February 2000

Semi-Automatics: Ported or Non? We Test Seven Guns To Find Out

Bottom line: From 9mm to .40 S&W to .45 ACP, compensated pistols from Springfield and Glock fire hot defense loads faster and more accurately than their “unholey” brothers.

[IMGCAP(1)] As heavily loaded defensive ammunition has become more widespread, so has customer dissatisfaction with the resulting stout recoil—in essence, we want to have our cake and eat it too. One way to head off muzzle flip is to port the barrel. That is, to cut holes in the barrel and slide so that some of the expanding gases that propel the bullet will be redirected to keep the muzzle down. This technology became refined in the ranks of bowling-pin shooters, whose game was to knock bowling pins off of a table in the shortest time possible. Since this required the delivery of a massive blow from a hot load and the ability to recover quickly and get back on the next pin, shooters were stymied. Then Clark Custom Guns began offering its Pin Master Comp, a compensated extension to handgun barrels, and the word was out that the hottest loads could also be the most stabilizing at the muzzle. This same effect can be obtained by “porting,” wherein the barrel itself is vented without adding a separate compensator at the muzzle.

Today, factory porting of handguns is becoming more common, so we wanted to have a look at some of these guns and determine how effective the various systems are when compared to the identical models in non-ported versions. We wondered if all porting is the same? Does the choice of cartridge have any effect? What about bullet weight? To help us find the answers to these questions, we acquired a pair of Glocks in 9mm (19 and 19C) and a pair in .40 Smith & Wesson (Models 22 and 22C). We wanted to take a close look at these guns because when polymer-framed guns are down to the last few rounds. they can get mighty light on recoil-dampening weight. We also had a look at a pair of Officers Model-sized 1911s from Springfield, the Enhanced Ultra Compact and V10, figuring that a smaller gun in a full-sized caliber like .45 ACP could use some help. Finally, we were able to test-fire a pistol of SIG Sauer-like design from Taurus that sought to tame the .357 SIG cartridge. This round seeks to deliver the same energy as the .357 Magnum along with the higher capacity that a semi-automatic pistol can provide. However, Taurus doesn’t make the gun in a non-ported model, so we had to apply our experience of shooting the .357 SIG in other guns to get some reading on how the Taurus gun performed.

Click here to view the Taurus PT957 features guide

.

Range Session
The ammunitions we chose for the .45s were representative of typical .45 ACP cartridges. Our break-in round was a commercially reloaded 230-grain lead roundnose bullet. Contrary to what you might expect, leading of the ports was not a problem. For accuracy testing we used Winchester’s 230-grain full-metal-jacketed round-ball ammo, Black Hills’ 200-grain lead semi-wadcutter, and a hot 185-grain jacketed hollow point loaded to +P pressure by Cor-Bon.

Our test method was a straightforward attempt to determine not only accuracy but also how much recoil could be neutralized when comparing like guns with and without factory-supplied porting systems. For accuracy testing we used the NRA standard target for Bullseye from a sandbag rest.

Here’s what we thought about the guns:

Springfield PX9510 V10 Bi-Tone Enhanced
Springfield PB9151 Ultra Compact

Our recommendation: Both guns are made from heavy stainless steel that makes even the non-ported pistol comfortable when limited to military ball ammo. Wheel out the hot stuff, and they are two very different pistols. The V10 proved to be not only functional, but also loads of fun to shoot. Both are good products, but our nod would go to the ported gun.

Click here to view the two Springfields' features guide

.

The Springfield Ultra Compact gun, $629, is the company’s version of the Colt Officers model. The Enhanced Bi-Tone series, $675, refers to a darker anti-reflective satin finish to the top strap and functional upgrades, including a skeletonized trigger, hammer, and (Wayne) Novak sights. Each gun is a single stack design, which provides a thin profile, and each comes with two mags, which store six rounds apiece. We found that standard-sized seven and eight-round Government model magazines would also fit in the guns, as would 10-round mags by Metalform, Inc. and Wilson Combat.

Each gun was fitted with a heavily grooved rubber grip by Hogue. After testing the guns, we took the liberty of changing the V10’s grip to another Hogue product, fancy checkered panels of Goncalo Alves wood, and applied grip tape to the front strap. With these modifications, the V10 looks like what it is, a baby Government model, for which endless upgrades and hop-up parts are available.

The Springfields were finished in brushed stainless frames and a satin finish not only atop the slides but on the undersides of the dust covers and trigger guards. The slides feature rear cocking serrations cut at a stylish angle and distinctive engravings of model delineation and the Springfield Armory crest. There are slide safety levers on the left sides only, but also beavertail grip safeties with the Ed Brown Memory Groove design. The flat mainspring housings are patterned with nine vertical grooves at a gauge of 20 lines per inch. The front straps are covered by extra large finger grooves, and the grip panels are reinforced with a hard plastic that fits into the cutouts of the frame. The difference in width between the rubber grip and the fancy wood panels we substituted are not really measurable, but the wood provides a less snaggy surface, plus the deletion of finger grooves allows for easier correction of grip. Releasing the mags (via the left-side-only buttons) shoots them enthusiastically from the pistol. The mag wells are beveled, and the forward lips of the wells are relieved so the foot of the magazines seat flush.

Porting on the V10 model consists of eight 0.10-inch-diameter holes in rows of four placed 0.10 inch apart, beginning 0.35 inch back from the muzzle. One row sits at 1 o’clock and the other at 11 o’clock, with the top of the barrel being high noon. The slide is correspondingly relieved on both sides of the plain blade front sight.

These pistols can be field stripped without a bushing wrench, unlike their full-sized cousins. The entire top end comes off after aligning the slide release with the proper cutout in the slide and pushing it out through the left side of the frame. We mention this because we had need of taking the V10 apart for inspection shortly after receiving it because it would not fire two shots in a row. We couldn’t find the problem, so we had Houston-based Barr Performance Products, a custom porting and compensator gunsmith shop, examine the gun. John Barr’s diagnosis: Galling between the frame and slide. The Ultra Compact operated flawlessly throughout because the frame and slide were cut and fit properly. But on the V10, the tolerances were too tight and the slide and frame steels were too similar, which caused binding in the action. Barr carefully machined out some of the galling material that jammed the pistol and a refit the frame and slide. Back at the range we had the same problem on the very first shot. The slide refused to go completely forward into battery. We pushed it forward as we had so many times before and tried again. This was 500+ rounds ago, and the problem has not recurred.

Once we began shooting the Springfields, several different characteristics jumped out at us. Most notable, the little Springfields shot to different points of impact according to how much strength was applied to their grips. To experienced shooters, this is nothing new, but these guns showed remarkable sensitivity to this effect. A loose grip resulted in a group well above the bull. Too much pressure with the weak hand, and the point of impact will follow in that direction. Our best shots with both these pistols were the result of a neutral but firm, purposeful grip that led the point of impact to be dead center.

Despite the ported V10 model having what we felt was a better trigger, the results were identical for each gun with both the 230-grain FMJ and the 200-grain LSWC, two traditional loads for .45 ACP. It was when we began to shoot the Cor-Bon +P ammo that the personalities of each gun began to diverge.

From the unported 1911, recoil was stout—on the verge of unpleasant. Accuracy was acceptable, but erratic. While its average of 3.0 inches was in line with the other test loads, the high and low were wider apart. The V10 went the other way. Though it lost as much as 57 fps per round, the gun was noticeably gentler to shoot. In the V10, the round that caused the standard barreled gun to leap off of the sandbags with each shot felt mild even when compared to the lighter rounds. Accuracy became more consistent as well, and for the first time in recent memory, a Cor-Bon product won an accuracy test with consistent groups that stayed within 2.4 to 2.6 inches.

Glock 22 and Glock 22C
Our recommendation: Of these .40 Smith & Wesson Glocks, priced $616 and $646 respectively, there was never any doubt which pistol was easier to shoot. Whether shooting 155- or 180-grain .40s, the ported 22C really took advantage of the hot round’s gas discharge to soften recoil. This translated well on target, helping the Glock 22C record the only accuracy average under 2 inches in this test. As with the Springfield .45s, unless there was some compelling reason not to buy the ported gun, we’d opt for the 22C over the 22.

Click here to view the Glock 22 and Glock 22C features guide

.

The latest models from Glock include the new and genuinely improved grip frame that features a deeper undercut at the top of the backstrap. It is accented and rounded to help fill the palm. Three checkered but mild finger grooves adorn the front strap, with a nice degree of undercut where the trigger guard meets the grip. A rail for a lighting device has been molded in on the full-length dust cover.

Otherwise, the Glock design remains unchanged. Cocking serrations on the steel slide are still wide and to the rear, the extractor is still externally mounted, and the linkless design still can be broken down without a single tool. The trigger still features a safety that prevents the striker firing system from hitting a chambered round unless a finger is on the trigger, but no other safety is provided beyond the shooter’s discretion.

Of course, the 22C includes some features the plain-tube 22 lacks. The 22C’s barrel sports the addition of two 0.40-inch-long ports placed side by side at about 1 o’clock and 11 o’clock approximately 1.2 inches back from the muzzle. A corresponding set of vents have been cut into the slide, and they are angled to the outside and run forward about twice the length of the ports when the slide is fully forward in battery.

In particular, porting the Glock pistol makes a lot of sense because without any rounds in the mag, all the weight is in the steel slide. A little downward muzzle pressure (actually the pressure is expressed in a V for stability) is a welcome addition, especially when the latest hot defense load in .40 S&W is chambered.

The .40 round has become popular for law enforcement for a number of reasons. It is more powerful than the 9mm, which has proven ineffective at times. At the same time, it offers performance much more on par with the .45 ACP round without losing magazine capacity. In themselves, these two points were enough of an advantage over the .45 to make the .40 S&W popular, but another plus point was the smaller round’s much faster slide velocity, which allowed for quicker follow-up shots—if you could control the muzzle. Porting on Glock’s C-designated models supplies this control, we found.

Otherwise, the main difference between our two guns were the sights. The standard model was delivered with self-luminous night sights. When shooting in daylight, we tend to ignore the tritium-filled orbs in favor of comparing light bars between the edges of the front and rear sights. The low-mounted non-luminous combat sights of the ported gun showed narrower slits to either side of the front sight. This made the ported gun slightly harder to shoot accurately, we thought, but we felt both sights had their merits. For one, the wider gap of the night sights sometimes gave our eyes the feeling of being lost, and other times it seemed we had the point of impact right at the tip of the front blade. Finally, the unported model 22 appeared to have a smoother feeling trigger, pointing out that no matter what kind of hand work or high-tech machine is used, every gun will always be unique.

Glock 19 and Glock 19C
Our recommendation: Though 9mm pistols do not have recoil as stiff as the .45 ACP or .40 S&W, many handgunners will appreciate the soft-shooting qualities of the ported model 19C. Though the shooting gap between the guns narrows significantly here, we still think the ported gun, $646, has the edge in shootability over its $616 non-ported stablemate, and we’d buy C-designation first.

Click here to view the Glock 19 and Glock 19C features guide

.

The porting configuration on the 9mm 19C series is identical to that of the model 22C detailed above. So are the ergonomics, except they are expressed in a smaller package. The Glock’s widths are about the same, but the 19s are 0.7 inch less in height and 0.6 inch less in length. Actually, the 19 series feels more like Glock’s 23 in .40 S&W. When the switch to the hotter (and heavier) .40 round was first made, many guns chambered for it were simply 9mms that were rebarreled for the bigger round. This trend lasted about as long as the frames. Sometimes it took as little as a few hundred rounds for the second-generation guns’ delicate mechanisms to fail under the .40’s pounding. Glocks weren’t included in this underbuilt class, and its guns continue to have reputations are reliable performers.

The 9mm models 19 and 19C did not fit the profile we expected. It was our theory that the hotter the ammo, the better the ported guns would perform. While the 19 and 19C followed this pattern when fired standing unsupported, from the rest the hottest round was the least accurate in the ported 19C. From a sandbag rest the 19 outdueled the 19C when shooting the 95-grain PMC Starfire and the +P Remington 115-grain JHP. It did match the GL19 when shooting the 124-grain NATO ball ammo, but there was a wide spread in group size, despite its producing the single tightest group at 1.6 inches. Each gun ran without problem, and the 19C was virtually recoil free.

Elsewhere on the guns, their magazine capacity is now 10 for civilians, even though the mag body is capable of carrying up to 15 rounds. These mags drop free for speedy reloading, as they do on all current pistols from Glock. This change from passive retention, where the mag is disengaged but held by the grip frame so that it could be controlled for later use, is undoubtedly the influence of not only the practical shooting games but a change in law-enforcement training as well. Sights on each gun are low mounted with a large white dot up front and a white outlined notch in the rear. We liked this arrangement on the ported gun in particular, because the white dot on the front sight didn’t bob at all, allowing us to “look-off” each shot of the Safe-Action trigger’s version of a double tap without even blinking. The rear unit is impact-adjustable for windage, only.

Gun Tests Recommends
After testing three sets of ported/non-ported guns head to head, and a seventh ported gun by itself, we asked the $64 question: Is porting worth the extra money? Porting on a Glock’s 19C and 22C is a $30 upgrade. Springfield charges a whopping $46 for their home-cut holes. These are MSRPs, and your cost may vary, and, in fact, it’s possible that you’d find ported guns for the same prices as their non-ported counterparts. In our opinion, this is one option that is nearly a freebie, so the question that actually needs to be answered is this: Do you want to buy a ported gun? Here are factors to consider:

"Isn’t there a loss of velocity?" Yes. Average drop in velocity was 41 fps for the 9mm, 28 fps for the .40, and 45 fps for the .45 ACP ammunition.

"Is there really a dramatic reduction in recoil" Yes. Operating a pistol with real stopping power is no longer only for the big and strong. To update a famous phrase, “God made man and Samuel Colt made them equal, but porting makes them more equal.”

"Are ported guns too loud?" The higher pressured rounds tend to be the loudest. The Taurus .357 SIG is loud, but it is perhaps the tamest in recoil next to the 9mm 19C. The V10’s report of the very strong .45 ACP Cor-Bon round was quite bearable.

"Doesn’t porting interrupt the rifling of the barrel and negatively impact accuracy?" No. On average, the ported guns showed equal or better accuracy, especially with the hotter rounds that had more gas to activate the ports, stabilizing the barrel.

"Isn’t the shooter in danger of blast from the ports during close-quarters combat?" In our opinion, yes. But the attacker is likely to be in more danger, especially if a proper rock-back draw can be executed.

"Will the blast from the ports wear out the gun?" No. Porting actually reduces stress on the gun,

So with these points in mind, how would we rate our stable of pistols? Overall, we liked all of the guns, and we found very little to kvetch about. But we still had our preferences:

Springfield PB9151 Ultra Compact, $629; and 4 Springfield PX9510 V10 Bi-Tone Enhanced, $675. Both guns get a Buy recommendation. The Ultra Compact performed flawlessly and looked good doing it. It is a versatile little 1911 just waiting to be hopped up. However, the same kudos apply to the ported V10 Bi-Tone Enhanced, which was twice as much fun to shoot—a big factor in managing the .45 ACP’s recoil. Our nod goes to the ported V10 Bi-Tone Enhanced.

Glock 22, $616; and 4Glock 22C, $646. The unported 22 gets a Conditional Buy recommendation, and the ported 22C gets an unqualified Buy nod. These .40s generate much more power than the 9mm Luger chambered in the Glock 19-series guns. As a result, the Glock 22 is not fun to shoot, but in terms of its overall function, there’s really nothing wrong with it. Matching ammunition to the gun is always the name of the game, only more so when it comes to compensated pistols. The typical factory round of .40 S&W is packed with fast-burning powder that doesn’t take full advantage of porting’s characteristics. Careful selection of ammunition for the 22C, one that features a light bullet, will make this gun much more pleasant to shoot than the 22, in our estimation. Buy the 22C.

Glock 19, $616; and 4 Glock 19C, $646. The standard-barreled 19 gets a Conditional Buy only because it was compared to the ported 19C. The 19 is a good, solid 9mm with very good ergonomics and even a little charm. But we don’t think you can have any more fun with a Glock pistol than we had with the 19C. Its ports allow even weak-handed shooters to yawn and stay on target. This kind of performance is too much to pass up. Buy it.