Ballistics by the inch

The Fightin’ Swedes/Swiss.

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

Swedish Ag m/42B in 6.5×55

Swedish Ag 3

Swedish Automatgevär m/42

We should have done our homework on this.

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

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

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

Swedish Ag 1

Swedish Automatgevär m/42B

Swedish Ag 2

Swedish Automatgevär m/42B

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

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

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

Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911 rifle

Schmidt-Rubin 1

Model 1911

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

Schmidt-Rubin 2

Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911

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

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

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

Jim Downey

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

Review: S333 Thunderstruck.

This is the Standard Manufacturing S333 Thunderstruck revolver:

Thunder 1

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

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

No, really.

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

Thunder 2

The actual S333

* * *

For those who’ve stuck around …

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

Why do I say this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See for yourself:

Thunder 3

keyholed!

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

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

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

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

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

I still wouldn’t want it. Why?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

I think you have much better options.

Jim Downey

 

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

Two Classic Battle Rifles.

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

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

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

 

M1903 Springfield

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

1903 Springfield

M1903 Springfield

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

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

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

 

Lee-Enfield

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

SMLE Mk III

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 Mk III

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Downey

 

 

 

 

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

1898 Krag-Jørgensen Rifle

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

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

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

Krag

Krag-Jørgensen Rifle

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

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

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

Krag 3

Krag-Jørgensen Rifle

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

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

 

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

Jim Downey

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

I really didn’t want to write this post.

It’s been a kind of rough year, what with the Covid-19 pandemic and all. So I’ve been inclined to cut people some extra slack. Because normal business operations have been disrupted, everyone is dealing with a lot more unexpected stress in their lives, et cetera. But after five months of back & forth, of repeated promises unfulfilled, and a complete failure to respond to reasonable requests, I feel like I need to let the shooting community know about a major disappointment I’ve experienced with an ammo manufacturer.

At the end of February I wrote about a problem I’d discovered with some Corbon .44 magnum ammo. You can find the entire post here:

What a difference just an eighth of an inch makes.

Well, as I said in that post:

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

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

I heard back from them shortly after that. I sent them the blog post.  We talked. They asked me to return the entire batch of ammo (a total of 5 boxes) so they could examine it, and sent me a shipping label. I did so in the beginning of March.

They got the ammo. I called them again, and they said that they were going to check it all against their quality control protocols, and promised to get me replacement ammo ASAP.

Well, then things went to hell with Covid. Next time I chatted with them, I was told that they needed to see if they had a different lot of that particular cartridge they could send me as a replacement, but that someone would be in touch with me within a few days.

Well, I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. So I followed up. After some more back & forth I was again promised that I would soon get replacement ammo.

Again, I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks, and no replacement ammo was sent. I tried calling and leaving messages. I used the “contact us” feature off the Corbon website. I emailed. No response.

I waited another five or six weeks. Finally, the beginning of June I sent an email to the contact person, and here’s the relevant excerpt:

I wanted to follow up to this with an email, because while we’ve talked about the matter multiple times over the intervening three months, each time I’ve been promised someone will get back to me with either information or replacement ammo, nothing has happened. I understand that the disruptions caused by Covid-19 have thrown a lot of things off schedule, but I would like to get this resolved.
As we’ve discussed, I returned five boxes of Corbon 165gr .44mag ammunition in March for your examination as to why the ammo would not properly load in either a Taurus or Colt Anaconda .44mag revolver. Full details on the problem I encountered is discussed in the blog post linked in my original email below.
At this point I’m no longer concerned with replacement of the exact type of ammo. If you’ll just ship me five boxes of your premium defensive ammo in any of the following calibers, that will be satisfactory enough:
  • 9mm
  • .357 magnum
  • .44 magnum
  • .45 Super

Well, I’ve never heard back from them.

And that surprises me. Because I identified that I was with Ballistics By The Inch, which is kinda well known in the firearms/ammunition industry. So while I don’t expect special treatment, it’d be foolish for them to treat me poorly. But they have.

And if they’re going to treat me that way, how do you think they’ll treat you? I sent them the ammo and information so that they could improve their product, possibly avoid a lawsuit related to manufacturing flaws, and they stiff me on the replacement ammunition.

Please share this information with others who maybe want to know that. Thanks.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

July 25, 2020 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 Super, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What a difference just an eighth of an inch makes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Hmm.

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

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

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

WTH?

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

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

Got it?

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

So why did this cause the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

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

A couple of centenarians … in .32 ACP

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

The first was a Sauer & Sohn Model 1913:

The second was a Mauser Model 1914:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

 

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

I’m not wild about Wildey …

When you see this tag on a pistol, you know things may get interesting:

Can’t read it? Here’s the text:

CAUTION

This gun is unique in many
ways. Do not handle and/or
fire it without having read
the instruction manual.
If there is anything you don’t
understand, seek advice
from someone qualified in
safe handling of firearms.

 

Of course, we didn’t have the instruction manual. Details, details.

Here’s the tag in context:

Yeah, that’s a new production Wildey Survivor with a 10″ barrel, in .45 Winchester Magnum. Bit of a brute. Here are some other pics of the one we shot:

The Wildey is one of those interesting experimental guns dating back to the 1970s. It uses a gas-operated system at fairly high pressures to fling a substantial slug at high velocity: the .45 WinMag version we shot is supposed to move a 230gr bullet at about 1,600fps, for about 1,300 ft/labs of energy. Now, that’s about 40% more power than the .45 Super or .460 Rowland cartridges out of a similar length barrel, so it is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Even more interesting, the Wildey has a collar behind the barrel which allows you to adjust the gas pressure for different loads or to manage recoil while minimizing malfunctions. Well, at least in theory.

Why do I say “in theory”? Well, because in practice the thing was very finicky. Which certainly could have just been a matter of it being a brand-new gun in the hands of inexperienced shooters (well, inexperienced in shooting a Wildey … the three of us shooting it were the BBTI team, and I think it’s fair to say we have more than the typical amount of handgun shooting experience). But check out this video of Ian from Forgotten Weapons putting a Wildey Survivor through its paces and you’ll see what I mean:

He has all kinds of problems with it, rarely getting off two or three shots before experiencing a malfunction. That was exactly our experience with the gun.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I hated the gun. I don’t have enough experience with it to have that much of an opinion, having only run a couple of mags through it myself. But all three of us had major problems with the gun, even after we consulted online resources to get tips on managing the malfunctions and tweaking the gas adjustment.

It is a cool, innovative design. It’s very well made. You pick it up, and you know you are holding something high quality. And hey, it was even a movie star. How can you not like that?

But at 4 pounds+ weight, and a substantial grip size, it is, as I said, a bit of a brute. And interestingly, as Ian notes at the end of the video above, the thing is all sharp edges just asking for a blood sacrifice. In fact, the BBTI member who took it home to clean it sliced up his hands while doing so.

An interesting gun. I’m glad I got the chance to shoot it. But I wouldn’t want to own one.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 

November 22, 2019 Posted by | .45 Super, .460 Rowland | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sig P365 SAS review.

Last weekend, I got to try one of these:

Yup, it’s the latest iteration of the popular Sig P365, the SAS (“Sig Anti-Snag”), designed to be the ‘ultimate concealed-carry gun’.

Well, is it?

Take a look at this pic:

That’s the first time I shot the gun. Draw from a low ready position, intuitive point and shoot as fast as I could, at about 5 yards. I didn’t even try to use the proprietary sighting system.

Which doesn’t mean that it is the ultimate CCW. But does mean that at least in my hands it was more than adequate for the job, right out of the box.

But what did I actually think of the gun?

I agree with most of the reviews I’ve read of the P365 generally: very small, well designed and well made (at least in the later guns, after Sig resolved some minor but real issues). Surprisingly comfortable even in my very large hands. 10+1 rounds of 9mm +P is damned nice to have in such a small package. Quite good trigger, somewhat lighter than I expected. And clearly the point & click ergonomics are very good.

I’m not at all troubled by the lack of a manual safety, though that has been an issue for other people. If it’s a deal-breaker for you, then get something other than the SAS (Sig offers a version of the P365 with a manual safety, or you can just go with another brand.)

I don’t like the ported barrel. Our research has shown that it effectively makes the ballistic performance that of a barrel the length before the ports. And stepping down from about a 3″ barrel to about a 2″ one isn’t a good idea, if you want all the power the gun could deliver. Whether it actually helps with control/muzzle flip, well, you’d have to compare head-to-head with a non-ported barrel to see. I suspect it would help some, but that probably wouldn’t matter that much for people who aren’t recoil sensitive.

And while the proprietary sight is … interesting … I don’t think that it was that great. The idea behind it is that having a single long recessed fiber optic tube (with a tritium capsule at the far end) keeps the slide completely smooth while allowing a natural sort of parallax — basically, if you can see the green dot, then that means the gun is lined up correctly. That does work, and for very close-up defensive work it is sufficient. But for very close-up defensive work not using sights at all is sufficient, as generations of very small guns has demonstrated. I found that in bright light coming down from above the FO was bright, but in most other conditions it was weak. And the tritium capsule does work under dark conditions, but again really isn’t sufficient for anything other than very close defensive work. So personally I’d probably mostly ignore the sighting system in practical use.

Overall, I think it’s a hell of a little gun. Take a look at one if you get a chance.

 

Jim Downey

November 17, 2019 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Gatling Guns to Laser Pistols.

Again, it’s been a while. Partial explanation towards the end of this post.

So, the BBTI team finally got together to do something we’ve been wanting to do for several years now: shoot a Gatling Gun. Yep, a real, honest-to-gawd Gatling Gun. Well, not an original, but a faithful reproduction of the original 1862 patent version, in .45 Colt. This one:

Keith checking the gavity-fed magazine.

It’s such an iconic weapon, having been used around the world for about 50 years (from the American Civil War until World War One). And almost anyone who has seen Westerns has probably seen one depicted on the screen. So when the opportunity presented itself to get a fine reproduction one at a reasonable cost, we jumped on it. And last weekend we were finally able to coordinate our schedules to get out to shoot the thing.

But first we had to assemble it, because it breaks down into several components for ease of transport and use. Overall, the whole thing weighs more than 300 pounds. The main element is the barrel & mechanism assembly:

Barrels & mechanism.

We’ve got a nice tripod to mount and shoot the gun. Here we are assembling that:

Tripod base.

On top of the tripod is a pivoting mount, so you can rotate the gun from side to side. Into that goes a yoke mount, to which the gun is secured. Elevation is controlled by an adjustable wheel screw at the back.

The way the gun works (the Wikipedia entry is pretty good, as well) is that you put the cartridges into machined sections of heavy steel tube called a ‘chamber’ (essentially, a section of barrel), and those are placed in a magazine. The magazine goes into the top of the gun, upside down. Each chamber drops into position behind a barrel, then is pressed forward and locked in place as it rotates to the next position. The barrel then rotates again into the firing position, a firing pin ignites the cartridge, and the bullet fires. As the barrel rotates again, the chamber is released, and falls free out the bottom of the gun. This process is repeated for each barrel in turn as long as you turn the crank and there are chambers in the magazine.

Here you can see a test run with empty chambers to make sure everything feeds and falls properly:

 

Success!

Next, we wanted to make sure that the firing pins were working properly:

After that, it was time to load ammo and give it a try.

I’d loaded 1000 rounds of .45 Colt, using 200gr lead bullets and 6.1gr of Titegroup powder. This is a mild handgun load, but we weren’t looking for a lot of power, just a lot of fun. Still, out of the 30″ barrels we were probably getting about 1,000fps and roughly 450ft-lbs of muzzle energy — a respectable amount of power.

Here’s Keith of the BBTI team giving the Gatling Gun its first live-fire trial;

Yay! It worked!

Soon, I got my turn:

Dude, that’s way cool.

OK, several things we discovered in shooting the Gatling Gun …

One, you quickly realize that once you start turning the crank, you find there’s an optimal speed where it feels easy and consistent. I got there at the end of the video above.

Two, you can go through the 44 rounds that our magazines hold in about 20 seconds when you know what you’re doing.

Three, it helps to have someone actually hold the magazine in position, rather than relying on the small set-screw to hold it.

Four, the gun is surprisingly accurate and consistent. Once we got the hang of it, at 20 yards (the effective distance we had to shoot it), we were all getting paper-plate sized groups. Like this:

The first target. All the rest were this good or better.

Seriously, I was very surprised by this. I expected something more like “minute of cow”. I look forward to shooting it sometime at longer ranges to see just how good you can get with such a gun.

After we all had fun shooting the modern ammo, it was time to try the gun with black powder cartridges. Specifically, 30gr of Goex FFg and the same 200gr lead bullet. I shoot a fair amount of black powder, and know that it can be messy … but man, it was an incredible mess in the Gatling Gun. But it sure was spectacular. Check out the long tongues of flame from this sucker:

And just think about what a battlefield with a bunch of those cranking out rounds would have been like. Blimey.

Now that we’ve finally had a chance to get together for an inaugural shoot of the Gatling, it’s something that each of us is going to take for a while, and share with friends. Look for more coverage of it in the future.

So, what was that about Laser Pistols, and why have I been so absent/quiet here for so long?

Well, about a year and a half ago I got a Glowforge laser cutter, which I mentioned in passing in my post last November. I kinda fell into a deep hole playing with it since then. But it’s all good, because one of the things I have been doing with it is making a whole bunch of handgun display models/art, like this:

Springfield XDM

That’s one of the 42 contemporary designs I’ve done.  I’ve also done a bunch of historical firearms, such as the 1851 Colt Navy Revolver:

Colt Navy Revolver

And even favorites from various Science Fiction franchises …

Farscape Pulse Pistol

The whole thing can be found here:  Art of the Gun and I invite you to stop in, check it out, see the many different designs I’ve come up with so far.  I’ve just launched the site, but already it is starting to get some positive feedback — so maybe you’ll find something you like there as well.

One last thing: we’re not done with the BBTI project. Something else we did this past weekend was to start talking about future projects related to our ongoing research. It’s too early to say too much, but rest assured that we have more work yet to do, more data yet to gather and share.

Thanks for coming by, and for your ongoing support.

Jim Downey

 

August 21, 2019 Posted by | .45 Colt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Happy Anniversary!

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

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

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

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

Happy & safe shooting to all —

Jim Downey
*Obviously.

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

EMP4 can’t handle the pressure.

Earlier this month I took my EMP4 out to the range, and ran into problems documented in this post. My conclusion:

Since I haven’t had any problems with my standard-pressure reloads, I’m assuming that it’s the over-pressure which is causing this problem. Both the Underwood and the BB ammo are *really* hot. But I wanted to check everything out again before shooting the gun any more. If everything looks good, then I’ll start with standard pressure loads and then slowly step up to hotter loads. I expect that will resolve the issue, and I don’t mind carrying SD ammo which is a little less powerful — shot placement is more important than power.

With one thing and another, it’s been a busy month, and I didn’t have a chance to get back out until this morning to test my conclusion. But first I did a thorough cleaning of the gun, pulled the firing pin and examined it closely. One possible problem could have been the firing pin having sharp shoulders, which could have led to it punching too hard into the primer metal. But upon close examination the firing pin looked perfectly normal and very much like every other firing pin I’ve ever seen.

In preparation for going out to the range today, I picked up some additional good self-defense ammo and grabbed a box of standard factory target ammo:

Starting on the top left (all 9mm Luger ammo, of course):

I started with the Remington, and ran a couple of mags through the gun, examining it closely between reloads. No problems.

Then I switched over and shot each type of ammo, a full mag (9 rounds), again checking the gun between reloads. It ran absolutely flawlessly with each and every kind. I checked some of the spent cases of each type, and all of them showed a perfectly normal primer strike.

Then I loaded up a mag of the Underwood 124gr +P+ I had shot previously. The first couple of rounds were OK, though I checked the spent cases and saw that the primers were completely flattened — the firing pin strike was still visible, but it was no longer an indentation. That’s a sign of too much pressure in reloads, and something you always check when you’re working up a powerful load. The next shot was similar, but there was a missing disk of metal on the primer, which was stuck on the firing pin of my gun. I popped it off, shot the next round. Same thing happened.

I unloaded the gun and the magazine, put the rest of the Underwood ammo aside. Then I loaded it with the Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+ SD ammo. Basically, the exact same thing happened, though I think I made it through three rounds before the first punched-through primer. Again, I unloaded the gun and the magazine, and set the rest of the Buffalo Bore ammo aside. Again, I checked the gun thoroughly to make sure everything looked right. It did.

Then I went back and tried each of the lower-pressure ammos again. Each again ran flawlessly.

I could do more testing, but I’m convinced: the problem is that the +P+ ammo is just too damned hot for the EMP4. Now, my other 9mm guns do shoot it fine (even the little Boberg, which is really picky about ammo), so I guess I could say that the EMP4 is somehow flawed in design or construction. And if you want to hold that against the EMP4, then go right ahead.

But I’m happy enough with the gun otherwise, and there are plenty of types of good self-defense ammo available which are just a little less powerful. Works for me.

 

Jim Downey

 

August 30, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The curious case of the gun that wouldn’t bark.

Popped out to the range for a brief bit of testing this morning. And found something interesting.

Last time I was out, I ran into a problem with my Springfield EMP4 (9mm, 1911 platform), which I got earlier this year. After a couple of rounds of good Self Defense ammo, I started getting light primer strikes and FTF. When I got home and checked it, I found a small disk of metal stuck to the end of the firing pin, which was preventing getting good strikes. I removed it, cleaned the gun (including the firing pin assembly), tested it with a case which had only a primer in it, and everything looked fine. But of course I didn’t want to trust the gun for carry until I had proven that it was working fine at the range. Hence today’s trip.

Started with my reloads, and everything was fine. Switched to Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+ SD ammo (my preferred carry ammo for most of my 9mms), and the first few shots were perfect. Then I had another FTF. I cleared the gun, checked, and sure enough, there was a small disk of metal on the firing pin again.

Knowing what to expect, I just popped the disk off with a knife, reloaded, and went back to shooting. It happened again after three or four shots.

This time I cleared the gun, popped off the disk with my knife, and switched ammo. I went to Underwood 124gr +P+ ammo, and … yup, happened again. Here’s the gun:

You can see the disk of material stuck to the firing pin.

And I found the brass from that shot and one of the previous ones:

Underwood on the left, Buffalo Bore on the right. You can clearly see the punch through the base of the primer.

Curious.

Since I haven’t had any problems with my standard-pressure reloads, I’m assuming that it’s the over-pressure which is causing this problem. Both the Underwood and the BB ammo are *really* hot. But I wanted to check everything out again before shooting the gun any more. If everything looks good, then I’ll start with standard pressure loads and then slowly step up to hotter loads. I expect that will resolve the issue, and I don’t mind carrying SD ammo which is a little less powerful — shot placement is more important than power.

And ammo that works consistently is the most important thing of all.

Jim Downey

August 8, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Handgun caliber and lethality.

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

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

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

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

And then again later:

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

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

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

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

MEgraph

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Downey

April 6, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Browning 1911-380

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sights

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

 

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

Review: Sterling PPL .380 ACP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

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

Reprise: the *other* perfect concealed carry revolver(s).

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 11/26/2011.  Some additional observations at the end.

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The Smith & Wesson models 442 and 642 revolvers have their roots back more than 60 years ago. Needless to say there have been any number of variations on the J-frame theme over time (there are currently 49 versions offered on the S&W website), but perhaps the most popular has been the Airweight 642 (in stainless steel or brushed aluminum, and a variety of grips). The 642 certainly has been a very good seller, and has been at or near the top of S&W’s sales for most of the last decade. The 442 and 642 models are identical in every way except finish (the 442 is blued), but the 642 is more popular.

Why is this gun so popular? Well, it does everything right, at least as far as being a self-defense tool. It’s small, lightweight, hides well in a pocket or purse, is intuitively easy to shoot, and it handles the dependably potent .38 Special cartridge.

But let me expand on those points.

The first three are all tied together. For anyone who is looking for a gun to carry concealed, the J-frame size has a lot going for it. The 642’s barrel is one- and 7/8-inches. Overall length is just a bit more than six inches. Though the cylinder is wider than most semi-autos, the overall organic shape of the gun seems to make it hide better in a pocket or behind clothing. The Airweight 642 weighs just 15 ounces unloaded, and not a lot more loaded. For most people, this is lightweight enough to carry in a pocket or purse without really noticing it. Put it in a belt holster and you’ll not even know it is there.

Easy to shoot? Well, yeah, though it takes a lot of work to be really accurate with one at more than close self-defense distances. The 642 is Double Action Only (DAO), which means that the hammer is cocked and then fired all with one pull of the trigger – nothing else needs to be done. There’s no safety to fumble with. Just point and click. Almost anyone can be taught to use it with adequate accuracy at self-defense distances (say seven yards) in a single trip to the range.

The modern .38 Special +P cartridge is more than adequate for “social work”. From my 642 we tested five different premium defensive loads and four of the five were between 900 and 1000 fps. Tests from Brassfetcher have shown that these cartridges both penetrate and expand well, too.

One more thing – the design of the Centennial models, with the internal hammer, means that they are snag-free. You don’t have to worry about some part of the gun catching on clothing or other items when drawing it from concealment. This can save your life.

With all the good being said, I do have two criticisms. The first one is minor, and easily fixed: the trigger. Oh, it’s good, but it could be a little bit smoother right out of the box (like Ruger’s LCR). The good news is that this can usually be worked out with just some dry-firing exercises.

The second is the front site. S&W is still offering the guns with just a simple ramp sight. They should switch over to some variety of tritium sight or fiber-optic (or combination), as they have done with many of their other J-frame models. This is one change which would help in low-light conditions.

So, there ya go. Want the nearly perfect pocket pistol? You’d be hard pressed to do better than a 642 or 442.

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There’s not a lot I would change in the seven years since I first wrote this, which in itself says a hell of a lot about the popularity of the 442/642 models. They’re still ubiquitous, high quality, and effective self-defense guns.

After that was written we did another large BBTI test which included the .38 Special cartridge, which confirmed what I already knew: that while there are indeed some better and some worse performing brands of ammo available for the snubbie, for the most part all decent ‘self-defense’ ammo performs adequately. While my friend Grant Cunningham recommends the Speer 135gr JHP Short-barrel ammo (which I used to carry and still like), I now prefer Buffalo Bore’s 158gr LSWCHP +P for my M&P 360 — I’ve repeatedly tested that ammo at 1050fps out of my gun, which gives me a muzzle energy of 386 ft-lbs. But it’s not for the recoil-shy, particularly out of a 11.4oz gun. As always, YMMV.

While S&W hasn’t changed the sight offerings on the 442/642, there are lasers available for the guns, which some people like. Personally, at the range which these guns are likely to be used, I don’t see the benefit. But if you like a laser, go for it.

Bottom line, the 442/642, like the Ruger LCR, are nearly perfect revolvers for concealed carry in either a pocket or a belt holster.

 

Jim Downey

March 11, 2018 Posted by | .38 Special | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Is the Ruger LCR a perfect concealed carry revolver?

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 5/3/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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The Sturm, Ruger & Company line of LCR composite-frame revolvers have been available for a few years now (2009) and since expanded from the basic .38 Special that weighs 13.5 ounces, to a 17-ounce version that can handle full .357 magnum loads, and a slightly heavier one that shoots .22 Long Rifle.

Ruger makes excellent firearms and I have grown up with them, but I was more than a little skeptical at the prospect of a revolver with a composite frame when I first heard about it. And the initial images released of the gun didn’t belay my skepticism.

But then the first Ruger LCR revolvers were actually introduced and I found out more about them. The frame is actually only partly composite while the part that holds the barrel, cylinder, and receiver is all aluminum. The internal components like the springs, firing pin, trigger assembly, et cetera are all housed in the grip frame and are well supported and plenty robust. My skepticism turned to curiosity.

When I had a chance to actually handle and then shoot the LCR, my curiosity turned to enthusiasm. Since then, having shot several different guns of both the .38 Special and .357 LCR models, I have become even more impressed. Though I still think the LCR is somewhat lacking in the aesthetics department. But in the end it does what it is designed to do.

Like the S&W J-frame revolvers, the models it was meant to compete with, the LCR is an excellent self-defense tool. It’s virtually the same size as the J-frames and the weight is comparable (depending on which specific models you’re talking about). So it hides as well in a pocket or a purse because it has that same general ‘organic’ shape.

The difference is, the LCR is, if anything, even easier to shoot than your typical J-frame Double Action Only revolver (DAO, where the hammer is cocked and then fired in one pull of the trigger). I’m a big fan of the Smith & Wesson revolvers, and I like their triggers. But the LCR has a buttery smooth, easy-to-control trigger right out of the box, which is as good or better than any S&W. Good trigger control is critical with a small DAO gun and makes a world of difference for accuracy at longer distances. I would not have expected it, but the LCR is superior in this regard.

Like any snub-nosed revolver, the very short sight radius means that these guns can be difficult to shoot accurately at long distance (say out to 25 yards). But that’s not what they are designed for. They’re designed to be used at self-defense distances (say out to seven yards). And like the J-frame DAO models, even a new shooter can become proficient quickly.

I consider the .38 Special model sufficient for self defense. It will handle modern +P ammo, something quite adequate to stop a threat in the hands of a competent shooter. And the lighter weight is a bit of an advantage. But there’s a good argument to be made for having the capability to shoot either .38 Special or .357 magnum cartridges.

My only criticism of the LCR line is that they haven’t yet been around long enough to eliminate potential aging problems. All of the testing that has been done suggests that there won’t be a problem and I trust that, but only time will truly tell if they hold their value over the long haul.

So, there ya go. To paraphrase what I said about the S&W Centennial models: “Want the nearly perfect pocket gun? You’d be hard pressed to do better than a Ruger LCR.”

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It’s been six years since I wrote this, which means the early versions of the LCR have now been around for almost a decade. And as far as I know, there hasn’t yet been a widespread problem with them holding up to normal, or even heavy, use. So much for that concern.

And Ruger has (wisely, I think) expanded the cartridge options for the LCR even further. You can still get the classic 5-shot .38 Special and .357 Magnum versions, as well as the 6-shot .22 Long Rifle one. But now you can also get 6-shot .22 Magnum or .327 Magnum versions, as well as a 5-shot offering in 9mm. Each cartridge offers pros and cons, of course, as well as plenty of opportunity for debate using data from BBTI. Just remember that the additional of the cylinder on a revolver effectively means you’re shooting a 3.5″ barrel gun in the snubbie model, according to our charts. Personally, I like this ammo out of a snub-nosed revolver, and have consistently chono’d it at 1050 f.p.s. (or 386 foot-pounds of energy) out of my gun.

For me, though, the most exciting addition has been the LCRx line, which offers an exposed hammer and SA/DA operation:

I like both the flexibility of operation and the aesthetics better than the original hammerless design. But that’s personal preference, nothing more.

The LCR line has also now been around long enough that there are a wide selection of accessories available, from grips to sights to holsters to whatever. Just check the Ruger Shop or your favorite firearm supply source.

So, a perfect pocket gun? Yeah, I think so. Also good for a holster, tool kit, or range gun.

 

Jim Downey

 

February 25, 2018 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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