Tag Archives: competition shooting

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. 

Shotgun Build 2: No Limit Scattergun

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.

  1. Someone2 might chime in that the normal charging handle on the right side. This is true and completely irrelevant. Open guns are made to fit you not the other way around. Also, if you want competition guns on the cheap, you’ve got the wrong division. 
  2. Possibly Fishbreath. 

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W Review

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 Gun

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.

Size and Feel

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.

Disassembly and Ease of Maintenance

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.

Range Notes

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.

  1. Rather, it’s like the pure decocker available on other Berettas. 
  2. Unlike my Berettas, it does not appear to rotate any part of the firing pin out of the way, though. 
  3. Unless you have excellent fine motor control, you’ll need needle-nose pliers or something to replace the decocker spring. Installing the manual safety is entirely tool-free. 
  4. UMC stands for Union Metallic Cartridge. How did we let that one sneak away into the mists of time? 
  5. At least, those factory striker-fired triggers trying to be single-action triggers. I’ve test-fired the Walther PPQ from the Parvusimperator Arsenal, and I find it to be pretty darn good. Rather than emulate a single-action pull—something impossible to do with the half-cock nature of most striker-fired pistols—it aims to be the best darn double-action pull you’ve seen. At that, it succeeds. 
  6. I am informed that Saint Browning never made a double-action pistol, but I pose that he would have done if he’d had more time7
  7. Objection! Speculative. -parvusimperator 

Parvusimperator’s Carry Optics Experiment: Out-Cheaping Fishbreath

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.

  1. Also known as New York State. 
  2. Or, I guess, technically money I’ve already spent, but SHUT UP. 

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. 

Glockblaster 2: Glockblast Harder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glockblaster Shooting AAR

I’ve spent more time with my Glockblaster since I last wrote about it. Since then, I’ve taken it to class, taken it to a two-gun match, taken it to a USPSA match, shot it a bunch on the range, and carried it frequently.

So let’s review, Q&A Style.

Is the red dot an improvement over iron sights?
Yes. The red dot is amazing. It does require practice, especially on the presentation, but it is a superior sighting system. It makes moving targets and long-range targets easy.

Does the compensator function as advertised, or is it just a barrel weight?
Yep! The compensator does its job. If dry and run with underpowered ammo, the gun may jam. The compensator definitely works to compensate using gasses. Note that a bigger compensator would be more effective, but then it would be harder to conceal and we’d have to mess with recoil spring weights. I’m running a stock recoil spring assembly, and the pistol functions well.

Is this gun as good as a 2011 in USPSA Open?
No. It comes close, but we can definitely get more performance out of the system. It’s not uncompetitive in Open, but it’s definitely suboptimal compared to a tuned 2011. It’s also a lot cheaper than a tuned 2011. And, requires a lot less tuning. Tuned 2011 mags are $130+, Glock mags are $20. At this point though, the limiting factor is definitely the knuckle-dragger behind the trigger. Yeah, I’ll probably get a custom 2011 someday, but for a guy getting started it’s fine.

Is this gun concealable?
Yes. It’s big, especially with the light. But not more so than a Glock 34 with light or government model 1911 with light. It’s no Ruger LCP, but it is concealable with a good holster and a little effort on one’s part.

How was the optic choice (RMR06)?
I really like the RMR for its class-leading battery life and durability. It’s got a smaller window than a number of competing sights, but I haven’t found this to be a big deal, given presentation practice and the compensator. I like having manual intensity control much more than automatic intensity control. Also, I really like the smaller dot size. That’s a preference thing, but mine is for the little dot.

How is the magwell?
The magwell is well made, but probably not worth it. It does help push my hand higher, and it closes off the gap at the back of the frame. Those are nice. It doesn’t make the magazine opening that much bigger, so I don’t notice much difference on my reloads. That said, I also suck at fast reloads, so maybe I’ll see a difference down the line with more practice. I will say that I have had zero problems with the magwell either coming loose, or not working with magazines. All magazines I’ve tried work fine, even stock Glock 19 mags with factory basepads. No problems inserting those.

Is the flat face trigger worth it?
Oh yeah. Love the trigger. It feels way better than stock. If you’re on the fence for this one, go for it. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Do I regret not getting a lot of slide work done?
Well, my slide doesn’t have front cocking serrations, windows, or little skulls. I don’t care. It’s got the RMR milling, cerakote over the milled surface to fight rust, and that’s it. Don’t need anything else. Also, why bother with front cocking serrations when you have a milled mount for an RMR? It’s a sight with a bonus cocking handle built right in.

A Practical Racegun?

I’ve mentioned before that I really love Glocks. They shoot well, they’re reasonably priced, and they’re unbelievably reliable. They also have a wonderful aftermarket, which I haven’t really made much use of. Time to change that, and make a practicalish open-class gun. The end result is going to check the box for just about every feature that would get you kicked into the Open division sandbox at a match, but it will still be a concealable handgun.

Side note, credit where it’s due: This build was inspired by a similar one by a man that I know as ‘Roland,’ who is a special forces type and has a professional stake in such a weapon. So it’s been vetted as a concept by someone far more experienced than I. Roland, if I ever find you in a bar, first round is on me.

Anyway, let’s look at our base gun. The Glock 19. Why the Glock 19? Well, partially because I have one sitting around that I don’t carry much since I had a red dot put on my Glock 17. Micro red dots on pistols are super awesome. You should get one.1 Anyway, the Glock 19 has a lot of wonderful characteristics that made it my first handgun purchase. It’s small enough to conceal easily, but big enough to be easy to shoot and manipulate. As we’ll soon see, it happens to have some other characteristics that will make it good for this build, but chief among them is that I happen to have one handy. And its small size will mean that once we’re done with it we’ll still have something concealable.

I could have used a Glock 34 for this build, but that’s not a very good choice for what we’re going for with this build. The Glock 34 is about the size of a government-model 1911, so it’s already a big handgun. Not too big to conceal, but making it bigger still will make finding holsters difficult. Since holsters are important, we’ll be using a slide-mounted red dot sight, like I have on my Glock 17. Red dots mean the sight radius advantage of the Glock 34 is lost, and the Glock 19 actually shoots better than the Glock 17 and 34 since the smaller, lighter slide returns to battery faster. We’ll keep irons on the Glock 34 for matches we might want to shoot with iron sights, and get modding on my old Glock 19.

Okay, so first mod is slide milling for a Trijicon RMR. And suppresor-height iron sights, because I do like backups. The choice of sight and mount is going to continue to influence our modding decisions. 9mm is not a superhot cartridge, but it will still recoil, and that muzzle flip plus the slide mount location will cause us to briefly lose view of the red dot, simply because of angles and the reciprocation. Now, we could simply wait for it to come back down with a proper grip, which works great on my other red dot pistols. But this is an Open-Class practical gun. Unlimited modding! Surely we can do better.

Next step is to work on muzzle rise, since that’s going to cause that loss of dot picture. We’ll do this by adding a compensator on a threaded barrel. KKM has a nice unit that fits on a threaded barrel. And it’s not really wider than the sides of the slide, so it’ll still fit in holsters. And hey, it brings the frame length of the Glock 19 about up to that of a Glock 34. Bam. Checks all our boxes, keeps the muzzle level given reasonable 9mm rounds.2 We can even order it with a drop-in threaded barrel, because screw the whole fitting process.

Are we done? Certainly not! We haven’t touched the frame and it’s guts yet. Frame mods will be rather less aggressive, since I’m perfectly happy with the existing grip shape and the Gen4 grip texturing. We will do something about that trigger though. But we must be careful. The pretravel on a Glock trigger is very important. The Glock striker is only partially cocked, and the pretravel is used to finish the job and disengage the internal safety plunger.3 We also don’t want to harm that awesome reset, since that’s something the existing Glock trigger does really well. So we’re going to install the SSVI Tyr trigger. This trigger uses mostly factory internals with a new trigger ‘shoe’, which is the bit your finger goes on. The shoe is designed to give you more leverage by altering the position of your finger in relation to the pivot point, namely the trigger pin. Altering this relationship lightens the apparent pull and helps smooth the pull without compromising the drop safety like an idiot.

That’ll do for trigger mods to start. There are other things we can do by messing with the connector, but I tend to see trigger mods as an iterative approach. I’ll have to trial the Tyr with the rest of the trigger parts stock before I start messing with more things. I might like to try some Ghost parts though. Stay tuned for more on Tweaking Your Glock Trigger.

We’re still not done. No sir. We need a magwell. But we’d also like to pretend that this pistol is sort of concealable, so we don’t want a giant funnel. But we still need a magwell, because magwells are cool. And there are a whole bunch of small magwells to get some of the benefits of a giant funnel without all the bulk. And, given that I have He-Man hands, a little extra grip length on the Glock 19 is always good. We should also note that the fact that our base gun is a Glock 19 narrows the field quite a bit. Most magwells are made for the Glock 17/34/35 frame size, since that’s what’s popular in competition circles. Our choice for not a ton of bulk but enough funneling to assist with a somewhat fumbled reload is the Freya, from Raven Concealment. It works fine with stock basepads, and adds some material at the back to help you index that magazine. It’s got a small funnel shape, and should also help push the hands higher. Perfect.

That’s it right? What could be left, since I’m not going to be doing some sort of grip mod? Well, in a nod to practical use cases, plus the originator of the concept, we’ll be adding a weapon mounted light.4 Our light of choice is the Surefire X300 Ultra, because I have one right here for night stand use. Why this light? Well, it’s Surefire, so it’s made in America, and it’s as tough as lights come. Surefire has excellent switchology on their lights, and there are no stupid fancy strobe modes, SOS modes, semaphore modes, or any of that useless crap we don’t need. It’s got a momentary on and a constant on and that’s all. Plus, it’s 500 lumens of power. 500 lumens is enough to cook things. It will set vampires on fire. More lumens is better lumens. In all seriousness, it will properly illuminate dark areas. Do not look into the beam. We’ll also add a DG-11 switch, which gives us an on/off button on an extension that puts it at the front of a grip. Instinctive activation, like a Crimson Trace grip. We can also configure the X300 Ultra to lock out the extra switch, in case we’re at the range and don’t feel like burning batteries.

There we go. Project Roland. I’m going to shamelessly steal the name Freya for this cool new gun. Freya is a blaster worthy of Han Solo, because this is a very uncivilized age.

1.) Even Fishbreath wants one. Alas, his pistol of choice, the PX4 Compact, isn’t readily amenable to milling because the frame mounted safety/decocker components are in the way. Poor Fishbreath.
2.) Reasonable, as in ‘reasonably manly’. No bunny-fart loads for this gun. Also, it’s an excuse to shoot more +P.
3.) This is the bit that makes it drop safe.
4.) It also adds weight under the barrel, which is awesome for stability and keeping that muzzle down.