Thursday, October 13, 2016

Choosing the Combat Handgun: Don’t get “wrapped around the axle”…

Many years ago, the late, great Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper told me, while engaged in a private conversation in his home, “The Sconce”, the three primary features required when selecting a combat pistol were “reliability, high visibility sights and a good trigger”. Hard to dispute these and I consider them iron clad, but in this day and age I would add fit. The number of pistol models has grown considerably over the years and the gun must fit your hand if you are going to shoot to your potential.

Today, a pistol made by a reputable manufacturer will probably be as reliable as human design and engineering can allow. Yes, individual models might be turds, but these lone samples should not reflect on the model line in its totality. In my classes, which occur most every weekend and have between 12 and 16 students, 70 % of the guns are Glocks. Seldom do I see a problem with a Glock, even the ones that have been (in some cases highly) customized. When I do see Glock problems, it is usually do to too weak springs in an attempt to make the trigger "better". The next 20% is the Smith & Wesson M&P or SIG 320 divided evenly, with the remaining 10% a smattering of all other pistols...1911's, HK VP-9's and Springfield XD's for the most part. All of these guns are "reliable" and run well.

High visibility sights would be the next requirement and this would be up to the shooter. While I was recently criticized by a high profile instructor for saying "buy the sights you like" (he feels a good instructor can teach you to shoot with any sights which has some validity, but selecting what you like is certainly a plus as is confidence in anything. In reality, he was just stirring up shit where there was none), I stand by this statement/feeling. I like my Ameriglo CAP Sights, which offers a square in a square with a bright colored front sight, while others prefer thin black on black sights like those designed by Kyle Defoor. The Ameriglo Hackathorn Sight and the Trijicon High Visibility sight are quite popular and for good reason...they work! I have seen many students do good work with the XS Big and Small dot sights...I really don't care as long as you can hit what you are shooting at from contact distance to 25 yards. Being able to truly SEE the sights is also a big plus! The great case you missed there are a large number of sight configurations to choose from.

A "good trigger”...this is where many become confused, as a good trigger is not the same as a light trigger. A good trigger is one that can be depressed smoothly to the rear without glitches, snags and catches in the action. Having a smooth trigger helps keep the hand from sympathetically clenching when trying to depress the trigger, which will take the muzzle off target. Keep in mind 1/16th inch of muzzle movement is 4 inches at 20 feet. Thus, having a smooth trigger is critical! It is wise to remember the hand works as a team, with four fingers opposing a thumb, while the thumb and index finger are also “hard wired” to work together. Isolation of the index finger is certainly possible, but is difficult to do when you ask it to apply pressure individually…the rest of the fingers WILL want to help!  Compression of the pinky finger can really move the muzzle…remember the pistol is a lever and what is done at one end will move the other.

Man…rifles are so much easier to shoot, aren’t they!! Too bad they are not as portable… crap…

When I was still carrying a revolver on duty, it was quite common to have an action job performed, as most revolver actions were atrocious from the factory. Consider all of the moving parts that engage and interact in a revolver…to cock the hammer and rotate the cylinder…most revolver triggers felt like one snag or catch after another! A good action job did not lighten the trigger, it smoothed out all of the engagement surfaces so the trigger could be “rolled” to the rear without taking the muzzle off target. Revolver actions that were nothing more than “clipping coils” off the hammer spring resulted in an unreliable weapon, which violates the first requirement listed here. Not good…

Pistol actions should seek the same end result…a smooth depressing to the rear, not a light trigger. The popular Glock has the famous “catch” in the trigger action that occurs when the tail end of the trigger bar engages the connector shelf, which pulls the trigger bar down to release the striker. If you think about it, the Glock is just a big slingshot…pull back, let go! Sure wish I had thought of it…this simplicity is what makes it so popular…

 The 3.5 connector was created to offer a less severe angle to this shelf to help reduce this glitch or catch, but it also lightens the over all trigger weight which concerns some. Trigger weight can easily be added by increasing the weight or the trigger and striker springs. In addition, polishing the engagement surfaces of the internal parts on a Glock can smooth the action but make sure you don’t round the edges, which can make the gun unreliable. Sharp edges of the trigger components are required to properly engage one another and perform their function(s). When in doubt, let a qualified gunsmith do the job. The 4.5 CAT "combative application trigger" kit) as sold in the Handgun Combatives Store will reduce the "catch" of the Glock trigger while maintaining a 5 pound plus trigger weight (which I feel is reasonable), reduce over travel and it is easy to install.

The 1911’s are the easiest pistols to shoot as far as the index finger is concerned. The trigger action is short and slides straight to the rear versus most other pistol designs, which pivot from the top. The downside of the 1911 is the additional safety levers that must be engaged and disengaged during operation, which makes the gun unpopular in some circles. As far as double action pistols are concerned, I have shot 8, 10 even 12 pound pistol triggers that were smooth and worked quite well. Ernest Langdon of Langdon Tactical, performed an action job on my Beretta 92FC and turned that gun into a pistol that was VERY easy to shoot! The problem was I could not reach the trigger as I wanted (not the gun's fault...I have very small hands), which leads us to the requirement I have added…fit.

When I think of the word “fit” as it relates to the handgun, I picture the pistol fitting square into the web of the hand (along the bones of the fore arm) and the index finger engaging the trigger with proper “geometry”…placement of the pad to first knuckle square on the trigger face without having to stretch out to reach it. At the same time, not having too much finger sticking through to the opposing side of the gun as both conditions will affect a shooter’s ability to depress the trigger straight to the rear without muzzle movement.  Folks with large hands can easily find a pistol that will properly fit… it’s those of us (like me!) who have small hands or short fingers that struggle. A pistol with a single column grip can help, but I, for one, like the added capacity of a double column handgun. Having to reload in a gunfight is a complex task and adding a thin single column magazine/magazine well just adds to this complexity.  In my mind, more bullets are certainly better!

Changing the grip…something that was done with boring regularity on revolvers…can help and having pistols with inter-changeable back straps has been a real Godsend for many.  Being able to reduce the grip and length of reach around the grip tang helps achieve the proper finger geometry. Glock has been the real challenge and while the reduced grip of the 4th generation gun has helped, it is the after market grip reduction…first undertaken by Robbie Barrkman of Robar…that has made the Glock a more “shoot-able” pistol for many. Legal experts seem to agree changing the grip on any gun is OK; so to struggle with a too large grip is just silly.

What I would like to see is the incorporation of more reduced or short reach triggers. Triggers that are actually curved or reconfigured to reduce the reach around the grip tang by the index finger for enhanced placement. It would be best if the manufacturers did this…SIG used to offer a short reach trigger for their original P-226 and 228 pistols and I have one on my P-228…it really helps!  Many after market triggers for the GLOCK and other striker-fired triggers are ow offered with flat face triggers which does help many shooters with proper trigger finger geometry.

There you have it: reliability, high visibility sights, good trigger and proper fit…if you shop well and achieve all of these you will likely have a combat handgun you can count on to save your life! Of course, training and practice are JUST AS IMPORTANT as selecting the gun. Thus, choose wisely and train hard!

Thanks for checking in!


  1. Good article. I had a somewhat disheartening discussion with a friend of mine about the importance of fit. From his gorilla handed perspective it wasn't important. From my stubby fingered perspective it was. His view was capacity, glock, reliability, glock, and more glock, lol. Nothing against any manufacturer (glock is one of the best), I just don't get to hung up on brand. If it fits me and works, I'm good.

  2. As it's tres chic to badmouth the Colonel these days, it's nice to hear someone with stature still take some stock in what the man had to say.

    At first I was, "Fit?, the human hand is an amazing machine capable of adapting to many different things." But, I certainly see your point, and Wayne tapped into that - not everyone has XXL man hands. Being married should have taught me this, but I have never handed a Beretta to my bride, so there is a learning point lost.

    Excellent article and please continue to post them. Who knows what they don't know?

  3. Fit is tremendously important these days. Had a recent female student in a basic police academy class who consistently shot low left. (way left) Usual diagnoses including jerking the trigger, too much/too little finger on the trigger were tried with the standard issue Gen 4 G17.

    Best score ever was a 74 when a passing score is 80 but usual score was in the low 50's. The high score came after intensive training from our lead instructor who is a highly capable, very good instructor. The problems persisted to the point where the cadet was looking like she might flunk out of the academy.

    The lead instructor continued to work with the cadet and in an inspired moment, brought his personal M&P with the smallest grip for her to try. With an hour of training on the M&P, she shot consecutive 94+ qualifications. A very salient lesson about gun fit, thinking outside of the box, a dedicated instructor and just as important, a student who never quit, maintained a positive attitude and conquered the issue. Great article.