Ballistics by the inch

Reprise: Love me, love my gun — Gun Ownership and Your Non-Shooting Significant Other

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, and it originally ran 10/10/2011. Some additional observations at the end.


Many years ago, as we were packing up our gear after a successful hunt, one of my buddies confided to me that this might be the last pheasant season that we shared.

“Why? You OK? What is it, heart problems or cancer or something?”

“Worse. Joan doesn’t like guns, doesn’t want any in the house after we get married.”

* * *

I was lucky. When my wife and I got together, she already owned a gun. Granted, it was an old Winchester Model 63 she had inherited from her dad, but still it meant that guns weren’t an issue for us at all, and haven’t been for the almost 24 years we’ve been married.

But like my buddy above, I’ve had any number of friends who have had to navigate this issue with a spouse or ‘significant other’ (SO henceforth) – and it hasn’t always broken down along predictable gender lines, either.

It’s a tough problem. Sure, you can try to educate, or get your SO interested in shooting or hunting or self-defense, but that doesn’t always work. Chances are they may well see the problem in the same light: as requiring education to “enlighten” you as to the dangers of having a gun in the home. It’s always worth keeping in mind that someone who is ‘anti’ may be operating from their position with as much conviction and good intent as you have in being ‘pro’.

So, what do you do? Just move along to see if you can find another fish in the sea? That seems to be the first instinct, judging from how I have seen this topic discussed on countless gun sites over the years.

But love doesn’t always work out that way. It’s messy. It’s sometimes unpredictable. And every relationship I’ve ever been in or seen has required some compromises and accommodation of another’s likes and dislikes. My wife hates hot spices, while I grow super-hot varietals of Habaneros which I love in almost every dish. And I cannot grok her love of musicals of any stripe. It’d be silly, or at least short-sighted, for us to give up on our marriage over either of these trivial things.

Where do you draw the line, though?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? How do you decide what is more important: your love for another, or your love of guns. Your happiness in sharing a life, or your fundamental belief in the 2nd Amendment.

I know that none of my guns are more important to me than my wife. I’d give up every single one of them, if it was a matter of her life or them, just as I would give my life to protect her. Those who have given an oath to defend the Constitution may well feel the same way about the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

But is that the right way to think about it? Do you really need to put this question into such absolute terms?

If anything, a relationship is about nuance. Trying to define everything in terms of black and white is unlikely to be productive to a long and happy marriage. The trick is to find a way to make the relationship work without compromising your principles. To go back to my trivial examples, I have a variety of hot sauces and ground Habanero powder that I add to dishes after I’ve taken my portion. My wife enjoys musicals on her own or with a friend.

And my buddy kept his guns at his parent’s place. Well, for a while. It wasn’t long before his wife got comfortable enough with the notion of his hunting that he started just bringing them home with him at the end of a day out in the field. I think that it helped that she decided she liked the taste of pheasant.

So, it might work to just get a safe (which you should have, anyway). Or to give your SO the key to your safe so they don’t have to fear anyone getting to the guns without their approval. Or to keep your guns at someone else’s abode. Or maybe to only have long guns, not those evil evil handguns. Or some other compromise.

Things change over time. So do people. The danger in any relationship comes from trying to change your SO, rather than just growing together and seeking to enrich one another’s lives. Trying to indoctrinate is unlikely to work, whereas sharing information may very well. Isn’t sharing the joys and sorrows of life what it is all about, anyway?

Like I said, I was lucky. Not only did my wife not have a problem with guns in our home, she’s come to share some of my enthusiasm for the shooting sports. Now we enjoy getting out to the range together whenever we can. The only thing I have to watch out for is her deciding that she likes some of my guns better than I do. But I don’t mind sharing. Don’t mind it at all.


My wife and I are now closing in on our 30th anniversary, and if anything she’s more supportive of my interest in guns now than when I wrote this.

And in the intervening six years, we’ve also seen something of a shift in the culture.  Now more people are interested in guns, and it is easier than ever for the law-abiding to carry a weapon for self-defense. Sure, there are still plenty of problems with violence and crime, some of which involves firearms. But as a general thing the perception is that firearms don’t automatically mean more violence, and owning them doesn’t carry the same stigma that it did. So I think that perhaps it is now easier for people who have a non-shooting SO to make an argument for their having firearms.

Your thoughts?


Jim Downey

July 23, 2017 Posted by | .22, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Share and share alike — swapping weapons at the range.

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, and it originally ran 6/09/2011. Some additional observations at the end.


Colt Anaconda

“Wow! What the hell was that?”

I smiled, looked over at the young guys two lanes over at the public range. They had been shooting one guy’s Glock 19. I’d kept an eye on them, as I do whenever anyone else is there the same time I am. They’d been safe in how they had handled the gun, how they conducted themselves. “.44 Magnum. Wanna try it?”

“Really?” asked the one guy while the other cleared the Glock, set it down on the bench with the slide open . We were the only people on the pistol side of the range. They came walking over.

I popped the spent casings from the cylinder, dropped them in a plastic bag. Leaving the cylinder open, I handed my Anaconda to the first guy. “Sure. Ever shot a revolver?”

* * * * * * *

I don’t often go shooting at the public range. Oh, it’s close to my house and therefore convenient, but I also belong to a private club about the same distance away. However, now and then I’ll want to get out to do some shooting, but the private club will be reserved for training/classes, so I’ll slip out to the State range for a bit of recoil therapy. It’s a nice set-up, with concrete paving and nice large concrete shooting benches/tables under protection from the weather.

When I do go there, in addition to what I want to get some practice with, I’ll usually take along something a little bit unusual. Maybe a flintlock. Or the Anaconda. A derringer. My Sub2000. Something most people don’t see regularly.

It gives me an excuse to talk to people, if they express an interest in whatever it is I have with me.

* * * * * * *

“Ever shot a revolver?”

“Um, no,” said the first guy. He looked at his buddy. His buddy looked at me, shook his head.

“Well,” I said, “they’re old-school, but a lot of people still like ‘em. They’re simpler to shoot in some ways, and you can get more power in a revolver than most semis. ”

“Is this the gun that Dirty Harry used?” asked the second guy, holding the gun that his buddy had passed to him.

“Close. This is a Colt Anaconda. Dirty Harry had a Smith & Wesson Model 29. But they’re the same caliber – both .44 Magnums – and about the same size.” I took the gun back, gave them a quick lesson in how it worked, how to shoot it safely. I started ‘em with light practice loads, then a cylinder of full magnums.

A few minutes later they were both grinning like kids on Christmas.

* * * * * * *

It’s not so much that I want to meet people. There are plenty of ways to do that, and I have a lot of friends and acquaintances.

Rather, it’s a way of sharing something I know about and enjoy. Maybe do a little teaching. Maybe do a little learning. I do know a bit about guns, but there’s always more to learn.

And usually I find that if I offer to let people try my guns out, they’ll return the favor. I don’t care how good a collection you have – no one has everything.

* * * * * * *

The boom of the last full-house .44 Magnum echoed around us as the fellow opened the cylinder and handed my gun back to me. Like I said, he and his buddy were grinning like crazy.

“Man, that was great! Thanks!”


“Wanna try my Glock?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.” I’ve shot plenty of Glocks before, and own a couple in .45 ACP, so this was nothing new to me. But it was a way of showing my respect for these guys.

We walked over to their lane. He handed me the third-generation Glock 19. It’d been well used, but seemed to be in pretty good shape. “It’s my concealed carry gun.”

“Nice. Good gun for that.”

“Thanks,” he said. I swear, he stood a little taller.

* * * * * * *

Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. I haven’t been to shooting ranges at a lot of places elsewhere in the country. But here, whenever you go out shooting with people, everyone has to try everything. And if people seem sane at the range, many times I’ve seen folks share guns with strangers. Yeah, you wanna be a bit careful about who you hand your guns over to, but if they’ve been dangerous or inept, I’ll usually find a reason to not stick around the range very long anyway.

I’m curious – how is it in your neck of the woods? Do people share? Do you offer to let others try your guns, or ask to try theirs?


When I originally wrote this, I hadn’t yet been to New Zealand. But as noted in this series I did for, I discovered that sharing guns with strangers is common there as well. And since then I have also been out to other parts of the US, and seen much the same. It’s not always the case, and as noted above you have to exercise some judgment, but it seems to be a fairly widespread practice. I consider this to be a good thing.

Jim Downey

July 2, 2017 Posted by | .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

Calculating Muzzle Energy

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

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

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

E = 1/2mv^2

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

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

Batter up?

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

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

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

The Trouble with Muzzle Energy

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Jim Downey

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

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

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


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

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

Only his script-writer knows for sure.

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

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

So, what’s the answer?

Well, it depends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jim Downey

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

Reprise: Levering the Playing Field: a Magnum Opus

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some additional thoughts …

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

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

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

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


Jim Downey

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

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

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


“What is the best barrel length?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jim Downey

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some additional thoughts, six years later …

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

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

Jim Downey

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jim Downey

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

2016 in the rear-view mirror.

Happy New Year!

A quick recap of the last year: surprisingly active.

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

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

  3. MechTech Systems
  4. Wikipedia
  5. The Firearm Blog
  6. reddit
  7. Active Response Training
  8. Survivalist Boards
  9. The Firing Line

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

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

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


Jim Downey


January 1, 2017 Posted by | .45 Super, .450 SMC, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Security on a budget.

If you’ve got a couple thousand dollars available, it’s relatively easy to select one or more firearms for home defense, or for your bug-out bag, or what have you. You’ve got plenty of choices, and just need to sort through the options available and find the gun(s) which best fit your needs.

But what if you only have a couple hundred bucks?

A good used pump shotgun will serve most people pretty well for home defense. But what if you want something more compact for your bug-out bag or emergency kit? Then your options are much more limited, and you have to prioritize. You have to decide just what you want your firearm to be able to do, and then see what is available to best meet those goals.

This is one such solution. By no means do I think that it is the only solution. But how I went through the decision-making process and then how I put it into practice might provide some insights.

I wanted a fairly versatile firearm for an emergency kit, the sort of thing which could get taken along on a long drive, or to have when vacationing away from home. I wasn’t thinking of the firearm as a combat weapon, but something which would be suitable for emergency hunting or self-defense. I wanted it to be compact, reliable, and with a wide enough selection of loadings* (whether factory or my own reloads) to meet a range of uses from hunting small game to protecting against large predators.

After thinking it over, I decided to look for a good used .357 magnum revolver, with a 3 – 5″ barrel. I didn’t already have such a handgun, so it would also give me a chance to fill in a gap in my collection. After some shopping around, I found a 40 year-old Ruger Security Six with a 4″ barrel in my price range. The gun looked and felt mechanically sound, but was kinda beat-up. There was a fair amount of holster wear on the bluing. The walnut grips had been abused, with scratches and part of the bottom finger groove broken away. The bore looked fine, but there was a lot of built-up lead around the forcing cone, and the trigger and cylinder barely moved from what felt like built-up gunk.

I decided to take a chance, and brought it home. Yesterday I had the time to take it apart and completely rework it. What I found was that while the gun had been reasonably well cared-for, seemingly no one had ever bothered to do more than just a basic quick cleaning. I pried out/off about a 1/16″ layer of accumulated dirt, burnt powder residue, and old oil from most of the internal surfaces, particularly around the trigger assembly. Little wonder it felt almost frozen in place. I went ahead and did a thorough cleaning of the rest of the gun, and was even able to remove the lead deposits with minimal work.

The grips were first slightly reconfigured with a wood file then sanded thoroughly. I refinished them to a satin finish for slightly better tactile control.

Here’s how the gun looks now:



It’s not gorgeous. It could certainly stand to be reblued, or at least have the bluing touched-up. But I’m not going to worry about it — for my needs, it’s just fine as it is now.

The moral of the story is to think through what you want your firearm to do, then do your research to see what the range of choices are. Shop around. If you have modest skills with hand tools, you should be able to make dramatic improvements in the performance & appearance of a gun (perhaps with some help from online videos and instruction).

Good luck!


Jim Downey

*Ammo Selection I will keep on hand for this gun in the emergency kit (representative examples):



June 5, 2016 Posted by | .357 Magnum, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An absurd comparison. Or is it?

We had another of those wonderful & rare mid-50s January days here today, so I decided to get out for a little range time.

In addition to the other shooting I did (basically, practice with some of my preferred CCW guns), I also did a little head-to-head comparison between a Smith & Wesson M&P 360 J-frame in .38 Special and a Colt Anaconda in .44 Magnum.

Wait … what? Why on Earth would anyone even consider trying to do such an absurd comparison? The S&W is a very small gun, and weighs just 13.3 ounces. The Anaconda is a monster, weighing in at 53 ounces (with the 6″ barrel that mine has), and is literally twice as long and high as the J-frame. The .38 Special is generally considered a sufficient but low-power cartridge for self defense, while the .44 Magnum still holds a place in the popular mind as ‘the most powerful handgun in the world‘ (even though it isn’t).

Well, I was curious about the perceived recoil between the two, shooting my preferred loads for each. The topic had come up in chatting with a friend recently, and I thought I would do a little informal test, just to see what I thought.

So for the M&P 360 I shot the Buffalo Bore .38 special +P, 158 gr. LSWHC-GC which I have chrono’d out of this gun at 1050 fps, with a ME of 386 ft-lbs.

And for the Anaconda I shot Hornady .44 Remington Magnum 240gr XTP JHP, which I have chrono’d at 1376 fps, with a ME of 1009 ft-lbs. (Actually, I don’t have a ‘preferred carry ammo’ for this gun, but this is typical of what I shoot out of it. Were I going to use it as a bear-defense gun, I’d load it with this.)

My conclusion? That the M&P 360 was worse, in terms of perceived recoil. In fact, I’d say that it was *much* worse.

It’s completely subjective, but it does make sense, for a couple of reasons.

First, look at the weight of each gun, compared to the ME of the bullets shot. The J-frame is 13.3 ounces, or about 25% of the 53 ounce weight of the Anaconda. But the ME of 386 ft-lbs of the .38 Special bullet is 38.25% of the ME of the .44 Mag at 1009 ft-lbs. Put another way, the J-frame has to deal with 29 ft-lbs of energy per ounce of the gun, where the Anaconda has just 19 ft-lbs of energy per ounce of the gun. That’s a big difference.

Also, all that recoil of the J-frame is concentrated into a much smaller grip, when compared to the relatively large grip of the Anaconda. Simply, it the difference between being smacked with a hammer and a bag of sand, in terms of how it feels to your (or at least, my) hand.



Jim Downey

January 31, 2016 Posted by | .38 Special, .44 Magnum, Anecdotes, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Four .380 CCW guns compared.

Had a chance to get out in the cool and do some head-to-head comparisons of four different .380 ACP pistols. Here they are:

All 4

From left to right: Remington RM380, Rohrbaugh R380, Glock 42, and Sig Sauer P238.

I’m going to discuss the RM380 and the R380 together, since the first is the latest version of the latter. See, Rohrbaugh was sold to Remington about a year ago, and shortly thereafter Remington began to tweak the design of the R380 a bit, which I think was mostly an improvement.

The original Rohrbaugh was designed to be the perfect pocket pistol, with smooth edges in a *very* compact yet ergonomically-friendly package. And as my original review indicates, I thought it was a great gun.


The new RM380 is essentially the same design. They’ve changed the mag release from the European-style butt plate to a conventional side-button. They’ve given the grips more texture which make it easier to hold onto (many people who owned a Rohrbaugh added either a slip-on grip or some grip tape to accomplish the same thing). And they’ve added a slight beaver-tail to help keep the external DA hammer from pinching the web of the hand. They’ve made it so the slide locks back after the last round in the mag is fired. And they’ve made an additional magazine with a small extension which makes it even easier to shoot the gun. In my opinion, these are all improvements.

Changes which aren’t improvements? Well, the gun is lighter, at about 12.2 ounces (the Rohrbaugh was 13.5), and that contributed to increased felt recoil. The fit & finish are not nearly as nice as the R380. But then again, the Remington now costs about 1/3 what the original Rohrbaugh did.

Both guns have very basic sights. They are not guns to take to a competition at 25 yards. But both of them would pop 6″ spinners consistently at 7 yards. Both operated reliably, though I was just using hardball ammo — you’d want to select your preferred SD load and make sure that it shot out of your gun consistently and reliably.

The trigger on the Remington was still a VERY long pull. First time I shot it, I thought it was even worse than the Rohrbaugh in that regard. But after going back and forth between the two, I think it just felt longer, because in addition to being long it was fairly gritty and rough. That might clean up over time (this gun had less than 100 rounds through it), but it was noticeably worse than the Rohrbaugh.

I’ve done a brief review of the Glock 42 previously. What I said then still stands:

Comments: I did not expect to like this gun. I was REALLY surprised when I did. Seriously, it is the best-shooting Glock I’ve ever handled. For such a small gun, it fit my large hands comfortably and was easy to shoot well. With Glock quality and reliability, this may be the first .380acp I would seriously consider as a CCW gun.

I had done a previous review of the P238 with the classic 1911-style grips, which can be found here. This one was brand-new … literally, it had just been picked up at the store and then brought out to the range. And it has the Hogue-style grips and the finger extension on the mag, which I really liked.

Sig 238

The large front fiber optic sight made target acquisition fast and easy. The grips fit my large hands very well, and made it easy to shoot the gun accurately.

So, how did the four guns feel, shooting them head-to-head?

Jim and Sig

OK, a couple of notes first. We shot Remington UMC 95gr hardball ammo. We loaded up 6 rounds into each mag, then shot first one gun, then another, then another, then another. We mixed up the order of which followed which. And we shot at both 7 yards and 10 yards.

My personal preference for shooting? This order, with notes:

  1. Sig P238. Had the least perceived recoil and greatest accuracy. For fast, multiple hits it was great, getting back on target with minimal fuss. Very crisp and clean trigger.
  2. Glock 42. Slight sting from the recoil, accuracy almost as good as the Sig. Again, getting back on target was fast and easy. Trigger not as good as the Sig, but familiar to anyone who knows how any other Glock shoots.
  3. Remington RM380. The worst recoil of all four guns, but the improvements to the grips and the mag extension really make a difference for accuracy. The long, rough trigger almost moved this to #4.
  4. Rohrbaugh R380. The least accurate and the most difficult to get back on target for follow-up shots.

Now, I want to stress that all four guns were adequately accurate at 7 yards. Shooting fast, I could get at least 5 out of 6 within about a 12″ circle, and hit at least one or two hits on a 6″ spinner. Consistently. Since I don’t own any of these guns, I would expect that I could improve on that with practice. Of course, most Self Defense ammo is usually hotter, and would present more of a problem for recoil and target re-acquisition. But I still think all four guns would perform well.

That’s how I would rank the guns for shooting. But that isn’t the only factor in considering a gun for concealed-carry.

As I noted in my review, I don’t like having a “cocked & locked” pistol in my pocket. And if I’m going to have a CCW weapon in a holster, then I might as well step up to a full 9mm as opposed to a .380. So that’s a big strike against the P238 in my book, as nice a gun as I actually found it to be.

It also depends on exactly what you want out of your minimal CCW gun. Do you want the lightest? The thinnest? The smoothest? Or does shoot-ability matter more?

It’s a matter of personal preference. I think that I would rank my selection for concealed carry this way, with some brief explanation for each:

  1. Remington RM380. A really good choice for a light, thin, pocket pistol intended to be used as either a back-up or deep cover gun. But I’d spend some time working on smoothing out that trigger.
  2. Glock 42. Not as small or as light as the RM380. But much better sights, and a most stable platform in my hands. Meaning that I would consider it as a primary CCW, not just as a back-up.
  3. Rohrbaugh R380. Weighs about what the Glock does, but is the smallest/thinnest of all four.
  4. Sig P238. A great shooter. And if you’re willing to carry it cocked & locked in your pocket, then I can easily see how this could be anyone’s first choice. But for me, I’d want it in a belt holster (or shoulder rig), and that’s a big disadvantage — I might as well carry a much more powerful gun.

But hey, that’s just my calculation. Feel free to weigh in with your own.


Jim Downey


December 17, 2015 Posted by | .380 ACP, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Some “Super” performance out of a Cx4 Storm.

This is the third in a series of informal blog posts about the .45 ACP/Super/.450 SMC testing sequence we conducted over the Memorial Day weekend. You can find the previous posts here and here.

Today we’re going to look at the results out of a stock Beretta Cx4 Storm in (obviously) .45 ACP. I have previously reviewed the Cx4 Storm in .45 ACP for, and it is a great little pistol caliber carbine with a 16.6″ barrel. Here is Keith shooting the one we used for this recent testing:


I want to re-iterate that the Cx4 was completely stock, with no modifications or additions whatsoever for these tests.

As I said with the previous posts about these tests, it’ll be a while before we have all the data crunched and the website updated, but I thought I would share some preliminary thoughts and information through a series of informal posts.

Quick note about the data below: All the ammo used, with the exception of the four * items, were part of our overall test sequence and had three shots made over the Oehler chronograph (which is a double-unit, and automatically records and then averages the two readings), representing a total of 6 data points. I’m just giving the overall averages here; the full data will be available on the website later. The four * ammunition types only include two shots/four data points through the Cx4. That’s because we only had one box of each of this ammo, and were wanting to get data which would be of the greatest use to the largest number of people.

Ammo                                                                               Cx4 Storm

      Buffalo Bore

.45 ACP Low Recoil Std P 185gr FMJ-FN                 997 fps / 408 ft-lbs

.45 ACP Std P 230gr FMJ-RN                                933 fps / 444 ft-lbs

.45 ACP +P 185gr JHP                                       1361 fps / 760 ft-lbs

.45 ACP +P 230gr JHP                                       1124 fps / 645 ft-lbs

.45 Super 185gr JHP                                         1555 fps / 993 ft-lbs

.45 Super 200gr JHP                                         1428 fps / 905 ft-lbs

.45 Super 230gr FMJ                                         1267 fps / 819 ft-lbs

.45 Super 230gr JHP                                         1289 fps / 848 ft-lbs

.45 Super 255gr Hard Cast                                 1248 fps / 881 ft-lbs

      Double Tap

.45 ACP +P 160gr Barnes TAC-XP                        1315 fps / 614 ft-lbs

.450 SMC 185gr JHP                                          1618 fps / 1075 ft-lbs

.450 SMC 185gr Bonded Defense JHP                  1556 fps / 994 ft-lbs

.450 SMC 230gr Bonded Defense JHP                  1298 fps / 860 ft-lbs


Critical Defense .45 ACP Std P 185gr FTX              1161 fps / 553 ft-lbs

Critical Duty .45 ACP +P 220gr Flexlock                 1018 fps / 506 ft-lbs


.45 Super 170gr CF                                           1421 fps / 762 ft-lbs

.45 Super 185gr XTP JHP                                   1578 fps / 1022 ft-lbs

.45 Super 230gr GD JHP                                     1264 fps / 815 ft-lbs

*Federal  HST .45 ACP Std P 230gr JHP                882 fps / 397 ft-lbs

*G2 Research  RIP  .45 ACP Std P 162gr JHP        979 fps / 344 ft-lbs

*LeHigh Defense .45 Super 170gr JHP               1289 fps / 627 ft-lbs

*Liberty  Civil Defense .45 ACP +P 78gr JHP        2180 fps / 822 ft-lbs

Something in particular I want to note: that in comparison to .45 ACP loads (whether standard pressure or +P), a number of the .45 Super/.450 SMC loads gain significantly more from the longer barrel. Compare these numbers to the previous posts of handguns, and you can see what I mean. You typically only gain about 10 – 15% in terms of velocity from the .45 ACP loads in going to a carbine — and this is very much in keeping with our previous testing of that cartridge. But you see upwards of a 30% gain in velocity out of some of the .45 Super/.450 SMC loads … and that translates to a 50% increase in muzzle energy!

A heavy, large projectile hitting with 900 – 1,000 foot-pounds of energy is nothing to sneeze at. Particularly when it comes with very little felt recoil out of this little carbine. That means you can get quick and accurate follow-up shots, which is always an advantage when hunting or using a gun for self/home defense.

As noted previously, we noticed no unusual wear on the Cx4 Storm, though a steady diet of such ammo could increase wear on the gun over time. And the Beretta didn’t have any problems whatsoever feeding, shooting, or ejecting any of the rounds. Where we had experienced some problems with the same ammo out of some of the handguns, there wasn’t a hiccup with the Cx4 Storm.

Look for more results, images, and thoughts in the days to come.

Jim Downey

June 16, 2015 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

First date with the Boberg XR9-S.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a ‘little brother‘ for my Boberg XR45-S. Here they are again:

Lil brother

Well, we’re having another delightful warm spell here in mid-Missouri, so yesterday afternoon I took advantage of it and went out to the range to give the little guy a try.

As I noted before, I have actually shot this particular gun a couple of times previously, and just loved it. But it had been a while, and I couldn’t remember specifically what ammo types we had used. So I packed up what variety of 9mm loads I had on hand, along with my chrono, and went to see whether anything had changed.

Because of the way they operate, the Boberg pistols have a tendency to be very particular about what ammo they like. Ammo which doesn’t have a sufficient crimp is prone to separate (the case being jerked away from the bullet). It’s an issue which is well known, and there’s a list of compatible ammo for both the XR9 and the XR45. But while those crowd-sourced lists are useful, the final word is always what specific ammo your particular gun will handle. For me, that’s particularly something I want to determine for any self-defense pistol before I will carry it.

Full details to follow, but for those who just want the short version: oh baby! The XR9 ate everything I fed it without a problem. Including my standard 9mm reloads. No mis-feeds. No bullet separation. No problems. And it was a real joy to shoot, which isn’t something I normally say about a pocket pistol handling full-power SD loads.

OK, for those want the details …

Below are informal* chrono numbers for seven different ammo types I had. These are all for the Boberg. But I also ran a few through my Steyr S9 for comparison, which usually just had an advantage of about 10 fps over the Boberg (the barrel on the Steyr is about a quarter of an inch longer). If that much.

  • Buffalo Bore 124gr JHP +P+                                             1,230 fps
  • Federal 124gr Hydra Shok JHP                                           1,025 fps
  • Reloads. (4.4gr HP-38, 124gr Rainier FMJ bullet)                        1,020 fps
  • Remington 124gr FMJ                                                       1,040 fps
  • Speer GDHP 115gr JHP                                                      1,210 fps
  • Speer GDHP 124gr JHP                                                      1,100 fps
  • Speer GDHP 124gr JHP +P ‘Short barrel’                           1,150 fps

As you can see, all pretty respectable numbers. And in keeping with both the claims of the manufacturer as well as what we had tested previously (where there’s overlap). I wouldn’t have any qualms carrying any of the Speer ammo, but my preferred SD ammo is currently the Buffalo Bore. Happily, the Boberg shot all of them without a glitch. And after getting my chrono numbers, I ran several magazines worth through the gun doing some quick shooting at cans, was getting excellent accuracy from it at about 15 yards.

I brought it home, stripped and cleaned it, and now consider it reliable enough to carry. Of course, I will continue to practice with it regularly, and keep a close on on how it performs with my reloads, and occasionally run a mag of carry ammo through it, but I don’t expect any problems. It’s a nice little gun.

Jim Downey

*By ‘informal’, I mean just using one chrono and without the lighting rig we now use for formal testing. And I would just run a magazine of ammo through, mentally noting the numbers in a running tally, then writing them down for that particular ammo, so they are necessarily just ‘ballpark’ figures. But since they jibe well with our previous numbers and what the mfg claims (which I only discovered when I sat down to write this), I think they’re pretty good.

January 20, 2015 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No matter which way you look …

…whether back over 2014, or forward into 2015, things are pretty good vis-a-vis BBTI.

Yeah, 2014 was pretty good. We didn’t do any formal testing, though I did some informal testing and a fair number of reviews of new guns or guns which were just new to me.  Having the chance to do those now and again is enjoyable, without having the same deadline pressures I had when I was doing regular columns and reviews for

The numbers also look pretty good for 2014. This blog went from about 12,000 visits in 2013 to 22,000 last year – nearly double. And the BBTI site itself jumped from 243,230 visitors in 2013 to 318,304 visitors in 2014 — an increase of about a third. Visits have also continued to climb pretty steadily from day-to-day, with typically about 1,250 or so daily by the end of the year. Given that we didn’t do any new testing, that’s pretty impressive.

And of course, we’d like to thank all who linked to us over the past year. Here’s the top ten referring sites for 2014, excluding search engines and Wikipedia:


How about the year to come, then?

Well, we’re planning on doing one largish series of tests, to cover .45 Super, .450 SMC, and a number of additional .45 ACP loadings. We haven’t yet set a date for this sequence, but I will post a note about it here and on our Facebook page once plans solidify.

And behind the scenes, improvements continue at the BBTI website. We recently upgraded our hosting set-up, to shift over to more modern software technology. We’ve started discussing how we can do better presentations of our graphs and spreadsheets. I would still very much like to work with someone to develop a mobile app — if you have the necessary skill set to do that, please drop me a note. And whenever someone finds a glitch in our data or how the site renders for them, we try and make the corrections. None of this is very obvious, but it is all a lot of work, and I’d like to once again thank our web guru (and my lovely wife) at Coeurbois Graphic Design for her efforts.

Lastly, thanks to all who use the site regularly, who cite us in online discussions, who help to spread the word. And especially, I would like to thank all who have donated to BBTI in the last year — your tangible contributions make a difference, and help to offset our ongoing costs.

Happy New Year!


Jim Downey

January 2, 2015 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, Boberg Arms, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boberg XR9-S: a new little brother for my XR45-S.

As Frank said on Facebook this afternoon:

I knew when you got the 45 you wanted the 9mm too. It was only a matter of time.

Guilty as charged. Look what followed me home today:

Lil brother

Yup, a Boberg XR9-S: a new little brother for my XR45-S. As I did in that post, I thought I’d put up some comparison pix to give a sense of just how small this gun is, even though it really doesn’t feel like it when you hold it or shoot it.

Here it is again with the XR45:

Lil brother 2

And here’s the view that shows the thickness of both:


Yeah, there’s a difference. Here’s the XR9 with a Springfield EMP (also 9mm, 3″ barrel – the XR9 has a 3.35″ barrel):



And with my J-frame in .38 Special:

W J-frame

For grins, here it is on top of the J-frame:

J Top

OK, but how about in comparison to the classic premium pocket 9mm, the Rohrbaugh R9? Here ya go:

W R9

The R9 *is* a fantastic little gun, and I love it. I don’t love shooting it, though. The XR9 wins in that category. It will also handle +P ammo and holds one more round (7+1) than the Rohrbaugh. But it is a bit bigger:

R9 Top

Lastly, here it is with a Bond Arms derringer — a great little gun, with a variety of different barrels available. But there’s still just two shots in the derringer, and it actually weighs about 3 ounces more.

W Bond

While I have shot this gun (it belonged to a good friend), and know it to be dependable, I do still want to make sure that it will be able to reliably digest my preferred SD loads. So more on that to come!


Jim Downey

December 26, 2014 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boberg XR45

I’ve written about the innovative Boberg Arms XR9 previously. Here’s the take-away from my review:

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

Well, guess what followed me home today.

No, not an XR9. Something a little … bigger:


Yup, one of the new XR45s.

Here’s a pic of one from my outing with the other BBTI guys a few weeks ago:


It’s a little hard to tell how big the gun is in that pic. Here it is with some others:

all 4

Starting in the upper left corner and going clockwise, those are: A Steyr S9 in 9mm, a Springfield EMP in 9mm, the Boberg XR45 in .45ACP, and a S&W J-frame in .38sp.

Here’s the Boberg back to back with the Steyr:

with S9

With the EMP:

with EMP

And with the J-frame:

with j-frame

And just for grins, here’s the Boberg with the J-frame sitting right on top of it:

on top

Yeah, the 6+1 Boberg is actually smaller than the three other compact pistols. And it has a longer barrel than all three — 3.75″ on the Boberg, compared to 3.5″ in the Steyr, 3.0″ in the EMP, and 1.875″ on the J-frame.

How does it do this? Because of the innovative … some would say just plain weird … way the feed mechanism works. For the best explanation, take a look at the animation on the Boberg homepage, but basically as the slide comes back, it grabs a new cartridge out of the magazine by the rim and then positions it into the chamber. Yeah, you put the bullets in the magazine nose first. Like this:

with mag

And here’s a detail of the top of the loaded mag:

mag loaded

It takes some getting used to, I admit.

Now, while the Boberg is actually smaller in overall size than the other guns, it still has some heft to it: 22 ounces, as opposed to both the Steyr and the EMP at 26. The J-frame shown is a Model M&P 360 with the Scandium frame, so it comes in under 14 ounces. All of those are unloaded weight.

How does it shoot? Like this:

“Not bad at all.”

That was with .45 ACP+P high-end self-defense rounds.

Since I just got mine, it will take a while to find out all the little quirks that it has. But based on shooting one a few weeks ago, and in a much longer session with the 9mm version, I have little doubt that I will be very pleased with it. I’ve already poked around my selection of holsters, and found that the XR45 fits perfectly into a little belt slide holster I have for my Glock 21 Gen 4, as well as into a Mika Pocket Holster I use for the J-frame.

Jim Downey

December 6, 2014 Posted by | .38 Special, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19) | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Short and fun.

Another quick post about getting together for a bit of shooting weekend before last. This time, let’s look at some semi-auto carbines.

The first two are a pair of Beretta CX4 Storms, one in 9mm and the other in .45ACP. You can see them here with the pump guns:

Table selection

I’ve previously reviewed the Cx4, and would only add that each time I shoot one of these guns I just enjoy the hell out of them. At just under 30″ overall length and weighing 5.75 pounds, they’re light, easily maneuverable, and very ergonomic. Great little pistol caliber carbines.

Now, see that gun partially visible off to the right in the pic above? And here’s another shot of it with the other pumps and carbines:


See that short little thing third from the left? Yeah, it’s an AGM-1 carbine in 9mm. Here’s a much better pic of it:


It’s an old-school bullpup, made in the 1980s in Italy. None of us had seen one before, and since it was a used gun it came with no paperwork or information. In picking it up, it felt almost too small to be civilian-legal (I mean non-NFA regulated), but the overall length is a tad over 26″ and the barrel is barely 16 and 1/8th inch. It has a little more heft than the Cx4, and most of the parts are heavy stamped steel. It uses Browning Hi-Power magazines. Interestingly, it was intended to be a modular design you could easily convert over to either .22lr or .45ACP, though I doubt the parts to do so are very common now.

But it was a surprisingly nice little gun to shoot. And when I say little, I mean it — damned thing is shorter than my arm. It was accurate, had a nice trigger, and almost no recoil. All of us were able to put a magazine full of bullets into a one-inch hole at 11 yards the first time we picked it up and tried it. Cool gun. If you ever happen to stumble across one in a shop, don’t be afraid to give it a try.


Jim Downey

November 25, 2014 Posted by | .22, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pump it up.

Last weekend I had the chance to revisit a couple of old friends, and try out something new: pump rifles. These guys:

PumpsFrom top to bottom:


If you check those links, you’ll see that I have written formal reviews for both the Uberti and the USFA previously. So I won’t spend much time talking about them.

But the little Taurus deserves a quick review. Because I found it to be a *very* nice little pump gun. The action was slick and didn’t have any problems, even though it was basically brand new. The Buckhorn sights are classic for a reason: they’re intuitive and work very well at modest distances. And even though the gun is relatively lightweight (compare the neck of the stock to the other two pump rifles above), there’s more than enough mass there to tame the recoil from the .22magnum cartridge. That means that you can get very quick and tight groups out of it even just standing and shooting it unsupported. Shooting it is just a blast, though one which doesn’t come with a lot of muzzle flash.

And the wood & finish on this gun is surprisingly good:

Taurus pump


I also want to share a couple of detail pics of the engraving on the USFA:


And the other side:


Very nice!

I *do* like pump guns.


Jim Downey


November 22, 2014 Posted by | .22WMR, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .45 Colt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goodness gracious …

… great balls of fire*:

That’s one of the other BBTI guys shooting a Kel-Tec PMR-30 last weekend.

How was it to shoot?

Actually, pretty nice. Has a surprisingly good trigger. In general, I like Kel-Tec guns for what they are: reasonable quality at a very affordable price. And I downright love my Sub-2000 in 9mm.

But I won’t be getting a PMR-30 anytime soon. Because at the 4.3″ barrel length, it just doesn’t take real advantage of the .22WMR cartridge — you only get about a 20% improvement over a .22lr cartridge.

Unless you like making fireballs.

Jim Downey

*With apologies to Jerry Lee.

November 19, 2014 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment