter with plenty of on-board capacity but also, in holsters such as the Galco Scout or High Noon Slide Guard, a decently comfortable carry.

Glock 30S
Caliber: .45 Auto
Capacity: 10+1
Magazines: 2
Barrel: 3.78 in.
Sights: Fixed, standard
Frame: Polymer
Slide: Tenifer coated steel
Length: 6.97 in.
Height: 4.8 in.
Weight: 20.28 oz (unloaded)
Options: N/A
SRP: $637

Learn More About Glock Options

Handgun Review: HK P2000 SK

Handgun Review: HK P2000 SK

Looking for a really good feeling sub-compact in the luxury pistol department? The HK P2000 SK may be your next handgun.

Guns have a certain feel about them. And because of that, I have certain feelings about guns. Some guns feel chunky and plasticky and gimmicky. These guns make me feel like trying my hand at plastic surgery in order to trim them up or tone them down. Some guns feel heavy and stiff. These guns make me feel like giving them a massage to help them loosen up a bit. Some guns feel thin—functional but not outright durable. These guns I am afraid to shoot, let alone carry for self-defense. Guns like these I want to wrap in duct tape to help keep them together.

Not all guns have a bad feel. In fact, some feel just right in terms of fit and finish, functionality or how they fire. You can tell much about a gun’s feel just by hefting it in your hand. You can tell much more, however, after a session at the range. Sometimes you’re surprised by how a gun feels after shooting, but most often the range time simply confirms the suspicions you had before shooting it.

No surprise, there’s lots of subjectivity in this matter of determining how a gun feels. It might be impossible to fully quantify, but I’m going to give it a shot.

The Heckler & Koch P2000 SK felt good when I first tried it out. Not in a nonspecific way but truly and functionally. Since HK is one of the premier firearms designers and manufacturers in the world, this came as no surprise. Frankly, with a retail price of $983, we’re in the luxury class of handguns, so it had better be outstanding.

In-the-Hand Performance

The P2000SK (subcompact) is similar to slightly larger P2000 model and combines characteristics of the elements of the HK USP Compact pistol. It is available in 9 mm, .40 S&W, and .357 Sig with an MSRP of $983.
The P2000SK (subcompact) is similar to slightly larger P2000 model and combines characteristics of the elements of the HK USP Compact pistol. It is available in 9 mm, .40 S&W, and .357 Sig with an MSRP of $983.

A sub-compact pistol available in 9mm, .40 and .357 SIG, the P2000 SK feels good when I’m just holding it in my hand—remarkably good in fact. I’m not just talking about how I heft the pistol and appreciate the ergonomics or the balance. It’s more than those. For example, the simple action of removing the magazine, a downward push on the ambidextrous magazine release, feels sure and confident. There’s no mush in the controls. You won’t eject the magazine on accident. When you do want the magazine to drop, it springs out perfectly. Put the magazine in and it seats perfectly. No extra push needed. No wondering whether it’s fully seated.

With the magazine out, the simple action of pulling the slide back to check for an empty chamber demonstrates superbly engineered, mechanically perfect motions, noises and feels. Dry-fire it and the trigger stroke, a light double action known as the law enforcement modification (LEM), feels perfect, even as it is a bit longer than most trigger strokes. Yet it is smooth, sure and consistent and one of the best I’ve ever felt.

Besides shooting the P2000 SK, which I will address shortly, the other action worth mentioning is the loading of the magazines. Pushing in nine .40 caliber rounds revealed just the right amount of resistance from the spring under the follower. Loading rounds seven and eight and nine showed no classic signs of fight.

On-the-Range Performance

Shooting the P2000 SK was pure joy because the gun got out of the way of the shooting experience, so to speak. In other words, all the mechanisms worked together so well, so smoothly, that nothing stood out during the range session. I just squeezed the trigger, again and again, and the HK sent every round down range, right on target.

The balance was superb and the sights were easy to acquire, shot after shot. But the best part of shooting the P2000 SK was the LEM trigger. More than just a double action-only trigger, the HK LEM trigger incorporates a 7.3- to 8.5-pound pull in an action that combines a precocked striker with a double action hammer. So it’s double action-only but it’s light and smooth, with just slightly increasing pressure required as it travels back. You’ll see the hammer move back and fall with every stroke. It doesn’t jerk, grab or stutter in its travel. If a round fails to fire, the LEM trigger system allows for second and third strike capability, though I never needed it.

Handgun Review: HK P2000 SKThe LEM trigger felt much lighter than the advertised 7.3- to 8.5-pound pull, but I attribute that to the ultra-smooth trigger travel. Even with its gradually increasing resistance, I couldn’t discern by feel if the trigger was nearing its breaking point; when the HK fired it surprised me every time but I was never unprepared for it. Indeed, after a while I could tell when the gun was about fire because it was always when my finger pulled the trigger back to exactly the same point. Shooting quickly—about two rounds per second—was remarkably easy, intuitive and fun.

Notice that I haven’t yet mentioned recoil. That’s because recoil on this handgun, while present, is aptly managed by the mechanical recoil reduction system—a dual captive recoil spring and polymer bushing. The system works so well in absorbing recoil that you have to actively think about the recoil in order to remember it’s there.

The combination of the HK’s balance, ergonomics, LEM trigger and recoil absorption system worked in harmony with the three-dot sights, allowing for easy follow up shots. It was easier to shoot this gun faster and more accurately than most others I have fired.

HK P2000 SK Additional Features

HK includes a modular grip accessory to increase the depth of the stocks. My medium-to-large sized hands enjoyed the P2000 SK’s stock in its standard configuration so much I didn’t bother with the extra piece. Some might prefer flush magazine baseplates, especially for concealed carry, instead of the two included nine-round magazines that feature a baseplate with a pronounced lip. I actually liked how these felt.

All the controls on the HK are ambidextrous. I’m a right-hander so I would right thumb the slide release on the left side of the slide but use my right middle finger to push the magazine release on the right side of the trigger guard. The P2000 SK also featured a tactical rail for lights and lasers. For a carry pistol, I found this to be a bit superfluous and would have preferred a skinnier dust cover and slide.

I have to admit, prior to shooting the HK P2000 SK I was skeptical that the $983 retail price was justified. Sure, I knew of HK’s reputation for excellence, durability, reliability and accuracy. But once I experienced it first hand, the luxury price of this sub-compact pistol seemed more tenable. I just had to feel it for myself.

Handgun Review: Colt Lightweight Commander

The Colt Lightweight Commander - the classic and concealable 1911.

In this Gun Digest handgun review, Mark Kakkuri looks at the Colt Lightweight Commander – a classic, capable and concealable 1911.

Very few guns have a century-long legacy like the 1911. It has served U.S. Armed Forces for decades and been labeled as one of the finest fighting handguns in the world. Whereas dozens of manufacturers have taken on John Moses Browning’s design and continue to produce more 1911s than ever, arguably the 1911 design most often referred to is a variant of the original by Colt.

Firearms enthusiasts of every stripe have written and read thousands of articles about the Colt 1911. For most, it’s a love/hate thing with passionate rhetoric usually reserved for discussions on religion and politics. Moreover, gun reviews by their very nature can be quite subjective: after all, what you shoot best may not be what another person shoots best.

This is true of the Colt 1911 and every other handgun ever tested and written up in a gun magazine.

Slide safety of the Colt Lightweight Commander.In my handgun review of a modern Colt Lightweight Commander I want first to admit – gladly – biases and subjectivity. I am one reviewer with one opinion. Second, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I like the 1911 platform—there is sheer genius in some of the design elements. But I also like snub-nosed revolvers. Few handguns fit my hand better than a CZ. And I like Glocks. Biases accounted for, let’s get down to business.

The bottom line on the Colt Lightweight Commander is that the gun is all business and that can be both a strength and a weakness. Suitable for plinking on the range, racing in competition, and carrying concealed in daily life, the Lightweight Commander aptly does all these things – that’s its strength. Its weakness is that it functions well but not with the finesse of other pistols.

I can already hear the objections: finesse, you say, is for ballerinas or cake decorators. The Colt 1911 is a last-ditch defensive tool, a combat handgun that fires the burly .45 ACP cartridge. It’s what my Grandpa carried in World War II. Agreed. While few other handguns share the legacy of service of the Colt 1911, other handguns outshine the Colt Lightweight Commander in terms of weight (lighter), feel (smoother), or deployment (simpler).

Other factors such as magazine capacity and price are also important but I’m not going to factor those in here. Where the Colt shines, however, is in its overall execution. In other words, being “all business” means it is extremely effective at doing what it is designed to do: accurately discharging .45 ACP bullets at a target.

1911 aficionados, me included, can and will argue the many merits of the platform: legacy, ballistics, specific design features, and more. Some may even argue that the notion of finesse does not belong in the matter of defensive arms. That’s a discussion for another day. For now, I’m going to try to capture the four main reasons the 1911 is best described as “all business.”

The new Colt Lightweight Commander features the same elegant lines as the original.

The Four C’s of an All-Business Pistol: Classic

Classic begins with an overall appearance that is professional but functional. The Colt Lightweight Commander’s rich, reddish-brown rosewood stocks offset it’s otherwise understated gunmetal gray coloring. An upswept beavertail grip safety and slide cocking serration along with low profile Novak sights present a familiar and trusted look. Yet every good-looking feature is entirely functional. The brushed aluminum alloy frame yields a lighter overall weight.

The stocks provide excellent purchase and, in their 118-degree angle, offer natural pointability. The grip safety allows a shooter to safely hold the Colt in the web of the hand, maintain a solid grip, and in conjunction with the stocks, quickly bring the muzzle back on target when shooting. Other pistols offer better ergonomics or stocks with greater purchase. Other pistols allow a barrel to sit lower in the hand. Very few pistols; however, combine all of these functional elements like a 1911. These elements have changed very little.

Wilson Combat 1911 mags work great in the Colt Lightweight Commander.Capable

Generally firearms only become classics if they prove themselves to be capable. The Colt Lightweight Commander is indeed a capable shooter, meaning it is easy and intuitive to aim and squeeze the trigger. It accurately delivers .45 ACP bullets to point of aim, without fuss. Yes, with a 1911 you have to master squeezing a grip safety, disengaging a manual safety, and squeezing a single-action trigger. Mastery of these and other elements demands practice, practice, practice.

Of course, safe, regular, consistent practice provides the means to mastering any handgun, not just 1911’s. But once a 1911 shooter masters these movements, the act of safely aiming and accurately firing becomes second nature. Some firearms experts recommend double-action revolvers or double-action-only semiautomatic pistols for new shooters or for those who cannot put in the practice required to master the more complex action of a 1911.

“Simpler” handguns may indeed be “easier” to fire as they may have no manual safety and may offer a long, smooth trigger stroke. All firearm safety and engagement rules accounted for, if a shooter is at the point of squeezing a trigger to fire a handgun, it is hard to beat the easy, short, glass rod snap of a 1911 trigger.


The Colt Lightweight Commander, even with its 4.25-inch barrel, is easy to conceal with the right holsters. Much credit goes the thin slide – well under one inch in most variations. Eminently concealable in an inside-the-waistband holster, the Colt Lightweight Commander can disappear under just a T-shirt and shorts.

That’s because thin and flat is actually easier to hide than small and chunky. Granted, other handguns exist that are thinner and flatter than the 1911. At some point, however, too much reduction in size negatively affects a pistol’s capability. In other words, if you can’t shoot a small pistol well, then what’s the point of carrying it concealed for self-protection? The Colt Lightweight Commander weighs in at 27 ounces (unloaded) but its excellent concealability is more a function of its thin and flat design.

The Lightweight Commander Model 1911 by Colt.


This Colt Lightweight Commander bears the Colt logo: a young horse rearing. It’s a fitting image as this 1911 is indeed powerful and sometimes tough to control. Even with all its excellent design features working in conjunction, this pony still gives a healthy kick in the form of recoil.

It’s not outrageous or obnoxious, but it is commanding in two respects: First, you’re firing the mighty .45 ACP cartridge, one of the most effective defensive rounds in handgun history that delivers a wallop of energy to a target. Second, you’re firing the mighty .45 ACP cartridge, a round that packs a wallop of recoil for the shooter. With the Colt Lightweight Commander, one of the lightest in Colt’s 1911 lineup, whatever recoil the gun cannot absorb will be transferred to the shooter.

Add the loud report, muzzle rise, and the psychological effects of firing this gun and you’ll see why regular practice is a must. Other handguns, due to their designs, are downright easy to shoot. Or at least they are less punishing than this 1911. As such, you won’t be breaking in the Colt; the Colt will be breaking you in.

Colt Lightweight Commander XSE Series Specs

■ Model 04860XS
■ Ambidextrous Safety Lock
■ Novak Low Mount Carry Sights with Dots
■ Enhanced Hammer
■ Extended Ambidextrous Safety Lock
■ Colt Upswept Beavertail Grip Safety
■ 3-Hole Aluminum Trigger
■ Lowered and Flared Ejection Port
■ Full Length Guide Rod
■ Front and Rear Slide Serrations
■ 4.25-inch barrel
■.45 ACP
■ 8-round capacity
■ Aluminum alloy frame
■ Cerakote stainless receiver
■ Stainless steel slide
■ www.coltsmfg.com

This article appeared in the December 3, 2012 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine

Handgun Review: FNH FNX 9mm

Handgun Review of the FNH FNX 9mm.

In this Gun Digest handgun review, Mark Kakkuri reviews the FNH FNX 9mm – an American-made pistol from a venerable European gunmaker.

Many people have never heard of it, and if you’re not careful, just saying the name “FNH FNX” can sound like you’re mad or something is wrong. In the case of this polymer 9mm duty pistol, however, almost everything is right.

A little bit of history: European firearms manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN) has been producing legendary firearms since the late 1800s, including collaborative products with the late John Moses Browning. In 1977, FN acquired Browning Arms and in 1989 FN became The Herstal Group.

During the late 20th century, the company would produce weapons such as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, the M240 machine gun, the P90 machine gun, and the Five SeveN pistol. In more recent years, the company would create and deploy the FN SCAR 16 and 17 globally. In addition to these and other military and law enforcement weapons, the company also created the pistol you see here.

The FNH FNX design includes a polymer frame with a serious gripping surface, a trigger guard that’s large enough to be used with a gloved hand, a tactical rail, a larger ambidextrous magazine release, and an ambidextrous decocker/safety.

In double action mode — available only if you use the decocker to lower the hammer — the trigger stroke was still smooth but very long, so much so that some of the shooters who were helping me wondered if something was wrong with them or with the gun.

The FNX service pistol was introduced in 2009 and incorporates many of the ergonomic improvements initially developed under the U.S. Joint Combat Pistol Program for the FNP-45 USG.
The FNX service pistol was introduced in 2009 and incorporates many of the ergonomic improvements initially developed under the U.S. Joint Combat Pistol Program for the FNP-45 USG.

Chambering a round resulted in the gun having the hammer back, ready to fire in single action mode. Those who would want to carry in Condition 1 would at this point push the decocker/safety up to activate the trigger safety. To fire, the user would thumb the decocker/safety switch down and the gun would be ready to fire, a very 1911 feel.

The decocker/safety was easy to engage, fairly positive in its travel, but too easy to decock when merely trying to take off the safety. This would result in the need for the long, double action stroke to fire the gun. Of course, a shooter could manually pull the hammer back and return to Condition 1.

When decocking the FNH FNX, the right side of the ambidextrous decocker/safety switch would at times push against my hand, which was annoying. The decocker/safety was not as crisp as other levers or switches I’ve used and let down the hammer with a fairly loud thud.

Regardless of the position of the hammer, a shooter could activate the safety. With the safety on, the FNH FNX allows a full trigger stroke but with no activity in the fire control system. In other words, while some safeties prevent any trigger motion, the FNH FNX’s safety actually disables the fire control system, allowing the shooter to pull the trigger all the way back in single action or double action mode.

The sights of the FNH FNX in 9mm.

The FNH FNX is easy to shoot and very accurate in single action only mode. The single action stroke, in fact, is clean and crisp but with more takeup than you would expect. The break surprised the shooters every time. The gun’s trigger was smooth-faced and caused no problems with fingers after squeezing off hundreds of rounds.

The FNH FNX sported a smaller than normal slide release lever or button, which we never used. The shooters preferred to tug the slide manually to let it close and pick up ammunition from a fresh magazine.

The FNH FNX’s larger than normal ambidextrous magazine release reliably ejected empty magazines, as long as we used the release on the left side. Pushing the release from the right side would release the magazine but hold it in place.

The sights on this pistol offered a typical three dot configuration, but with a large white dot on the front sight and regular size white dots on rear sights. Although only slightly bigger than what we were used to in a front sight dot, the larger dot on the FNH FNX’s front post was very helpful in aiming.

Handgun Review. Magazine for the FNH FNX 9mm.We put all 400 rounds down range and the FNH FNX reliably ejected all of them. Out of 400 rounds, however, seven failed to go into battery. Each of these mishaps resulted in the nose of the round sticking into the top of the chamber. These stuck rounds were never the first round of a magazine but usually the second or third or fourth in line. More telling: The failures to go into battery only occurred with the less experienced or weaker shooters in our group. I attributed these few problems to limp wrists.

The FNH FNX’s three included magazines each hold 17 rounds of 9mm ammunition. As such, a 50-round box of ammunition was enough to fill two magazines with 17 rounds and an additional magazine with 16 rounds.

We experienced no sore fingers from shooting the FNH FNX but several sore thumbs from loading the magazines. High Precision Range (HPR), a relatively new ammunition manufacturer based in Peyson, Ariz., supplied 400 rounds of 9mm ammunition for this test. For the record, every HPR round looked good in the box, loaded well, fired reliably and accurately, and impressed all the shooters involved in this test.

The FNH FNX 9mm is made in the USA and retails for $699. With its first outing resulting in 400 rounds of HPR 9mm ammunition easily, safely, and accurately down range, you too might have the opportunity to introduce your friends to a gun with an enviable and interesting lineage, one that gets just about everything right.

This article appeared in the Gun Digest the Magazine 2013 Shooter's Guide

How to Customize a Glock for $200

Glock 19 before the customization
BEFORE: A Glock 19 shows holster wear on the slide and tired night sights.

Here's how to customize a Glock, and keep the tab under the magic $200 mark, with a few tips anyone can do at home.

In 2010, the Glock 19 was Glock’s best selling gun, commercially. Now in its fourth generation and still widely regarded for its reliability and durability the midsize 19 remains a very popular choice for concealed carry, target shooting at the range, and home defense. The differences between the four generations of Glock 19s include grip patterns, finger grooves in the stock, the addition of a tactical rail, and for 2011, interchangeable backstraps for a “perfect” fit. Beyond that, not much has changed over the years.

Glocks, like any other gun, can show wear and tear over time, especially with heavy use. Tenifer slides show holster wear and night sites grow dim. In fact, that’s exactly what was happening with a friend’s Gen2 Glock 19. The pistol was starting to look a bit tired. Rather than shelling out $500 or more for a new gun or going through the hassle of selling it, I convinced my friend to see what we could do to upgrade the Glock, spending around $200 to turn it into a custom carry pistol.

This particular Glock 19 rides every day in a Fobus paddle holster as my friend makes deliveries and runs errands for a local firm. Because he has little kids, my friend doesn’t chamber a round until he leaves for work each morning and he unloads the 19 each night when he returns home. So the gun is in and out of the holster at least a couple times every day. As such, the slide shows signs typical signs of wear. At around 15 years old, the factory night sites have lost much of their usable glow.

With a $200 limit, here’s what we had done to the Gen 2 Glock 19:

The Glock 19 after customization
AFTER: The Glock 19’s slide and barrel sport a titanium-colored DiamondKote refinish by M&R Arms Specialties in Mt. Clemens, Mich. Note the bright green Truglo TFO Brite Site.

The first upgrade — refinishing the slide in DiamondKote — would be purely cosmetic. At the recommendation of a local gunsmith, I sent the Glock’s slide and barrel to Mike Boglarsky at M&R Arms Specialties (www.mrarms.com) in Mt. Clemens, Mich. M&R offers a multitude of color options, from matte black to gold to purple. Being somewhat traditional but wanting to jazz up the Glock a bit, I was leaning toward the silver until Mike told me that he could also do a titanium color. Relying solely on Mike’s advice, I gave him the go-ahead.

Mike says he can apply color treatments to the Glock’s polymer frame as well, which I respectfully declined. In a couple days, Mike called to let me know the slide and barrel were ready for pickup. It looks great and the subtle but classy titanium color is a great match for the Glock’s dark polymer frame. Cost: $57 + shipping from M&R Arms

The second upgrade — replacing the old night sights — would be a much more functional change and a must-have on a carry or defense gun. I selected Truglo’s Brite Site TFO, a combination Tritium and fiber optic sight that offers a bright green dot for a front sight and slightly less bright (although very visible) yellow dots for the rear sight. Never having sighted a gun through bi-colored night sites, I worried that the green and yellow dots would be gimmicky or confusing. Thankfully, neither is true. The Truglo sights are easily seen in bright daylight or in darkness. The brighter green front sight is easy to acquire and the yellow dots in the rear sight are easy to align. Cost: $97 from CheaperThanDirt.com

The third upgrade — adding a Clipdraw — would also enhance the functionality of the gun, at least in how my friend will use it on a daily basis. Since his daily routine requires a lot of driving and errands in Michigan’s four seasons, he decided to try carrying inside the waistband with a Clipdraw installed—a setup that would allow easy “holstering” and removal of the Glock as needed. A simple but well-designed piece of black powder-coated metal, the Clipdraw attaches to the Glock securely and holds it inside the waistband securely, keeping it steady but allowing some movement to accommodate sitting and standing with a concealed weapon. Moreover the Clipdraw keeps the Glock at just the right height, allowing the user to get fingers around the stock when drawing.

Cost: $25.95 from Clipdraw.com

Glock 19 receiver with a Lone Wolf Carry Package Trigger Kit
AFTER: The Glock 19 receiver with a Lone Wolf Carry Package Trigger Kit installed.

The fourth upgrade—adding a Lone Wolf Carry Package Trigger Kit—would provide a heavier, revolver-like feel to the trigger, smoothing out the overall stroke and providing an additional measure of safety to protect against an accidental discharge. Lone Wolf’s Carry Package Trigger Kit is simply the combination of an 8-pound trigger spring (the “New York 1” or NY1) coupled with a 3.5-pound connector. Cost: $17.50 from Lone Wolf Distributors

With a total of $197.45 in upgrades (not counting tax or shipping), a working but very tired looking Gen2 Glock 19 became a good-looking custom carry gun that looks practically new and provides even greater functionality. My friend is happy with the changes—he even said they’re “perfect.”

Beyond the $200 Threshold: DC Holster

Glock 19 DC Holster and Clipdraw
AFTER: Now a “custom carry gun” the Glock 19 rides comfortably in a DC Holster. Note the installed Clipdraw.

For those who prefer to holster their weapon in an actual holster that covers the trigger, consider a holster made by Greg Purcell of DC Holsters. A locksmith by trade who carries a concealed pistol, Greg found that the constant bending and moving that his work required made carrying pistol downright uncomfortable and unworkable. As such, Greg decided to design his own tuckable holster out of Kydex and leather. Word spread and a secondary business was born.

I tried the DC holster using my friend’s Glock 19 and found it to be one of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. The best spot for it on me was at the four o’clock position. The Glock slid in easily and snapped in securely, the molded Kydex taking a firm hold on the Glock’s triggerguard. The leather helped distribute the weight across an area greater than just the point at which the belt clip attaches to my belt, adding to the comfort. Regardless of the temperature or setting, the leather never felt hot, never caused me to sweat, and generally held the Glock 19 in place very well. I could even carry the Glock 19 with the Clipdraw installed.

I did have to warm up and reform the Kydex that was directly over the front sight as it was rubbing against the sight when unholstering the Glock. This procedure took about 30 seconds with an automatic lighter and a metal rod to re-form the heated Kydex. Other than that minor fix and breaking the $200 threshold, the DC Holster was a perfect match for the Glock 19.

Cost: $65.50 shipped

How-To Hand Stipple to Get a Grip On Plastic Guns

A perfectly good pistol ... made even better.
A perfectly good pistol … made even better.

How to hand stipple the stocks of your polymer-framed pistol for a better grip.

Gun owners usually fall into two camps: those who keep their weapons just as they come from the factory and those who do not. Those who desire to keep a firearm in its original factory condition do so for purposes including faithfulness to the original intent of the firearm’s designers or protecting the factory warranty.

Those who customize their weapons probably desire to improve it in some way — to increase its functionality or even to personalize it. One camp asks: Why would you permanently change a perfectly good factory gun? The other side asks: Why wouldn’t you? In the interest of full disclosure, I’m in the first camp.

For years, handgun owners have modified their steel revolvers and pistols — shortening barrels, porting chambers, changing stocks, and more. With the advent of the polymer-framed pistol, the opportunity to make changes has only increased. One of the most popular modifications to polymer-framed pistols is to add to or change the stocks to improve purchase (the firmness or quality of one’s grip of the stocks). Some handgun owners add a rubber grip sleeve such as a Hogue Hand-All.

The Kel-Tec PF-9 is a thin, lightweight, single-stack 9mm pistol offering excellent purchase right out of the box. Stippling the tops of each square made it even better.
The Kel-Tec PF-9 is a thin, lightweight, single-stack 9mm pistol offering excellent purchase right out of the box. Stippling the tops of each square made it even better.

Others apply a sandpaper-like skateboard tape. Of course, grip sleeves and skateboard tape don’t require physically altering the weapon; those add-ons are easily removed. Other gun owners, however, resort to more drastic measures, including stippling—broadly defined as “drawing, engraving, or painting in dots or short strokes.” In this context, “engraving” seems to fit best as it involves melting the polymer and re-shaping it to improve purchase.

While companies such as Robar offer custom stippling for polymer-framed pistols — at a cost, but with many advantages — many handgun owners have attempted to hand-stipple a polymer-framed pistol at home. In fact, the Internet abounds with stories, images, and videos of successful hand-stippling jobs as well as those that are, shall we say, less than successful.

After reviewing several positive hand-stippling reports, fanciful notions of “I can do that” started to run through my head. Moreover, I thought I could do a decent stippling job on a new Kel-Tec PF-9, a polymer-framed 9mm pistol, with just a hot soldering iron. Would I get a better grip on a pistol or did I need to get a grip on reality?

Since this was my first and possibly last hand-stippling job, I decided to start small in two ways: First, I chose a small, inexpensive weapon. The Kel-Tec PF-9 measures 4.3 inches tall, 5.85 inches long, and .88 inches wide and in a blued finish retails for $333. It would be an expensive lesson if I somehow managed to destroy it but not as expensive as some other polymer-framed pistols. This provided only a modest comfort to me.

Second, the Kel-Tec’s polymer frame offers stocks with a raised, checkerboard pattern (which, for the record, provide excellent purchase as is). Rather than attempt to stipple the entire grip area, I would only stipple the raised squares, borrowing from a design I had seen in an Internet gun forum. I figured the raised squares offered a little more depth of plastic and therefore greater margin for error.

A very short push into the polymer with a hot soldering iron yielded consistent craters measuring about one millimeter across.”
A very short push into the polymer with a hot soldering iron yielded consistent craters measuring about one millimeter across.”

At this point, I need to insert all appropriate disclaimers: What I’m about to do might be unwise, if not downright stupid, and probably voids the pistol’s warranty. Regardless, don’t try this at home. In fact, don’t try this anywhere or at any time. Proceed at your own risk. Neither Gun Digest the Magazine nor Kel-Tec is responsible for your foolishness. Consuming raw or undercooked meat, seafood or egg products can increase your risk of foodborne illness. And so on.

Working in my professional stippling shop — in my driveway with an upside-down five-gallon bucket (the gun bench) and a broken piece of 12×12 ceramic tile (a safe surface to work with hot tools and melting plastic) — I plugged in the soldering iron and set up the camera. Either I would capture pictures of a successful hand stippling job or provide some emergency room doctor with images of my burnt flesh. This was the point of no return. As soon as that hot soldering iron tip touched the plastic, I was committed.

Questions raced through my mind: How would the plastic react to the hot soldering iron? How long would I need to hold the soldering iron against the plastic to melt it? Should I melt grooves into the plastic or just push in some round craters? Questions raced through the minds of the neighbors, as well: Who’s the idiot sitting in the middle of his driveway in front of a five-gallon bucket when it’s 32 degrees out?

A very short push into the polymer with a hot soldering iron yielded consistent craters measuring about one millimeter across.”
A very short push into the polymer with a hot soldering iron yielded consistent craters measuring about one millimeter across.”

To test the effects of the hot soldering iron on Kel-Tec polymer, I swapped out the standard magazine floorplate for the extended magazine floorplate that was included with the pistol. Briefly touching the soldering iron to the side of the standard magazine floorplate as a test, the plastic melted instantly, leaving a small crater. I touched the soldering iron to it a few more times and was able to create a fairly consistent pattern of craters that measured about one millimeter in diameter. It took well under half a second for the soldering iron to create one crater in the plastic. Testing complete, it was time to stipple.

With the Kel-Tec lying on its side, I rested the heel of my hand on the tile while holding the soldering iron like a pen. I gently and briefly pressed the tip down into one of the squares. Just like the test, the soldering iron produced a neat little crater. I did it again, creating a crater right next to the first, and so on.

Following a pattern of creating rows of craters, I became proficient enough to complete an entire square in less than a minute. Once I completed one side of the gun, I continued to the other, this time stippling the outline of each square first and then filling in the middle. Stippling the stocks proved easier than I thought so I stippled a portion of the front strap as well. Total stippling time: 45 minutes.

While I would stop stippling every so often and pick up the pistol to see if I was creating any sharp or otherwise uncomfortable edges, I didn’t notice a major improvement in purchase until I completed the work. Using the magazine with the extended floorplate, the hand stippling job significantly increased purchase on the Kel-Tec PF-9. It felt great — rock solid, like no person or hot ammo was going to easily remove that gun from my hand.

Even though I consider the stippling job a wonderful success, I’m not going to be starting my own pistol customizing business. I’m just happy to have not ruined an excellent pistol, stippled my fingers, nor burnt down my house.

All in all, it was a good exercise, one that I hope is helpful to readers of Gun Digest the Magazine. After showing off the stippled Kel-Tec PF-9, a few friends have asked me why I would make permanent changes to a perfectly functional handgun. My response: “Why wouldn’t I?”

321-631-0068; keltecweapons.com
800-438-4747; getgrip.com
623-581-2648; robarguns.com

Review: The Taurus .25 PLY

The Taurus PLY .25 Auto.

Always bring a gun to a gunfight. That's just one reason why someone would want to pack this newly-designed Taurus PT .25 PLY auto.

When proponents of concealed carry wax eloquent about self defense philosophy, they will spend virtually no time on the age-old notion that you should “always bring a gun to a gunfight.” That’s a foregone conclusion. They will, however, voice all manner of opinion with all kinds of emotion on which make, model, and caliber of firearm you should bring to a gunfight: “I would never carry anything other than a [insert manufacturer or model] in [insert caliber]!”

Somewhere in these discussions about single-action vs. double-action or 9mm vs. .45 ACP, a wise old soul will offer up the idea that you should always bring two guns to a gunfight — a main gun and a backup, just in case. A hush might fall over those engaged in the discussion as they contemplate a scenario where guns have been drawn, shots have possibly been fired, and the main gun has either been lost or dropped or has no more ammunition or has failed. Now what?

Backup guns, the smallest of which are sometimes called mouse guns due to their diminutive size, have saved lives and long played important roles in police and detective work. Moreover, with 49 of the 50 U.S. states offering some manner of concealed carry for citizens, small handguns are more popular than ever. Often chambered in smaller calibers (.380, .25, .22, etc.) and smaller dimensions, these weapons are truly pocket pistols. Some people carry them as a primary carry gun—always bring a gun to a gunfight, right?—and some carry them to back up their primary weapon, just in case.

The Taurus PLY 25 and 9-round mag.
The Taurus PLY 25 and 9-round mag.

Beyond the matter of reduced caliber, guns with smallish dimensions offer additional challenges for shooters. For example, because they are smaller they may be more difficult to hold properly. Indeed, some might struggle to keep hands or skin out of the way of the moving parts or find it awkward to place a finger properly on the trigger or manipulate the magazine release. Bottom line: It is possible for a gun simply to be too small to hold comfortably or handle safely.

In an effort to mitigate some of these concerns, Miami, Fla.-based Taurus Manufacturing in 2009 produced a small .25 Automatic pistol based on a Beretta pistol design they purchased many years ago. Compared to the old Beretta, Taurus president Bob Morrison says the new Taurus .25 a “modernized and technically superior version.”

Called the PT 25PLY, Morrison says it is the result of significant input from customers and is designed to meet the expectations for a present-day concealed carry weapon. New features of the 25PLY include enhanced ergonomics and polymer construction. Yet it retains the tip-up barrel from the old design. Morrison says Taurus produces the entire gun, as well as a .22 caliber model, in its Miami manufacturing facility. The PT 25PLY retails for $273 (blued) and $289 (stainless) and despite being produced in 2009, the gun has not been available until now.

The most notable features of the PT 25PLY are its size and weight, or lack thereof. At 5.33 inches in length the PT 25PLY certainly qualifies as backup gun (“BUG”) or mouse gun or hide-out gun. In fact, when holding it in my medium-sized hand and placing my trigger finger along the slide, my fingertip extended just beyond the muzzle. Grasping the PT 25PLY resulted in most of the gun disappearing under my grip; the exposed slide and barrel sat low but a small beavertail kept the web of my hand out of the path of the slide. The PT 25PLY weighs in at 10.8 ounces, unloaded. With eight rounds of .25 Automatic on board, the weight increased to 12.9 ounces. By comparison, most subcompact handguns weigh twice that amount.

A .25 Auto in the chamber of the Taurus 25 PLY.
A .25 Auto in the chamber of the Taurus 25 PLY.

Having firmly established that the PT 25PLY is indeed small and light, favorable descriptors for something you want to carry, I wondered whether its physical makeup would work against it as a firearm. After all, this is supposed to be a weapon. It is meant to shoot a bullet and may be someone’s just-in-case last-hope in neutralizing an attack of some kind. Was it up to the task?

I contemplated whether the Taurus PT 25PLY would be a case of less is more. Or less. Shooting the 25PLY would provide some answers so I turned from matters of size and weight to preparing to fire. Unfortunately, removing the magazine was not as easy as expected — I had to physically pull it out while pushing the magazine release — and I also found it a little difficult to load the magazine, which only added to my angst. Pressing in the rounds by hand proved an exercise in endurance for my thumb and, despite Taurus’ claim that the PT 25PLY holds 9+1, I could only fit eight rounds in the magazine.

As I loaded the magazine, the rounds seemed to click in place instead of just sliding in. I was actually concerned that the magazine was holding the rounds so tight that they would not chamber when firing. Before I shot, I tried removing the rounds by hand. This too, was difficult.

Thankfully, all the fuss about the magazine evaporated during the shooting session. Every round chambered, fired, and ejected properly, even if a couple of the spent casings landed on my head.

The thumb safety on the Taurus PLY 25 was robust and engaged positively.
The thumb safety on the Taurus PLY 25 was robust and engaged positively.

Since small handguns are, well, small, often it is difficult to get a solid grasp on the slide in order to chamber a round. The PT 25PLY’s tip-up barrel, however, eliminates this concern. Just press the barrel release forward with a thumb to get the barrel to tip up, drop a round in the chamber, and close the barrel. Want to check the chamber and see if the PT 25PLY is loaded? Same procedure. No slide manipulation needed. This feature is really helpful on a small handgun.

Firing the PT 25PLY proved a couple of key points: First, Taurus did its homework in redesigning the ergonomics of the pistol. The polymer stocks worked in conjunction with the base of the magazine to offer a very comfortable grip that was a pleasure to hold and shoot.

I didn’t expect much recoil from the .25 Automatic round but had wondered how the quality of shooting would be in such a small pistol. Each round fired offered recoil in the form of a mild push back—very tame and manageable. I excused the PT 25PLY’s miniscule notch and ramp sights because the gun’s excellent ergonomics enhanced my ability to simply point and shoot and because the gun is meant more to be a last line of defense as opposed to a target pistol. Second, the PT 25PLY’s trigger offered a long and very smooth stroke which aided in shooting accurately and should provide some peace of mind against accidental discharges.

Additional safety features include a frame-mounted thumb safety—this felt robust and engaged and disengaged positively—as well as a magazine disconnect. The gun also includes the Taurus Security System, allowing a user to secure the gun with the turn of a key.

I carried the PT 25PLY around in the front right pocket of my pants or shorts with no holster. Surprisingly, it “stood up” well, allowing me to simply put my hand in my pocket in order to grasp it. It would of course fit in the bigger pockets of cargo pants or shorts but locating the pistol there would require some kind of pocket holster.

The Taurus PT 25PLY might not be a powerhouse caliber nor the first firearm chosen for a gunfight, but with 9+1 rounds of .25 Automatic in an updated design that includes ergonomic polymer stocks and multiple safeties, it is light, comfortable, safe, and reliable. Just in case.

This article appeared in the October 10, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Glock Gen4 Review

Ask virtually any handgun enthusiast to describe a Glock pistol and you’ll invariably hear words such as simple, reliable, and rugged. With the company's insatiable quest for perfection, the Glock Gen4 redesign achieved an improvement on that legendary perfection.

Since 72 percent of the nation’s law enforcement officers carry Glocks and since Glock enjoyed a 73 percent increase in sales over the past year, you might also hear terms like popular and pervasive. Glock pistols regularly appear in movies and television shows and stoke such brand loyalty that furious rivalries and humorous anecdotes abound. Here’s a good one: A 1911 is what you show your friends. A Glock is what you show your enemies. A Glock Gen4.

As for the reliability of Glocks: They just work … Pull the trigger and they go bang—every time. You could describe Glocks as boring—in all the right ways.

As for Glock’s advertising slogan, “Perfection” must be something for which the company continually strives. So, Glock’s latest rendition of its revolutionary design, the Generation 4 series, must be more perfect than the previous generations. Is it?

Glock Gen 4 pistols feature replaceable backstraps for an adjustable grip.
Glock Gen 4 pistols feature replaceable backstraps for an adjustable grip.


Glock started designing pistols in 1980 and the Austrian army approved the Glock 17 (so named because it was the company’s 17th patent) for use in 1982. The Glock 17 was obviously a first-generation pistol and visually identified by its smooth, rounded “pebble grip.” Second generation Glocks changed to a “grenade-style” checkering on the grips. Third generation Glocks added finger grooves on the grips as well as an accessory rail on the front dustcover. Some Glocks are described as a “Generation 2.5”—a transition model when Glock added finger grooves but no accessory rail. Enter Glock’s Generation 4 pistols, or as they are stamped on the slides of these new guns, “Gen4.”

Gen4 versions of the Glock 17 and Glock 22 are shipping now. Gen4 versions of the Glock 19 and Glock 23 pistols will ship in June, 2010. After that, Gen 4 versions of the Glock 26 and Glock 27 will ship. Glock National Sales Manager Craig Dutton says this schedule demonstrates Glock’s commitment to law enforcement.


According to Dutton, the 2010 Glock Gen4 guns “are a major external and internal re-design of what Glock has offered in the past” and he says the Gen4 pistols offer several major advantages: less recoil due to slower slide velocity; better fit for smaller-handed shooters thanks to the smallest circumference short-grip frame Glock has ever offered and the shortest trigger reach Glock has ever offered; better fit for larger-handed shooters thanks to the two additional “snap-on” full-length backstraps that come with every Glock pistol; easier magazine release manipulation from a new magazine catch that is both three times larger and reversible; great accuracy thanks to a tighter lock-up; and easier-to-grip Gen4 RTF4 frame with pointed “pyramids” instead of checkering.

As important as what’s new with the Gen4 is what isn’t: It’s still the rugged, reliably feeding pistol it’s always been. Field stripping is the same as with previous generations. Gen4 pistols will fit Gen3 holsters. Moreover, for law enforcement budget watchers, Dutton says Glock will keep law enforcement pricing the same as it has been since 2000.

The most significant visual differences in the Glock Gen4 pistols and the ones most likely to garner the interest of both law enforcement and the general shooting public are the interchangeable backstraps and the magazine release.

The Gen 4 Pistol.


Gen4 Glocks ship with two extra backstraps, each of which fit over the “short frame” or standard grip. The distance from the standard backstrap—the “short frame”—to the trigger is 70mm. The medium and large backstraps increase the distance to 72mm and 74mm, respectively. I tried all three. The short frame felt the best, the medium was tolerable, and the large reminded me of the grip feel of a Glock 21—simply too big. All the grip options had that familiar Glock feel but for me the option of the smaller short frame grip made holding the Glock even more comfortable.

Practically, if you’ve had to choose a Glock 23 in order to avoid the longer trigger reach of a Glock 22, the Gen4 pistols eliminate that problem.

Backstrap interchangeability on the Glock Gen4 pistols do not affect any of the pistol’s moving parts, but the large backstrap requires a longer trigger mechanism pin, which is included with each pistol, along with a plastic punch tool to remove and install the trigger mechanism pin. Changing the backstraps requires a few steps, all outlined in the included instruction sheet: remove the trigger mechanism pin with the punch tool, snap the larger backstrap in place, and re-insert the trigger mechanism pin. In changing the backstraps, the larger ones proved difficult to seat correctly and the punch tool a bit feeble to the task but once installed they straps stayed in place.

Shooting the Gen4 Glock proved to be a dream. Accuracy, reliability and now enhanced features take this pistol another step closer to perfection.
Shooting the Gen4 Glock proved to be a dream. Accuracy, reliability and now enhanced features take this pistol another step closer to perfection.

Related to the interchangeable backstraps, the other significant visual change was the “pointed pyramids” texture on the frame/grips that replaces the more traditional Glock checkering. The Gen4 RTF4 frame, as it’s called, is not as aggressive feeling as the RTF2 military grip, says Dutton. It is, however, a different feel—the pointed pyramids could be described as sharp—but they improved my grip on the Glock when shooting it.

While the availability of interchangeable backstraps allows individual shooters the ability to customize a Glock pistol to fit their hands, the new magazine release on the Gen4 pistols may be just as significant a change.


Glock Gen4 magazine releases are three times larger than those in previous generations. Combined with my preferred short frame grip, I found it to be significantly easier to engage the magazine release during magazine changes. Although you can reverse the magazine release and install it on the other side of the grip (a 30-second operation, according to Glock), I left it in the traditional location. The new magazine release works on a pivot as opposed to the previous generation’s straight-in plunge. No surprise, the Gen4 release provided very positive engagement and little concern of accidental engagement.

Previous generation magazines will work in the Gen4 pistols provided the magazine release stays on the left side; Gen4 magazines will work in previous generation Glocks.

Both the short frame and the new magazine release provided a more fulfilling shooting experience because they didn’t get in the way of the shooting.


While Dutton says that field stripping, cleaning and safety instructions remain the same across Glock lines, some Glock Gen4 parts will not interchange with previous generation parts. These include the frame, slide, trigger bar, magazine catch, recoil spring assembly, back-strap assemblies, trigger mechanism housing, and trigger mechanism housing pin. Gen4 pistols have a new stainless-steel, double-wound, two-stage, recoil spring assembly that Dutton says offers twice the recoil-spring rated service life as previous Glocks—5,000-plus rounds for Gen4 G22 springs versus 2,500 rounds for Gen3 G22 springs.


Shooting previous generation Glocks was and still is great but shooting the Glock Gen4 was a joy. The reduced recoil combined with the short frame (no larger backstrap added) grip yielded faster and more accurate shooting. Every round fed perfectly—reliable—and fired to point of aim—accurate. Magazine changes were easier and therefore more efficient—simple. Was it “perfection”? No. According to Dutton, however, that term accurately describes what Glock is striving to do: make the most dependable pistol on earth.

This article appeared in the May 10, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Auctions: What Sells & What Auction Houses Look For

How to make the most of gun auctions.
How to make the most of gun auctions.

In other words, while Glock continues to enjoy a banner year—the company is trying to handle backorders of 70,000 units—firearm auctions tend to feature entirely different categories of firearms sales.

At Findlay, Ohio-based Old Barn Auctions, firearms consultant Larry Wells says they recently auctioned off a Winchester 94 Deluxe Sporting Rifle sold for $3,800, a Henry First Model for $20,000; and an engraved Gustav Young 1862 Colt Pocket Navy with ivory grips for $13,500.

Gunrunner Online Firearm Auctions recently offered at auction 30 unopened boxes of Model 12 trap guns from the 1960’s and 1970’s, including Super Pigeons, Pigeon, Skeet and Trap Grades. ”These beautiful and rare pieces created a nationwide sensation!” says owner Scott Weber, explaining that the company seems to do best with fine double shotguns and rare military firearms. “We have also done well with ‘famous guns,’ selling some of Elvis Presley’s personal firearms and the firearms of Winchester exhibition shooter Herb Parsons,” Weber says.

According to James D. Julia, his auction company’s recent sales included a Napolean-era pair of cased pistols by Boutet Arms (Versailles, France)—”the finest gunsmiths in history,” he says—that went for $438,000. In March 2009 Julia auctioned off the firearms collection of Dr. Joseph Murphy of Philadelphia, a collector of Colt pistols. “In terms of average quality, rarity, and number of firearms, Dr. Murphy’s collection arguably was one of the finest collections in history, if not the best,” says Julia. With this auction, he says, “the eyes of the gun fraternity were on me.”

Overall Julia says it was a fantastic sale: The first lot included engraved and cased #2 Paterson pistols with an expected sale range of $275,000 to $500,000. The final price was $517,500. Thirty lots later, says Julia, an engraved Colt Single Action estimated at $450,000 to $800,000 went for $747,500.

Finally, Curt Kramer of Kramer Auctions reports that Winchester rifles “are always a hit—those old lever actions really appeal to a wide range of buyers.” The most memorable and significant sale for Kramer, however, was a Sharps Berdan Rifle. “Aside from being a fantastic firearm,” says Kramer, “the family selling it had no idea what they had. So they were in shock when this ‘Civil War gun’ as they had described it topped the sale at over $12,000.”
Not all the auctions, however, were marked by sales of rare or antique firearms. Kramer says he also noticed a big increase in the sale of quality new or used modern handguns. “I am sure the political environment had something to do with that,” he says.

What Auctioneers Look for in a Consignor

Across the board, firearms auctioneers state that selling firearms at auction requires consignors who are motivated and realistic. For example, Weber says that he first looks for someone who listens to our appraisals/auction projections. ”All we do all day and night is sell guns, so if we have sold their guns hundreds of times, we know the value,” he says. ”If the consignor disagrees with our assessment, that can spell problems down the line.” So the best consignor, says Weber, is “the one who believes without qualification that we are going to give their firearm the same attention and promotion we would give our own firearm.”

Larry Wells states that it’s very helpful for consignors to “look at the bottom line” and not at the final auction prices of individual items. “I want a consignor to tell me something to the effect of, ‘I’d like to see about $50,000 for the lot,’” says Wells.

The best consignor, says Kramer, is someone who is ready to sell. “Some sellers will sell if they get a certain price for every item; that is a seller who is not ready to sell,” says Kramer, “and that is not a good auction client.” He says about 90% of the auctions are “unreserved,” meaning the items will sell regardless of price. “We spend a lot of time and money advertising these auctions and most items will bring what they are worth.”

When there is a reserve price, Kramer says he makes sure that the reserve is reasonable, “one that I think is fair, not some crazy price that this one guy who never saw the gun said it should be worth.” He adds that if his sellers are not happy with what he feels is a reasonable price, he simply won’t offer the item at auction. “No sense wasting my time and my buyers’ time on lots that have unreasonable reserves,” he says. With auctions, he says, sales and profits always seem to even out—some guns sell for a little less than they should and other guns seem to bring more that they should. Of course, says Kramer, “Everyone always seems to have a good story of some gun at an auction that brought way more than they expected. I like those stories especially when they are talking about my sales.”

James Julia prefers consignors who meet two key criteria: First, they must have quality goods to sell. Second, they are motivated, realistic, and conservative in estimating value. With that kind of consignor, he says, his auction company can then create a great marketing plan and establish a selling price or “put it at auction and let the market decide.” Consignors need to know that estimating low, says Julia, will sometimes cause a good to overperform in an auction.

Both auctioneers and sellers desire goods to sell well. “The more a seller makes, the more we make,” says Weber. “Once the seller understands that, the auction process is a beautiful thing!”

This article appeared in the August 2, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


2015 Standard Catalog of Firearms, 25th Edition

The 2015 Standard Catalog of Firearms is the preferred desk reference guide to the realm of antique, vintage, and modern firearms from around the world, and is now in its Silver Anniversary, 25th edition with more than 26,000 listings of collectible and modern firearms. This industry-leading reference on firearms valuation and pricing has everything you need, whether you’re looking to buy, sell, or collect firearms.

Sold! Gun Auctions Thrive in Difficult Economy

This Special Order Winchester Model 1886 sold for $11,000
This Special Order Winchester Model 1886 sold for $11,000.

James D. Julia was nervous. It was October 2008 and the firearms auctioneer from Fairfield, Maine, was listening to news reports warning of a possible collapse in world financial markets. Earlier that year, in March, his firearms auction business enjoyed a $12.7 million gross for a single auction, the largest ever, anywhere.

Now, it seemed like the financial world was unraveling and he was about to open another firearms auction. Julia feared that buyers wouldn’t be buying and the auction wouldn’t be successful. “Nobody knew it, but I was sweating bullets,” he says. Well known for their high quality firearms auctions, the James D. Julia Auctioneers started the October 2008 auction featuring a rare Colt Walker pistol with an estimated selling price between $500,000 and $1,000,000. Julia wondered how it would it fare in an economy that seemed to be on the brink of disaster. It sold for $920,000, setting a world record for the most expensive single firearm sold at auction.

Over the 40 years that Julia has been in the auction business, he’s sold over $130 million worth of firearms and military goods. In the past five years his auction company has averaged $15,000 per lot sold—six to eight times the industry average. The day after the record Colt Walker sale, the stock market lost 10 percent of its value. In general, economic times are indeed difficult— “it’s about as challenging a time you could ask for in recent years,” he says—but points to one simple reason for success: “There’s always a bunch of guys who will fight for a special item; they are passionate in their interest and desire. A true collector is not an investor in his things; they love and understand those things; that’s what drives them.”

Manufacturers of modern firearms, especially AR-15 rifles and concealable handguns—have also enjoyed record sales over the last couple of years. Julia, however, says sales in the firearms industry has nothing to do with the success of the auction industry. “Thank God for the fear mongers who purchased Glocks and such,” he says, “but it’s a totally different guy who buys collector pieces from gun auctions.”

Despite the declining economy, Scott Weber, owner of Gunrunner Online Firearms Auctions in Burton, Ohio, also saw significant success in his firearms auction business last year but sees a closer connection between the political climate, general firearms sales, and sales from firearms auctions. Weber says 2009 was Gunrunner’s highest grossing year of their 10 years of auctioneering, “and we thank Mr. Obama for that!” Gunrunner sells 5,000 guns a year in online auctions and Weber says they’re on their way to doubling the revenue of 2009. “No recession here!”

In 2009, Kramer Sales, a firearms auctioneer based in Prairie du Chien, Wisc., sold around 1,500 antique and modern firearms. Owner Curt Kramer says that while they’re a smaller outfit, this is about double what they did in 2008. “We sold some really interesting firearms at auction this past year, from a .50 caliber WWII British Boyes anti-tank rifle to some great deluxe Winchesters, a Henry Rifle, and just about everything in between.”

By contrast, James D. Julia Auctioneers will sell around 800 guns generating from $8.5 million to $13 million. According to Julia, his nearest competitor will sell 3,800 guns to generate about $3 million and conduct 20 to 30 auctions a year. Julia conducts nine auctions a year. “We don’t aim for quantity but quality,” he says.
Whether passionate collectors or political concerns are driving the firearms auction industry, the success has brought its share of surprises to the auctioneers.

“Our staff was not ready for the amount of firearms streaming into the store,” says Weber. He says the Gunrunner employees in one load picked up over 1,000 guns and recently received another collection of 500 handguns. “All day long the guns come in the mail or by truckload—it’s like Christmas every day!” Weber says this level of business requires Gunrunner employees to work until 11 p.m. every night just processing the paperwork for the firearms. “It’s great fun,” he says, “but I am working seven days a week.”

The surprising demand for firearms has also brought a demand for ammunition. “Ammo sales has been nuts for two years,” says Kramer, particularly of ammunition in not new but not old enough or in good enough condition to be collectible. “It’s just good shooter ammo,” he says. “Further, ammo prices in the retail stores have not dropped and my buyers realize it.”

Despite the record-setting sales and its position as one of the larger firearms auction companies, Julia considered the economic downtown and prepared for the worst. “I knew a recession was coming but I didn’t know when,” he says. “Just as soon as it happened I met with my staff and told them what to expect. First I told them that we’re not going to fire anyone; instead we’re going to do more for our client. So we implemented a policy change. If the goods to sell are expensive, we’ll sell at a zero percent commission. I called it the James D. Julia ‘Stimulus Plan.’

Another unique piece from a recent Kramer auction: a Civil War era Henry manufactured in 1864.
Another unique piece from a recent Kramer auction: a Civil War era Henry manufactured in 1864.

The key was to generate an attitude not of restriction but of more service to the customer. The goals were simple: We would get more stuff to sell, get more people in the door (at 0 percent), and make life hell for our competition.” As a result, Julia says last year his company sold a lot less than the $42 million in stuff they were supposed to sell; but they are now constantly negotiating with new clients.

According to Julia, when the market drops, it just gets tougher to sell but also to get the goods to sell. “Sellers are either people who have things that have to be sold—they’re just done with their stuff—or they’re of the opportunistic group, checking to see what profit they might get out of a sale.” Most opportunistic sellers will wait in bad times, he says.

Weber says Gunrunner’s challenge is getting 350 guns a month onto their auction block with accurate descriptions. “It’s tough to research some of the firearms—we are getting some of the rarest guns in the world into our auction facility— and it takes time to get the descriptions right so that we really know what we have.”

Moreover, the company needs more physical space. In fact, Gunrunner recently purchased more business space near their current location and Weber says they may need more immediately. “We will be doing two types of auctions a month. I’ve got a new crew hired and they’ll start a new 24/7 auction in June,” he says.

Kramer brings up a host of challenges he’s facing: time required to keep up with all of the state laws, managing nationwide shipments, and Internet and phone bidding. He says keeping up with technology keeps him busy and the firearms industry is expanding much faster due to the Internet and Web-savvy buyers who are always looking for a particular gun to upgrade or fill out a collection. “I am a computer-literate guy,” he says, “but we are doing a lot of things with Internet catalogs and live Internet bidding that I never thought I would be doing.”

Julia, Kramer, and Weber all share a favorable outlook for the firearms auctions business. Weber says that 2010 looks to be Gunrunner’s greatest year by far—double the business of last year. “It’s unreal!” he says. Kramer says 2010 has been very good so far: “Our March auction was our best attended sale yet and prices were very strong on all types of firearms.”

According to Julia, the auction business, while good, is not as easy as it has been in the past. The bottom line, however, is there. The industry’s advantages, he says, are the huge pool of goods which are a magnet for buyers and the tremendous pool of financial resources which allow him to spend a lot of money advertising the auctions.

“In great times you draw people in and they fight for things,” says Julia. “In bad times, you set realistic or conservative expectations (prices), and then have something people want. With a declining economy, people are preprogrammed to be more careful when buying and the auction creates the right atmosphere to take advantage of this. Get two bidders who think ‘I’m going to save some money and get what I want’ and they’ll drive the price up.”

Mark Kakkuri is a freelance writer in Oxford, Mich.

This article appeared in the August 2, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


Recommended books for gun collectors:

2010 Standard Catalog of Firearms. Click HereStandard Catalog of Firearms, 20th Edition.

Gun Digest 2010, 64th Edition

The Official Gun Digest Book of Guns & Prices 2010, Rifles, Pistols & Shotguns
5th Edition

Is the Frenzy Over?

Some applications require a lot of kit, which increases the work on fundamentals. You spend an enormous amount of time to become fluid and efficient with your gear. At the same time, don’t carry gear you really don’t need. As always, think about your application.

Gun sales skyrocketed after the November 2008 presidential election. Are things finally cooling down?

Todd looked over the array of pistols on display in the glass case at his local gun store. A resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, and an avid hunter and supporter of the Second Amendment, he was shopping for a handgun for concealed carry. The salesman handed him a 9mm HK P2000SK. Todd grasped the gun and pointed it in a safe direction, appreciating its feel and heft. He considered Barack Obama’s recent election to President of the United States. That event certainly seemed, he thought, unfavorable to the freedoms of responsible gun ownership as well as to the economy in general. He handed the firearm back to the salesman. “I’ll take it,” he said.

That kind of scenario played out thousands of times in gun stores across the nation over the last year, marking a veritable firearms sales frenzy and earning President Obama the tongue-in-cheek honor of “Gun Salesman of the Year” in January 2009 from The Outdoor Wire, a Birmingham, Ala.-based daily electronic news service for the outdoor industry. Outdoor Wire Publisher Jim Shepherd says he never anticipated the mainstream media’s response—“In the U.S., everyone from The Wall Street Journal to Fox News had some fun with President Obama’s new ‘honor,’” he says—but the title stuck.

Now, according to Shepherd, “even if Obama’s popularity is slipping elsewhere, he’s a shoo-in to win Gun Salesman of the Year for a second year as firearms sales in 2009 have hit modern highs across the board.” There are several reasons for this, says Shepherd, “but not to give the Obama administration credit for a lot of the firearms sales would be as inaccurate as Obama failing to credit Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher with having played major parts in the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall 20 years ago.”


Apparently the Obama-induced firearms sales frenzy is not over. In fact, a continued increase in demand for firearms and ammunition throughout the United States is clear, says Ted Novin, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, Conn. “This is largely being driven by the political concerns of gun owners,” says Novin, and is certainly legitimate as many lawmakers, including President Obama, have a long history of supporting anti-gun legislation. “Gun owners,” says Novin, “are not easily fooled. They recognize the reality and have responded accordingly.”

Shepherd and Novin cite the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) data as one gauge of gun sales: In September 2009, NICS reported 1,093,230 checks. This figure, says Novin, is a 12.4 percent increase from the 973,003 reported in September 2008 and demonstrates that sales of new and used firearms are remaining strong and continuing to grow.

While NICS background checks are a reliable indicator of how firearms sales are going, says Novin, another means of measuring gun sales is the firearm and ammunition excise tax. According to a September 2009 Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax Collection Report, firearm and ammunition manufacturers paid more than $109.8 million in the first calendar quarter of 2009; up 43 percent over the same time period reported in 2008. According to Novin, this dramatic increase follows a 31.3 percent increase in excise taxes from the previous quarter (4Q, 2008) and 11 straight months of increased FBI background checks—another strong indicator, he says, of firearm sales.


For most of 2009, says Shepherd, AR-style rifles were the most popular firearms sold. Why? Most young people with military service have been trained on AR-style rifles. ARs are light, manageable, and easy to shoot. Further, says Shepherd, ARs “can be tricked out to any level imaginable, or they can be absolutely as plain as generic packaging.” They’re also available in a myriad of calibers, colors and configurations.

“The big sellers at Brownell’s, Inc.,”—the world’s largest supplier of firearms accessories and gunsmithing tools—“were AR-15s of all types, calibers and manufacturers,” says Randy Lehmann, marketing director at the Montezuma, Iowa-based company. At first, says Lehmann, the demand was for complete firearms, then complete uppers and lowers, and then stripped uppers and lowers, and then high-capacity magazines. At last year’s SHOT Show, “new suppliers were coming out of the woodwork trying to sell AR lower receivers, barrels, and other accessories. The demand was unprecedented in our 70-year history.”

Another big seller, says Shepherd, are small guns for personal protection and concealed carry. These include the Ruger LCR/LCP, Smith & Wesson J-frame revolvers, Kahr, North American Arms, and others in calibers such as .22 LR .32 Auto, .380, 9mm and .38 Special/.357. While these have not necessarily been the focus of any recent restrictive legislation, Shepherd says they sell well as the public realizes that law enforcement cannot protect us in an unstable economy. According to Shepherd, “Some people are going to become desperate.” As that happens, he says, crime rises.

AR-style rifles and small guns for personal protection may have fared well, but other categories of firearms did equally well. According to Jason Morton, director of marketing at Kansas City, Kan.-based CZ-USA, the company saw a sales increase primarily in handguns, especially those with a magazine capacity over 10. He says CZ-USA handgun magazines also experienced a spike in sales. According to Morton, who could not release actual sales numbers, “By the end of the second quarter of 2009 we had sold more handguns than in all of 2008.”

Craig Dutton, national sales manager at Smryna, Ga.-based Glock, Inc., had a similar report: “We probably sold more pistols than any other firearms manufacturer,” he said. “It was the best sales I’ve seen in my 20 years as an employee at Glock.” Dutton says Glock enjoyed a 73 percent overall increase in sales from this point last year, with 20 percent of those sales to first-time buyers. He says orders didn’t slow down until September 2009 and backorders quadrupled over the previous year. “It was difficult to meet the demand,” says Dutton, “but we increased production without overloading the market, even with the sales of almost 5,000 Glock 19s in one week in May 2009.”


Analysts who watch the firearms industry are hard pressed to explain an increase in spending on firearms when the economy is generally experiencing a downturn. Scott Yaw, a brand strategy consultant in the firearms industry who heads up Scott Yaw Associates in Wycombe, Penn., says “high unemployment and overall financial stress normally leads to serious consumer retail sales declines, but not in the case of firearms and ammunition from 2007 to 2009. The entire category defies economic gravity.”

Shepherd offers an explanation: “The government appears to be seeking to regulate everything it likes and ban everything it doesn’t,” he says. “So some people have decided to spend their money to procure something that they feel is both essential to personal defense/responsibility and guaranteed to them under the Constitution.”


Not only have firearm sales soared in traditional “brick and mortar” gun stores, sales are also booming online. Steve Urvan, founder and CEO of Gunbroker.com, an online firearms auction site, says that on Nov 2, 2008, two days before the election, Gunbroker.com’s gross merchandise value jumped 70 to 80 percent. In March 2009 it was up 115 percent compared to March 2008. Now Urvan anticipates being up almost 80 percent year to date over 2008.

“We expected to see some increase in sales due to the election of Obama and the big increase in Democrats in Congress,” says Urvan. “For me, the surprise was how big the increase was and how long it has lasted.”

Gunbroker.com facilitates transactions of firearms, ammunition, and accessories. “At first it was black rifles, things like AR-15s, AK47s,” says Urvan. “More recently online sales of ammo have been strong and semi-automatic handguns also have been popular for the last several years,” he says. The biggest sales increases, says Urvan, have been with firearms and accessories from the expired “Assault Weapons Ban” or anything people thought might become scarce should a similar ban be renewed.

Even though Gunbroker.com added almost 370,000 new registered users in the last 14 months and has grown about 40 percent each year—fueled primarily by fear of liberal agendas and increasing crime—Urvan expects the poor economy to cause Gunbroker.com’s growth to subside through 2010.


Overall, manufacturers and suppliers have varied expectations for sales in 2010, depending on a host of factors such as the threat of liberal legislation. Regardless, Shepherd credits President Obama for the firearms sales frenzy of 2009: “The Clinton Administration drove some panic buying, 9/11 spurred some as well, but Obama has done more than anyone or anything to galvanize the formerly unmotivated, uninterested, and in many instances, people who would normally not even want a gun,” says Shepherd. “These people feared the administration taking the opportunity to ban them from owning guns. So I’m not taking nominations for Gun Salesman of the Year for this year, Mr. Obama’s already sewed this one up, too.”

Mark Kakkuri is a freelance writer in Oxford, Mich.