Holsters

Comfortable Holsters: We Test Four to See How Well They Work

The inside-the-waistband holster is the most concealable of all holster types, but it is also the least comfortable. The IWB holster rides close to the body, so when the temperature soars, perspiration is thick, and our clothes cling to the body, a leather holster may become soaked with sweat and adhere to the body. Also, a stiff Kydex holster may become uncomfortable in the same conditions. Perhaps, then, a mix of modern material may be the best bet for making an effective defensive handgun wearable and bearable. To find out if they offer a better ride for our handguns, we took a look at four holsters from StealthGear and Comfort Holsters. We found much to like. We also discovered that such comfort is expensive compared to conventional holsters.

We will cover a lot of ground in this review. But since the holsters make the claim for greater comfort, that must be the focus point of this test. Still, we first evaluated each based on its merits as a holster, and our team found these four to be viable concepts in terms of retention and presentation.

So, compared to other holsters of the type, such as hybrids and Kydex, will these holsters exhibit a higher degree of comfort? Are there trade-offs? In this case, any trade-off is minimal. There is no trade-off, we felt, with the Onyx design. The padding does not make the holster more difficult to conceal. The Onyx is about 10 inches across its breadth compared to 7 inches with the Bentley. However, when both are laid on a table, the Bentley is taller. So, if you have a weak lumbar area and need to spread the weight of the handgun out on the back for increased comfort—exactly the scenario one of our raters faced—the Onyx gets the nod. If your belt space is limited and allocation of belt space is important, the Bentley would seem to make more sense. Both perform well, and the Bentley seems to offer more ease when reholstering. For pure comfort, the Onyx seems to be the better bet, particularly if you share the back problems one of our raters had. Since the Onyx costs $25 less than the Bentley, that is also a plus.

Forward-Mounted-Mag 9mm Pistols from SIG, Zenith, & CZ

In the October 2016 issue, we tested three high-capacity 9mm Luger pistols and found them somewhat lacking in defensive scenarios, though we did enjoy shooting one, the MPA Defender, which was sized more like a regular pistol than the carbine-like SIG MPX and which functioned better than an Uzi Mini Pro. But there are an increasing number of pistols that, save for a couple of features, function more like Short-Barreled Rifles (SBRs), which are controlled by much more stringent regulations under the National Firearms Act and are vastly more expensive and hard to get. The SIG MPX-PSB, for example, is similar to the unit we tested last October except it comes with a Stabilizing Brace, thus the "SB" in the name, compared to the "P" designation we initially tested.

This round, we found products more alike in size to the SIG Sauer MPX-PSB, namely, the CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 and the Zenith Firearms MKE Z-5RS with SB Brace. The Zenith and SIG came with a stabilizing brace, while the CZ did not, but it could be purchased separately. The SIG, CZ, and Zenith are tactical looking firearms because they all have a military ancestry that is especially noticeable due to the magazine mounted in front of the trigger guard and not in the grip. The three pistols tested are all semi-automatic, require two hands to shoot with any degree of accuracy, use high-round-capacity magazines compared to typical full-size handguns, and have the ability to be fired with a stabilizing brace. These pistols also represent three different operating mechanisms: the SIG uses a short push-rod gas system; the CZ a simple blowback system, and the Zenith a delayed roller-block mechanism. During firing, we noticed big differences in the mechanisms in both manual operation and cycling when fired, which we will get into. The ergonomics and controls differed as well, yet we found our ramp-up time transitioning between handguns to be short.

Initially, there is an awkwardness shooting these pistols because they feel like an SBR yet have no stock for a steady aim, and they are too heavy to fire in a Weaver, Isosceles, or hybrid stance with a two-hand hold like a typical handgun. We believe adequate range time and proper training is needed to master these pistols.

Most important, we wondered if, out of the box, these similar, yet different, pistols would work as home-defense choices. In our opinion, the upside of these three pistols is that they offer high magazine capacities, decent accuracy, and a lot of shooting fun. Yes, these pistols can make empty brass very quickly. On the downside is cost. Yes, you can purchase a lot less gun for a lot less money and achieve the same self-defense goal as what this trio delivers, we believe. Still, we looked forward to seeing what each firearm could do at the range.

Used 38 Sp. Revolver Contest: Colt, Smith & Wesson, Ruger

Revolvers make excellent home-defense handguns. They are simple to use and reliable and will come up shooting after long periods of storage. There are no springs compressed when the revolver is loaded, and no magazines to keep up with. The revolver may be chambered for powerful and efficient cartridges, such as the 38 Special +P and the 357 Magnum. For shooters able to engage in only minimal training, the revolver makes a lot of sense. Conversely, many very experienced shooters trust the revolver and little else. The smooth-rolling double-action trigger helps avoid flinch and the rhythm, once learned, allows excellent hit probability.

We set out to find four used revolvers for this Bargain Hunter segment. They had to be high quality and chambered for either the 38 Special or 357 Magnum cartridge, with the emphasis on 38 Special. While most homeowners will load these revolvers with 38 Special ammunition, the 357 Magnum is certainly a viable option, so we tested the revolvers chambered for the Magnum cartridge with these heavy loads as well. Because we were looking for bargains, we limited the used cost to a maximum of $500 counter price. We found one revolver at that maximum and three for considerably less, including two revolvers at $300. We chose medium-frame revolvers for two of the handguns and small frames for the other two handguns.

Three were six-shot revolvers and one was a five-shooter. We elected not to pursue heavy-frame revolvers, such as the Smith & Wesson L frame or Ruger GP100, and we also did not look for J-frame type snubnose revolvers. Basically, we were looking for affordable houseguns that would do a credible job of home defense if called upon. The contenders were as follows

Mid-Caliber Bolt-Action Rifles From T-C, Browning, and CZ USA

Recently, we assembled a panel and arrived at what could be described as a list of practical considerations for choosing an all-around rifle. Not a specialty piece, mind you, but a "daily driver," so to speak. Our test team came up with three considerations we wanted: power, accuracy, and portability. We agreed that in terms of power, we'd like to be able to hunt at least some deer-sized animals, but not with so much power that the rifle was too heavy to carry or generate so much recoil that it was unpleasant to shoot. To us, this meant short-action calibers greater than 223 Remington but less than 308 Winchester. In terms of accuracy, it wasn't long ago that producing a 1-inch group at 100 yards (1 minute of angle) was a high standard. Certainly 1 MOA is still a benchmark, but recent state-of-the-art machinery has made it possible to buy such guns over the counter. And last, but certainly not least, there's portability. Today, that is just as likely to mean aboard an ATV as it is over the shoulder. Either way, slender and compact is still the desired profile. Thus, the focus of this test became four bolt-fed short-action rifles in medium or midrange cartridges. The lineup was as follows:

We had intended to keep the maximum length of our rifles to less than 40 inches, but we decided to include the 41.5-inch-long Thompson Center Compass because we were eager to find out if this $399 rifle chambered for 22-250 Remington had recovered since its sudden recall for safety issues. Adding to its appeal was its threaded barrel, ready for a suppressor or muzzle brake.

Our shortest rifle was also chambered for 22-250. The $859 Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas offered a Grade 1 satin-finish walnut stock with 12.5-inch length of pull and about one additional inch of stock spacers. The Micro also weighed the least, as little as 6.1 pounds unloaded.

In the middle we chose the newest model 557 from CZ USA. The Sporter Short Action chambered for 243 Winchester was perhaps the most traditional rifle, with a checkered walnut stock.

The least traditional rifle, at least in terms of appearance, was the Howa Mini Action rifle from Legacy Sports International. Its multi-cam finish, 6.5 Grendel chambering, and 10-round detachable box magazine set it apart from the others. The right size overall, we hoped the big magazine sticking out the bottom would not make the Howa too difficult to pack.

Reproduction M1 Carbines: We Test Auto-Ordnance and Inland Manufacturing Models

The M1 Carbine was adopted during World War II, then proceeded to arm our soldiers during the Korean War and Vietnam War, making it one of the most widely produced of all U.S. Military rifles. Millions were produced, and at one time, surplus models were quite common and inexpensive. Try finding a vintage M1 Carbine today, and you will pay close to $1000 for a well-used specimen. Costs, however, will vary dramatically depending on which manufacturer produced the M1 Carbine, the model, features, and condition.

We opted to test two new M1 Carbine reproductions, the M1 1945 Carbine from Inland Mfg. (not the original Inland Mfg. but a new company) and the M1 Carbine Paratrooper from Auto-Ordnance (A-O).

We looked at these two Carbines for historical accuracy, for competition use in M1 Carbine Matches, and as a home-defense choice. In our opinion, the Inland is suitable for all three, where the A-O is not competition ready, but it satisfies the other two roles pretty well. Bottom line, our test team found these two carbines to be reliable, depending on the ammunition employed, offer good performance if the cartridge is used within its limits, and unlike some other M1 Carbines our testers have fired in the past, these two reproductions are accurate enough for nearly any use.

Inside-the-Waistband Holsters: We Like Barber Leather Works

In this review, we are looking at the holsters that readers asked us to test. Some are the exact holster suggested for review, others are a general type of holster we were asked to review and evaluate. It takes some time to collect and test these holsters, but we listen to readers. What we have is a mix of Kydex, leather, and composite inside-the-waistband holsters, or IWB, types, which many concealed-carry licensees prefer. We took a look at comfort, the balance of speed and retention, and value. While some are pricey, we also took a hard look at the least-expensive holsters of the same type. They ran the scale from A to D, with a number offering both affordability and practical value.

There are two basic types of IWB holsters, although some use a combination of the two traits. One uses the holster body, design, and molding to keep the pistol stabilized. The other uses compression from the body to keep the gun stabilized, much as if you simply stuck the gun in your waistline. With the former type, you might unbuckle the holster, but the gun is stabilized and the combination is held in the hand, which we prefer as a design. With others, the holster is floppy and cannot support the gun off the belt. Rating depended upon fit to the individual handgun, proper design and stitching, good attachment to the belt as an anchor during both carry and the draw, and the balance between speed and retention.

To rate an A, a proper inside-the-waistband holster should not collapse into itself after the handgun is drawn, and it should allow the user to place the handgun in the holster again without removing the holster.

The 44 Special: An Old Number Is Revitalized by Modern Loads

The 44 Special is a misunderstood cartridge. Never meant to be a powerhouse, the 44 Special was introduced as a counterpoint to the 44-40 WCF and the 45 Colt. A continuation of Smith & Wesson's 44 Smith & Wesson Russian, the more powerful 44 Special was intended to be a mild-mannered and accurate big-bore cartridge. Loaded with a 246-grain round-nose lead bullet at about 800 fps, the Special is mild enough and accurate in good, tight revolvers. Experimentation by enthusiastic hand-loaders vastly improved the power of the cartridge, but those trials also wrecked quite a few revolvers in the process. Once the 44 Magnum revolver was introduced, the need for such heavy loads was eliminated, in our opinion.

That doesn't mean the 44 Special is dead. In fact, it retains its reputation as a shootable, accurate round, and it finds a home in many 44 Magnum cylinders as a training round. But what of wheelguns chambered just for the Special? Are there powerful-enough loads out there to make it a backwoods-suitable carry gun? A recent test of several 44 Special loads suggests that the old round is rocking along quite well, thank you very much.

Some of the loads tested below are strong loads, probably best used in heavy-duty 44 Magnum revolvers. A 48-ounce Smith & Wesson Model 29 is docile when fired with the Cor-Bon 200-grain DPX load, as an example. Put the same load in the 36-ounce Model 21 Smith & Wesson, and recoil is on the upper end of what most users are able to tolerate. Further, in the Charter Arms Bulldog at 20 ounces, only lighter loads should be used. To assess the shooting-comfort range of various loads, our test guns this time included the Smith & Wesson Model 21-4 44 Special with a 4-inch barrel and the Charter Arms Bulldog with 2.5-inch barrel. This offered a mix of size, weight, and barrel length. We feel that it would have been pointless to fire these loads in a 44 Magnum revolver with a heavy barrel underlug and target grips and declare them controllable. The practical field and carry revolvers used in the test provide a thorough outlook on ammunition selection.

2016 Guns & Gear Top Picks

Toward the end of each year, I survey the work R.K. Campbell, Roger Eckstine, Austin Miller, Robert Sadowski, David Tannahill, Tracey Taylor, John Taylor, Rafael Urista, and Ralph Winingham have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns, accessories, and ammunition the magazine's testers have endorsed. From these evaluations I pick the best from a full year's worth of tests and distill recommendations for readers, who often use them as shopping guides. These choices are a mixture of our original tests and other information I've compiled during the year. After we roll high-rated test products into long-term testing, I keep tabs on how those guns do, and if the firearms and accessories continue performing well, then I have confidence including them in this wrap-up.

Bigger 9mms Handguns: SIG, Arsenal, and Beretta Go At It

As noted earlier in this issue, 9mm auto-loading pistols are among the most commonly purchased firearms in America for pleasure, competition, and defense. These guns are offered in many styles and price points, ranging from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars. While the handguns in this comparison are not top-end, highly customized pistols costing thousands of dollars, they are generally marketed as being well above average quality in fit, features, and capabilities.

In this comparison, we test five pistols, three of which were built by SIG Sauer, one by Beretta, and one newcomer from Arsenal. The SIGs tested are the classic P210, the P226 MK25 used by the U.S. Navy SEALS, and the relatively new P320. The Beretta tested is the recently updated M9A3. The fifth gun is the new Strike One from Arsenal.

For our evaluation, we used three different 9mm loads from three different manufacturers in two different weights and two different bullet styles. As always, the guns in question were shot by multiple testers (this time three men and three women) of different backgrounds.

We did our accuracy testing at Boyert Shooting Centers, an indoor range in Houston, and followed the standard accuracy protocol of collecting five 5-round groups at 25 yards from a rest for each pistol/ammunition combination. For this test, we also performed a speed drill. The speed drill involved starting from a low-ready position, shooting twice to the chest and once to the head of a silhouette paper target. This test was performed at 7 yards by one experienced tester with large hands. The speed test was performed after the familiarization shooting, but before the accuracy testing. The tester was given only one opportunity to perform the test. As these pistols are supposed to be superior to the average offering, our team expected above-average results and graded accordingly. Though all five pistols turned in good results and had their fans, the testing yielded one clear surprise winner.

1911 Magazines: Some Are Good, And Some Should Be Avoided

Magazines for the 1911 pistol have evolved more during the past two decades than during any other time since the pistol's introduction. The bane of the 1911 is cheaply made magazines, with poor ammunition close behind. For many years, the only choices were Colt factory magazines, which were usually high quality, then GI magazines, and poorly made gun-show magazines. Some were marked COLT 45 on the base in bold letters, and these usually meant the shooter was the real deal. At a time when new Colt magazines were around $15, aftermarket magazines sold for as little as $4, and most of them were not worth the aggravation. GI magazines were good quality, but shooters often found them bent and worn out, unless they were new in the wrapper. Quite a bit of barrel feed-ramp polish and tuning of extractors went on that probably was tied to ammunition and magazine problems. Some of the aftermarket magazines were not properly welded. In other cases, the follower was too tight in the magazine body; and in other instances, the magazine springs were weak. Others had poorly attached buttplates, that gave way when dropped on the ground during IPSC competition. Some survived, others did not.

The basic construction of the magazine itself has changed from sheet steel to aluminum and plastic followers versus metal followers. We have examined quite a few magazines that invited a situation called false slide lock. The follower appeared to catch the slide lock, but the slide lock was actually on the wrong shelf, which isn't good for any of the parts. A 1911 feeds by the loading block on the bottom of the slide stripping the cartridge forward as the slide moves forward. The cartridge case rim catches under the extractor and is pressed forward. Some feel that it is a good thing that the bullet nose snugs a little over the feed ramp and bumps the cartridge case head into the breech face as the cartridge enters the chamber. Some magazines, notably the Wilson Combat, allow the bullet nose to strike much higher on the ramp, which results in missing the feed ramp's edges more so than others.

9mm Pistols: Uzi Mini Pro, MPA Defender, and SIG Sauer MPX-P

The civilian-available semi-auto versions of what began as expensive SBR's (short-barrel rifles) or true submachine guns are advertised as having good accuracy and reliability while offering a more compact package than a rifle and higher round counts than most handguns. For the task of guarding the castle, we've been around the block a time or two, and have suitable choices for nearly anyone — great pistols, rifles, and shotguns. For this test, we had to suspend any preconceived notions of what we might prefer for home defense and test these firearms based on their own merits. Those merits, we found, are few. If you are shooting for fun and simply making brass, anything that goes bang is suitable. We'll get into the reasons for these judgments, but we like to be clear up front. The SIG Sauer MPX-P is one expensive means of not accomplishing much. The Uzi Pro pistol has drawbacks that made shooting downright frustrating. The MasterPiece Arms Defender proved to be the best of the three and has merit in a defensive situation, within certain narrow parameters. We arrived at this decision by using personal-defense criteria as the overriding factor in providing Buy/Don't Buy advice to our loyal readers. So, in more detail, here are our reasons for making these assessments. Our 9mm Luger ammunition for this test included a 158-grain lead round nose choice from Tomkatammo.com ($18/50 rounds). We also used Black Hills Ammunition 124-grain jacketed hollow points from VenturaMunitions.com ($14/20), a Black Hills Ammunition 115-grain EXP, an Extra Power load not quite in +P territory, also available from VenturaMunitions.com, ($17/20), and a SIG Sauer 115-grain full-metal-jacket load from Cabelas.com ($28/50). Others included the SIG Sauer 124-grain V Crown jacketed hollow point from Luckygunner.com ($16.75/20), and the Hornady American Gunner 124-grain XTP +P from MidwayUSA.com ($14.79/20). We used the Tomkat 158-grain, the Black Hills 124-grain JHP, and the SIG 115-grain FMJ load in benchrest accuracy testing.

Big-Bore Snubnoses Around $500: Charter Arms and Taurus

We recently reviewed three 38 Special revolvers that cost about $400 and thought we would increase our budget and caliber size, and then sourced three revolvers each costing about $500 in three different big-bore calibers: 44 Special, 45 ACP, and 45 Colt, often called 45 Long Colt (LC) to ensure it's not mixed up with the Auto Colt cartridge. The three revolvers included two Charter Arms products, the Classic Bulldog in 44 Special and the newer Pitbull in 45 ACP, plus the Taurus Public Defender Polymer chambered in .410 shotshell and 45 LC.

Even though these were new revolvers, we still performed a range-rod test since there was a bit of side-to-side wiggle in the cylinders of all the revolvers. Range rods check the alignment of the chambers to the barrel bore. We also noted that the action of the Taurus seemed a bit stiff; our initial dry firing in double action found the cylinder would not fully index to the next chamber at times. Dry firing took care of the indexing issue, and all passed the range rod test. We also noted during the range-rod test the barrel of the Pitbull was not fully screwed into the frame. It was off by a fraction of a turn, enough to cock the front sight to the left when aiming the revolver. It is unacceptable that a gun leaves the factory in this condition. We anticipated and needed to use Kentucky windage with the Pitbull at the range.

In the past Charter Arms revolvers have been favorably rated, but in these two examples we found exception. The not-fully-screwed-down barrel was also the reason the cylinder-to-barrel gap was so large. We measured the gap between the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone at the rear of the barrel using feeler gauges from Brownells (606-950-252WB) and found a gap of 0.010 inches for the Pitbull and the Bulldog Classic and the Taurus at 0.005 inch. A gap of 0.003 inches is desirable for a competition revolver, but up to 0.006 inches is often found. A large gap allows more gas to escape, reducing the bullet's velocity. It also means there is more flash, and if the chamber and cylinder are not perfectly aligned, a user might experience splash from burning powders and bits of shaved bullet metal. We did not experience any splash with the Charter Arms revolvers. We did note that the Classic Bulldog had about 30 fps more than the published data for Hornady Critical Defense165-grain FTX bullet, which is 900 fps out of 2.5-inch barrel. The 3-inch barrel of Bulldog must have helped increase velocity. The Pitbull had noticeably less muzzle velocity compared to factory data. We assumed the reduction came because the Pitbull has a 2.5-inch barrel and the factory data for the cartridges use either a 4- or 5-inch barrel. Reduced muzzle velocity also occurred in the Taurus.

A common feature of all three revolvers was a safety transfer bar. This system prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled fully to the rear.

These revolvers are made for close-in work, but we still tested accuracy out to 25 yards. Since the Taurus offers the ability to fire .410 shotshells as well as cartridges, we sourced some CCI shot cartridges in 44 Special. CCI manufactures shotshells in 45 ACP, but warns against using the the cartridges in revolvers since the crimp that holds the shot in the cartridge case may interfere with the rotation of cylinder after being fired. One of our team members regularly carries a revolver loaded with bird shot cartridges and bullet cartridges when we walks his dog in the woods. He's equipped to deal with snakes as well as bears, depending on what chamber he lets fly.

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