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.
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.
As a carry handgun, the Glock is rugged, reliable, and combat worthy. About the only modifications that actually improve the Glock are the addition of a better trigger and a set of aftermarket sights. We dealt extensively with the issue of trigger replacements in the April 2014. There, we installed a Zev Technologies' GlockWorx Ultimate kit from Brownells.com ($250, #100-006-566WB, Mfr. Part: ZTFULULT4G9BLK) into our Glock 17. We gave the Ultimate Kit an A grade, saying it "was the upgrade that produced the biggest difference in performance all by itself, increasing the accuracy of the Glock 17 from an average grouping of 2.3 inches down to 1.6 inches."
Also in the April 2014 issue, we looked at two sight-upgrade kits, both from Brownells. One was the Brownells Glock 17 Sight Upgrade Kit ($200, #080-000-919WB), which included a Meprolight (Kimber) ML-10224 Tru-Dot Night Sight System for Glock 17, 19, 22, 23, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39; an MGW Glock Sight Adjustment Tool, and an Ed Brown Front Sight Tool for Glock. Since we had the installation tools handy, we also ordered a set of TruGlo tritium fiber-optic Brite-Sites ($90, #902-000-107WB, Mfr. Part: TG131GT1Y), yellow rear and green front. We chose to put the TruGlo sights on the Glock 17 and the Tru-Dots on a G34 so that we could shoot them side by side.
With the Ed Brown Front Sight Tool for Glock ($20 sold separately, #087-017-001WB, Mfr. Part: 952) and the MGW Glock Sight Mover ($100 sold separately, #584-045-017WB, Mfr. Part: MGW309) for the rear sight, we started the switch with a disassembly of the slide to get access to the front sight. With the Ed Brown front sight tool and a small crescent wrench, we loosened the screw beneath the sight and removed it, then replaced the white dot with the new TruGlo front sight and tightened with the crescent wrench. Once the front sight was swapped, we hooked the slide into the MGW. The device came with some thin plates to raise the slide up the right height. We did not need them. The old sight drifted out with relative ease, going left to right pointed away from us. The new rear TruGlo sight did require some minor fitting with a file and a little more strength to slide in, but with the MGW tool, leverage was not a problem. We used the same process to put the Meprolite sights onto a factory Glock 34.
Despite the new TruGlo sights being fixed like the originals, we found them to be much clearer and easier to acquire and reacquire targets. We took to the range with the TruGlo sights installed, using all other original parts, and we cut our average group size down by almost half an inch, from 2.3 inches with the standard Glock to 1.9 inches with the TruGlo sights. We turned down the lights over the shooters, leaving the targets illuminated to check out how much the tritium would glow in the fiber-optic sights. The green front sight was quite bright, while the rear yellow sights were significantly dimmer, although still visible.
The Meprolight Tru-Dots provided an even more impressive change on the G34. We shaved just over a full inch off our average group size at 10 yards once we installed them.
Upgrading fixed sights can seem like a challenge to someone who hasn't done work on pistols previously, but with these tools and the simplicity of Glock's designs, this upgrade is a great place to start if you want to attempt a DIY project. You can drift the sights out with a punch, which will save $100 for the MGW tool, but you risk rupturing the tritium capsules. The MGW mover requires oil on the crankshaft, but it made drifting the dovetail sights in and out so easy we quickly misplaced our punch set. Overall, we found the TruGlo sights to be a nice upgrade and would recommend putting them in place of the standard non-tritium sights on any factory Glock. We gave them a Grade: A ranking, along with the Meprolight Tru-Dot tritium.
Naturally, readers asked about other sights, so we began looking at more replacements we could test head to head, rather than as a general Glock upgrade. So, again working with Brownells, we assembled a sextet of night sights suitable for installation on various Glocks. Also, we believe you can broaden our recommendations to include other firearms of similar size — the visual presentation won't be appreciably different on different platforms — though the installation process may differ gun to gun.