Ballistics by the inch

Reprise: NAA .22 Mini-Revolver Review

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 1/23/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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North American Arms makes a selection of small semi-auto pistols, but they are perhaps best known for their series of Mini-Revolvers in a variety of different .22 caliber cartridges. They currently offer models in .22 Short, .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, and a .22 Cap and Ball. This review is specifically about the .22 LR model with a 1 1/8-inch barrel, but the information is generally applicable to the other models of Mini-Revolvers that NAA offer as well.

p-901-22lr_1_7

The NAA-22LR is very small, and would make an almost ideal ‘deep cover’ or ‘last ditch’ self-defense firearm. It isn’t quite as small as the .22 Short version, which has a shorter cylinder, and it doesn’t have quite the same power level as the .22 Magnum version either. It has a simple fixed-blade front sight that has been rounded to minimize snagging and it holds five rounds.

All the NAA revolvers I have seen or shot are very well made. They’re solid stainless steel construction, and use high-quality components for all other parts. The fit and finish is quite good, and there is nothing at all shoddy about them. The company also has a solid reputation for standing behind these guns if there is a problem.

The NAA-22LR is surprisingly easy to shoot. I have very large hands, and very small guns are usually a problem for me to shoot well. But most of the really small handguns I have shot are semi-automatics, which impose certain requirements on proper grip. The NAA Mini-Revolvers are completely different. First, they are Single Action only, meaning that you have to manually cock the hammer back before the gun will fire. Second, there is no trigger guard – something which may make novice shooters nervous. However, since the trigger does not extend until the hammer is drawn back, there really isn’t a safety issue with no trigger guard.

Further, the NAA Mini-Revolvers use an old trick of having the hammer rest on a ‘half-notch’ in what they call their “safety cylinder”. This position is between chambers in the cylinder, and ensures that the gun cannot fire when it is dropped. Again, you have to manually cock back the hammer in order to get the cylinder to rotate and then it’ll align a live round with the hammer.

One option available on most of the Mini-Revolvers is their “holster grip”, which is a snap-open grip extension that also serves as a belt holster by folding under the bottom of the gun. It is an ingenious design and makes it much easier to hold and fire the gun.

p-305-lr-hg-open_1

 

About the only problem with the gun is a function of its very small design: reloading. You have to completely remove the cylinder, manually remove spent cases, load new rounds into each chamber, and then remount the cylinder. This is not fast nor easy, and effectively turns the gun into a “five shot only” self-defense gun. But realistically, if you’ve gotten to the point where you are relying on a NAA Mini-revolver for self defense, I have a hard time imaging there would be much of an opportunity to reload the thing regardless.

Another point to consider with the NAA-22LR: ballistics. We did test this model as part of our BBTI .22 test sequence. Suffice it to say that the 1 1/8-inch barrel had the poorest performance of any gun we tested in terms of bullet velocity/power, which is to be expected, and is a trade-off for the very small size of these guns. If you want to check the data, use the 2″ barrel row for approximate results.

Bottom line, the NAA Mini-Revolvers serve a very specific purpose, and are well-suited to that purpose.

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There’s a fair amount I’d like to add to this post, since NAA has expanded their selection of mini-revolvers considerably, and there are some intriguing new models.

But first I’d like to point out that they’ve added some really solid ballistics information to their site for each of the models. Seriously, they give excellent information about what performance you can expect with a variety of ammo, and as far as I can see the results are very realistic in comparison to our own data.  Just one ammo example for the model above:

Tests with NAA-22LLR, S/N L15902 Tests with NAA-22LLR, S/N L15901
CCI Green Tag
40 Gr. Solid 1st Group 2nd Group Avg. 1st Group 2nd Group Avg. 2 Gun Avg.
High 598 609 604 666 609 638 621
Low 581 529 555 495 568 532 543
Mean 588 575 582 594 585 590 586
SD 7 29 18 63 15 39 29

That is extremely useful information, well organized and presented. Kudos to North American Arms for doing this! I’m seriously impressed.

As I noted, they’ve also added a number of new model variations to their offerings. Now you can get models with slightly oversized grips, with 2.5″,  4″, and 6″ barrels (in addition to the 1 1/8-inch barrel and 1 5/8-inch barrel models), with Old West styling, and a selection of different sight types & profiles. They even have a laser grip option available.

But perhaps even more excitedly, they now have both Swing-out and Break-top models which eliminate the problems with reloading:

Sidewinder with 2.5″ barrel

 

RANGER-II-Break-Top

RANGER-II-Break-Top.

Cost for those models are unsurprisingly higher than the older & simpler models, but still fairly reasonable.

I think that all models have a conversion-cylinder option available, so you can shoot either .22lr or .22mag ammo. As I have noted previously, at the very low end there’s not much additional power of .22mag over .22lr, but having the ability to switch ammo can still be worthwhile. And certainly, when you start getting out to 4″ (+ the cylinder), there is a greater difference in power between the two cartridges, and I think that if you were to get one of the guns with the longer barrel it would make a whole lot of sense to have the ability to shoot both types of ammo.

I’ll close with this thought: think how much fun it would be to have one of these mini-revolvers in something like .25 or .32 acp configured to carry say three rounds. Or you could even go nuts with a .32 H&R or .327 mag … 😉

 

Jim Downey

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February 11, 2018 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: When is a Magnum not really a Magnum?

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 6/5/2013.  Some additional observations at the end.

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Those are all claims taken right off of the box of three different boxes of .22 Magnum (technically, the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire cartridge) ammo. And when you see numbers like those, it’s really easy to get excited about how much more powerful the .22 Magnum is over your standard .22 LR.

But what do those numbers really mean? And can you really expect to get that kind of performance? Do you get a different kind of performance out of your rifle than you get out of your little revolver?

That’s one of the reasons that our Ballistics By The Inch project exists: to find out just exactly what the reality of handgun cartridge performance is, and to see how it varies over different lengths of barrel.

And the first weekend of May, we did a full sequence of tests of 13 different types of .22 Magnum ammo to find out.

About our tests

About four years ago we started testing handgun cartridges out of different lengths of barrel, using a Thompson/Center Encore platform, which has been altered to allow a number of different barrels to be quickly mounted. The procedure is to set up two chronographs at a set distance from a shooting rest, and fire three shots of each type of ammo, recording the results. Once we’ve tested all the ammo in a given caliber/cartridge, we chop an inch off the test barrel, dress it, and repeat the process, usually going from an 18-inch starting length down to 2 inches. The numbers are then later averaged and displayed in both table and chart form, and posted to our website for all to use.

For those who are interested in the actual raw data sets, those are available for free download. To date we’ve tested over 25,000 rounds of ammunition across 23 different cartridges/calibers.

To do the .22 Magnum tests things were slightly different. We started with a Thompson .22 “Hot Shot” barrel and had it re-chambered to .22 Magnum. Since this barrel started out 19-inches long, we included that measurement in our tests.

So, how did the .22 Magnum cartridge do?

See those claims from manufacturers at the top of this article? Two of the three were supported by our test results. The third was not.

Data sheet from the test.

I don’t want to pick on those specific brands/types of ammo, though. I just grabbed three of the boxes we tested at random. Altogether we tested 13 different brands/types of .22 Magnum ammo, and let’s just say that the performance you actually see out of your gun will probably vary from what you see claimed from a manufacturer.

Now, that’s not because the ammo manufacturers are lying about the performance of their ammo. Rather, the way they test their ammo probably means that it isn’t like how you will use their ammo. This is most likely due to the fact that the barrel length and testing conditions are pretty different than your typical “real world” gun.

So, what can you expect from a .22 Magnum cartridge? 

Well, that pretty much depends on how long a barrel you have on your gun.

Most handgun cartridges show a really sharp drop-off in velocity/power out of really short barrels. Typically, going from a 2- to 3-inch barrel makes a bigger difference than going from a 3- to 4-inch barrel.

Also typically, most handgun cartridges tend to level out somewhere around 6 to 8 inches. Oh, they usually gain a bit more for each inch of barrel after that, but the increase each time is increasingly small.

The real exception to this, as I have noted previously, are the “magnum” cartridges: .327 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum. The velocity/power curves for all these tend to climb longer, and show more gain, all the way out to 16 to 18 inches or more. There are exceptions to all these rules, but the trends are pretty clear.

So, does the .22 Mag deserve to be listed with the other magnum cartridges?

Well — maybe. Compared to the .22 LR, the .22 Magnum gains more velocity/power over a longer curve. But it also starts to flatten out sooner than the other magnums — usually at about 10 to 12 inches. Like most handgun cartridges, there are gains beyond that, but they tend to be smaller and smaller.

Bottom line

For me, the take-away lesson from these tests is that the .22 Magnum is a cartridge that is best served out of rifle barrel, even a short-barreled rifle. At the high end we were seeing velocities that were about 50 percent greater than what you’d get out of a similar weight bullet from a .22 LR. In terms of muzzle energy, there’s an even bigger difference: 100 percent or more power in the .22 Magnum over the .22 LR.

But when you compare the two on the low end, out of very short barrels, there’s very little if any difference: about 10 percent more velocity, perhaps 15 percent more power. What you do notice on the low end is a lot more muzzle flash from the .22 Magnum over .22 LR.

As you can see, there’s not a whole lot of rifling past the end of the cartridge when you get *that* short.

While you do see a real drop-off in velocity for the other magnums from very short barrels, they tend to start at a much higher level. Compare the .357 Magnum to the .38 Special, for example, where the velocity difference is 30 to 40 percent out of a 2-inch barrel for similar weight bullets, with a muzzle energy difference approaching 100 percent. Sure, you get a lot of noise and flash out of a .357 snubbie, but you also gain a lot of power over a .38.

But then there’s the curious case of the Rossi Circuit Judge with an 18.5-inch barrel, chambered in .22 Magnum. You see, it only performed as well as my SAA revolver with the 4.625-inch barrel. This was so completely unexpected that we thought we had to have made a mistake, or the chronos were malfunctioning, or something. So we went back and tested other guns for comparison. Nope, everything was just fine, and the other guns tested as expected.

So we made a closer examination of the Rossi and it just goes to show where there’s a rule, there’s an exception. Yup, there’s a good reason why it was giving us the readings it was. And I’ll reveal why when I do a formal review of that gun.

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OK, first thing I want to say: the reason the Circuit Judge performed so poorly was that it had a forcing cone the size of a .357 magnum on it, either allowing far too much gas to escape as the bullet made the transition from the cylinder to the barrel or because the chamber was so badly out of alignment with the barrel that it was necessary for the bullet to be guided into the barrel by first striking the side of the cone. Either way, it was a problem.

Next thing: since I wrote this 4+ years ago, I have seen countless examples of people insisting that even a little NAA .22mag pistol is MUCH more powerful than the .22lr version.

No, the .22mag is not more powerful at those very short barrel lengths. It isn’t until you get to 5 – 6″ that the .22mag starts to really outperform the .22lr. Take a look at the Muzzle Energy charts yourself:

 

This is not to dis the .22mag. It’s a fine cartridge — in the right application. For me, that means out of a rifle. And there are good reasons to have a handgun chambered in .22mag, such as ammo compatibility with a rifle or just flexibility in ammo availability in the case of a convertible revolver like the one I have. Just understand what the real advantages and disadvantages actually are before you make a decision.

 

Jim Downey

January 21, 2018 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reprise: Springfield EMP

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, and now that the holidays and other issues are passed, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 7/26/2012. Some additional observations at the end.

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Last year (so, 2011) in my review of the Springfield EMP I concluded, “$1,100 is more than I have spent on any handgun previously and I don’t really need another concealed carry gun, which is also too heavy for pocket carry. I watched it disappear into the gun case … Guess I should start saving my money.”

Well, I had a change of heart. I should never have bothered saving the money to buy the gun. Nope. I should have sold something to get it because then I would’ve gotten it sooner.

Still impressed

In my initial review of the EMP, I was impressed with the overall quality of the gun. Impressed with how it had been redesigned around the smaller cartridge size of the 9mm and the .40 S&W, rather than just adapted for those cartridges from the standard .45 ACP design of the 1911. Impressed with the overall quality. With the accuracy. With the way it felt in my hand.

Putting several hundred rounds through the gun, cleaning it a couple of times, carrying it as my primary self-defense gun for a week at a time – all of this has provided me ample opportunity to re-evaluate the EMP. And I am still impressed.

Real life use

The first thing I did after taking the gun home was to take it apart and clean it. It didn’t need it – it came clean and properly lubed – but this is my standard practice with a new gun. And with the EMP, it was the first chance I had to actually take one apart, since the one I tried previously belonged to my friend.

Disassembly was more or less routine for a 1911, but with two significant exceptions. The first is that the recoil spring is a captured assembly with the guide rod and using the little plastic clip Springfield provides makes it much easier to assemble and disassemble the gun. The other is that unlike most 1911s the EMP doesn’t have a barrel bushing – the barrel itself is flared out to match up to the slide.

The gun then went for a trip out to the range with my wife and I. I put a couple hundred rounds of factory ball ammo (124 grain, standard pressure), a bit less of my practice reload ammo (same specs), and about 60 rounds of mixed premium self-defense ammo through the gun (about half of the different ammos tested for Ballistic By The Inch). Just to be sure, I ran a couple of extra magazines of my preferred carry ammo (Speer short-barrel 124 gr GDHP +P) through it. It ate everything. It ejected everything. It was accurate with everything. I didn’t have a single problem with it.

My wife, on the other hand, did. Several times she had problems with the gun cycling completely. She’s not too much for shooting semi-autos, as she greatly prefers revolvers, and it was clear that the problem was limp-wristing. With a short action and stiff recoil spring you need to hold the grip firmly so it functions correctly.

I tried to reproduce the problem, but I couldn’t do it. I’m much more used to shooting a small semi-auto. As a point of information, I can create this problem with a number of other even smaller semi-autos including one I own.

First impressions really last: I still love it

So, what did I think after putting the EMP through its paces?

Well, I still love it. It was easy for me to shoot well, in that “dynamic” way I mentioned in my previous review. At 10 and 25 yards I was able to consistently pop 6-inch spinner targets and tin cans, shifting quickly from one to the next.

The trigger is crisp and breaks cleanly, aiding accuracy. Recoil is very manageable for such a small gun, meaning you can stay on target for multiple shots. And shooting several hundred rounds through the gun in a short period of time didn’t leave my hands sore or me tired.

There’s gotta be something I don’t like

Yeah, there are a couple of really minor things. One is that the gun doesn’t have any stippling or grooves or anything on the front strap of the grip. With the aggressive relief on the G10 grips on the one I got, this isn’t really a problem, but something on the front would probably make the gun just that much more secure in the hand.

And those G10 grips do present a minor issue I hadn’t considered previously. The relief on them is so aggressive that I needed to get a new holster for summer carry – the one that comes with the gun, and the OWB pancake holster I had for a micro 1911 (which fits the EMP perfectly) doesn’t have a body shield and you need one or the grips will chew up your skin.

Conclusion, revisited

This is a hell of a gun. Small enough to carry comfortably, but equally comfortable for an extended trip to the range. At 27 ounces, it’s too heavy for a pocket gun, but I’m more than a bit leery of carrying a ‘cocked & locked’ 1911 in a pocket anyway. In terms of size for holster carry, the EMP is very comparable to a J-frame and holds twice the number of rounds.

Yeah, I’m glad I got it.

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And I still have it, though it is currently on loan to a friend who is considering getting one. In the 5+ years that I have had it, my opinion hasn’t changed much at all from what is written above. My new favorite 9mm carry ammo is the Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+, and the EMP handles that as well as all other ammo I’ve run through it over the years. The little EMP is still a great gun to shoot, though I honestly haven’t carried it all that much in the last couple of years.

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.

Jim Downey

January 7, 2018 Posted by | .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking back over 2017

Time for the traditional New Years post …

Looking back at last year’s post, I see that not a lot has changed. BBTI had a total of 433,673 visitors in 2017. That’s about 14,000 fewer than in 2016, though there was a significant uptick in the monthly numbers towards the end of last year. And there’s a slightly different mix of referring sites this year:

  1. DefensiveCarry.com
  2. Guns.com
  3. MechTech Systems
  4. The Firearm Blog
  5. AR15.com
  6. Survivalist Boards
  7. reddit
  8. Rimfire Central
  9. Active Response Training
  10. M4 Carbine

I decided to drop Wikipedia this year (along with the various search engines), but it would have been in about the same position as last year. And we saw one of last year’s referring sites — The Firing Line — drop from the list. The two new names are Rimfire Central and M4 Carbine, both active discussion sites. That continues to indicate that BBTI is being cited by real people who are discussing firearms, who are recommending firearms, who are using our data to help make important decisions. Thanks to you all who share our site with others!

As we head into our tenth year, we currently don’t have any plans for new testing. But who knows? If you have a favorite handgun cartridge which you would like to see us revisit … or a new one to recommend … let us know.

And have a great 2018!

 

Jim Downey

January 1, 2018 Posted by | Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reprise: Bond Arms Derringer review.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com about six years ago, and it originally ran without a byline as an “Editor’s Review” for all the different Bond Arms Derringers. Images used are from that original article. Some additional observations at the end.

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Is there anything more classically American than a derringer?

Yeah, sure there is. Sam Colt’s revolver, JMB’s M1911, the lever-action repeating rifle — the list goes on. We’ve got a long and admirable history in firearms design, but derringers remain one of the most easily identifiable and storied handguns even among those who know very little about firearms. Anyone who has seen any Western has probably seen a derringer of one sort or another and recognized it as such.

So it’s unsurprising that there remains a pretty solid interest in derringers, even in this day and age of smaller and lighter handguns that are arguably “better” for the role that derringers originally filled as a pocket/backup gun.

Since the mid 1990s Bond Arms has been producing fine-quality derringers based on the original nineteenth century iconic Remington design. I own a Bond C2K model chambered in .410/.45 Colt. The 3.5″ barrel will handle up to 3″ long .410 shotgun shells, or the .45 Colt ammunition of your choice. In addition, I’ve had the good fortune to shoot just about every other barrel configuration that Bond makes for this firearm (because the barrels are easily interchangeable). My C2K has the standard sized Rosewood grips – though they can be swapped out for extended grips with very little difficulty.

It is a very well made and attractive little gun. The fit and finish are excellent. The brushed stainless steel finish wears well and is resistant to marring. Modern design tweaks include a trigger guard and a crossbolt safety, but both of these are well integrated with the overall appearance. There is sufficient weight to moderate the recoil of even the most powerful loads. I like the gun — a lot — for what it is: something of a novelty item suitable for certain tasks.

Those tasks?

Well, having a bit of fun, mostly, and with the appropriate .410 load it’d make a decent gun for snakes. That’s about it — I’m one of those who think that it isn’t very well suited for concealed-carry purposes given the weight and the two-shot capacity.

There are some things I really like. It is smaller than a J-frame sized revolver, is very comparable to any of the common “micro .380″ guns in overall size, and can pack a much more powerful cartridge depending on your barrel choice.

Features

However, there are also a few things I don’t much care for with this gun. Trigger pull can be very erratic from one gun to the next — some I have shot are very easy and smooth, but the one I have is so hard that my wife could not fire it reliably. I haven’t taken the time to investigate what would be involved in easing and smoothing out the trigger pull, but this is something that shouldn’t be necessary for the owner to have to fuss with.

Accuracy isn’t great, even considering what it was meant to be. This is more of a problem with my particular model since there is only 0.5″ of rifling at the end of the barrel, in order to accommodate a 3″ shot shell. If I wanted to use this gun for, say, SASS competition, I’d probably get a .38 special/.357 magnum barrel for it and be much happier with the accuracy.

The Verdict

So, there you go. If you shoot Cowboy Action, this’d be a fun little gun to include in your set-up. If you’re worried about snakes while out fishing or hiking, a Bond derringer would be a good solution. Or, if you just want to have a dependable version of a classic American novelty item, this is a great option.

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First things first: I discovered a year or so after that was posted that the common wisdom about the triggers was to remove the trigger guard. It’s easily done with just an Allen wrench, and makes all the difference in the world, because the trick to the trigger is to get your finger very low on the trigger to have proper leverage. Since the gun is single-action only, removing the trigger guard doesn’t present any safety problems.

Also, I have indeed expanded my selection of barrels for the Bond and now have both the .38/.357 barrel and a .45 acp barrel. Shooting full magnums (or .45 Super) out of the derringer isn’t fun, but does give you much more power options. And as I expected, accuracy with these barrels is much better than with the .410/.45 Colt barrel.

I still think that there are better options for a small concealed-carry/backup gun. But particularly with the right ammo, the Bond Arms derringer isn’t a bad choice. YMMV, of course.

 

Jim Downey

November 6, 2017 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .45 Super | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Steyr M/S handguns.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com about six years ago, and it originally ran without a byline as an “Editor’s Review” for just the M-series guns. But everything I said in that applies to the S-series, which are just a half inch shorter in the barrel and grip, so I have tweaked the content accordingly. Images used are from that original article. Some additional observations at the end.

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The first “plastic” handgun I purchased was a Steyr, an original model S9. Since then I’ve owned or shot almost all the different models that have been available in the United States. I love these handguns — just want to get that bias out in the open first thing.

The Steyr M and S-series was first available here in the late 1990s. Initially they were available in 9mm and .40 S&W (the M/S9 and M/S40 models, respectively) and then later in .357 Sig. Minor revisions were made to the design in the mid 2000s, which eliminated the manual safety, tweaked the grip shape slightly, and included an integral rail system under the barrel housing. These models were given the “-A1″ designation. Just recently Steyr made some additional minor changes to the operating mechanism, but maintained the “-A1″ designation.

A lot of handgun owners and reviewers actually considered the Steyr to be very competitive with the Glock guns, their equal if not superior in design and manufacture, and of a similar size, weight and capacity – in the case of the M-series, to the compact Glock models. But Steyr Mannlicher really screwed up their introduction into the US market, leading to shortages, unreliable service support, and few available parts and accessories. For this reason the guns didn’t catch on with the general firearm-owning public, the brand was tarnished, and these guns went for a substantial discount. When I bought my first Steyr new, I got it for about half what a similar model Glock was going for. Twice now Steyr Mannlicher has tried to re-introduce these handguns, and I think this time they may have gotten it right. Currently the M-A1 series is going for about the same price as similar Glock models.

So, what do I like about the Steyr handguns? They shoot great. They have a very low bore-axis, meaning that the position of the barrel relative to your hand is close – this minimizes muzzle flip, allowing for less perceived recoil and easier follow-up shots. I consider the ergonomics superior to the Glock – they have a different grip angle that just points more naturally for me. The unusual trapezoidal sight system is very intuitive, and leads the eye to quicker target acquisition.

The guns are very well made, with excellent fit and finish of all parts. The trigger is a DAO – what Steyr calls “Reset Action”, which means that it is partially pre-cocked (about 72 percent) giving a shorter trigger pull with about 5.5-pound pull. This makes for faster shots with less motion. The -A1 series has multiple safety systems – internal, external, and a key-lock for access control. The older series also have a manual safety, which I personally like, but it can be ignored or even removed without presenting operating problems.

Dislikes? Well, as far as I know, there is no option for lefties – no way to easily operate the slide lock or magazine release with the left hand only. Accessories are still pretty limited, though the folks over at the Steyr Club have pretty good lists of what is available and adaptable. And one odd thing – once when racking the slide on my M357 my hand slipped, and my thumb caught in the rear sight – the trapezoidal structure snagged and ripped my thumb up pretty good, putting my shooting for the day to a nasty end.

So, if you get a chance, give a Steyr a try. Everyone who has shot mine has really liked the guns a lot, and more than a few have gone on to get their own.

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I now only have the original S9 I got, having passed along the other models I had. But I still carry this gun a lot, I find it so reliable and comfortable. I have upgraded the sights to TruGlo TFOs, which I have done for most of my CCW firearms. I loved the original trapezoidal sights, but the TFOs are much easier for my aging eyes in any light conditions, so it was a good change.

Steyr has added a couple new models to the line — an “L” for Large/Longslide, and a “C” for Compact/Concealed (basically, an S barrel and an M frame/grip) — but they still haven’t really figured out how to market the guns for the American market. So they’re still relatively unknown, which is a shame. I’ve come to appreciate Glocks in the last few years, and own several, but still think that the Steyr line of handguns are at least as good and usually a better price deal. YMMV, of course.

 

Jim Downey

 

November 3, 2017 Posted by | .357 SIG, .40 S&W, 9mm Luger (9x19), Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Colt Anaconda review.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/25/2012. Images used are from that original article. Some additional observations at the end.

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Colt was very late to the modern, double-action .44 Magnum game and then really only stuck around for a little while. Only after both Smith & Wesson and Ruger had become well established in that market did Colt even enter the game with its single offering—the Colt Anaconda revolver.

The Colt Anaconda

The Anaconda was only manufactured as a production gun from 1990 through 1999 and then as a limited Colt Custom Shop offering for a few years afterward, which is a shame because the Anaconda was actually a hell of a revolver.
Colt Anaconda with black rubber grips.
It wasn’t quite up to the standards of the Colt Python, but in my opinion it’s equal to any other .44 magnum handgun on the market. I like the gun and have owned one with a six-inch barrel, which I bought used, for a number of years now.

The design of the Anaconda was based on the look of the Python. The new AA frame was much larger, scaled up to handle the much more powerful cartridge. The barrel look was the same as the classic Python, with a vent rib on top and a full lug underneath. The internal components were different from the Python, however, and were based on the King Cobra/Trooper models.

The Anaconda was only offered in stainless steel (usually a brushed finish, though they did offer some in a high polish finish). It had target-style sights, with a high-visibility red insert in the front and fully adjustable notch rear that had a slight white outline.

And typically the Anaconda came with rubber target grips bearing a silver Colt medallion, though ones with walnut grips featuring a gold Colt medallion are not uncommon (such as mine).

Initially offered only with a six-inch barrel, later models with a four-, five- (very rare), and eight-inch barrel were also available. The .44 Magnum/Special version is the most common, but there are plenty of Anacondas chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge as well.

Differences from the Colt Python

Unlike the Python, the internal mechanisms of the Anaconda did not get a lot of custom fitting before shipping. As a result, while the trigger is very good, it is not on a par with the Python. However, the whole gun is very robust and I’ve never heard of someone having problems with the cylinder getting slightly out-of-time (where the chamber alignment was no longer perfect), as is a weakness of the Python. The Anaconda locks up tight—“like a bank vault” is the common way it is described.
Colt Anaconda with walnut grips.
The Anaconda is a heavy gun, about the same weight as either the Ruger or S&W double-action .44s. The weight helps to moderate recoil, which can be very substantial with “full house” magnum loads. Personally, I like the walnut grips, but I have shot Anacondas with the original rubber grips and they are nice, as well.

Shooting

When Colt first introduced the guns, the Anaconda had embarrassing accuracy problems, so very quickly they stopped shipping the guns and retooled them. Subsequently the Anaconda is now considered very accurate.

Using the standard sights, I can easily hit a six-inch group at 50 yards, standing. I’ve never shot one with a telescopic sight (that I can recall), but they are purportedly perfectly accurate for a competent shooter out to at least 100 yards.

While I love and cherish my Python, I actually like shooting the Anaconda more. No, the trigger isn’t as buttery smooth as the Python, but I also don’t have a nagging worry about causing wear on the Anaconda. It is very strongly built, and has taken a real pounding of my very powerful .44 Magnum handloads over the years, without the slightest indication of any wear problems at all.

In single action, the trigger is extremely crisp and fairly light. In double action, it is a long, steady pull, smooth until it stages just a bit before the break. This is typical of the other Anacondas I have shot, as well.

Conclusion

Needless to say, given the size and weight of the Anaconda, this is not your ideal concealed-carry gun. But it would make one hell of a companion on your hip for any hunting or deep-woods expedition. Personally, I wouldn’t choose a handgun to go after grizzlies, but I also wouldn’t feel too under-gunned with an Anaconda (and the right loads), either.

Anacondas hold their value to this day, though at $1300 to $2000 they’re not priced at as much of a premium as the Python. Given how well the gun is made, if you find one at a price you like, I think you can buy it with confidence that it will last for many years (provided it hasn’t been abused in some way).

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There’s not much that I would add to that, except that I still have my Anaconda, still love to shoot it, and still thank my lucky stars that I got it before the prices for the things went nuts.

I do want to note that about a year after I wrote the above I was doing some informal testing of some .44 magnum ammo on the market, and discovered the Buffalo Bore 340gr +P+ loads. Full info here and here, but let me just say Oh Baby! 1300 fps out of my Anaconda means almost 1300 foot-pounds of energy. Yeah, I’d take that into bear country, no question.

 

Jim Downey

November 2, 2017 Posted by | .44 Magnum, .44 Special, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Beretta CX4 Storm .45 ACP/Super review.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 12/26/2011. Images used are from that original article. Some additional observations at the end.

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I like pistol-caliber carbines (PCCs). I think that they are a very good solution to a number of problems. However, the toughest thing about a PCC is finding one you can shoot well. In addition to some cowboy action carbines, there are plenty of other options out there – Kel Tec Sub 2000, Kriss Vector, there’s even a few Hi-Points – but the Beretta CX4 Storm is one of the best I’ve shot.

Beretta has been around forever, and they have more than a little experience in making firearms for a very wide range of applications. They designed the CX4 (and the MX4 military version) to be lightweight yet reliable for personal defense and sporting purposes. For this use, it is ideal.
Beretta CX4 Storm Review
Right out of the box the CX4 Storm is fairly basic, but offers a huge range of personalization possibilities. It’s easy to adjust the overall length of pull, to accommodate both those who have shorter arms and for apes like me. It has a Picatinny rail on the top for optics, one on the side for whatever, and one on the foregrip, which can be extended out under the barrel. Additional rails can be added at several locations, and you can load this gun down with enough tacticool stuff to make a mall ninja drool.

Standard sights include a front post, which is adjustable with a provided tool, and a rear sight with two apertures – a smaller one for long range/accuracy and a larger one for quick target acquisition. Both sights fold down and out of the way if you want to put a different kind of optics on the top rail.

One very nice feature is that the gun is designed to be easily converted from right-hand to left-hand use. The magazine release, the safety, the ejection port are all reversible with minimal gunsmithing skills, and most buyers can probably do the change themselves without difficulty.

The gun is also very ergonomic – which makes it easy to shoot it well. First time I picked it up I put all eight rounds (I was shooting the .45 ACP model) into a ragged hole less than an inch across at 25 yards. This is one of the main reasons that I like PCCs – the increased stability and sight radius of a carbine, combined with minimal recoil, make them very easy for even a novice to shoot well. The CX4 Storm is light enough (under six pounds) to not be wearying, yet heavy enough to absorb the recoil of .45 ACP rounds without any problem whatsoever. Part of the ergonomic design is the balance of the carbine, which helps it to point naturally as well as allow moving easily with it.

As you would expect with a firearm made by Beretta, the quality is top notch. Fit and finish are excellent – there are no rough spots or small gaps, no problems with the magazine seating properly, no difficulty with the charging handle or safety that I experienced, though others have reported some problems getting the safety to engage/disengage in the past. The specs for the gun state that it has a hammer-forged and chrome-lined barrel for long life and easy cleaning. All in all, it feels solid and gives you confidence that it will last for many years.

At $915, the MSRP is higher than you’ll pay for many other good quality pistol-caliber carbines, but it is not outrageous and you know you are getting a firearm you can trust (or depend on the manufacturer to stand behind if you have any problem.) And new ones can be found for around $700, as well as good used ones for a significant discount.

Bottom line: the Beretta CX4 Storm is a fine gun, which does everything it is designed to do, and there’s a good reason why most owners love them. If you get a chance, give one a try in your favorite caliber.

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Since I wrote that almost six years ago, I’ve gotten my own Cx4 in .45 … and then beefed it up to handle the additional power of the .45 Super cartridge. I’ve also added mag extensions, a Vortex Venom reflex sight, and an inexpensive 4 pistol mag storage pouch.  This is what it looks like now:

And yes, that’s a guitar case in the top of the image. With a little padding, the Cx4 fits perfectly, and surprises people. 😉

If you haven’t guessed, I still really like it.

 

Jim Downey

November 1, 2017 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Boberg XR9-S review.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/26/2012. Images used are from that original article. Some additional observations at the end.

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Last fall I reviewed the Boberg XR9-S pistol shortly after it was introduced into the market. Just recently I had a chance to really help “break in” a pair of Bobergs—to put them through their paces with about 300 rounds of ammo in the course of a very short period of time. Last October I concluded that:

This gun is a winner. It is well designed, and well made. The innovative design makes your brain hurt when you first see it. But the recoil is nothing like what you get from any other “pocket gun”, even when shooting full +P defensive ammunition. Usually with a pocket gun, you trade off the pain of shooting it a lot for the convenience of being able to carry it easily. With the Boberg, you don’t have to make that trade-off. I honestly wouldn’t be bothered at all by running a couple hundred rounds through this gun at the range.

And I did exactly that. Here is a follow up review.

Two guns, or not two guns, that is the question…

Boberg XR9-S "Shorty" 9mmYou may be asking: Why a pair of Bobergs? Because my buddy is of the opinion that having two is better than one when it comes to concealed carry guns.

If you can do it, it makes a certain amount of sense. Two identical guns means that you only have to be aware of one operating system. You can carry both guns so that it is easy to draw one or the other depending on the situation (which hand is free, et cetera). Lastly, drawing a second gun is faster than reloading or having to go through remedial action.

There’s also the practical idea of having a second gun for parts, so if perchance something happens to the company then the guns and parts may be hard to come by. I don’t think that is likely in the case of Boberg Arms, but it does happen, particularly to small companies. So, as a hedge, my buddy ordered two of the guns figuring that at worst he’d wind up selling one or both later to recoup some of his investment.

Differences this time out

The first time we shot the Boberg, it was literally a case of taking the gun out of the box, reading the manual as we loaded it and shot it. There was little or no preparation or inspection—we just wanted to see what it felt like. Not something I would usually do, but the gun had just arrived at the FFL the day before and my friend picked it up on his way to visit.

This time was a different matter. The first gun had been cleaned, but not shot again after the last outing. This time we field-stripped both guns, inspected them and lubricated them as recommended in the manual. We opened up the magazines, gave them a quick wipe down and reassembled them. Finally, we opened up a 250 round box of 115-grain target ammo (ball) and commenced to loading magazines.

How did they do?

Excellent. Again, the fit and finish is very, very good, in keeping with what you would expect from a high-end pistol. The three-dot sights are good and easy to use in low light (where we were shooting this time). Accuracy is very good for such a small gun. The best shooter of our small group (who wasn’t with us last time) was able to keep rounds in about a three-inch group at 11 yards.

Boberg XR9-S "Shorty" field strippedI mentioned in my first review that we had some minor glitches with the gun not going completely into battery. That didn’t happen with the gun we shot previously, but it did happen with the one right out-out-of-the-box. Meaning before it functions at 100 percent, you need to run a few magazines through it.

We ran about 50 rounds through each gun, then took them down and did a quick cleaning and inspection. After the normal light lubrication and putting the guns back together, we didn’t have any problems again with either gun.

Or, I should say, we didn’t have any problems with them functioning again. Like the last time, the front sight on the new gun fell off about 25 rounds into the session. But this time we had brought an allen wrench of the proper size to remount and secure it.

Otherwise, both guns shot like champs. We took turns loading and shooting each gun, one right after the other, until we had went through all 250 rounds of the target ammo and 50 rounds of JHP self-defense +P ammo. When we were done, we again field stripped them and did a quick cleaning and inspection. There was no obvious wear and the guns weren’t very dirty.

Conclusion: Part II

Pretty much what I said before: “This gun is a winner. It is well designed, and well made.” And I was quite right about what it would be like to run a bunch of rounds through it: no problem at all. Each of us shot one or the other of these guns about 100 times. None of us had any problems at all with hands hurting or feeling abused by recoil. That alone is astonishing—I know of no other pocket pistol that I would be willing to do that with as a regular thing. With the Boberg, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment doing it.

I know, like last time, someone is going to complain about a $1000 gun having the front sight fall off. Please—this is a completely trivial problem and one easily rectified by just checking to make sure the set screw is tight before you shoot. It’s one of those little things that should be caught by the manufacturer, but given how well the gun is put together and performs otherwise, I’ll cut ‘em some slack.

I’m more impressed than ever with this gun. In my initial review, I gave it a 4.5 star rating. Now I’d move that up to 5 stars, and wish I had further to go.

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I’ve now owned one of those two Bobergs for several years. And in that time my experience and opinion has evolved somewhat from the article above.

First and foremost, Boberg Arms was sold to Bond Arms early last year. They tweaked the design slightly, and made some changes to gun, and came out with what they now call the BullPup9. I haven’t shot one of those yet, but I did discuss the changes with Bond Arms and agree with the decisions they made. And in my experience the Bond products are all very well made, so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the new pistol to anyone.

One thing I have come to learn about the XR9-S is that when chambering a round, it is critical that the slide is racked all the way back with significant force, and then released. If you do not draw the slide back with a snap, a round will only be lifted from the mag about halfway, and then will be caught behind the extractor. And if you try to ‘ride’ the slide forward, there’s a fair chance that the nose will drop down under the chamber and lodge tightly.

Either problem can be corrected in a few minutes with simple tools, but it definitely takes the gun “out of the fight” for the duration. I always caution people new to the gun about this problem, but still about a third of them will make this mistake at least once. Usually, once someone gets the hang of it, they don’t have a problem. And it is important to note that in normal operation, the gun cycles without any problems, chambering a new round from the magazine reliably. But this is still an important consideration in choosing a self-defense gun, and I would not recommend that anyone with poor hand strength (needed to rack the slide with sufficient force) choose the XR9-S.

To the best of my knowledge, there are still no after-market sights available for the XR9-S/BullPup9. I sent my front sight to a gunsmith friend, who turned it into a nice fiber-optic sight, but that’s about the best you can do in terms of improving the sights.

I do still love the little XR9-S, and I carry it a fair amount of the time. In terms of power and shoot-ability, it’s one of the best very compact packages out there. But it is a niche gun, and not suitable for every person or situation. So if you’re tempted, or intrigued, be sure to try one before you buy.

Jim Downey

 

October 31, 2017 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Boberg Arms, Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections upon a reflex sight.

I recently came across a really good sale on a Trijicon RMR reflex sight, and decided to take the plunge and add it to my Glock 21. I had handled and shot some other competition handguns with a reflex set-up, but I hadn’t yet tried one on a more-or-less stock gun intended for routine use, and wasn’t sure how well it would work or how I would like it.

My G21 had been set up to handle the .460 Rowland cartridge, complete with compensator, so it wasn’t exactly stock. You can see it here:

Converted G21 on left, G30S on right.

As I have previously noted, I have now changed over to using the .45 Super cartridge rather than the .460 Rowland because the .45 Super offers most of the benefits of the .460 Rowland without some of the disadvantages. But I have kept the conversion kit in place because it gives me more flexibility in ammo selection and more control of the gun. And since I don’t carry the G21, the extra mass/length of the compensator doesn’t make a difference in day-to-day use. Thinking along those lines, I figured that adding a reflex sight to the G21 wouldn’t cause a problem, and might make it an even better home defense firearm.

So along with the RMR I got an adapter plate which just slides into position where the rear sight of the Glock mounts. Mounting the optic just took a few minutes and no special tools other than a light hammer and brass punch. Here’s the result:

And this morning I had a chance to take it out to the range for testing, to see what I thought of it.

I like it. A lot.

It took a little getting used to, since I have about 50 years of shooting experience which has conditioned me to always look for the front sight on a gun, and place that on the target. The RMR sticks up too much for that to work well, and if you can see the front sight through the RMR you probably won’t see the red dot. Rather, you have to tilt the front of the gun down for the red dot to appear. This actually puts the gun back to the normal position you shoot it in, but you’re just looking above the front sight — parallel to the slide, as it were.

The RMR I got was the one with the 6.5 MOA dot, which I figured would be easier and quicker to get on target even if I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and would give me adequate accuracy at any distance I was likely to use the gun (say 25 yards or less). At 10 yards distance at the range, the dot appeared to be about half-an-inch across, perhaps a bit more. For my purposes this was more than accurate enough to knock down steel plates consistently. As I get more used to the RMR, moving out to 25 yards should give similar results.

Now that I’ve tried it on this gun, I can understand why others have decided to have a mount for the RMR milled into the slide of their gun. That would bring down the location of the dot and make everything more consistent with previous shooting experience. It would also make the gun more compact and more suitable for either duty or concealed carry. I doubt that I will go to the trouble or expense to have this done on the G21, but it is something I would consider for the G30S shown above, particularly if the next generation of reflex sights are even more compact and suitable for a handgun. It’s something to think about, anyway.

 

Jim Downey

September 27, 2017 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Some new nines.

I had the good fortune to get together with a couple of friends and try out some new 9mm guns we’ve each gotten recently. Consider this a brief review. In each case we shot a mix of standard Remington ball ammo and Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+, which is my usual carry ammo and about the ‘snappiest’ factory 9mm on the market in my experience.

First up, a Glock 17L.

Now, the G17L (Longslide) has been around forever, and you can easily find a lot of reviews of it all over the web. But this was the first time any of us had shot one.

This was a brand-new gun, straight out of the box. It had not been fired before.

I own several Glocks, and have shot a lot more. I’m not a huge fan of their ergonomics, though the Gen 4 guns are typically better for me than earlier models. Even then, I usually alter the shape of the grip in ways to better fit my hands. More on that in a bit.

It’s interesting shooting a Glock which has been optimized more for target shooting than for combat use. The sight picture is different, and the rear sight is adjustable. The adjustable trigger has a really L O N G pull which I found very kinesthetically confusing, it was so different from the usual Glock trigger.

That said, I liked the gun. Typical Glock functionality. We did have to adjust the rear sight, since all three of us (two of whom are decent shots, and the third is quite good) were getting consistent hits about 6″ left of the bulls-eye at 15 yards. Once we made the adjustment, it was easy to keep on target. With some practice to get used to the different trigger pull (or adjusting it to suit my preferences), it’d be a decent target pistol. But it’s not something I would run right out and get, though it handled both the ball ammo and the SD rounds without the slightest hiccup.

Next up, my Glock 17 with a new Timberwolf 1911-style frame.

I had tried one of these earlier this year, but it had the ‘slim’ backstrap on it. I liked how it felt enough to go ahead and order one after I shot that gun a second time. I expected that I would like it even better with the ‘swelled’ grip.

And I was right.

As configured, it is the most comfortably-shooting Glock I have ever tried, and tamed the stout Buffalo Bore rounds just fine. It’s almost as comfortable to shoot as my beloved Steyr S9 (my review of the M-series; the S-series is just slightly smaller in barrel and grip length). If you haven’t had a chance to try one of these Glocks with the Timberwolf frame, you’ve been missing out. I just wish they made the things for the .45 caliber Glocks … though a combination of some judicious filing and/or a slip-sleeve have made the Gen 4 G30S and G21 guns I have tolerable.

Speaking of altered Glocks … here are a couple of G43 Glocks to check out:

The standard:

And one which has had a little work:

Look particularly at the backstrap: it’s now almost complete straight. My buddy took off most of the swell towards the bottom of the strap using a rasp and then sandpaper. He has little, meaty hands, and this change allows him to get much better purchase on the gun, with much better trigger position. He’s also planning on increasing the undercut on the trigger guard to accommodate his finger better.

Personally, the straight backstrap made it more difficult for me to get a good grip on the gun, and shooting the +P+ ammo out of it was downright painful for me, while the same ammo out of the unaltered G43 was just mildly annoying. The owner of the standard G43 didn’t have a problem with either ammo, and it was clear that my friend with the altered G43 was *much* more comfortable shooting it than the standard version.

So if you’ve ever thought about adjusting the grip of a Glock to better suit you, know that there are options out there which might be worth exploring.

Lastly, one of my friends brought a new Ruger LC9s — the striker-fired version of the classic LC9:

This gun has been out for a couple of years, but again it was new to all of us. I wasn’t particularly impressed with shooting the original LC9, primarily for the reason others have said over the years: a long & awkward double-action trigger. That made it difficult to shoot, and almost impossible for me to shoot accurately, as small as it was.

The LC9s, however, was a whole different experience. The trigger was light and crisp, easy to control and stay on target with. The gun is still smaller than I care for (my pinkie finger was completely under the bottom of the extended mag), but it managed to handle the recoil from the Buffalo Bore ammo just fine.

 

Jim Downey

 

August 25, 2017 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reprise: Give in to the Power of the Dark Side — Converting Non-shooters

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 8/5/2011. Some additional observations at the end.

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I swear, sometimes I feel like a Sith Lord.

Friends and acquaintances will find out that I’m “into” guns. We’ll be chatting and there will be this odd moment where I can see it in their eyes: attraction, mixed with not a little fear.

If they know me at all, either through interaction or by reputation, they probably have a certain expectation. I’m a professional book & document conservator. I used to own a big art gallery. For years I wrote a column about the arts for the local newspaper. I even gained some small measure of fame as a conceptual artist.  I was the primary care-provider for my elderly mother-in-law, and have been praised for my gentleness and compassion. I’ve published two books, and am working to complete a third. Based on that, they have probably put me into a nice little box in their mental map of the world.

That I am a gun owner, someone with a CCW, and even one of the principals behind the world’s premier handgun ballistics resource usually comes as a bit of a surprise.

Hahahahahahahaha!

Yes, I like this reaction. I like what it does to people: forces them to reconsider some of their stereotypes.

And I also like that it gives me the opportunity to tempt them. To corrupt them. By taking them shooting.

What can I say? I’m evil. You know, like a Dark Lord of the Sith.

Bwahahahaha!

I don’t know how many people I have done this to. Not enough. I want to turn more of them. To have them hold a gun in their hands, to learn how they can control it, to use it safely.

Because I have found that this is key – turning their fear of something they do not understand into a tool that they can use. I tap into the strong emotion of fear, subvert it, direct it. It becomes a motivator. It helps them understand that a gun needs to be respected and handled safely.

We go through the formula of the Four Rules. They handle the revolver, the pistol, and the rifle before the ammunition ever comes out of storage. We study cartridge, and bullet, and caliber. And then I reveal the mysteries of sighting, breathing, and trigger control.

We go to the range. There is the ritual of eye and hearing protection. A review of safety commands. An invocation of the formula of the Four Rules.

I take out a .22 rifle. Load it with one round only. Tension builds. I am down range at a simple target and fire the gun.

Now they’re almost hooked. There’s anticipation, almost a hunger as they watch me.

I check the gun to make sure it is unloaded. Hand it over, have them check it. Give them one round, have them load it. Carefully, they seat the rifle, take aim. When they are ready, I have them click off the safety, put their finger on the trigger and squeeze.

You can see it in their eyes. A part of them has come alive. A part they feared. Because they did not understand it.

Usually, they get a big smile on their face. Or maybe that comes later, when we shoot one of the handguns. Sometimes it takes until we get to one of the magnums, something with a real kick to it. A big badda-BOOM! But when that happens, every one of them is hooked.

Oh, not necessarily hooked in the sense of going out and getting their own guns, and taking up shooting sports as a lifetime activity. No, hooked in the sense of understanding at an almost cellular level what the appeal is: the ability to control a kind of power they never had before.

I have opened up a whole new world for them. Shown them possibilities they didn’t know existed. Gave them a taste of the potential they had locked away.

Some of them do get hooked in the sense of wanting to learn how to use that potential. They start asking me about the nuts and bolts of getting their own gun, what it takes to pass the state CCW requirements, the advantages of this caliber or that design. They become a convert.

But even if they don’t, they no longer have an irrational fear of guns because they now know something about them – something practical and hands-on—you can almost watch their stereotyping melt and wash away. They understand that guns are not inherently “evil” – they’re just a tool, which can be used by anyone willing to put in the time to learn how to do so.

And as we pack up from our trip to the range, I’ll usually joke that I have “turned them to the Dark Side.”

Like the good Sith Lord that I am.

Wahahahaha!

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Yeah, OK, now you know why I’m not the “Jim Downey” who was an SNL writer.

But I was trying to have a little fun with the idea of ‘turning’ someone on the subject of firearms, because it is a very real experience I’ve had countless times.

 

Jim Downey

July 30, 2017 Posted by | .22, .44 Magnum, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Is Muzzle Energy Really a Measure of Handgun Effectiveness?

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 2/13/2012. Some additional observations at the end.

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Would you rather be shot with a modern, Jacketed Hollow Point bullet from a .32 ACP or have someone throw a baseball at you? Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? But did you know that the ‘muzzle energy’ of the two is about the same? Seriously, it is and that’s just one reason why trying to use muzzle energy as a measurement of handgun effectiveness is problematic.

Calculating Muzzle Energy

First off, what is ‘muzzle energy’ (ME)? Wikipedia has a pretty good description and discussion of it. Here’s the simple definition:

Muzzle energy is the kinetic energy of a bullet as it is expelled from the muzzle of a firearm. It is often used as a rough indication of the destructive potential of a given firearm or load. The heavier the bullet and the faster it moves, the higher its muzzle energy and the more damage it will do.

For those who are trying to remember your high school physics, kinetic energy is the energy (or power) of something moving. You can calculate kinetic energy using the classic formula:

E = 1/2mv^2

Which is just mathematic notation for “Energy equals one-half the mass of an object times the square of its velocity.”

Doing the actual calculations can be a bit of a pain, since you have to convert everything into consistent units, but the formula is there on the Wikipedia page (and can be found elsewhere) if you want to give it a go. Fortunately, there are a number of websites out there which will calculate muzzle energy for you – you just plug in the relevant numbers and out comes the result. We also have muzzle energy graphs for all the calibers/ammunition tested at BBTI.

Batter up?

If you go through and check all the muzzle energy numbers for handguns with a 6″ or less barrel which we’ve tested (BBTI that is), in .22, .25. or .32, you’ll see that all except one (and you’ll have to go to the site to see which one it is) comes in under 111 foot-pounds.

Why did I choose that number? Because that would be the kinetic energy of a baseball thrown at 100 mph. Check my numbers: a standard baseball weighs 5.25 ounces, which is about 2,315 grains. 100 mph is about 147 fps. That means the kinetic energy of a baseball thrown at 100 mph is 111 ft-lbs.

Now, we’re not all pro baseball pitchers. And I really wouldn’t want to just stand there and let someone throw a baseball at me. But I would much rather risk a broken bone or a concussion over the damage that even a small caliber handgun would do.

The Trouble with Muzzle Energy

And therein lies the problem with using muzzle energy as the defining standard to measure effectiveness: it doesn’t really tell you anything about penetration. A baseball is large enough that even in the hands of Justin Verlander it’s not going to penetrate my chest and poke a hole in my heart or some other vital organ. If I catch one to the head, it may well break facial bones or even crack my skull, but I’d have a pretty good chance of surviving it.

Now, I think muzzle energy is a useful measure of how much power a given handgun has. That’s why we have it available for all the testing we’ve done on BBTI. But it is just one tool, and has to be taken into consideration with other relevant measures in order to decide the effectiveness of a given gun or caliber/cartridge. Like measures such as depth of penetration. And temporary and permanent wound channels. And accuracy in the hands of the shooter. And ease of follow-up shots. And ease of carry.

I’ve seen any number of schemes people have come up with to try and quantify all the different factors so that you can objectively determine the “best” handgun for self defense. Some are interesting, but I think they all miss the point that it is an inherently subjective matter, where each individual has to weigh their own different needs and abilities.

Sure, muzzle energy is a factor to consider. But I think the old adage of “location (where a bullet hits) is king, and penetration is queen” sums it up nicely.

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In the five years since I wrote that, my thinking has evolved somewhat. Well, perhaps it is better to say that it has ‘expanded’. I still agree with everything above, but I’m now even more inclined to go with a relatively heavy bullet for penetration over impressive ME numbers. I think that comes from shooting a number of different brands of ammo where the manufacturer has chosen to go with a very fast, but very light bullet to get an amazing ME, with the argument that this is more likely to cause some kind of terminal shock, citing tests showing significant ‘temporary wound channels’ and such in ballistic gel.

But you really can’t cheat physics. If you dump a lot of kinetic energy very quickly into creating a temporary wound channel, then you have less energy for other things. Like penetration. Or bullet expansion. And those are factors which are considered important in how well a handgun bullet performs in stopping an attacker. That’s why the seminal FBI research paper on the topic says this:

Kinetic energy does not wound. Temporary cavity does not wound. The much discussed “shock” of bullet impact is a fable and “knock down” power is a myth. The critical element is penetration. The bullet must pass through the large, blood bearing organs and be of sufficient diameter to promote rapid bleeding. Penetration less than 12 inches is too little, and, in the words of two of the participants in the1987 Wound Ballistics Workshop, “too little penetration will get you killed.” Given desirable and reliable penetration, the only way to increase bullet effectiveness is to increase the severity of the wound by increasing the size of hole made by the bullet. Any bullet which will not penetrate through vital organs from less than optimal angles is not acceptable. Of those that will penetrate, the edge is always with the bigger bullet.

 

Now, you can still argue over the relative merits of the size of the bullet, and whether a 9mm or a .45 is more effective. You can argue about trade-offs between recoil & round count. About this or that bullet design. Those are all completely valid factors to consider from everything I have seen and learned about ballistics, and there’s plenty of room for debate.

But me, I want to make sure that at the very minimum, the defensive ammo I carry will 1) penetrate and 2) expand reliably when shot out of my gun. And if you can’t demonstrate that in ballistic gel tests, I don’t care how impressive the velocity of the ammo is or how big the temporary wound cavity is.

So I’ll stick with my ‘standard for caliber’ weight bullets, thanks. Now, if I can drive those faster and still maintain control of my defensive gun, then I will do so. Because, yeah, some Muzzle Energy curves are better than others.

 

Jim Downey

April 16, 2017 Posted by | .22, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .45 ACP, .45 Super, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reprise — Storing Ammo Long-term: Because without Rounds, Your Gun Is Just a Poorly Designed Club

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 8/17/2011. Some additional observations at the end.

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It’s a classic scene: Mad Max rolling a shotgun shell between his fingers, trying to see whether it is still any good.

Will it crumble? If it doesn’t, will it still fire?

Only his script-writer knows for sure.

But how much does it have to do with reality? How long will ammunition stay good, and under what storage conditions? Talk about classics – that basic question has been a standard of firearm discussions online going back to before there even was an “online”.

Whether you’ve just found an old box of shotgun shells in the back of your closet or you’re planning ahead for the Zombie Apocalypse, it’d be good to know whether you could trust those rounds to go bang when needed.

So, what’s the answer?

Well, it depends.

Chances are, if the ammunition has been made in the last century, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

OK, let’s qualify, qualify, qualify that statement. Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder and with a non-corrosive primer, and has been stored reasonably well, then it’ll still be good.

Chances are, if it was a quality factory ammunition, made in the last century using modern smokeless powder and with a non-corrosive primer, and hasn’t been immersed in water or subject to prolonged sub-freezing temperature, then it’ll still be good.

Hmm. That makes it sound like there’s not a good chance, doesn’t it?

But I don’t mean to say that. The truth is, if you come across a box (or can or pallet) of ammo made after WWII, and the exterior doesn’t show signs of obvious damage or corrosion, it should be fine. I’ve shot plenty of such ammo over the years – stuff that is older than I am. And it’s likely that if the ammunition was made after the shift to non-corrosive primers in the 1920s – which covers most non-military ammunition – it’ll also be fine. In the West, even military ammunition made since WWII has predominantly been made using non-corrosive primers, and is likely very stable. Eastern bloc countries used corrosive primers until much, much later, which meant not only could they present a problem with barrel damage if the firearm wasn’t cleaned properly, but that there was a chance that the primer would become weak with age and wouldn’t completely ignite the gunpowder in the cartridge.

How about storage? I mean of ammo made recently – how should you store it to increase the chances of it staying good?

The biggest thing is to keep it from resting in water. Sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised.

Some ammunition is sealed (tracer rounds, for example) after manufacture. But most of it just relies on the mechanical qualities of manufacturing to keep moisture out. This is actually pretty good, and serves fairly well in the case of metallic cartridges. You don’t have to worry about a brief exposure to water, from rain or dropping a round into a puddle or something. You should avoid allowing non-sealed rounds from sitting in water for a prolonged period, since such exposure could allow water to seep into the cartridge and compromise the gunpowder. It could also lead to case or primer corrosion, which could weaken the structural integrity or loading problems. So, if you want to store ammo for a long time, keep it in some kind of waterproof container. Double-bagging, using a vacuum sealer, and related strategies should all work fine.

Oh – did you notice that I specified “metallic cartridges” above? Yeah. That’s because plastic shotgun shells are not as water-tight. They’re still pretty good, given modern manufacturing tolerances, but you probably want to be a little more careful with them for long-term storage. Just sayin’.

One other thing to be aware of: freezing can cause some gunpowders to “crack” – to make smaller particles. While it may not seem to be a big deal, it can greatly increase the surface area of each small particle of the propellent. Which can cause it to burn faster. Which can cause over-pressure. Which can cause case rupture or even potentially the dreaded “ka-boom.”

So, there you have it, whether you’re wanting to have a rainy-day stash, just stockpile ammo when you find a good sale, or are wanting to be accurate for your next screenplay – take these things into consideration and you should be fine. Modern ammunition is generally of very high quality, and very reliable. A little planning ahead on your part should maintain that reliability for as long as you want.

Because it’s better to have a gun than a club.

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There’s isn’t a lot that I would add to this piece regarding old ammo. But since I wrote this we’ve tested something like an additional 20,000 rounds of new commercial ammo from the biggest manufacturers to boutique ammo from small shops. And I continue to be impressed with just how uniform the quality has been — it’s easily in the 99%+ range. It’s to the point where if commercial ammo fails to fire reliably, I would always first inspect the gun to see what the problems was, because it’s much more likely that the gun has some kind of problem than the ammo.

Which isn’t to say that all ammo will work reliably in all guns. I still advocate that for self-defense firearms in particular, you should always run at least a couple of boxes of a given type/brand of ammo through the gun before considering it sufficiently reliable enough to depend on to save your life. YMMV, of course.

Jim Downey

April 9, 2017 Posted by | Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Shotgun ballistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Levering the Playing Field: a Magnum Opus

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/26/2011. Some additional observations at the end.

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In an earlier article, when I said you’d get about a 15% increase in bullet velocity when using a pistol caliber carbine over a handgun, I lied.

Or, rather, I was neglecting one particular class of pistol ammunition which can develop upwards of a 50% increase in velocity/power in a carbine over a handgun: the “magnums,” usually shot out of a lever-action gun. This would include .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .44 Magnum.

These cartridges are rimmed, initially developed as powerful handgun rounds, and have their origins in black powder cartridges. This history is important for understanding why they are different than most of the other pistol cartridges and the carbines that use them.

We’ll start with the .357 Magnum, the first of these cartridges developed.

Back in the 1930s a number of people, Elmer Keith most notable among them, were looking to improve the ballistic performance of the .38 Special cartridge. This had been a cartridge originally loaded with black powder. Black powder takes up a lot of space – typically two to four times as much space as smokeless powder of a similar power. Meaning that when people started loading .38 Special cartridges with smokeless powder, the cartridge was mostly empty.

Now, if you were looking to get more power out of a .38 Special, and you saw all that unused space in the cartridge, what would be the obvious thing to do? Right – add more smokeless powder.

The problem is, many of the handguns chambered for the .38 Special using black powder were not strong enough to handle .38 Special cartridges over-charged with smokeless powder. And having handguns blowing up is rough on the customers. Heavier-framed guns could handle the extra power, but how to distinguish between the different power levels and what cartridge was appropriate for which guns?

The solution was to come up with a cartridge, which was almost the same as the .38 Special, but would not chamber in the older guns because it was just a little bit longer. This was the .357 Magnum.

There are two important aspects of the cartridge as far as it applies to lever guns. One is just simply the ability to use more gunpowder (a typical gunpowder load for a .357 magnum uses about half again as much as used in a .38 Special.) And the other is that you can get more complete combustion of the gunpowder used, perhaps even use a much slower burning gunpowder. This means that the acceleration of the bullet continues for a longer period of time.

How much of a difference does this make? Well, from the BBTI data for the .357 Magnum, the Cor Bon 125gr JHP out of a 4″ barrel gives 1,496 fps – and 2,113 fps out of an 18″ barrel. Compare that to the .38 Special Cor Bon 125gr JHP out of a 4″ barrel at 996 fps and 1,190 fps out of an 18″ barrel. That’s a gain of 617 fps for the .357 Magnum and just 194 fps for the .38 Special. Put another way, you get over a 41% improvement with the Magnum and just 19% with the Special using the longer barrel.

Similar improvements can be seen with other loads in the .357 Magnum. And with the other magnum cartridges. And when you start getting any of these bullets up in the range of 1,500 – 2,000 fps, you’re hitting rifle cartridge velocity and power. The low end of rifle cartridge velocity and power, but nonetheless still very impressive.

There’s another advantage to these pistol caliber lever guns: flexibility. Let’s take that .357 again. On the high end of the power band, you can use it as a reliable deer-hunting gun without concern. But if you put some down-loaded .38 Special rounds in it, you can also use it to hunt rabbit or squirrel. I suppose you could even use snake/rat shot loads, though most folks don’t recommend those loads due to concerns over barrel damage. Shooting mild .38 Special loads makes for a great day just plinking at the range.

One thing that I consider a real shame: you can get good quality lever guns for the .357, the .41, and the .44 magnums. But to the best of my knowledge, no one yet makes a .327 Magnum lever gun. I would think that such a gun would meet with a lot of popularity – properly designed, it should be able to handle the .327 Federal Magnum cartridge, the .32 H&R cartridge, even the .32 S&W Long. Again, with the right powder loads, this would give the gun a great deal of flexibility for target shooting and hunting small to medium sized game/varmits.

So, if you like the idea of having a carbine in the same cartridge as your handgun, but want to be able to maximize the power available to you, think about a good lever gun. It was a good idea in the 19th century, and one that still makes a lot of sense today.

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Some additional thoughts …

I’m still a little surprised that no manufacturer has come out with a production .327 mag lever gun, though occasionally you hear rumors that this company or that company is going to do so. But I must admit that as time has gone on I’ve grown less interested in the .327 cartridge, since firearms options are so limited — definitely a chicken & egg problem.

One very notable absence from the above discussion is the .22 WMR (.22 Magnum), for the simple reason that we hadn’t tested it yet when I wrote the article. You can find a later article about it here.

Something I didn’t address when I wrote the article initially was ammunition which was formulated to take greater advantage of the longer barrel of a lever gun. Several manufacturers produce such ammo, perhaps most notably Hornady and Buffalo Bore. A blog post which includes the latter ammo out of my 94 Winchester AE can be found here, with subsequent posts here and here.

And lastly, there’s another cartridge we tested which really should be included in the “magnum” category, because it sees the same increasing power levels out to at least 18″ of barrel: .45 Super. This proved to be more than a little surprising, since it is based on the .45 ACP cartridge.  Most semi-auto firearms which shoot the .45 ACP should be able to handle a limited amount of .45 Super, but if you want a lever gun set up to handle the cartridge you’ll have to get it from a gunsmith.

 

Jim Downey

April 2, 2017 Posted by | .22WMR, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reprise: It’s Not the Length of Your Barrel, It’s How You Use It

My friends over at the Liberal Gun Club asked if they could have my BBTI blog entries cross-posted on their site. This is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/7/2011. Some additional observations at the end.

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“What is the best barrel length?”

It’s a question I get a lot, thanks to my involvement in Ballistics By The Inch. And invariably, I say in response: “it depends.” As in, it depends on what you’re going to use it for.

OK, first thing: I’m talking about pistol cartridges, not rifle cartridges. Got that? Pistol cartridges.

That’s what we studied with our BBTI project (actually, continue to study, since we’ve done several expansions of the cartridges and ammunition tested already, and have another big expansion coming up the beginning of May.) Now that we’ve cleared that up . . .

Different barrel lengths are good for different purposes. The longer the barrel, the longer the sight radius, and so the easier it is to be accurate with the gun. The shorter the barrel, the easier it is to conceal.

And barrel length has an effect on the velocity of a bullet (and hence the power of that bullet.) How much of an effect? Well, it depends.

No, seriously, it depends. Do not believe it when someone tells you “oh, the rule of thumb is about 75 (or 25 or 100 or any other number) feet per second for each inch of barrel.” That number may be right for one given ammunition in one given gun for one given inch of barrel length – but it will not hold true as a general case. Don’t just take my word on this – look at the actual numbers from tests we conducted, using almost 10,000 rounds of ammunition. You can go to the BBTI site and see the data for yourself (it’s all free, with no advertising or anything), but here are two examples:

Cor Bon 165gr JHP +P .45 ACP ammo was tested at 1001 fps with a 2″ barrel. That jumps to 1050 fps with a 3″ barrel, or an increase of about 50 fps. Going to a 4″ barrel you get 1163 fps, or an increase of 113 fps. But when you go from an 10″ barrel to a 11″ barrel, you only get an increase of 23 fps.

Let’s look at Federal Hydra-Shok 230gr JHP .45 ACP. It starts at 754 fps with a 2″ barrel, and jumps to 787 fps out of a 3″ barrel – an increase of 33 fps.  Go to the 4″ barrel and it tested at 865 fps – an increase of 78 fps. And when you go from an 10″ barrel to a 11″ barrel, you only get an increase of 4 fps.

Do you see my point? It not only varies by ammunition, it also varies by which inch of the barrel you are talking about – the inch between 3 and 4 sees a lot more increase than the inch between 10 and 11.

Almost all handgun cartridges show this effect, and it makes sense: pistol cartridges use a fast burning powder, but it still needs a little bit of time to completely combust. The highest acceleration comes at first, and then usually handgun bullets plateau out somewhere between 6″ and 10″, with little additional velocity with longer barrels past that point. The graph of our first example shows this very well:

Some cartridges even show velocity starting to drop off with longer barrels, as the friction of the bullet passing through the barrel overcomes any additional boost from the gunpowder. Notably, the “magnum” cartridges (.327, .357, .41, and .44) all show a continued climb in velocity/power all the way out to 18″ of barrel length (the maximum we test), though the amount of increase tends to get smaller and smaller the longer the barrel.

So, back to “it depends”: if you want a lever-gun or carbine, which uses a pistol cartridge, you’re best off using one of the magnums if you want maximum power. If, however, you want to use a carbine for an additional power boost and better aiming, one with a barrel length somewhere in the “plateau” for a given cartridge makes sense (and this is why subguns typically have barrels in the 8 – 10″ range).

For a hunting pistol, you probably want to have a barrel of 6″ to 8″ to get a lot of the additional power and still have it manageable. This barrel length will also give you a nice big sight radius for accuracy, making it good for hunting or target shooting.

How about for concealed carry? The shorter the barrel, the better, right? Well, if you look through all our data, you’ll see that usually, most cartridges see the greatest jump in velocity (and hence power) from 2″ to 4″. Now, the smaller the caliber and the lighter the bullet, the more the big jump tends to come right up front – from 2″ to 3″. The larger the caliber and the heavier the bullet, the more it tends to come a little later, from 3″ to 4″. Still, you can decide for yourself whether the trade-off in less power for ease of carry is worth it.

And good news for the revolver fans: because the cylinder basically functions to extend the barrel, your 2″ snubby actually functions more like a gun with a 3.5″ – 4″ barrel. Though there is some velocity/power loss due to the cylinder gap. How much loss? That is actually the next thing we’ll be testing, but I’d bet that . . . it depends.

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Since I wrote that six years ago, we’ve done a LOT more testing at BBTI, and have now shot more than 25,000 rounds and greatly expanded our data. The cylinder gap tests mentioned above did indeed show that the amount of loss did vary according to a number of factors, but for the most part established that the effect wasn’t as large as many people thought. And we found an interesting exception to the “magnum” rule in one of our most recent tests: it turns out that the .45 Super cartridge behaves like a true magnum, by continuing to gain more power the longer the barrel, until at carbine lengths it is on a par with (or even exceeds) the .460 Rowland cartridge. Since the .45 Super is based on the .45 ACP cartridge, we expected it to perform like that cartridge and level off at about 10″, but it clearly continues to gain out to at least 18″.

I also want to add a couple of quick comments about how concealed-carry guns have changed, though this is more just personal observation than any kind of rigorous research. I think that as concealed-carry has continued to expand, more gear is on the market to make it easier to do, and I think for that reason some people are able to carry slightly larger guns and there are more guns available with barrel length in the 4″ – 5″ range. In addition, sight/optics/laser options have continued to improve, making simple sight radius less of a factor — meaning that for those who do want to carry a smaller gun, it is easier to use it well (though having better sights/optics/lasers is NOT a substitute for practice!) I expect that both these trends will continue.

Jim Downey

March 26, 2017 Posted by | .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: So, You Say You Want Some Self-Defense Ammo?

My friends over at the Liberal Gun Club asked if they could have my BBTI blog entries cross-posted on their site. This is the second in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 2/16/2011. Some additional observations at the end.

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You need to choose self-defense ammunition for your gun. Simple, right? Just get the biggest, the baddest, the most powerful ammunition in the correct caliber for your gun, and you’re set, right?

Wrong. Wrong, on so many levels.  For a whole bunch of reasons. We’ll get to that.

Shooters have earned the reputation as an opinionated breed and arguments over ammunition are a staple of firearms discussions, and have been for at least the last couple of decades. Much of this stems from the fact that every week it seems, you’ll see “fresh” claims from manufacturers touting this new bullet design or that new improvement to the gunpowder purportedly to maximize power or minimize flash.  And the truth is there have been a lot of improvements to ammunition in recent years, but, if you don’t cut through the hype you can easily find yourself over-emphasizing the importance of featured improvement in any given ammunition.

Perhaps it’s best to consider it by way of example.  While the basic hollowpoint design has been around since the 19th century, I remember when simple wadcutters or ball ammunition was about all that was available for most handguns. Cagey folks would sometimes score the front of a wadcutter with a knife (sometimes in a precarious manner—please don’t do this Taxi Driver-style with live ammunition) to help it ‘open up’ on impact. Jacketed soft point ammunition was considered “high tech” and thus distrusted. And yet, these simple bullets stopped a lot of attacks, killed a lot of people and saved a lot of lives.

I’m not saying that you don’t want good, modern, self-defense ammunition. You probably do. I sure as hell do. I want a bullet designed to open up to maximum size and still penetrate properly at the velocity expected when using it. If you are ever in a situation where you need to use a firearm for self-defense, you want it to be as effective as possible in stopping a threat, as quickly as possible.

Modern firearms are not magic wands. They are not science-fiction zap guns. How they work is they cause a small piece of metal to impact a body with a variable amount of force. That small piece of metal can cause more or less damage, depending on what it hits and how hard, and how the bullet behaves. Here’s the key that a lot of people forget: as a general rule, location trumps power.  All you have to do is meditate on the fact that a miss with a .44 magnum is nowhere  near as effective as a hit with a .25 ACP.  And when I say “a miss” I’m talking about any shot which does not hit the central nervous system, a major organ, or a main blood vessel (and even then it matters exactly which of these are hit, and how). Plenty of people have recovered from being shot multiple times with a .45. Plenty of people have been killed by a well-placed .22 round.

Hitting your target is what is most important and for most of us that is harder to do with over-powered ammunition we’re not used to shooting regularly. Chances are that under the stress of an actual encounter, your first shot may not be effective at stopping an attack. That means follow-up shots will be needed, and you’d better be able to do so accurately. If you can’t get back on target because of extreme recoil, then what’s the point of all that extra power?  If you can’t get back on target because you’ve been blinded by the flash of extra powder burning after it leaves the muzzle, well hell, that’s not good either.

Nestled up alongside power is having an ammunition that will actually work well in your gun. Some guns are notoriously ammunition sensitive and you  don’t want to just be finding out  your gun doesn’t particularly care for an ammo when you really need it to go boom. Check with others (friends or online forums) who have your type of gun, and see what ammo works for them. Then test it yourself, in your actual gun. Some people won’t carry a particular ammunition until they have run a couple of hundred rounds of that ammunition through their gun. Personally, I’ll run a box or two through the gun and consider that sufficient;  you’ll know after that if your gun generally handles  that ammunition with any problems.

So, once you have an idea of what ammunition will work in your particular gun, how do you choose between brands? As I’ve previously discussed, you can’t necessarily trust manufacturer hype. So, how to judge?

Well, you can do some research online. The fellows at The Box of Truth have done a lot of informal testing of ammunition to see how different rounds penetrate and perform. The Brass Fetcher has done a lot of more formal testing using ballistic gelatin. Ballistics By The Inch (which is yours truly’s site) has a lot of data showing velocity for different ammunition. And most gun forums will have anecdotal testing done by members, which can provide a lot of insight.

But don’t over-think this. Handguns are handguns. Yeah, some are more powerful than others, but all are compromises – hitting your target is the single most important thing. And like I said, ammunition can help, but only to a certain extent. We’re talking marginal benefits, at best, whatever the manufacturers claim. So relax;  all of the big name brands are probably adequate, and you’d be hard pressed to make a truly bad decision, so long as the ammunition will function reliably in your gun and you can hit your target with it.

Of course, as you do more research, and get more experience, you’ll probably find you like some ammunition more than others, for whatever reason. That’s fine. It just means that you’re ready to join in the (generally genial) arguments over such matters with other firearms owners. Welcome to the club.

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Some additional thoughts, six years later …

Bullet design has continued to improve, with new and occasionally odd-looking designs and materials being introduced regularly. Some of these are *really* interesting, but I keep coming back to the basic truth that the most important factor is hitting the target. No super-corkscrew-unobtanium bullet designed to penetrate all known barriers but still stop inside a bad guy is worth a damn if you miss hitting your target.

And that means practice (and training, if appropriate) is more important than hardware. What I, and a lot of shooters concerned about their self-defense skill, will do is to use practice ammo for training when they go to the range, to keep their basic skill set honed. And then supplement that with a magazine or two (or a cylinder or two) of their carry ammo, so they refresh their knowledge of how it feels and behaves in their gun. This can help keep practice costs down (since good SD ammo can be expensive), but also keeps carry ammo fresh.

Jim Downey

March 18, 2017 Posted by | .22, .25 ACP, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reprise: Ammo by the Numbers: What Do All Those Numbers on My Box of Ammo Mean?

My friends over at the Liberal Gun Club asked if they could have my BBTI blog entries cross-posted on their site. I said yes, and got to thinking that perhaps I would revisit some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is the first article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 2/9/2011. Some additional observations at the end.

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One of the most bewildering moments for a relatively novice shooter is selecting ammunition. Go online, or into a big-box store, or even into your local gun shop and you can be confronted with a huge array of choices in any given caliber or cartridge design. Most of the boxes have a sort of ‘code’ on the side; some have little charts or even graphs on the bottom. But which one do you want? What does this stuff even mean? Do claims of a certain velocity or energy tell you anything?

Let’s take a look at some terms, first.

Most prominently displayed figure on the box, is the cartridge: .45 Auto, .357 Magnum, 9mm Luger and so forth. There can be some confusion on this, so be sure to check your gun to see what it says on the side of the barrel or slide, or is specified in the owner’s manual  – that’s the only kind of ammunition you want. There is a difference between a .45 Colt and a .45 Auto, or a .357 Magnum and a .357 Sig, just for a couple of examples – make sure you get the kind of cartridge that your gun handles. It may seem silly to bring this up, but even experienced shooters can accidentally grab the wrong box of ammo sometimes – I have made this very mistake myself.

Next you’ll find a number, listed with either “grain” or just “gr.” This tells you the weight of the actual bullet.

Then there will be some variety of description of the bullet, indicating intended use. It could say “target” or “range” or just “ball” – all of these mean a basic bullet, probably with a slightly rounded nose, or perhaps a conical shape, or just a simple cylinder which might also have a small flat conical front (sometimes called a semiwadcutter or “SWC”). The actual bullet may be just lead or may have a “full metal jacket” – a thin layer of some harder metal such as a copper alloy. “Hunting” usually means a “JSP” – jacketed soft point. “Self-defense” usually indicates some variety of “JHP” – jacketed hollow point. Some premium self-defense ammunition uses proprietary terms such as “DPX,” “Hydra-Shok,” and “GDHP” but these are largely marketing terms you don’t need to worry about too much, at least at first.

Terms “+P” or “+P+” indicate that the cartridge is somewhat more powerful (“over-pressure”) than standard for that cartridge. Most modern guns can handle a limited diet of such cartridges, but older guns may not. If in doubt, check your gun’s owner’s manual or ask a gunsmith.

Particularly on premium defensive ammunition you may see some indication of the “velocity” or “energy” of the cartridge. Here in the US, velocity is given in “fps” – feet per second. “Energy” is given in “ft/lbs” – foot-pounds (the amount of energy needed to lift one pound one foot off the ground, not the confusingly similar term used to measure torque). The faster a bullet, and the more it weighs, the more kinetic energy it has. Sometimes a little chart will be given, showing velocity and energy at the muzzle of the gun, then at one or more distances (bullets lose velocity and energy due to air resistance).

While more velocity and more energy are generally good things for defensive ammunition, don’t get too hung up on these numbers. Why? Because the manufacturers don’t really give you enough information to compare one ammunition to another one easily. They don’t tell you what the barrel length used was (and this can have a huge impact on velocity). They don’t tell you the type of gun used (a revolver and a semi-auto both have different effects on the speed of a bullet). And they don’t tell you the type of barrel used (some barrels are known to be ‘faster’ than others.)

Then why bother at all with this information? Because it can help in some instances. If all you’re going to do is just use your gun for ‘plinking’, you can probably get whatever ammunition is cheapest and suitable for your gun.

But if you’re after accurate and consistent target shooting, or use your gun for hunting or defensive purposes, you want to be choosy. Once you find ammunition you and your gun like, you want to try to stay as close to that ammunition as you can. What do I mean by ammunition you and your gun like?

Some guns will feed and fire some ammunition better than others. The shape of the bullet can make a difference. The weight of the bullet can make a difference. The amount of energy can make a difference.

Ammunition with greater energy will cause your gun to have greater recoil (‘kick’), and that can make it more difficult to shoot. Ammunition which is touted for being “reduced recoil” likely has less energy than other ammunition, that can make it less effective for hunting or self-defense.

Using the same amount of gunpowder, a lighter bullet will go faster than a heavier one. But a heavier bullet will generally slow down less due to air resistance, and will generally penetrate deeper into whatever you are shooting at.

“Target,” “ball,” and similarly-termed ammo is usually less expensive, and is good for practice. It is less ideal for self-defense purposes, because the bullet does not expand the way a hollow point or “JHP” is designed to when it hits flesh. “Hunting” ammunition is usually designed to expand some, but to still penetrate deeply.

Where should you begin?  Start out seeing what ammunition others who own a gun like yours use. None of your buddies shooting a gun like yours?  Maybe do a little checking online – many firearms forums post anecdotal information showing testing members have done, and there are some good sites that do more rigorous testing for velocity and penetration. See what is recommended, and give it a try.

So, beyond the numbers, what’s a good general rule when pairing ammo with a gun?  I’m of the opinion that, ideally, you should try out a box or two of different types of premium ammunition first to see which brands and type your gun likes. Using this as your guide, you can then launch the search for less expensive practice ammunition that is similar in weight and velocity, because that will behave similarly to your premium ammo in terms of point-of-impact and felt recoil.

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Since I wrote this six years ago, there have been some noticeable changes in the ammunition industry, and now most manufacturers provide at least some basic information as to how the numbers they use were gathered — what barrel length, sometimes what gun they used — to make it a little easier for a consumer to know what they are buying. I have been told directly by some engineers and sales people at different companies that this is due to BBTI‘s testing and publication of our data, which has forced manufacturers to be more forthcoming.

Something else we’ve experienced in the intervening years was the Great Ammo Shortage (which for the most part has now passed). But it taught the wisdom of always keeping a bit more ammo on hand than you might otherwise need for a single trip to the range, to help ride out similar shortages in the future. I’ll address ammo storage issues in a future blog post.

Jim Downey

March 14, 2017 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2016 in the rear-view mirror.

Happy New Year!

A quick recap of the last year: surprisingly active.

It’s interesting to see how things have evolved with BBTI over time. The last test sequence we did was the .45 Super /.450 SMC tests, with the data published in October 2015. So without new test results last year, we didn’t have the usual big spike in site visits. But we still saw a total of 447,203 visitors last year, which ain’t too shabby.

And last year we saw an evolution in who were our biggest referrers, as well. Excluding search engines, here they are in order:

  1. DefensiveCarry.com
  2. Guns.com
  3. MechTech Systems
  4. Wikipedia
  5. The Firearm Blog
  6. reddit
  7. Active Response Training
  8. Survivalist Boards
  9. The Firing Line
  10. AR15.com

All but four (Guns.com, MechTech Systems, Wikipedia, and The Firearm Blog) are discussion forums, and of those four The Firearm Blog also has a very active discussion community. MechTech Systems sells conversion kits for pistols, allowing you to turn your pistol into a carbine, so it makes perfect sense that they would link to us showing the advantage you can gain with a longer barrel.

In other words, most of the referrers are places where BBTI is being cited as a reference to help people make decisions about their firearm choices. That just makes sense, and corresponds to the email we get, thanking us for our site or asking for clarification/recommending new ammo to test. After 8 years, and with no new tests, there’s not much reason for the ‘news’ sites to mention us — but there’s still plenty of interest in the firearms community in the data we provide.

So thanks to all who share our site with others! You’re the real reason our site is a success!

 

Jim Downey

 

January 1, 2017 Posted by | .45 Super, .450 SMC, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Comparison shopping.

Remember this graph comparing Muzzle Energy (ME)?

megraph

 

Well, a discussion elsewhere got me to thinking …

So, let’s take a look at .45 Super:

45superme

 

See what I see? Yeah, at 3″ and 4″ all the .45 Super loads are superior in terms of ME over all the other cartridges in the top graph. At 5″ the .357 Mag catches up with some of the .45 Super loads, and at 6″ it is in the center of the pack.

To really do the comparison right, I’d need to average all the .45 Super loads, then add them directly to the first graph, but that’s more time and trouble than I want to take. But my point is that of all the ‘conventional’ CCW-caliber/size guns, it looks like the .45 Super is at the top of the pile. We did formal testing of just one .460 Rowland, and it is comparable to the .45 Super at those barrel lengths (though I know from informal testing that some other loads are more powerful). You have to step up to full .44 Mag to beat either the .357 Mag or .45 Super.

Interesting.

Jim Downey

December 26, 2016 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .380 ACP, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, .460 Rowland, 10mm, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments