Ballistics by the inch

“Archive Status” update.

Following up to this post from August 24th, the BBTI site has been updated.

When you go there now, at the top of each page you’ll see this notice:

ATTENTION:  Effective Sept 1, 2020, the BBTI Project is in “Archive Status.”  No further tests will be conducted, but we will maintain this site and data for the use of the firearms community.  Thank you.

In addition, we’ve removed the “Contact Us” and “Donate” options. There are costs associated the continuing to host the site, but I’d rather just pay those myself than give anyone the hope of making a donation towards future testing. I do want to thank those who have made contributions towards offsetting some of our expenses in the past. Likewise, thanks to those who contacted us with questions, corrections, and suggestions. It hasn’t always been possible to respond to each one, but your thoughts have been appreciated.

Cheers!

Jim Downey

September 8, 2020 Posted by | Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , | Leave a comment

Spinning wheel got to go round.*

I was surprised when one of the other BBTI guys said that he had found a reproduction wheellock on Gunbroker recently, and that it wasn’t even horribly expensive. This one:

20200822_092520

Wheellock with Diablo double-barrel pistol.

I was surprised, because there aren’t many reproduction wheellocks out there that I was aware of. It’s a quirky firearm design from the 16th century (Ian from Forgotten Weapons has an excellent primer on Wheellock history and operation in this video), which was superseded by reliable & cheaper flintlocks, and not too many people are familiar with them. But it seems that a firm by the name of Mendi was producing them in Spain in the 1980s. This one is stamped along the top of the barrel “Jacobi Iserlohn”, which is a firm selling historical firearms in Iserlohn, Germany. You might be able to make out the stamp in this image:

20200822_100933

Jacobi Iserlohn.

We didn’t know much about the gun beyond what was stamped on it — it came with no paperwork or anything (which, being black powder, it didn’t need).  As you can see in the image above, it says that it is “CAL 45”, and a normal .451 lead ball seemed to fit, so …

So we figured we’d try and figure it out and shoot it, of course. The first thing was to check the bore, see if the mechanism worked, etc. Most things checked out fine, though it looked like someone had substituted welding rods clamped between a piece of thick lead sheet for the historical pyrite used to generate sparks. See for yourself:

20200822_111309

Welding rod?

Which would clamp in this (called the ‘dog’):

20200822_111313(0)

We adjusted the rods so they were equal length and extended far enough to engage the spinning wheel of the mechanism when the dog was lowered. So far, so good.

Next was to test the wheel mechanism. The way a wheellock works is that there’s a spring inside the stock, attached to the inside of the wheel usually by a chain or strap. Using a suitable crank (we didn’t have one that came with the gun, so we used a simple adjustable wrench), you crank the wheel until a ratchet inside locks it into place. We discovered that this gun only needed to be cranked about half a turn before the ratchet clicked. When you pull the trigger the ratchet is released, and the wheel spins.

We tried that, and it seemed to work.

OK, time to load the thing. We elected to start with a mild load typical for other black powder handguns we have in .44/.45 — 30gr of fffg. The lead ball seemed to fit tightly enough into the bore that we went without a patch. All of that went smoothly.

Last was to put some powder in the pan and see if we could shoot it. First, we cranked the wheel into place. Then we put some powder beside where the wheel was, next to the touch-hole. And gave it a try:

Remember, we had no idea what to expect.

At least we got sparks. Just sparks. The powder in the pan failed to ignite. We considered the matter, and decided that we had been too stingy with the powder, that it needed to more or less fill the pan all around where the wheel protruded.

The result:

Excellent! It fired! It hit the target! It didn’t blow up and kill us! Yay!

So each of us had a go:

That last one’s me. And let me share what it felt like.

Mostly, like shooting any similarly sized/powerful black powder handgun, with the gentle push of black powder. But when you pulled the trigger, you could feel a little bit of torque as the wheel released and spun for a moment. It was different than either a flintlock or cap & ball handgun, in that regard. And the delay between pulling the trigger and ignition was about what it’s like with a flintlock, perhaps a little longer.

All in all, it was pretty cool. And it wasn’t something I expected to ever have a chance to actually try, since most of the wheellocks I was aware of were either 300+ year antiques or fairly high-end (and rare) custom reproductions. Needless to say, if you do get a chance to try one of these things, definitely do it.

Jim Downey

* of course.

(Cross posted to my personal blog.)

September 5, 2020 Posted by | black powder, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fightin’ Swedes/Swiss.

Two last battle rifles today: the Swedish Ag m/42B in 6.5×55 and the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911 rifle.

Swedish Ag m/42B in 6.5×55

Swedish Ag 3

Swedish Automatgevär m/42

We should have done our homework on this.

Why? Because we had no idea about how to operate it. I’ll save you the several videos of us fumbling with it, trying to figure out what the hell made the thing work. Instead, go watch this video of how the mechanism works, if you’re interested.

At least none of us mashed our thumbs, which even Ian at Forgotten Weapons was nervous about (watch his second video there).

Anyway, the Swedish AG m/42B is a direct gas-impingement self-loading rifle introduced in 1942. It’s a little odd in design, but makes sense once you understand it (which I really didn’t until I did research for this post). And it’s fairly simple and robust, so was able to stay in use until the 1960s. Here are a couple of additional images of it:

Swedish Ag 1

Swedish Automatgevär m/42B

Swedish Ag 2

Swedish Automatgevär m/42B

Those odd knob things? That’s the dust cover/bolt carrier, and it’s how you operate the loading mechanism safely. Go watch the video above — trying to explain it is … complicated.

Note the simple range adjustment dial for the sight there on the left (bottom) in front of the receiver. Nice, easy to use. Because that’s one of the great things about this rifle — the 6.5×55 Swedish cartridge is a very flat-shooting round, and the rifle has an effective range out to 800 meters. The rifle is also relatively heavy, so that combined with a simple integrated muzzle break means that it has very light recoil. See for yourself:

This was really a pleasure to shoot, and while I’m not into rifles that much, I could easily see myself having one of these guns.

Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911 rifle

Schmidt-Rubin 1

Model 1911

The Schmidt-Rubin was a heavy battle rifle, designed for the long tradition of Swiss sharpshooting. As part of a series of rifles beginning with the Model 1889, the Model 1911 entered service in 1911 (surprise!). Firing a new more powerful cartridge (7.5×55) than the previous models, it had an aimed range out to 600 meters, and a volley range to 2000 meters. It has a straight-pull bolt action (no need to rotate the bolt to unlock it) which is slick and fast.

Schmidt-Rubin 2

Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911

It’s easy to operate, easy to shoot well. It was also famously accurate, and is still valued as both a hunting and long distance target rifle. With a 175gr bullet at 2650fps out of the long 30″ barrel generating about 2700ft/lbs of energy, it is perfectly suitable for either. Since the Model 1911 weighs about ten pounds, recoil is modest.

As I’ve said several times with these historic rifle reviews, if you get a chance to shoot either the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin or the Swedish Ag m/42B, do so.

But if it’s the Ag? Watch your thumbs.

Jim Downey

September 4, 2020 Posted by | 6.5 Swedish, Discussion., historic rifles | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: S333 Thunderstruck.

This is the Standard Manufacturing S333 Thunderstruck revolver:

Thunder 1

It’s an innovative, 8-round revolver which fires two rounds of .22WMR (.22mag) with one pull of the trigger.

OK, if you like this not-so-little handgun, you might not want to read this review. Just move along and save yourself some time.

No, really.

If you have to think about it, here’s another pic to give you some time:

Thunder 2

The actual S333

* * *

For those who’ve stuck around …

… good lord, don’t buy one of these things as a self/home defense gun. If you want it just because it’s kinda geeky and weird, then cool. If you want to actually use it, go spend your money on almost anything else. Seriously.

Why do I say this?

Because, for the ostensible use of the gun as a self/home defense tool, it is almost entirely unsuited. Yeah, that’s my biased opinion, on having shot the thing.

Oh, you want details? Reasons for this opinion? Fair enough.

When I first heard of it, I saw that it was .22WMR, out of a 1.25″ barrel. Now, since it is being shot out of a revolver, you can add in the length of the cylinder, and come up with an overall barrel length of about 3″.

.22WMR out of a 3″ barrel isn’t exactly useless. I mean, it beats harsh words. And, in fairness, it beats your typical .22lr. A little. You can expect about 100-110ft/lbs of energy from it. The best-performing .22lr from the same length barrel is about 90ft/lbs. Same for .25ACP.

And, if you think in terms of having two such bullets fired simultaneously, that gets you up to about 200-220ft/lbs of energy. Not impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be shot by it. I mean, it’s better than .32ACP.

Well, it would be if for one big problem: keyholing.

See, with such a very short barrel, the .22WMR bullets aren’t stabilized. They come out of the barrel, and tumble. If the bullet tumbles upon leaving the barrel, it will quickly lose energy to aerodynamic forces. And likewise, if it hits something more solid, it will also lose energy more quickly. Which will really mess up their effectiveness in penetrating deep enough into an attacker in order to be effective. Because, remember, this is supposed to be a self/home defense gun.

See for yourself:

Thunder 3

keyholed!

Yeah, of the 8 bullets I fired (from about 5 yards, aiming at the center of the target), 7 have keyholed.

This is something that almost every review video I watched also noted. The S333 keyholes at least 50% of the time, and usually more.

So let’s go back to the comparison with .32ACP. Keyholing can happen with any caliber and almost any gun, but it tends to be rare in well-designed guns and properly matched ammunition. So, usually, you can rely on fairly consistent penetration out of .32ACP. Which, according to independent testing by Brass Fetcher, will give you 7-10″ of penetration in 20% ballistic gel. And .22WMR will do about as well.

But not if it keyholes. Which it does, out of the S333.

Now, Standard Manufacturing has said that this is something that they’re working to correct. So perhaps later versions of the gun will not have this problem.

I still wouldn’t want it. Why?

The S333 is as large and weighs (18oz) as much as many common compact 9mm semi-auto handguns. It’s larger and weighs more than most small .380 semi-auto handguns. It’s larger and weighs more than most small frame .38/.357 revolvers. Any of those alternatives offer much more potent cartridges, even in comparison to two simultaneous .22WMR rounds. And with the S333, you have four shots — your typical small revolver will be 5 or 6, and small semi-auto guns are typically 6 or more.

The S333 is also awkward and difficult to shoot. The unusual “two finger” trigger really changes how you can grip the revolver, changing how you aim and control it. It’s also a very long and very hard trigger pull — something in excess of 12 pounds, by most reports. If, like most people, you want to use a second hand to support your shooting hand (which is even more necessary when you only hold the gun with your thumb and two small fingers), about the best thing you can do is grip the wrist of the shooting hand in a modified “cup & saucer” style grip. Otherwise, the fingers of your supporting hand will be in the way of the trigger coming all the way back, which is necessary for it to fire.

Here, see what I mean with this short video of me shooting it:

 

I think the awkwardness of the grip and the two-finger trigger explains why most people tend to shoot the revolver high and to the right when they first encounter it. All three of us at BBTI did. Almost every review video I watched had the same thing.

I’m sure you could learn to adapt to this, and develop a secure and reliable method of shooting the gun with practice. But as a “grab it and use it” self-defense gun, it’s a problem.

One minor note while the video above is fresh in mind: did you notice the amount of flash in two of the shots? Yeah, that’s another factor of such short barrels with the .22WMR. That was while shooting it on a typical partly cloudy day in the middle of the morning. Not a major problem, but something to register.

One last thing: price. As you can see on the first pic, this particular S333 sold for $419.99, which is just under the MSRP. So while it isn’t really pricey, it isn’t cheap. In fact, it seems to be a very solid and well-made gun. The fit and finish were good. The minor problems we had with it were probably just because it was brand new (it hadn’t been fired previously). The trigger is, as noted, long and very heavy, but reasonably smooth if a little mushy. So, overall, if you wanted one of these just because it’s unique and quirky, then I think it’s a reasonably-priced gun.

But if you are looking at it as a self/home defense gun? Or even as a “back-up” for that use?

I think you have much better options.

Jim Downey

 

September 1, 2020 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .380 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two Classic Battle Rifles.

You can probably guess which ones I mean. Yeah, that’s how big of an impact they had on history.

The M1903 Springfield and the Lee-Enfield (specifically, the SMLE No.1 Mk III). Both bolt-action guns (actually, both derived from the G98 Mauser design). Both shooting powerful .30 caliber cartridges with an effective aimed range in excess of 500 yards. And both having played an important role in World War I and World War II.

Of course, there are some real differences between these cousins. Let’s talk about that after a brief look at each one:

 

M1903 Springfield

The M1903 Springfield was the successor to the Krag-Jørgensen rifle, bringing greater power and rate of fire into the hands of US soldiers than the earlier rifle offered. The .30-06 cartridge was “high power”: a 150gr bullet at almost 3,000fps, for about 2,800ft/lbs of energy. Which was about 50% more power and a better ballistic coefficient than the Krag had, and that translated into a greater effective fighting range.

1903 Springfield

M1903 Springfield

The M1903 held 5 rounds, inserted via stripper clips for speed. The Mauser style bolt handle was lower on the gun, again for speed. It was slick, solid, and accurate. Here it is in operation last weekend:

One particular thing I want to note: the difficulty that he has with the sight is common, and it’s something that hickock45 comments on at about 1:30 in his video review of it.

The M1903 Springfield entered service in 1903 (hence the designation), was the primary battle rifle in WWI, played a major role in WWII, and continued to be used as a sniper rifle (and in some other applications) through into even the Vietnam War.

 

Lee-Enfield

The Lee-Enfield was the successor to the Martini-Henry (and variants) in the British army, coming into use in the mid 1890s. The new smokeless version of  .303 British cartridge had ballistics very similar to the US .30-06, but was slightly shorter overall. This, combined with a short throw on the bolt-action, allowed for a very rapid rate of aimed fire by a trained rifleman of up to 35 rounds per minute. The magazine of the SMLE held 10 rounds, fed by 5-round ‘chargers’ similar to the stripper-clips used in the M1903. Like the Krag, the Lee-Enfield had a magazine cut-off which would allow it to function purely as a single-shot.

SMLE Mk III

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 Mk III

We didn’t try to manipulate the bolt-action for rapid fire, but this was a common tactic in the British forces, and they could routinely fire up to 35 rounds per minute while keeping the rifle shouldered for aimed fire. This kind of sustained rate of fire made the Lee-Enfield a formidable weapon which remained in use in subsequent variants through the Korean War.

 

So, what were the differences between these two classic battle rifles?

Well, range and rate of fire, for the most part. The M1903 Springfield had a greater range with excellent accuracy, enough to be used as a sniper rifle through WWII and Korea. The .30-06 cartridge is so good for this sort of use that it is still a common long range hunting cartridge for medium sized game and target shooting to this day.

But the M1903 couldn’t compete with the Lee-Enfield for rate of fire, particularly while still shouldered. The Australians, using the Lee-Enfield, even developed a technique which allowed up to 55 rounds per minute:

The tactic was to fire in conventional rapid-fire mode until the enemy was approximately 100 to 150 yds. away. Then the right hand would leave the small of the butt, and the thumb and first finger would grasp the bolt handle. The little or lower finger was then used to fire the rifle, and the bolt cycled using those two fingers, which stayed on the bolt handle until the rifle was empty. As soon as the bolt handle was down, the trigger was then pulled and the cycle recommenced. As the targets appeared, a quick snap shot was made. The bolt was already working and the recoil was utilized with the disturbance in moving the bolt to align on the next target which was again snap shot. Attention was given to the target only until the shot was made.

Wild. I’d love to see someone actually able to do that, with some degree of accuracy.

Anyway, both the M1903 Springfield and the Lee-Enfield rifles are fairly common today. But as it happens, I don’t think that I had ever gotten around to shooting a SMLE until this outing. And I’ve been shooting for 50+ years. Don’t make the same mistake if you can avoid it.

Jim Downey

 

 

 

 

August 31, 2020 Posted by | Discussion., historic rifles | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1898 Krag-Jørgensen Rifle

Man, I’m happy that I took a lot of images last weekend when we shot these rifles.

OK, as I’ve noted, I’m not really a “rifle guy”. And especially not a “historic rifle guy”. Oh, I can generally ID most of the major designs in history, but damned if I would be able to identify the dozens of minor variations and such.

Which is why I’m writing these blog posts: I’m learning a lot. And like I said, I’m glad that I took a lot of images, because it’s allowed me to determine specific details key to figuring out what a given gun actually is. Like the “1898” stamped on the side of the receiver of this Krag-Jørgensen Rifle:

Krag

Krag-Jørgensen Rifle

Nah, you probably can’t see it at the resolution I’ve posted here, but I could make out the date there on the left side of the receiver, under and to the left of the “U.S.” stamp.

The Krag was an important piece of history, both in terms of the technology it introduced, and in the role it played as a military arm. It had an innovative magazine design (more on that in a moment), and fired the first metalic cartridge completely designed to make use of the new smokeless powder: the .30-40 Krag. This was a .30 caliber, 220gr bullet that would achieve 2,000fps out of this rifle, for a respectable 1950ft/lbs of energy. The Krag-Jørgensen was well designed overall, and to this day is considered to be one of the smoothest operating bolt-action guns ever.

Now, about that interesting magazine. Take a look here, with the bolt open:

Krag 3

Krag-Jørgensen Rifle

See how the cartridge is tucked off to the left side there? The magazine cover on the outside of the right side of the gun flips open. Then you just drop up to 5 cartridges onto the shelf and close the cover. When you do, they’re all arranged horizontally. Yeah, weird. But it’s kinda cool, because it is fast and easy to load, and you can top off your magazine at any time. You’ll be able to see this even better in the video below.

But before we get to that, I want to mention something else about the design. There’s a “magazine cut-off switch” on the left side of the receiver, which prevents a cartridge from loading from the receiver. Instead, you could just drop a round in front of the bolt face, and chamber it. This reflected the mind-set of the era, when accurate aimed fire was considered more important than rate of fire.  Again, you can see this even better in the video:

 

As noted in the video, this is an exceptionally smooth operating and accurate rifle, especially considering that it is over 120 years old. It feels very well balanced and easy to use in your hands, in part due to the extra mass of metal in the magazine design. It really was a pleasure to shoot. If you ever get a chance to do so, don’t miss it. As hickock45 notes in this video, they’re not terribly common, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity.

Jim Downey

August 30, 2020 Posted by | Discussion., historic rifles | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

4 Nice Reproduction Rifles

As part of our historical rifle weekend, we shot 4 different reproduction rifles all dating to the latter part of the 19th century. In rough chronological order, these were the Spencer Repeating Rifle, the Remington Rolling Block Rifle, the Springfield Model 1873, and the Winchester Model 1885 (High Wall version). Here are our four reproductions:

20200822_133334

Four reproductions.

From left to right in the image:

All shoot the .45-70 cartridge, except for the Spencer, which is in .45 Colt. All are like brand new, having been fired little, even though they were a few years old. Full info is readily available about each original design, as well as about these reproductions, so I’m just going to share some thoughts and video on each one without going into a huge amount of detail.

 

Spencer Repeating Rifle

This nice little reproduction by Chiappa is a very handy and fun gun.

Spencer .45

Spencer carbine

The quality of the gun overall is quite nice, with good wood and a very attractive case-hardened receiver. The lever-operated loading mechanism was smooth, but both the trigger and the extractor were in need of breaking in, as can be seen in this video:

This gun holds seven rounds of .45 Colt in the tube magazine located in the stock (the same number as the original in .56-56 Spencer, which has similar ballistics to the modern cartridge). We were only shooting at 25 yards, but this was an easy gun to use quickly, and I can see how it would have been a revolutionary improvement over the muzzle-loaders of the era.

 

Remington Rolling Block Rifle

The Remington Rolling Block No. 1 Sporter was a very fine gun, exceptionally well made with excellent fit and finish in every regard:

Remington No. 1

Remington Rolling Block

The rolling block mechanism was solid, and gave confidence that it would hold up to plenty of use shooting full-power .45-70 loads. Likewise, the substantial weight of the gun meant that recoil was manageable. This is a gun I could easily spend a day with at the range.

 

Springfield Model 1873

Ah, yes, the Trapdoor Springfield. There’s something that’s just plain cool about this gun.

Pedersoli Trapdoor

Pedersoli Trapdoor

Of course, Pedersoli is well-known for the quality of their reproductions, and this is no exception. The entire mechanism of the breechblock was tightly fitted and solid, operating smoothly. Likewise the trigger was smooth and comfortable. As with the Remington above, the gun had enough mass to tame recoil from the .45-70 gov loads we were shooting, and it was easy to be accurate with it even on first try.

 

 

Winchester Model 1885

This is the so-called “High Wall” version, designed to handle high power loads, such as the .45-70 gov cartridge. This reproduction is by Browning, and this particular gun had been custom etched (with inlay) with a “Right to Keep and Bear Arms” design:

Browning .45-70

Browning 1885

The review of this gun linked above is picky about a number of things which didn’t bother me. I’m not sure whether that is due to our having a slightly different model, or what. I thought that the fit & finish were fine, and the gun operated flawlessly as far as I could tell. I didn’t note any excessive recoil at the time of shooting, though I’m not particularly recoil-shy, so I was surprised to see that in the review. Perhaps if we had tried some more powerful loads?

Anyway, I thought it was a treat to shoot this gun. Here’s one of the other BBTI guys shooting it:

 

All in all, I thought all four of these reproduction rifles were quite enjoyable to try, and I think that any of them would make a fine addition to your safe, if you’re into rifles. While none of them are original guns from the period, they all offer insight into the technology of that time.

Jim Downey

 

 

 

 

 

August 29, 2020 Posted by | .45 Colt, Discussion., historic rifles | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Diablo 12ga double barrel pistol.

Want some fun? Get an American Gun Craft 12ga double-barrel pistol.

Want a serious self/home defense gun? Get something else.

Oops. I gave away my review’s conclusion. But you should go ahead and read the rest of this, anyway.

* * *

When one of my friends sent me a link about the new American Gun Craft 12ga double-barrel pistol, I thought it looked like a lot of fun. A lot of people thought so, and the cool little pistol got a lot of attention.

For good reason. It looked well made, well designed, and easy to use.

And it is. Check it out:

Diablo 1

Diablo 12ga

And this is what it looks like in the hand:

Diablo 2

Seriously, this is a very high-quality gun. It’s very solidly made. The fit & finish is impressive. The bluing is rich, deep, and lovely. The rosewood handles fit perfectly, and are warm & comfortable in the hand. They’re polished so highly I at first thought that they were plastic. The trigger is smooth, crisp, and much better than I expected.

The design is simple, but there are little things about it that are quite nice. Such as when the gun is broken open, you can rest it on any flat surface with the barrels pointing up, and it is perfectly stable for loading. If you’re shooting by yourself, this would be very handy.

Since we didn’t know what to expect, we went with the manufacturer’s recommended load of black powder to start with.  That’s just 40gr of ffg, with a recommended half ounce of shot. But all we had to shoot out of the gun were 12ga balls (.69 cal ball, about 500gr — say 1.2 ounce). So we expected it to be mild shooting.

It was:

 

Well, according to this video, that’s probably just about 250fps, and maybe 70ft/lbs of energy. That’s about the same power as a low-performing .22 round out of a 6″ barrel. And it felt like it.

So, since the amount of lead we were shooting was more than double the recommended amount, we doubled the amount of black powder, to 80gr of ffg. Here’s that:

 

Well, again according to this video, that’s probably about 560fps, and maybe 340ft/lbs of energy. That’s about the same power as a typical 9mm round out of a 6″ barrel. And it felt like it. There was a bit of recoil out of the heavy pistol, but it wasn’t at all hard to manage.

Given how well the gun was made, and the mildness of the first shots, we didn’t have any qualms about increasing the amount of powder to double what was recommended. And that was a fun load to shoot. Others have pushed that boundary MUCH further, as you’ll see in either this video (referenced above) or this very long review. By using much bigger loads and different types of powder, it is possible to get up to energy levels in the range of a .357 or even .44mag out of a 6″ barrel.

So yes, it would be a pretty reliable self/home defense gun, in those terms. And we were shooting it at applicable ranges for that use, with adequate accuracy.

But consider several factors here. First, black powder is very hygroscopic: it sucks up moisture out of the air. That can be a problem with a muzzle-loading gun, and was the reason why Old West gunfighters would commonly shoot off their loads each morning and load their pistols fresh. Because wet powder can underperfom very badly. So you wouldn’t want to load the Diablo and then just set it aside for future use.

Black powder is also a slow-burning and very smoky powder. Shooting it indoors would fill the room with very acrid smoke, and may very well spew burning bits of powder out into the room, causing fires.

Lastly, while the Diablo is indeed easy to load and shoot for a black powder gun, that still takes a hell of a lot more time than it would take to load two additional cartridges into a derringer. And almost every common modern self/home defense gun offers more rounds for use than a derringer.

So we’re back to what I said at the start:

Want some fun? Get an American Gun Craft 12ga double-barrel pistol.

Want a serious self/home defense gun? Get something else.

Jim Downey

 

 

August 28, 2020 Posted by | .22, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, 9mm Luger (9x19), black powder, Data, Discussion., Shotgun ballistics | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Martini-Henry .577/450

“OK, the Snider was fun. Let’s shoot that Martini-Rossi.”

“Martini & Rossi is a booze brand, dumbass. The rifle is a Martini-Henry.”

“Er … right.”

* * *

OK, I’m not saying that actually happened. But I will admit that historic rifles are not really my thing. Fortunately, my BBTI buddies are more knowledgeable.

The Martini-Henry was the single-shot, breech-loading rifle that succeeded the Snider-Enfield (initially in 1871; our rifle was stamped 1887). Designed from the start to shoot a metallic cartridge, it was quicker to load and fire, faster to reload, and more powerful than the Snider-Enfield. It shot a bottleneck cartridge based on the earlier .577 Snider-Enfield, known as the .577/450, which had a 480gr soft lead bullet of .450 diameter (hence the name) pushed to about 1350fps, for about 1900ft/lbs of energy (about 400ft/lbs more than the Snider-Enfield). Because of the increased velocity/energy and the better ballistic coefficient, it had an effective range out to 1800 yards (for ‘volley fire’ applications).

The Martini-Henry is overall a slimmer, more manageable gun than the Snider-Enfield. It’s about 5″ shorter overall, with a 33″ barrel, and weighs about the same.

The biggest design improvement was that the action functioned by the use of a lever. Pull the lever down, and the block drops down, allowing a feeding ramp to align with the chamber. Insert a cartridge, close the lever, and the block rises and the gun is ready to fire. Here are some images of it:

20200822_092237

Martini-Henry from above.

20200822_131559

Preparing to load.

And here’s the rifle being fired:

 

That’s with the full-power, traditional .577/450 loads. Which, while they’re black powder substitute (and hence a ‘rolling’ impulse), still have quite a bit of recoil.

However, there are cartridge adapters available which allow you to use common .45 Colt ammunition. It’s just a brass (or steel) sleeve with the shape of the .577/450 cartridge into which you insert a .45 Colt round. Here’s a brief clip showing that:

 

And here’s what it’s like to shoot the rifle with the adapter:

 

Much less recoil. And if you’re buying commercial ammo, much less cost.

Shooting the Martini-Henry is easy, and while there is a noticeable amount of recoil with the full .577/450 loads, it’s not bad at all. With the adapter and .45 Colt loads, the recoil is very mild. Hickock45 has a nice “woods walk” with a Martini-Henry of the same vintage here:

Definitely, if you get a chance to shoot one of these rifles, take advantage of it.

Jim Downey

 

 

August 27, 2020 Posted by | black powder, Discussion., historic rifles | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shooting an original .577 Snider-Enfield rifle.

Recently the BBTI crew got together to shoot some historic rifles. I’m not going to go into a lot of the details about each rifle, since there is plenty of information available about each online. But I thought I would share a few pics, some video, and my thoughts about each gun.

The first is an original British .577 Snider-Enfield rifle. This is the “Mark III” model, and dates back to 1866.

The .577 Snider-Enfield is a single-shot, breech-loading rifle. The Mark III has a lock on the side latch which secures the breech block in place. A side-hammer strikes a diagonal sloping firing pin to ignite the primer on the metallic cartridge. The barrel is about 36″ long, and the overall length of the rifle is 54″.

Here’s the rifle as seen from above:

20200822_092253

.577 Snider-Enfield

Operation is simple: draw the hammer to half cock and unlatch the breech block and flip it open. Drop a cartridge into the “slide”, then push it forward into the chamber. Close the breech block and latch it. When you’re ready to fire, cock the hammer the rest of the way (it has a very short throw, so going to full cock doesn’t take much). Aim, fire. Here, see for yourself:

 

Recoil is fairly mild. The cartridges use a modern black powder substitute, and have the typical black powder smooth impulse rather than the sharp impulse of modern gunpowder. It shoots a 480gr soft lead bullet at about 1200fps, for an energy of about 1500ft/lbs (about half of what a modern hunting rifle has).  Here’s what the cartridge looks like:

20200822_130533

.577 Snider-Enfield cartridge

Note that the fired cartridge case is more straight-walled than the unfired cartridge. The cases stuck in the chamber, and had to be knocked loose with a ramrod to be extracted. But you expect some minor issues like that with a gun that is more than 150 years old.

Overall, it’s really a very pleasant piece of history to shoot. If you get a chance, do so.

 

Jim Downey

 

August 26, 2020 Posted by | black powder, Discussion., historic rifles | , , , , , | 3 Comments

IWI Tavor TS12 review

This past weekend I got to try the new(ish) Tavor TS12 semi-auto shotgun, made by IWI.

This gun got a LOT of attention when it was announced at SHOT 2018, and generated a fair amount of interest later when the commercial version was finally released not quite a year ago. And for very good reason: it’s a hell of a package.

OK, the basics: this is a gas regulated semi-auto 12ga shotgun, which will handle either standard 2.75″ or 3.00″ Magnum shotgun loads. It has an innovative three-tube magazine design which will hold up to 16 rounds (15+1) of 2.75″ shells or 13 rounds of magnum shells. It is a bullpup design, with an 18.5″ barrel and 28″ overall length. It weighs 8 pounds unloaded. It uses standard Benelli/Beretta choke tubes. It has M-LOK compatible rails, a continuous Picatinny rail on top, and multiple sling mount points.

So, one of my friends got a new TS12, and wanted to try it. He figured we’d test it with his standard home defense ammo, Dupo 28 explanding steel slugs. The Tavor had not been fired previously, and we decided to try it without an optic, just using the Picatinny rail on top as a guide.

We looked the gun over and figured out the operating controls. It’s very intuitive, and we quickly got the hang of loading and using the gun. Since it was brand new, we expected a little bit of break-in time, and indeed the first few rounds didn’t cycle completely. But after about a half dozen or so, it ran flawlessly.  The automatic-reload feature when you move from one tube to the next is really slick, once it was working correctly.

What were my impressions of it?

Well, when you first look at it, the gun *looks* big. I think that is due to the boxy shape of it. The proportions are a little weird, and you figure that it’s a shotgun, so it has to be big. But because it’s a bullpup design, it actually isn’t that big. And when you pick it up to use it, then it feels much smaller, more compact, and very well balanced. In fact, it feels like a tight little package of lethality. This video from TFB really shows how it operates in heavy use.

And it feels really solid. For me, the ergonomics were excellent, and even shooting these substantial 1oz slugs there was minimal perceived recoil. That’s thanks to the gas operating system. Comparing the TS12 to the KelTec KSG, well, there’s really no comparison in terms of recoil. The KSG, while a cool little package (it’s slightly shorter and weighs less than the Tavor) is fairly brutal to shoot. Of course, the KSG is about half the price.

The fit & finish of the TS12 are very good. Like I said, the gun feels solid and well made when you hold it. And when you are just looking it over, the quality is likewise evident. Of course, IWI is a well known firearms manufacturer with a solid reputation.

One note: when the TS12 was announced, it was said to be completely ambidextrous. The final version released isn’t, though you do have your choice of getting a left- or right-hand version, according to the IWI website.

As mentioned, we decided to try the TS12 without an optic. Which was a little difficult, wearing muff-style hearing protection, but quite doable. And at about 20 yards from the target, it was easy to put multiple rounds right where you wanted them:

20200822_163455

Final thoughts: it’s a hell of a package. I’m not sure I’d use it for “sport shooting”, but for fun at the range or as a home defense gun, yeah, it’d be fantastic, though a little pricey.

Jim Downey

August 25, 2020 Posted by | Discussion., Shotgun ballistics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Future of BBTI

So, I have some important news to share.

After months of discussion, and soliciting the opinions and suggestions from a number of people involved in the firearms/shooting community, we’ve made some decisions about BBTI going forward.

As noted on the BBTI homepage, some 12 years ago when we started this project we said:

As we’ve noted previously, we have no illusions that our data is comprehensive.  It is meant to be indicative – giving an indication to the general relationships between barrel length and velocity, or the effect of a cylinder gap, or how polygonal and traditionally rifled barrels perform.  It would be impossible (for us, at least) to test all the different ammunition types available, or all the different firearms – particularly so when manufacturers of ammunition and firearms are constantly tweaking and improving their products.  So use the data here to get an idea of what to expect, and perhaps as a jumping-off point for your own research.

And many people have done that. In fact, our project caused a fundamental change to the ammunition industry, which can now be seen on most boxes of ammunition (or on the manufacturer’s websites): information about the expected velocity and the test platform used for any given ammo. Before we started BBTI, the best you could hope for was a given velocity claim, but you wouldn’t have any idea how that was tested.

But somewhere along the line, people started to get the idea that we were an on-demand testing entity. Since we’ve published our data, we’ve had constant requests to test this particular ammo, that particular real world gun, and every cartridge/caliber imaginable.  As noted in the statement above, that would just be impossible.

The fact of the matter is that all of the BBTI team members are busy professionals, with limited time and energy. To do a full test sequence is a significant investment of time and labor, and we feel that we’ve largely accomplished what we set out to do. After extensive discussion, we’ve decided that it is unlikely that we will find the time to conduct additional tests.

So, effective immediately, BBTI will now be considered an “Archive”. In the coming weeks we’ll do some revisions of the site to reflect this status. The data and all the graphs will remain available for free use, but we will no longer answer questions about the project or entertain requests for additional testing.

It’s been fun, folks. Thank you for your interest.

 

Jim Downey

 

August 24, 2020 Posted by | Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , | 4 Comments

So, you think .44 magnum is powerful?

Yesterday I got a box of cartridges. Now, even with the shortages these days, that isn’t that unusual.

But take a look at the contents:

Box

OK, for scale: that’s a full-sized .44 magnum cartridge on the right, outside the box.

What the Hell???

This was a box of, um, BIG cartridges put together for me by one of the other BBTI guys, just for fun.  Yeah, we have odd senses of humor.

Now, I’ll admit, most of these I didn’t even recognize. But I spent some time with my copy of Cartridges of the World by Frank C Barnes, and poking around online. And I thought I’d share the results. For simplicity in putting this blog post together, descriptions of each cartridge is from Wikipedia and in blue text. Other info is probably from Cartridges of the World.

Here are the cartridges, lined up for better display:

Standing

You can make note of your guesses for each one, if you’d like, then test to see whether you’re right.

Ready?

OK, from left to right … (with ruler and full-size .44 mag for scale):

950JDJ

.950 JDJ.950 JDJ cases are approximately 70 mm in length, and are based on a 20×110mm case shortened and necked up to accept the .950 in (24.1 mm) bullet. Projectiles are custom-made and most commonly weigh 3,600 grains (230 g) which is 8.2 ounces or over half a pound. The cartridge is derived from a 20mm Vulcan cannon cartridge.

 

12.7 x 108

12.7 x 108mm. The 12.7×108mm cartridge is a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and anti-materiel rifle cartridge used by the former Soviet Union, the former Warsaw Pact, modern Russia, China and other countries. It was invented in 1934 to create a cartridge like the German 13.2mm TuF anti-tank rifle round and the American .50 Browning Machine Gun round.

 

12.7 x 99

14.5 JDJ. It uses the .50 BMG case with the neck opened up to accept a .585 in (14.9 mm) bullet. Barnes notes that this proprietary cartridge is capable of sub-MOA groups at 1,000 yards out of a SSK Industries rifle, with almost 15,000 ft/lbs of energy.

 

50 BMG

.50 BMG. The .50 Browning Machine Gun (.50 BMG, 12.7×99mm NATO and designated as the 50 Browning by the C.I.P.[1]) is a cartridge developed for the Browning .50 caliber machine gun in the late 1910s, entering official service in 1921. Under STANAG 4383, it is a standard cartridge for NATO forces as well as many non-NATO countries. * * * The .50 BMG cartridge is also used in long-range target and anti-materiel rifles, as well as other .50-caliber machine guns.

 

700 Nitro Express

.700 Nitro Express. The .700 Nitro Express (17.8×89mmR) is a big game rifle cartridge made by Holland & Holland, London, England. It was developed in 1988 by Jim Bell and William Feldstein and built by H&H.

 

600 Nitro Express

.600 Nitro Express. The .600 Nitro Express is a large bore Nitro Express rifle cartridge developed by W.J. Jeffery & Co for the purpose of hunting large game such as elephant.

 

500 Nitro Express

.500 Nitro Express. The .500 Nitro Express is a rifle cartridge designed for hunting large and dangerous game animals in Africa and India.

 

500 Jeffery

.500 JefferyThe .500 Jeffery is a big-game rifle cartridge that first appeared around 1920, and was originally introduced by the August Schuler Company, a German firm, under the European designation “12.7×70mm Schuler” or “.500 Schuler”. When offered by the famed British outfitter W.J. Jeffery & Co, it was renamed the .500 Jeffery so as to be more palatable to British hunters and sportsmen following World War One.

 

50 Alaskan

.50 Alaskan. The .50 Alaskan is a wildcat cartridge developed by Harold Johnson and Harold Fuller of the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska in the 1950s. Johnson based the cartridge on the .348 Winchester in order to create a rifle capable of handling the large bears in Alaska.

 

50-110

.50-110 Winchester. The .50-110 WCF (also known as the .50-100-450 WCF , with different loadings) in modern 1886 Winchesters with modern steel barrels is the most powerful lever-action cartridge, with up to 6,000 foot pounds of energy.

 

11 x 59 R Gras

11 x 59mm R Gras. The 11×59mmR Gras, also known as the 11mm Vickers, is an obsolete rifle cartridge. France’s first modern military cartridge, the 11×59mmR Gras was introduced in 1874 and continued in service in various roles and with various users until after World War II.

 

458 Win Mag

.458 Win Mag. The .458 Winchester Magnum is a belted, straight-taper cased, Big five game rifle cartridge. It was introduced commercially in 1956 by Winchester and first chambered in the Winchester Model 70 African rifle.[2] It was designed to compete against the .450 Nitro Express and the .470 Nitro Express cartridges used in big bore British double rifles. The .458 Winchester Magnum remains one of the most popular game cartridges, and most major ammunition manufacturers offer a selection of .458 ammunition.

 

500 S&W Mag R

.500 S&W Magnum. The .500 S&W Magnum (12.7×41mmSR) is a fifty-caliber semi-rimmed handgun cartridge developed by Cor-Bon in partnership with the Smith & Wesson “X-Gun” engineering team for use in the Smith & Wesson Model 500 X-frame revolver and introduced in February 2003 at the SHOT show.[5] It has two primary design purposes: as a hunting handgun cartridge capable of taking all North American game species, and to be the most powerful production handgun cartridge to date.

And there you have it.

How did you do at identifying the cartridges? As noted, a lot of these I could not ID just by looking at them, though most of them I recognized once I examined the cartridge base for headstamp info. Two I was unfamiliar with (the .500 Jeffery and the .50 Alaskan), and one I had to break out my calipers in order to figure it out: the 14.5 JDJ. Because it’s headstamped as a 12.7 x 99mm, or BMG, cartridge. Once I realized the projectile was larger, then I guessed what it must be.

And no, we’re *not* going to be testing these or anything. It was just something fun to share.

Jim Downey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2, 2020 Posted by | .44 Magnum, Discussion., Links, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What a difference just an eighth of an inch makes.

Recently I came across on a surprisingly good deal on a Taurus Tracker .44mag snubnose. This one:

Taurus isn’t my first choice of firearm brands, but I’ve owned them and generally liked them, and the price on this one was a little too good to pass up. So I got it, figuring that it would be an interesting addition to my collection, occasionally using it as a carry gun.

After shooting it with a variety of .44special and .44mag loads that I had on hand, I decided that what I wanted to use as a carry ammo was something we’d tested: Corbon’s 165gr JHP.  The lighter weight bullet would mean a lower felt recoil. And I knew how it would perform out of a short barrel, and estimated that I would get about 1150fps and just under 500ft/lbs of muzzle energy from the round. I checked locally, and the ammo wasn’t available, so I ordered in five boxes from a source online.

When it arrived, I did the logical thing and inserted five rounds into the Taurus, then closed the cylinder.

Er, make that I *tried* to close the cylinder. Because it wouldn’t. Huh?

I examined the gun. I had not noticed that the cartridges hadn’t gone completely into the chambers. The rims of the cartridges were all about 1/16th inch out.  Oops. That was a mistake on my part — I should have been paying closer attention when handling the new untested ammo, rather than just assuming that it would load properly. This is what it looked like after I removed one cartridge for contrast:

 

Even lightly tapping the cartridges wouldn’t get them to load properly (where the rim is down on the rear cylinder face). I removed the rest of the cartridges, examined the gun to make sure everything was otherwise functioning properly. It seemed to be. I looked over the cartridges, and they seemed to be fine, as well. So I got a couple of different .44 loads — a mix of .44sp and .44mag — and put them into the cylinder. They all loaded just fine, the cylinder closed, and there were no problems. Here are a Hornady and a Winchester .44mag round in the cylinder, with one of the Corbon; note the difference:

 

Hmm.

Next, I got my Colt Anaconda .44 out of the safe. I tried the same ammo in it, and this is what I found:

Exact same problem. So, presumably, it was the Corbon ammo. I removed the rounds from the gun.

And grabbed my digital calipers. I started checking all the dimensions on the Corbon ammo. In fact, I went through and checked several sample cartridges from all five boxes. As far as I could tell, everything was in spec. The cases were the exact correct length. And width, both at the mouth of the case, along the body, and just above the rim. The bullets were the correct diameter. And the over length of the cartridges was well within the normal range of .44magnum rounds.

WTH?

I set the conundrum aside, so my subconscious could chew it over for a few hours. The likely explanation hit me while taking a shower the next morning. Here, look at the images of the three different rounds mentioned above, and see if you can spot it:

Here’s a hint: the Corbon cartridge is in the center.

Got it?

Yeah, if you look very carefully, you’ll see that the SHAPE of the Corbon bullet is different than the others. Note how it almost swells a bit, going up from the mouth of the case, to about an eighth of an inch, before narrowing down. Whereas the Winchester (on the left) and the Hornady (on the right) both have a smooth ogive right from the mouth of the case until coming to a flat nose (actually, the Hornady, like the Corbon, is a hollow point, but you can’t see that from this image).

So why did this cause the problem?

The explanation requires a bit of detailed knowledge about how a revolver works. If you already know all this, my apologies. For those who may not …

Each chamber in a revolver has to be big enough to accommodate the case of the cartridge. But the bullet is slightly smaller than that, so that it fits inside the cartridge case.

Now, when a chamber on a revolver rotates into position aligned with the barrel, there’s always a chance that it might not be perfectly aligned. Just a few thousandths of an inch misalignment can lead to all kinds of bad things happening, from parts of the bullet being shaved off and spit out the sides of the ‘cylinder gap‘ to the gun going KABOOM in your hand. So revolver manufacturers have come up with two nifty ways to deal with this:

  1. Narrowing the chamber in front of the cartridge case slightly by tapering it.
  2. Having a ‘forcing cone‘ before the barrel that is just a little bit bigger than the bullet, to funnel it into the barrel.

So, the problem with the Corbon ammo was that shape of the bullet in the pic above. Note how it doesn’t smoothly curve in like the other two bullets. Rather, that slight swelling is probably hitting the taper inside the chambers, stopping the cartridge from seating properly.

And before you say that this is a problem with the Taurus being poorly made, note that I ran into the exact same problem with my Anaconda — widely considered a very good quality gun.

Now, the folks at Corbon are smart. I’m sure their engineers actually tested this ammo in some typical .44magnum revolvers. But all it would take is for slight differences (think a couple thousandths of an inch) in the rate or position of that chamber tapering from manufacturer to manufacturer to cause this problem. Chances are, they just didn’t test it in a Taurus .44 of this model, or a Colt Anaconda. It is also possible that this batch of bullets (all five boxes I got are from the same lot — I checked) is just slightly out of spec, but no one has yet noticed it in their guns, because the tolerances in other manufacturers are a little bit different.

Either way, I’m fairly sure that I could just take some sandpaper or a fine file to that slight swelling on the bullets, and they’d fit right into my gun. But first I’m going to wait and see whether I hear back from Corbon about this issue (yeah, I sent them an explanatory email a couple days ago).

Oh, one last thing: in the process of going through all of this, I noticed that the cylinder length (from the front face to the rear face of the cylinder) on the Taurus was 1.625″, or 1 5/8″, whereas the cylinder length on my Anaconda is 1.75″, or 1 3/4″ — an eighth of an inch difference. As I recall, 1.75″ is standard for .44magnum revolvers. Interesting that the Taurus is slightly shorter, and that may indeed have had something to do with the shape of the chambers on the gun.

Edited, 2/27: Just a quick note. I’ve had some friends check other brands of .44mag revolvers. Seems that Smith & Wesson makes theirs with a cylinder length of 1.6875″ (1 11/16th”), and Ruger 1.75″ (1 3/4″). So there’s more variation than I thought.

 

Jim Downey

February 26, 2020 Posted by | .44 Magnum, .44 Special, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A couple of centenarians … in .32 ACP

Happy Anniversary/Birthday! By tradition, BBTI is 11 years old today!

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I recently got to shoot a couple of very nice little pistols in .32 ACP … which date back to before WWI.

The first was a Sauer & Sohn Model 1913:

The second was a Mauser Model 1914:

I’m not going to try and do an in-depth review of either gun. I didn’t shoot either one enough to really develop a strong opinion, and the two links above go into the history and context of the pistols is detail.

But I am going to say that I was honestly surprised at just how accurate and easy to shoot both of them were. Each one gave me about a 6″ group at 10 yards the first time I shot it, and I was sure that a little practice with either gun would have improved upon that quickly.  They both felt comfortable & solid in the hand, easy to hold, easy to shoot.

And, surprisingly, both “spoke with authority”. What do I mean by that? Well, I must admit that I don’t care for the .32 ACP round much, and consider it sub-optimal for self-defense purposes. Out of barrels about this size, you’re only going to get about 125 ft/lbs of energy. Just stepping up to .380 ACP out of a similar sized gun will give you about half again the power … or more.

But when I thought about it, I realized that most of the .32 ACP guns I’ve shot were smaller than these … they were what we would call “mouse guns”, and never felt very solid in my large hands. Neither of these two pistols are “large” — both are about the same size as a PPK — but they really felt like ‘real’ guns. That physical size difference made a big psychological difference for me. Just knowing that I could reliably  put rounds where needed matters.

Other factors to consider in understanding these guns in context: when they were made, and for what purpose. At the turn of the 20th century, people were smaller, hence the need for less penetration than is generally considered to be the case today. Medical treatment was both less developed and less available, and there were no antibiotics. This means that even a non-incapacitating wound had a very real chance of being lethal within hours or days — making getting shot something you wanted to very much avoid. While both of these guns did go on to see military service, they weren’t really designed as weapons of war. Rather, they were intended for police and private use, and by all accounts served in these roles admirably.

Given that both guns were over 100 years old, they were remarkably reliable. Between myself and my shooting companions, we put about a box of ammo through each. I don’t recall the S&S having any issues whatsoever, and the Mauser only had a couple of glitches with failure to cycle completely. Since we didn’t take the guns apart for a detail cleaning (though we did a quick inspection to make sure they looked to be in good condition), that could have just been due to build-up of dirt or weak recoil spring. At 61 myself, I sympathize.

Fun guns. If you get a chance, handle and shoot either one. You might be surprised at how much you like it.

 

Jim Downey

 

November 28, 2019 Posted by | .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And then the one day you find, Ten years have got behind you …*

Happy Anniversary!

Yup, the BBTI website launched on Thanksgiving weekend, 2008. That first weekend we had over 300,000 hits, and it’s been something of a roller coaster ever since, with millions of visitors, thousands of discussion threads, and countless references to our data. I can honestly say that we have made a fundamental change to the industry, pushing manufacturers to be more transparent in their claims for ammunition performance and allowing individuals to make better decisions about their purchases.

I recently made custom pistol cases like the one shown above for the four members of the BBTI team using my Glowforge laser. And I’m going to give away one more to some lucky person. Just leave a comment here or on our Facebook page  before December 1st wishing us a happy anniversary, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for the case. On the first I’ll draw one name at random and arrange delivery. One entry per person, please.

Thanks to everyone who has posted about us, who has written us, who has made a donation to help support the ongoing costs of hosting our data and making it freely available to all. I try and respond to each message, to thank each contributor, to answer each question, but I don’t always succeed in doing so as quickly as I’d like. And if I have missed you, please accept my apologies.

We don’t have any concrete plans to expand our data at this time, though we’re always happy to get recommendations for new calibers/cartridges to test or ones to revisit. I don’t think that we’re completely finished with the BBTI project, but for right now we’ve all got very busy lives and considerable demands on our time and energy. I hope you’ll understand.

Happy & safe shooting to all —

Jim Downey
*Obviously.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Handgun caliber and lethality.

This post is NOT about gun control, even though the article which it references specifically is. I don’t want to get into that discussion here, and will delete any comments which attempt to discuss it.

Rather, I want to look at the article in order to better understand ‘real world’ handgun effectiveness, in terms of the article’s conclusions. Specifically, as relates to the correlation between handgun power (what they call ‘caliber’) and lethality.

First, I want to note that the article assumes that there is a direct relationship between caliber and power, but the terminology used to distinguish between small, medium, and large caliber firearms is imprecise and potentially misleading. Here are the classifications from the beginning of the article:

These 367 cases were divided into 3 groups by caliber: small (.22, .25, and .32), medium (.38, .380, and 9 mm), or large (.357 magnum, .40, .44 magnum, .45, 10 mm, and 7.62 × 39 mm).

And then again later:

In all analyses, caliber was coded as either small (.22, .25, and .32), medium (.38, .380, and 9 mm), or large (.357 magnum, .40, .44 magnum, .45, 10 mm, and 7.62 × 39 mm).

OK, obviously, what they actually mean are cartridges, not calibers. That’s because while there is a real difference in average power between .38 Special, .380 ACP, 9mm, and .357 Magnum cartridges, all four are nominally the same caliber (.355 – .357). The case dimensions, and the amount/type of gunpowder in it, makes a very big difference in the amount of power (muzzle energy) generated.

So suppose that what they actually mean is that the amount of power generated by a given cartridge correlates to the lethality of the handgun in practical use. Because otherwise, you’d have to include the .357 Magnum data with the “medium” calibers. Does that make sense?

Well, intuitively, it does. I think most experienced firearms users would agree that in general, a more powerful gun is more effective for self defense (or for offense, which this study is about). Other things being equal (ability to shoot either cartridge well and accurately, concealability, etc), most of us would rather have a .38 Sp/9mm over a .22. But when you start looking at the range of what they call “medium” and “large” calibers, things aren’t nearly so clear. To borrow from a previous post, this graph shows that the muzzle energies between 9mm+P, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are almost identical in our testing:

MEgraph

 

Note that 10mm (and .357 Sig) are another step up in power, and that .357 Mag out of a longer barrel outperforms all of them. This graph doesn’t show it, but .38 Sp is very similar to 9mm, .45 Super is as good as or better than .357 Mag, and .44 Magnum beats everything.

So, what to make of all this? This claim:

Relative to shootings involving small-caliber firearms (reference category), the odds of death if the gun was large caliber were 4.5 times higher (OR, 4.54; 95% CI, 2.37-8.70; P < .001) and, if medium caliber, 2.3 times higher (OR, 2.25; 95% CI, 1.37-3.70; P = .001).

certainly seems to carry a lot of import, but I’m just not sure how much to trust it. My statistical skills are not up to critiquing their analysis or offering my own assessment using their data in any rigorous way. Perhaps someone else can do so.

I suspect that what we actually see here is that there is a continuum over a range of different handgun powers and lethality which includes a number of different factors, but which the study tried to simplify using artificial distinctions for their own purposes.

Which basically takes us back to what gun owners have known and argued about for decades: there are just too many factors to say that a given cartridge/caliber is better than another in some ideal sense, and that each person has to find the right balance which makes sense for themselves in a given context. For some situations, you want a bigger bullet. For other situations, you want a smaller gun. And for most situations, you want what you prefer.

 

Jim Downey

 

July 29, 2018 Posted by | .22, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, 10mm, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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:

Sights

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