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Robert Campbell

Accurizing The Venerable M1 Carbine

The commercial Plainfield, above, is shown with a 30-round magazine. The WWII Inland, below, is shown with ammunition and accessories.
The commercial Plainfield, above, is shown with a 30-round magazine. The WWII Inland, below, is shown with ammunition and accessories.

Often dismal as issued, there are a host of options to accurized the M1 Carbine and get the little rifle to sing.

Areas Of the M1 Carbine To Work On:

Among the most popular of all World War II firearms is the U.S. MI Carbine. In my opinion, there is no more enjoyable recreational shooter. Light, handy, light kicking, and very reliable, the Carbine has much to recommend.

M1 Carbine Goes To War

The Carbine was not designed as a battle weapon, but rather as a PDW, or personal defense weapon. Of course, in 1940, that term hadn’t yet been coined, but it was the gun’s purpose, intended to give soldiers behind the lines a weapon light enough to be with them at all times. Tank crewmen, truck drivers, ammo bearers, and officers had previously been armed with a handgun. The idea was to give the troops a service weapon superior to the handgun, but not as heavy and difficult to manage as the M1 Garand. Winchester succeeded admirably, with the introduction of its .30 Carbine.

The M1 Carbine was a traditionally designed rifle in some ways. It featured the typical short stock, with much of the barrel exposed, same as the Springfield and Krag carbines. But the M1 Carbine featured a modern gas-operated action, and, as it featured a 15-round magazine, soldiers were provided a considerable reserve.

.30 Carbine Ammo

Even at 70 years of age, US GI magazines are often reliable. Cheap commercial magazines are another matter.
Even at 70 years of age, US GI magazines are often reliable. Cheap commercial magazines are another matter.

The cartridge was often the subject of discussion. The new round was not a full-power rifle round, but a unique, straight-walled cartridge that has sometimes been compared to magnum-class handgun rounds; it jolts a 110-grain jacketed bullet to a little over 1900 feet per second. The view of this by some was that it did not generate sufficient velocity for effective use past 200 yards—and some say the limit is just 100. Too, the bullet did not break at the cannelure as some bullets will, which means it basically pushed a .30 hole through the target. While criticisms as to the knockdown power of the Carbine are valid and it proved to be a somewhat ineffective battle rifle, in the end, the Carbine, was a wonderful PDW weapon.

Rough Around The Edges

This brings me to another shortcoming of the M1 Carbine, right behind the power deficit of its ammunition. Truthfully, the Carbine is a bit rough around the edges when it comes to accuracy. Another well-known military rifle, the AK 47, suffers from much the same problem, but while the AK is what it is, the Carbine may be helped, and the advantage gained is often worth the effort.

The Inland carbine, above, and the Plainfield, below, differ in detail, but each is a reliable plinker with fair accuracy for tasks inside 100 yards.
The Inland carbine, above, and the Plainfield, below, differ in detail, but each is a reliable plinker with fair accuracy for tasks inside 100 yards.

I have fired my Carbines with South Korean military ammunition, jacketed loads from the major makers, and the newer CorBon DPX loading. While the custom-grade CorBon loading is the most accurate, it is so only by a small margin. A pretty decent M1 Carbine will give you a five-shot group measuring about five inches at 100 yards. An exceptional rifle will go three inches or a little more. For hitting a coyote at 35 yards, the Carbine excels. For long-range work, well, let’s hope your aspirations are recreational. As for ammunition, I am certain there are handloaded combinations that must be more accurate than factory ammunition, but I handload primarily for economy, not for precision. I have tried the proven combinations, and while they are often more accurate than factory loads, it is not by any great margin.

Recently, I elected to tighten up my Carbines as best I could. I have become interested in the Carbines, due to the introduction of the exceptional new CorBon DPX load. Locating the Plainfield at a fair price at a pawn shop was a prompting to me, too, so there we go. The work was straightforward and produced good results, all we can ask.

First things first, you need to know what you’re looking at to begin with. The rifle fieldstrips easily; the locking rat-tail tang at the rear of the receiver and the barrel band are all that hold the rifle together. (Such straightforward assembly works without complaint, but this system isn’t a solid base for accuracy.) Take a look at the rear receiver tang, which engages the recoil plate that is in the stock. If the fit is good when assembled and there is a need to depress the barrel into the stock when fitting the barrel band, then you may have a more accurate rifle. If, on the other hand, the recoil plate fit is loose, the rifle is likely inaccurate.


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Recoil Plate

This is the receiver setting in the stock, showing the relationship to the recoil plate. The recoil plate has been removed for this illustration.
This is the receiver setting in the stock, showing the relationship to the recoil plate. The recoil plate has been removed for this illustration.

The are several means of tightening up the M1 Carbine that are worth a look. First and simplest is to simply tighten the screw holding the recoil plate to the stock. Admittedly, if this is loose, poor accuracy may not be noticeable at close range, but the looser groupings will be noticeable at 100 yards. It is easier to tighten the recoil plate effectively if the recoil plate is fully fitted into the stock. A method I am familiar with from the by-God-and-by-gosh school is to take the recoil plate out and peen it, a tooling maneuver that involves hitting the part until it is longer and therefore produces a tighter friction fit.

Stock

The carbine stock is pretty fat for such a little rifle. The stock lip seems to make little difference. These are typical stocks.
The carbine stock is pretty fat for such a little rifle. The stock lip seems to make little difference. These are typical stocks.

Next, you should examine the stock itself. Remember, the M1 Carbine is primarily a triumph of mass production. It has been produced by the millions and always works, but accuracy was always second to its reliability. (Yeah, the more we look at it, the M1 can almost be called the “American AK!”) Take a look at the stock and be certain it fits the Carbine well. Route out the mortise in the stock that holds the recoil plate if necessary until the barrel, with the rifle assembled, floats about a half inch above the channel in the stock. A few shavings off the back of the stock usually results in a greater effect at the barrel end. Take care and frequently drop the barreled action back into the stock to check your progress.

Barrel Bands

This barrel band has been on the rifle a long time. But the barrel has some upward spring when the band is removed, usually a good sign for potential accuracy.
This barrel band has been on the rifle a long time. But the barrel has some upward spring when the band is removed, usually a good sign for potential accuracy.

Barrel bands are a fertile field for accuracy experiments. There are several types, and I will not pretend to be an expert, but the narrow half-inch bands seem to be the worst for accuracy. They often mismatch the stock and simply do not get the job done. The alternate types that are an inch thick are much betting at snugging up. The best type of barrel band by all reports seems to be the bayonet lug type, but this design is a bit difficult to find. If this band design interests you, check with Fulton Armory first, then the pages of Shotgun News. You will probably be able to obtain decent accuracy with the standard barrel band if you check the recoil plate mortise, but the superior wide bands do help. So, after working with the recoil plate and the recoil plate mortise, then making certain the barrel is flee floating as much as possible, you should be able to observe a difference in accuracy.

Barrel

This is our simple barrel wear gauge. This barrel is good to go and should provide good accuracy.
This is our simple barrel wear gauge. This barrel is good to go and should provide good accuracy.

At this point, barrel wear is a question. The use of noncorrosive ammunition in the M1 Carbine is a great aid in barrel life. In fact, few Carbines will be found with rusty bores. But overaggressive cleaning has shortened the life of many Carbine bores. There are gauges available to test the muzzle to see just how much damage the GI bore cleaner has done, but a more simple test with a centerfire rifle cartridge is adequate for evaluation. Now, the .30 Carbine cartridge is too short to use as a gauge, so use a .308 Winchester or, better still, a .30-06 Springfield cartridge. With the Carbine checked to be certain it is unloaded and with the action locked back, attempt to fit the ball portion of the cartridge into the Carbine muzzle. If the bullet goes in up to the cartridge case mouth, your muzzle is pretty much shot out. If the bullet stops at insertion at about an eighth of an inch, you have a shooter—and in between these two will probably exhibit in-between accuracy. I admit the mechanical gauge is more scientific, but this simple test works well enough to get a preliminary grip on the potential your M1 Carbine might have.

Trigger

Clean the trigger group, and you may improve the action. The author ran his finger across the action of this carbine and came up with considerable congealed oil.
Clean the trigger group, and you may improve the action. The author ran his finger across the action of this carbine and came up with considerable congealed oil.

There is little point in addressing the trigger action. The military two-stage trigger usually breaks at 4.5 to 6 pounds. I would never attempt to file hardened parts to produce a clean break. In any case, those few competitions that specify the M1 Carbine also demand a 4.5 pound or heavier trigger action. What is beneficial is to carefully clean and lubricate the trigger action.

The .30-caliber M1 Carbine is a versatile little rifle. It is usually completely reliable, accurate enough for personal defense and pest popping, and, above all, it is user friendly. While not as inexpensive as it once was, the Carbine still remains an excellent addition to anyone’s tactical repertoire. This is a design with no flies on it.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Gun Digest 2013.

Tactical Revolver: Yes, There Really Is Such A Thing

Ruger, Kimber and Smith & Wesson tactical revolvers.
Ruger, Kimber and Smith & Wesson tactical revolvers.

No, you didn't hear wrong, there is such a thing as a tactical revolver. And it might just be your best bet for EDC and home defense.

What Are Top Tactical Revolver Options:

The term, “tactical,” is defined as “gaining an advantage over an adversary or situation.” The revolver is a tactical tool with many advantages. A firearm that’s remained viable for so many years and has saved so many lives is worth your consideration as an EDC piece. Revolvers are far from outdated for personal defense and, in some situations, might be a better fit for you than a pistol.

If you choose a tactical revolver for personal defense, there are many good choices. As with any handgun, the weight or heft of the piece, its balance and the level of recoil you’re willing to master are important considerations.

Reliability is the baseline for performance. Only after reliability is confirmed are other features considered. The greater maintenance demands and complication of semi-automatic handguns might be daunting to the occasional shooter. However, the revolver is simple: Load, holster, draw, fire.

Ruger Adds More Power, More Rounds

Among the most interesting recent introductions is the Ruger Redhawk .357 Magnum. The Redhawk is proven and has long chambered the powerful .44 Magnum and .454 Casull cartridges. Chambering the Redhawk in .357 Magnum results in a revolver that’s massively overbuilt compared to lightweight revolvers that take a beating from the .357 Magnum cartridge. The .357 Mag. Redhawk is a large handgun (more than 45 ounces), even with its 2.75-inch barrel. In this configuration, the Redhawk is exceptionally well-balanced tactical revolver, and its weight helps absorb the recoil of the powerful .357 Magnum cartridge.

Ruger’s Redhawk is well-made of good material and is very strong--an excellent tactical revolver. A new .357 Magnum variant handles the hot cartridge with ease.
Ruger’s Redhawk revolver is well-made of good material and is very strong. A new .357 Magnum variant handles the hot cartridge with ease.

The Redhawk is on the large side for carry under covering garments but is well-suited for home defense. No handgun is too large to fight with. Subjectively speaking, recoil is light—no more than firing a .38 Special cartridge in a small-framed revolver. The Redhawk .357 Magnum can be fired with affordable, low-recoil .38 Special loads or powerful magnum ammunition.

Ruger introduced two new revolvers based on the GP100 frame. The first is a .44 Special version. This revolver features a non-fluted, five-round cylinder. The lockwork is adapted to manage the five rounds. The feel of the action is different than the six-shot revolver and perhaps a bit longer and smoother. The .44 Special features a 3-inch barrel; its front sight is a fiber-optic unit; and the rear is Ruger’s standard, fully adjustable sight. All this adds up to make the .44 Special GP100 an excellent personal-defense handgun.

Ruger’s compact seven-round version of the GP100 is the author’s favorite new introduction.
Ruger’s compact seven-round version of the GP100 is the author’s favorite new introduction.

While the .357 Magnum enjoys an excellent reputation against motivated adversaries, some prefer the surety of a big-bore cartridge. The .44 Special offers that advantage, and the Ruger GP100 is an excellent vehicle for it.

The Ruger GP100 .44 Special dropped one round in capacity in return for a big-bore cartridge, but Ruger was also working on increasing the capacity of the Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum. The result is the GP100 7-shooter. It feels and handles like a smaller revolver. While it’s only slightly smaller than the 3-inch-barreled .44 Special version, the overall impression is of a smaller handgun. I’ve fired the GP100 7-shooter extensively and adopted it as one of my most important personal-defense handguns.


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The versatility of this wheelgun is unequaled by semi-autos. For example, with mild .38 loads, the GP100 is a pleasant plinker. With .38 Special +P loads, anyone in the family can use it as a tactical revolver for home defense. When I deploy the piece concealed with .357 Magnum defense loads, I’ve got a handgun with proven wound ballistics. In my experience, the only revolver that’s consistently as accurate as the GP100 is the Colt Python (it’s only slightly so), and it takes a good hand to prove it. The GP100’s lockwork in the seven-shot version cycles more quickly than the six-shot variant. This is an estimable revolver and my favorite among the new introductions.

Kimber Ups the Game

A development that’s quickly gained a good reputation is the Kimber K6S .357 Magnum, a light wheelgun that gives those carrying a J-frame revolver an option to move up in both caliber and capacity. The K6S’s cylinder accepts six cartridges, yet this stainless, double-action-only revolver is only fractionally wider than the archetypical five-shot.

Kimber’s addition of high-profile sights to the small-framed K6S revolver is a welcome modification.
Kimber’s addition of high-profile sights to the small-framed K6S revolver is a welcome modification.

The internals are no surprise: The revolver is based on proven lockwork. Kimber took the J-frame action, moved the hammer spring about 5 degrees and changed the hammer’s pivot. The result is a shorter throw than other revolvers, along with a smoother feel. This action allows accurate work well past what is assumed to be snub-nose ranges. While the Kimber has a short sight radius, its excellent trigger action and modern sights make for a superior shooter.

New Smith & Wessons for the Tactician

A few years ago, Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 69 .44 Magnum revolver. Its L frame has been offered in a seven-shot .357 Magnum version for some time. In turn, S&W recently introduced an even lighter version of the Model 69: the Combat Magnum Model 69 in .44 Magnum, which features a 2.75-inch barrel and round butt grip (all S&W revolvers in modern production feature a round butt frame, but the grips are offered in either round or square butt configuration).

Smith & Wesson has reintroduced the Combat Magnum .44 Magnum with a shorter barrel—a praiseworthy decision. It’s a great tactical revolver for those willing to master its heavy recoil.
Smith & Wesson has reintroduced the Combat Magnum .44 Magnum with a shorter barrel—a praiseworthy decision. It’s a great tactical revolver for those willing to master its heavy recoil.

This tactical revolver is more suited to concealed carry than the 4-inch version. With an excellent set of sights and the smooth S&W action, it has much to recommend it. I think most of us will carry it with .44 Special ammunition; but there are .44 Magnum loads that aren’t full power that can be controlled in the Model 69. While I’m a fan of classic S&W revolvers, the newer guns are more durable and more accurate. The frames are strengthened in critical places, and the steel is stronger than ever. Modern CNC machinery ensures the throat and barrel dimensions are a good match and provide excellent practical accuracy.

Revolver Ammo Evolution

There’ve been interesting developments in self-defense ammunition, much of it directed toward revolvers. Among the most interesting is the Black Hills Honey Badger, whose advantage is an all-copper bullet with sharp cutting flutes. This projectile doesn’t depend on expansion for wound potential. The bullet rips and tears tissue immediately—not after the bullet has begun to expand—and cuts tissue.

Federal’s Hydra-Shok .38 Special load offers good ballistic efficiency and excellent expansion.
Federal’s Hydra-Shok .38 Special load offers good ballistic efficiency and excellent expansion.

When it comes to short-barreled revolvers that might not generate enough velocity for reliable hollow-point expansion, the Honey Badger makes a lot of sense. For an all-around defense load, it’s a viable alternative (the 100-grain .38 Special has proven accurate in the new Kimber). The newest addition to the Honey Badger line is a .44 Magnum version. I’ve fired this loading in the S&W Model 69 and found it accurate, clean-burning and not too difficult to control in double-action pairs.

Hornady offers its Critical Defense in popular revolver calibers, including .32 Magnum, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special and .45 Colt. I’ve had the most experience with the .38, .357 and .44 loads. The .357 Magnum is sensibly downloaded from the 1,450 fps, 125-grain standard. At 1,380 fps from a 4-inch-barreled and 1,220 fps from the 2.75-inch-barreled GP100, this load offers excellent expansion and wound potential. The .44 Special and .45 Colt loads breathe new life into older cartridges.

One of the most interesting additions is sure to be a popular choice for snub-nose .38 Special revolvers: Federal’s .38 Special 130-grain Hydra-Shok loading. This bullet is loaded deep into the case to maintain a clean powder burn and limit muzzle flash. The Hydra-Shok features modest recoil, good accuracy and excellent expansion. It’s an outstanding loading for light revolvers.

Packing A Tactical Revolver

Among the most important choices you’ll make is how you’ll carry your tactical revolver. There are holsters that are too soft, inaccessible under clothing and that collapse after the handgun is drawn, making it impossible to holster the piece without loosening the belt. Revolver holsters differ considerably from semi-auto holsters in both design and balance. A revolver holster must keep the cylinder off the beltline. A high-riding holster will keep the revolver close to the body and angled into the draw for real speed. For retention, the holster should be tightly fitted to the revolver along the cylinder and barrel.

Lobo Gun Leather offers a first-class IWB holster that’s well-suited to revolvers.
Lobo Gun Leather offers a first-class IWB holster that’s well-suited to revolvers.

A strong-side holster should always be the first choice. If a covering garment is worn, the strong-side scabbard affords good access and speed. A good choice is the Nelson Holsters Avenger, which keeps the handgun cinched in close to the body by use of a proven belt loop design. The butt is angled into the draw, and a strong holstering welt is designed to allow ease of holstering.

The DM Bullard Combat is a well-designed strong-side holster. Its supple construction keeps the handgun comfortably against the body and is well-suited to heavy, short-barreled handguns such as the Ruger GP100 .44 Special.

Another good choice is the cross-draw. Cross-draw holsters offer access while you’re seated or driving and afford real speed for those who understand how to properly execute the draw. Among the best cross-draw designs is the Galco Hornet. It’s stitched of quality steer hide and has excellent fit.

The default design for concealed carry is the IWB holster, which allows the use of a larger handgun: The main part of it is buried in the pants. Dual belt loops or a strong belt clip is needed. The holstering welt must allow holstering the handgun after it’s drawn—without removing the holster from the inside-the-pants position.

Lobo Gunleather offers IWB designs ideal for revolvers. I especially like Lobo’s rear-clip IWB, which keeps the handgun tight against the body and offers a sharp draw.

The Revo Rig, a new design from Urban Carry, is among the most interesting to come along in decades. This holster system comprises a backing that allows the attachment of different holsters. The same backing can be used for a number of handgun shells. The Revo is available for popular revolvers, including one of my favorites—the S&W Model 442 .38 Special. The backing features dual snaps that lock into the back of the holster, which, itself, is secured by hook-and-loop fasteners. It can be adjusted for forward or backward cant.

Revolvers are more advanced and more suited for everyday carry than ever. With proper training and modern accessories, the tactical revolver is not only a viable choice; it’s the right choice for many.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Tactical Gun Digest.

Range Testing the SIG M17 Civilian Variant

Outside a few nuances, the SIG M17 Civilian Variant is identical to newly minted military service pistol and performs battle tough.

How good is the SIG M17 Civilian Variant:

  • Through a 2,000-round test the pistol never encounted a failure.
  • When firing high-recoil defense loads, the P320 M17 remained controllable.
  • Five-shot groups at 25 yards ranged from 2.5 to 3.5 inches.

The U.S. military recently completed a rigorous test of 9mm high-capacity handguns. The winner likely will serve for a decade or more. SIG’s P320 won the contest and was adopted as the U.S. M17. Several upgrades and modifications were undertaken to meet military standards.

The SIG M17 is a great shooter with many good features, including a 17-round capacity and short, fast trigger.
The SIG M17 is a great shooter with many good features, including a 17-round capacity and short, fast trigger.

Raise Your Sig Sauer IQ

Its modular design was among its most notable strong suits. The firing module is contained in the frame. The steel chassis can be removed and placed into a smaller frame. The slide and barrel can be changed as well. This makes for versatility. In an institutional environment, the modular design makes for easy accommodation of shooters with small and large hands. The pistol is competitively priced. Recently, SIG introduced a civilian version of the U.S. Army’s new pistol: The P320 M17. As range testing proved, it’s an interesting and effective handgun.

SIG M17 Details

The SIG M17 pistol is a service-size handgun at 8 inches long, 5.5 inches high, 1.3 inches wide and 29 ounces unloaded. It ships with two 17-round magazines. The M17 features an ambidextrous slide lock and a well-designed ambidextrous safety. The teardrop-shaped magazine release isn’t ambidextrous but works well for those who practice. The pistol is finished in PVD coyote brown.

The M17 is comfortable to fire from all firing positions.
The M17 is comfortable to fire from all firing positions.

The frame is polymer and the slide is stainless steel beneath the coating. An advantage of the M17 is that the rear sight cover is a night sight unit (it is removable for red-dot use). The front sight is a SIGLITE tritium dot. Disassembly is simple and doesn’t require the trigger to be pressed. The technology is cutting edge. How it shoots is the question I wanted to answer.
Firing Line


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The pistol feels good in the hand with a slightly sharper grip angle than some polymer pistols. The grip feels solid and fits my average-size hands well. The sights provide an excellent sight picture. Many polymer pistols are slide heavy. The M17 is less so than most. The pistol operates like most striker-fired handguns, but the striker isn’t initially prepped as much as the Glock when the slide is racked. This results in a heavier trigger action. The SIG M17 trigger broke at 6.5 pounds on the Lyman electronic trigger-pull gauge. The trigger press is very short, however, and this makes for excellent speed. Reset is rapid. The pistol points well compared to most polymer-frame handguns. A 29 ounces, this 9mm handgun doesn’t kick much and the grip spreads recoil across the hand. Grip pebbling makes for good adhesion.

The M17 is a clean and uncluttered design. It features ambidextrous safety lever, an ambidextrous slide lock and a light rail.
The M17 is a clean and uncluttered design. It features ambidextrous safety lever, an ambidextrous slide lock and a light rail.

My range test put more than 2,000 rounds through the SIG P320 M17. It never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject. It is lively in the hand and tracks well — responding perfectly to a trained shooter. When you are firing at multiple targets, the rule is always the same: fire, allow trigger reset during recoil and fire again as soon as you regain the sight picture. The SIG allows fast hits. Among the training loads I have used is the Federal Syntech in both 115- and 124-grain weights. This load is useful in indoor ranges as it is lead-free and requires less cleaning when used in large quantities.

Accuracy is more than adequate for training well past 25 yards. There are two types of accuracy — practical and intrinsic. Very few people are capable of shooting to the mechanical or intrinsic accuracy level of a pistol. The practical accuracy of the M17 is high.

The M17 responds well to a trained shooter. Reliability was excellent with all of the ammo tested in it.
The M17 responds well to a trained shooter. Reliability was excellent with all of the ammo tested in it.

I proofed the pistol with modern defense loads including Federal’s 124-grain HST, Federal 135-grain Deep Penetrator and Federal HST 147-grain +P. I particularly like the 147-grain +P load. This is an overlooked combination that adds enough velocity to the 147-grain bullet to ensure expansion, yet it isn’t a hard kicker. Like all quality firearms, the M17 prefers one load to others but has demonstrated useful accuracy with all ammo tested.

LoadVelocity (fps)5-Shot 25-Yard Group (in.)
Federal 124-gr. HST1,1902.5
Federal 147-gr. HST9803.0
Federal 135-gr. Deep Penetrator1,0992.8
Federal 124-gr. Syntech1,1003.5
Velocity recorded with a RCBS Ammomaster chronograph.

When firing high-recoil defense loads, the P320 M17 remained controllable. The cadence of fire isn’t set by how fast you are able to press the trigger but by how quickly you are able to regain the sights after recoil. As for absolute accuracy, the pistol was fired from a solid bench using the Bullshooters pistol rest from Brownells. Five-shot groups at 25 yards ranged from 2.5 to 3.5 inches. The pistol is clearly accurate enough for personal defense or service use.

Federal offers first-class personal defense and training ammunition. In the author’s test, the M17 never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject.
Federal offers first-class personal defense and training ammunition. In the author’s test, the M17 never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject.

The SIG P320 M17 9mm offers a considerable advantage over the standard P320 in the sights and finish. The pistol responds well to a trained shooter, but you must remain well-practiced. The M17 trigger, once learned, produces excellent results. The M17 is a credible defense and duty handgun with much to recommend.

SIG P320 M17 SPECS

MODEL: SIG P320 M17
CALIBER: 9mm Luger
ACTION: Semi-auto
GRIP TYPE: Modular polymer
FRAME: Full-size
FRAME MATERIAL: Stainless steel
FRAME FINISH: Stainless steel
SLIDE FINISH: Coyote PVD
SLIDE MATERIAL: Stainless steel
BARREL MATERIAL: Carbon steel
ACCESSORY RAIL: M1913
TRIGGER: Striker
TRIGGER TYPE: Standard
BARREL LENGTH: 4.7 in. (119mm)
OVERALL LENGTH: 8 in. (203mm)
OVERALL WIDTH: 1.3 in. (33mm)
HEIGHT: 5.5 in. (140mm)
WEIGHT: 29.6 oz. (840g)

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Tactical Gun Digest book, available at GunDigestStore.com.


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Accurate And Affordable Handguns For Any Shooter

You will not achieve the best accuracy with a second- or third-rate handgun. Thankfully, there are a number of affordable handguns that still exhibit excellent accuracy.

There are plenty of affordable handguns that are also quite accurate:

  • Handgunners have lots of options when it comes to sidearms.
  • All are not equal, but many will shoot 2 inches at 25 yards for under $1,000.
  • Many accurate and affordable 1911s are being made by popular manufacturers.
  • In terms of hard-hitting, accurate revolvers, don’t overlook some of Ruger’s offerings.
Affordable Handguns Browning-Hi-Power
The Browning Hi Power 9mm was the first “wonder nine” and is a very reliable handgun.

The Most Accurate Handguns

When you consider accuracy you must determine first the use to which the handgun will be put.

A few years ago, I read an article describing how a shooter had a custom-grade Browning Hi Power put together with Novak sights and a Bar-Sto barrel — all great additions. Then the writer, obviously given the wrong assignment to cover, fired the piece at 7 yards and voiced the opinion that a defensive handgun would never be used past that distance!

There are competing demands on the handgun, but the worst case scenario is the one that I consider. I may limit my sure kill range when deer hunting to 35 yards with the .45 ACP, but would 50 yards be too much?

The Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum will stretch that range to all of 100 yards if I do my part. On the other hand, if you are going to shoot at Camp Perry, the emphasis will be on accuracy and the piece must be more accurate than most any off-the-shelf handgun.

Affordable Handguns revolvers
The Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum, top, is a handy, lightweight defensive handgun, while the GP100, lower, is a dandy all-around packing and hunting gun.

There must also be a balance of power and accuracy. The defensive handgun that isn’t going to be called upon past 7 yards may be the pistol on hand when you have the opportunity to stop an active shooter. It should be accurate enough for the chore and it should fire a powerful cartridge.

A target gun need only cut a hole in paper, but it may have to do so at long range. In a defensive handgun, reliability is a million times more important than anything else. In a competition gun, reliability is less important. The occasional malfunction with a .22 is par for the course.

Modern, affordable handguns have stronger, better steel than ever before and tighter tolerances. Modern Smith and Wesson revolvers have tighter throats than ever, resulting in a reduction of the accuracy problems that once dogged the .45 Auto Rim.

Modern Smith and Wesson revolvers in all calibers are more accurate than any previous revolver from this company. Ergonomics and sights are much better than ever before in all quality handguns. Handguns with tighter tolerances simply last longer.

There isn’t much slip or banging of misfit parts when the pistol fires, resulting in less wear. Accuracy and reliability are better, too.

Affordable Handguns Springfield-RO
The author’s go-to 1911 .45 is the Springfield Range Officer Operator. While an affordable handgun, it is also incredibly capable.

Today, we have off-the-shelf 1911 handguns that will deliver accuracy of 2 inches at 25 yards with good loads.

Affordable Handguns -1911Colt, SIG and Springfield 1911s with adjustable sights are available for the serious handgunner. While some experimentation with ammunition is necessary, these handguns are often surprisingly accurate. A modern magnum revolver may be even more accurate.

My personal Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum revolver is the single most accurate handgun I have owned, and I am not alone in this sentiment. The GP 100 has cut a 25-yard group on several occasions of 1 inch or less.

That is an incredible standard and I am certain I cannot shoot up to the capabilities of the handgun on most days, although it appears I have done so on a few occasions.

The better-quality 1911 handguns are among our most accurate pistols, while Magnum revolvers are often very accurate and more accurate, in my experience, than all but the finest self-loading pistols.

Affordable Handguns SIG-Sauer-P210
SIG’s P210 offers legendary performance. Many regard it as the finest-made 9mm handgun of all time. It is difficult to make an argument against that.

As for my personal testing, I could not fire every handgun and type of ammunition on the market. But chances are, the more quality guns will yield similar performance, as a Springfield Range Officer Target model and a SIG target-sighted 1911 tend to perform similarly. These are among the most useful of all handguns. Reliable, accurate and powerful they convey more than a little emotional attachment.

There are other affordable handguns that I find exceptionally pleasing to shoot and very accurate. The aforementioned classic Browning Hi Power is such a timeless design with many good features. I would not be hesitant to stake my life or a contest on a good specimen of one.

My own Hi Power has been fitted with a Bar-Sto Precision barrel, which made a considerable difference in accuracy. The average Hi Power can be expected to group five rounds of quality ammunition such as the Federal HST into 2.5 inches at 25 yards.

The trigger on the Hi Power is notoriously heavy, although later models are better and early handguns sometimes become much smoother with age.

The Bar-Sto fitted Hi Power will shave an inch off that group given proper fitting and carefully chosen ammunition. The SIG P210 is even more accurate straight from the factory, but very expensive and leaving something to be desired as for the location of its safety and general handling.

Affordable Handguns Ruger-GP100
The new Match Target version of the GP100 has features that make it more ergonomic than the standard model. Accuracy is easier to come by with this handgun.

The CZ 75 is respected for ruggedness and reliability. And it has a good reputation for accuracy. Although the contest is a tight one, in general the CZ 75 will outshoot the Browning Hi Power. It takes a fine shot to demonstrate this — and benchrest accuracy is theoretical when comparing combat guns — but I had rather have the CZ 75 in a fight than any other 9mm handgun. It is that good and the combination of features is excellent.

If you desire an accurate belt gun that is capable of personal defense at long range in the most demanding circumstances, of taking game and engaging in IDPA and ISPSC matches, the list of suitable, affordable handguns gets pretty short.

I have shot most of the available handguns and find that some are more accurate than others. The accurate handgun should also be capable of using a target load with less recoil than the full power service loads. This is very important in bettering your marksmanship skill.

After a long session with the .45 ACP, recoil sneaks up, giving you sore wrists. A good supply of medium-velocity handloads or target loads makes life easier.

In the revolver, target wadcutters or lead semi-wadcutters (SWC) loads are great practice loads. I recommend a diet of ten practice loads for every one full power service load. Both you and the handgun will last longer with this type of ammunition.

I recommend purchasing quality, yet affordable handguns and spending much more on ammunition. In addition, handloading is mandatory for marksmanship growth.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from The Accurate Handgun, available now at GunDigestStore.com

4 Types Of Handgun Shooters — Which Are You?

You need to give your own handgun skills an honest appraisal. From novice to expert, these standards will encourage the average shooter to excel and present a basis for procedure.

  • Handgun shooters can be classified by novice, beginner, specialist and expert.
  • An honest evaluation of your handgun skill level is necessary to advance.
  • A novice may not win a fight, while a professional should be decisive in a battle.
Note Jessie Duff’s grip and trigger finger position — she gets it right and wins the big money! handgun shooters
Note Jessie Duff’s grip and trigger finger position — she gets it right and wins the big money!

Novice
The novice may be able to safely load, unload and handle his or her personal sidearm with a minimal amount of fumbling. Their level of competence is more broad than deep. This is the beginning level for each of us.

While indeed minimal, it is the common skill level of quite a few non-dedicated service personnel. Shooters at this level may not survive gunfights. It really depends upon their mindset.

At short range, marksmanship problems are not severe, but the combat mindset is questionable. Shooters in this class are likely recreational shooters on the civilian side. Peace officers at this level maintain their marginal skill by yearly qualification.

Many look forward to these qualifications as much as they looked forward to high school fire drills. Their tactical mindset is influenced more by the media than reality. Among this group you will find many that rely upon skills they cannot demonstrate. The single greatest shortcoming among this group is a lack of complete familiarity with their sidearm.

The author demonstrating a good, solid grip with the thumbs forward and proper trigger finger placement. Handgun shooter
The author demonstrating a good, solid grip with the thumbs forward and proper trigger finger placement.

Beginner/Proficient
The beginner may be a product of a personal training program or an agency with quarterly qualifications. Their training is likely to be relatively narrow but perceived as adequate.

Some within this group realize there is room for improvement. It is important to note that this is the highest level of skill sustainable by many with job and family demands. A homeowner who keeps a firearm primarily for home defense has done well to reach this level. A peace officer trained to this level who combines his skill with streetwise tactics will be a formidable shooter.

This is the highest level of skill to which administrative qualifications will lead. While common street thug adversaries are often at the duffer level, some criminals reach the beginner-proficient level.

In my experience, very few of our protein-fed, ex-con criminal class rise past the novice level. The proficient class of shooters is common among those who shoot in IDPA matches. The proficient level of skill is sustainable with monthly practice and not out of the reach of anyone of normal strength and dexterity.

Specialist
This level isn’t one that you arrive at by accident. Hard work is needed.

The specialist is good at a number of skills. He or she will deploy a top-grade handgun and be able to use it well. This person knows the likely threat profile and practices diligently to address this threat.

Well-versed in the tactics and skills likely to be needed in a personal protection scenario, they are able to handle unexpected problems. The specialist is often deeply opinionated, has formal training and often gravitates to training others.

52Colt’s Maggie Reese demonstrates an excellent all-around firing grip and trigger finger placement. handgun shooters
Colt’s Maggie Reese demonstrates an excellent all-around firing grip and trigger finger placement.

The Professional
The professional has a lot of answers dependent upon the situation. He is conversant in marksmanship and gun handling as well as advanced tactics. He is familiar with a number of firearms.

While he has opinions concerning firearms, he regards each as a tool. The professional does not consider training the goal but a means to an end. His marksmanship skills are well-honed and consistent.

He has fewer bad days and brilliant moments than the rest of us, but rather his skill is consistent. He is responsible for his actions and strives to learn new tactics while respecting the tactics and skills that saved his life in the past. His skills are demonstrably superior to most of those he trains but they are hard-won.

While the specialist is a product of official training, the professional may only be produced by diligent effort on his own time — and his own dime. His training time is measured in thousands of hours. I know such men. Three have run my training classes and two were United States Marines. I also attended a class as a student with such a marksman (the only one in his class at the course), and he too was a Marine. I have no military experience and I can only state that the Marines are doing something right.

As for the third I met, he was a U.S. Army veteran that had been injured overseas. Despite muscle tremors that challenged his considerable skill he aced the course and demonstrated extraordinary ability. Very few instructors have the privilege of training such men.

Editor's Note:This article is an excerpt from The Accurate Handgun, available now at GunDigestStore.com

Handgun Training: Why Nothing Beats A .22!

The .22 is useful for many chores, but perhaps most important is handgun training to improve marksmanship.

Why is a .22 rimfire a good choice for handgun training?

  • .22 rimfire ammo is affordable and offers virtually no recoil.
  • New and experienced shooters alike benefit from .22 handgun practice.
  • There are many new releases of .22 LR-chambered handguns
  • S&W's Victory and Ruger’s Mark IV in Target or Competition are good examples.

The more you use the handgun, the more you are familiar with it and the better shot you will be.

A proven resource in creating a marksman is the use of inexpensive .22-caliber ammunition and firearms. The rimfire offers little or no recoil, minimal report and good accuracy.

22 handgun training - 131
If you own a full-caliber defensive revolver, having a .22 counterpart to it makes a fantastic understudy for training.

It is recognized as a foundational training aid for pure marksmanship, that is, trigger control and learning sight alignment and sight picture.

In today’s tight economy, we see both .22-caliber conversions and dedicated firearms of the diminutive caliber pressed into service in training. With the high and increasing costs of training, .22 conversion units and purpose-built rimfire guns are a good buy.

Any way you slice it, the difference in price between rimfire and centerfire ammunition allows you to fire many more rounds of rimfire than is possible in a single service cartridge of centerfire. The .22 can be used in ranges that would not be safe with high-powered firearms.

My first .22 revolver was an Arminius swing-out cylinder double-action from Germany. It was a great revolver, with high-visibility fixed sights and a relatively smooth trigger action. It featured a nine-shot cylinder and six-inch barrel, as well as hand-fitting grips.

I shot over 2,000 cartridges in it the first summer I owned it. A lot of hard work earned the revolver and those cartridges, even though they were less than a dollar a box and I think eight or nine dollars per five-hundred round brick. I fired it until the vent rib fell off! (The Arminius was an affordable brand not to be confused with the junk-grade RG.)

22 handgun training - 124
It isn’t a bad idea to have a rimfire doppelganger for the centerfire handgun. A 1911 .45 and a 1911 .22 are a classic combination.

I graduated to a Smith and Wesson Kit Gun, which I did not use very well, trained at college in the Criminal Justice program with a first-quality Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece, and later a Ruger Single Six. I shot these .22s every chance I had.

They were simple to use well, accurate, affordable to shoot and friendly for extensive handgun training. By friendly, I mean no sharp edges and a decent trigger pull combined with low recoil and good, practical accuracy.

I simply enjoyed shooting but, as time went by, I became a better shot. Quite a few shooters purchasing more powerful handguns such as the .357 Magnum for their first revolver had unprofitable experiences.

They learned how flinch destroys accuracy and the economic reality of attempting to become a good shot with expensive factory ammunition. Some folks develop bad shooting habits and become doubtful of their own ability.

22 handgun training - 128
The Charter Arms Pathfinder is a neat little revolver for field or tackle box use. It isn’t the most accurate revolver but it is light and handy.

When you choose your personal .22, the field is broad and there are a number of choices that give good results. The Walther P22 and the similar Ruger SR22 are lightweight handguns, but provide respectable results in training. They are not as accurate as the Ruger Standard Model but are usually reliable and useful for training.

Your first .22 should not be too small. A 2-inch barrel revolver is too light for most shooters to deal with as a first gun — its short sight radius will play against you.

22 Handgun training - 138
Ruger’s new Mark IV .22 is a great addition to the Ruger line. It’s a very accurate handgun.

A reasonably light handgun, such as a 4-inch barrel revolver is a better choice, or even the Walther P22 I mentioned earlier. If you are going to use the handgun and carry it consistently in the field and on the range, then light weight and comfort are important. If the handgun is too heavy it will be at home instead of on the hip in your handgun training.

Accuracy should not be compromised. And the baseline for what you wish to accomplish must be considered.

An all-around field gun should be accurate enough to take a squirrel in a tall tree, behead a dangerous snake at a few paces, and provide meaningful practice.

Accuracy and weight must be balanced. While the ultra-lights are not accurate enough for some uses, the Ruger MK III with 4-inch barrel is light enough and offers a combination of good hand fit and excellent accuracy. The Ruger is the standard by which all others are judged, and most typically come up short.

22 Handgun training - 136
Smith and Wesson’s Victory .22 is a great shooter and one of the bright stars introduced recently.

Smith & Wesson Victory .22

The new Smith and Wesson Victory .22 is a solid choice that performs exceptionally well. The Victory just may become the new baseline in .22 pistols. Let’s take a hard look at it and then you can judge the others based on the performance of this handgun.

The Victory has garnered a lot of interest since its introduction. It is intended to compete with similar .22s such as the Browning Buckmark and Ruger Standard Model.

As such, it has good features, is reliable, and has acceptable accuracy. The price point is also important. Smith and Wesson’s previous .22 self-loaders were not in the same class as this pistol and, as such, high hopes have been pinned on the Victory, not without justification.

The Victory is a modern .22 with tons of useful features and excellent performance. Known as the “SW22,” it’s a winner and a fun gun as well. Smith and Wesson calls the SW22 Victory a “modern, classic target pistol.” Indeed, it fits the bill in that sense — a handgun intended for informal target practice, marksmanship training and small game hunting. It isn’t a Smith and Wesson Model 41, but then what is?

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from The Accurate Handgun, available now at GunDigestStore.com.

How To Properly Define Handgun Accuracy

“Mechanical” and “practical” accuracy are two ways of defining handgun accuracy, and each are tested in much different fashions.

  • Your gun is accurate if it's accurate in the role it performs and consistent with more than one load.
  • Good intrinsic accuracy is the result of good barrel fitting and proper slide-to-barrel fit.
  • Practical accuracy refers to good accuracy in the hands of a proficient shooter.
  • Intrinsic accuracy is easy to test; practical accuracy is more difficult to quantify.

A few years ago, I was at a public shooting range and a young shooter was directed to me by a range master who knew I was a certified instructor. The young man was shooting a third-rate revolver at 15 yards. His .357 Magnum featured a 4-inch barrel, fully adjustable sights and a five-shot cylinder. Its best feature was hand-fitted wood grips.

He’d splattered 15 shots all over the target — some high, some low — with the group an estimated 15 inches. He asked if he needed to adjust his sights! I groaned. After recommending he begin with .38 Special loads from a rest, I think I set the young man on the right track. I have seen others engage soda cans at 25 yards and never seem to miss, yet they do not shoot paper targets.

Testing a handgun for accuracy

When testing your handgun for accuracy, you need a standard against which you can draw valid comparison. What is good handgun accuracy and what is satisfactory for the average shooter? Consider accuracy by class of firearms. For example, 6-inch barrel magnum revolvers are one class, 9mm service pistols another and 1911 .45s a third.

Handgun accuracy isn’t necessarily the measure of a single group, but rather how closely the gun places each shot together on the target over multiple groups. How small will the grouping be time after time when the shooter is capable of shooting the handgun for accuracy?

The term used a century ago was mean dispersion, a term that has much validity. If your handgun is accurate enough for the chores to be done in the role it performs, and is consistent in its accuracy with more than one load, then it's an accurate handgun.

Types Of Handgun Accuracy

If the handgun has a high level of dispersion, then it isn’t accurate. There are two levels of handgun accuracy. First, accuracy that is a result of the design and manufacture of the firearm and its intrinsic tolerances. This is intrinsic accuracy. Good barrel fitting and proper slide-to-barrel fit, as well as tight machining and proper steel result in good intrinsic accuracy.

Practical accuracy is how easily the handgun produces good accuracy in the hands of a proficient shooter. Practical accuracy is affected by the sights, trigger and even such things as a sharp edge (or lack thereof) on the grip tang.

Mechanical accuracy is easily tested. Simply bolt the handgun into a machine rest. It doesn’t matter if the pistol has sights or not. I do not use a machine rest, but I admit that it's the best means of testing a handgun’s performance in a mechanical sense. Then you need only attempt to learn to shoot up to the handgun’s mechanical limitations.

Handgun accuracy

Practical handgun accuracy is more difficult to quantify. Nothing fits my hand like the 1911. When I grip the 1911, something says “friend.” When something has saved your life more than once, you may feel that way, too. In common with the Single Action Army, military service has ensured a long afterlife with ol’ slab sides.

While I enjoy the 1911 immensely, the marvelously modern Beretta Neos is among the best-shaped and ergonomically practical handles I have ever felt. It's as close to perfect as possible for my personal needs. Yet, I avoided the piece for several years due to its wild look. That is to my detriment.

The Smith and Wesson Victory .22 is another beautifully shaped handgun. Others like the feel of the Glock, CZ or the SIG. To be fair, I recognize the SIG series as among the most accurate handguns in the world. I find the CZ 75 pistol suits me better overall, though, and I take the gun on its own merits.

In practical terms, I'm able to use one as well as the other in offhand fire. I never point shoot, but some handguns do have a better natural point of aim, an aid in getting the handgun lined up with the eyes quickly. Heft and balance are important attributes to consider when shooting offhand. The terms natural point and comfortable grip mean a lot in accuracy testing.

No individual shooter is correct in his recommendations on hand fit as this comfort level varies from one shooter to the next. But intrinsic accuracy is a constant. A handgun is only so accurate. A good shooter may shoot right up to the capability of a pistol, but he cannot make it do more than it was able to do from the factory. If the trigger is heavy and the sights poor, you will not be able to shoot up to the handgun’s capability whatever that may be.

The shooter is much the same. We all have different capabilities and hand sizes, as well as differences in vision. Personally, I simply cannot grasp my hands around the Glock 21 and use it well. Yet, I can shoot it well enough to know that it's a soft-kicking .45 and quite accurate. Much the same goes for the Glock Model 20 10mm, which I feel is the most accurate production Glock.

You have to decide how much accuracy is adequate for your tasks. For competitors, the bar is raised higher and higher. However, most shooters can be satisfied with a certain level of accuracy. The hunter has an 8-inch kill zone in a deer, but we all like to strike closer to the center of the vitals. Just the same, the range at which he may consistently hold an 8-inch group might be his maximum.

There are some that state that a tight and accurate handgun isn’t the most reliable. This isn’t true at all. The SIG P-Series has been firmly established as one of the most accurate handguns among service-grade pistols, but they're also proven to be the most reliable in rugged institutional testing.

A properly set up match-grade 1911 is much the same. This combination of handgun accuracy and reliability isn’t inexpensive. Witness the price of the incredibly beautiful and accurate SIG P210. It's a wonderful handgun and a joy to shoot, even out to 100 yards. If you want accuracy, however, a Browning Hi Power with a Bar-Sto Precision barrel will run right at the heels of the SIG and perhaps equal its accuracy in a much less expensive package.

Handgun Accuracy

When the pucker factor is high and your life is on the line, service-grade accuracy is more than enough. This is generally stated to be 4 inches for five shots at 25 yards. I have tested most of the service-grade handguns. While the practical accuracy of the Glock 19 9mm, as an example, isn’t on a par with the tighter and more ergonomic pistols at longer range when firing offhand or from a solid benchrest, the Glock is more than accurate. But, you have to fire the pistol properly to test and evaluate this accuracy.

Frankly, too many shooters simply do not shoot well enough to notice any practical accuracy among such handguns. A Glock, SIG, or Beretta is all the same and the simpler the better. And yet I have to admit this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

While it's great to have personal preferences, if I were issued the SIG P226, Beretta 92, CZ 75 or Glock 17, I would not wax poetic over the considerable differences in handling, sights and trigger action but would instead master the piece to the best of my ability. The bottom line is that there is little that can be done, tactically, with one that cannot be done with any of the others. Sure, perhaps I would prefer the Rex Zero 9mm over them all, but then I could easily pass a qualification course with any of these handguns.

If you are after the bottom line in handgun accuracy, you need to learn to shoot first. Only then do the differences between models become glaringly apparent. With the service-grade 4-inch group, all shots should be within 2 inches of the point of aim given a perfect trigger press and sight alignment. I have higher standards than that, but I do not wish to give house room to a handgun that groups into more than 3 inches at 25 yards. But then, I am able to test and evaluate the handguns and tell the difference.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from The Accurate Handgun.

Is The 9mm Luger The Best All-Around Defensive Cartridge?

The 9mm Luger has always been a widely used cartridge ever since its introduction in 1902, and it remains highly popular among American shooters.

Why is the 9mm America's most popular handgun caliber?

  • The 9mm's popularity has sky rocketed, offering shooters a high-powered round that is still manageable.
  • Married to the most popular military sidearm in the world, the Browning Hi-Power, the acceptance of the versatile German cartridge soon spread.
  • More recently, the 9mm has become a popular concealed carry caliber, due to even new shooters being able to master the most important factor to defensive shooting in pistols chambered for it — shot placement.
  • Affordability, wide selection of guns and solid ballistics all continue to make the 9mm the most shot round in the country.

While there may be better cartridges for some situations, none have the winning combination of power, accuracy and economy exhibited by the 9mm Luger. When handgun and ammunition sales are rung up, shooters vote with their hard-earned dollars, and after all these years, the Nine wins the popularity contest.

It remains much more popular than the .40 and the .45. The .40 S&W is a compromise caliber but doesn’t seem to have won many converts outside of police work, and that position has been seriously eroded. The .40’s snappy recoil in compact handguns is one reason for its loss in popularity. Another is that the 9mm is practically as effective as the .40 given the new breed of highly developed 9mm ammunition.

The 9mm is a high-powered handgun cartridge — there is no doubt about that, but it isn’t a cartridge that demands a burly he-man to control it. Slightly built shooters and female shooters have no problem with the 9mm when proper technique is applied. The caliber is so popular that it is being offered in handguns that once were bastions of the .45. Ruger’s introduction of the SR1911 9mm has been met with great applause and expectation. This handgun is easy to shoot well and accurate. An aluminum-frame 1911 is easy to carry all day and the lightweight Ruger 9mm doesn’t kick much compared to the lightweight .45. Yet, with modern loads, the 9mm has real authority. Even the .38 Super has lost a portion of its limited popularity with the improvement of the 9mm Luger.

Honor Defense in 9mm.

The 9mm has come a long way since its introduction as a German service cartridge in 1902. The German Luger was used extensively in World War I, and the first submachine guns were chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge.

Introduced in 1935, the Browning Hi-Power went on to become the single most popular service pistol in the world. The armed forces of over 100 nations acquired the Browning, all in 9mm Luger chambering. After World War II the allies had excellent 9mm SMGs in the form of the Sten and Sterling, and others were developed. The 9mm Luger became the 9mm NATO cartridge in due course.

Along the way there have been certain milestone handguns that made the popularity of the 9mm handgun inevitable. The ascendency of the Browning Hi-Power handgun is one milestone. Another is the adoption of the 9mm Luger cartridge by Poland for use in their Radom pistol. This is to the best of my knowledge the first instance of the adoption of the service cartridge of an enemy nation based purely on performance. The Walther P38 was a highly influential 9mm handgun. The allies were so impressed with the P38 that eventually the United States adopted a highly modified P38 pistol in the form of the Beretta 92. Today, the Beretta A3 variant is the current service pistol, and by all indications will continue to serve well into the next decade. (Editor's Note: Following the results of the Army's Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition this year, it looks like SIG's P320 will be the next service handgun)

It is also a good cartridge for concealed-carry handguns. It is controllable in a handgun of 21 ounces or more. In compact pistols such as the Glock 19, the cartridge is downright docile. A steel-frame pistol such as the Browning Hi-Power or CZ 75 offers brilliantly fast recovery from recoil. The 9mm is easily controlled in the larger pistols and never becomes a bear even in subcompacts.


More 9mm Information:


Even shooters who later will move on to heavier calibers should begin with the 9mm Luger cartridge. I have seen a number of students come to my shooting classes with a handgun that recoils too much. A new student will likely become discouraged or develop a flinch that is difficult to train away. The single most important component of combat marksmanship is shot placement. The typical beginning shooter is well served with the 9mm. If you insist on a larger caliber you should learn to use a full-size-frame handgun if you choose the .45, or a Glock 22-size if you choose the .40 caliber. If the pistol is too heavy, you will not carry it — and if it kicks too much you will not practice with it.

There are several more reasons why the 9mm remains so popular.

Economy
It isn’t unusual to see special deals on the price of 9mm Luger ammunition. Full-metal-jacket (FMJ) loads are commonly available at good prices. Just check the ammo section of Cheaper Than Dirt!, Midsouth Shooters Supply, Brownells or Cabela’s for bargains. Sale prices for 9mm FMJ is often half the price of comparable .40- and .45-caliber loads. Even premium defensive ammo is less than the larger calibers. On average, my recent searches indicate that ammunition can be found in 500-round quantities for the average price of 350 rounds of comparable .45 ACP cartridges. This means more practice. Yet, it is the larger caliber that demands more practice ammunition to master! Use the logic ladder.

The Guns
Some of the finest handguns in the world are chambered in 9mm Luger caliber. These include the SIG P226, Beretta 92, HK VP9 and the Glock 19. They are famously reliable and accurate. Even inexpensive pistols such as the Canik T 100 will get the job done, simply with a little less style. In compact carry guns, the Smith and Wesson Shield, Glock 26 and Springfield XD are excellent choices. This year has seen the introduction of the Ruger SR1911, the Honor Defense Honor Guard and the Arex Rex Zero, all of which exhibit excellent quality.

The Beretta M9A3 in 9mm.

Ballistics
This is the big question. Despite some pretty strange statements and non-standard science, the 9mm cannot produce a wound equal to the .45 ACP, given similar bullet technology. The .40 S&W and the .357 Magnum give superior results in testing. But then the 9mm can be enough with the proper load, and that is the bottom line. A loading with good quality control and cartridge integrity is the first choice. Every maker doesn’t have the same quality control, primer seal and case mouth seal, and especially bullet technology. The loading must maintain the balance of expansion and penetration. This means adequate penetration must not be compromised. This means 12 inches of water or gelatin. (Law enforcement, with the need to penetrate barriers and vehicles, needs more penetration.) It has enough energy to maintain high-velocity penetration and expansion.

No, the 9mm isn’t my choice for defense against a pack of feral dogs or a bear, but for most personal defense situations, the 9mm has the necessary power with proper loads to get the job done. And the best loads mean a lot! The 9mm FMJ loads we use for practice are poor defensive loads, but then few of us deploy a FMJ load if we have a choice. Good control, accuracy and a good balance of expansion and penetration work. As an example, Hornady recently introduced a 124-grain XTP +P load in the American Gunner line. This loading is affordable and offers excellent performance from my personal testing. Also, Winchester offers the PDX in 124-grain +P that offers excellent wound ballistics.

The Ruger SR1911 in 9mm.

If you prefer not to use a +P loading, there are a number of standard loads that offer good performance. Black Hills Ammunition offers the EXP (Extra Power) loading that is as fast as possible in 9mm without going into +P territory. Performance is excellent. The SIG Sauer Elite 124-grain V Crown is also a good, fast load not +P rated. The Hornady Critical Defense 115 grain is another solid choice. Winchester’s Silvertip has been around for decades, although the newest version is considerably improved over the original. These loads all offer good performance, are readily available and exhibit excellent quality control. Federal’s 124-grain HST is another good choice. Federal recently introduced a low-recoil 150-grain HST specifically for use in compact 9mm handguns. Performance is interesting. While recoil is low, expansion is good.

The 9mm’s future? It is more popular than ever and is an excellent choice for personal defense — given a reliable handgun and intelligent ammunition choice.

Editor's Note: This article is from Gun Digest 2018.

The Birth of the 1911 Pistol

The 1911 is one of the most iconic firearms and was born of a long process of refinement and innovation. Photo <a href="https://www.adamsguns.com/" target="_blank" rel=
Adams Guns” width=”500″ height=”306″> The 1911 is one of the most iconic firearms and was born of a long process of refinement and innovation. Photo Adams Guns

The 1911 is among the most recognizable pistol designs in the world, but the semiautomatic was not born overnight. In fact, the iconic firearm was a long, though worthwhile, effort to come up with a top-notch military sidearm.

Back in 1899 everyone sang Aud Lang Syne- and so the song goes. At the same time, the Mauser broomhandle pistol was gaining acceptance as a reliable and effective self-loading pistol. John Moses Browning developed the Colt 1900 .38 ACP pistol, and adventurers such as the up-and-coming T. E. Lawrence and western lawmen relied upon the single-action revolver. The United States Army was disappointed with the Colt .38 revolver and was actively looking to replace the Colt 1892 with a self-loading pistol. The Colt 1900 pistol was studied, and the German Luger was tested as well. John Browning and Colt were gaining much experience, as Browning designed small-caliber pistols and Colt manufactured them. The inertial firing pin, grip safety, enclosed slide, and tilting-link barrel were developed in these handguns. Browning also experimented with both internal and external extractors. Various hammerless designs were marketed, and while they were actually concealed-hammer pistols, the smooth slide design was popular.

Browning pioneered the locked-breech action as other makers struggled with adapting self-loading handguns to powerful cartridges. The Mauser 1896 used an oscillating wedge that worked well enough. This system was later used in the Walther P38 and today is in use with the Beretta 92 pistol. The Luger borrowed the Henry rifle’s toggle lock, or perhaps Hugo Borchardt was impressed by Maxim’s adaptation of the toggle for machine guns. Browning used the locked-breech operating principle. This design features a barrel and slide that remain locked as the pistol recoils. The barrel tilts at a certain point in its travel, and upon firing, the slide and the barrel recoil together. As the bullet exits the barrel and pressure abates, the slide and barrel separate, and the slide rushes forward to strip another round from the magazine and into the chamber. Practically every modern handgun now uses the Browning locked-breech design.

The Beginning
When the Army wanted a .45-caliber pistol, Browning took a hard look at his 1900 design, which was already refined into the 1903. The .45 ACP cartridge was designed to be the same length as the .38 ACP, with a .900-inch-long cartridge case, which simplified some of the development. He eliminated the 1900’s dual links and used only one swinging link in the 1911, but the 1905 and 1907 Colt pistols still used not only dual links, but also the locking slot for the barrel used with the 1900. Just the same, the barrel bushing and trigger action later used in the 1911 were beginning to appear in the 1907 version of the Colt .45 automatic. In the style of the day, the Colt 1907 was offered with a shoulder stock slot (gangsters later modified the 1911 to shoulder stock status, along with extended magazines and even a full auto selector switch). The hammer style, lanyard loop, and ejection port received considerable attention. The somewhat square original grip angle was retained from the 1900 pistol.

The pistol was a good effort but Army testing found this Colt lacking. Safety was one concern, as the lack of a positive manual safety was a drawback for mounted use. The grip angle was rated uncomfortable. My research indicates that cavalry tests included carrying the Colt cocked and unlocked and ready to fire in the holster. Racking a slide was unacceptable for one-hand operation in a headlong battle from horseback and carrying the pistol loaded with the hammer down seemed unacceptable.

The pistol was further developed following a poor rating by the Army. Work on the Colt .45 automatic continued through the 1909 and 1910 models. The most noticeable change was the grip design. The dual links were finally eliminated. Seminal work on safety features included the addition of a grip safety, but the slide lock or thumb safety was last in development. The various mechanical improvements are important, but the improvements in the grip angle and handling are equally important. The proof of the 1911 Colt was an intensive firing test. The 1911 .45 was fired until too hot to handle, quenched in water for cooling, then fired until 6,000 rounds were exhausted without a malfunction. There were a couple of things the Army wanted they did not get, so a compromise was made. These wants included a loaded chamber indicator and a round counter. The brass round counter of the Savage 99 rifle may have made an impression upon the military but the practical application wasn’t, well, practical. The 1911 magazine has witness holes for counting rounds. Modern 1911s have slots in the barrel for checking the loaded state but the press check is the most foolproof method of checking for a round in the chamber.

Schematic of the 1911 pistol.
Schematic of the 1911 pistol.

First Combat Action And The Rare “Black Army” Model
The 1911 acquitted itself well in the Philippines action. Rushed to the war zone immediately after adoption, hard-pressed soldiers put the 1911 to task. The 1911 went with Pershing to Mexico and then to Europe during World War One. It was during World War One that a now uncommon variation was introduced. Colt was used to producing a few thousand guns a year, but now the Army needed 300,000. As a result, Colt cut corners in some production demands, and one of the cut corners resulted in less polish and a darker finish. This became known as the “Black Army” finish. These handguns became rare after the war for two reasons: First, Colt’s contract was canceled after the war ended. Second, most of the Black Army guns were refinished after World War One, and many were refinished in the new Parkerizing used during World War Two. The Army .45 did the business like no other, but as often happens at the end of a war, there was a list of complaints concerning the 1911. After World War one, Colt was asked to instigate a number of detail changes in the 1911 handgun. The 1911 was ushered off the stage, and the 1911A1 was developed.

This article is an excerpt of Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to the 1911, 2nd Edition by Robert K. Campbell.

Handgun Review: Sphinx SDP

The Sphinx 9mm pistol is well made of the finest materials and exhibits first-class performance.
The Sphinx 9mm pistol is well made of the finest materials and exhibits first-class performance.

The 9mm Sphinx SDP is a product of a desire to produce a world-class handgun, a goal that has been achieved.

Three supplied grip inserts allow the shooter to find a comfortable, custom fit.
Three supplied grip inserts allow the shooter to find a comfortable, custom fit.

The handgun covered in this report is arguably among the finest finished and fitted handguns in the world. It is manufactured by Sphinx Systems Ltd. of Switzerland, a firm that is enjoying more than 140 years as a tool and precision manufacturing company.

The present pistol is the result of long experience in producing quality handguns, including the original Sphinx and a number of CZ 75-inspired clone guns. These handguns have proven accurate and reliable. However, for many reasons, including currency trades, the pistols are often very expensive. Quality handguns are not inexpensive, but as the price reaches $2,000 or more, buyers are few. Sphinx set out to develop a handgun with excellent performance but which might be sold for a price in the middle range—in this case about $1,350. Sphinx developed the SDP series to fill this role.
The handguns are well-finished by any standard and offer excellent performance. They are not inexpensive, but they are affordable.

There is much that is familiar with the Sphinx pistol. It uses the proven short recoil system and a locked breech design that began with the Browning patents. The pistol’s construction is interesting. While the slide, barrel and critical parts are of steel, the upper portion of the frame is aluminum. The lower receiver is of a modern polymer. This is an unusual construction. While polymer is lighter than steel and less expensive, this mix of materials isn’t easily mastered.

The Sphinx 9mm features a front rail to allow the use of a modern combat light such as the Viridian.
The Sphinx 9mm features a front rail to allow the use of a modern combat light such as the Viridian.

The appearance of the slide is a clue to the pride with which this handgun was produced. In a day when many gunmakers are attempting to cut corners and limit machine work, the Sphinx slide requires extensive machine work. The bevels are very well done. The slide features forward cocking serrations, and the ejection port machine work is artfully accomplished.

Another feature is that the slide rides inside of the frame. This gives the practiced eye a clue to the lineage of the Sphinx handgun. It is based upon the durable and well-respected CZ 75 handgun. The slide’s position inside of the frame limits muzzle flip, as the bore axis remains low. This is a difficult feat to achieve with a double-action handgun. The contact between the slide and frame is tight, resulting in high accuracy potential.

As for the sights, the rear sight is dovetailed in place. The front sight is not a common dovetail but is firmly attached in a trough that runs from the forward section of the slide to the rear of the front sight. This is an excellent setup that anchors the sights well. The rear sight may be drifted to adjust the point of impact for windage. The sights provide a good sight picture.

The action is contained in the aluminum section of the receiver. The double-action first-shot trigger is similar to that of the CZ 75, with a recurved trigger offering good leverage. The double-action trigger pull is tight, long and heavy, as these often are, breaking the sear at about 14 pounds. The single-action trigger is clean at 5.5 pounds with the modest backlash common to the CZ 75 and its variants.

The only controls are the slide lock and the de-cocking lever. There is no manual safety.
The only controls are the slide lock and the de-cocking lever. There is no manual safety.

Controls include a slide lock, a frame-mounted de-cocker and a magazine release. The hammer is bobbed with no hammer spur. The de-cocker is ambidextrous. There is no manual safety and no provision for carrying the pistol cocked and locked. The frame is bobbed to prevent snagging on covering garments. The frame features a light rail for mounting laser aiming devices or a combat light.

Unlike most CZ 75-based handguns, the Sphinx can be adjusted for hand fit. This is due to the inclusion of the polymer grip frame component. Additional grip inserts are included in the hard plastic box supplied with the Sphinx.

The polymer grip frame feels good in the hand, with the heft consistent with a quality CZ 75 handgun. When you look at the de-cocker and the magazine release, it is obvious that a lot of care goes into producing high-grade checkering on each of these parts. The grip frame offers plenty of abrasion as the result of a serrated finish. There is a removable backstrap that allows for good hand-to-gun fit. There is a total of three straps. The front strap features slight finger grooves.
Three steel magazines that hold 15 rounds of 9mm Luger ammunition are provided.

The Sphinx in every detail is an impressive piece of Swiss workmanship. No corners have been cut. It exhibits high precision in the detail work and excellent slide-to-frame fit. This is a tight handgun. The slide rides in the frame with excellent lockup. Lateral play is practically non-existent. The frame feels good, and the pistol is well balanced. The slide is short, giving the pistol a squat appearance. The 3.7-inch barrel is well fitted into the slide and locks up by butting the barrel hood into the slide.

The Sphinx is supplied with a total of three magazines and three grip inserts along with other accessories.
The Sphinx is supplied with a total of three magazines and three grip inserts along with other accessories.

The heft and balance of the handgun is good, coming in at 28 ounces unloaded. When beginning the firing sessions, I loaded the magazines with Black Hills 115-grain Blue Box re-manufactured loads. These loads are an excellent resource for training and practice. I fired at man-size targets at five, seven and 10 yards. I started the drills in the double-action mode. After the first shot, I fired the subsequent single-action shots as quickly as I could reacquire the sight picture, and the Sphinx gave excellent results. The sights are good combat sights that are quickly picked up by the eye.

The grip frame is comfortable while firing. I am not a fan of finger grooves in the front strap, but I have to admit, in this case, the modest grooves seem to be an aid in control. The pistol proved to be more than combat accurate.

During one session, firing at seven yards, I put a magazine of 15 rounds into the same ragged hole. Double taps were easily delivered and the pistol is easily the most capable double-action/first-shot handgun I have fired in some time. During the initial firing tests there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. Felt recoil was light.

Moving to personal defense loads, a number of popular JHP loads were fired in the Sphinx with good function. Among these was the Black Hills Ammunition 115-grain EXP. This load isn’t loaded to +P pressure but instead for the greatest velocity possible, hence the term, Extra Power.

At well over 1,200 fps this load gave good function and control, virtually the same as the 115-grain practice load. I also fired a quantity of the Black Hills Ammunition 124-grain +P service load. If I were back in uniform, this would be my favored 9mm service load. The slight difference in recoil was noticeable, but the Sphinx remained controllable.

In single-action mode the trigger pull is short and crisp.
In single-action mode, the trigger pull is short and crisp.

A good test for any handgun and shooter is firing at small targets at known and unknown ranges. The Sphinx proved accurate at long range, connecting on the Innovative Targets steel gong at a long 50 yards. This target is an excellent training resource that I use often. (InnovativeTargets.net)
Moving to bench rest firing, I collected a number of loads that have proven accurate in the past.

Taking a careful rest, with attention to every detail, I fired two 5-shot groups with four different loads. These loads were from four manufacturers and in four different bullet weights, so the results were excellent by any standard. The single most accurate load, the Fiocchi 124-grain Extrema, produced a 5-shot group of 1.9 inches. That is target-grade accuracy. The Black Hills 124-grain +P is about 100 fps faster and posted a group of 2.25 inches.

The Sphinx is indeed an accurate handgun. Remember, this is a compact handgun designed for concealed carry or all-day uniformed carry. The Sphinx isn’t inexpensive, but it is clearly worth its price.

The author found the Sphinx lively in the hand.
The author found the Sphinx lively in the hand.

SPHINX SDP SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer:    Sphinx Arms
Distributor:    Kriss USA
Model:    SDP Compact Alpha
Action:    Double-Action/Single-Action
Caliber:    9mm
Slide:    Steel, Matte Black
Upper Frame:    Anodized Aluminum
Grip Frame:    Black Polymer
Grips:    Polymer/Synthetic Inserts
Sights:    White Dot Front, Drift Adjustable Rear
External Safety:    None, De-cocking Lever
Barrel Length:    3.7 inches
Overall Length:    7.4 inches
Height:    5.35 inches
Width:    1.06 inches
Weight:    28 ounces
Capacity:    15 rounds
Accessories:    Pistol is provided with three magazines, magazine loader, cleaning kit, hard case, lock, owner’s manual and grip inserts.

5 Things You Must Know About Concealed Carry Holsters

The inside-the-waistband (IWB) option reduces visibility of concealed carry holsters.
The inside-the-waistband (IWB) option reduces visibility of concealed carry holsters.

You've got your CCW handgun, but before you start packing here are five things about concealed carry holsters you need to be aware of before you go armed.

Concealed Carry Holsters: Plan on Them Not Feeling Right…Yet

D.M. Bullard’s exotic holster is a beauty, but also note the reinforced belt loops and double stitching. It is made to last and withstand the many repetitions needed to achieve real speed and smoothness in practice.
D.M. Bullard’s exotic holster is a beauty,
but also note the reinforced belt loops and
double stitching. It is made to last and withstand
the many repetitions needed to achieve real speed
and smoothness in practice.

Some effort is required to find the right concealed carry holster, but no matter what the choice, there is always an acclimation period.

Some handguns are more ergonomic than others, but few are completely devoid of sharp edges.

Don’t Spend All Your Money but Don’t Buy Junk

A quality concealed carry holster goes a long way toward making carrying a defensive handgun bearable. There are many choices, and some are readily available. Blackhawk, DeSantis, and Galco are among the best-known and most reliable mass-produced holsters.

There are fine concealed carry holsters that are custom made and that might be said to be examples of the maker’s art. These are not inexpensive and often take weeks, if not months, to obtain.

Still, while the concepts of inexpensive and high quality don’t always go together, there are good holsters offering a balance of value and cost.

Kydex is as Good as Leather

Leather is attractive, but these days, Kydex, a thermoplastic resin, is a more popular concealed carry holster material. (Do not confuse Kydex with ordinary cheap plastic, which isn’t durable enough for the rigors of concealed carry.)

There are tradeoffs inherent in Kydex, but there are also advantages. One of the biggest pluses is that the material is maintenance-free and impervious to solvents or moisture.

A tradeoff, if it can be called one, is that a leather holster maintains security on the long bearing surfaces of the pistol, while the Kydex holster keeps its grip primarily on the muzzle and trigger guard area. Of the downsides? Some say Kydex will wear the finish off a pistol quickly, but so does properly fitted leather.

Pick a Manageable, Accurate Caliber

The Ted Blocker crossdraw has earned the “classic” title, because it continues to work well with modern handguns. With practice, it is versatile and fast into action.
The Ted Blocker crossdraw has earned the “classic” title, because it continues to work well with modern handguns. With practice, it is versatile and fast into action.

My choice in defensive handguns is based on many years of practical experience. Having been in the wrong place at the wrong time more than once, and having written quite a few reports concerning shootings and other mayhem, I am aware of the relative wound potential of different handguns.

I prefer the .45 ACP and the .357 Magnum. The .38 Special and 9mm+P are also realistic minimum calibers. I’ll always lean towards one that is manageable and accurate.

Examine Your Wardrobe

Concealing a serious defensive handgun under lightweight garments can be problematic. If the handgun is short and compact, an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster under a sport shirt will work fine, but, for most of us, the inside-the-waistband holster (IWB) is superior.

Your covering garment is important. I have adopted a Kakadu sport shirt for much of my concealment needs. This shirt is made of Gravel canvas and has a leather collar. I admit it is stylish, but it also conceals a holster well without printing the outline of it for the world to see.


For more information on concealed carry holsters check out:


Editor’s Note: This article on concealed carry holsters is excerpted from Gun Digest 2014, the world’s foremost annual book about firearms.

A Look at 1911 Sights

Novak Sights on a 1911 pistol
This dusty set of sights is mounted on the author’s carry gun. Novak sights are ideal for personal defense use.

The original 1911 sights were embryonic military style sights.They were more than bumps on the slide, but not much more, and they were not ideal for accurate fire. The 1911A1 featured improved sights but until the days of the National Match pistol there was little to choose from.

Custom pistols miths fabricated high-visibility sights of various types and while these were an improvement in some ways, few were practical. Many were so tall and awkward they would not allow the pistol to be holstered in a conventional scabbard.

Among the first practical improvements on the 1911 sights were the old King’s Hardballer sights. There sight sets featured a taller rear sight and a post front sight. Even today, these sights are by no means outdated. They are good choices for combat shooting.

1911 pistol sights
Adjusting a Novak sight for windage isn’t difficult, but use the correct tools.

These sights are very similar to the sights fitted to the Colt Series 80 and the Springfield Mil Spec. I have always thought that Colt missed the boat when they did not add an improved set of sights to the Series 70, but they did update them on the Series 80. These early combat sights are relatively inexpensive and offer abetter sight picture than the GI sights.

However, I have conducted comparison testing between these sights and GI sights and overall the advantage of the improved or mil spec sights is slight. Tests do not lie, and while I perceived the improvement as greater than the tests showed, a thorough all-around program comparing the Springfield GI pistol, a Colt1918, and the Colt Series 80 and Springfield Mil Spec showed little practical improvement when the types were fired by novice shooters.

It is relatively easy to upgrade to some types of 1911 sights while others will require the services of a machinist/gunsmith.While we can upgrade, the superior course is to purchase a handgun with credible sights in the first place. The sights should be chosen for quality, practical accuracy, non-snag construction, and durability.

This is a tall order but one that modern sights fill well. Among the first practical high-visibility sights were the Novak Lo Mount. These sights feature a pyramid-like rear sight that offers an excellent sight picture.

1911 Pistol Kimber Night Sights
Kimber night sights are available as an option and should be ordered on every personal defense pistol from Kimber.

The sight will not catch on clothing during the draw and offers a virtually snag-free contour. The front sight is a bold post that may be from .200″ to .249″ high, depending on the application.

Reducing the vertical profile of a pistol sight is important because the sights rub on all manner of things including the holster and clothing. There are a number of considerations including short range fire, medium range fire, long range fire and snag-free presentation. Testing something as subjective as handgun sights is difficult. It is easy to note that the Novak sights are superior to Mil Spec sights, but to compare the Novak to Kimber sights is more difficult.

This is where subjective opinion arises. The rear sight should have a bold profile that is easily picked up quickly. The pyramid style sights now available offer a good sight picture and do not trap shadows. When all is said and done, the Novak and Kimber style combat sights are at the top of the heap and offer excellent all-around utility.

There are choices in the types as well. Plain black, white three dot and tritium night inserts are the most common types. Novak also offers a gold bead front sight. The gold bead front sight is among the very best choices. This bead gives an excellent all-around sight picture, can be seen in the dark with a minimum of ambivalent light and is immune to oil and solvent.

Surefire X300, 10-8 sights for 1911 pistols
This pistol is well equipped with a Surefire X300, 10-8 sights, Wilson Combat grips and low flash ammunition.

Luminous iron sights are an excellent option, but they are not without drawbacks. For example, during daytime or bright light shooting, tritium sights often reflect sunlight. The same is true of nickel plated sights, but the tritium insert is not as reflective as nickel.

Depending upon how deeply the shock mounted insert is buried in the sight, sunlight may play on the tritium sight. Tritium sights also will work loose. Usually the front sight is the one to take flight. I have only had this happen once, and it was at the 10,000 round mark, but it does happen.

White dot sights on 1911 pistol
An example of white dot sights on a 1911 pistol.

I replaced the sights of this particular pistol with Wilson Combat night sights and continued to bang out 10,000 additional rounds without any further problem. It is a relatively simple matter to replace the tritium insert; this is simply something to be aware of.

I once strongly preferred black sight over white three dot sights. With the coming of age and a loss in visual acuity, I now find the white dot sights work well for me. With unaided vision, blurred sights are a real problem.

Fiber optic sights or white dot sights help a great deal. I can recommend the Novak sights with the fiber optic option, but in the past I have suffered the loss of the fiber optic component with relatively light use of sights of other makes. The Novak is quite robust. Perhaps they did not introduce their version until it was perfected. An elegant option I find useful is the Novak Gold Beadfront sight. All who used this sight appreciated the gold bead. It shows up in most dim conditions and offers an excellent visual aiming point.

There is more to the equation than how the sights look and how well you are able to quickly pick up the sights. Some are too sharp for efficient holster use. The sights need to be snag-free when carried in tight-fitting concealment holsters.

Novak pistol sight
The Novak rear sight will not grab tender skin. That is efficiency by design.

The original Novak Lo Mount is the king of concealment but Wilson Combat sights also do a good job. The sights that absolutely must be avoided are the add on adjustable sights that hang over the rear of the slide.

These are contraindicated for service use and are not my favorites for target use. A proper target sight should be low riding, properly set into a machined dovetail, and rugged enough for duty use. The inexpensive add-ons are not very robust and when they protrude from the rear of the slide you are asking for them to be knocked off on a door jamb. They are good examples of a false economy.

Adjustable sights were once questionable on personal defense handguns. The Colt Gold Cup, as an example, is fastened by a single hollow roll pin. This is no recipe for hard use. Even adding a more satisfactory solid pin is not always enough to properly secure the sight. On the other hand I have a custom mounted Bomar rear sight done by the Action Works of Chino Valley, Arizona.

This is a secure mount with a vault-tough sight. The factory adjustable sight used by Les Baer is similar. Both are dirt tough adjustable sights well worth their price. Bomar unfortunately is out of business, but the Baer sight is at least the equal of the Bomar. Much the same applies to the modern Kimber adjustable sights. The unit mounted on my personal Eclipse has never given the slightest trouble.

Dovetails on Novak sights
These are Novak sights but all Novak sights are not created equal. Note the difference in the dovetails.

An aftermarket sight I have used with good results comes from Caspian. This compact tactical sight offers good adjustment but is low profile and has survived hard use. I think that it is safe to say that modern adjustable sights are available that give every advantage in zeroing the pistol while they are mechanically rugged.

Not all adjustable sights are, not by any means. A combination of a less rugged sight and mounting the sight in the conventional dovetail, resulting in the sight riding over the rear of the slide,is a combination doomed to failure.

It is easy enough to adjust the sight left to right, but I find a distressing number of modern pistols fire low at 16 to 25 yards. Filing the front sight or fitting a taller front sight is needed.

Firing high is addressed by fitting a taller front sight. If your pistol fires to the point of aim as issued, treasure it.

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to the 1911.

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