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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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For USPSA, I love Open because I think it’s cool. If I’m gonna shoot a racegun, I want the fastest, blastiest racegun. I don’t want a bunch of rules about what I can’t do. Plus, electro-optical sights are cool, and loud compensators are also cool.
In 3-Gun, Open Shotguns are even better. Not only do they get cool red dot sights and cool compensators to spit fire, but they have a whole bunch of nonstandard magazine designs open to them. One such idea is the X-Rail, which is a cluster of four magazine extensions in a rotary unit, kind of like a giant revolver. Each holds six shells, so you get 24 out on the front. It’s super heavy, but you won’t have to reload as much. Empty gun starts still suck.
On the one hand, the X-Rail lets you use highly reliable, proven shotguns, like Benelli M2s. On the other hand, that’s a lot of weight on the end, and I’m not a big fan of super heavy weapons. Especially when the weight is out on the end of the gun. So that’s out. Pretty arbitrarily, but I don’t care. This is my list.
I want a shotgun that feeds from detachable box magazines. Shotgun shells make these difficult to make, and for some stupid reason, no company in America makes any sort of base gun that we can work with. Which leaves us the choice of Russian Saiga 12s, Russian Vepr 12s, Turkish MKA-1919s, or Turkish XTR-12s.
And no, those aren’t staying stock. Once again, I’m going to order a tricked out one, mostly because I don’t have the expertise to do that myself. Plus, some of the things commonly done to a race shotgun aren’t things I can do myself.
The other complication is the bans on imports of Russian weapons, which could distort prices when I finally go to purchase. That said, there are a lot of imported guns. And, unlike my pump gun, this was never going to get done on the cheap. This shouldn’t disqualify the Russian-made guns out of the gate, especially because I can still get base models for a reasonable price on Gunbroker.
Right out of the gate, we can eliminate the Saiga 12s, because the Veprs do everything the Saigas do, except way better. The Vepr comes in a not-stupid configuration out of the box. The Vepr doesn’t need tuning to actually work out of the box. The Vepr has a much more consistent build quality.
We can also eliminate the XTR-12 pretty quick. At the time of writing (October 2017) there are issues with getting large-capacity magazines to work reliably. And that’s the whole freaking point of open shotguns. There’s also very poor aftermarket support for these.
Two down. Now, the MKA-1919 actually comes in a couple different versions. One is from Tooth and Nail, and comes heavily tricked out. The other is from Firebird precision, and they remake most of the components right here in America. So, better tolerances, and hopefully better reliability. However, they don’t offer a compensator option. The T&N MKA 1919 build is available with a mid-barrel compensator. So, at this point I’m inclined to only look at the T&N one, given the better configuration options.
Vepr-12s from Dissident Arms also come with nice big compensator options. They use compensators at the end of the barrel rather than midbarrel ones. On the one hand, the Vepr-12 will have some increased costs from requiring a charging handle conversion (i.e putting a charging handle on the left side of the receiver).1 On the other hand, the Vepr-12 is probably the most reliable. It’s certainly the most reliable out of the box. In fact, it’s one of the few detachable box fed magazine shotguns to function reasonably out of the box. Points in its favor.
The other item in the room is ‘classic Russian Ergonomics’. Which we can improve somewhat. We can get a safety that’s workable with the shooting hand thumb or trigger finger without removing our shooting hand from its place. As mentioned before, we can put the charging handle on the correct side of the gun with a simple modification. We can also get a modification to be able to drop the magazines with our trigger finger. On the other hand, the MKA 1919 has AR-style controls. Well, other than the charging handle placement. It is at least on the proper side out of the box.
Now, to my way of thinking, that’s about a wash. Competitively equipped models are about the same price. However, the Vepr-12 has one other edge over the MKA 1919: I live near, and have squadded with, a member of the Dissident Arms shooting team, and he’s pretty active on youtube as well. So there’s a nearby Vepr-12 expert that I know.
And there you have it. My pick is the Vepr-12, tricked out into awesomeness by Dissident Arms.
If you read a certain previous article of mine, you might remember that I decided to build a USPSA Limited race gun out of a CZ P-09. Well, my base model P-09 arrived, I took it to the range, and now I have some thoughts for you.
The CZ P-09 is a full-size, polymer-frame, double-action pistol. In common with all of CZ’s handguns, the slide rides inside the frame. The slide is cut down in the front to save weight, swelling to the usual squared-off profile at the ejection port. CZ provides an accessory rail forward of the oversize trigger guard. As is common with your polymer pistols, it comes with three interchangeable backstraps.
One of the innovations CZ brought to the table with the P-07 and P-09 is the so-called Omega trigger system. The most interesting feature thereof is the safety. From the box, the P-09 comes with a decocker installed—a pure decocker, unlike the safety/decocker on my Berettas1. Push down on it, and the hammer falls to the safety half-cock position without risk of falling all the way to the firing pin2. Provided in the box, though, and easy to swap to, is a pure manual safety. It can’t be engaged while the hammer is down, and offers no way to safely drop the hammer. All it does is prevent the sear from disengaging while activated. Swapping the decocker for the safety (or vice versa) is a five-minute job, and more or less tool-free3. As I mentioned in the race gun proposal article linked above, the option for a pure safety was a major driver of my choice of the P-09 over the Beretta 96.
The P-09 is a duty-size pistol. Compared to my M9, it’s very slightly shorter nose-to-beavertail, roughly the same width at the slide, and significantly taller. Unlike with the M9, however, I can hit the P-09’s magazine release without breaking my grip. The P-09’s grip thins toward the top, where the strong-side thumb goes, and this gives me enough extra wraparound to get my thumb to the generously-sized button. I had planned, in my race gun build, on adding the extended magazine release. Turns out I won’t need to.
The sides of the grip are nicely textured, and the backstraps have substantial knobbly bits to hold your hand in place. The front of the grip has the most aggressive texture I’ve seen on a bog-standard factory gun. It proved highly effective on a hot, sweaty day at the pistol bay. Textured patches on the left and right of the frame above the trigger guard provide a nice obvious place to put one’s finger when off the trigger.
The controls are nicely sized and well-placed, even for my average-sized hands. The safety is easy to flip off and difficult to engage, accidentally or otherwise. The trigger reach is significantly shorter than on the M9. I do quibble with the placement of the slide release—it’s far forward, and would be hard to hit under pressure—but in the manual, CZ recommends the slingshot method for dropping the slide from slide lock. With that out of the way, there’s little need for an easily manipulable slide release.
Now, for a few final notes. Despite being bulkier than the M9, it’s lighter. Not tremendously lighter, but notably so. It’s also less well balanced, which should come as no surprise. Polymer pistols always have that issue; a metal-framed pistol is going to have a more favorable center of gravity (nearer your hands) in both loaded and unloaded conditions. Lastly, both are similar in terms of grip angle, which is shallower than that of, say, a Glock. If you’re coming from that direction, there will be a bit of transition to get the point of aim down.
The P-09 field strips in the same manner as CZs the world around: pull back on the slide a hair to line up a notch on the slide with a notch on the frame, then pop the slide release out with the corner of a magazine. The slide comes off, and then you have a pretty standard tilting-barrel pistol. Compress the recoil spring, remove it from its shoulder on the barrel, remove the barrel. Mine came from the box in desperate need of lubrication, but after a liberal coat of oil, it slides much more freely.
Deeper maintenance, on the other hand, seems a bit trickier. Most of the components of the action—ejector, lifter, sear, double-action roller—ride on one pin. The hammer and disconnector, which are pinned together, ride on the hammer pin. The firing pin and related parts are retained by a roll pin, that nemesis of home gunsmiths everywhere. I’ll have more to report on this front when I get into its guts for my various race gun modifications.
I swung by the local gun shop, picked up two boxes of Remington UMC4 180-grain .40 S&W, and hit the range at lunchtime today. One hundred rounds isn’t enough to draw serious conclusions, but nevertheless, here we are.
Out of the box, surprisingly poor in single action. On my M9, which hasn’t seen any trigger tuning beyond a lighter hammer spring, even sitting down, watching my finger rather than the sights, and dry-firing with every effort to find creep, there’s very little to be had. The takeup, which pushes the firing pin plunger out of the way, is distinct from the actual trigger pull.
The P-09 is, in comparison, not great. The takeup is less smooth, building to what feels almost like a striker-fired wall (or a ‘rolling break’, if you want to use the euphemism). This is extremely noticeable sitting and dry-firing, if you’re looking for it; it’s less obvious on the range. Even being below my Beretta-based standard for a double-action trigger, it’s as good or better than the best factory-made striker-fired triggers5.
Neither gun is anything to write home about shooting double action. The Beretta is lighter, which is expected based on the lighter hammer spring, but also smoother. It doesn’t matter, really; with the safety installed on the CZ, the double-action pull is an in-case-of-failure-only tool.
I’m not a pistol marksman, neither on the level of major gun reviewers nor even on the scale of our own parvusimperator. I am an average shot at best, so I won’t bore you with tales of bench shooting, or a picture of a terrible 25-yard target.
That said, the P-09 seems to suit me pretty well. This was my first range trip; the first shot out of the first magazine at my traditional 7-yard familiarization target ended up dead on in the center ring. The 15-yard plate rack at the local range is a traditional nemesis of mine, and I managed to clear it with the dregs of my second box right before leaving. It points naturally. The night sights on mine out of the box are blockier, more target sight than I would prefer on a competition gun. They are night sights, though, which are pretty cool.
Here we come to one of the more interesting results. The P-09 is a very soft-shooting .40; it doesn’t feel that much punchier than the M9. The typically low CZ bore axis has something to do with it, I’m sure, converting the muzzle flip into much more controllable backward force. The choice of recoil spring may have some effect on proceedings, too. Either way, it’s much more pleasant to shoot than I expected it to be.
Two boxes of good ammo is hardly enough to say one way or another, but I had no failures of any kind.
As usual, I won’t muck about with star ratings. I will say, however, that the P-09 presents an excellent value proposition. The version I got, which includes night sights and three magazines, set me back just over $500 from Bud’s Gun Shop, including transfer fee. For that price, you get a handgun with industry-leading magazine capacity, excellent controllability, good ergonomics, and a passable trigger. If you like your guns double action, as Saint Browning intended6, this one’s a good buy.
Between the two of us, Fishbreath is normally the penny-pinching tightwad. Usually.
Now and then though, I have my moments. When we last left my plans for next season, I was going to get a snazzy custom-built open gun. I’m now reconsidering, not because of the cost of the gun, but because of the hassle of the ammo. Open guns require 9×19 mm or .38 Super Comp loaded to make major power factor. Usually, this is the sort of thing one loads himself. You can buy some commercial major 9×19 mm or .38 SC, but it’s very expensive. Like $0.40-0.50 per round expensive. And I don’t have a reloading setup, and getting one would be kind of expensive. And I really don’t have much of an interest in reloading right now.
Then I thought about competing in other divisions. And I still want a 2011, possibly even a semicustom one. And I might still get one, and it might even see some competition in the Limited Division, where I could probably use factory .40. But there’s another division I can compete in today, and be technically near-optimal: Carry Optics. And with the changes in magazine rules (now as many rounds as you can fit in a 140 mm magazine), I won’t get traumatic flashbacks to living in Soviet Cuomostan1.
Let’s review my equipment list, and all the money I’m not spending.2
Base Pistol: Glock 17, $0.00
It’s a full-size 9 mm pistol. And I’m comfortable with it. And in this division, any polymer-framed pistol is going to work fine if you do your part. There’s no competitive advantage to any of them.
Trigger Job: Polish and Small Parts Tinkering, $0.00
I’ve got a bunch of glocks, so I have a bunch of parts I can tinker with to get the trigger feel right. And I have a dremel with polishing wheels, so I can polish stuff up.
Optic: Trijicon RMR02, $0.00
This optic works. RMRs have great battery life and are plenty tough. The window is a little small, but this will certainly work well, even if it isn’t optimal.
Optic Mount: Mark Housel Slide Milling, $0.00
I already got the slide milled for this RMR. It’s a sturdy mount. Mark does good work. Also, the cut is cerakoted, so I don’t have to worry about rust. It does lock me into the RMR on this gun, but I really don’t care.
140 mm Magazines: ETS and Magpul, $0.00
I already have a bunch of these from competing, because they’re reliable and a little easier to pull off of a belt than a big stick. They all hold at least 20 rounds in an easily-reloaded package. And that’s good enough for club matches. I can get a few more with extenders.
Holster: Dale Fricke Michael, $0.00
This is a production-legal, straight-drop holster. Does not require a weaponlight, which aren’t allowed in carry optics. It’s legal and it works great. There are more optimal holsters, but we can get those later, when I want to optimize. I have a good holster to do some testing. Plus this one is named for an archangel. How cool is that?
Magazine Pouches: Kytex Glock Mag pouches (3), $0.00
I already have these from taking classes with Glocks. Since I can load as many rounds as I can fit into my 140 mm mags, I don’t need a Ramboload of mag pouches. So I don’t need to purchase more.
Tuning required, $0.00
It’s a 9 mm Glock shooting factory ammo, with no changes to the recoil system. It’s about as reliable as you can get. Did I mention it’s a Glock? Time spent: Zero hours. Cost of parts and tools needed: $0.00.
There you have it. One super cool carry optics pistol, ready to rock. If I do get that 2011 in .40, expect some testing to see which gives me a higher hit factor. And I spent less than Fishbreath.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve extolled the Beretta’s pointability and presentation before, but the magazine release is a bit of a reach for me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Double Undercut Trigger guard. The better to get a high grip with.
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.
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.
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.
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.