Ballistics by the inch

“Archive Status” update.

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Jim Downey

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

Spinning wheel got to go round.*

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

20200822_092520

Wheellock with Diablo double-barrel pistol.

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(Ian from Forgotten Weapons has an excellent primer on Wheellock history and operation in this video), which was superseded by reliable & cheaper flintlocks, and not too many people are familiar with them.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

20200822_100933

Jacobi Iserlohn.

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

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

20200822_111309

Welding rod?

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

20200822_111313(0)

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

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

We tried that, and it seemed to work.

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

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

Remember, we had no idea what to expect.

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

The result:

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

So each of us had a go:

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

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

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

Jim Downey

* of course.

(Cross posted to my personal blog.)

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

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

The Future of BBTI

So, I have some important news to share.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

 

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

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.

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

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: The Dark Side of the Force? Black Guns vs. Classic Wood & Steel Models

Caution: this is somewhat political. Again.

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 3/22/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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I was having a Facebook chat with a non-shooter friend and at one point I mentioned something to her about firearms. The conversation that ensued got me thinking about the strange emotional divide that exists between “classic” guns made of wood & steel and “black guns” made of polymer, and then ultimately about how the aesthetic appeal of a weapon really influences the public perception of firearms (even helping to dictate public policy in the form of gun control).  Here is an excerpt from our chat that illustrates a bit better exactly what I’m talking about:

Me: I’ve doing the Ballistics by the Inch project for some time now but I’ve also been writing for Guns.com.

FB Friend: O yeah, I forgot you are a gun person. I think guns are lovely.

Me:
Yeah, that’s a big aspect of why I’m into them: an appreciation of the engineering and innovation that went into making them.

FB: lol. I meant more than that. But sure.  I think guns bring something gratifying to the table, and I don’t mean in some lame Freudian way. They feel good in the hand, like their heft is sensual almost. They look pretty.  Even the way they come apart and reassemble is also pleasing in a way that’s not only aesthetic, it’s almost physically gratifying.

Me: All true. I think that may be one of the reasons that some people don’t like the so called ‘plastic’ guns. Hmm. Food for thought.

FB:
Yeah, metal and wood feels much better than plastic.

There was a time not that long ago when all guns were pretty much one-of-a-kind works of art, created by highly skilled craftsmen for clients willing to pay for their quality.  That is to say, at one time guns were really tools or toys for those Americans with substantial means. In the US, these cottage gunmakers were often located in Pennsylvania or Kentucky, hence the name Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifle.

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This price point exclusivity changed drastically though when the confluence of two major events—the settlement of North America and advent of industrialization—presented a blossoming firearms industry with both the demand for affordable and functional small arms and the means to lower costs and increase production rates.  The resulting market surge flooded the United States with firearms (and gun tycoons’ bank accounts with profits).  It also made American makers like Colt, Winchester, Browning, and Smith & Wesson household names and perhaps represents the genesis of when firearms and American culture and iconography first became enmeshed in the imaginations of so many around the world.

However, not withstanding these historical factors, I think one reason why guns were so readily accepted (and remain largely accepted) by the public, was because, even though 19th and early 20th gun manufacturers experimented widely with design, they still incorporated the older cottage industry thinking when it came to both the level of craftsmanship and the material selection.  After generations of watching small arms “evolve” into something personalized and beautifully crafted, the average person expected guns to have a look that complemented the deadly seriousness of what the weapon was capable of (i.e. killing people) and this meant finer materials and engineering.

Consider this: even the mass-produced Colt Peacekeepers had an elegance and beauty about them with their rounded edges, high quality ornaments and ergonomic versatility. Today revolvers have been generally relegated to role of concealed carry guns and become plainer and more utilitarian—designed for specific function rather than general use by the shooter that owns it.

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It also seems to me that our emotional attachment to wood and steel charts much of our basic firearms vocabulary.  For example, if I say “Dirty Harry” or even just “.44 Magnum” most people will envision something like the S&W Model 29 with a long barrel.  If I say “Tommy Gun,” almost anybody would be able to conjure up an image of a classic Thompson submachine gun.  Even if you say something a little more vague like “hunting rifle,” chances are folks will picture a bolt-action gun, something along the lines of a Remington Model 700.

All of these iconic guns have classic lines and wood stocks. And I would bet most anybody would be able to recognize them to some degree.  This familiarity works to make them “warm,” almost “friendly” in people’s minds.

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Now, say “black rifle” and what mental image do you think most people have? Rarely a comforting one.  It’s usually a generic AR-15 or M16, and associated with military weapons (though the term “modern sporting rifle” is how many gun owners refer to them). How about the name “Glock”—which has almost become a generic term for ‘any plastic gun’?  I can tell you with all the bad press Glocks get, the homely little gun doesn’t generate much warmth on looks alone.

Don’t think it’s only people who don’t shoot who are susceptible to these aesthetic judgments. Hell, most gun writers and even owners call Glocks “ugly” – as in “ugly as sin, but very functional.” I’ve done that (see just above) and I’ve even taken the position many times before that I dislike polymer stocks of almost any sort, while I have gone out of my way to praise wood stocks on many guns.

And why not?  If you were planning on buying supposedly a high-end gun, wouldn’t you expect that it would have a nice wood stock? I do. In fact, many premier gun manufacturers offer different quality levels for their wood stocks, with fancy or exotic wood commanding a higher price. And there’s a huge number of after-market manufacturers of grips for all manner of revolvers, not to mention 1911s.

As my Facebook friend said: “Metal and wood feels much better than plastic.”

Overall, this thinking is pretty harmless; most people are smart enough to recognize their aesthetic bias and not import it to other areas of their life. However, in the case of firearms the bias has been, well, weaponized.

One excellent example of this is the absurdity of the Assault Weapons Ban in the early ’90s.  To the thinking of many gun owners, this ban effectively criminalized a certain aesthetic – polymer functionality – while ignoring the more genteel “steel and wood” guns that were no different in terms of firepower or effectiveness.  People who actually understand guns were appalled by the ridiculousness of the AWB’s emphasis on superficial features, but it was passed because of how easy it was to garner support “against these evil (looking) weapons.” Another example was the bullshit stories about a “ceramic Glock” which didn’t contain enough steel parts to be detectable by X-ray machine or metal-detectors.

I’m not saying that firearms manufacturers should get away from the use of polymers. I own a number of guns with polymer stocks, and think that it is decidedly superior for many applications, not the least of which is helping to keep the cost down on many firearms. But I still love the warmth and familiarity of wood stocks, and I think that it is understandable that many people who don’t understand guns, who don’t own them, feel the same way. Historically, that’s what they’re used to.

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I’m not going to step any further into the political debate about guns here, and I’m turning comments off for this post.

But I thought that it was important to point out that some of that debate is driven by the aesthetics of guns, and our aesthetic bias is rooted in history and class perceptions. Perceptions that people may not even realize that they hold.

 

Jim Downey

February 18, 2018 Posted by | .44 Magnum, Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment