Tag Archives: modern pistols

Parvusimperator’s AIWB Experimentation

I’m not going to pretend I’m some kind of fantastic innovator. AIWB is pretty popular these days. I’m late to the party. I get it. But it’s still a decent topic, and when all of your trainer friends use it daily, it might be worth looking into. And I’m really big into experiential learning, so what the hell, right?

Let’s review our terms. AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband) is a mode of carry where the gun is forward of the hipbones (usually between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on your person). It has a number of advantages over traditional behind-the-hip IWB:

  • Better concealment

  • Faster draw time (generally)

  • Easier to defend against a gun grab

  • Much easier access to the gun when seated

At the same time, there’s an obvious bit of caution here. Clearly, we’re in the vicinity of some very important things. For some actual testing, and not just a bunch of nervous prattling, check out Ballistic Radio’s video on the subject HERE. As a bonus, this also includes some good AIWB reholstering technique to maximize safety.

Now that we’ve dealt with that annoying elephant in the room, let’s get on with it. I did need to get some stuff for this experiment. First, holsters. I wanted holsters designed with appendix carry in mind, so I hit up the good folks at Dark Star Gear for some AIWB holsters. Dark Star Gear is also the brand used in the cool video above, they’re the brand used by several of my instructor buddies who kicked off this shindig, and as a further bonus they’re local to me. I got a holster for my Glock 34 (which also fits the Glockblaster if I remove the weaponlight) and another for the Glock 17. While the Glock 17 will fit in the Glock 34 holster, I wanted to see if the reduced length of a Glock 17-specific holster mattered for comfort.

Key things I wanted in my holster were adjustable cant (I wanted to play with zero-cant and negative-cant options), and something to help tuck the gun in close to my body.

I also got a Wilderness Instructor Belt. I got the wilderness belt because lots of my instructor buddies recommended it. They also mentioned that having some kind of belt with the capability for lots of (possibly small) adjustments would go a long way to making my appendix carry experience good.

Also, note that I did not purchase pants with a waist size any larger than what I would wear if I did NOT have a gun tucked inside the waistband.

And now, a brief bit about me. I’m about average height and am a skinny dude. I spend most of my workday sitting. So sitting comfort is important to me, and the easier seated access is a nice plus. Also, my commute is roughly twenty minutes each way.

In terms of pistols, I tried my Glock 34, my Glockblaster sans weaponlight, and my Glock 17 with RMR. Here’s what I found:

  • All pistols were concealed much better AIWB than IWB or OWB with a cover garment. I could be quite discrete with even a light t-shirt as a cover garment. While my office is a pretty permissive environment, this made me feel better generally. Also, it’s pretty cool.

  • Both guns were comfortable seated at my desk or in my car. I had no complaints and wasn’t tempted to remove my gun to improve seated comfort.

  • The Glock 34-length holster made bending over a little uncomfortable. The Glock 17 less so. I don’t bend over much during the day, so this wasn’t a huge downside. Still worth noting.

  • My draw times from concealment are faster. I expect them to improve with practice.

  • My instructor buddies were spot-on about having a belt supporting a wide range of adjustments. The wilderness instructor belt is a lot more comfortable with an AIWB holster than my standard heavy leather belt, mostly because of the wider range of adjustments.

So my conclusion overall is that I really like appendix carry. It works well for me, my body type and the guns I like to carry. As with everything else, your mileage may vary. However, if you’re curious about AIWB, I would encourage you to try it out with some purpose-built gear.

On J-Frames

The persistent popularity of small snubnosed revolvers, typified by the J-Frame models of Smith & Wesson, for concealed carry purposes astonishes me. Back in the day, sure. Small, reliable, semiautomatic pistols in a reasonable defensive caliber did not exist. But this is Anno Domini 2018. It is not 1958. There are plenty of options if you want something really small and concealable and reliable and chambered in a reasonable defensive caliber. Off the top of my head, there’s the S&W M&P Shield, the Glock 43, and the Walther PPS, all with established track records and manufacturers with good QC. These are reliable choices. They’ve been on the market for years. They work. Really. And they provide so many advantages over the small revolver that I still am astonished that people go for the revolvers instead. And no, I also don’t know why my tactical friends keep seeking out training on the damn things. Let’s review the many ways that the small, single-stack semiautomatic is flat-out better than the old-school revolver competition.

  1. Sights
    I tend to get picky about my sights. Modern semiautomatic pistols allow me to be picky. There are a wide variety of sights available for your Glock 19, letting you pick exactly the ones that work with your eyesight. Single-stack subcompacts like the PPS, Shield, and Glock 43 are no different. They all have sight dovetails. This highly advanced technology allows you to change out the sights to something that better suits your needs and eyes. It’s amazing. And these small pistols from established manufacturers have a large aftermarket. You need dovetails, but you also need sights to put in them. But we have you covered with the choices above, whether you like 3-dots or tritium or fiber optics.

    The vast majority of J-frames have atrocious “sights” that consist of a little lump of metal on the front of the barrel and a little trough cut in the rear of the frame. Not adjustable, not high-visibility, not tritium, and certainly not interchangeable. Simply put, the stock sights are awful and you are stuck with them. There are a few J-Frame models that actually have dovetails, but they are tremendously expensive and there are few manufacturers working with this market niche. Otherwise, better hope your chosen rounds shoot someplace sensible based on a reasonable sight picture.

  2. Trigger
    I’ve gotten less picky about my trigger choice these days, though I still like good ones. Anyway, I can think of few things worse in a trigger than the average double action pull of a recently-made revolver. Long and heavy, and probably gritty too. Lots of people will advocate an Apex spring kit in your J-frame. Which helps. Or you could get one of those single-stack subcompacts that has better trigger out of the box. And these single stacks can also take trigger improvements, just like their bigger brethren. I’m sure if I grew up firing revolvers and figuring out how to make that trigger work well, a slightly-lightened wheelgun trigger would be the “bees knees”. But I didn’t, so it’s not. Comparing stock to stock or modified to modified, the semiautos will have the better triggers, and you’ll likely be more familiar with them, because most of your shooting is going to be with some full size semiautomatic pistol.

  3. That Wheel
    You get five shots in a j-frame. Six in some competitors. At which point you’re working with speed strips, probably. Maybe speedloaders, but those are bulky. This is a different and slower reload drill than the modern semiautomatic, which you probably spend most of your time shooting. And even the small single-stack pistols mentioned previously all hold more bullets. Also note that the J-Frame’s footprint matches that of the double-stack Glock 26, which holds twice as many bullets and can accept magazines from other, larger Glock pistols.

Just about everybody is going to be better suited to buying a small semiautomatic these days. And you’re not giving anything up on size either. Here’s an overlay from the late Todd Green, who is also firmly in the more bullets camp, where we can see that a J-frame and a Glock 26 are both about the same size.

Glock 26 j frame

Oh, and one more thing. J-frames with the locking hole in the side of the frame above the cylinder release have been known to have this lock break, jamming up the gun. Just what you want.

Shopping List: Fishy USPSA Revolvers

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

For All Three

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

Moon Clips ($30)

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

Belt Rack ($150)

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

The Safe Option(s)

A Ruger GP100 10mm ($800)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kydex Holster ($100)

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

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

The Weird Option

A Chiappa Rhino .40 ($900)

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

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

A Guga Ribas Holster ($200)

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

The Boring Option

A S&W 929 ($1100)

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

Okay, But You Actually Have To Make a Decision

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

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

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

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


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

Shopping List: CZ P-09 Carry Optics

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

A Cajunified Lower (free)

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

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

A Donor Gun ($475)

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

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

Cajun Upper Parts ($50)

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

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

An Optic Plate ($50)

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

An Optic ($225)

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

USPSA: What Comes Next?

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

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

Ghetto Open

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

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

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

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

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

Less Ghetto Open

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

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

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

Less Ghetto Open is out.

Carry Optics

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

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

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

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

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

Revolver

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weird Revolver

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

How did it go?

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

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

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

How was the gear?

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

How was the gun?

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

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

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

Next steps?

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

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

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


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

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W ‘C-Zed’ Race Gun Build

If you’ve been following us for a while, you may remember my two race gun proposal posts from last year, in which I justified my desire to build a USPSA Limited gun on the cheap.

You may also recall the shootout post, in which I decided that the gun to buy, between the Beretta 96 and the CZ P-09, was the CZ.

Lastly, you may recall the CZ P-09 .40 review from last summer, in which I reviewed the base model gun.

We’re now nearly to the end of the series. In this post, we’ll explore what I did to the P-09 and what supporting equipment I bought, and, at the end, come up with a cost.

Requirements

Beyond the requirements imposed by the USPSA Limited rules, there are a few requirements I gave myself, too.

  1. A decent competition holster, preferably something with drop, offset, and adjustable retention.
  2. At least 60 rounds of ammunition on the belt. That was my setup with the M9, and I didn’t want to go any lower.
  3. A sturdy belt to hold everything.

Internals

The C-Zed’s guts are all Cajun Gun Works all the way. I bought their hammer, with different spur geometry for reduced single-action trigger pull, the short reset kit, which included an extended firing pin, and a number of springs: a main spring, a reduced-strength trigger return spring, reduced springs for the firing pin plunger, and an increased-strength sear spring.

The increased-strength sear spring sounds like it’s the wrong tool for lightening a trigger, pull, doesn’t it? You would be correct. Cajun Gun Works sells them as a tool for adding weight to a dangerously light trigger. I didn’t expect to need it and didn’t use it in the end, but figured that, at $10, it was worth the money just in case.

The other items on the list all work together. The hammer reduces single-action pull, the main spring reduces the work the trigger has to do, the reduced trigger return and firing pin plunger springs reduce the spring weight you’re pulling against. The extended firing pin is necessary for the lighter main springs, because the reduced hammer impulse can cause light strikes.

I haven’t had any trouble with cheap Magtech ammo, though, with the full setup. All my primers are well-punched; none are punctured.

Everything was relatively easy to install except the trigger spring. It’s a coil spring with offset legs. The trigger has two ears and a space in the middle, and a hole for one leg of the trigger spring. You have to get one end of the spring in the hole, one end on a shelf, and the trigger ears and spring coil lined up with the holes in the frame for the pin, all while pushing the pin in. It was a four-handed job at Soapbox World HQ.

In the end, the combination of modifications resulted in a smoother 7lb double-action trigger pull, and a very crisp 2.5lb single-action trigger pull (albeit with the expected double-action takeup). Those are significant improvements over the stock 10lb double-action pull, and the stock 4.5lb single-action pull. There were also improvements in crispness, creep, and reset, thanks to the Cajun parts.

Sights

Cajun Gun Works sells Dawson Precision-made sights in traditional competition configuration: blacked-out rear sights, fiber-optic front. It comes with green and red bits of fiber, so you can pick which one you want.

These were the most annoying parts to install. The Dawson rear sight was tremendously oversized, and took about half an hour of filing before I could punch it into place. The CZ factory front sight had been glued in. Try as I might, I couldn’t even begin to loosen it. I ended up stopping by the Friendly Local Gun Shop, which has a much better heat gun; they got it in a few minutes.

Not to be outdone, the front sight from Dawson took some filing to get installed, too. Precision is not an accurate descriptor of the sights’ fit into the dovetails.

Magazines

Cajun Gun Works’ part in things completed, I turned to CZ Custom for magazines and magazine wells. The C-Zed now mounts the large CZ Custom magazine well, which makes a big difference in ease of magazine insertion.

The P-09’s magazines, with the CZ Custom 140mm base plates and spring-and-follower kits, have a claimed capacity of 21. Parvusimperator suggested I take that with a grain of salt, so I assumed 20. I decided I wanted four magazines rather than just three to give me more flexibility on reloads; at the same time, I was looking to keep the total cost of the project down. I settled on four magazines with the 140mm baseplate, but only three with the spring-and-follower kit.

The end result is three magazines which hold 20 rounds of .40 S&W, and one magazine which holds 17. The latter can be used to get a round into the chamber before loading one of the 20-rounders to start a stage, and serves as my backup.

Belt Etc.

Midway USA makes a cheap two-part belt. I’m not looking for anything super-fancy, but the two-part setup is nice. I can mount all my gear on the outer belt and just velcro it onto the inner belt come match time, without having to undo any buckles. It holds my gear just fine. (That’s 1lb, 14oz of gun for those of you keeping track, plus 77 rounds of .40 and four magazines.)

Cook’s Holsters makes a decent Kydex competition holster starting at $47.95, or $67.95 if they install the TekLok and drop/offset rig for you. I had them do so. The holster is low-cut in the front, and has adjustable retention by means of a pair of screws running through springy rubber washers. The drop and offset are nice, making the draw a good bit easier.

I’ll continue to use my ten-dollar MOLLE-strap canvas Amazon-bought triple pistol mag pouches for magazine carriage. They do the job just fine; the retention straps fold out of the way easily, and on the Midway USA belt, they’re pinned in place by the inner belt.

In Sum

Here’s what I spent.

  • $506: CZ P-09 .40, night sights, 3 magazines
  • $294.60: Cajun Gun Works internals
  • $303.20: CZ Custom magazine well and magazine parts
  • $46.53: Fourth magazine
  • $104.27: Holster and belt

In total, the cost of this race gun project was $1224.60. (Or $1254.60, if you’re buying the magazine pouches too.) Even counting a trigger scale I bought and a case of test ammunition, the project tips the scales at under $1500. Has it reached the magical point of ‘good enough’? Only match experience will tell. Check back toward the end of April for some thoughts with that in mind.

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.