Ballistics by the inch

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

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

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

Confirmation of the .460 Rowland performance.

John Ervin at Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing has just put up a new page about his testing of the .460 Rowland cartridge. As I have explained in the past,  our work at BBTI is intended to be an overview of how ballistic performance varies over barrel length — it is just a quick survey to get an idea of the general trends, not meant to be an in-depth examination of a specific cartridge.

But in-depth testing is exactly what Ervin does, using a larger sample size, ballistic gelatin, and high-speed videography. And as a result, his much more detailed analysis is more useful for getting into the details of a given cartridge out of a specific barrel length. And it is really good to see that his results confirm what I have been saying all along: that if you carry a .45, you should instead be carrying a .460 Rowland.

What specifics? Take a look at the performance of Speer 230gr Gold Dot HP .45ACP in terms of foot-pounds of kinetic energy transfer into 20% ballistic gel:

 

Pretty good, eh? It’s what we expect from the .45ACP: a solid energy dump and reasonable penetration.

Now let’s take a look at the same chart, but with the Speer 230gr Gold Dot HP in .460Rowland:

The curves don’t look that different on first glance, but pay close attention to the scale there on the left axis of each one: where the .45ACP tops out at about 72 ft/lbs about 2″ into the gel, the .460Rowland tops out at about 335 ft/lbs just before 2″. That’s more than 4x the energy transfer.

In fact, at 5″ of penetration, the .460Rowland is still dumping about as much energy as the .45ACP does at the maximum.

But there’s more than simple energy transfer involved in terminal ballistic performance. There’s also how well the bullet is designed, and whether it expands properly. This can be a big concern in “over-driving” a bullet, so that it breaks apart. Well, Ervin’s data also covers these comparisons quite well. For the two specific rounds cited above, the .45ACP expanded to 0.344 square inches of frontal surface, and was still 229.5gr of weight. And the .460Rowland expanded to 0.526 square inches of frontal surface, and was still 221.3gr of weight.

There’s a *LOT* more information at Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing. Ervin has an extensive 17 page Ammunition Performance Data report in .pdf format which contains a ton of images, video, and data — more than enough to keep even a data-junkie like me busy for a long time. I urge you to take a good look at it, and to consider the thoughts which Ervin shares about this cartridge. But I will leave you with his opening sentence which sums it up very nicely:

The 460 Rowland represents the pinnacle of handgun calibers for self-defense.

 

Agreed.

Jim Downey

May 1, 2014 Posted by | .45 ACP, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment