Ballistics by the inch

Review: AMT Lightning — the Ruger Mk II Clone

I recently had a chance to shoot an AMT Lightning — it’s a clone of the Ruger Mark II .22lr pistol, but in stainless steel. Here it is:

That’s a 10″ factory barrel, which was one of the options available when these guns were being produced back in the 80’s/90’s.

I remember these guns, or more accurately the lawsuit about them, from when they were being produced. Ruger didn’t take kindly to AMT using their designs (AMT also had a version of the 10/22), and took them to court over it. Ruger won the suit, as I recall (though there isn’t much readily available online to document that) and a few years later AMT went belly-up. Whether that was a result of the lawsuit or poor sales is still a subject of some debate.

Anyway, these guns are still kicking around, and every so often you can see one in a local gun shop or on your favorite auction site. My buddy picked one up, and we shot it last weekend.

In checking online, it seems that the quality control on the AMT guns varied widely — from year to year, specific model guns could range from great and reliable to a major nightmare. Evidently the biggest problem was with the hardness of the stainless steel used.

Only time will tell, but the one we had seemed fine. The fit & finish were OK, with no obvious problems. It shot just fine, and didn’t feel much different than any Mark II I’ve ever shot, though the trigger seemed a little rougher.  Without doing a head-to-head comparison, I can’t really say much more than that. Accuracy was as good as I could expect, limited more by my ability shooting it standing than by any issues with the gun. The long barrel certainly made it soft to shoot in terms of recoil.

So I wouldn’t call it a collector’s item, or comparable in quality to a real Ruger. But if you come across one at an attractive price, and it looks to be in decent shape, don’t be afraid to take a risk.

 

Jim Downey

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April 8, 2018 Posted by | .22 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 11/26/2011.  Some additional observations at the end.

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

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

But let me expand on those points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

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

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

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 5/3/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

 

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

Some new nines.

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

First up, a Glock 17L.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I was right.

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

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

The standard:

And one which has had a little work:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Downey

 

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

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:

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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