What Is Acceptable Handgun “Stopping Power”?

Well now isn’t that a loaded term. “Stopping power.” Right now, I’ve got my Glockblaster on my hip, loaded with 16 rounds of Speer 124 grain +P Gold Dot rounds. These are commonly held to be ‘good’ handgun rounds. Let’s look at why, and what we mean by ‘good’.

First, let’s get some things out of the way. Handguns are terrible at stopping people. All of them. Long guns are way better, but I can’t concealed carry an M4 around all day, and I’m not guarded by a battalion of Marines. Pistols are concealable, and we have to deal with that. I’m using the colloquialism “Stopping Power” because it’s convenient and fun to say.

Second, no, I do not want to get shot by any of the rounds discussed here. Or any others. Getting shot sucks. Lots of people will say “I wouldn’t want to get shot with…” about all kinds of rounds. And that’s true. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to get shot by a rubber bullet or a paintball gun either. That shit hurts. And yeah, the rubber bullet has a chance of killing you if it hits you wrong.

But all of this is missing the point. Yes, some people will stop whatever they’re doing when they’re shot. With anything. Yes, some encounters between concealed carriers and would-be criminals are ended without a shot fired. Would you just carry a convincing fake gun, and figure most problems will be solved with brandishing?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Third, stopping power is not kinetic energy. Don’t let idiots try to convince you otherwise, regardless of what unrelated degrees they have. As an example, consider a 230 lb lineman, sprinting at 25.5 feet per second. That works out to 2,020 ft-lbs of energy. Now, consider a 7.62 mm, 190 grain bullet fired from a Remington 700, moving at 2,200 feet per second. That’s also 2,020 ft-lbs of energy. One of these is a lot more likely to kill an elk (or a man) than the other. Can you spot which?

If you said the bullet, you’re right. Energy is merely the capability to do work. We’ll need energy so that the bullet can function as designed, but energy alone is not the answer.

For a stop to work here in the real world, we need to get the brain to shut up and stop working. There are a few ways to do this. Obviously, we could hit the brain and ruin it. We could hit the central nervous system, i.e. the spinal cord, and that would get the brain to be unable to send instructions to the body. Or, we could disrupt blood flow enough for the brain to be unable to function. This is nominally done with blood loss, which comes from tissue damage.

When a bullet strikes living tissue (or a similarish medium like calibrated ballistics gel), we get two kinds of damage: the temporary wound cavity (this is the big thing that blossoms dramatically in the high-speed video) and the permanent wound cavity. For handguns, the temporary wound cavity doesn’t matter, because there’s not enough energy in the handgun bullet for the tissue disrupted by the temporary cavity to matter, so only the permanent cavity matters.

Note also that this is why long guns are so much better at terminal ballistics. In general, long gun bullets have enough energy for that temporary cavity to actually damage tissues enough to matter. The temporary cavity is much bigger than the permanent one, so this means more blood loss.

So if only the permanent cavity matters, how can we measure that, and what is ‘good’? Let’s look at a case study. On April 11, 1986 the FBI engaged in a shootout in Miami with two felons, Platt and Matix. Platt was an ex-Ranger who had served in Vietnam. He was a hardcore guy with a lot of will to win. Two FBI agents would lose their lives in that gunfight: Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove. Five other agents were wounded. Both Matix and Platt also perished.

The shot that would eventually kill Platt was fired by Jerry Dove. It hit Platt in the upper right arm as he attempted to climb from his car, and penetrated the chest. This shot collapsed his right lung, damaged the blood vessels of the right lung causing the chest cavity to start filling with blood, but stopped an inch from his heart. Despite this wound, Platt was able to keep fighting and moving, and was able to subsequently kill agents Dove and Grogan after advancing on their position. During the course of the battle, Platt was wounded 11 other times before succumbing.

Let’s look at that shot by Dove, scored relatively early in the fight. Dove’s gun was the FBI SWAT issue gun, a Smith & Wesson 459 9 mm semiautomatic. The FBI 9 mm duty round of the time was Winchester Silvertip, 115 grain. At the time, a big concern was overpenetration–that a round would go through a criminal and hit a kindergartener playing somewhere behind him. So, the Silvertip was designed for good expansion and limited penetration. It worked as intended, though not as Dove would have desired.

So the FBI did a number of things to try to fix the problem. One of them was to try to come up with a repeatable way to test bullets. Let’s get scientific. So they worked up a test protocol involving calibrated ballistics gel1, and a number of initial barriers, including four layers of denim and auto glass. They wanted to simulate different things in the human body, like bones, not just muscle, and also simulate clothing or cars that agents might have to shoot through. The minimum acceptable amount of penetration, even with barriers, was set at 12″.

Why 12″? Shades of Platt. You don’t know that the criminal will obligingly square up with you, arms at his sides, like a B27 silhouette target. Maybe he’s moving. Maybe he’s turned. Maybe his arms are up, with a gun of his own, and maybe your bullet has to go through those. Remember, there are very few areas that will actually make a person stop if he doesn’t want to.

Ok. So the FBI, with it’s big juicy federal budget, developed a test protocol. And we now have plenty of rounds developed that will pass this protocol. Clearly, I won’t even consider a round that the FBI hasn’t tested and given a passing grade to.2 I also look for the round to be issued to some police departments, preferably large ones, and I want no complaints from its terminal performance on the street.

Offhand, three rounds come to mind as having passed the FBI protocols, being in common use amongst police departments, and having a good record in street fights: Winchester Ranger-T, Speer Gold Dot, and Federal HST. Since I mentioned the Gold Dots in my pistol before, I’ll talk a little more about them here. The 9 mm 124 grain +P load is used by a whole bunch of large police departments, including the NYPD and Las Vegas Metro PD. Both departments have used it in plenty of Officer Involved Shootings, and it has performed very well. And it passed the FBI testing. I can’t really ask for anything else from a round. I also mentioned the others, because sometimes I can only get one of the three, and that’s ok. I currently have a bunch of Gold Dots, but I’d also be happy with 9mm HST or 9mm Ranger-T.

I don’t really deal with other chamberings for defensive ammo. I don’t see the point. I see no reason to deviate from orthodoxy on the matter. There’s lots of snake oil out there marketed to concealed carriers because it’s rare that we’ll be able to prove them wrong.

If you’re looking for other brands of good defensive ammo, look up the work of Dr. Gary K. Roberts, who has done a lot of ballistics testing. He’s got a list of good ammo that has passed the FBI test protocols.


  1. It is paramount that the gel tested is properly calibrated, or else the test is not relevant. Lots of internet bullshitters shoot at “gel”. To the best I have been able to determine, only Shootingthebull410 shoots actual calibrated ballistics gel, i.e. only he conducts tests properly. 
  2. I tend to carry guns with plenty of barrel length. As does the FBI. They issue Glock 19s and 17s in 9mm. If you carry a gun with a barrel length of 4 inches or more, you’re fine with reading the FBI test protocol results and calling it good. If you carry something with a very short barrel, like one of those new “Pocket 9mm” subcompact single-stack guns, check the performance of your round from that sort of short barrel length. Again, Shootingthebull410 is a good source for short barrel tests. Rounds that do well from longer barrels often don’t work as well from short barrels. 

Movie Guns: USP Match (Tomb Raider, 2001)

And now for a fun little segment where I look at various guns used in movies and tell you what I think of the choice. A few caveats: first, when in doubt, imfdb is the source of truth on what the gun is, and second, all criticisms have to be leveled based on the time when the movie was set (so either the historical setting or when it was made).

Tomb Raider is a typical Bad Action Movie that’s based on a videogame. It’s a fun romp, as long as you don’t think too hard. In it, Lara Croft1 dual wields HK USP Match pistols. I won’t discuss dual wielding here, since that’s true to the source material, and really a question of TTPs.2 Let’s talk about the guns.

The USP was HK’s effort to make a ‘wundernine’ service pistol, in order to compete for the Bundeswehr’s service pistol contract and get other military service pistol and law enforcement duty pistol sales. It was released in 1993, and is a double-action pistol with a double-stack magazine. It comes with a proprietary accessory rail, and uses polymer magazines. HK would discover issues with these magazines, and all of their subsequent pistols would end up using excellent metal magazines, first designed for the P2000, and then lengthened for the P30. The USP had a bunch of innovative features, and sold reasonably well, but didn’t set the market ablaze.

The USP Match is a competition version of the USP. Lara is using the 9 mm version, as evidenced by the use of the ‘Jetfunnel’ magwells, only available on the 9mm version. These are smallish magwells similar to the modern crop of ‘concealment’ magwells, like the Freya magwell I have on the Glockblaster. These force the use of longer 18 round magazines rather than the standard 15 round magazines.

The USP Match comes with the match trigger system that HK made for competition use. I like nicer triggers. The stock USP is clearly a service trigger: double action is heavy and gritty with a double action pull weight of about 11.5 lbs and a single action pull weight of 4.5 lbs. The Match trigger drops these weights to about 7.5 lbs in double action and about 4 lbs in single action. Big difference for that double action pull. I don’t have enough experience with one to know if this setup risks light primer strikes, but I’m sure Ms. Croft can afford quality ammo. I approve of these kinds of competition triggers in general, and a 4 lbs. single action pull is hardly superlight. It also comes with an adjustable overtravel stop.

The most obvious external feature of the USP Match is the barrel weight compensator. A nose-heavy pistol will have less muzzle rise than one that isn’t as nose heavy. Also, this one is shaped to try to direct gasses upward somewhat. I suspect it will work, but not as well as a properly designed ported compensator will. This is all that’s available for the USP.

So what do we think of this as a hero gun? It’s not my choice given the circumstances, but it’s a pretty good one. It’s certainly defensible. Let’s break it down:

1) Does it look cool? Movie guns, especially hero guns, should look cool. And, probably look distinctive. This one definitely does. I’m sure its appearance in these movies in the hands of the lovely Ms. Jolie have sold a whole bunch of USP Match pistols. It looks different, but not too different. Good job.

2) Does it suit the character? Lara Croft is a rich adventuress. She would choose a reliable, accurate firearm, but she might not want something common, and she certainly has the money to get something a little unique and chase shooting performance. This fits the bill.

3) Is the choice plausible? While gun folks love to debate which brand is better, when you get right down to it these differences don’t matter much unless you’re a top end competitor. And lots of things boil down to preference. So I can’t knock this gun for being not my choice, as long as it’s not a stupid choice. And it isn’t. The USP Match is a good gun that’s reliable, accurate, and reasonably easy to shoot well. Just because Lara and I don’t agree on guns doesn’t mean she’s off her rocker.

Now, would it be my choice? No. Given the constraints of wanting a unique, effective pistol of circa 2001 vintage, I would look at the Glock 17L with a stainless slide, given my predilection for Glocks. Or a custom 1911 of course. We can always make one of those look good for the camera. Maybe a Wilson Tactical Elite.


  1. Played by Angelina Jolie. 
  2. Awful, awful TTPs. But that’s a rant for another time. 

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 19 – Special Edition

For May’s episode, we dispense with the typical structure of the show to bring you something entirely different: a guest! Dave Williams of Jellyfish Games joins us to talk about Astrobase Command, an upcoming space station management game. Join us as we discuss everything from water pipes to the nature of personality and consciousness.

Further reading
Once you’ve listened to the episode, you’ll want to visit the Astrobase Command kickstarter. Go give them your support.

Continue reading

Parvusimperator Reviews the F-22 Raptor

No fighter discussion would be complete without mentioning this one, even if it’s technically not available for the procurement games.

To understand the F-22, we should first look at the ATF, or the state of military aviation in the ’80s. The core of the USAF was the F-15 and the F-16. These were great fighters, but the Soviets had counters, namely the Su-27 and the MiG-29, which were at least the equals of the American fighters. In the maneuverability area, they might even be considered a bit ahead.

American doctrine was heavily invested in air superiority, and the USAF was always looking for the next big thing, so they put out a design concept for the ATF. It was to fly faster and higher than other fighters. Or, more precisely, to cruise higher. Speed is good, since speed is energy that can be converted into maneuvers. Energy is life. But supersonic speed meant afterburners, which burned fuel rapidly. So most fighters couldn’t sustain supersonic speeds for very long. The USAF’s idea was to use new engine technology to push the envelope of cruise speed, not maximum speed. The resulting fighter would not be faster than the Eagle, but it would be able to maintain supersonic speeds without lighting its afterburners (to “supercruise”). These engines would be designed to work at higher altitudes, because altitude can be converted into energy. Energy is life. Energy is winning.

Of course, there were secret projects in the works too, and so the USAF added stealth requirements. Stealth demanded careful shaping, special skin, and internal carriage of weapons. This helped the supercruise, since it reduced drag. A protracted development period due to the end of the cold war, and a competition between the Lockheed and Northrop Grumman entries eventually resulted in the F-22 we know today.

The F-22 is the king of the skies. Full stop. There is no better aircraft at aerial combat. None. Fighting with a Raptor really, really sucks. The Raptor has a massive, powerful, highly advanced, low-probability of intercept radar, and the obvious stealth features. So it’s going to see you first. And because it cruises at mach 1.2-1.4 at a higher altitude than you, the Raptor has the energy to decline any engagement it pleases, or dictate the range as it pleases.

If the Raptor chooses to engage BVR, as we’ve mentioned it’s going to get the first shot. It sees you first. It gets to position favorably. Plus, if you’ll recall, it’s flying higher and faster than you. So its missiles get that much more energy, because they start from a supersonic platform, and get a gravity assist as they dive down. Which is a great recipe for an intensely frustrating exercise. And by ‘exercise’, I mean ‘simulation of being smote by an angry god’.

But that’s BVR. The Raptor owns BVR. What if we force the merge and go to WVR? Probably by stipulating in the exercise rules that it’s a WVR fight, but still. Well, here go some of the advantages, though it’s still a massive pain to acquire a lock on the Raptor. At least you can see it. And you can engage with IR seekers, but not super well. Everybody dies in WVR. The Raptor is no exception. But it has the best aerodynamics of any fighter around, with a very high thrust/weight ratio and very low wing loading. It also has thrust vectoring. So even in WVR engagements, the Raptor is a winner more often than everybody else. It’s kill to death ratio at Red Flag is hilariously lopsided, and that’s against pilots who dogfight for a living.

If you’re thinking this is quite gushy, and excessively positive, you’d be right. I love this thing. But it’s not tops at everything. The internal weapons bays are somewhat limiting. The Raptor was designed around a warload of six AMRAAMs and two Sidewinders internally. This isn’t a bad loadout, though it could be bigger. However, those bays are not very deep. So the F-22 can’t carry much in the way of bombs. And it can’t carry any bombs that are all that big. The F-35 can’t carry many bombs, but it can carry two of just about any air to ground weapon you please. The F-22 is limited to bombs of 1,000 lbs or less, and that size class also rules out most standoff weapons. Plus, it only recently got ground-oriented radar modes. Ground attack is not its thing. Though the USAF is trying, and has made special small GPS-guided glide bombs so the Raptor can bomb more stuff.

Oh, and it’s out of production. Even when it was in production, it was super expensive. You could theoretically restart the production line, but that would cost a whole bunch of money. And the USAF only bought 187, which isn’t a lot. And there are have been issues with the onboard oxygen generating system, which have restricted that flight envelope. Those should be fixed by now.

So it’s an expensive, gold-plated, air-superiority fighter with gimped ground attack in a world of strike operations. Would we buy it?

Well, we can’t. Production lines were closed in 2011. Sorry. Blame Rumsfeld, not me.

Feels like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Okay, fine. Suppose they got their act together and started making them again. Raptors rolling off the production lines. Would we buy them?

Well, we still can’t. Even if the production lines were reopened, there’s a pesky act of Congress in the way. Really. There’s a law in the United States that says Thou Shalt Not Export the F-22. Even to one of America’s favorite and closest allies, like Japan or Australia or Israel. No Raptors for you.

Sigh.

Okay, that’s another cop-out, right? I’m still avoiding the question. Fine, fine. Remove both pesky intrusions of reality. Would. We. Buy. One?

We’d need a price, right? Well, let’s be awful and take the figure from an offhand quote of an Israeli Air Force general of $200 million, rather than the much more favorable wiki flyaway cost of $150 million. So. 200 million dollars a copy. Would we buy?

Hell fucking yeah, we’d buy.

Did you really think I’d say no to the greatest aerial combatant of all time? Are you mad?
We’d be all over this, if the above conditions were met. Even at $200 million. It’s got Wunderwaffe-class awesomeness. It’s also an absolutely beautiful fighter. It looks right. It is right.

Since this is a game, you might be thinking I should try to trade Fishbreath something so we can both skirt our self-imposed rules a little. He’d never go for it though. He doesn’t like spendy wunderwaffe.

Author’s Notes: This review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by Lockheed Martin, the Fighter Mafia, or members of the United States Air Force.

Engines for Armor: AVDS-1790

The AVDS-1790 is the descendant of the 1950s vintage AV-1790, from the days when American armored vehicles still used gasoline engines. It was redesigned to use diesel (the “D” in the initials) and use a supercharger (the “S” in AVDS) for more power. The supercharger has been replaced by a twin-turbocharger setup, and the engine has been refitted with modern, computer-controlled, common-rail fuel injection. Continental Motors, now a division of L-3, currently offers the AVDS-1790 in 750, 950, 1,050, 1,200, and 1,500 horsepower versions. The Israelis are big fans of the AVDS-1790, using it on most versions of the Merkava and on the Namer, as well as on their M48 and M60 tanks.

Note that the -1790 in the model number refers to the displacement of cubic inches1, not the horsepower or the torque.

At first glance, the AVDS is somewhat odd. It’s a rather big V-12 diesel. Yawn. It’s notably bigger than the other diesels you will find. But there’s a reason for that: the AVDS-1790 is air-cooled.

Air cooling provides some noteworthy advantages and disadvantages. The engine must be physically bulkier, because air cooling must be attached to the cylinders directly. You can’t pipe heat to a separate radiator. Liquid cooled engines will also see a higher amount of power for a given displacement. Liquid cooled engines are also easier to meet emissions targets with.

On the other hand, air cooled engines are lighter overall. They are significantly simpler, because there are no pumps. Further, and this is important for combat vehicle designers, they are more robust. Damage to cooling for one cylinder will not affect cooling from the other cylinders. The nature of an air-cooled system means it’s a lot easier to maintain, since the fins on the cylinders don’t need much in the way of maintenance.

The maintenance and ruggedness are what endear these engines to the Israelis. I’d be interested to learn more about the intake system on the Merkava, since this is a front-engined tank without the usual large amount of grillwork on the engine bay, and yet the air-cooled engines still work well.

I think most telling for the quality of the design is that having gone to the MTU883 in the Merkava IV, because a 1,500 hp version of the AVDS wasn’t designed yet, the IDF went back to the AVDS-1790 for the Namer.


  1. As is right and proper. Suck it, metric system. 

High Noon, No Limits

We’ve talked about a proposed Open-Division optimized Glock build, and a proposed Open-Division optimized 2011 build. Let’s look how they compare.

Cost
This one is pretty easy. Glock by far. Custom 2011 builds are expensive. Tuned 2011 mags are expensive. Glock magazines are not. And an Open Glock can be a good way to break into Open. I should know, I already made a small one.

Trigger
Also easy. 2011. It’s a bigger 1911. The trigger is very short. It can be made very light. It’s the textbook definition of ‘perfect semiautomatic pistol trigger.’1

Magazine Capacity
If we compare apples to apples (9 mm), the Glock gets 26 or 27 rounds in a 170 mm magazine. 2011s are dependent on tuning, but they usually get 29 or 30 rounds of 9 mm in a 170 with the current top parts.

Advantage: 2011.

Springs and Recoil Characteristics
Here, the old school roots of the 2011 come out in its favor. Remember, we’re trying to tune the springs, compensator, slide weight, and load to have as flat shooting a gun as possible. John Moses Browning designed the 1911 so that the slide action of cocking the hammer dissipates some recoil energy. As the slide comes back, the recoil force is dissipated by the recoil spring and the mainspring. Then, the recoil spring pushes the slide back into battery.

Surprisingly, this is easier to tune than a Glock. In the Glock recoil cycle, the recoil force is dissipated by the recoil spring. Easy enough. This spring the presses the slide back into battery. As it does so, it has to partially cock the striker, which means the recoil spring has to work against the striker spring. But the striker spring also provides power to set off primers. So the balance is more difficult to manage, given that we’re also compensating the pistol.

Advantage: 2011.

Caliber Considerations
For our apples to apples comparison, we’re looking at guns in 9×19 mm, loaded to Major power factor. Note that we could also get the Glock in .40 S&W, and the 2011 in .38 Super, .38 Super Comp,2 or .40 S&W. The 2011 has an advantage in being able to take 9×19 mm rounds with a greater overall length, which is a benefit for reloaders trying to make major. While .38 Super/Super Comp brass is quite a bit more expensive and harder to find, it’s a lot easier to load to major power factor, and unlike .40, no magazine capacity is given up.

Advantage: 2011.

Intangibles
A few other things that just kinda go here for me to think about.

I’d actually get to assemble most of the Glock parts. That’s fun. The 2011 would be built for me.

On the other hand, this means the 2011 would need less tuning out of the box. I’d get it, it would be ready to shred. And I’d have someone to call in the event of problems. On the Glock, I’d have to do a bunch of spring weight tuning myself after assembly.

Tuned 2011 mags tend to have issues with slides locking back prematurely. To maximize capacity, usually a follower is chosen that sits high in the magazine. This will often contact the slide stop early, and lock the slide back with a round left in the magazine. This is obviously very annoying. The simplest and most reliable fix is to modify the followers and slide stop to never lock back. Which is different from how must modern guns work3, but shouldn’t be a handicap in a competition, since you should be planning reloads.

That’s a lot of advantages for the 2011. There’s also lots of cost with the 2011. Makes sense. Pay to play. There’s a reason one of these is an optimum choice. There’s a reason why basically everyone at Open Nationals shoots some version of a 2011.

And then there’s one more thing. I’ve wanted a 2011 for a while. A 1911 without the capacity issues? Made to my specifications? That pushes a whole lot of my buttons in a great way.

So we’ll be placing a call for a custom 2011 in the not too distant future…


  1. At least from a shootability standpoint. But for a competition gun, that’s all that matters. 
  2. Basically .38 Super but with even less rim. Note that this is also a chambering difference as the chamber needs to headspace off the throat. 
  3. What is this, 1901? 

A Fishy Race Gun Shootout: Beretta 96A1 vs. CZ P-09

In previous posts, we’ve looked at two options for USPSA Limited competition: the Beretta 96, and the CZ P-09. Now it’s time to decide which one I’m going to build in the 2017-2018 offseason. Two guns enter. One gun leaves.

Likely trigger characteristics

Beretta 96
I know that the 92-pattern pistols have acceptable triggers as far as creep goes, and thanks to the Wilson Combat trigger bar and lightened hammer, the 96 can handle a tremendous reduction in hammer spring weight. The double-action pull is long and takes a lot of reaching, but the single-action pull is just fine.

CZ P-09
At present, I haven’t handled a P-09 specifically. I have dry-fired a CZ 75, and my impression about that was that CZ’s factory triggers are much lighter than Beretta’s, if perhaps a bit lower-quality. The action tuning I have planned for the P-09 ought to take care of that, and I expect the end result to be extremely light.

The Victor: CZ. Obviously, having not built either of these guns yet, I can’t say this for sure, but I expect the improvements to be similar, and the CZ starts from a better position.

Likely shooting characteristics

Beretta 96
The Beretta is the heavier gun out of the box, and that weight is better distributed both forward and backward and up and down, especially when taking into consideration newly-added steel parts. The 92-pattern pistols point and present very naturally for me, and given the massive amount of material already missing from their slides, are known to have a low flippiness factor.

CZ P-09
The P-09 is not dramatically lighter, only three ounces. Even though the proposed magazine well is aluminum instead of steel, it ought to suffice to level the playing field. That weight is also less evenly distributed, given the construction; like most polymer-framed pistols, it’ll be top-heavy compared to the Beretta when empty. CZs are known for their low bore axes, and that should help keep muzzle flip down.

The Victor: Toss-up. Both seem similar.

Magazines and magazine wells

Beretta 96
Here, the Beretta gives up some ground. Given the two-round improvement from the MecGar extension (which makes total magazine height about 130mm instead of the USPSA Limited-regulated 140mm), I suspect that the 17 rounds is perfectly plausible, given the MecGar spring and follower plus a custom-made 140mm extension. It may even be possible to get as far as 19, with a custom, flat-wire spring and a reduced follower. Only giving up two rounds of capacity against a tricked-out 20111 is nice, but it would take a lot of work, of which none has, at present, been done. The magazine well situation is also pretty bad. Beveling is about the best you can do, and that doesn’t get you much of a funnel, and in fact reduces your weight.

CZ P-09
The parts may be expensive, but the P-09 has options for large-capacity competition magazines and magazine wells. 21 rounds of .40 S&W in a 140mm magazine is entirely competitive with widebody 1911s. It might be nice to have a steel magazine well option in terms of weight, but the aluminum funnel is perfectly functional and large enough to make a difference in ease of magazine insertion.

The Victor: CZ.

Parts availability

It isn’t even close here, so I won’t bother with headers for each pistol. CZ Custom makes just about everything you might want, including a whole bevy of improved action parts, and Cajun Gun Works goes further still. The only aftermarket parts maker for Beretta guns is Wilson Combat, with the occasional spring from Wolff, and neither has anything like the same variety you can get for the P-09. Given CZ’s popularity on the competitive circuit, it seems likeliest to me that the situation will only tilt further in the P-09’s favor in the future.

The Victor: CZ.

Tinkering potential

Beretta 96
The tinkering potential for the Beretta excites me. Since so little can be found from the factory, I’d get to experiment with actual gunsmithery. At a minimum, I’d eventually want to design a custom 140mm floor plate for the magazine, along with a smaller follower. I’d also want to find a flat-wire spring (for minimum compressed height) to push capacity as far as I can. There would be fun 3D printing of prototypes and, eventually, 3D-printing-as-a-service of metal parts. I could do, for instance, a proper magazine funnel, too. If I wanted to move up to Open, I would have to work up an even bigger magazine extension to fit the 170mm limit.

CZ P-09
Tinkering on the CZ is more about buying and installing parts, and tuning what’s already on the gun. There’s less call for building things from scratch, because most of it already exists. I would still have to build 170mm magazines to play in Open effectively.

The Victor: Beretta.

Ergonomics

Beretta 96
I’ve extolled the Beretta’s pointability and presentation before, but the magazine release is a bit of a reach for me.

CZ P-09
Having not handled a P-09, I can’t say if I’d like it or not. The controls are different than my Production gun (an M9), so I have to ding it for that.

The Victor: Toss-up.

Suitability for Limited

Beretta 96
After the modifications discussed in the article, poor to average. The magazine capacity deficit means I would have to reload one or two times more than a 2011 shooter in your average USPSA stage, at a penalty of 2-3 seconds per reload. That will materially affect my performance in the long run. Also, even with a decocker conversion, I have to take the first shot as a double-action shot, which requires practicing a second trigger pull.

After developing better 140mm magazines, average to good.

CZ P-09
After the modifications discussed in the article, great. The magazine capacity is competitive with the guns at the highest end of the field. The trigger ought to be at least comparable, though it will still give something up to a tuned 1911 trigger. With the safety installed, the P-09 can be carried cocked and locked, removing the requirement for a double-action pull2.

The Victor: CZ.

Suitability for Ghetto Open

It’s difficult to separate the guns for Ghetto Open. In that division, I’m not aiming to compete quite as much; .40 S&W is often seen as a compromise when .38 Super and 9mm Major are on the table, for reasons of magazine capacity. For both guns, I’d have to mount an optic to the accessory rail on a cantilever mount. There are good solutions for that problem, though John might disagree, but it’s less ideal than mounting directly to the frame. For both guns, I’d have to work up a 170mm magazine. With the CZ, I can just stretch the 140mm extension. For the Beretta, the same applies; I’d just have to build my own 140mm extension first.

The Victor: Toss-up.

Intangibles

Beretta 96
As I said in its article, it’s cool, and it’s pretty. It has vintage cred, and is likely to attract more attention on the range, simply because it’s a well-known gun but not an ordinary competition one.

CZ P-09
It’s still a hipster competition gun—a hammer-fired, polymer-framed CZ pistol which is not a 75 or derivative. It’s doesn’t have the cachet of a Beretta, nor is it half as pretty.

It’s also $300 cheaper. In fact, if you ignore the magazines3, the CZ race gun with all the trimmings comes in under $1000—a pretty tremendous price point by any standard.

The Victor: Beretta. The CZ just doesn’t have the cool factor.

Conclusions

On the scorecard we have a CZ victory, 4-2-3. This puts me in an interesting spot. Truth be told, before I did this comparison, I wanted to build the Beretta. As parvusimperator said when we were working up this article series, “It speaks to you more.” And it does. I do very much want to return to the Beretta race gun someday.

The end of the previous paragraph gives away the game, though. My goal shooting USPSA is not merely to improve my own shooting. I want to improve my shooting relative to the rest of the USPSA—I want to be competitive. The Beretta could get me there, but especially in reloading, it’s a handicap the CZ isn’t. It’s also, as I mentioned, much cheaper, to the point where I could buy a case of .40 S&W and a proper aft-cant drop competition holster for the CZ before I even get to the Beretta’s price.

So that’s where I find myself. This winter, I’ll be building a CZ P-09 race gun. Maybe in a few years, I’ll put together a Beretta 96 Limited 10 blaster, and work on some of the other tinkering at the same time. Until then, though, the Production-class M9 will have to do for my competitive Beretta shooting. I could maybe justify building the Limited 96 if it were a little more expensive and just as effective. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more expensive, and I’m forced to admit it’s also not as good. The P-09 wins the day.


  1. The largest-capacity 2011 140mm magazines I’ve seen are 21 rounds. 
  2. I’ve heard good things about tuned CZ double action, though. It may be the case that I can get away with the decocker instead, which reduces the number of things to do on the way from the holster to the target. 
  3. Humor me. 

Taking it Two Eleven: The Custom Open 2011 Build

A few days ago, I talked about a race gun for Open, I considered making a more-competition optimized Open Glock. But then I got to thinking: none of the high-level shooters in Open shoot modded Glocks. K. C. Eusebio tried it for a while, but never really got it working well. His gun broke a lot. Now he, and other top Open competitors shoot custom-built 2011s1. This gives a crisp, sliding, superlight trigger, and the possibility of a heavy steel frame. Plus lots of tuning options and custom cosmetic stuff from an army of skilled gunsmiths. Gotta look cool in Open. What would a modern, balls-to-the-wall, custom 2011 for Open look like?

Step one is choose a gunsmith. I know my limitations. I don’t have the tools or knowhow to build a custom 2011. And I’d rather someone who already does experimentation come at it. He knows what works.

I picked Atlas Gunworks. There are a lot of great smiths out there, so this choice is a little arbitrary. Here’s why I went with Atlas:

  1. A good reputation amongst competition shooters at the BrianEnos Forums. Admittedly, most custom shops do. But if a smith doesn’t, well, that’s a red flag. So they passed the test.
  2. Atlas guys shoot USPSA matches. This is another check. Lots of builders do this. If you’re buying a gun for a purpose from a custom guy, he should probably do it too so he knows what works.
  3. Builds that look to be what I want. I would like options, and I would like someone who’s updating their designs. Check and check, but again, most already do this.
  4. Atlas has a bunch of great instructional videos about mag tuning and 2011 design aspects. So they know their stuff, and are willing to talk about it.
  5. Atlas has a very nice website that both showcases options and encourages you to call and chat. Perfect. I want a nice, approachable smith. And I want to see an options list and think, and then chat with them to work everything out. Exactly what I want.

Yeah, that’s a sort of arbitrary list. That’s ok. Lots of great smiths out there means your choice gets kind of arbitrary. And that’s okay. Nothing against any of the other smiths that I didn’t pick, really. Most everyone has a guy or two they like.

Okay, next we’re going to come up with a preliminary parts list. Remember, we’ll be calling once we get money in hand and are ready to go, so this might be subject to change. Again, that’s ok. It’s a custom build, and consulting experts is always a good idea.

  1. Long Frame/5.0″ build. This is a ‘short’ gun, with a shorter, “commander-length” barrel and less overall length (5.0″ rather than 5.4″ overall), and a long frame. We’re trying to keep the weight relatively low in the gun, and fight the nose-heaviness associated with a government-length bull barrel, government length slide, and compensator. We want mass to fight recoil, but we want to keep the gun balanced to improve transitions and bringing the gun to ready. Nose-heaviness doesn’t help us.

  2. Caliber: 9 mm. The modern open gun shoots hot 9 mm or .38 Super Comp to maximize the number of rounds per magazine. In both cases you probably have to reload. 9 mm brass is cheaper, so go 9 mm. I could be talked out of this though.

  3. Grip: Phoenix Trinity EVO. It’s machined out of steel, it’s one piece with a built in mainspring housing, and it doesn’t actually feature a grip safety.2 Oh, and its super comfortable. It even comes with an aggressive texture right out of the box. Steel here gives me more weight low in the gun, and that’s a win.

  4. Double Undercut Trigger guard. The better to get a high grip with.

  5. Slide Lightening. All of it. Less slide mass means less reciprocating mass means less felt recoil. Winning. This has to be balanced with spring weights, but there are two in a 1911/2011 to do it with: the recoil spring and the mainspring. We’ll let our awesome smiths make this work. It’s what they do.

  6. Optic: Leupold Deltapoint Pro. I like the Leupold Deltapoint a lot. Amongst the small micro-red dots, it’s the heavy favorite in carry optics for shooters without an optics sponsor. It’s durable enough to be mounted on a slide, it’s got a bright dot, it’s reliable, and it’s got a nice big window. Bigger than the RMR. In terms of carry dots, the RMR wins because it has much, much better battery life. For competition use, I don’t care as much. As a bonus, the Deltapoint Pro’s battery can be changed without removing it from its mount.

  7. Various Small Parts. Okay, now we get to boring stuff. Pick a safety you like, pick a big magwell, pick a big mag release, etc.

  8. Various final shaping and finish work. More boredom, at least for you, dear reader. Picking stuff to suit my tastes. I shan’t bore you with the details here either.

That covers our design. It’s gonna be expensive. And super awesome. Join us later for a shootout between this and a Race Glock.


  1. Technically this is an STI trade name for a high-capacity 1911 with double-stack magazines. But that’s a mouthful to type. I’m going to keep using ‘2011’ as a colloquialism, with the understanding that it may or may not be made by STI or even have STI parts. 
  2. There is a grip safety bit, but it’s fixed in the “down” position, so it is impossible to fail to depress it. It provides no safety. Sorry, redundant feature from the US Army Cavalry in 1910. 

A Fishy Race Gun Proposal: CZ P-09

In my first post on the Fishy Race Gun of 2018, I laid out my plan for a Beretta 96 competition gun. I said there that a new contender had shown itself, and here we are: the CZ P-09. Since I’ve already justified myself in the previous article as far as building a race gun goes, let’s jump straight into the parts.

The Parts

CZ P-09 .40 S&W
Although CZ is a common name in competition handguns, the P-09 is decidedly unusual in that realm. The P-09 is a full-size polymer-frame pistol in the same pattern as the earlier, compact P-07. Like all of CZ’s pistols, the slide rides inside the frame, rather than outside as is the norm. CZ claims this has myriad benefits. For myself, I find it interesting from a design perspective. I have nothing to say on the relative merits.

Unlike the Beretta 96, the P-09 has nicely capacious magazines from the factory. The flush-fit .40 S&W magazines hold fifteen, the same as MecGar’s extended Beretta 96 magazines. It also comes in decocker configuration from the factory, with parts in the box to switch to a non-decocker safety. (That is, a safety which supports being in the holster cocked and locked.) That’s a major competitive advantage over the Beretta. All the guts, including the trigger, are steel, and even the double-action trigger reach is significantly shorter than the 92-platform pistol1. Finally, the P-09 is a recent design, and CZ, by way of CZ Custom, provides a great deal of ‘aftermarket’ support even for unpopular pistols.

As a polymer-frame pistol from a cheap foreign country, as opposed to an alloy frame from an expensive one, the P-09’s street price is about $440. Call it $490 shipped and transferred.

Sights
Cajun Gun Works, the premier non-CZ Custom CZ gunsmith, provides blacked-out rear sights and a fiber-optic front blade for $80.

Extended magazine release
I haven’t yet held a P-09, so I don’t know if the extended magazine release is important. That said, it probably is, since my thumbs are small. Cajun Gun Works sells one for $40.

Trigger tuning
Unfortunately, there is no all-in-one kit for trigger tuning, unlike Wilson Combat’s Beretta kit. I’ll have to assemble it myself from parts from Cajun Gun Works. First up: their competition spring kit, which includes a firing pin spring, a firing pin block spring, and two reduced power hammer springs (15lb and 13lb, down from stock 20lb). That comes to $25.

While I’m in there, I’d also want to do the Cajun Gun Works short reset kit. It includes an extended firing pin, which serves to make the lighter hammer strike more effective at setting off primers, as well as an improved firing pin retaining spring, and an enhanced disconnector and lifter. The kit costs $75.

Finally, I’d put in a reduced-power trigger return string for $7. The trigger tuning comes in total to $107.

Other internal gubbins
Cajun Gun Works makes an improved hammer which purports to reduce creep in the single-action trigger pull, which costs $90.

Magazine well
Unlike the Beretta 96, the P-09 has a properly funnel-like magazine well available through CZ Custom. It requires a special hammer spring plug ($15) and costs $75 itself, for $90 total. Also, it looks properly race-gun.

Magazines
Now we come to the pain point. A Beretta 96 15-round .40 S&W magazine is between $20 and $30, depending on where you go. A factory CZ P-09 15-round magazine is $50. Fortunately, it comes with two in the box. Unfortunately, I’d want to order two more, and turn three of them into high-capacity competition magazines. Each high-capacity magazine requires a $38 base pad extension and an $18 spring and follower kit. The less high-capacity magazine still requires the extended base pad to fit in the magazine well2.

Let’s break it down. I need to buy two magazines ($100 total). I need three extended magazine kits ($56 each, $168 total) to hit my capacity goal of 60 rounds on the belt3. Finally, I need one magwell base pad sans the spring kit ($38).

In total, magazines and related accoutrements will cost a staggering $306. It’s worth noting that Limited-ready P-09 magazines cost about $100 per, provided you have no starting materials. That’s in rarefied company, not much cheaper than your high-end 2011 magazines.

Finishing
I see less need for it on the P-09, which is, let’s be honest, a profoundly ugly gun4. That said, CZ finishes its suppressor-ready 9mm P-09s in a lovely Urban Grey, which goes some distance toward making the gun merely inoffensive. A similar gray or dingy white on the frame, grips, and magwell would be nice. The local cerakote shop would charge about $200 for that, including the armory fees5.

In total, the P-09 race gun costs around $1200, again less cerakote costs. It lacks the pedigree6 of the Beretta 96, and has a much smaller cool factor. It’s also quite a bit cheaper, to the point that the difference could cover a case of .40 S&W and a competition holster.

Where does that leave me? With two solid options, each with a lot to recommend it. The only thing for it is a good old-fashioned shootout post. Stay tuned!


  1. It’s a hair over three millimeters longer than the Glock’s reach. 
  2. This is not strictly true, but I see no reason to spend $26 on the normal base pad when a mere $12 gets me the full 140mm. 
  3. Why the fourth magazine? It’s nice to have a spare so you can load the chamber without downloading one of your full-capacity magazines. 
  4. Not quite as bad as a Glock, though. 
  5. Something like this would be nifty, but probably more than I would want to pay. 
  6. CZ has a long history of competition, it’s true; it’s just the P-09 in particular has very little competitive history. 

Glockblaster 2: Glockblast Harder

Last time I visited Raceguns, I built with the constraint of keeping it at least semi-concealable. What if we dropped that requirement, made it for open-class shooting first?

We’ll need a base gun. We’re going with the Glock 22. This gives us the option to shoot .40 and make major power factor easily with factory ammo. Or we can drop in a 9 mm barrel and shoot 9 mm. Note that to properly switch from .40 to 9 mm, you’ll need to take an extra 30 seconds to swap extractors. Also, the beefier slide for shooting .40 is a little more comforting if we go to 9 mm major. We can always remove material, but it’s hard to put it back.

While the shorter slide of the Glock 19/23 makes it handle a little nicer with a red dot without comps, we’re going to be compensating this pistol, which will take away most of the advantage of the shorter slide. We’d still expect a lock-time advantage, but this is outweighed by the full-size grip of the 22 having a lot more magwell options. Also, I prefer the feel of the full size grip. Further, it’s easier to make a frame-mounted optic work well with a full size slide.

The Freya magwell on my heavily modified Glock 19 is very well made, but it didn’t make my reload times much faster. It’s not all that much bigger than the normal magazine opening. I do like it because it helps push my hand higher up on the gun, especially on the draw. I like this advantage, but it’s not really why one buys magwells. That’s true for the other concealment-type magwells too.

But on this one we’re not looking at the little concealment magwells. We’re looking for big mag funnels. Given the proliferation of 170mm length magazines from ETS and Magpul, I’m not going to worry too much about compatibility with basepads. Besides, that’s nothing a file wouldn’t fix. What we are going to look for as the differentiator is weight. Glocks are really lightweight, and we’d like to add non-moving mass to improve recoil characteristics. So we’re going with the SJC magwell, because it’s the biggest and heaviest we can find.

Next, we’re going to need an optic mount and optic. Free of the size constraint imposed by a desire to easily conceal the weapon, we can mount an optic on the frame, which will abuse our optic a lot less. Our mount is the ALG six second mount, which interfaces to the frame with the accessory rail, and by replacing one of the trigger pins. This will be more secure (and hold zero better) than mounting simply by attaching to the frame rail.

I like ALG’s products a lot, but the big driver towards picking the Six Second mount is my choice of optic: the Aimpoint T-1. I’m picking the T-1 because I want a bombproof optic with good adjustments, good battery life, and I actually like the closed tube design. I prefer not having to think about nature getting all over an emitter lens. Also, honestly, can C-More shorten their stupid Railway sights? Those look so 90s. They’re super popular on open guns though, so clearly I’m missing something.

The shorter Aimpoint T-1 will also not overhang the ejection port, so we won’t have to worry about tuning that. Win win.

This is going to need a compensator. Duh. It’ll be bigger than the one on our original Glockblaster because there’s more gas from the hotter .40 round, and we don’t care about length. We’ll go with the SJC Major Comp. Great reviews, very effective, and it even looks good.

We’ll need a threaded barrel, of course. I’m going to do this right. And I’m in no rush. So we’ll get match target barrels from Bar Sto, and have them professionally fitted.

Next, we’ll want an aftermarket guide rod. A steel one, again for weight reasons. More importantly, this will let us get the right weight recoil spring to go with our compensated barrels. We’ll get a bunch of spring weights and test.

I know what I like for triggers. Overwatch Precision’s DAT flat-face trigger with NP3-coated trigger bar, and the TTI Grandmaster spring/connector kit. That said, I might like to try something different. What is left to do? Well, some of the aftermarket trigger companies change the trigger bar/trigger shoe interface geometry. There’s a little bit of this done with the Overwatch triger, but if we go for a complete kit we can do more with that. Plus, I need to get all of the things like trigger housing and striker anyway. Might as well go with a kit from Zev or DK and see how that is.

Perfect, right? Well the problems K. C. Eusebio had with his open Glock got me to thinking…