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Richard A. Mann

Are You Good Enough?: Measuring Defensive Handgun Accuracy

A discussion on how to measure your defensive handgun accuracy and precision skills.

The ability of a handgun to stop a threat is often debated. Most often these debates center around the cartridge the handgun is chambered for, and/or the type of ammunition being used. Though terminal performance is a very important part of the stopping equation, shot placement matters, too. In fact, disregarding extremes, shot placement might matter more than anything. The ability of a handgun to deliver the shot placement you desire depends on two things: accuracy and precision.

An accurate handgun will place the bullets where you want them. The more precision a gun delivers, the smaller the target you will be able to hit. For example, if you can hit a softball at 10 yards every time with your handgun, it’s accurate. If you can hit a golf ball at 10 yards every time, your handgun is accurate and has a high level of precision.

So, regarding self-defense handguns, how much precision do you need?

This, of course, could vary greatly depending on the situation you might be in. However, most self-defense shootings occur within about 10 yards. If your handgun can keep all its shots inside a softball at that distance, that should be good enough.

But, it’s not as simple as that.

A softball has a diameter of 3.5 inches. If your handgun will shoot 3.5-inch groups at 10 yards, it will hit a softball every time at that distance. But that’s what the handgun is capable of, not what you’re capable of. You’ll have to do everything perfectly to deliver that level of precision and, while you might be capable of doing that on the range, you won’t do it in a high-stress self-defense shooting situation.

Under stress, you want to be able to deliver softball-sized groups. The chances are your pistol is capable. The question is, are you?

Precision Needed

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that if you can place your shots within 1.75 inches of where you’re aiming, that’s good enough for self-defense. In other words, we’re saying that softball size—3.5-inch groups—are sufficient.

But, to account for shooting under stress, let’s assume that your 3.5-inch groups will turn into soccer ball-sized groups. Like some have said: Your worst shot in training will be your best shot when under stress. If you’re only going to shoot half as well under stress, you need to shoot twice as good during practice.

Precision Available

At the risk of restating the obvious, our goal is for our handgun to deliver 1.75-inch groups at 10 yards. This is usually determined by shooting from a rest. The question is, how high of a hurdle is that to clear for modern defensive handguns? Is that an unreasonable expectation?

I recently tested 11 new for 2022 defensive handguns by shooting them from a bench at 10 yards using self-defense capable ammunition. Three groups of five shots each were fired with each handgun, and the average for all groups and all handguns was 1.74 inches. As an average, that’s not very reassuring. However, the average was drastically skewed by a single handgun that only delivered groups measuring about 4 inches. That’s bad considering that—under stress, with that handgun—you’re in the range of soccer ball-sized groups again.

Somewhat surprisingly, the $500 Tisas PX-9 Gen III delivered the best precision of all the defensive handguns tested.

If we take that poor performer out of the mix, the average drops to 1.51 inches. At 10 yards, 10 of the 11 handguns tested delivered the necessary precision for defensive use; except for the one, none had an average group size larger than 1.75 inches. Considering these 10 handguns, which included revolvers and semi-automatics from nine different manufacturers, with prices ranging from only $500 to $3,700, that’s not bad. It should give you confidence that just about any self-defense handgun will deliver the precision you need.

Best And Worse

What might surprise you is which handguns delivered the best and worst precision. The smallest average group size was turned in by a pistol that has a suggested retail price of only $500. The worst precision—the one we excluded with the 4.02 group average—was delivered by a pistol with a suggested retail price of $561. Discounting this poor performance, the next largest average group size was delivered by a $600 pistol.

There were two very expensive pistols in the test. One had a suggested price of $2,895 and it turned in an impressive three-group average of 1.29 inches. The other, which was the most expensive gun tested, had a three-group average of 1.68 inches. This is larger than the 1.51 average for the 10 best shooting handguns. So, it would appear that the amount of money you spend may or may not matter when it comes to precision. Including the junk gun, the $3,700 handgun only out-shot three of the other nine pistols.


Measuring Handgun Accuracy

Accuracy, as we said, is the ability to hit what you’re aiming at. To some extent, accuracy is dictated by how well the gun is sighted in. You can have a very precise shooting handgun, but if it’s not sending bullets to where the sights are pointing, all that precision is of little benefit. On average, out of the box, these 11 handguns placed their groups within 1.7 inches of the point of aim. The handgun that had the best zero out of the box cost $700. The centers of its groups were within a half-inch of the point of aim.

Accuracy and precision all tie together. If you want to keep all your shots inside a softball at 10 yards when shooting under stress, you’ll need a gun capable of delivering a decent level of precision, but it will also need to be properly sighted in. Based on this test, I think you should expect to adjust the sights on any defensive handgun you might purchase, regardless of price.

I think this test proves you should be reasonably confident that no matter the defensive handgun you purchase, it should be capable of delivering a level of precision suitable for self-defense to about 10 yards. If it doesn’t, send it back for repair or trade it for a different handgun.

Sure, there are many other considerations when it comes to selecting a handgun, but with today’s modern handguns I’d say there’s a 91 percent chance they’ll provide all the precision you need. That also means that you’ll have to take the blame for any missing that occurs.

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

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More Turkey: SDS Imports PX-9 Review

The author takes a look at SDS Imports' Gen 2 and 3 PX-9 and tells you why your shooting diet could use more Turkey.

Many shooters probably think the last thing we need is another polymer-framed, high-capacity, striker-fired pistol that emulates the Glock. It seems like, for the past decade or so, that description fits about every new handgun introduced. As unexciting as new Tupperware guns might be, this is how innovation works; evolution allows for the concept to be maximized.

Admittedly, I’m not a plastic pistol kind of guy. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them—they’re just not my thing. Still, when I see any handgun that impresses me, I want to share and that’s why the SDS Imports’ PX-9 is being presented here.

Let me first say that the PX-9 is less expensive than most other polymer-frame pistols because it’s manufactured by Tisas in Turkey … where labor and operational costs are less, not because it’s constructed of sub-standard parts by folks who don’t know how to build pistols. The PX-9, or Zigana as it’s known in Turkey, has passed rigorous military trials and is even used by military units, police departments and private security firms around the world.

It was only about six months ago that I was provided a Gen 2 version of this pistol for testing and evaluation. I was very impressed with the sample because of its reliability, how comfortable it was in-hand and all its features. Just last month I received a Gen 3 version of the PX-9, and after lots of rounds downrange in both, I felt obligated to give this pistol its due.

The Gen 3 version of the PX-9, which is imported by SDS Imports, is available in black, desert tan and OD green.

All The Extras

First, let’s address the elephants in the room. One worry with offshore-made handguns is whether there’s a decent selection of holsters. This is a valid concern. What good is a self-defense handgun if you can’t comfortably carry it?

With the PX-9, that’s not an issue. It’ll fit holsters sized for the Springfield Armory XD. Incidentally, though not much to brag about, the Gen 2 comes with a polymer OWB paddle holster, and the Gen 3 comes with a polymer IWB holster. Another concern is the availability of extra magazines. There’s no worry here; PX-9s are designed to work with Sig Sauer P226 magazines.

PX-9 pistols are shipped with two 18-round Sig Sauer P226 magazines.

And finally, as with any out-of-country manufactured firearm, there’s the issue of parts and service. After all, you can’t just put a broken gun in the mail to Turkey. All Tisas-made firearms brought stateside by SDS Imports can be serviced at SDS Imports in Knoxville, Tennessee, because they have parts and qualified engineers on staff there. These engineers have spent time working with Tisas in Turkey where these guns are manufactured, so they know what they’re doing.

For example, the Gen 3 version of this pistol has a slide cut to accept a reflex sight. When I received the pistol for evaluation, I removed this plate, and when reinstalling it I broke the heads off the screws holding it in place. I called SDS Imports, explained the situation and a new slide was delivered to my door the next day. This is great customer service. I installed the new slide, took the pistol to the range and it ran perfectly.

The Gen 3 PX-9 comes standard with an optics-ready cut and plate. The cut will fit the Trijicon RMR.

Features & Design

These are duty-sized pistols that ship with two, 18-round magazines, but they’re not heavy. Unloaded weight is just shy of 25 ounces, which is just a few ounces heavier than a Glock 17.

The Gen 3 version is available in black, desert tan or green, and it comes standard with a fiber-optic front sight and a ledge-style rear sight. They’re fitted with an external extractor, have front and rear grasping grooves on the slide, and the frame has a four-slot accessory rail.

The trigger on the Gen 2 is curved, the trigger on the Gen 3 is straight, and both have the common passive trigger safety. Both can also be had with an ambidextrous manual thumb safety, and the magazine release can be positioned for left- or right-side activation. The PX9 also has visible and tactile, cocked-striker and loaded-chamber indicators.

The Gen 3 version of the PX-9 comes standard with a flat trigger. The Gen 2 has a trigger with a curved face.

One of the most appealing features is the modular grip. The backstrap and side panels are easily removed and can be replaced to perfectly fit this pistol to your hand. Each PX-9 is supplied with six grip panels and three backstraps.

Additionally, these guns are supplied with an extended and beveled, wide-mouth magazine well. It, too, is easy to install and not only helps with speed reloads, but if you have large hands, it also enhances the feel of the grip as well. Though you’d have to have two different-colored PX-9s like I do, you can swap the grip panels, backstraps and magazine wells of different colors to provide a little multicolor flare.

SDS Imports PX-9 Gen 2 and Gen 3 pistols are very reliable and very comfortable to shoot.

I found the PX-9 much more comfortable to shoot than a Glock 17; Glocks tend to uncomfortably impress on the first knuckle of the middle finger on my shooting hand. And I’d rate the PX-9 just as—if not more—comfortable to shoot than the Sig Sauer P320. Accuracy and precision were on par with what you’d expect from a duty-sized defensive handgun. With now close to 1,000 combined rounds out of the Gen 2 and Gen 3, I’ve yet to have a stoppage of any sort … and that’s with a wide range of munitions.

By partnering with Tisas in Turkey, SDS Imports is working to find the ultimate expression of the high-capacity, poly-framed, striker-fired pistol. This is the fifth Turkish-made handgun that’s imported by SDS Imports that I’ve spent a good bit of time with. And while I’m an American-made kind of guy, I’m also one who appreciates good stuff, regardless of where it comes from—especially when the price is right. It’s no small thing that you can pick up a brand-new PX-9 for less than $400!

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

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Passing The Torch With The Winchester Model 61

There’s nothing like a first rifle, especially if that rifle is a Winchester Model 61.

After my father was released from the Army hospital in Fort Pickett, Virginia, he used the G.I. Bill to go to college. He and my mother were married soon after, and Dad worked odd jobs to stay in school. They never had much money, but they loved to hunt, and grandpa gave them a Winchester Model 61. After Dad got his degree and began teaching, they finally saved up enough money to buy matching Winchester Model 12 shotguns. They were then, as they say, “living high on the hog.”


When I finally came along, Mom and Dad still didn’t have a lot of money, but they did have that Model 61. When I wasn’t much more than stirrup high, I used that rifle to kill my first critter; I shot a raccoon out of a tree with about half the family watching. Our family enjoyed hunting raccoons with hounds, and when the dogs treed one, we took turns shooting at it—youngest to oldest. I was the youngest and learned right quick that if I didn’t get the hit, the gun would never make its way back to me. Eventually, I got so good at shooting ’coons, they’d skip me and let the older young’uns shoot first.

The author with the rifle that taught him how to shoot. It’s still teaching him lessons.

That rifle and I grew up together, but there was a brief time when a shotgun tried to intervene with our relationship. Mom also had an old single-shot Model 37 Winchester .410 bore she’d hunted with up until she and Dad acquired their Model 12s. (In case you’ve not figured it out, we were a Winchester family.) After that, she had let my older cousins use her Model 37 as their first hunting gun. So, Mom expected me to follow form.

One can only wonder how many rounds this author’s dropped down the magazine tube of his old Winchester Model 61.

Dad took me squirrel hunting and, after about an hour under a hickory tree and a complete box of .410 shells, there were no dead squirrels. On the way back to the house, I asked if I could use my .22—the Model 61—for squirrel hunting. Dad seemed a bit dejected, but agreed, and that was the beginning of the rifleman I am today.

Unlike Any Other

The Winchester Model 61 was introduced in 1932. It was a lean and trim pump-action .22 that was capable of handling .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 Long Rifle cartridges. Unlike modern .22 rifles with abbreviated barrels, the Model 61 had a full-length, 24-inch tube, and it was available in either an octagonal or round configuration. Surprisingly, it could even be ordered with a Routledge smooth-bore barrel, where after about 12 to 17 inches the bore opened to 0.375-inch diameter to stop the spinning of shotshell payloads. These special 61s were a favorite of exhibition shooters.

The amount of joy that can be found with a handful of cartridges and a good .22 rifle by a young boy or an old man is immeasurable.

There were three versions of the 61: a Pre-War, Standard and WMR. The Pre-War version had a straight grip and a steel butt plate. The Standard version had a larger circumference forend and a pistol grip stock. The WMR version, as you might have guessed, was chambered for the .22 WMR cartridge. All were loaded and fed by a tube magazine, and one of the coolest features of the 61 was the large thumb screw on the left side of the action that made the gun a takedown.

The Model 61 was a takedown rifle. This screw on the left side of the action is what held it together.

Many considered the Model 61 a rimfire companion to Winchester’s iconic Model 12 shotgun. It may have been the impetus that inspired my mom and dad to get their Model 12s. Operation of both were identical; the action release and safety were in exactly the same place. Model 61 production ceased in 1963, and there were about 342,000 61s made during its 31 years of manufacture. Used—shooter condition—Model 61s will sell for about a grand, but 61’s with the Routledge barrel can break a wallet or cause a divorce.

These little rifles were amazingly good shooting guns. Over the course of growing up with my 61, I made some shots that were better than brag worthy. And by the time I was in my teens, that rifle and I were unbeatable; no one in my family shot it as well as I did—that includes my father, who was deadly with open sights.

Though equipped with rudimentary sights, with a good eye and a fine bead, this Winchester Model 61 put a lot of squirrels in the pot.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, and I eventually had to have a .22 Magnum, one that was compatible with a scope. About the same time that I kissed my first girl—and meant it—that old Model 61 was handed down to my sister.

Time Marches On

As it is with many early relationships, mine with that old Model 61 began to fade. New adventures with my scope-sighted .22 Magnum and a new Remington Model 700 made my time with the 61 seem juvenile and less important. By the time I was in my 20s, that old rifle had been mostly forgotten.

But a few years ago, my sister surprisingly gifted my son with my father’s old Winchester 100, my oldest daughter with my mother’s Model 12 and my youngest daughter with our family’s old Model 61. A better Christmas gift would be hard to imagine, but of course my kids have been exposed to much more modern guns all their lives. The gesture was mostly one of nostalgia as opposed to something that generated exciting expectations at the shooting range. However, and again, few things stay the same forever.

Though back in the day it was the rifle many youngsters learned to shoot with, the 61’s 24-inch barrel made the rifle a bit muzzle heavy for youths. Here, the author’s oldest daughter is plinking away with his family’s old 61.

Last year, my son used his grandfather’s old 16-gauge Model 12 to take his first spring gobbler. I think this accomplishment, along with the nostalgia it carried with it, sort of inspired him to ask about that Model 61 that’d been hiding in the gun safe. We took it out to the range, and after a bit of plinking, he said, “Let’s have a little shootout.” Remembering my relationship with that rifle and the things we’d been capable, I readily agreed, with the full intention that I was going to show him a thing or two.

This Winchester Model 61 might’ve seen its last days afield, but it’s still capable of ringing steel or capping squirrels.

I’m not sure, but maybe my memory isn’t as good as I thought it was. Or, maybe, my old eyes just can’t see as good as they used to. The old rifle and I performed pretty darn well, but it seemed to find the target better and more often in my son’s hands than it did in mine. Was I not as good as I once was? Or, possibly, was my son just a better shot? It couldn’t be that I couldn’t shoot as good now as when I was younger. I’m a much better shot now and have proved it on numerous occasions. I’ve also been trained by some of the best rifle shooters in the world. I still—routinely—outshoot my son when we have these little competitions. Oh, he’s good, but rarely good enough. So, what was going on?

Maybe what was going on didn’t have a great deal to do with my shooting skill at all. Maybe what was going on was that a fourth-generation rifle was passing the torch.

A good rifle never lies. It will let you know when it’s time to pass the torch.

I remember sitting by the campfire with my father many, many, years ago. We were using that Model 61 to shoot clothes pins off the clothesline—while Mom and Grandma weren’t watching, mind you. About 10 pins in, I think the score was Dad 3, me 7. That’s when he said he thought ought we ought to stop. That might’ve been the last time dad and I had one of those little shooting competitions. It’s also about the time he began bragging about what a good rifle shot I was.

Atta Boy, Son

As I put that old Model 61 back into the safe after its first outing to the range in many years, I realized that maybe it’s time I took something else from my father. I should probably quit trying to outshoot my son and start bragging a bit about the rifleman he has become. In fact, I’m certain that’s what I should do. I’m certain because one of my childhood friends, a friend who I’d not spent any time with in a long, long, time, just told me so. When a rifle you’ve trusted talks, you should listen.

So, let me tell you about how this boy of mine shoots a rifle …

A true classic, the Winchester Model 61 was like the Ruger 10/22 of its time.

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

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The 4-L Rule: Self-Defense Flashlight Techniques

Here are some top self-defense flashlight techniques for using a handheld light in conjunction with a pistol.

It wasn’t all that long ago when a flashlight was just a flashlight. You picked one up at the Dollar Store, shoved some D-cells in it and went on your way. About 25 years ago, one of the best flashlights you could buy was the standard, old, Maglite. This was the heavy and long aluminum flashlight that was preferred by cops because it was moderately bright and, well, stick-like.

Today, hundreds of bright, durable, compact flashlights are designed with personal protection in mind. When selecting one for use with your handgun, you can start by applying the rule of the four Ls. It should provide a minimum of 100 lumens, be powered by lithium batteries, have a LED bulb and come or be compatible with a lanyard. The light should also have tailpiece activation.

With a good, reliable light source in hand, the next question is: How do you use it in conjunction with your handgun? There are several techniques, and they all have their pros and cons. There’s no best answer other than, maybe, becoming proficient with them all and employing the one that best fits the situation.

With the FBI technique, you hold the light away from your body with your non-shooting hand. It’s a good technique for searching, but not very effective for shooting.

The FBI Technique

Thinking that bad guys might shoot at your light because they think that’s where you are, the FBI developed this technique. You hold the flashlight away from your body—out to the side and up—in your non-shooting hand as you search for and engage targets. This is a tactically sound method for searching, but once you start shooting, it sort of negates the need to hold the flashlight away from your body. Also, shooting with one hand isn’t the best way to get hits.

Neck Index

Maybe best thought of as a progression technique, the neck index method lets you transition from looking to shooting. Let’s say you’re using the FBI technique to search, and you see a threat. You can pull the light to the neck index method as you start weapon presentation.

With the light indexed at your neck, it’s similar to your support hand being at the center of your body during normal weapon presentation. All you do is pull your flashlight hand up to your chin with the bright end oriented toward the threat. One your gun is oriented toward the threat, it’s probably best to transition to one of the next two flashlight methods.

The neck index method offers no support to your shooting hand, but it’s a good place to locate the flashlight during handgun presentation. Ideally, after presentation, you should transition to a technique that offers some support to your gun hand.

The Harries Technique

Embraced by Gunsite, this technique is likely the most often taught technique at law enforcement academies. Why? Partly because it works just as well with flashlights that have the activation button on the end or on the flashlight body, partly because it’s easy to use—and partly because it allows for two-hand support of the handgun.

With the Harries technique, you lock the backsides of your hands together. To employ, slip your flashlight hand under your shooting arm and then lower the elbow of your flashlight arm. This applies pressure against the backside of your gun hand and makes for a relatively stable shooting platform.

The Harries technique has become sort of the default method for shooting with a handheld light. However, as good as it is for shooting, it’s not ideal for searching. This is because where your light goes, so does your handgun.

SureFire Technique

This is arguably the safest and fastest method to assume of any of the flashlight techniques, but it’s also possibly the most difficult to master. You’ll need a small flashlight with an activation button on the end of the tailpiece and, ideally, a rubber grommet positioned just a few inches forward.

SureFire used to manufacture lights just for this purpose, but at last check they’d all been discontinued. Hold the flashlight like a syringe between the index and the middle finger of your shooting hand, and use your bottom two fingers to help grip the gun. The trick is learning to orient the light with the handgun. Most commonly, shooters tend to point the light toward the ground. This isn’t all that bad. Generally, there will be enough light splashing off the ground to light up the target.

The SureFire technique requires a specially equipped flashlight, and unfortunately, SureFire no longer offers one. However, it’s very fast to assume and provides shooting hand support.

In General

The Harries and SureFire self-defense flashlight techniques offer the most stable shooting platforms, but they have a major drawback: If you’re searching your home, backyard or anywhere else using either technique, whatever you point your flashlight at you’re also pointing your handgun at. Alternatively, if you select a light with a wide flood beam, you can search using these techniques while holding the handgun at the low ready and looking with the edge of the beam. Just let the light splash up from the ground. Still, the potential for problematic response is there, and it’s not always a good idea to have your handgun out if you don’t know exactly what you might be facing.

A safer approach would be to keep the handgun in the holster, at your side or tucked in tight against your body at the close ready with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. If you encounter a threat, you can immediately transition to the neck index technique, point your pistol and assume the SureFire or Harries technique or just transition right into either. The best solution is a handheld light used in conjunction with a weapon mounted light—we’ll cover that here in the future.

Finally, a lanyard on your self-defense flashlight is always a good idea. It keeps the light close at hand if you accidentally drop it … or if you need to let go of it to open doors, call 911, perform a reload or if you’re using it in conjunction with a weapon light and want to shoot with the common two-handed grip.

By itself, a flashlight is a powerful self-defense tool that can and should be used independent of the handgun. You can use it when you’re walking across a parking lot or even when on the sidewalk to check alleys or suspicious characters.

I spent my honeymoon in the French Quarter of New Orleans and carried a compact, tactical flashlight and a Colt Lightweight Commander during every excursion on Bourbon Street and beyond. I never had to use the Colt, but the flashlight got a lot of use.

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

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Improving Defensive Semi-Automatic Handgun Skills

How to improve your defensive semi-automatic handgun skills by balancing speed, power and accuracy.

Students of the defensive handgun should be familiar with two triangular concepts codified by Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper. They’re important because they’re a prerequisite to the application of a semi-automatic handgun in an effective and efficient manner during a self-defense situation. Often, the unknowing believe that because they’re a good shot or have had some training, they’re good to go. The truth is that true proficiency comes from being able to understand and execute each element of this double triad guideline.


The first triad is the Gunsite and IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) motto, “Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas”—Latin for accuracy, power and speed. It’s often represented as simply, “DVC.” The other is the Combat Triad that represents the desired balance of mindset, marksmanship and gun handling. Together, they represent the totality of the proper application of the defensive semi-automatic handgun. And, combined, they’re also best described as “weaponcraft.”

The DVC Triad

The unique thing about the DVC Triad is that it doesn’t represent an equilateral triangle. In other words, the three elements that make up DVC aren’t always of the same importance. Depending on the situation, one or two of the elements might be more important than the others. Essentially, the situation dictates the shape of the triangle. However, before we get into exactly how this triangle is managed, we need to understand each of its sides.

With the DVC triangle, the power element is a constant, but the situation dictates the importance of the speed and accuracy element. The DVC triangle isn’t an equilateral triangle.


Semi-automatic handguns deliver a certain level of precision. It’ll vary from gun to gun and is also dependent on the ammunition used. Precision represents the ability of the gun to place bullets very close to the same point every time. Most defensive handguns can keep all the bullets they fire inside a 2-inch circle at 10 yards.

On the other hand, accuracy is a representation of how well a shooter can cause a handgun’s precision to deliver a bullet to a desired point of aim. Accuracy is limited by the gun and ammunition, but mostly by the marksmanship ability of the shooter. A practical accuracy standard for a shooter would be keeping all their shots in a 2-inch circle at 5 yards.

Accuracy comes from sight alignment and trigger control. Effectively employing a semi-auto handgun in a defensive encounter also includes gun handling.


There are several ways to define handgun power. Competitive combat shooting uses what’s known as “power factor,” which is calculated by multiplying the weight of the bullet in grains, by its muzzle velocity in feet-per-second, and then dividing the product by 1,000. For example, a 124-grain bullet at 1,100 fps would have a power factor of 136.4. Another way of measuring power is by muzzle energy, which is often listed on the box of ammunition. However, neither calculation considers the terminal performance of the bullet.

What we can postulate is that a handgun/load combination that has a higher power factor or muzzle energy, will—given similar bullet performance—be more effective. Simplified, power works into this equation because we understand that a .45 Auto is more lethal than a BB gun. However, we must balance the power we deliver on target with the recoil we’re able to withstand.

Marksmanship is an element of the Combat Triad and encompasses much more than standing still and hitting targets.


Though the Old West shootout, where the fastest draw often won, is mostly a myth, speed does matter. The faster you can get your handgun out of a holster and deliver an accurate and powerful shot, the more likely you are to survive a lethal encounter. Sometimes, though, you need to deliver multiple shots … and that’s where speed and power are at odds.

A 10mm is a powerful handgun cartridge, but you cannot deliver multiple accurate shots with it nearly as fast as you can with a 9mm. Wyatt Earp is often credited with saying, speed is fine, but accuracy is final. There’s some truth to that, but if you’re not fast enough, you can be too late. When it comes to drawing your handgun from concealment and getting a hit, at about 5 yards you should be able to do this within 2.5 seconds.

A shot timer is a great tool that can help you develop your gun handling and shooting skills. Mastering weaponcraft without one is difficult.

Adjusting The Triangle

The first step in building the DVC triangle is to determine the level of power you can effectively manage. You need discover with what cartridge and handgun style and size you reach your limit. Unless you always carry four or five handguns and wait for the situation to determine which one you use, power becomes the base of the triangle because it’s a fixed element. It’s a product of the gun and load you select.

However, the necessary accuracy and speed vary, depending on the situation. For example, if you’re accosted and the distance is close, you need to get your gun out lightning fast and deliver an accurate shot quickly, but it just needs to be kill-zone accurate. On the other hand, if you’re hiding behind your car and attempting a head shot on a gunman who is wearing body armor at 25 yards, accuracy then becomes the larger—more important—side of the triangle.

The Combat Triad

The basis for the Combat Triad is also a triangle, but it’s more of an equilateral triangle, meaning that each of the sides of this triangle are of equal importance … and their relationship to each other never changes. Without understanding the Combat Triad, you cannot develop or adjust your DVC triangle.

The Combat Triad is the all-inclusive representation of how fights with a defensive handgun are won.


There are two elements of mindset. The first is that of survival. When encountered with a lethal situation, you must commit to the fight as though it’s the only thing in the world that matters. You must be mad-dog mean and deliver as much force in the most lethal manner possible to your assailant.

But part of mindset is also tactics. You must know how to utilize cover and concealment, when to shoot and when to move … and even when to run. Just as important is having a plan to deal with specific self-defense situations. When something happens you need to think, I thought this might happen and I know what to do, as opposed to, holy hell, what do I do now?

Tactics are an advanced element of the mindset side of the Combat Triad. You must develop many other things before you begin tactical training.


Marksmanship isn’t just accuracy, it’s the knowledge of knowing when to shoot, where to shoot and how to shoot to best solve the problem you’re faced with. Learning to shoot a semi-automatic handgun accurately is one thing. Learning how to do it from a wide range of positions, in varied lighting conditions, and at varied targets—points of aim—is another thing entirely. Just because you can stand in front of a target and make bullet holes where you want them isn’t enough. You need to be able to do that no matter the situation, whether you have both feet on the ground or just your ass.

Dummy rounds are important when developing weaponcraft. They allow you to improve your gun handling skills without shooting or even handling live ammo.

Gun Handling

This is possibly the most overlooked aspect of not only the Combat Triad, but of weaponcraft in general. It’s also an element of firearms training that’s largely overlooked by many instructors and training programs. You must be as proficient at handling your semi-automatic handgun as you are with your toothbrush. You must be able to do everything you need to do with it safely, swiftly and efficiently. This encompasses everything from taking it out of your range bag, to loading it, to unloading it and keeping it running if you have a stoppage. It also encompasses maintenance. If you cannot handle/maintain your gun, you cannot win the fight.

Don’t wait until you start your marksmanship training to begin to learn how to handle your gun. Those skills can be learned with dry practice well in advance.

Building The Triangles

As with any skill, the first requirement is to establish what needs to be learned, and it’s no different when it comes to weaponcraft with the semi-automatic self-defense handgun. The very first thing you must establish is the survival mindset—the will and determination to fight to the last breath. When my grandfather used to want us boys to do something with the utmost enthusiasm, he used to tell us, “Go at it like you’re killing snakes,” and that’s the mindset you must have. Not only must you begin with it, but you must also continue to foster and develop it.

Weaponcraft is an intermingling triangle of two three-sided concepts codified by Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper.

The next thing you must do is establish the power you’re capable of controlling. Attempting to manage too much handgun too soon will negatively impact your ability to develop both your DVC and Combat Triad triangles. However, as you become more proficient with the various sides of these triangles, you might find out that you can harness the recoil of a more potent cartridge, or possibly a smaller handgun chambered for your current cartridge that recoils more.

Next on the agenda is gun handling. Most shooting schools understand that their students come there to shoot and won’t be happy unless they do a lot of shooting. Therefore, the lessons of gun handling that should be mastered before any shooting begins are often overlooked, or instructors attempt to integrate them with the shooting instruction. You should learn to handle your gun in every way it can be handled well before you even begin to shoot it. Failure to do so will detract from your ability to learn anything else.

Tactical mindset training isn’t always a singular consideration. Sometimes it can—and should—involve a partner.

Now you can begin to develop your marksmanship skills. This is where you learn to master sight alignment and trigger control. It’s not where you learn to draw your handgun from concealment, reload your handgun, or learn to operate its controls. Those things should’ve occurred while you were learning to handle your gun. Marksmanship most often starts with shooting from a codified stance, but it must develop to the point you can deliver accurate fire regardless of your position.

The final two elements of weaponcraft involve you taking your marksmanship skills and learning to balance speed and accuracy. It’s where you learn your shot cadence when shooting up close and at distance. It’s where you develop your ability to transition from target to target fast and efficiently. Knowing and executing the proper balance of speed and accuracy is critical to every shot you fire with a self-defense handgun.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking weaponcraft is only about shooting. It’s much more than that.

But—and this is very important—mindset is the base element of weaponcraft. As you develop your skills, tactical training teaches you to not only gauge your speed and accuracy, but also how to negotiate life-and-death situations. With good tactics, you might be able to survive without ever shooting, or even touching, your handgun.

And, ultimately, that’s the goal. You want a survival mindset that’ll keep you alive, but at the same time, if your tactics fail, you want the other two elements of the Combat Triad—along with mindset—to take over and adjust your DVC triangle so that you will win.

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

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All About Hollow Point Bullets

When it comes to carrying a concealed handgun for personal protection, there are many things that need to be considered. The ammunition you’ll carry in that handgun is critical because the bullet it fires is what you ultimately hope will stop the fight … or end whatever attack you’re experiencing.

There’s a lot of information available from manufacturers about the bullets they offer, and there’s a lot of information on the internet where users have tested them. However, for you to fully understand this information, you need a working knowledge of bullets. Understanding how they’re different and what makes them work is part of that, but so, too, is an understanding a bullet’s anatomy.

Barnes mono-metal pistol bullets will perform consistently over a wide range of impact velocities.

The Basics Of Hollow Point Bullets

Simplified, there two types of defensive handgun projectiles—jacketed and monometal—and both are generally hollow point bullets. A jacketed bullet will have a core that’s most commonly made up of lead or a lead alloy. The hardness of this core contributes to how the bullet reacts to impact and deforms. The same is true of the jacket, which is either made of copper or a copper alloy, such as gilding metal or cartridge brass.

This schematic highlights the anatomy of a defensive handgun bullet.

Remington’s Golden Saber gullet uses cartridge brass as a bullet jacket. Just as with the core, the hardness and flexibility of this jacket—in conjunction with the hardness of the core—determines how a bullet will deform upon impact. With a monometal bullet, there’s no jacket or core: The bullet is homogeneous, meaning it’s made of a single material, which is of copper or a copper alloy.


The jackets of defensive handgun bullets start out as a flat piece of material that’s then formed into a cup, with the open end of the cup at the most forward end of the bullet. However, some bullets are made with a reversed jacket, where the open end of the bullet is the bullet’s base.

The original Winchester SilverTip, Black Talon and Ranger SXT bullets were made in the reverse manner. However, in either case, once the cup is formed the core is inserted. With bullets that have the opening of the cup at the front, the jacket is rolled or folded into this opening as a hollow well—or a hollow point—is formed into the core. With a reverse jacket, a punch is inserted into the nose of the bullet to make this cavity.

The famous Black Talon bullet was built with a reversed jacket. This is a good way to make defensive handgun bullets—naming them “Black Talon” wasn’t such a good idea.

The hollow cavity, or hollow point, is what works to make the bullet deform or expand in a predictable manner. As fluids or body tissues enter this cavity under pressure, the forces exceed that of what the jacket and core can withstand, and the bullet begins to peel back. For this to happen, the bullet must strike at a certain velocity, which will vary between bullet designs.

Sometimes, however, if the bullet must pass through some sort of intermediate barrier, such as clothing, wall board, glass or metal, the hollow point can fill with those materials. If those materials are compressed into the hollow opening of the bullet, it can fail to deform as designed because there’s not enough pressure exerted on the core and jacket.

A barrier of two layers of denim had no negative impact on the performance of this Barnes pistol bullet.

Expansion Control Matters

The FBI places great importance on a bullet’s ability to pass through intermediate barriers and still deform as designed when it impacts soft body tissues. Because law enforcement needs tend to drive the development of defensive handgun bullets, manufacturers often build bullets that’ll perform the way the FBI likes them to.

So, to ensure controlled deformation, some other “things” are done to bullets, and one of those things is the skiving or perforation of the bullet’s jacket—and sometimes core—around the hollow point cavity. This skiving weakens the walls of the hollow cavity, but it does so in a very precise manner so that the jacket will begin to peel away from the core consistently.

This is the type of performance most who carry a defensive handgun are looking for: 1.5 to 1.75 bullet upset with between 12 to 18 inches of penetration.

This skiving and perforation, along with the design and shape of the hollow point cavity, is very effective at bringing about controlled deformation. If you remember the Winchester Black Talon bullet, it had the skiving at the mouth of the bullet where the jacket was folded into the hollow point cavity. This caused the Talon bullet to upset with those nasty-looking and very sharp petals. But this skiving might not be enough, and manufacturers look at other methods to increase the likelihood that the bullet will upset.

For example, as with the Hornady Critical Defense and Critical Duty loads, they might insert a polymer tip inside the hollow point cavity. This prevents barrier material from entering and then negating the effectiveness of the hollow point. By inserting the polymer tip, manufacturers are essentially creating the force needed to deform the bullet without having to rely on fluids or soft body tissue to do that for them. They’re recognizing that something could enter the hollow point and negate bullet expansion, so they just circumvent that possibility by inserting something into the hollow point during manufacture that will promote bullet upset.

Hornady inserts a polymer tip inside the hollow point of their Critical Duty ammunition to prevent the hollow point from being filled with a compressible material from an intermediate barrier.

Monometal bullets work the same as jacketed bullets when it comes to bullet upset; fluid or soft body tissues must enter the hollow point cavity and force it to open. However, instead of skiving, with a monometal bullet the punch that creates the hollow point pre-stresses the bullet in a consistent manner. The primary advantage of monometal hollow point bullets is that they can be easily tuned to upset over a wide range of velocities.

It’s not uncommon for some jacketed bullets to arrive at the target traveling too slow and without enough energy to upset. This is most often due to the use of ammunition in short barrels that adversely affect velocity. A good example of this blindness to impact velocity is a Barnes XPB bullet like the 160-grain offering in .45-caliber. This bullet will deliver near ideal upset when impacting as slow as 800 fps and even faster than 1,200 fps.

Defensive handgun bullets are designed to perform well when impacting without a barrier, or even after passing through a barrier like wall board as demonstrated here.


The reason we want a bullet to upset on impact it two-fold. First, as the frontal diameter of the bullet is increased due to deformation, its penetration potential is reduced. Without this expansion or deformation, most defensive handgun bullets would seriously over-penetrate. The second reason for this desired bullet upset is to increase the size of the hole the bullet makes, because the larger the hole, the more tissue that’s damaged. However, if the bullet upsets too much and the frontal diameter becomes too large, penetration will suffer.

If a bullet isn’t constructed correctly, or if it impacts at too slow of a velocity, it might not expand.

With most conventional defensive handgun cartridges—like the 9mm, .40 S&W and the .45 Auto—the ideal amount of bullet upset occurs when the bullet’s frontal diameter in increased from between 1.5 to 1.75 times its original diameter. When this happens with these cartridges, penetration usually ranges between about 12 and 18 inches. According to the FBI, this is looked upon as a best-case scenario.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Defensive Handgun Ammo:

Black Talon: Short Life, Long Legacy

The short life and long legacy of Winchester’s Black Talon hollow-point ammunition.

Gian Luigi Ferri, a real estate speculator from Los Angeles, California, was 55 years old when he walked into the law firm of Pettit & Martin. It was July 1, 1993, and the 48-story high-rise was located on 101 California Street in San Francisco. Armed with three handguns and a lot of ammunition, Ferri wasn’t there to seek legal advice.

Moments later, he’d killed eight people, and more than a hundred police officers had surrounded the building. Ferri, however, would not be taken into custody; he committed suicide. His heinous attack would have serious impact on the firearms industry.

Prior to that, on April 2, 1991, the Olin Corporation (Winchester) applied for a patent—U.S. patent #US5101732 was awarded on April 7, 1992—and the resulting Black Talon bullet and ammunition made a big splash.1 Originally marketed as the Supreme Expansion Talon (SXT), the Black Talon bullet was unique. It marked the first defensive handgun bullet where the jacket was intentionally designed to increase wounding. Up until then, when a JHP handgun bullet deformed, the bullet’s soft lead core tended to mushroom back over the jacket as it peeled away. The Talon was different, as it deformed the razor-sharp petals of the jacket peeled back but also extended out past the mushrooming center core.

Black Talon ammo, with its nickel case and black Lubalox coated bullet, was ominous looking. The recovered bullets were wicked looking as well; notice the pointed ends of the jacket petals.

Winchester’s David Schluckebier was the inventor of the Talon bullet, and part of the key to its performance was its reverse tapered jacket made of a special alloy that was selectively annealed. The jacket material was of a higher percentage of copper than traditional bullet jackets, which made it softer and more ductile. This, in conjunction with expertly placed serrations, allowed the jacket to peel away—fold back—reliably and repeatedly, and with very sharp edges and multiple talon-like points.

Also, up until then, most JHP handgun bullets had a solid base, and the bullet’s jacket thinned toward the bullet’s nose. This is what allowed them to expand/deform reliably. For the Talon, Winchester needed jacket thickness at the nose of the bullet to keep the petals connected and to keep them from peeling back too far. The reverse taper jacket helped with this; the Talon bullet was formed upside down with the exposed lead alloy core visible at the bottom of the bullet.

Then, the final operation in the formation of the bullet came from the insertion of a special punch that created the hollow-point cavity and pre-stressed or serrated the nose of the jacket so it would peel away. Finally, the bullet was given a black Lubalox coating to reduce fouling, but this blackness also enhanced the Talon’s unfired, foreboding appearance.

The thought—and very likely the truth—with the Talon bullet was that these pointy extensions of the jacket slightly increased wounding through the cutting action they performed. Winchester’s advertisements for Black Talon ammunition were convincing, and the menacing look of the upset Talon bullets were intimidating. Though there’s no definitive evidence that Talon bullets were any better at stopping bad guys, looking at the bullet left you with an intense aversion to being shot with one.

It was all a good thing for Winchester; the Black Talon line of ammunition was popularly reported on in the gun press and it sold very well. Unfortunately, Ferri—remember him—bought some Black Talon ammo and loaded it in the magazines of his 9mm pistols on the morning of July 1, 1993.

A major difference in the Black Talon (left) and Golden Saber (right) is that the Talon had a reverse jacket, and the Golden Saber bullet has a solid base. Both, however, relied on the jacket to enhance wounding.

Stop The Presses!

In the aftermath of Ferri’s shooting, the media found the smoking gun they needed to sensationalize the story. The Talon bullet was vilified. Its modern design, combined with its ominous unfired appearance and wicked-looking deformed shape, made the media’s job easy. Reports that it would cut through a human body like a buzzsaw were common. The day before a Dateline special, in which Congressman Daniel Moynihan claimed the bullet was designed to “rip your guts out,” Winchester ceased the sale of Black Talon ammunition to the public. Their actions quite possibly prevented a new federal tax on hollow-point-style ammunition.

Though some now claim Black Talon ammo was banned or was made illegal, that was not the case. Winchester Black Talon ammo simply—under the new name of Ranger SXT—became a law enforcement-only option. But that’s not the end of the story. Schluckebier left Winchester and went to work for Remington, where in 1994 U.S. patent #US5357866 was issued for what would become Remington’s flagship defensive handgun bullet.

Patent #US5357866 for what would become the Golden Saber bullet clearly shows how the bullet’s jacket would extend past the deformed core to enhance the upset diameter of the bullet and increase wounding.

Schluckebier engineered the Golden Saber bullet similarly to the Talon. The difference was that the Golden Saber had a jacket made of cartridge brass—70 percent copper and 30 percent zinc—and was not of a reverse design. It had a caliber-diameter driving band at the rear because, with the tougher jacket material, only a small portion of the bullet needed to be of bore diameter. But it also worked like the Talon by using the deformed jacket to increase wounding; it just lacked the sharp talon-like points, the black color and the nefarious name.

The 124-grain +P 9mm Golden Saber load is one of the best for the cartridge, and here you can clearly see how the Talon inspired jacket petals extend beyond the deformed diameter of the bullet’s core. This increases the size of the hole the bullet makes.

The Golden Saber bullet and its later bonded version have become highly trusted JHP bullets for self-defense and law enforcement use. They perform very well, even after passing through intermediate barriers, and their unique design that allows the bullet jacket to enhance wounding helps the bullets mushroom with a wide frontal diameter, while still retaining weight for deep penetration. Many, including me, consider the 124-grain +P 9mm Luger Remington Golden Saber load one of the best defensive loads available for that cartridge.

Winchester’s Black Talon ammunition had a short—initially happy but ultimately unfortunate—life. It was only available for public purchase for less than two years. However, it forever changed the game as it relates to defensive handgun ammunition. Thirty years later, its legacy—or as you might say, its descendant—lives on.

1There’s some confusion as to when Black Talon ammunition was introduced by Winchester. It was either at the 1991 or 1992 SHOT Show. It was not covered in the Gun Digest Annual until 1993.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Defensive Handgun Ammo:

3 Top Defensive Handgun Drills

If you carry a pistol for personal protection, here are 3 top defensive handgun drills and skills that you need to master.

There’s no shortage of shooting drills that can be used to evaluate and train for concealed carry. There are several reasons for this. Most drills are conceived to focus on an individual or just a few specific skills related to shooting a defensive handgun. This allows you to focus your attention on these individual skills so that you can evaluate your performance and flag specific performance elements that need improvement. Otherwise, drills become more of an overall assessment of your abilities, and it becomes more difficult to identify areas where you might need additional training.

Training with a defensive handgun needs to be taken seriously and that means working with serious drills that’ll help you evaluate and develop your skills.

The other reason there are so many defensive handgun drills is because running the same drill over and over can become monotonous and boring. For every specific skill that you want to focus on, there are a wide variety of drills that can be concocted to address them. By working with multiple drills, you not only add enjoyment to training sessions, but you also broaden your overall skill set.

Here are three drills that focus on several specific skills as they relate to the defensive handgun. You’ll notice that with each drill, you start with the handgun in the holster. The reason for this is that your draw or handgun presentation is a very important skill, and you should never pass up an opportunity to get more repetitions.

You’ll also notice that, with these drills, you must shoot 100 percent. In other words, only hits count … because, as we all should already know, hitting is the point of shooting.

As for the resources necessary to conduct these drills, there are a few items that are required. You’ll need some Thompson Target 8-inch Halo targets (item #4610), and some of their self-adhesive Halo targets (item #7042). You could just use 8- and 4-inch circles, but more on that will be discussed in the scoring section of each drill.

A shot timer gives you a performance benchmark in addition to accuracy.

You’re also going to need some target stands and a shot timer. With some ingenuity, you can come up with some target stands—but you’re going to need a shot timer, and PACT’s Club Timer III, at about $130, is hard to beat.

No. 1: The EDC Drill

The EDC Drill isn’t difficult to shoot, but it does incorporate movement, which is important in defensive handgun training.

Purpose: When it comes to the practical application of a self-defense handgun, it’s not only about shooting. Moving targets are harder to hit than stationary targets, and similarly, if you’re being assaulted it’s always a good idea to make your attacker alter their path to get to you. The idea behind the EDC drill is to engage the target and then move and engage the target again, if necessary. The target for this drill isn’t excessively small, so it allows you to focus more on the movement and reestablishing a shooting foundation than on pinpoint accuracy.

Resources Required: You’ll need your defensive handgun and a holster. Ideally, you’d use the holster you actually carry your EDC handgun in. It’d also be ideal if you conducted the draw from concealment, because, well, if you ever must use your concealed carry handgun you’ll likely be drawing from concealment. You’ll also need at least one Thompson Target #4610 Halo target and your shot timer.

Drill Conduct: Place a target stand at 5 yards and place one target on the cardboard backer. Next, step back 5 yards from the target and paint an X on the ground; then, take two steps to the right or left and paint another X on the ground. Now, set your shot timer to the delay start mode.

Standing on either the right or left X, on signal, draw and fire two shots at the target. Then, move to the left or right—to the other X—and fire two more shots at the target. Alternatively, you can use two target stands and two targets and engage one target—a different target—from each position.


Par Time and Scoring: The par time for this drill is 6 seconds, and you should have four hits inside the target for a passing score. As you progress in skill, you can reduce the size of the target by trying to keep all your shots inside one of the smaller scoring rings. Once you can do this drill within the par time and keep all your shots inside the No. 7 or No. 6 scoring rings, you’ve then found a good balance between speed and accuracy.

No. 2: The Cadence Drill

With the Cadence Drill, you’re learning your shot cadence for multiple shot engagements based on distance and target size.

Purpose: When you fire multiple shots at a target with a defensive handgun, you must adjust your shot cadence—the time between shots—so that you’re not shooting too fast or too slow based on the distance to, and size of, the target. This drill helps you identify your shot cadence at different distances and/or for different size targets. This is particularly important if you’re in a situation where the distance to your attacker changes—or if you’re faced with multiple attackers at different distances.

Resources Required: You’ll need your defensive handgun and a holster. If possible, use the holster you carry your EDC handgun in. If you’re comfortable with drawing from concealment, that’s preferred. You’ll also need one target stand, and one Thompson Target #4610 Halo target, two Thompson Target adhesive #7042 Halo targets and your shot timer.

A shot timer is very important for defensive handgun drills. The Pact Club Timer III only costs a tad more than $100.

Drill Conduct: Place a target stand at 5 yards and place one 8-inch Halo target and two 4-inch Halo targets on the cardboard backer. Next, step back 5 yards from the target and set your shot timer to the delay start mode. On signal, draw and fire two shots at the large target, two shots at one of the smaller targets, two shots at the large target again and finally, two shots at the other, smaller target.

Par Time and Scoring: The par time for this drill is 8 seconds, and you should have two hits inside each of the smaller targets and four hits inside the larger target. Just as with the EDC drill, as you progress in skill you can add a concealment garment and you can reduce the size of the target by trying to keep all your shots inside one of the smaller scoring rings. The smaller target simulates the larger target at 10 as opposed to 5 yards.

Once you can do this drill within the par time and keep all your shots inside the No. 8 or No. 7 scoring rings on both targets, you’ve then found a good balance between speed and accuracy. Use the shot timers review feature to obtain your split times—the times between shots—and compare the splits on the larger target with those on the smaller targets.

No. 3: The Long Ranger

Shooting at distance requires precision, patience and practice, and the Long Ranger Drill will take you from 10 to 25 yards.

Purpose: The Long Ranger drill is similar to the Cadence Drill because you’ll be firing multiple shots at different distances. The difference is that you’ll not be transitioning between targets under time. The idea with the Long Ranger drill is to develop your ability to engage a single target with multiple shots, up close and at distance.

Resources Required: For this drill, you’re going to need a target stand and a Thompson Target 8-inch Halo target (#4610). Again, and as always, use your everyday carry gun and your concealment holster, with a cover garment if possible. Alternatively, you could use four target stands and four targets. That way you don’t have to move the single target or step back 5 yards after each segment of the drill. As always, you’ll also need your shot timer.

Always keep a record of your defensive handgun training for future reference.

Drill Conduct: Start by standing 10 yards from the target with your shot timer on the delay start mode. At the start signal, draw and fire two rounds. Now, either step back 5 yards or switch to the 15-yard target. Again, and from the holster, at the signal fire two shots at the 15-yard target. You’re going to repeat this exercise again at 20 yards and a final time at 25 yards.

When possible, conduct defensive handgun training drills from a holster—like this Galco Corvus holster—like you will use to carry your defensive handgun.

In total, you’ll have fired eight shots and you should’ve recorded the individual engagement and split times for each of the four drill segments. The shot timer will tell you the time it took to fire the first shot on each engagement. It’ll also tell you the time between the first and second shots for each segment. These split times are important for training—you want to make them faster.

Par Time and Scoring: The par time for this drill is 16 seconds, but it’s the sum of the times for each individual engagement. Add them together and they should not exceed 16 seconds. If you stepped back for each separate engagement to a different distance, you should have eight hits in a single target. If you used a different target for each distance, you should have two hits in each target.

By using the Thompson HALO targets you can reduce the target size with the ever-shrinking scoring rings as your accuracy improves.

Just as with the EDC drill, as you progress in skill you can add a concealment garment and you can reduce the size of the target by trying to keep all your shots inside a smaller scoring ring. If you can do this drill within the par time and keep all your shots inside the No. 8 or No. 7 scoring rings from each distance, you’ve then found a very good balance between speed and accuracy. This will be hard to do at the 20- and 25-yard distances.


Remember: With each drill, you’re targeting a specific application of the defensive handgun. Make sure to use your shot timer’s review feature to see what your draw times (the time from the start signal to the first shot) and your split times (the time between each shot) were. These will help you evaluate your performance and optimally help you discover the individual aspects of the drill that you need to practice more.

As always, you should keep a record of your training and performance for future reference. This will provide good information for you on your next range session, and it will also provide a record that you take training with a self-defense handgun seriously, should you ever have to actually use it in a threatening situation. Courts tend to look at things that were not documented as things that never happened.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Defensive Handgun Drills:

Turkey Tames The 10mm: Tisas D10 Review

In this review, the author takes a closer look at the Tisas D10, a 10mm Auto 1911 pistol imported out of Turkey.

The 10mm automatic (auto) pistol cartridge has always had a special allure to those looking to deliver as much power on target as possible … from a concealable pistol. It’s also considered one of the best handgun hunting cartridges suitable for a conventionally sized auto-pistol. And the cartridge is indeed powerful: It can generate muzzle velocities exceeding 1,700 fps, with muzzle energies as high as 800 foot-pounds.

Of course, as Newton told us, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When put into language the average hillbilly can understand, it means 10mm handguns have a lot of recoil. In fact, with the hottest loads, they’ll recoil with more than twice the force of a 9mm and as much as 30 percent harder than a .45 auto with +P ammunition.


The cartridge was originally designed for the Bren Ten pistol, and both the cartridge and pistol were influenced by gun writer Jeff Cooper. But the Bren Ten and the birth of the 10mm are old news—40 years old, to be exact.

Since then, the popularity of the 10mm has seen ups and downs. For a time, it was even chambered in an issue service pistol by the FBI. However, with the introduction of the 10mm Lite—.40 S&W—interest in the 10mm auto waned. While it remained popular with hunters, it did not get a lot of attention for concealed carry.

Interestingly, when the FBI decided to ditch their .40s and return to the 9mm, the 10mm started to once again garner interest. All this means that, today, there’s a wider selection of 10mm auto handguns and 10mm auto ammunition than ever before. In defiance of its excessive recoil, it’s safe to say the 10mm auto cartridge is now more popular than ever.

The Tisas D10 is a well-made 1911 that’s reliable and accurate. Given its performance, it’s a lot of gun for the money.

One Special 10mm

Tisas firearms are imported from Turkey into the United States by a company in Knoxville, Tennessee. For the past several years, Tisas has been shipping a lot of 1911s to America, and they’re selling very well and have become popular because they’re accurate, reliable and affordable. I have several Tisas 1911s chambered for the 9mm and the .45 Auto, and for the past couple months, I’ve been testing a new Tisas 1911 called the D10.

Yes, the Tisas D10 is made in Turkey just like all other Tisas 1911s. That’s not a bad thing. Tisas is known for the fine firearms they offer, and it’s one reason the pistol is as affordable as it is.

This Tisas D10 is a 5-inch 1911 built on a forged stainless-steel frame with a matte stainless finish. The frame’s front strap and mainspring housing are checkered at 25 lines per inch, but this isn’t sharp checkering that’ll chew skin; it’s just aggressive enough to help you hold onto the pistol.

Here you can see the checkered mainspring housing and flat bottom G10 grips on the Tisas D10.

At the frame’s junction to the lower part of the trigger guard it has been relieved for the middle finger to help provide a more comfortable grip. However, the attractive gray/black G10 grip panels have a flat bottom like you’d want if you were installing a magazine well. Depending on hand size, the bottom edge of these grips can dig into your palm a bit. I’m not sure why Tisas didn’t use standard beveled-edge 1911 grips.

The magazine well on the Tisas D10 has been beveled to aid with loading.

The slide is also forged, but it has a black Cerakote finish, and its most notable feature is its fully adjustable target sight. I think an adjustable sight makes sense if you’re hunting, but for concealed carry it’s not that important. Additionally, it also has a sharp front edge that could have been radiused to prevent discomfort when manually cycling the slide. The front sight is a serrated black post—but very surprisingly, the dovetail base of this sight has been contoured to match the radius of the slide. This is a treatment usually only seen on high-end 1911s.

Many 1911s that deliver the level of precision seen from the Tisas D10 require a bushing wrench for disassembly. The pistol does not.

The slide, which houses the 5-inch ramped barrel, also has wide grasping grooves—11 on the rear and eight on the front—to aid with manual operation. Though I think front grasping grooves look cool, I have no use for them and prefer a slide with a slick front. Aesthetically, the pistol is attractive, and on its right side there are no markings.

A large X (the roman numeral for the number 10) is etched on the left side of the D10’s slide.

On the left side, however, there’s a large Roman numeral X denoting the model of the pistol. Also, at the rear of the slide, behind the rear grasping groves, there’s an etched Tisas Eagle. It’s also important to note that this is a series 70-style 1911; there’s no firing pin block in the slide.


The D10’s good looks are enhanced by the contrasting black Cerakoted controls. The skeletonized trigger, slide lock, grip safety, hammer, magazine release and manual safety are all black. My only other complaint with the D10 is with two of these controls and the bottom edge of the slide. Tisas took the pains to inset the frame pin for the takedown lever on the right side of the frame—another treatment generally reserved for high-end 1911s—but they didn’t radius the edges on the slide, slide stop or ambidextrous safety. Understandably, the intent was to make this gun affordable, and it is. However, I believe many would happily pay a bit extra for that little extra attention.

The Tisas D10 differs from most 1911s in .45 auto in that it has a ramped barrel.

On the Range

In total, I fired 350 rounds out of this pistol, which consisted of a least one box of every load listed in the accompanying chart. This wasn’t a torture test, which I think is a silly undertaking when you only have one sample to work with. If one part breaks or something doesn’t work on the gun you’re testing, that doesn’t mean that all similar guns are poorly made. To establish the true durability of a firearm design, you’d need to test multiple samples and then compare results. This was a test to evaluate the reliability, shootability and precision potential of the pistol … and those three factors make a good focus for this report.



I experienced zero malfunctions or stoppages with this pistol; there were no failures to feed, failures to fire or failures to eject, with any of the loads tested. That’s quite impressive considering bullet weights with the test ammo ranged from 115 to 220 grains. Similarly, these loads exhibited a wide range in velocity, from a low of 1,121 fps to a high of 1,780 fps. All the loads were tested from both of the 8-round magazines that come with the pistol.


With most loads, the recoil was stout, and I’ve already mentioned there are a few sharp edges on the handgun. But out of the box, the pistol shot to point-of-aim. I liked the thick, 0.126-inch-wide front sight and the large and serrated rear sight blade. However, I would’ve liked a bit wider notch in the rear sight to provide some more light on the sides of the front sight. This would help with sight acquisition during speed engagements or when hunting in low-light conditions.

As with every defensive-style handgun I test, I ran the D10 through the Forty-Five Drill—five shots at 5 yards at a 5-inch target from the holster—using the Federal 200-grain HST load. My average time for five runs was 3.98 seconds, which is about a half-second slower than my times with similar-sized .45 auto running +P ammo.

In terms of feel, the trigger was exceptional. Even though my trigger scale listed it at 5 pounds, when pulling it I would have sworn it was closer to three. The hammer release felt as good or better than that on any of the non-custom 1911s I’ve recently tested.


This pistol also impressed me with the level of precision it delivered on target. I tested all 10 loads from a sandbag rest at 10 yards, and not a single group measured larger than 2 inches—most came in under 1.5 inches, and a few broke the 1-inch mark. Just for fun, I also took some 100-yard shots from the offhand standing position at a steel torso target at 100 yards, hitting the target way more than I missed it. In short, this pistol has all the precision you’ll need for self-defense or hunting.

Notes: Reported muzzle velocity (MV), standard velocity deviation (SD), maximum velocity deviation (MD) and muzzle energy (ENG) were obtained by firing 10 shots over a Caldwell G2 chronograph with the screens positioned 10 feet from the muzzle. Temperature: 51 degrees; pressure: 29.74 in-Hg; humidity: 83 percent; and elevation: 2,200 feet.

Final Thoughts

My nitpicking might mean very little to you; admittedly, I’m a bit of a 1911 snob. But my job is to nit-pick. Even with the things I didn’t like about the D10, at its suggested price of $799.99, this is unquestionably a fantastic pistol. A competent gunsmith can radius the sharp edges that offended me … and even slightly open the notch in the rear sight for just a couple hundred bucks. And of course, you could replace the grips with some that have a tapered bottom for a lot less than that. Alternatively, if you add a magwell, that stock grips will fit perfectly.

Going forward, Tisas would be wise to offer this pistol with a set of fixed, high-profile combat sights, along with a slide cut to accept a miniature reflex sight. I’m not convinced a reflex sight is the best option for personal protection, but for a hunting handgun it’s far superior to open sights of any type.

Regardless, it’s clear Tisas has a winner with their D10. Any way you look at it, it’s a lot of gun for the money. And, in today’s world, that means a hell of a lot.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More 10mm Pistols:

10 Best Micro 9mm Handguns For Everyday Carry (2023)

These micro 9mm handguns are more than ready for everyday carry and backup-gun duty.

The Best Micro 9mm Handguns Available Today:

Updated 3/08/2023

The best concealed carry handguns are small, and most shooters today tend to prefer 9mm. Put together, these two concepts create the hottest new class of CCW guns on the market: the micro 9mm. This budding category of firearms has developed a lot in just the past couple of years, with new models being released almost too fast to keep track of. Here are our picks of the best micro 9mm handguns available in 2023, including both pistols and revolvers.

Kimber R7 Mako

R7 Mako Micro 9mm

Kimber was a bit late to the party with their own micro 9mm handgun, but it has some interesting features that keep it in the running with existing micro 9mm models. The R7 Mako ships from the factory with an optics-ready slide capable of mounting RMSc-footprint red dots, but it comes standard with tritium night sights as well. The pistol’s controls are fully ambidextrous, and each Mako ships with one flush-fitting 11-round magazine plus an extended 13-round mag. Kimber offers the Mako with a Crimson Trace optic already installed too, but the standard optics-ready model has an MSRP of $599.

Smith & Wesson M&P CSX


Released at SHOT Show 2022, Smith & Wesson’s new micro 9mm handgun breaks the mold established by the micro 9s that came before it. The CSX is a single-action only, metal-framed pistol, but it’s not a 1911 either. S&W clearly weren’t afraid of trying new things as they were designing the CSX. The gun is very small and lightweight thanks to its aluminum alloy frame, but it remains comfortable in the hand and fits a capacity of 10+1 with flush-fitting mags. Extended 12-round mags are available as well and the CSX has an MSRP of $609.

Wilson Combat SFX9


The SFX9 is Wilson Combat’s take on the high-capacity, sub-compact concealed carry pistol. While not as micro as the micro 9mm handguns that started this trend, the SFX9 is still very small for its 15+1 capacity. This is also the only true member of the 1911 family on this list, so if you’re devoted to JMB’s timeless design but are interested in modernizing your carry gun, this is one worth taking a look at. Because it’s made by Wilson Combat, high quality construction is basically guaranteed, but that also comes with a hefty price tag of $3,055.

Ruger Max-9

Max-9 2

Ruger joins the micro 9mm fray with a pint-sized pistol that has the stuff to contend. More than anything, the striker-fired Max-9 offers up excellent capacity in a small package, feeding off 12-round extended capacity and 10-round flush-fit magazines. The 3.2-inch barreled gun is excellently executed, with aggressive texturing on all grip faces and ample cocking serrations on the slide. It’s a modern take on the concealed carry pistol to boot, boasting a slide cut compatible with a wide selection of red-dot optics. That's plenty for a gun with a price tag of $589.

Springfield Armory Hellcat

Springfield Hellcat 9

There’s little wonder why the Hellcat is widely considered among the top micro-compact pistol. Quite simply it ticks off all the boxes. In addition to a minuscule 18-ounces in weight and 4-inches in height, the 9mm keeps 13+1 rounds on tap. Furthermore, the striker-fired isn’t stripped down, with a downright snappy trigger and high-visibility Tritium front sight and U-notch rear. With an MSRP of $633, it's competitively priced, especially given all its bells and whistles.

SIG Sauer P365

Micro 9mm SIG

Groundbreaking, SIG squeezed full-sized capacity into a micro 9mm pistol's concealable package with the P365. It boasts 10+1 capacity with its flush-fit magazine and the option to up round on tap to 13 rounds with an extended mag. It has XRAY3 Day/Nights sights, comes in at 1-inch in width and weighs 17.8 ounces. Hard to beat with a price tag of $599.

Arm Yourself With More Concealed Carry Knowledge

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus

Shield Plus

We used to brag up the Shield 2.0 on this list, but its days are numbered since the release of the Shield Plus. Configured similarly to the old model, the Plus has a distinctive capacity advantage with 13+1 onboard. That's more than enough to handle nearly any life-or-death situation. Smith & Wesson offers two models of the pistol, standard and a dolled-up version from its Performance Center. The goods on the latter, besides having a souped-up trigger, the pistol is optics ready and even available with a factory-installed Crimson Trace red dot. There's quite a price difference, with the standard running $499 and the PC model $630.

Ruger LCRx

Micro 9mm Ruger-3
This revolver’s monolithic frame is made from aerospace-grade, 7000-series aluminum. It also has a stainless-steel cylinder and, at 17.4 ounces, it’s not all that heavy for a six-shot 9mm revolver. It comes with three full-moon clips to make reloads easy and has a suggested retail of $859.

Ruger EC9s

Micro 9mm Ruger-1
This very affordable polymer-framed semi-automatic has a capacity of 7+1 and weighs 17.2 ounces. It’s 6 inches long, less than 1 inch wide and the sights are integral to the slide. It comes with a finger extension you can add to the magazine, but its most attractive feature is that it’s less than $350.

Glock 43

Micro 9mm-Glock
Among the most anticipated Glocks ever produced, the G43 lived up to expectations. At 6.26 inches in overall length and 17.95 ounces unloaded, the 6+1 pistol runs on the larger side of micro pistols, yet is concealable as ever. Aggressive grip texturing makes it easy to shoot, large magazine catch helps lightning-fast magazine reloads and the pistol is more than affordable at $449.

For more micro 9mm information check out:
Which Is Best: Kimber Micro 9 Or SIG P938?

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

Elwood Shelton and Adam Borisenko contributed to this story.

An Empty Gun Is Useless: Mastering Speed Reloads

If you don’t want to be caught with an empty gun, it’s time to master the administrative, tactical and speed reloads.

The reloading of a defensive handgun is generally considered a baseline skill. It’s something that every defensive handgun training course I’ve taken spends a good bit of time teaching. This makes sense because an empty gun is mostly useless. Most doctrine separates reloading into three techniques. These include the administrative reload, the tactical reload and the speed reload. Although all three serve the same purpose of keeping your handgun full of ammunition, they have different application.

It’s suggested that when reloading the handgun that it be conducted within your workspace and between your eyes and the threat. It’s better to handle an empty handgun when you’re either moving or utilizing cover.

Administrative Reloads

Administrative reloading is something that has no tactical value. It’s nothing but the administrative steps you take when you’re readying your pistol for carry, or when you get to the range and are readying your pistol for training … though you do often see it used during handgun training courses when students step off the line to load magazines and take a break. Often, shooters will remove the magazine from a holstered handgun and top it off and reinsert it. Or, they’ll be standing on the line and adjusting ammunition within magazines and the magazine within the pistol to prepare for a specific exercise or drill.

With the understanding that sometimes, for specific drills, you need a certain round count in one or more magazines, I’m not a fan of the administrative reload. When you complete an exercise or drill on the range and are going to take a break to rest or load magazines, you should first conduct a tactical reload so that the handgun in your holster is fully loaded. The conduct of an administrative reload should only be done to establish some drill, training or safety requirement.

The primary objective when conducting a reload is to fill the pistol with as much ammunition as possible.

Tactical Reloads

This reloading technique is one that’s conducted when you have time. Often, it’s suggested that you conduct a tactical reload during a lull in the action. I’m not sure how to precisely define “a lull in the action,” but I am sure of two things: 1) the more ammunition you have in your gun, the better off you are; and 2) you should never holster a handgun that’s not fully loaded, because if you need it—really need it—it needs to be fully loaded.

With the tactical reload, you retain the magazine you eject from your handgun because you haven’t fully expended the ammunition that’s in it, and you understand that you might need to use that ammunition latter on.

When is a tactical reload applicable? It’s nearly impossible to offer any hard and fast rules because the chaos that surrounds a self-defense shooting doesn’t lend itself to absolutes. So, look at it this way: If you need to conduct a reload because you’ve depleted your ammunition supply, and you have time to retain the magazine that is in the gun, then do so. Otherwise, a speed reload is more appropriate.

More practically and most assuredly, the tactical reload should be conducted after an engagement, but before holstering. You’ve solved the immediate problem and have the time to retain any unexpended ammo in the current magazine—while at the same time making sure that you holster a fully loaded pistol.

Empty guns are mostly worthless; learn how to efficiently keep them topped off.

Speed Reloads

This reloading technique is used when you need to get more ammunition in your gun as swiftly as possible. It could be that you’ve expended a large portion of your on-board ammunition and want to be fully loaded for the impending doom that’s quickly approaching you. It could be conducted because you’ve expended all the ammunition in your gun and need more ammo immediately. And the speed reload could also be conducted because your handgun has stopped working, either because it’s out of ammo or has maybe experienced a stoppage.

With the speed reload, the magazine in your gun is ejected and allowed to drop free without concern of where it lands or if you’ll ever see it again. It’s often taught that when conducting a speed reload, you should pull the handgun back into your workspace, hold it up high where you can look through it and still see the threat, and peripherally see the insertion of the new magazine. This makes sense if you’re standing in front of a threat while trying to reload—but standing in front of a threat while trying to reload makes no sense.

Conducting a speed reload while moving or utilizing cover does make sense.

Regardless of the particulars associated with the speed reload, the primary directive is to get the gun reloaded as fast as possible.

Reloading can be practiced with dummy rounds at times when you can’t go to the range and utilize live ammo.

Additional Considerations

Ideally, when you utilize any method to reload a pistol, you should take the time to verify that the reload was conducted properly. This means you should conduct a press check and either visually or tactilely confirm a cartridge was inserted into the chamber … and that the magazine is fully seated. Granted, if you’re conducting a speed reload, there might not be time to do this, but it’s something that there should always be time for if you’re conducting an administrative or tactical reload.

If you’ve conducted an administrative or tactical reload, the placement of the partially loaded magazine that was removed from the handgun is important. It shouldn’t be placed in your primary ammunition pouch or storage location unless it’s the only remaining magazine that you have. Otherwise, you might be reaching for what you think is a full magazine, only to grasp the partially expended magazine. The partially expensed magazine should be placed in an alternate location that can be easily accessed by your support hand in case you need it.

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

More On Handgun Skills And Training:

Korth Carry Special Review: Revolver Royalty

For those who only trust their lives to the best, here’s a closer look at the 2.75-inch Korth Carry Special.

I was raised on revolvers. As a habit from his moonshining days, Grandpa kept a Smith & Wesson Model 10 close by most of the time; it was the first handgun I ever fired. My cousin either had a Ruger Single Six or Colt Frontier with us on all our adventures. We used them to shoot pop cans and to kill rats and snakes.

Of course, I found autoloaders soon enough, and my hands found a 1911 or a Browning Hi Power more to their liking. Still, when I became a police officer, I was issued a Smith & Wesson Model 686. I used it at the Academy to take top gun, while the rest of my class was shooting Glocks. However, in all my years of handgunning, I’ve never seen a revolver like the Korth Carry Special.


The Korth Story

The Korth revolver is made in Lollar, Hesse, Germany. The company was founded in 1954 by former railroad engineer Willi Korth, who had a singular goal: to produce the finest revolver in the world.

Every part of a Korth revolver is machined from billet steel, and they’re fitted with a cold-hammer-forged barrel. The machine work is exquisite; you’ll find no milling marks. The fit is superb; tolerances are held to a minimum, and the cylinder locks up like a bank vault.

The ability to quickly and easily convert the Korth from a .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolver to a 9mm Luger revolver is unique … and practical.

The trigger feels unlike any trigger you’ve every pulled on any gun. Yes, it’s a double-action trigger, but as the trigger progresses through its movement, it sort of feels like you’re dragging your finger through pudding. And in the single-action mode, the trigger is so good it’s like all you need to do is think when you want the gun to go bang.

There are some design elements that are a bit different from conventional revolvers you might be familiar with. The 416R stainless-steel barrel is shrouded with a steel jacket that also forms the extractor-rod shroud. The cylinder gap is so minimal you’ll struggle to slide a piece of paper between it and the barrel. And though the cylinder release is in the usual spot, you push it forward with your thumb as opposed to pulling it to the rear. The revolver isn’t blued; it’s expertly finished in DLC (diamond-like carbon coating), which gives it a business-like appearance.

When I first picked up a Korth, I thought, If Batman carried a revolver, this is the one.

However, what might be the most unique feature of the Korth is how easy is it to change from a .38 Special/.357 Magnum cylinder to a 9mm Luger cylinder. You can switch these cylinders in about 10 seconds without the aid of any tools. Simply open the cylinder and press a button on the right side of the revolver’s frame. This allows the cylinder and crane to slide out. Once one cylinder is removed, you just reverse the process and install the other. With the Korth, you have one revolver that’ll fire three different cartridges.

A revolver that can fire multiple cartridges is very practical and very versatile.

Korth revolvers are imported into America by Nighthawk Custom out of Berryville, Arkansas. I was first exposed to them during Gunsite Academy’s 40th Anniversary Alumni Shoot, where I helped Nighthawk run one of the shooting stages. The stage required competitors to step up to a table, and on the go signal they had to pick up a Korth revolver and engage some targets.

It was kind of thrilling to watch each shooter’s expression after they fired their six shots. Almost every competitor would turn and remark how amazing the Korth’s trigger was. That was in 2016, and Nighthawk has been importing these amazing German-made revolvers ever since.

Currently, Nighthawk Custom offers 10 models, with prices ranging from $3,699 to $8,999. The new Carry Special is the least expensive version offered.

The Carry Special

The Korth Carry Special is a short-barreled revolver, intended as the name suggests, for personal protection. It has a 2.75-inch barrel and weighs 33.6 ounces. It comes with a .38 Special/.357 Magnum cylinder and a clipless 9mm Luger cylinder—full moon clips aren’t required. It’s also fitted with a slimmed down and contoured rubber Hogue grip.

During the testing of the Korth Carry Special, more than 400 rounds of .38 Special, .357 Magnum and 9mm Luger were fired through it.

The rear sight is shaped more like a rear sight you’d find on a semi-automatic self-defense handgun, but it’s fully adjustable. The front sight is supposed to be a square black blade with a gold bead that’s pinned to a rib that’s integral to the barrel shroud, but more on that later.

One concern with any imported firearm, especially a revolver, is holster availability and compatibility with speed loaders. Though you can for sure find holsters for Korth handguns, or you can have a guy like Rob Leahy at Simply Rugged make you a custom holster.

Holsters that fit the S&W 686 revolver, such as these two from Galco, work well with the Korth.

I found that the 2.75-inch Korth Carry Special worked well enough from a Galco Combat Master (Model #CM102B) designed for a 2.5-inch Smith & Wesson 686. If you prefer a thumb snap, the Korth also fits the Galco Silhouette High Ride (Model #SIL104B). As for speed loaders, Korth manufactures their own for the .38 Special/.357 Magnum and 9mm Luger. They, too, are available from Nighthawk Custom ($50).

Range Time

Though I don’t get wrapped around the axle when it comes to testing a defensive handgun from the bench, when you’re dealing with a handgun that costs this much, you want to know what it’ll do. The three-cartridge uniqueness of the Korth Carry Special necessitated the shooting of three different loads: one in 9mm, one in .38 Special and one in .357 Magnum. Obviously, the gun is hindered a bit by its short barrel, but after firing three, five-shot groups with each load from a sandbag rest at 10 yards, the average for all nine groups was only 1.64 inches.

Short-barrel handguns don’t lend themselves to precision shooting, but sub-inch groups at 10 yards were common with the Korth Carry Special.

How does that stack up against other common defensive handguns? Well, based on the defensive handguns I’ve tested, that’s better than average for that barrel length. As a comparison, I tested a 3-inch Colt Python with the same .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads, and it averaged 1.75 inches. It’s also more than sufficient for self-defense and should allow you to deliver a shot inside a 4-inch circle out to around 12 or 13 yards—and that’s if you shoot twice as bad off-hand and under stress as you do from a bench rest.

What I think is more important is how well a handgun allows you to perform practical defensive drills. After all, during an encounter where you must shoot to save your life, you’ll not have a bench rest and sandbags. I typically find my best performance on tactical drills with my Wilson Combat EDC X9. I ran both against the Korth Carry Special on three drills fired at distances of 5 and 10 yards. Using the same 9mm ammunition, on average I scored 10 percent better with the semi-auto.


I also had two other shooters run the same drills with both pistols, and the results were similar. On average, they performed 12 percent better with the Wilson Combat pistol. One obvious reason is that single-action semi-auto pistols can be fired faster than double-action revolvers. The other reason was that the plain black sight on the Korth Carry Special slowed down engagement times on the 10-yard drill. The low-profile matte black sight was just slower to pick up.

Wait a minute. What sight am I talking about? Yeah, good question. As previously mentioned, the Carry Special comes with a bladed front sight that has a gold bead. However, the revolver I was provided for evaluation was one of the early imports, and it was fitted with a plain black, ramped front sight. It worked just fine during accuracy testing, but during fast-paced drills at 10 yards, it was very hard to quickly pick up that plain black sight on the target.

On the other hand, on a three-shot speed drill fired at 5 yards, where we had to make two torso hits and then hit a swinging head plate as fast as possible, there was only a 5 percent difference in scores. The thing is, at this distance, we were just indexing the gun and not using the sights. On that drill where the sights weren’t that important, the only real difference in performance—speed—was working with the double-action revolver trigger as opposed to the single-action trigger on the Wilson Combat semi-automatic.

Rugged, beautiful and reliable, the Korth Carry Special is a revolver you can trust your life with.

Is It Worth The Money?

Well, $3,699 is a lot of money to pay for a handgun—any handgun. However, if you look at the prices of high-end 1911 handguns, there’s not a lot of difference. Most of the custom 1911s sold by Nighthawk retail for more than $4,000. Also, when you compare the Korth Carry Special to other revolvers from Colt or Smith & Wesson, their actions aren’t as smooth, and the triggers aren’t even in the same league. A 3-inch Colt Python will set you back $1,500 … and a comparable 3-inch Smith & Wesson will run you between $900 and $1,300. Is the Korth Carry Special worth more than twice these other revolvers?

The cylinder latch/release on the Korth revolver must be pushed forward to allow the cylinder to swing out from the frame.

From a save-your-life standpoint, probably not. But the same could be said for most full-custom 1911s. On the other hand, guns aren’t just about self-defense; if they were, everyone would probably just carry a damned old Glock. No, sometimes shooters, just as those who enjoy other sporting endeavors, want the best their money can buy. If that’s you, and if you want what’s arguably the best self-defense revolver available, and if you have $3,699 plus tax lying around, now you know where to spend it.

Nobody needs a Korth revolver. But, then again, nobody needs an $1,800 Honma golf club, a $1,500 Seigler fly reel or a BMW M8 either. If you can afford the BMW, you can damned sure afford the Korth. And, if you show up at the shooting range with both, you’ll be well armed and most likely the coolest guy there, maybe for a long time to come.

I’m not sure how long the BMW will last you, but the Korth comes with a lifetime warranty.


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

More On Defensive Revolvers:

Mossberg 940 Pro Turkey & Tactical Review: Shotgun Shangri-La

Whether you're looking for a 12-gauge shotgun for hunting or home defense , Mossberg has you covered with the 940 Pro Turkey and 940 Pro Tactical.

One of my favorite quotes from classic American literature references shotguns: “… but if there is a law at all, it should be to keep people from the use of smooth-bores. A body never knows where his lead will fly, when he pulls the trigger of one of them uncertain firearms.” These words were spoken by James Fenimore Cooper’s fictional character Natty Bumppo, aka Hawkeye, from the Leatherstocking Tales.

For those who do not completely understand the shotgun, let me educate you: Shotguns throw a pattern of bullets—pellets—and those individual pellets never land in the same place. This causes shotgun shooters to spend hours doing something called “patterning.” This is arguably a waste of time because all they’re really doing is trying to predict the unpredictable.

I learned this at about age 5 when my father first took me squirrel hunting. He gave me a break-action shotgun, and one morning I fired a box of shells at squirrels. On the way back to camp, I asked if I could borrow Grandpa’s pump .22 LR rifle for our next squirrel hunt. I did, and I’ve hardly looked at a shotgun seriously since.

Twins—not identical—but twins nonetheless: Mossberg’s 18.5-inch, 940 Pro Tactical and Turkey, 12-gauge shotguns.

It’s not so much that I don’t like shotguns; I just don’t have a real need for a shotgun. Ironically, during my law enforcement days, I received a lot of tactical shotgun training. And while I think there are some excellent applications for a shotgun in law enforcement and in combat, those days are long behind me. I don’t wing shoot. If I turkey hunt, I do it in West Virginia where I can use anything I want—and for home defense, I feel the carbine is a better option. Moreover, until now, I’ve never seen a shotgun that I really liked.

With all that in mind, maybe you’ll take what I’m about to tell you with more than a grain of salt. I’ve found two shotguns I really like. They just happen to be the same shotgun wearing a different uniform. Now, before I go any further, let me say that this isn’t the common “they sent me a shotgun to test, it’s wonderful, and you should go buy it” kind of article.

This is more of a story of discovery.

A father and son with different affections and opinions about shotguns, well-armed with Mossberg’s 940 Pro Tactical (left) and 940 Pro Turkey (right).

How it Happened

It started when my son became afflicted with the disease of turkey hunting. He’s an accomplished videographer, and he and a friend decided they were going to record their passion with a camera and share their exploits on social media. Like with many endeavors, life and work get in the way of grandiose ideas, and my son ended up with so many clients he could barely carve out enough time to just go turkey hunting, much less film it.

At any rate, for their endeavor to have added appeal, they reached out to Mossberg and requested the loan of one of their new 940 Pro Turkey shotguns. When it came in, my son brought it by and unboxed it. I was immediately smitten with its light heft and compactness. Not only that but this shotgun came from the factory with a neat little space carved out of the top of the receiver where a reflex sight could be mounted. This, of course, is a fantastic idea and makes you wonder why it took so long to happen.

Mossberg 940 Pro Turkey 18.5-inch.

Shortly after opening day, a friend was visiting from New York. (Yes, I’m friends with some Yankees, if they don’t intend to stay when they come to visit.) My son and his buddy took him turkey hunting, and he used the new Mossberg to whack a big gobbler at about 35 yards. (My son did get that on film.) A few days later, my boy convinced me to go turkey hunting with him, and after way more walking than I thought was necessary, he snuck up on a big 3-year-old tom and shot him in the face with the Mossberg.


Though I had little interest in turkey hunting with this shotgun, I began to lust for it as a home defense—tactical—weapon. It was, after all, a short, light, semi-automatic that came out of the box ready to go for a reflex sight. Then, I discovered that Mossberg offers a 940 Pro Tactical version of this shotgun. And, unusual for tactical shotguns, it accepts interchangeable choke tubes. I reached out to the media relations representative at Mossberg who knew my disdain for scatterguns and, to their astonishment, requested one to give it a try.

Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical.

The Details

Both shotguns feature the unique Mossberg self-draining stock that comes with inserts that’ll allow you to adjust the stock’s length of pull, drop and cast. Both also have the receiver machined to accept any compact reflex sight that matches the J-point footprint. The receivers are also drilled and tapped, and a fiber-optic front sight is standard. The “Pro” designation means both shotguns have an updated, clean-running gas system with corrosion-resistant internal parts. An enlarged and beveled loading port, a quick-empty magazine release button, a cocked indicator, interchangeable chokes, and an oversized operating handle are all standard as well.

The factory machined receiver on the Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical and Turkey shotguns is precut to fit the Crimson Trace CTS-1550 and CT RAD Pro mini reflex sights.

Now for the differences. Just like the 940 Pro Tactical, the 940 Pro Turkey comes with an 18.5-inch barrel, but a 24-inch barreled version is also available. The 940 Pro Tactical comes in flat black and both 940 Pro Turkey shotguns have a Mossy Oak Greenleaf camo finish. The Turkey models also have a ventilated rib on the barrel and a 4+1 capacity. The 940 Pro Tactical has a 7+1 capacity and a barrel/magazine tube clamp that’s M-Lok compatible.

Mossberg 940 Pro Turkey 24-inch.

Both have a rear sling swivel stud, and on the Tactical version, the front stud is integral to the barrel clamp. With the Turkey version, the front stud is part of the magazine tube cap. The Tactical version has a larger action release button and weighs 7.5 pounds. The 24-inch Turkey version weighs the same, but the 18.5-inch 940 Pro Turkey is noticeably lighter than both.

Shots Fired

In addition to the turkey slaying my son orchestrated with the 940 Pro Turkey, over the course of several months we’ve shot both shotguns a lot, with a lot of different loads. Everything we’ve fed both shotguns they digested without fail. In addition to testing a wide range of 2¾ and 3-inch loads, we did a lot of that “patterning” with five different choke tubes.

Both the 940 Pro Tactical and 18.5-inch 940 Pro Turkey shotguns were tested with four Mossberg Accu-Chokes and a Carlson Turkey choke. (Left to right: X-Factor XX Full, Full, Modified, Improved Cylinder and Cylinder Bore. Front: Carlson Long Beard XR choke.)

Since both shotguns had the same length barrel, their performance on target was as identical as two shotguns could be. I’m not one to count pellets; it’s relatively easy to just look at the patterns and make a reasonable conclusion about in the field performance. At 25 yards, Federal’s excellent Home Defense 00-buck load printed a pattern out of the 940 Pro Tactical with the cylinder bore choke that was about fist size. Off-hand, rifled slugs grouped similarly. At that same distance, Federal’s Force X2 00-buck load patterned at about 12 inches.

(Left) Federal’s Home Defense buckshot load delivered a fantastic pattern from the cylinder bore choke tube in the Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical. (Middle) Because of a different wad, the Federal Force X2 buckshot load doesn’t pattern as tightly as the home defense load. But Force X2 pellets break in half creating twice the damage and limit over penetration. (Right) This three-shot group was fired—offhand—with Federal rifled slugs at a distance of 25 yards out of the 940 Pro Tactical with a cylinder bore choke.

Using a Federal #5 shot load, I tested the Mossberg full, modified and improved cylinder Accu-Choke tubes in the 940 Pro Tactical. At 25 yards, the full choke pattern was about 10 inches in diameter, the modified choke pattern was about 14 inches, and the improved cylinder choke patterned at about 16 inches. Keep in mind, this is all out of an 18.5-inch barrel.

(Left) A 2 ¾-inch load of #5 shot fired out of the 940 Pro Tactical with a full choke at 25 yards. (Middle) The Carlson Long Beard XR choke delivered a very dense pattern at 25 yards. This choke also delivered two spring gobblers at around 35 yards. (Right) Mossberg’s X-Factor XX Full choke performed well with Federal’s #7-9 TSS load.

The Mossberg X-Factor XX full-choke tube and a Carlson Long Beard XR choke tube were tested at 25 yards using the 940 Pro Turkey shotgun and #7-9 Federal TSS loads. Both patterns were about 8 inches with good coverage … but with the Carlson choke, the pattern was a bit denser in the center.

The One Shotgun For Everything

Shotguns, just like rifles, can be very specialized. True shotgunners will have a different shotgun for every need they can imagine. I’m not a true shotgunner. My interest in shotguns is much more from the general-purpose angle. If I’m going to have a shotgun, I’m going to have one shotgun that I can use to effectively do the most things with.


I’ve been at this shooting thing for a long time, and to date, I’ve not seen a better general-purpose shotgun option than the 940 Pro Tactical. It’s best configured for self-defense, but with the interchangeable choke system, you can use it for damn near anything you want. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in what might be the ultimate, lightweight, compact and most versatile turkey shotgun available, the 940 Pro Turkey is the way to go. It seems to be doing its job nicely for my son, and soon you should be able to order the longer barrel and switch between them as needed.


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Shotguns:

Wilson Combat SFX9 Review: Did The Best Get Better?

The author once called the EDC X9 “the best pistol ever made,” but could the Wilson Combat SFX9 be even better?

In January of 2018, an article appeared in these pages with the title, “The Best Pistol Ever Made.” I wrote that article and it was about the then new Wilson Combat EDC X9. I believed what I wrote then and have stood by those words ever since. In fact, I believed it so much that I convinced several shooters to buy an EDC X9. How did I do that? I just let them shoot mine. Now, four years later, I’m having to reevaluate that opinion.

With its 4-inch barrel and 15+1 capacity, the SFX9 is ideally configured for personal protection and sized right for concealed carry.

For 2022, Wilson Combat introduced a 4-inch, 15-round version of their SFX9. The SFX9 is slightly different from the EDC X9. Where the EDC X9 has a grip frame that accepts grip panels, the SFX9’s grip frame, similar to modern polymer pistols like the Glock, is solid. In fact, SF stands for “solid frame” and, with this 4-inch, 15-shot version, Wilson Combat now has three solid frame SFX9mm pistols: there’s a 3.25-inch, 4-inch and a 5-inch.

So, how different are the 3-inch EDC X9 and SFX9 pistols? With the EDC X9, you can remove/replace the side grip panels or grip scales. This is accomplished by depressing a release at the bottom of what would be called the mainspring housing on a conventional 1911. Once this release is pressed, the backstrap swings up and out of the way, allowing access to the mainspring and sear spring. With the newer solid frame SFX versions, there are no grip panels to remove. With the exception of the pivoting backstrap, the SFX9’s grip is a monolithic unit.


The only other differences I noted between the EDC X9 and SFX9 were the slot spacing on the accessory rails and the sights. With the SFX9, the accessory rail slots were a bit closer together. As for the sights, the EDC X9 comes with a Wilson Combat elevation adjustable Tactical rear Battlesight and the SFX9 comes with a fixed rear, Wilson Combat Concealment Battlesight. Other than that, the guns seem identical and use the same magazines.

One difference in the SFX9 (front) and EDC X9 (rear) is that the slots in the accessory rail are a bit different. With the SFX9, they’re a bit closer together.

Small, But Significant

So, why am I questioning my earlier opinion? There are three reasons.

First is the fact that the grip of the SFX9 is thinner by 0.164 inch. That’s not a lot, but for some hands it might matter. The second reason is that the SFX9 doesn’t have an adjustable rear sight, which is—arguably—just another part that can break. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen an adjustable rear sight on a Wilson Combat pistol break.) The final reason isn’t the most or least important, and in fact, if you can afford a Wilson Combat handgun, it’s probably of no consequence. That said, the SFX9 has a suggested retail price that’s $100 less than the EDC X9. Of course, in today’s world, a hundred bucks will buy nearly 300 rounds of 9mm ammunition, and that’s important.

The SFX9 comes with a Wilson Combat Concealment Battlesight. Out of the box, it was zeroed dead on at 10 yards.

What it really comes down to is how the gun feels in your hand, and this is something that’s frequently overlooked. User interface can be directly linked to shooting performance; if a gun doesn’t fit your hand comfortably, you’ll not shoot it as well as you possibly can. The flat-sided Glockish feeling grip frame of the SFX9 might very well fit your hand better than the more rounded EDC X9 grip. If you’ve been a Glock shooter and like the way Glocks feel in your hand, this is almost a given. I’ve never liked the way a Glock felt in my hand, so it should come as no surprise that I prefer the more rounded grip of the EDC X9.


In my 2018 article, I wrote that the EDC X9 could’ve been the result of a ménage à trois among a 1911, a Browning Hi Power and a Glock 19. I wrote that because the EDC X9 is a single-action pistol with a straight-pull trigger like the 1911. It also has the manual thumb safety of the 1911 and the Hi Power, but like the Hi Power, there’s no grip safety. And finally, the EDC X9 was sized almost identically to the Glock 19 and shared the 19’s and the Hi Power’s high capacity. I carry a Hi Power a lot and felt that from the standpoint of feel, the Hi Power was the dominate partner in this three-way creation. That’s not the case with the SFX9. The way its blocky grip feels in my hand, I immediately think “Glock.”

SFX9 Vs. EDC X9 On The Range

I couldn’t resist the urge to continue the comparison of these two handguns on the range. They’re so similar, and with what’s at stake so important, they’re just begging to go head-to-head. My standard defensive handgun test drill is what I call the Forty-Five Drill. I call it that because it’s made up of four elements of five. With it, the goal is to draw from the holster and hit a 5-inch circle, at 5 yards, five times, in less than 5 seconds. It sounds easy—but it’s not. Trust me when I say many police officers can’t conduct this drill to standard on their first or second attempt.

The SFX9 (left) is very similar to the EDC X9 (right). The primary difference is that the SFX9 has a solid frame without interchangeable grip panels.

I ran this drill 10 times with the EDC X9 and 10 times with the SFX9, alternating between pistols after each run. My average time with the EDC X9 was 3.09 seconds, with 47 hits out of 50 shots. My average time with the SFX9 was 3.05 seconds with 45 hits out of 50 shots. From a practical perspective, there was no difference at all in how these handguns performed for me. I also shot the SFX9 a lot more after that test, which given the availability of ammunition nowadays isn’t an easy thing to do. Combined with some other ammo I had on hand, I fired 450 rounds through the SFX9 without as much as wiping it down … and I experienced no stoppages.

Final Thoughts

I would like to offer one other observation between these two pistols: My EDC X9 is outfitted with a green fiber-optic front sight. The SFX9 came with a red fiber-optic front sight. Though while based on the range results there seemed to be no difference at all between the two, I felt that the red fiber-optic sight was twice as easy to see as was the green fiber optic sight—in all lighting situations. Take that for what you think it’s worth.

If you’re going to trust your life to a handgun, why would you settle for anything less than the best?

Bill Wilson believes the SFX9 is the best personal protection pistol offered by Wilson Combat, and who am I to argue with Wilson? The thing is, I like my EDC X9 better because it feels better in my hand. Of course, I should say that I carried a Glock for 13 years as a police officer and never liked the way the damn thing felt. It’s a matter of personal preference, and understating this opinion is coming from someone hopelessly in love with the Browning Hi Power should help explain my position.

However, I’d bet that many younger shooters, especially those who grew up with a Glock but always wanted something better, will think this new SFX9 from Wilson Combat is nothing short of marvelous. I wouldn’t argue with them, either.

With its 1911-like operation, Hi Power capacity and Glockish feeling frame, the SFX9 is a combination of three of the best fighting pistols ever created.

If you and I were walking down Fremont Street in Tombstone, Arizona, toward a vacant lot near the O.K. Corral, to face off against the Clantons and McLaurys or even some modern-day hoodlums—and if the only two guns we had were a SFX9 and an EDC X9—I might ask for the one with the red fiber-optic front sight, but I’d be happy with either gun. I believe the EDC X9 and the SFX9—4-inch/15-shot handguns—are the two best self-defense handguns ever made. Pick the one that fits your hand the best and you’ll be able to feel confident your money has been well spent.


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

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Springfield Armory SA-35 Review: The Grand Puissance

Springfield Armory’s new SA-35 is a high-honored nod to the Browning Hi-Power.

Springfield Armory’s rendition of the Browning Hi-Power has recently been the dominant topic on social media. It’s indeed big news, especially because a few years ago, Browning ceased distribution of the Belgium-made version of that same pistol. Ironically, that was not big news. It seemed most folks didn’t give a damn that an 82-year-old firearm design was being discontinued.

So, what’s the big deal with its reintroduction?

At only 31 ounces and with a 15+1 capacity, the SA-35 makes for an excellent everyday carry self-defense handgun.

Word on the Street

Springfield Armory says they reimagined the Hi-Power and to not call it a “classic.” I assume they’re afraid “classic” will be misconstrued to mean antiquated. But whether they’ll admit it or not, they’ve revived a classic.

They also say it’s made in the USA from a forged steel slide and frame. That’s true. What they don’t tell you is the frame and slide come—80 percent—from Tisas in Turkey (Springfield Armory wouldn’t confirm this but I have it on good authority). However, that’s not a bad thing, and given Springfield Armory sources other handguns and parts from outside the U.S., it shouldn’t be a surprise. Tisas is a very capable manufacture that turns out high-quality products, and this is one way Springfield Armory managed to keep the cost of the SA-35 manageable … and I applaud them for it.

Five-shot, off-hand groups at 10 yards averaged at around the one-inch mark.

Roy Huntington with American Handgunner compared the introduction of this new pistol to an earthquake, claiming, “Right now, John Browning is smiling.” Browning died in 1926. He might be metaphorically smiling, but the Hi-Power as we know it was introduced nine years later. Browning’s original design looked like something other than a Hi-Power; it was striker-fired and the patent wasn’t approved until after his death.

Dieudonné Saive of Fabrique Nationale deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the Hi-Power. Most importantly, featuring a pivoting trigger, double-stack magazine, and link-less barrel, it was the foundation for almost every modern semi-automatic handgun since. Had Saive incorporated Browning’s striker design, we would’ve had a steel-framed Glock more than 80 years ago.

Jeremy Stafford of Guns & Ammo offered the opinion that the SA-35 would reignite the old battle between Hi-Power and 1911 shooters. I thought this was settled in 1977 when Dave Westerhout and Peter Maunder took first and second in the IPSC World Shoot using Hi-Powers, allowing Rhodesia to edge out the United States and their 1911s for the top spot. That was a tremendous accomplishment considering they were shooting with the minor power factor handicap.


Funny thing: Since 1977, the 1911 design has undergone substantial revision, but the Hi-Power—even the new SA-35—is pretty much the same as it was then. Maybe those in the know knew it didn’t need much work, and all the efforts were directed at tweaking a major power 1911 to outperform it.

James Reeves with The Firearms Blog begins his SA-35 review commenting that, unlike the 1911, the Hi-Power remains relevant today. This should place everything else he says as suspect, such as his remark that original Hi-Powers could give some shooters “slide bite.” Slide bite has never been a problem with the Hi-Power. What has been, is the tendency for the hammer—when pushed to the rear by the recoiling slide—to pinch the web of the hand between the hammer and the tang of the frame. That’s hammer bite, not slide bite.

Hammer bite has always been an issue with the Hi-Power design. Springfield Armory’s commander-style hammer on their SA-35 does a good job of preventing this for most shooters. Those who use a high grip and have large hands may still get pricked.

Springfield Armory addressed this by installing a 1911 Commander-style hammer. It’s not a new approach, but it is one that does work for most shooters. If you have large hands and shoot with a very high grip (as you should), you might still get a little pinching with the SA-35. I did.

The best fix for this an extension to the tang of the grip frame. This is a custom and expensive solution. It’s exactly how Nighthawk crafts their Hi-Powers. However, a much less expensive alteration is the installment of a no-bite hammer from pistol guru Wayne Novak. It will eliminate hammer bite at much less expense. Maybe we’ll see either a tang extension or a no-bite hammer on later iterations of the SA-35. I’m sure Springfield Armory has other versions of this pistol on the drawing board.

If not, someone there needs firing.

Almost every review of the SA-35 highlights the pistol’s beveled magazine well. Generally, beveled magazine wells are always a good thing. However, I’ve been carrying and shooting Hi-Powers for half my life. Shoving a drastically truncated double-stack magazine into a large hole has never been a problem. Those reviewing the SA-35 treat this “modification” as monumental. Does it make the pistol easier to load? Yes, but maybe only immeasurably.

For those who appreciate steel framed fighting pistols, the Springfield Armory SA-35 is a lightweight, high-capacity, 9mm design, with a long record of reliable service.

By Which All Others Are Measured

All of this might come across as me dissing on the new SA-35. That is far from the point I’m trying to make. Before we get into more detail on the pistol, let me say I believe this to be maybe the most important handgun introduction since 1982.

Why? Because I also believe the Browning Hi-Power was and remains one of the top three fighting pistols ever created. Present any argument you like, but it’s still in military use all over the world and has been used by more militaries than any other handgun. In fact, the Hi-Power has likely killed more people than any other handgun; during World War II, it had the distinction of being used by opposing forces.

Additionally, with its double-stack magazine, pivoting trigger and link-less barrel, the Hi-Power laid the blueprint for all modern semi-automatic handguns. Hi-Powers are reliable, accurate, slim and not too heavy, easy to carry, and arguably have the most ergonomic grip of any duty-style pistol ever engineered.


I have three Hi-Powers and I liked the SA-35 enough to buy it. Hell, I might even buy two of them. Thousands of other Hi-Power aficionados will do the same. But, maybe more importantly, what Springfield Armory has really done is open the eyes of Gen X, Y and Z, as to what a truly proven and rock-solid fighting pistol really is. Now all of us can get one for less than $700.

Under The Hood

Enough pontificating; let’s look in detail at the SA-35.

The slide and frame are machined from forged carbon steel. The steel has a matte blued finish and is very well executed. The gun does have a few sharp edges, such as the forward edge of the dust cover, around the slide stop latch, at the end of the slide stop pin, and along the corners of the tang. Beyond that, I rate the look and feel of the gun as nearly exquisite.

The fully checkered walnut grips are much more handsome than any of the grips ever offered by Browning when the pistols were made by FN. In fact, being somewhat of a Hi-Power snob who has looked long and hard for good aftermarket grips, they’re as tasteful and well executed as any I’ve seen.

Springfield Armory chose very nice grips for their new SA-35. They should sell these separately because many Hi-Power
owners will want them

The sights are possibly the best upgrade Springfield Armory applied to this pistol. The front sight is a 0.125-inch blade that stands just shy of 0.20-inch above the slide. It has a single white dot positioned at the top center. The rear sight is a ledge-type sight with a 0.14-inch U-notch. I would’ve liked a slightly wider notch, but those with good eyes should find this front and rear sight combination agreeable and very fast. The rear of the rear sight is serrated and is devoid of any of the ridiculous dots so common on modern defensive handguns. If you don’t like these sights, both the rear and front are dovetailed for easy replacement.

Other features include the already mentioned beveled magazine well and a single 15-round magazine. Original Hi-Power magazines held 13 rounds, and while many are giving Springfield Armory credit for the increasing capacity, 15-round Hi-Power magazines have been available from Mec-Gar for some time. And Mec-Gar appears to be the manufacturer of the magazine included with this pistol. The SA-35 also features an extended and comfortable to operate thumb safety, and as also discussed, the Commander-style hammer.

The manual thumb safety on the SA-35 is sized perfectly and better than previous options offered on Browning factory Hi-Powers.

As for the trigger, Hi-Powers have always had a magazine disconnect that would not allow the gun to fire if the magazine was removed. This system connected to the trigger and was the primary cause for bad triggers on Hi-Powers. Hi-Power owners have removed this linkage for years, and it’s not that hard to do. The SA-35 comes without the magazine disconnect and this makes the pull of the SA-35 trigger very nice, with just a bit of take-up and very minimal overtravel. My trigger scale said it broke at 4.75 pounds, but it felt more like 3 pounds. But, good Hi-Powers triggers always tend to feel like they break at less pressure than is measured.

Beyond all that, the SA-35 is just a Browning Hi-Power. I would not say the SA-35 is a reimagined Hi-Power, but I would say it is a damned fine example of one. I fired almost 800 rounds of mixed FMJ and hollow-point ammunition through the test pistol and it functioned flawlessly, just like you’d expect a Hi-Power to.

Slow-fire, off-hand groups at 10 yards were in the 1.25-inch range, and from the holster I could put five shots into a 5-inch circle, at 5 yards, in less than 4 seconds, consistently. Failure drills at 5 yards were easily completed in three seconds or less. For me, hammer-bite was still present, but it was diminished from previous factory Hi-Powers.

Failure drills conducted at five yards were easy to complete in 3 seconds or less with the SA-35.

Where Ya Been?

The Springfield Armory SA-35 should get the gun of the year award for 2022, and I’ll offer it as Springfield Armory’s best-ever contribution to the world of firearms.

My question to all the other firearms journalists who’ve been fawning over this new pistol like nude images of Salma Hayek is, “Where were the hell were you just a half-decade ago when you could buy one, though maybe not quite as nice as the SA-35, from Browning?”

The same folks who are now telling you what a wonderful and magnificent pistol the Hi-Power has always been, ignored it until Springfield Armory put their name on it. Had those journalists been doing their job, the SA-35 you should now most certainly be buying, would most likely not be your first Grande Puissance.


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

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Marlin 1895 Trapper Review: The Hunting Panther

The reintroduced Marlin 1895 Trapper is a fast-handling thumper.

I’ve always been a history buff with interest in military firearms and especially armored vehicles. I’m sure that’s partly why I joined the Army and became an armored crewman and eventually a tank commander. But, as cool as those modern tanks I crewed were, there was a German tank from World War II that always captivated my imagination. That tank was the sleek and very fearsome Jagdpanther—hunting panther. It was an agile tank destroyer equipped with the legendary German 88mm gun.

Marlin’s new—reintroduced—1895 Trapper reminds me of that tank.


There are several reasons for this. Though heavier than the American-built Sherman tank, the Jagdpanther was just as fast. With its powerful main gun that could fire a variety of munitions, it could defeat every armored vehicle on the battlefield. The Jagdpanther offered a great balance of mobility, firepower and armor. Similarly, the Marlin 1895 Trapper is a heavy-duty lever gun chambered for the .45-70 Government, for which there are a variety of munitions that make it suitable for any game animal on Earth. It’s compact and handy—maneuverable—and like the Jagdpanther, it’s a hunter.

Marlin first offered the 1895 Trapper in 2018 while under the control of Remington. It was well received, but like a lot of the Marlin firearms produced then, reports of problems were common. Ruger acquired Marlin in 2020 and, though it took some time, their first lever gun was released before the end of 2021.


It was the 1895 SBL, and I detailed it here not all that long ago (Gun Digest May 2022 issue). I wrote that I felt the rifle was, “The best shooting lever-action rifle of any brand, style or design I have ever fired.” I felt that way because the quality of construction on that rifle was superb, and because two of the four loads tested delivered sub-MOA precision. As much as I liked that rifle, I like the new 1895 Trapper even better.

The Details

The new 1895 Trapper is built on the same stainless-steel action and has the same big loop lever as the 1895 SBL. And, like the 1895 SBL, it’s also chambered for the .45-70 Government. The primary difference is in barrel length; where the SBL has a 19.1-inch barrel, the Trapper’s barrel is 3 inches shorter. But just as with the SBL, the Trapper’s muzzle is also threaded at an 11/16-24 pitch for brake or suppressor attachment.

The muzzle of the 16.1-inch barrel on the new 1895 Marlin Trapper is threaded at a 11/16×24 pitch. A protective cap is standard issue.

Another obvious difference is the stock: The SBL had a gray laminated hardwood stock, and the Trapper’s stock is much darker. Aside from that, the stocks are identical, even down to the checkering, thick recoil pad and stainless-steel sling swivel attachments.

However, when you look closer, you’ll see the other differences. The SBL is fitted with a Picatinny sight rail that stretches from the rear of the receiver partially out the barrel. An adjustable aperture sight is incorporated in the rear of this rail and is paired with a Tritium fiber-optic front sight. Also, the rail allows for a variety of optical sights to be attached.

Instead of a rail, the Trapper utilizes a Skinner Sights rear aperture sight paired with a white-striped Skinner, Bear Buster front sight. The rear sight is screw-adjustable for elevation, and the rear screw slot is elongated to allow for windage adjustment. The other difference between these two rifles isn’t so obvious until you see them side by side. All the stainless-steel metal surfaces on the Trapper have a muted satin finish, which is perfect for a hunting rifle.

The combination of a satin stainless finish and the blackened laminated hardwood stock give the new Marlin 1895 Trapper a serious “I’m here for business” look.

A Little Customization

Unboxing this rifle, I was immediately smitten. It’s so compact and handy; it almost feels like it could fit in your pocket. Even if you’re on the short side, you can grasp it at the wrist of the stock and let it dangle, and the muzzle will still not reach the ground. When shouldering the Trapper, it seems like it wants to jump up and onto target. The action is smooth, the trigger is good and this rifle gives you the impression it was made for fighting it out with a pissed-off grizzly.

As much as I liked the look and feel of this rifle, I’m not a fan of the rear sight that comes on it. It’s a great sight, but for a .45-70 that might be used as I would use one—for a wide range of applications—it’s not what I want. This is mostly because with so many varied .45-70 loads available, I would have to constantly re-zero the rear sight. At 100 yards, the point of impact between power level one and power level two .45-70 loads can be more than a foot.

The 1895 Trapper comes with this adjustable Skinner aperture sight and white-striped Bear Buster front sight. To add versatility to the rifle, they were replaced with a scope-mount version of the same Skinner sight and a shorter Bear Buster front sight.

I called Skinner Sights and explained I wanted an aperture sight I could zero for the heaviest .45-70 loads, but which would also permit scope mounting, allowing me to easily zero for whatever .45-70 load I might want to use. Skinner suggested I replace the sight on the Trapper with another version they offer that has an integral groove for Talley scope rings. This way I could zero the aperture sight and mount the scope right over top of it. And, too, the excellent Talley rings would permit the scope to be removed and installed without loss of zero.

By swapping out the standard Skinner rear sight for a version with integral grooves for Talley rings, the versatility of the 1895 Trapper was vastly enhanced.

This is an ideal approach, and Leupold’s FX-II Ultralight 2.5x20mm riflescope seemed to be the perfect match. However, to keep the riflescope low enough to see through it with a good cheek weld, I had to screw the aperture sight all the way in. This resulted in a front sight that was too high to provide a zero with the heavy-hitting .45-70 loads I wanted the open sights zeroed for. I reached out to Skinner again, and they sent me a shorter version of the Bear Buster front sight, and then everything fell into place.

I mention all this, not to say that the sights that come on the Trapper are bad—they’re not—but unlike with a .30-30 Winchester lever gun, where all the available loads will have a similar point of impact, that’s not the case with the .45-70 Government. If you only plan to shoot one load in your Marlin Trapper, pay no attention to any of this. However, if you want the Trapper to be able to exploit everything the .45-70 has to offer, this is a fantastic solution.


Shots Fired

There are lots of ways to classify rifles, and I’d put the Marlin Trapper in the “man’s rifle” category. With power level 1 ammunition, the free recoil energy is only at about 17 pounds, which is like a .308 Winchester. However, when you step up to power level 2 loads, things change. The recoil increases by 25 percent, taking you to .300 Winchester Magnum levels. With power level 3 loads, you’ll feel the force because recoil energy almost doubles. You cannot ignore more than 40 foot-pounds of energy impacting your shoulder.

The 1895 Trapper uses the same and very smooth Ruger/Marlin-influenced action as does the new 1895 SBL that was released last year.

But it’s not so much the push: Because of its light weight and short barrel, this rifle bucks like a wild mustang. Also, .45-70 loads, like Federal’s 300-grain Power-Shok, will generate a fireball larger than a beach ball. Others, like the Federal 300-grain HammerDown load, create no fireball at all.

From the bench, the Trapper can be intimidating. However, with the 2.5X Leupold, at 50 yards most of the loads tested put three shots into a cluster measuring less than an inch and a half. Open-sighted benchrest groups were only slightly larger. At 100 yards, groups were about twice as large, but I still managed a couple smaller than 2 inches while using the low-powered optic.

The .45-70 is unique in that there are three power levels of factory ammunition available for it. Buffalo Bore is the best source for factory .45-70 loads of all power levels.

Of course, this isn’t a bench rest rifle. This is a rifle you carry, and it’s a rifle you shoot while standing on your hind legs. Conducting snap shots from the high ready at 50 yards, most of the time I was able to keep all my shots inside a 6-inch circle, and I was able to do it—on average—in less than 2 seconds, both with the scope and the open sights. Yeah, the rifle bucks a bit, but you soon get used to it. I found that I could get good hits with follow-up shots in about 1.5 seconds with power level 2 loads.

There’s little a hunter couldn’t handle with an 1895 Trapper outfitted like this one.

Already a Favorite

I’ve yet to do any hunting with the new Marlin Trapper, though having taken a variety of critters, to include two African Buffalo, I’m fully aware of what the .45-70 Government is capable of. And, after several hundred rounds down range with the Trapper, I know what it and I together can do. I have an African buffalo hunt planned for next spring, and the Trapper is the rifle I plan to use. I’m sure it will also see some time in the West Virginia hills looking for bear and deer.

Marlin’s new Trapper, outfitted with a scope-mount rear-sight base and Bear Buster front sight from Skinner Sights, a Leupold fixed-power riflescope in Talley rings, a Galco Quick Adjust Hasty Sling and a Versacarry Ammocaddy.

I still believe that the newest version of the Marlin’s 1895 SBL is best-shooting lever gun I’ve ever fired. But, as of now, the new Marlin 1895 Trapper might be the favorite Marlin lever gun I’ve ever fired. It’s well made, and it handles like a short sword. It shoots plenty good to extract all the reach .45-70 ammo can provide, and with it in hand you get the feeling you and this rifle could tackle anything.

Marlin’s new Trapper is an agile beast—you could say it’s a hunting panther.


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

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