Tag Archives: firearms

Parvusimperator Talks on the Value of Competition

Near the Many Words HQ is a monthly (at least from April to November) two-gun match. Both Fishbreath and myself have found it tons of fun. There are lots of great other competitions out there, including USPSA and IDPA and IPSC. They’re lots of fun too.

Do these competitions have some training value? Sure! They get you out of the rigid, fuddy rules you find at most square ranges. Here you can move and shoot and apply your firearms skills to various problems. Excellent! Plus, you get to talk to other shooters about approaches and gear. All of which is highly valuable.

Further, matches introduce a stress component, which will cause little things to become a problem. Little things that you would not have noticed before. And it helps you to become inoculated to stress to practice having to deal with it. Note that I am not claiming that match stress is the equal of combat stress. I haven’t been in combat, and the comparison is probably disingenuous at best. They are different animals, but some work under stress is certainly better than no work under stress. Giving you some stress to work under in a safe environment can do nothing but help.

Now, there are those who complain about gun games. They will tell you that real targets don’t always present themselves in convenient normal silhouette orientations, they don’t stand still, they do shoot back, and (at least the clever ones will mention) that for the concealed carrier the decision to draw or not to draw is the hardest part. I would respond that all of these complaints are completely true. But what would you have us do?

Well, you could not have fun and not go to a match, and ignore all of the helpful things I’ve mentioned. That’s an option, and you’re welcome to it, if you’re an idiot or if you hate fun. You could also insist on MORE REALISM! but that way can get dangerous. Remember, a competition needs to be safe. And it needs to be accessible. And it really ought to be fun, or else people won’t come and then you won’t have a match. So let’s think critically about these complaints.

Targets should shoot back? How, pray tell, should we do this? Force on force? Fair enough. It’s the most dangerous kind of training, and most people don’t have simunitions guns, and have never done it before, and you’ll need lots of supervision, and you’ll have to use a specialized shoot house since you’ll need to contain any errant rounds, and it’ll take a lot of setup, and you’ll need to find people to be the “bad guys” and get shot a lot all day. I wish you all the best of luck in this. It’s a lot easier to set up an ordinary match with ordinary steel and cardboard targets on an ordinary range.

Targets don’t move? Well, nothing says we can’t make steel and cardboard targets move. It just takes a little effort. Lots of matches I’ve been to had some moving targets. And usually, people in a fight won’t move all of the time, because they might want to shoot back, and shooting on the move is hard.

As for the decision to draw, ok, you got me. To do this right, you need those simguns again, and experienced roleplayers to set up scenarios. Those people can be hard to find, and they have to be willing to get shot with simguns (read: paintballs) a lot. Plus, it’s a shooting match. Spoiler alert: there’s some shooting involved.

Really though, matches are fun. Go shoot them. You’ll improve your skills.

A more accurate concealed carry map

The standard concealed carry map floating around shows states in a few broad categories: may-issue, shall-issue, and permitless. It’s a good map at a glance, but it lacks useful information on the actual experience of carry. Since I just got back from a vacation, and didn’t want to do any real writing work, I went ahead and put together an improved map.


  • Onerous shall-issue means states with a waiting period in excess of two weeks, a training requirement, or an application fee of greater than $100.
  • Permissive shall-issue states impose lesser requirements.
  • De facto shall-issue states are statutorily may-issue, but shall-issue in practice.
  • Onerous may-issue states deny carry permits as a matter of course.

  • MA and NY: rural sheriffs likely to issue permits, but urban-dwellers basically out of luck.

  • PA: processing time of up to 45 days allowed, but most counties issue permits immediately.
  • WI: average processing time of about one week.
  • WA: average processing time appears to be under one week, except in the Seattle area.
  • SD: temporary permit issued within five days.

If you see an inaccuracy or a point in need of clarification, leave us a comment!

Carbine Class Lessons: Equipment

A couple weekends ago, I went to a Carbine 1 class. I had a great time. Classes are a great way to build skills. And, also a good place to test equipment and compare notes.

I brought Bridget, with a couple modifications. Bridget is admittedly a competition gun, but that’s my primary AR-15 use case. When I do drills, she’s the carbine I’ll be grabbing, so I figured it was good to get a baseline with her. I swapped out buffers, moving to an H2-weight buffer, and switched to a Springco Blue buffer spring, which is heavier than standard. These on the recommendations of Mike Pannone, who has an excellent treatise on maximizing AR-15 reliability.

I also decided to switch triggers. I love the Geissele SSA-E, but I happen to also have an AR Gold laying around, and that trigger is the trigger of choice for a ton of high level multigun competitors, including Kalani Laker, Daniel Horner, and Jerry Miculek. The AR Gold claims to duplicate the feel of a well-tuned 1911 trigger, and I’d say they’ve done their job. Other than the geometry being different, with the AR-15 trigger having a pivot. There’s a very, very short take up and then a light, crisp break. And then a very short reset. It feels a lot like the trigger in my Springfield Professional.

I also brought a more traditional Colt 6920 as a backup gun. Always bring a second gun to class, just in case your primary goes down. Then you can keep right on learning.

Pretty quickly, I learned that I had done a really good job when I built Bridget. I had no malfunctions. She ran great. Everyone who picked up my rifle commented on how light it was, how easily it pointed and transitioned. Being a four-person class, we all got to try each other’s rifles. Bridget got top marks for weight, and top marks for lack of recoil. Even with mediocre technique, the muzzle really doesn’t rise at all. And with good technique, you can shoot as fast as you like and keep your rounds on target.

Of course, all of this comes at a price. Bridget was the loudest carbine by far. Angry SBR loud. .308 loud. Wear your earpro.

Also, light weight has its downsides too. Bridget is less stable. She’s easier to disturb accidentally, which was a bit noticeable in some of the marksmanship portion. She really forces you to focus on a good prone position.

The trigger was also really good. On the one hand, the light, short reset means you do need to focus if you’re trying to let the trigger out to the reset point and stop. But just like a good 1911 trigger, it was basically impossible for the trigger pull to disturb the rifle sights. Even when I tried to go fast and slapped the trigger around. The slow point in drills was transitions and my fatigue, not trigger control.

I added a sling attachment point for the purpose of the class. I also got some keymod rail covers. These were welcome. That aluminum-magnesium rail got very hot to the touch. Note to self next time: wear gloves.

Of course, I never come out of a class not wanting more stuff. One of the guys had some Crye Magclips. These are a really great way of easily adding a few extra magazines to your loadout. They’re not super secure, but they don’t have a big footprint, and they’re pretty cheap. Perfect for carrying a little extra out to the firing line.

Also, for probably the millionth time: knee pads. Very helpful for kneeling and prone. Very, very helpful. If your instructor is wearing kneepads to class, you should too.

New though would be elbow pads. Pistol classes don’t do a ton of prone shooting. Rifle classes do. It’s nice to have something to protect your elbows from errant rocks or recently fired spent brass. Ask me how I know.

My equipment was not all perfect. I found that my Elcan 1.5x/6x was noticeably slower on drills than my Aimpoint Comp M4s. The Elcan was also kind of obnoxious for switching between standing and prone shooting. Another shooter had time on an Elcan in a class setting (and had also brought an Aimpoint to this class) and we both figured it was a combination of a smallish eyebox and relatively short eye relief that makes the Elcan a little more awkward for this type of transition-heavy shooting. On my list of optics to go for next is probably the Swarovski low power variable, because it has a much bigger, more forgiving eyebox and better eye relief. I’ll report back here with my findings.

One more lesson, this from observing another shooter. If you’re going to use an adjustable gas block, be sure you can access it without removing your handguard. Removing handguards is a pain, and it can be very difficult in the field. We had a shooter who noticed his gas block was coming unset from where he wanted it, but was unable to access the adjustment valve with the handguard he had on his rifle. And he wasn’t able to remove that handguard with the tools he brought with him. He switched to his backup gun for the remainder of the class.

Sling Use

The sling is a massively useful piece of equipment. A long gun without a sling is like a pistol without a holster. You’re just not serious. Let’s talk about a few ways to use a sling, and what kind of slings you should (and shouldn’t) consider.

We’re going to focus on tactical use, because I’m a tactical kind of guy. I’ll touch on slings for high-power-type marksmanship competitions later.

What kind of sling should you get? You should get a quick-adjust two-point sling, unless you have a big reason to get something else. If your job is doorkicking, and you’re one of the first guys in the stack, you may find a one point sling is better for you. Everybody else should stick with the modern, quick-adjust sling. There are many out there. I happen to prefer the VTAC one. The Vickers one is good too.

The problem with the one-point sling is that it doesn’t stabilize the weapon on its own. Your carbine will swing, probably between your legs, whacking you in the knees and groin as you move. Fun. So you’ll need to put a hand on the gun to keep it stable. Hopefully you don’t need both hands for stuff.

Properly mounted, a quick-adjust two-point can be lengthened to facilitate transitions. Or it can be tightened to secure the gun and keep it out of the way. Given the two points of attachment, it will stabilize the gun fine on its own, letting you do other things with both your hands. It will also comfortably support the weapon, but let you get the gun into action quickly.

Let’s note that a quick-adjust sling requires a quick-adjust mechanism. A nylon strap is not a quick adjust sling. That’s good for carrying a rifle on your back and looking bored and not ready. Fresh out of the 70s. Have a c-ration with that, cheapskate.

I should also tell you that three point slings are stupid. I don’t know anyone who uses these anymore, probably because it isn’t the 90s. Just say no. Three point slings are a great way to strangle yourself. Or trip yourself.

Now that you have your sling, you need to figure out how to mount it. Some of this will depend on carbine setup, and some of this will depend on you. As a general rule, the further apart your attachment points are, the more support you’ll have. The closer the attachment points are, the easier it will be to manipulate the carbine in transitions. It’s up to you which you value more. QD sockets will help you adjust and figure out what works right.

For the forward attachment point, if you have a modern handguard with rails, keymod, or m-lok, you can get a QD sling socket that attaches to it, and you can move it around until you find what works. Problem solved. Don’t forget to loctite it down once you found what you like.

Further aft, you can get a receiver end plate with a QD socket. Most not-craptastic stocks come with a QD socket on either side. Again, the end plate socket will work better for transitions, and the socket on the stock will stabilize the rifle better. If you opt for the stock, remember to attach the socket on your strong hand side. I.e. if you are right handed, use the socket on the right side. Having the swivel on the outboard side will feel weird at first, but it will allow you to switch shoulders without the sling choking you.

If you’re shooting high power or similar competitions, you want a sling that’s going to help lock the rifle in place. These slings are loop slings, and they connect your support arm bicep to the rifle. The mounting swivel is adjustable so you can get your support hand in behind it. This will significantly increase the stability of the rifle once you master it. The sling should be tight, and is taking your muscles out of the problem of supporting the rifle.

Movie Guns: Indy’s Revolvers

I’m lumping a couple guns together with this one. Indiana Jones primarily used a Smith and Wesson Second Model Hand Ejector in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a Colt Official Police in Temple of Doom, and a Webley-Government (sometimes referred to as a Webley Green) in The Last Crusade. The Hand Ejector and the Webley were chambered in .455 Webley, and the Official Police was chambered in .38 Special. I’m going to focus on the better movies. Indy barely uses the .38 in Temple of Doom anyway.

Recall that Raiders of the Lost Ark is set in 1936 and The Last Crusade is set in 1938, so choices of sidearms are limited accordingly.

The S&W Second Model Hand Ejector is a double-action revolver where the cylinder swings out to the left side of the gun. Pretty typical for the day. The example here, being a gun for the parts filmed in England, is chambered in .455 Webley. Also note that this is the pistol used to famously and simply dispatch the swordsman in Cairo, so it should have a place in the heart of pistoleros everywhere.

The Webley Government was a popular service revolver often purchased privately by British Officers and used as their sidearm. It’s a top-break double-action revolver, and it’s chambered in .455 Webley.

The .455 Webley is an interesting old cartridge. Interestingly, it’s one of three service pistol cartridges to get an endorsement from Col. Cooper as having ‘acceptable stopping power’.1 It’s rather lower pressure than .45 ACP, but comes from the same sort of ‘heavy and slow’ school of thought. It’s also more closely descended from black-powder loads. In an all-steel service revolver like the Webley Government, the .455 will provide quite tame recoil.

Overall, the .455 Webley gave good ‘man-stopping’ service in British hands in two world wars and a number of colonial actions. It also provided the origin of the term ‘dumdum’. The British had a large stockpile of early hollow point rounds at an arsenal in Dumdum, India around the time when they signed the 1899 Hague Convention outlawing the use of such rounds.

Double action revolvers were generally seen as the police sidearm of choice in the 1930s, though a good bit of this may be due to Depression-era finances and following the lead of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, who thought that semiautomatic pistols were tools of ‘criminals’ and not fit for law enforcement personnel.2 In military service, they tended to stick around due to post-Great War budget cuts not leaving room for new sidearms.

Revolvers do provide the advantage of letting you quickly deal with a bad cartridge by pulling the trigger again, rather than having to clear a jam. For this reason, they were commonly seen as the ‘more reliable’ option, despite having intricate, clockworklike internals. They also lack a magazine to go wrong. However, when they do go wrong, it tends to be a real bother to fix.

The biggest difference between the two revolvers is that the Smith has a swing-out cylinder, which you’re probably familiar with from more recent revolvers, whilst the Webley has a top-break design. With a low-pressure cartridge like the .455 Webley, the design choice really doesn’t matter all that much. As more powerful cartridges were developed, the ease of making a sturdy frame with a swing-out cylinder meant that design became the standard. There might be a small reload margin in favor of the Webley, since it automatically ejects spent cartridges, but that’s a minor one. The particular hand ejector used in the film had a shortened barrel, which might be a little handier.

As for the choice of firearms, they’re both pretty reasonable. They are duty pistols in a good caliber, and you could certainly do a lot worse. Of course, my preference during the era would be for an M1911A1. No surprise there. I’m quite fond of Old Slabsides. Despite the capacity disadvantage, I much prefer the handling characteristics, trigger characteristics, and lack of magazine safety of the 1911 when compared to the Browning Hi-Power. Also, being limited to 1930s ammo (i.e. ball ammo), I’d prefer to shoot .45.

  1. The other two rounds are the .45 ACP and the 10 mm Auto. 
  2. Though, of course, plenty of such semiautomatic pistols were used by G-Men, especially in the early days when equipment was less standardized. 

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. 

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.