Many states have passed “shall issue” concealed-carry permit laws, allowing their citizens to exercise a Constitutional right to self defense. There is even a continuing effort to pass a national concealed-carry permit law that will recognize any state permit throughout the country, not unlike automobile registrations. As these “carry” gun laws continue to develop, gun-savvy permit holders, who want a small-frame gun carrying as many powerful rounds as possible, have spurred development of the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge. Accordingly, this has led to a proliferation of handguns chambered for the round, and we have reviewed many .40 S&W pistols, some as recently as December 1998.
As the niche continues to develop, we continue to find and test .40s, among which are three more carry guns on the smaller end of the size spectrum, one of which is among the cheapest we’ve identified. We recently pitted the Ruger P94DC, which has a suggested retail of $520, against the $399 CZ100, a compensated polymer pistol designed for law enforcement, and the $781 4053TSW from Smith & Wesson. We chose these different price points to see if the higher-priced guns offered performance enhancements above and beyond what the more moderately priced CZ delivered. Our finding: Overall, we thought the CZ was a best buy. In our view, the Smith had significant flaws, which we note below, and the Ruger was noticeably more expensive than the Czech gun, which itself is a disincentive.
How We Tested
We tested the products for accuracy, ergonomics, and reliability with different ammo brands and bullets. The guns were cleaned before testing began, but were not cleaned or given any other maintenance again until the test was complete. This was primarily to test for functional reliability. We are happy to report that all the guns came through this with high marks.
Even though we fired hundreds of rounds through each of the handguns, we encountered only one failure. The Ruger failed to feed a round of Hornady Vector ammo, jamming the gun with a stovepipe. We were unable to determine the cause of the failure, nor were we able to duplicate the failure. We considered it statistically and functionally irrelevant.
Initially, we sought to challenge the guns in a test of pure accuracy by placing targets at 25 yards and shooting five five-shot groups from a bench rest. We chose this distance to ensure we touched the limitations of each gun. For speed tests, we also fired all the guns at paper targets designed to represent an 8-inch plate rack at 10 yards, recording elapsed times. Our accuracy and time-trial testing revealed serious flaws—and strengths—of the action types and individual guns. Groups were measured center to center of the greatest spread. There was some inconsistency with all the guns. Some groups were small while others were large, even while using the same ammo.[PDFCAP(1)].
It should be noted that the number-one priority in any defensive gun is reliability. These guns are not designed for target use or for hunting. While target shooting may allow an alibi round, combat shooting doesn’t allow do-overs. Therefore, a self-defense gun must be functionally reliable. Slightly larger tolerances with all moving parts will ensure more reliability, but at a cost of precision. As a result, accuracy will suffer. Any self-defense action is likely to occur at close range, particularly when civilians rather than law-enforcement officers are involved, so target accuracy is not a prerequisite.
This tolerance of lesser accuracy has its reasonable limits. Obviously, a shooter must be able to keep all his shots within the established kill-zone of an attacker. Any gun that sprays bullets all around the target is as dangerous for a defense choice as one that fails to function. Many feel that an accuracy standard of 5 inches at 25 yards is acceptable for defense handguns, but we believe that an average of 3 inches at 25 yards is a better standard.
Here’s how the guns performed under these conditions.
S&W 4053 Tactical
Our recommendation: This $781 gun has too high an MSRP for a pistol that may need a new crown and action work.
The 4053 Tactical Smith & Wesson has nearly everything a good DAO semiauto needs to succeed as a carry piece. It’s the right size. It’s virtually snag free. It featured genuine Novak sights with a three-dot system, and it offers 9+1 of potent .40 caliber S&W ammo. However, it didn’t shoot as well as we thought it should, and we thought it was harder to shoot than it should be.
Among the gun’s flaws: A polymer base pad finishes the steel mag, providing a forward protruding lip that lengthens the front strap by 0.6 inch and completes the grip frame. The trigger guard is undercut to lower the pistol in the hand, but without this base pad, the grip is too short and the gun is out of balance. The gun ran flawlessly, but was tiring to shoot from a rest. While the action on the 4053TSW is smooth, it also requires some strength to operate. To solve this problem, a good action job would be needed, probably adding $100 to the gun’s retail cost. Gripping the gun necessitates finding the outer edge of the trigger with the inside of the first joint of the finger, not the pad as in the operation of single-action triggers.
During our testing, we thought the Smith & Wesson 4053TSW had the best trigger face, but it also took the most energy to pull it back. None of the test ammo we shot in the 4053TSW allowed us to break the 3-inch-group barrier consistently at 25 yards, but Winchester’s 180-grain flat-point jacketed bullet came closest with an average of 3.4 inches. The Federal American Eagle rounds wore the same profile, but in lead. Despite a single best group of 2.2 inches with this ammo, the average group size still measured 3.6 inches. From a rest this was also the most fatiguing gun to shoot.
We checked with Teddy Jacobson at Actions-By-T in Sugarland, Texas, to see what could be done about the 4053TSW’s poor groups. Jacobson is one of the foremost gunsmiths specializing in refining law-enforcement gun actions. We guessed the 4053TSW’s poor accuracy could be laid at the feet of its long-stroke trigger, and Jacobson said there are spring kits and points of refinement that can be addressed on the gun. But he also urged us to check the crown on the barrel for rough spots. As seen in the accompanying photo, the lands and grooves go right to the crown. We’re willing to bet recrowning the barrel would do wonders for the gun. From the bench we didn’t find any load from our choices that were particularly accurate. Recrowning the barrel is an obvious remedy. Out of the box this gun averaged 3.5-inch groups at 25 yards with just about any bullet weighing 180 grains. After looking at the stock crown, we are sure a target crown would help the gun shoot better.
Positives on this gun include the mags, which unlike so many others are easy to load because the spring tension is much lower than commonly found in other double-column designs. Two mags are supplied, and they fly right out with a push of the mag-release button. This button is checkered and placed out of harm’s way. Sight radius on the 4053 with Novaks in place is 5.5 inches over a 3.5-inch-long barrel. The rear sight is mounted 0.4 inch forward from the rear of the slide. It would seem moving these low-mount sights back to take advantage of all available sight radius would interfere with internal mechanisms, but this should be possible.
The S&W .40-caliber gun started off the time trials with the slowest recorded time of 5.39 seconds. Subsequent runs were 5.06, 4.71, 4.57, and 4.10 seconds. It was the only gun in the test that taught us how to shoot it faster each time. Initially, we had trouble acquiring the front sight, but we improved recognition with practice. Also, we felt that even with the base-pad extension on the front strap, we couldn’t drive the gun from target to target. That was when we decided to focus on placing our finger just where we wanted it on the trigger, then orienting our hand to the grip, instead of the other way around. The trigger is rounded and smooth, and we just keyed in on its comfort. This technique allowed us to bring the gun onto target better than the traditional semiauto grip. Still, the action was too heavy for our liking. It would take a good action job to make this gun satisfying to own, we thought.
Our recommendation: Ruger has always provided rugged and reliable guns at a reasonable price, and the $520 P94DC does not change the tradition. Still, the CZ did everything this gun could at a lower price.
This empty double-action/single-action alloy-framed gun weighed 2 pounds 2 ounces. It was 5.6 inches high and with a 4-inch barrel was 7.5 inches long. The double-action trigger pull was 8.5 pounds with 0.75 inch of travel measured at the center of the trigger. In spite of the long travel, the trigger pull was smooth and stacks just a little at the end. The single-action trigger traveled 0.3 inch in the first stage and with 2.25 pounds of pull, then broke at 5.5 pounds. (With the first 2.25 pounds used to take up the first-stage slack.) The single-action pull was mushy and traveled a little, we thought.
The frame was aluminum alloy, the slide stainless steel. The frame was matte gray, topped by a polished-gray slide. The trigger, hammer, sights, slide release, magazine release, and decocker/safety were all stainless steel. The grips were hard-plastic panels with a large checkering pattern. Neither the front or rear grip frame had any extra grip enhancement beyond the bead-blasted finish. The decocker, slide release and the magazine release all had parallel lines cut in them to aid in grip. The magazine had a very slight forward protruding lip that served as part of the grip, supporting the little finger of the shooting hand. There was a lip that protruded rearward at the top of the grip to hold the web of the shooting hand in position. The top also provided a safety stop to protect the hand from the slide.
The hammer did have a spur, allowing for easy thumb-cocking. There was a spring-loaded ambidextrous decocking lever that will lower the hammer safely from the cocked position. This allows double-action only for the first shot with no ability for an additional safe position requiring that it be released before firing. The gun will switch to single-action (hammer cocked) after the first shot and will remain in that mode until the hammer is manually decocked. The gun was completely ambidextrous, a plus for left-handed shooters. The slide release was stiff and required a fair amount of hand strength to release.
This gun had a full capacity of 11 rounds, ten in the magazine and one in the barrel. The rear sight was a square notch with white dots bracketed the notch. The front was a square blade with a white dot. The rear sight was adjustable for windage by loosening a set screw and moving it in a dovetail slot.
The shooters with large hands particularly liked the way the Ruger fit in the hand because of its larger size. Every shooter complained about the long trigger stroke of the Ruger when shooting double-action. Our shooters also liked the Ruger’s sights.
The Ruger shot best with Winchester 180-grain full metal jacket flat points, recording a smallest group of 1.7 inches at 25 yards and a 2.3-inch average group size. It also shot well with Federal American Eagle 180-grain lead flat points, punching out 2.9-inch groups on average. It didn’t much like the PMC 155-grain Eldorado Starfire jacketed hollow point, firing 3.7-inch groups with that ammo.
Our recommendation: Compared to the much more costly S&W 4053TSW, the $399 CZ100 is a lightweight and economical way to carry 10 rounds of .40 S&W.
DAO semiautos are different from other guns, mainly in their trigger take-up and return. The CZ100’s trigger is narrow and fits willingly into the crook of the index finger. The action is light, but safely offset by the distance it must travel to activate. Knowing your gun well in the CZ100’s case is knowing how to reset the trigger quickly. Finding the front sight is no problem, provided you renew the white dot with WhiteOut periodically. The rear sight is a low-mount three-dot system that is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The rear blade extends over the back of this striker-fired pistol, bringing sight radius to a full 6.5 inches, just 0.25 inch short of the total slide length.
The polymer grip frame is undercut from the backstrap, including a beavertail that measures a full inch in depth. Hanging on to this pistol is not difficult because of the rounded grip, which could be improved further by harsher texturing that is appearing as an aftermarket option. The trigger guard is relieved at the front, but we’re not sure why. We do know there is a track molded in for attaching a flashlight because the enclosed manual shows a unit in place. The barrel on the .40 S&W model is compensated with two holes just shy of the muzzle that despite their modest appearance, take the edge off recoil. With the additional weight of a flashlight in place, we bet this would be an easy gun to shoot quickly. Other nice features include a simple breakdown routine, little need for lubrication, and a provision atop the slide to enable one-handed slide racking. This last feature belies its European police design, where the other hand of the patrolman is likely holding the leash of his canine partner. Both the Smith & Wesson and CZ semiautos use the reliable external extractor system, but the CZ also features a chamber-load indicator on the left side that sticks out when the chamber is full, much like a pop-up timer in a Butterball turkey. The indicator is brightly polished chrome, so it can be easily seen against the black finish of the slide. This assures that a visual cue is available to those who forget to treat all guns as if they are loaded.
The CZ has a long take up and relatively light trigger break. Also, the trigger face is narrow and easy to control. But what it lacks is return speed, which penalized it with times of 4.79, 4.62, 4.49, 4.76, and 4.78 seconds with the Federal American Eagle 180-grain lead flat point. Our biggest enemy was our own technique, dipping the lightweight, compensated gun’s muzzle during the long trigger pull. We would have liked a more clearly defined let-off point and a sense of how far forward we had to go to reset the trigger. On the upside, finding the front sight consistently was not a problem.
The semiauto CZ averaged 2.4 inches with the Winchester 180-grain JFP and 2.3 inches with the Speer 180-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints. The best individual group it shot came with the Winchesters, measuring 1.5 inches. (Both the Speer and the Winchester rounds far outstripped the competition, so it is safe to say any handloading with the semiautos should feature a 180-grain bullet.)
Gun Tests Recommends
So which gun would we buy based on our head-to-head testing?
CZ100, $399. Anyone can break the CZ100 down, but we’re not sure anyone can break it. This a good gun for a modest price.
Ruger P94DC, $520: It retails for $200 less than the Smith, and though it has some faults—its long double-action trigger stroke and larger dimensions to name two—it was reliable, shot accurately enough, had good sights, provided the best velocities, and felt good in the hand. Still, it was substantially more expensive than the CZ100.
Smith & Wesson 4053 Tactical, $781: This .40 S&W-chambered gun costs too much for what it delivers, in our view.