A member of our staff recently returned from an intensive training session at Bill Davison's 550-acre TacPro Shooting Center located about 65 miles west of Dallas. Davison is a former Royal Marine and British Special Forces instructor widely respected as a spec-ops consultant and provider of VIP protection. Coming as a surprise to students was Davison's preference for high-capacity 9mm pistols over larger-caliber handguns, even the 1911 45. "It should be noted," Davison said, "that the whole gun is in the fight, not just one round, so when we are looking at energy levels, we should look at how much energy is in each pistol.
"For example, if the pistol has eight rounds, then it has eight times the amount of energy of a single round. The same applies to a 17-round pistol having 17 times the amount of energy of a single round. How many rounds you have in your pistol is relevant to how long you can stay in the fight.
"Based on this point of view, we decided to put together a roster of high-capacity 9mm pistols and evaluate their potential for self-defense shooting. They were the Sigarms P226R DAK, the Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA, and the CZ75B SA. The Sigarms P226R DAK offered double-action operation only. The Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA operated with a "light double action" trigger, and the CZ 75B SA was a single-action gun. Each model, however, utilized a hinged trigger.
We shot for accuracy from the 25-yard bench. We chose three test rounds. They were Speer's 124-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints, the Black Hills 115-grain JHP rounds, and 147-grain JHP subsonic ammunition from Atlanta Arms and Ammo. We evaluated the guns' rapid-fire capabilities by engaging an IPSC metric target standing offhand from 7 yards. Our drill consisted of ten separate strings of fire wherein the first two shots were aimed at the 15-cm by 28-cm center-mass A zone. The third shot of each string was aimed at the 15-cm by 15-cm "head" of the target. Naturally, we expected all shots to be on target, but we wanted to know more about shooting each gun at speed. Our goal was to maintain a rate of fire producing an elapsed time between the first and second shot of approximately 0.15 seconds. In each segment of our test, the greatest challenge we encountered was mastering three very different trigger actions. Let's see what each gun had to offer.
The 9mm cartridge continues to retain its immense popularity, and those with little experience with firearms take to it quite well. Those with more experience know there are better self-defense rounds, but not many will argue that you can get ammunition for a 9mm at a cost far lower than most, if not all other, centerfire handgun cartridges. The handguns that shoot it are a different story altogether. The more-costly versions can easily run well into four figures, but most decent 9mm autoloaders sell for under a grand. But we know many folks can't justify spending even half that on a decent firearm. So how low can you go?
To find out, we chose two full-size 9mm pistols that might appeal to the buyer looking for a bargain. The first handgun we chose was the Hi-Point C9 with a suggested retail price of $140, but commonly selling for around a C-note or even less. We found one listed at $92. Can you expect such a handgun to work, much less work well? Our second pistol was the High-Capacity Bersa Thunder 9, just recently available. It lists for $442, or less if you shop around. While not inexpensive, the Bersa has several desirable features that many higher-priced handguns don't have, most notably its 17+1-shot capacity.
We tested these guns with Black Hills 147-grain JHP, Winchester 147-grain SXT JHP, and with Winchester 115-grain JHP ball. We shot for slow-fire accuracy at 15 yards from a solid rest, and for simulated self-defense fire with fast, controlled pairs from seven yards, using two hands. We also tried several other types of ammunition including Cor-Bon 125-grain JHP and Ultramax 115-grain lead-bullet loads for function or potential problems, but didn't report them formally. Here's what we found.
In the sport of Practical Shooting, the competitor who lands the best hits on target in the least amount of time wins. To this end competitors have found ways to wring out the most performance possible from their equipment, and many of the modifications first seen at practical matches have found their way into the design of modern production pistols. Features such as high-visibility sights, oversized control levers, and lightweight action parts are some of the innovations that were developed by competitors hungry for the winners circle.
The Sigarms P229R-9 is a tight shooter, and we liked it a lot. Browning's Pro-9 is consistent and light. Magnum Research's Baby Eagle needed work on its sights and trigger.
With the zillions of 9mm pistols available today, why would anyone want an old P38? Fact is, they're pretty good guns.
One of the oldest and most concealable ways to carry a handgun is to use a bellyband, a close-fitting elastic band that hugs the body and includes one or more holster pockets. This type of concealment could be called "deep carry," since the pistol is located in a place where it's not expected. But to work as a deep-carry gun in a bellyband, the gun needs to be flat and light weight.
We recently tested three pistols we believe are suitable for this type of concealed carry: the Kahr TP9, $676; Kel-Tec's P11, $368; and the Smith & Wesson 908S, $603. In this specialized test, we compared the guns on reliability and other factors in our normal tests, but we particularly examined their lack of edges, assessed their speed of deployment from deep cover, and looked at their operation when only one hand was available. Here's what we found:
Kahr's product was by "fahr" a better carry gun than Rohrbaugh's R9s, in our estimation.
Glock's new $640 Model 37 excels with a brand-new round. Smith & Wesson's titanium $812 4040PD opens new doors, but the $550 FN P9 comes up short.
Taurus's new Model 24/7, $594, is a pretty good polymer pistol, but the pricey $830 Sigarms P226 shoots better. In comparison, the $450 FN 49 RSS is appealing on price, but it's average fare.
But we would advise you to leave the Mak P-64 9x18 alone. Though it looked new, we found substantial workmanship and function problems in our sample.
In this test we had a chance to shoot two 9mm pistols that take aim at Glock's throne as the most popular polymer pistol. They are the Taurus PT 111 Millennium Pro and the Smith & Wesson SW99 Compact. Actually, we would classify both of these pistols as subcompact due to their overall dimensions, despite the suffix that follows the SW99's name. However, both of these pistols do offer 10+1 capacity and, like the Glock, striker-fired operation. The Millennium Pro is made in Brazil and imported by Taurus. The SW99 is a design that was developed by Walther of Germany and is now a product of a joint operation with Smith & Wesson.
Each pistol tries to one-up the Glock design, and each other, by offering additional safety systems unique to the current slate of available polymer handguns. It didn't take long to find out if either Taurus or Smith & Wesson had come up with a better mousetrap.