Tag Archives: competition shooting

Shopping List: Fishy USPSA Revolvers

These lists, unlike the earlier Carry Optics list, are shorter and simpler. There are no optics to mount or, indeed, new sights to buy; nor is there compatibility with pre-existing tuning to worry about. So, I decided to write up all of my options, to lengthen the article a bit.

For All Three

We’ll call it $200 for the two items below, to cover shipping and other expenses.

Moon Clips ($30)

No competitive revolver shooters use speedloaders; they’re an extra step and not worth the time. Moon-clipped revolvers are faster, and moon clips are cheaper than speedloaders. So much the better.

Belt Rack ($150)

Moon clip holders which can carry eight clips can be found for about $150 from a number of retailers. Even with my expressed preference for six-guns, I don’t think I’d need more than 8. My usual preference is to have about 60 rounds on my belt for a 32-round stage. 48 in the holders and 6 in my pocket is close enough.

The Safe Option(s)

A Ruger GP100 10mm ($800)

Ruger recently released a GP100 Match Champion in 10mm/.40, which fits my desire to use existing stocks of competition ammo. There aren’t a lot of gunsmiths who work on Rugers, but some polishing compound and some spring work should serve to get the trigger pull down to acceptable levels.

Or, A Ruger Redhawk .357/.38 ($800)

Ruger also has an 8-round Redhawk model in .357 which accepts moon clips. (They are, however, expensive moon clips.) This would let me play with the big boys in USPSA Revolver, and eliminates one of my objections to eight-round revolvers. 9mm is a wimpy semi-automatic caliber, not suited for a manly gun like a revolver, and 8-round 9mm revolvers are an abomination unto God. .357 (and yes, also wimpy .38 like I’d actually be shooting) are true revolver calibers.

It eliminates another one of my objections, too; a Ruger in .38 Special is undoubtedly hipster in the modern revolver competition world. I’d be able to shoot Limited in ICORE, if Western PA ever ends up with a club which runs ICORE matches.

Of course, there are some downsides. If there are few gunsmiths who work on Match Champion revolvers, there are fewer gunsmiths who work on Redhawks. The sights might not be very much good for competition, although they are at least replaceable.

All in all, a compelling option: the Redhawk gets me to the 95% competitive bracket really easily, with no esoteric stage-planning requirements.

Kydex Holster ($100)

Given that these are the cheap options and not especially long-barreled, a Kydex competition holster is probably the way to go. $100 is a bit of an overestimate here, but $800 is a bit of an underestimate for the guns, so it’s a wash.

Some quick Googling suggests that a Kydex holster for the Redhawk might be hard to come by. In that case, I would have to go leather, which is delightfully old-fashioned.

The Weird Option

A Chiappa Rhino .40 ($900)

A what? Yes, Italian pizza-gun manufacturer Chiappa, who you might know better for their replica old-time firearms in the finest spaghetti western tradition, also makes a six-gun which wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Blade Runner. The bottom cylinder fires rather than the top one, and so the barrel is mounted low in the frame. The recoil impulse is nearly straight back. People say it’s nice. The Rhino can be had in .40 with a range of barrel lengths; I’d probably want the 6″ barrel because, in my opinion, it’s the coolest-looking1.

On that note, as I intimated in the first post in this series, the Chiappa’s major advantage is that it’s cool, and beyond that, that it’s uber-hipster. Nobody shoots Major in USPSA Revolver; of those who do, nobody shoots .40; of those who do, absolutely nobody shoots a Chiappa Rhino. That does have value to me; I like the attention I get when I’m shooting something offbeat.

A Guga Ribas Holster ($200)

Unfortunately, nobody makes holsters for Rhinos either, and a six-inch barrel makes for an unwieldy draw. I’d have to look into a Guga Ribas holster, sufficiently adjustable to grip the trigger guard of just about anything. That adds some expense.

The Boring Option

A S&W 929 ($1100)

I could also go the boring way, buying what everyone else has, a 9mm S&W Model 929.

Not only is it the most expensive option, it’s also the most popular one, and if you know me at all, you know how very unlikely that is.

A Guga Ribas or Other Adjustable Race Holster ($200)

If I were going to take leave of my senses and buy the boring race gun everyone shoots, I could hardly cheap out on the holster.


So, I’ve laid out four options. Every revolver option costs at least $200 for a belt rack and moon clips. Both Ruger options add $900 or so to the total, for $1100 to get in the door—slightly less than the Limited P-09. If I added another $100 or $150 to the total, to bring the price up to the P-09’s all-in price, I could get an adjustable race holster.

The Rhino adds another few hundred bucks of cool for about $1300. Unlike the Redhawk, it wouldn’t be competitive, but I would at least look cool while shooting slowly.

The Smith and Wesson option, at $1500, is probably out of my price range, in addition to being prevalent and therefore boring.

Okay, But You Actually Have To Make a Decision

You can’t make me. Not yet, anyway. More on that in a second. The way I see it, it comes down to P-09 Carry Optics, which is cool in a modern technological way, and the Ruger Redhawk, which is cool in an old-time lawman way.

What about the Rhino? For me, it comes down to competitiveness. I’m not shooting USPSA to become a better shooter, although that’s a pleasant side-effect. I’m shooting USPSA to compete in USPSA. The point of the game is the game. For the same reason I wouldn’t go to a fencing tournament with a left-handed foil, I’m not going to intentionally buy equipment which is well below par. As classic as the Ruger six-gun is, and as cool as the Rhino is, competing with them is, in a word, uncompetitive2.

So what’s it going to be? A Carry Optics P-09 or an 8-round Ruger Redhawk? I said I don’t have to answer yet, and I’m sticking by that. 2018, and in all likelihood 2019, are for improving with the guns I already have. Revolver requires a whole new level of planning, and a whole new level of shooting perfection, over Limited and Production. I have a pair of plenty-competitive guns I can easily shoot two seasons with.

In two seasons, the story might be different. Carry Optics rules are a moving target right now, and I don’t want to commit too early. On the flip side, in two years, Revolver might not be a USPSA division anymore, or Chiappa might come up with an 8-round Rhino. The point is, choosing now would be silly. I have time. It doesn’t matter how I lean now; it matters how the landscape looks in two years. I’ll let you know what I’m doing then.

  1. I actually emailed Chiappa asking if they had plans for an 8-round, 9mm version. (They already have a 9mm version in all the barrel lengths, as well as a competition-focused 9mm version.) Alas, the guy who answered my email said, ‘No, not at this time.’ And why am I okay with a 9mm revolver in this case? Because it’s the opposite of classic-looking, and so can use a non-classic cartridge without my scorn. 
  2. “What about that time you shot a two-gun match with British WW2 gear, though?” That’s entirely different. For one, I wasn’t shooting in nationally-organized three-gun with classifiers and ratings. For another, it was a for-fun match with gear I already had. 

Shopping List: CZ P-09 Carry Optics

In my previous USPSA what comes next post, I mentioned two possibilities for my next division, likely for the 2020 season. In this short post, we’ll take a look at what I would need for Carry Optics.

A Cajunified Lower (free)

Or, at least, free if you’re following the same path I am—starting with a Limited-spec P-09 and expanding your horizons. In that case, the Cajunified bits come gratis. I’ve written about the Cajun gubbins

If you’re starting from zero, the Cajun bits will cost you about $600, including the magazines, 140mm base plates, and followers. (You save about $100 by skipping the verboten-in-Carry-Optics magazine funnel.)

A Donor Gun ($475)

At a bare minimum, I need a new barrel for 9mm. Realistically, I need a slide; I’m going to be knocking out the rear sight and putting in a sight mounting plate, and I don’t want to have to change back and forth between a dot and the Limited rear sight.

Of course, nobody sells a P-09 slide without a frame, so the only thing to do is buy a second whole P-09 and toss the frame in a box for later use. $475 takes a little bit of deal-hunting, but not much; you could probably find one for less with a little patience.

Cajun Upper Parts ($50)

The lower uses reduced-power springs, so the Carry Optics slide needs an extended firing pin, reduced-power firing pin spring, and reduced-power firing pin plunger spring to match the Limited slide.

Happily, with the exception of the firing pin retaining pin (a roll pin), none of those parts are all that annoying to install.

An Optic Plate ($50)

Springer Precision makes a Fastfire/Venom/Viper-compatible mounting plate which sits in the rear sight dovetails. It also has polymer-tipped set screws, so you can crank it down onto the slide for better stability—important for a competition gun with no possibility of back-up sights. The last thing you want to do is lose your zero during a match.

An Optic ($225)

Although Springer makes mounting plates for other, more expensive pistol dots, the Burris FastFire III and the Vortex Venom/Viper are the obvious victors from a value perspective. Both run about $200-$225. Parvusimperator says Vortex has better warranties, so they get the nod.


Enhancing the P-09 with Carry Optics compatibility would cost, therefore, about $800. Switching from Limited to Carry Optics isn’t the sort of thing I could do at a match; not only do I have to swap the slide, but I also have to put the decocker in (or accept a subpar Limited start condition by leaving the decocker in). It isn’t that much work, though; five or ten minutes on the old workbench, even with the fiddly spring you may remember from the last post.

The nice thing is that I don’t need to buy any extra gear. The gun still fits in my existing holster, the magazines fit in my existing carriers, and everything fits on the belt I already have. For the revolver option laid out in a forthcoming article, the initial purchases are just that: initial. For the Carry Optics option presented here, there’s nothing left to buy.

Too, it’s a 100% competitive option. If I’m shooting at a disadvantage to others in the division, it’s much smaller than the disadvantage (or advantage) I end up with from being a worse (or, in some rare cases, better) shooter. For all my fondness for strange and oldtimey things, I’m ultimately shooting USPSA to compete. Even with the coolest, most hipster gear in the coolest, most hipster division, if I’m giving up effectiveness based on my equipment, I can’t be 100% happy.

USPSA: What Comes Next?

In the near term, the answer to the title question is, “Get better in Limited through 2019.” Between live fire practice, living room drills, and matches, I hope to make a run at B (at least) by the end of next season.

That isn’t great fodder for an article, though, given that I’ve already answered the question and we’re not even one hundred words in. In 2020, though, I think I want to pick up a new division, and that’s more fertile ground for discussion. I have a few options.

Ghetto Open

Ghetto Open, like parvusimperator’s kit from last year, is any Open setup which doesn’t fit the traditional frame-mounted optic, 170mm magazine, hot .38-caliber with compensator mold. This appeals to me on several levels: bubblegum-and-shoestrings bodging, shoot-something-different hipsterism, and play-for-cheap budget-mindedness.

Or at least, it appeals to me until I sit down and start to make a list of what I’d need to do. Take, for instance, the CZ. At a minimum, I would need an optic of some kind. Call it $130 for one of the Primary Arms micro-tubes, and $100 for the only picatinny rail universal mount which doesn’t lose its zero according to Internet reviewers.

Of course, that hardly gets me to ‘competitive’. I would need a compensator, and that’s where things start getting hairy. As far as I know, there aren’t any threaded barrels for .40 P-09s, so I’d have to either have one entirely custom-made (not exactly cheap) or have one of the 9mm threaded barrels bored out and rechambered for .40. (Also not cheap.) I’d then have to buy a compensator.

That gets me a little closer, but then I’d want longer magazines. There are 170mm extensions for the Tac Sport series, but those mags don’t fit P-09s. Some of the EAA/Tanfoglio magazines do, but those are on the order of $100 to $150 each. Iffy. The best I could hope for, as far as capacity, is probably 25 or 26, several shy of the widebody 1911s.

The list is even longer for a Beretta, and probably involves buying a whole new gun as the base, so that’s definitely out. Based on what I’d have to do to the CZ, so is Ghetto Open altogether.

Less Ghetto Open

My remaining options for Open play a little closer to the norm. I could buy a used CZ Czechmate, along with a supply of spare slide stops. That way, I could stay in the CZ ecosystem.

I could try one of the competition-ready 2011 clones from Eagle Importers’ SPS or MAC brands, both of which tip the money-scale at right about $2000 if I include an optic, with affordable magazines relative to other 2011s.

Either way, though, I’d be looking at $2500 or $3000 to go from today to shooting-ready. Although that’s cheap by Not At All Ghetto Open standards, it’s still a lot of money, especially with children likely to be in the picture by that time, and double-especially for a division I’m not even all that interested in.

Less Ghetto Open is out.

Carry Optics

Carry Optics is an interesting division. According to USPSA classifier stats, it’s very slightly faster than Limited—maybe 10%—despite using minor scoring. I could use my equipment pretty much as-is; all I would have to do is come up with some way to mount an optic.

The thing is, that changes the rear dovetail, and I’m happy with my sights on the Limited gun. I’d want a second slide, and that means I’d need a second gun plus the Cajun firing pin and springs, on top of an optic and a slide cut. The gun for the slide comes to about $420. Springer Precision makes a multi-optic mount compatible with the budget Burris and Vortex options, which retails for $45. A Burris FastFire III or a Vortex Viper or Venom can be had for $200.

My existing magazines, carriers, holsters, and belt are legal, although I’d have to pull the magwell off for Carry Optics competition. That makes the cost of entry roughly $700 to $750, counting shipping and transfer fees.

Frankly, when I started this section, I was expecting to write off Carry Optics altogether. Now, it’s one of the front-runners. Low cost of entry, cheap ammunition, and equipment commonality go a long way in my book.

Let me invent a few reasons to bring it down a peg. First, it’s trendy. I hate trendy. Second, I’d want to put the decocker back into my P-09, and there’s a fiddly little spring to deal with. Third, optics are still kind of cheating, even if it’s cool cheating I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at.


If you know me at all, you shouldn’t be too surprised that revolver is the second front-runner. It’s the ultimate hipster division. Revolver shooting is very nearly a different game altogether, much more focused on shooting perfectly. (Every missed shot means more reloading, which is slow.)

I like the idea of revolver division, because it features a whole new set of technical skills and emphasizes shooting mastery much more than the semi-auto divisions. Your loading has to be perfect, and your shooting should be; otherwise, you’re going to be up a creek.

Because I’m old-fashioned and find eight-round revolvers to be an abomination unto Colt, I’d be looking at a major power factor gun with a six-round cylinder. The newly-released Ruger GP100 Match Champion in 10mm/.40 seems like an obvious choice—I already stock .40 competition ammo.

Of course, the current state of the art in USPSA Revolver is eight-round guns, because the USPSA rules require that no single shooting position should require more than eight shots. An eight-round revolver fits perfectly, provided you don’t miss. A six-round revolver will require some standing reloads on some stages. Major scoring, unfortunately, isn’t enough to make up the difference.

It would be about $1000 to get into it: a $750 revolver, a $100 holster, a $150 moon clip belt rack, and a few bucks’ worth of moon clips. Any tuning would be extra.

One last thing to note is that revolver is a very infrequently-shot division. At most matches, I wouldn’t have anyone to measure myself against.

A Weird Revolver

Ordinary revolvers are cool, sure, but what about a weird, sci-fi revolver, like the Chiappa Rhino? That comes in .40 S&W, and has a range of barrel length options besides. I could go up to six inches, which gives me enough sight radius to really make those difficult distance shots. It would cost about $200 more than the Ruger option. The revolver is $100 to $150 more expensive, and I would need one of those trigger-guard-grab holsters, at a price of about $150 ($50 more than the Kydex jobber for the Ruger). Given that it’s basically a functioning Firefly prop, however, the Rhino has a dramatically higher cool factor, and the recent Chiappas have better triggers out of the box.


If you read through the 2017-2018 race gun shootout, the 2019-2020 shootout should sound a little familiar. I have a cooler option I started off with (the wheelgun), and a cheaper, more competitive option I hadn’t considered until I did the comparison. Revolver is nearer to my heart, but Carry Optics is nearer to competitive with the top dogs, and if last year’s project showed me anything, it’s that competitiveness is important to me.

At the same time, last year’s choice was between two raced-up semi-auto pistols. The Beretta is cooler than the CZ, but neither holds a candle to a revolver. The question before me is this: is a GP100 $200 cooler than a CZ with a dot? Is a Rhino $500 cooler?

I don’t think the GP100 is. The Rhino, however, just might be.

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 USPSA Limited Match No. 2

At the end of April, I shot a second match with the Limited CZ P-09 project gun.

How did it go?

It went pretty well, all in all. I shot a good classifier, which is one of my primary goals at every match. (Gotta get that C-for-competent classification!)

As an aside, I thought the structure of the match was excellent. Like most club matches, the round count was about 150, but unlike most matches, they spread out that count into seven stages (rather than five or six). Stages averaged between about 24 and 28 rounds each, which is a good number: it lets the Open pay-to-win types feel superior because they don’t have to reload, while still presenting interesting problems for the rest of us. Do I trust myself to make every shot for the first 20 rounds on the stage, which don’t take much moving, then load moving to the last array? Do I make a standing or semi-standing reload earlier on? Seven stages also leaves you a little more room to have a bad stage without blowing the match altogether.

At the match, someone had a camera on a gimbal rig and happened to record a full stage of mine, which you can watch here1.

How was the gear?

Still solid. I adjusted the holster a bit more, for even less positive retention, and I think it improves my draw time. The belt remains perfectly functional. I had the brilliant idea of moving things around so that the outer belt overlaps itself in the rear rather than the front, where the ends aren’t interfering with equipment hanging on the belt. This is notably easier to put on than the previous setup.

How was the gun?

Also still solid. I find myself liking the skinny fiber optic front sight and blacked-out wide-notch rear sight more the more I use it. It’s very fast to acquire, and can be just as accurate with a little attention paid to alignment. The more trigger time I get on it, the better I think the trigger is.

That said, there were two reliability problems which cropped up: failures to feed and, a little more concerning, hammer follow (where the hammer chases the slide forward). I suspected that the slide might be coming forward too quickly, not leaving the sear time to reset or the magazine time to get the next round into place, so I swapped the stock 20lb recoil spring for the 18lb Cajun Gun Works spring, plus a stainless steel guide rod.

75 rounds of practice calculated to reproduce the problems didn’t yield any new cases, so I’m willing to call it settled for now. At the range, I re-learned the lesson that consistency in grip is important, and that when picking the gun up off the table, I need to get my main hand further around to the strong side. If I don’t, when I tighten my grip, the muzzle swings around to the left, and so do all my shots.

Next steps?

I’m taking May off from matches to work on draw, movement, and transition technique. Also because I’m cheap, and I can do most of those things without live ammo. In late June, I plan to attend two matches—the next at what I consider my home club, and a local all-classifier match to see if I can get my Limited letter.

In July, parvusimperator and I will be using me as a test case for frame weights; we have some drills in mind which we can use to assess the importance of extra weight under the barrel for polymer pistols.

We will, of course, report on those when they happen.

  1. After the video ended, the RO made a crack about how I was shooting extra to get my money’s worth. My rejoinder: “I can’t afford to shoot this many extra!” 

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W USPSA Limited Match Report

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll no doubt remember my project gun from last winter, a CZ P-09 in .40 set up for USPSA Limited. You can read about the process here, or carry on to the next paragraph, where I’ll sum up the changes.

The Changes, Summed Up

The C-Zed, as I’ve been calling it, looks pretty much like a CZ P-09 externally. The only notable change is the Dawson Precision sights, a blacked-out rear unit and a fiber-optic front sight. As I’ve repeatedly complained, they may be Dawson sights, but they sure aren’t Precision. It took half an hour of filing to get the rear sight in, and because Dawson uses the least-stainless steel they can get their hands on, it’s already rusty less than a year in. Hopefully the Rustoleum in the garage will take care of it.

Internally, most of the original parts are gone in favor of Cajun Gun Works gubbins. The upshot is that the trigger, in single-action mode, is crisp, resets quickly, and weighs in at about 2.5 pounds. That’s in the ballpark of tuned 1911 trigger weights, although 1911 triggers are admittedly better in other dimensions. You’ll also note magazine extensions and a magazine well funnel, courtesy CZ Custom. On the belt, the gun rides in a race holster from Cook’s, with a Tek-Lok attachment thing1.

The Match

The match in question was at a local Western Pennsylvania gun club, and featured six stages. The first two were both hoser stages to one degree or another, with a large number of close-in targets, and a focus on leaning around barriers to hit targets otherwise inaccessible. Since I’m a young buck by the standard of the average club-level competitive shooter, the leaning and running plays to my advantage, as does the ability, when presented with a close target, to shove the gun in its direction and pull the trigger twice really fast. The next two were a bit more cerebral, with longer-range targets and some arrays which could be attacked from multiple positions. The last two were classifiers or classifier-like stages: a two-position classifier with six paper targets, and a three-string Virginia count stage with some strong hand only and weak hand only shooting.

Notes from the Range

The CZ’s trigger, as mentioned, is now pretty darned good. I can pull it twice really fast. As such, I set a new personal best for hit factor on the very first stage I shot in Limited2. I set my prior hit factor record of 6.34 on a no-movement burn-it-down classifier stage with the M9. On a move-and-shoot stage with 16 targets3, I ran the CZ to a 6.35. In fact, on three of the six stages, I notched hit factors greater than 5, which corresponds to an average of about one hit to the center of a target per second4. Although I made a mental error on the classifier stage, I was still fast enough to score a C rating, which is always my baseline goal for a new gun or division.

In general, I scored sufficiently well to beat a Production shooter I’m usually neck and neck with. Some of that may have to do with the more generous scoring for major power factor5. We’ll look into that a bit later with the match results.

I did run into one problem, which is most likely a shooter issue more than a gun issue. One-handed shooting is an old nemesis of mine. In this case, it wasn’t that the shooting was hard6, it was that the CZ repeatedly failed to feed, slowing me down and throwing off my place-keeping on the Virginia count7 stage. I suspect I was simply not giving it enough locked wrist and elbow, which I intend to verify at the range, or the next match if I can’t make it out to shoot before then.

Turning now to the belt and holster, I am entirely satisfied. The cheapo Midway belt is entirely up to the task of holding up a loaded CZ and spare magazines. The one downside is that, between the inner and outer belts, it’s quite fat, which reduces the amount of room you get for offsets.

The holster, the competition kydex model from Cook’s, did its job, besides the afore-footnoted out-of-spec offset. (That’s on me, anyway.) The adjustable retention did its job; the gun comes out buttery-smooth, but the holster still grips it enough to keep it from falling out. I’d be interested in a drop-only piece with no offset and maybe a bit of reverse cant, but such a thing does not appear to exist. On the other hand, kydex sheeting is cheap, and a simple drop is going to be pretty straightforward to fabricate. A project for the future, perhaps.


Match Performance

Lastly, let’s talk match results. How did I do, both overall and compared to other comparable shooters with Limited widebody 1911s? Did I perform meaningfully better than I did with my Production gun, accounting for the difference in scoring?

Overall, I placed 52nd of 92 shooters, a middle-of-the-pack finish, which isn’t surprising. I’m very much a middle-of-the-pack shooter. Since last summer was pretty busy, and the last match I shot last year was all classifier stages, we have to go back to May 2017 to find a comparable match: club-level competition, a single classifier, and a number of longer stages. In that match, I was 32nd of 40, scoring 34.37% compared to the match winner. This time, I scored 59.59%. If I hadn’t scored a goose egg on one of the stages, I likely would have come in ahead of a pair of Open shooters in my squad.

How about in my division? Surprisingly, despite blowing a stage altogether, I still managed 14th out of 30 Limited shooters8. I scored 65% of the Limited winner’s points. I’d have to cross-check more closely than I have time to, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the widebody 1911 shooters beat me, which is to be expected. Most of them have been doing this for more than one season. Again, if I had managed some points on my zero stage, I might well have moved up as high as 11th.

Scientific Testing

Now, though, we come to the interesting mathematical part. How good is my gun? How much better is it than my Beretta? Well, we can compare hit factors. My hit factor over the entire match with the CZ was 4.049. My hit factor over the comparable match with the M9 was 2.47. Clearly, the CZ is the winner!

Not so fast. The CZ benefits from major scoring. If we rescore my CZ match with minor scoring, my hit factor drops to 3.6810. In addition to the fascinating result that major power factor is worth about 10% over minor, this suggests that the CZ is definitely better than the Beretta.

Just a minute, though! I’m most likely a much better shooter in April 2018 than I was in May 2017, by dint of focused practice and a number of matches. What we really need is a benchmark. Which we have. We’ll call him L. He also shoots USPSA in western Pennsylvania, and last year, when I was shooting in Production with him, we were neck and neck through several matches. Luckily, L was at the match last weekend, still shooting Production. Presumably, he’s also been improving. So, his full-match hit factor? 3.22.

Worth It?

At this point, I think I’m finally comfortable saying the CZ improves on the Beretta by somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0 points per second, independent of more generous scoring as well as my changing competence. Of course, that figure is mainly of academic interest. “This gun is better, independent of the conditions in which it’s used,” is not a statement with a lot of practical application. The true test was this: with the CZ, am I faster than the people that I should be faster than? The answer is yes. The CZ passes with flying colors. As poor-man’s-Limited guns go, I think you’d have a hard time doing better11.

  1. I bought it with a drop-offset bit between the Tek-Lok thing and the holster, which drops the gun to a questionably legal height—the back of the magazine funnel just barely clears the top of my belt—and offsets it to a flagrantly illegal three or three and a half inches from the inner belt. Oops. Happily, the local match let me off with a warning. 
  2. USPSA scoring is a bit arcane even to the initiated. It goes like this. For each stage, you have a number of points based on where you hit your targets (up to a maximum of 5), and a time. Your hit factor is simply your points divided by your time. (It’s easier to think of it as points per second.) Each stage is worth a certain number of match points. The shooter with the best hit factor on a stage gets the full amount of match points from it. Other shooters get a percentage of the full amount of match points, based on the ratio of their hit factors to the fastest shooter’s. 
  3. All else being equal, a longer stage is harder to score a high hit factor on than a shorter one. In particular, a longer stage requires reloads and movement. 
  4. This is a little misleading, because there’s usually some dead time in moving and reloading. 
  5. Power factor: the weight of the bullet in grains, multiplied by the velocity in feet per second, divided by 1000. Greater than 165 (one way to get there is a 165-grain bullet at 1000 feet per second) is major. Less than that is minor. Minor scores 5 for an A zone hit, 3 for a B/C zone hit, and 1 for a D zone hit. Major scores 5/4/2. 
  6. Well, it was hard, but that wasn’t the issue. 
  7. Virginia count is a scoring mechanism where you’re penalized for extra shots and extra hits. 
  8. Many of whom were shooting minor, however, especially those who didn’t score as well as me. Out of the thirty shooters, four minor shooters scored ahead of me, and only three major shooters scored behind me. Read on, however, to see how big an advantage that actually is. (I don’t know yet. I haven’t written it up.) 
  9. The numbers in the next few paragraphs ignore misses and penalties, because, for a given stage, online-scoring system Practiscore only reports the raw point totals, ignoring misses, no-shoots, and procedurals. As long as I calculate everything the same way, I think the comparison is still valid, even given the different reloading requirements. 
  10. I’m going to ignore reloads here. On any legal USPSA stage, the Production magazine limit doesn’t really matter; you can reload while moving between arrays. 
  11. If parvusimperator ever wants to try a Limited Glock, we might see how wrong I am. 

Competition Meets Tactical: SOCOM and the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 1-6x

I love competition shooting, and I love modern military gear. Sometimes, the two worlds collide, and I always find such events fascinating. Let’s take a look at optics used on carbines.

Right now, the gold standard, go-to optic for three gun shooters is the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 1-6x. It provides excellent glass clarity, 6x magnification for long shots, a simple reticle that’s easy to work with, a wide field of view, a very forgiving eyebox, and a bright center dot for close-in stages all at a price point much more reasonable than a lot of its competitors. When it came out, it undercut the previous standard (the Swarovski Z6i 1-6X) by about $1,000, and money saved is ammo to practice with. Between the glass quality and the eyebox, on 1x it works a lot like a red dot, and the scope body basically disappears.

There’s always a catch though, and the catch for the Razor is the weight. It weighs 25 ounces, about ten ounces more than the Z6i. And that’s not including a mount for either. With a mount, you’re looking at almost two pounds of weight added to your gun. For 3-gun, it doesn’t matter, because stages aren’t that long. You shoot, dump your gun, move on. And lots of guys have a carrier for all their stuff when they’re not running through a stage.

The weight sucks to carry, but that’s also a lot of capability. SOCOM also loves the Razor. They love it so much they had Geissele make them a mount for that exact scope. It really fills a need that they’ve been looking to fix for a while: to get the benefits of a red dot and magnification in one optic.

Red dots are great, because they simplify aiming. Dot goes on the target, shoot. There are no sights to align. And because of the way the human eye perceives the dot, it appears in the same focal plane as the target. So you can maintain a target focus and still get accurate hits.

The only downside to dots is that they don’t give you any magnification. Aimpoint red dot optics were in use as early as Operation Gothic Serpent,1 where it quickly became clear that the one shortcoming of the dot was that it didn’t help with target identification. If a terrorist is in a crowd, he probably is dressed like everybody else, and magnification helps spot the small differences that give him away. An ACOG sight will help with this, but it’s got fixed magnification, and a tight eyebox, so it’s going to be slower than a red dot.

The Razor gives you all the benefits of both, plus enough durability to withstand the lousy operating environments and abuse that soldiers tend to inflict on their gear, all at a reasonable cost.2 The only penalty is weight.3 And that’s a price they’re willing to pay.

  1. I.e. “Black Hawk Down” over in Mogadishu. 
  2. I don’t know what Uncle Sam gets his for, but on the civilian market a Razor HD Gen II can be had for about the same price as a 4x ACOG. 
  3. When mounted in Geissele’s excellent mount, about 30 oz. or 1.88 lbs. 

AR-15 Innovations Roundup

Normally when I see innovations in the AR-15 market, they come in the form of a component that can be easily combined with others. Something like BCM’s KMR handguards that used a magnesium-aluminum alloy or Proof Research’s carbon-fiber-wrapped barrels. These are cool products, but they can still be used by enterprising homebuilders like yours truly. So I’m not usually impressed by a lot of the premium AR-15 builders out there, simply because I can do something similar, and I enjoy putting AR-15s together. Your mileage may vary of course. You may be happy to pay someone else for labor. However, there are some manufacturers making some innovations to Stoner’s design that are much less easily integrated into homebuilds. Something where they’re willing to push the envelope and offer something new. Let’s look at a couple.

Knight’s Armament E3 Bolt
A standard AR-15 bolt uses eight square lugs. The lugs are square because of manufacturing processes available at the time the rifle was originally designed, but any engineer will tell you that corners tend to focus stress.1 As a result, the standard replacement interval for a bolt is 5,000 rounds (or so). Your bolt may last longer, but that’s the usual interval that the manufacturer suggests. Knights changed this by rounding all of the lugs, as seen in this picture. A standard bolt is on the left; the E3 bolt is on the right. Both have extractors removed.

ar-15 bolt comparison

Now, this has the downside of requiring a nonstandard barrel extension to work. So you’re stuck with Knights’ barrels. Not that those are bad barrels. On the other hand, the bolt life is expected to exceed that of the barrel. In Ballistics radio’s endurance test of an SR-15E3, they put 20,000 rounds through without cleaning or bolt breakage. The E3 bolt is available on all current Knights Armament rifle builds.

There are other proprietary things in the SR-15 design, like a nice ambi lower and an intermediate length (longer than midlength, shorter than rifle-length) gas system, but these can be had elsewhere, and have been done by others. The SR-15 is a pretty complete package but the coolest part is that nifty bolt.

Cobalt Kinetics C.A.R.S.
Cobalt Kinetics makes some really nice looking rifles. But lots of people have some CNC wizards to mill cool things out of billet aluminum, and if you choose handguards and receiver sets from the same manufacturer, you can get (or make) other cool looking rifles too. On some of their higher-end rifles, they have the C.A.R.S. system, which is aimed squarely at the competition shooter. When you’ve fired the last round from your magazine, the bolt locks open, just like on a regular AR-15. But the empty magazine also drops free automatically. No mag release press required. And when a fresh magazine is inserted, the bolt goes forward to chamber the next round automatically. This system can be disabled with a switch, and there are still the regular magazine catch and bolt release on the lower. This system requires some hand tuning during assembly, and is only offered on complete rifle builds. And yes, they’ll do custom colors if you like.

I love to see companies pushing the envelope and offering a product that stands out from the crowd.

  1. Ask the DeHavilland Comet 

Competition Meets Tactical: SOF STI 2011s

I love competition shooting, and I love modern military gear. Sometimes, the two worlds collide, and I always find such events fascinating. Let’s take a look at a little bit of Special Operations history, courtesy of an old Gunbroker auction and the late, great Weaponsman.

First, some competition background. In the USPSA Limited1 division, the dominant platform is the double-stack 1911, often called a 2011, which is the trade name used by STI for their pistols. Since STI is the biggest builder of these, and where to go for a factory-type solution, the name has stuck. While people use other guns in Limited, the 2011s are the most popular. Since it’s based on the 1911, with its expired patents, its wide open for people to play with, so you can get your gun customized to your heart’s content. While it’s the indian, not the arrow, that decides results, nobody wants to shoot a lame arrow. Plus the 1911-style, single-action, sliding trigger is super easy to make amazing. There are no better triggers than a tuned 1911-type trigger for shooting.

Around 2006-2007, one of America’s elite special operations units decided to experiment with these pistols. Here are a pair of them.
STI 40s

A few things to note. They’re chambered for .40 S&W, not 9mm NATO like you might expect. Being based on the 1911, which was originally designed around the .45 ACP cartridge, 2011s tend to be easier to make reliable with longer cartridges. .40 S&W is a bit longer than 9mm NATO, so that helps. Plus, the vast majority of 2011s are chambered in .40 for USPSA,2 that’s where most of the experience in keeping them running is focused.

From the auction description:

Both of these STI 2011 .40 caliber pistols saw actual issue and use in a US Army SOF unit in 2006-2007. One pistol is in 93%+ condition and the other is in 96%+ condition. They are consecutively serial numbered and are quite possibly the only consecutively numbered set to be offered for sale. This consecutively numbered set comes with the following items: *** individual letters of authenticity from Larry Vickers (www.vickerstactical.com) for each pistol— original, unedited versions will be provided to the buyer *** six 140mm 17 round magazines *** one 170mm 22 round magazine *** one issued Surefire X200A light *** issued Safariland 6005 light bearing holster with end user modifications *** two Eagle Industries pistol cases

These are standard STI magazines with STI follower and basepad. This doesn’t sound odd, but most competitors will swap the follower and basepad out to get more capacity. More capacity is great at a match, but it tends to make the mags a bit more fussy, and extra maintenance requirements are not the friend of the combat soldier.

What did SOF think of these pistols? They liked them, but found the maintenance requirements to be more than they wanted to deal with. Specifically, issues came up with fine desert sand from the Middle East. This makes some sense. These are tightly tuned competition pistols, built for maximum shootability. Competitors don’t mind having to do a bit more cleaning of their magazines. And of course, as a general rule, guns with a metal frame and slide need more lubrication than those with a polymer frame and steel slide.

That said, in Vickers’ letter of authenticity, he said that “these were the only pistols sold outside the unit” (emphasis added). So likely lots of the men chose to keep the pistols, because they are awesome and shoot really well. Even if they might not be the best choice for a secondary weapon out in the sandbox.

  1. No electronic sights, no compensators, no barrel porting, magazines no longer than 141.25 mm. 
  2. Because power factor.