It has come to our attention that there is indeed a rift between stalwarts of practical shooting. USPSA/IPSC approaches the sport in a freewheeling manner, with eyes toward raising the level of its game to that of an Olympic sport. The International Defensive Pistol Association would rather have its matches looked upon as training for life-threatening situations. Attending matches held under the auspices of each of these organizations has led us to believe that each brand of practical match has value as training and entertainment. Whereas the IDPA insists on carry-suitable guns and holsters, it is most easy to succeed in these matches with a pistol that would also be competitive at a USPSA/IPSC event. This means, more often than not, a big gun. You might have such a pistol in your glove box or on a night stand, but it’s not likely you would holster and carry this full-size gun on your person, concealed, all day every day. Furthermore, our experience with IDPA matches has shown the courses of fire to feature low round count, and the targets are usually close. This set up is child’s play—or even boring—when it is engaged with a full-sized pistol with a 5-inch slide.
To put the fun back into the short courses with bogeyman scenarios, we decided to try competing at an IDPA match with guns we actually would carry. Admit it, you might have a full-sized compensated race-gun with a 1-pound trigger that you compete with all the time, but the gun that will most likely save your life is the sub-compact you drop into your pocket when you go to put out the garbage.
Our choice for this test included the following:
• Smith & Wesson’s semi-auto incarnation of the Chief’s Special, the CS9, $593;
• Glock’s Model 26, $616;
• The Kahr K9 steel-frame pistol, $538;
• Wilson Combat’s modified K9, $748 plus a customer-supplied gun
How We Tested
We shot the guns at 15 yards from a sand bag rest. Velocities were checked with an Oehler chronograph with a third “proof channel.” Beyond this standard procedure, we were looking for how well these pistols fit into the IDPA short combat-course format. Reloading as well as shooting is also a consideration, so we took time to rate these pistols for this function as well. All of these pistols have trigger designs that take into account the stress under which they might be used. The idea is to avoid breaking a shot accidentally when drawing from what could be a clumsy position with clothing in the way or when holding a suspect while waiting for police. At a match, however, there is not a question of when to shoot. But we found it necessary to judge the triggers of these guns with this feature taken into account. All the little guns had long triggers. We were looking for the most predictable as well as the smoothest.
Accuracy and velocity testing showed that each of the pistols tested is accurate enough for close-quarter combat. In a practical match where the holes in the paper never lie, you can make a case for each pistol using specific ammunition. It was easy to be consistent with the Wilson K9 because of the trigger, and the sights are relieved enough to avoid premature eyestrain. We found the Glock to be the most willing to shoot, and some of the trigger’s enthusiasm led to flyers when the shots broke unexpectedly.
These pistols are designed as a last defense before hand-to-hand combat becomes necessary. Still, it seems to us that the triggers reflect a need for a good liability defense in the courtroom as well as warding off trouble in the street. The Glock 26 is, in our opinion, the one pistol in this test designed to be used with the most intent and least amount of shame.
The accuracy champ was the S&W CS9. But getting settled into the first shot can take some doing, as noted above. The double-stack Glock reloads the fastest once you have the mag out, which itself can be tricky. The CS9 shoots the mag out, and for a narrow single-stack pistol, is quite willing to receive a new mag. Both Kahrs willingly give up their mags, the Wilson a little easier, but again, pushing the narrow mag into the narrow grip frame can be jerky. The beveled mag well on the Wilson custom gun helps, but there still isn’t that much grip frame to bevel anyway. From the standpoint of finding the sights on target, the Glock sights are fast enough, and so are the Kahr’s. If you don’t like the sights on the K9 or the Smith & Wesson, or merely want an upgrade to night sights, the dovetail mounts make interchangeability easy. Here’s what we found:
Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special Model CS9
Our Recommendation: Buy it. As in the case of the Kahr pistols, the CS9 gave us a good feeling right away: a hand-filling grip, smooth operation, and accurate shooting. In fact, we think this gun is a good answer to the Walther PPK/S spoken in plain American. It also fell in the middle of the price pack at $593.
The new Smith & Wesson Chief’s series is available in .45 ACP and .40 S&W as well as in 9mm. So far, we feel the 9X19mm cartridge is the most natural round for this configuration. Finished in matte black with silver and sporting a Hogue grip finished with a lipped magazine base pad, this pistol was irresistible. Front and rear sights are dovetailed into the slide and resemble the Novak design highlighted by a three-dot system. The relationship of the front post and rear notch leave little space for light bars when aiming. The front post is contoured and extended forward to the tip of the slide, creating a snag-resistant profile.
Getting this little pistol into action quickly leaves the shooter a couple of options, neither of which we think would work well in a match situation. The problem stems from the DA/SA trigger design. After chambering a round, the trigger is ready to fire in single-action mode without the benefit of an external safety, making cocked-and-locked carry impossible. But the hammer may then be safely lowered by the use of the de-cocking lever mounted on the left side. This is a downward motion that leaves the safety on with the trigger in double action. Removing the safety involves flipping the lever upward once more. Now the gun is ready for a double-action pull, the safety factor being the gun will not fire without a long, definitive pull. (In any situation the CS9 will not fire without the magazine fully seated). So at a match it would likely be required to be de-cocked and holstered with safety on.
The upward sweep of the thumb out of a holster is difficult at best. Shooting this pistol double action wouldn’t be too bad with practice and some quality action work performed by an expert. But, in any event the CS9 becomes a single-action pistol, as the trigger remains rearward after each subsequent shot. Even with practice we feel it is too difficult to master a gun with two vastly different trigger actions. Carrying the gun in condition II, magazine loaded but chamber empty, is one answer. It may actually be easier to master the “GI swipe” than deal with the transition from double to single action, all the while trying to get in a good first shot. This technique involves racking the slide during the draw sequence and going to work single action all the way. We have seen this fast-action draw performed effectively at practical matches by proponents of Israeli fighting tactics. Smaller guns such as the ones tested here, that is pistols likely to be shot strong-hand only, lend themselves well to the GI swipe. Beyond this, a conversion to single action-only may be needed.
Our Recommendation: Buy. The Model 26 shot like a full-sized gun, despite a too-short grip. It makes a good partner to the company’s standard 9mm pistol.There’s a lot of leather that fits this gun, which makes it match suitable. We think this is a lot of gun for $616.
Glock is the Austria-based corporation that countered the 1911 design with a polymer-framed pistol that has forever changed the landscape of defensive firearms. After more and more law-enforcement agencies in the United States began issuing or recommending the Glock in .45 ACP or .40 S&W, the company’s next innovation was to add the complement of a back-up pistol. While the traditional backup was the five-shot S&W J-frame revolver coordinated with a 4-inch Model 19, Glock sought to offer a sub-compact that would not only use the same ammo as the policeman’s primary gun but also the same mags. Yes, the Model 26 pictured in these pages will fire even the longest pre-ban full-size magazine.
The first time we picked up the Model 26 we were disappointed to find that the short grip would only accommodate our first two fingers. Dry firing and handling produced further skepticism. To our surprise, controllability at the range was not nearly as bad as we predicted. Of all the guns tested here, the Glock 26 was the only one that shot like a full-sized gun. We would still like a longer grip, but the best that can be done is to add an extended base pad from Pierce or other manufacturer. Merely shooting the 26 with a full-length mag helps, but the little double stack mag that is standard already holds ten rounds, and a longer mag gives an ersatz feel to the gun, in our view. As would be expected from a pistol with a heavy steel slide atop a light “plastic” frame, there is considerable muzzle flip. However, with lighter-weight bullets common to 9mm Luger, the recoil was over quickly. Thus, if you are patient, the Glock 26 will reward you with satisfactory groups at almost any distance.
We judged the gun’s match suitability to be very good. As wide as this gun is, there are several concealment systems and quality holsters available for it. Acquiring the 26 from a holster has been improved, along with recoil control, by adding a thumb rest in the form of an indentation on each side of the grip. The backstrap has also been contoured to present a checkered palm swell and undercut to the frame. This is a big improvement from the very first Glocks that featured nearly a straight-up-and-down grip frame. The slide release is adequately available to the thumb, but an even faster way to recharge is to pull back the locked-open slide and let it go like a bow and arrow. This has been an effective technique in IDPA matches, which for some time required the shooters to run their guns dry before permitting a reload. We found the mag release to be difficult to operate with just our strong-hand thumb (located on the left side only). Not even the upgrade from Aro-Tek was much better. Getting the mag back in was another story. Double-stack magazines load faster because they are tapered at the follower, and the hole in the grip frame is so large it easily accommodates the wide mag body.
Kahr K9/WilsonCombat K9
Our Recommendations: The basic Kahr gun is worth a look. The K9 ranked on par with the CS9 and Glock in most areas, but its trigger pull was long and hard. With a Wilson trigger job, however, this gun would be a contender as an IDPA/carry combo.
We don’t recommend you buy the more expensive Wilson Combat conversion of the K9. Functionally, there’s a lot to like about this conversion package. It’s just too expensive, $1,286, for what it delivers, in our view.[PDFCAP(5)].
The Kahr K9 sends a natural feel to the shooter through its all-steel frame and slide. It gives the impression of a pistol that was designed from the ground up to be a sub-compact, not a downsizing of a pre-existing gun. It is flat, concealable, and leaves no doubt as to where you should seat your grip. The double action-only trigger sweeps just over 0.8 inches in its travel from forward rest position to follow through. Once cocked, the trigger has approximately 0.35 inches of take-up in its arc before actual sear engagement (this is a hinged trigger). While initial engagement is the same for both the stock pistol and the custom gun from Wilson Combat, the journey the trigger finger takes on its way to breaking the shot is noticeably different in each gun. Weight of trigger pull (9 pounds for the stock Kahr versus 6.5 pounds for the Wilson-modified version) is not really the issue.
The Wilson-converted gun breaks cleanly at the same point after a shorter pull than the stock gun. During rapid-fire drills at a near target, this is not as noticeable, but off a rest accuracy was affected. Off a rest, both pistols demonstrated surprising accuracy by hitting steel silhouettes of pigs set at 50 meters. The Wilson was more consistent because its shorter trigger movement allowed the finger to stay in the same position on the trigger, making it possible to maintain proper double-action technique. Furthermore, transmission of incidental deflection of the trigger during the stroke was minimized by the smooth and rounded contour fashioned by the craftsmen at Wilson Combat. The stock gun required a longer trigger stroke that ended with more index finger through the trigger guard than is desirable. Trigger deflection was magnified by the square profile of the stock trigger pad.
We found both guns shot well. However, we found both guns were unwilling to chamber the first round unless the pinky of the strong hand was underneath the mag applying upward pressure. This would make reloading quickly in a match situation difficult, we believe. Checking with Kahr Manufacturing in Massachusetts, we were told our original equipment mags were to blame. Kahr offered to send us replacement mags with the redesigned plastic followers at no charge. The Kahr representative was unaware he was speaking to a gun writer in the midst of testing and evaluation so, Kahr customer service gets two thumbs up. The new mags solved the problem.
The Wilson Combat K9 benefited from a good trigger job and such refinements as the 30-lines-per-inch checkering on the front strap and further contouring of the grip to speed acquisition of the magazine release. The sights were not upgraded from stock, but the hard chroming and Wilson Combat inscription turns this subtle carry piece into a classic pistol. However, this transformation comes at a classic price. The upgrade was expensive, $748 on customer’s gun. This includes removing all sharp edges (referred to as de-horning), contouring the trigger, and smoothing the action. Also included in that price are a beveled mag well and a two-tone finish by Metalloy. This finish is comprised of black Armor-Tuff on the slide and hard chrome on the frame. We felt the stock gun was much improved with the Wilson trigger job. Beyond that, the other modifications in the Wilson package wouldn’t matter in a match.
Gun Tests Recommends
These are very different personal-defense guns, which also have the utility of competing legitimately at IDPA matches. Here’s what we would buy, and why:
The Kahr K9 Wilson Combat conversion available for both the 9mm and .40 S&W Kahr pistols is costly, totaling well over $1,300 for a complete gun. In our view, most shooters don’t need to spend the extra dollars to get an adequate IDPA/carry gun. In our estimation, the Kahr K9 as it comes from the factory needs far less costly tuning than the Wilson Combat conversion commands. We would recommend this conversion only if you badly need some of these features, such as dehorning.
The Kahr K9 is a solid overall achiever, but it suffers from a long, hard trigger pull. With the addition of a Wilson trigger job, this is a good dual-purpose choice.
The Glock 26, though slightly bulky and short on grip, holds the most rounds (10+1) and draws the most available aftermarket modifications. Those mods should include a mag-release makeover, but otherwise, you can’t go wrong with this gun in the street or at a match. Indeed, with a little help it is our choice among these others for a practical match.
The Smith & Wesson CS9 is also on the right track. Of all the second-generation pistols that S&W has produced, with their tall, narrow grip frame, this one is our favorite. If we had a job that required sitting at a desk but frequently going out to run errands, which gun would most comfortably make the ride? With the help of a good holster like the Wilson Lo-Profile, the K9 would be a contender. The Glock would go in and out of a drawer. The S&W would likely be the most comfortable to wear. For a true carry piece, not a sometimes car gun, we’d find a way around the DA/SA dilemma the CS9 presents and add custom night sights with more definition. Thus equipped, tackling an IDPA match with the CS9 would certainly be a challenge, a valuable lesson, and more than likely, a whole lot of fun.