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 15% is the Smith & Wesson M&P with the remaining 15% a smattering of all other pistols...1911's, HK VP-9's and SIG 320’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. 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 clenching when trying to depress the trigger, which will take the muzzle off target. Keep in mind 1/8th 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 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 (like those available from Ghost Inc.) 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 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 rotate 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. I have shot 6, 8 even 10 pound pistol triggers that were smooth and worked quite well. Ernest Langdon 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, 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 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 is 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 (I am told the new M Series is even better), 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! Bob Meszaros of Templar Custom Arms has worked out a solution for a shorter reach trigger for the Glock he calls the FACT (Fast Action Combat) Trigger which does not lighten the trigger action. As a matter of fact (pun intended) it uses a five -pound connector but you would not know it! Those in the legal community argue such a trigger could increase liability, but I choose to enhance my shooting ability instead of worrying about this. If I am involved in a shooting and the short reach trigger becomes an issue, I am prepared to defend my use by arguing it made it more likely for me to hit what I am shooting at versus errant rounds flying astray. That said, this decision is certainly up to you and you should think about it.

Caliber…it wasn’t part of the opening paragraph, but how can we talk about pistol selection without at least mentioning it? While I have always been skeptical of ballistic gelatin, recent weeks have finally settled my mind on the issue and I believe we now have enough data…both from the street and from the lab…to predict handgun ammo performance. It also settled in my mind that current generation ammo design has made the .40 S&W (.357 SIG??) obsolete. If you like it, use it, but I am convinced its performance is no longer superior to the 9mm due to current ammo design…why put up with the reduced capacity or the added recoil? Again, up to you. The .45 ACP? I agree with Ken Hackathorn and believe it is about 10% better than the 9…which is not so much that it will make up for poor shot placement. In the end, you have to hit what you are shooting at. Again, caliber selection is up to you…

There you have it: reliability, high visibility sights, good trigger and proper fit (with caliber crammed in)…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!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Handgun Ammo Selection: The best ever!

It has been an interesting month. Over the last four weeks I have taught several Vehicle Combatives courses along with a special event for Ruger at the FTW Ranch in Texas. In all of these events, I have been involved in a variety of handgun ammunition tests that have led me (once again) to state we have THE BEST combative handgun ammo ever!

It started in 1987 when several FBI Agents died in a shoot out with several armored car robbers in Miami, Florida. One of the two suspects fought like a rapid dog even after taking fatal wounds and it was later determined one of the 9mm bullets did not penetrate deep enough to reach vital organs. While this determination has been disputed and debated, what did happen was a revolution in handgun ammunition design and development. Yes, we worked our way though the 10mm Lite and the .40 S&W…and these were useful additions at the time…but we have once again settled on the 9mm or .45 as the aforementioned R & D into combative ammunition has pretty much eliminated any advantage the .40 had over the 9.

I have seen proof of this over the last few weeks as bullet after bullet has been fired into vehicles, though wallboard and into typical clothing on its way to ballistic gelatin, the international standard for testing ammo effectiveness. What I have seen time and again in the last few weeks is a wide selection of rounds punch though a variety of intermediate barriers, expand and penetrate to a depth that is potentially fatal to anyone on the wrong end of the bullet. While I will be the first to tell you ballistic gelatin in not the same as a human torso, it is a valid test when comparing one round against another. There is just no way to know how any small arm round will affect an amped up, attacking human being…there never will be until we can place our “Phasers on stun”. That said, ballistic gelatin is the best alternative to human tissue, but the smart student of wound ballistics will combine street data with laboratory testing…something I have tried to do for decades now.

While in Kalamazoo, Michigan, students fired a number of 9mm and .45 rounds through auto glass into paper targets to determine deflection, something that is greatly affected by the slant of any windshield. That said, rounds like the Federal HST, Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Duty/Defense and Barnes-X all copper hollow points worked quite well. A few weeks later, I traveled to FTW and witnessed a VERY extensive ballistic laboratory put on by Hornady showing the across the board effectiveness of their Critical Duty ammunition in all of the FBI protocols. The impressive thing here is Hornady set up each protocol side-by-side and shot through each barrier one after another. The blocks of gelatin were next to each other so the participants in attendance could see the consistent expansion and penetration right down the line.

A week later, I headed to Brainerd, Minnesota for another Vehicle Combatives course where several Vista Outdoor (Federal/Speer) employees were students and brought along a nice supply of ballistic gelatin so students could see what their chosen load would do not only though auto glass, but what the bullet would do in the gel after it has passed through the glass. In every Vehicle Combatives course I teach, I set aside a block of time for each student to test their carry load against various parts of a vehicle for their own edification. In this case, the folks from Vista placed blocks of gel in the vehicle so the student could see the whole picture. What was unique about this set up was actual cars were used, not pieces of auto glass placed in a brace a set distance from the gelatin block.

Of course, with all of this ballistic gelatin available, students wanted to see as much of the FBI protocol as they could and the folks from Vista were more than happy to oblige. They had a nice supply of Federal 147 grain HST, Speer 147 grain Gold Dot 2 (the new FBI load), Speer 124 grain Gold Dot +P (the NYPD load) and Federal 165 grain HST .40. The results of the test were impressive! Every round penetrated and deformed as they passed through various barriers and penetrated 10 inches plus. The clothing used was not swatches of cloth, the old coats and shirts the students brought along. Great participation! While I had read some very critical tests of the Gold Dot 2 on line, I did not see anything like what I read during this test…and this was done with real cars, clothing and the like…not a laboratory setting in any way.

What the past month has done is make me rethink is my selection of the 9mm all copper hollow point as my carry load. While I still believe the all copper bullet has a bright future, in the most recent testing I witnessed I did not see a level of superiority over the bullets discussed here. In addition, as I travel to from class to class, I have received complaints from students about the all copper hollow points as they are hard to get, expensive and in the case of one company, they are treated rudely by employees when inquiries are made in regards to availability. Indeed, I have been blown off by this company myself over the last half year! This will certainly affect anyone’s viewpoint of a particular product and the desire to endorse it, no matter how good it is.

No worries, however, as we have THE BEST combative handgun ammo in history…of that I am convinced. I only know of one shooting with the new Gold Dot 2…certainly not enough to establish a track record…but the round performed as designed so this is certainly encouraging. The Federal HST is THE choice for American law enforcement and it has an increasingly impressive performance record in the street…something that can also be said for the NYPD’s 124 grain +P Gold Dot. Combine this with impressive test results and it would appear the choice is clear, right? Not so fast you say? There are other good choices? You are right, of course…but the choice/search is certainly much easier than ever before…

Thanks for checking in…