Ballistics by the inch

Review: AMT Lightning — the Ruger Mk II Clone

I recently had a chance to shoot an AMT Lightning — it’s a clone of the Ruger Mark II .22lr pistol, but in stainless steel. Here it is:

That’s a 10″ factory barrel, which was one of the options available when these guns were being produced back in the 80’s/90’s.

I remember these guns, or more accurately the lawsuit about them, from when they were being produced. Ruger didn’t take kindly to AMT using their designs (AMT also had a version of the 10/22), and took them to court over it. Ruger won the suit, as I recall (though there isn’t much readily available online to document that) and a few years later AMT went belly-up. Whether that was a result of the lawsuit or poor sales is still a subject of some debate.

Anyway, these guns are still kicking around, and every so often you can see one in a local gun shop or on your favorite auction site. My buddy picked one up, and we shot it last weekend.

In checking online, it seems that the quality control on the AMT guns varied widely — from year to year, specific model guns could range from great and reliable to a major nightmare. Evidently the biggest problem was with the hardness of the stainless steel used.

Only time will tell, but the one we had seemed fine. The fit & finish were OK, with no obvious problems. It shot just fine, and didn’t feel much different than any Mark II I’ve ever shot, though the trigger seemed a little rougher.  Without doing a head-to-head comparison, I can’t really say much more than that. Accuracy was as good as I could expect, limited more by my ability shooting it standing than by any issues with the gun. The long barrel certainly made it soft to shoot in terms of recoil.

So I wouldn’t call it a collector’s item, or comparable in quality to a real Ruger. But if you come across one at an attractive price, and it looks to be in decent shape, don’t be afraid to take a risk.


Jim Downey


April 8, 2018 Posted by | .22 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Springfield 1911 EMP® 4” Concealed Carry Contour Model

Earlier this year I added this note to my reprise review of the Springfield EMP:

One thing additional to note: recently Springfield came out with a slightly different version of the gun called the “EMP® 4” Lightweight Champion™ with Concealed Carry Contour“.  Here it is:

See that cut-off angle on the bottom of the grip? That’s Ed Brown’s “Bobtail” from his Kobra Carry. I haven’t shot the new Springfield version yet, but I really liked how that felt on the Kobra Carry. A friend of mine got one of the new guns, and I look forward to trying it. I could see trading-up from my original EMP for one of those.

Well, last weekend I had a chance to shoot my friend’s gun, and … yeah, baby, I likes it!

OK, first thing: pretty much everything I’ve said about the EMP previously applies to the new 4″ barrel model. Yup: great gun, extremely reliable for me, minimal recoil, fit & finish is fantastic, and I loved shooting it. If you want details, go read that review.

What else to add? Well, here’s the actual gun I shot:

You’ll note that it still has the tag on it — my buddy hadn’t had a chance to shoot it yet, either. So this is straight out of the box, without doing anything other than running a boresnake down the barrel and then taking it to the range.

Unsurprisingly, it shot flawlessly. And dead-on accurate.

The extra 1″ of barrel does help the sight radius some, though I never had any problems hitting my target with my 3″ barrel EMP. And it probably helps tame recoil a bit more with that extra 3.5 ounces of additional weight, though again that wasn’t a problem with the slightly smaller gun.

But what I really like is that Bobtail cut, as I thought I would. Because it meant that the relatively short grip fits my large hand better, without the extra corner digging into the bottom of my palm. Shooting my EMP was never a problem, but this is a whole lot better. It’s like the first time you put on new prescription glasses: suddenly things are better than you thought possible. For someone with smaller hands, it’s probably less noticeable, but for me it was surprising.

The other notable difference between the EMP and this EMP4 is the grips: on the new gun, they’re not as aggressively textured. I thought that it wasn’t *that* big a difference, but it might matter to some folks.

Something to think about. I’m certainly giving serious consideration to trading up from my old EMP to the new one. If I was going to rely on one or the other for concealed carry, I’d probably just keep the 3″ EMP. But for my needs, the new model is probably the right choice.

Gee, it sounds like I’ve talked myself into it …

Jim Downey

April 6, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Browning 1911-380

Over the weekend I had a chance to try one of the relatively new Browning 1911-380 models.  It was one of the basic models, with a 4.25″ barrel:

I like a nice 1911, and have owned several over the years. I even like a ‘reduced’ 1911, such as the Springfield EMP (a gun I still own and love), and I have previously shot the Browning 1911-22 , which I liked quite a lot more than I expected. So I was excited to give the new .380 ACP version a try.

What did I think? Well, I liked it. About as much as I liked the .22 version, though of course the guns are intended for two very different things. I see the 1911-22 as being a great gun for learning the mechanics of the platform, and building up your skill set with less expensive ammo. It’s also a lot of fun just for plinking, as are many .22 pistols.

But the 1911-380 is very much intended as a self-defense gun, and that is how it is marketed and has generally been reviewed. From the Browning website:

Conceals better. It is easily concealed with its smaller size and single-stack magazine that offer a compact, flat profile that fits easily inside the waistband and keeps the grip narrow for shooters with smaller hands.

They also tout modern .380 ACP ammo for self-defense. Which I will agree with, but not enthusiastically — even out of a longer barrel, I consider it sufficient, but only that.

Still, the extra sight radius and weight of the 1911-380 does make it a better self-defense gun than sub-compact and micro .380s, and plenty of people are happy to rely on those. Though those advantages come with a cost: this is NOT a pocket pistol. Still, anyone who may be recoil shy but still wants an adequate self-defense round should check out the 1911-380. It is small enough to conceal well, and follow-up shots are very quick and easy to control.

One thing I really didn’t like were the sights. The matte black sights on the matte black slide were almost impossible for my old eyes to find and use quickly.  Seriously, look at this image from the Browning site:


And that makes it look better than it did out at the range. Even just a white dot/white outline would have been a great improvement, and I’m honestly surprised that Browning seems to have made no effort at all to make them more effective. If I got one of these guns, the very first thing I would do would be to upgrade the sights, even if that meant just adding a dab of paint.

So there ya go: if you’re in the market for a low-recoil, quality made, 1911 platform self-defense gun, check out the Browning 1911-380. But if you get one, do something with the sights on the damned thing.

More complete reviews can be found all over the web. This one is fairly typical in having positive things to say.


Jim Downey


April 4, 2018 Posted by | .22, .380 ACP, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Sterling PPL .380 ACP

Sometimes it’s a good thing to look back at failed experiments, to better understand how we got to where we are today. It can be instructive, as well as cautionary — what we think of as innovative and brilliant now might well look a hell of a lot different in 30 or 40 years.

Such is the case with the Sterling PPL, a small self-defense handgun built and sold for just a couple of years in the early 1970s. Here it is:

A fairly complete story of the Sterling can be found here. There’s not a lot to tell, though it does give a nice description of the gun:

It is a blow back operated, semi-automatic pistol that is chambered for the .380 ACP(Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge. This pistol incorporates a blade type front sight and a V notch rear sight, both of which are not adjustable. It is fed by an 8 round detachable box magazine. On the pistol’s butt there is a European style heel magazine release. The push button manual safety is located toward the front and directly above the trigger guard. In the photograph on the right, this push button safety is shown in the fire position. The plastic grip panels are secured to the frame by two hex or Allen key screws with a hexagonal socket in the head. The left grip panel will need to be removed in order to disassemble the pistol. This pistol has a one inch barrel and a total length of 5.38 inches and an unloaded weight of 22.5 ounces.

This past weekend I had the chance to shoot this gun. It was an original, but was “New, Old Stock” — while it was indeed made back in ’72 or ’73, it had never been fired and was still in pristine condition.

It’s a solidly made little thing, and while it was clearly not intended to be a fancy, high-finish gun it wasn’t bad in terms of fit & finish. All the parts were tight, well machined, and worked together well. The plastic grips were fitted well to the frame, and the checkering and emblem were clean, sharp lines — not the cheap sort of injection-mold grips which were common on many small guns of that era. The sights were milled into the top of the slide & barrel, and were reasonably clean and low-profile while still functional. The one magazine we tried fit flush into the gun, with no slop. The trigger was better than I expected, though like most of the gun would probably improve with some use. All in all, it really didn’t feel bad in the hand, and the ergonomics were better than I expected, particularly given the small size of the gun and my large hands.

Shooting it felt more natural than I expected, with the fairly high weight taming recoil — remember, this thing weighs more than twice as much as most micro-.380s do today. In fact, it felt a lot like shooting my Boberg XR-9 9mm, which isn’t surprising: compare how the guns look side by side:

And when I laid one gun on top of the other, they were nearly identical.

But the Sterling PPL isn’t the 70’s version of the Boberg. Note that the barrel in front of the cartridge is just 1″ whereas the barrel on the Boberg is almost 3″ in front of the cartridge. That means that the BEST you could hope for out of .380 ACP ammo would be under 200 ft-lbs of energy, while the Boberg (or the current Bond Arms version) would give you more than twice that.

And that extremely short barrel on the Sterling led to another problem: keyholing. That is where the bullet doesn’t have enough time to stabilize (which is the function of rifling in a barrel), and so tumbles. You can clearly see that in four of the first five shots we fired, in this target:

All five of the next shots also keyholed. And that means that the bullets would hit the target in such a way as to minimize penetration, rendering them much less effective in terms of ability to incapacitate. Which is very much not what you want in a defensive handgun.

So it’s not too surprising that this design didn’t succeed, even though it was a very compact little gun. But I do wonder whether if they had extended the barrel another inch or so, would it have survived?

Speculating a little more … what do you think the chances are that the design of the Sterling might have somehow inspired the Boberg? The size, shape, and appearance of the guns are surprisingly similar. Hmmm …


Jim Downey

April 2, 2018 Posted by | .380 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment