February 2001

USPSA Limited 10–Division Guns: We Test Four Practical Pistols

After testing .45 ACP and .40 S&W pistols from Para Ordnance, CZ-USA, and STI, we found that pistol companies are making great guns for this new classification.

[IMGCAP(1)] The United States Practical Shooting Association’s brand of competitive shooting is a fast-action sport that requires the shooter to hit a variety of targets from a variety of positions in the shortest time possible. Since its beginning in the 1970s, Practical Shooting has evolved away from specific combat scenarios toward becoming a pure shooting sport. As a result, the types of guns used to shoot the game have also evolved, leaving a big gap between over-the-counter stock pistols and the hot-rod space guns of the USPSA Open Division.

Recently the national organization (www.uspsa.org) took a hard look at where the sport was going and decided to create several new divisions that favor the competitor on a budget. One such classification is the Limited 10 division, in which shooters must compete with firearms that work from magazines loaded with no more than ten rounds. Limited 10, or L10 for short, allows liberal modifications to the pistol, but when limited to only 10+1 rounds, the outcome is based far more on individual ability than on equipment.

There are a number of formidable stock guns ready to compete in the L10 division, all of which cost less than $1,000. Para Ordnance produces its Limited series pistols in both .45 ACP (P14, $899) and .40 S&W (P16, $899). CZ-USA has developed the 75ST, a race-ready gun in .40 S&W, $995, that pays attention to such details as a thinned front sight and oversized mag release. The use of 10-round magazines that protrude beyond the grip of the 1911 single-stack pistol is permitted in L10, so this popular weapon is also competitive. To represent the values of a single-stack 1911, we chose the .45 ACP Trojan, a new pistol from STI that retails for $970.

In this test we looked not only for accuracy and reliability but how fast these weapons can be drawn, fired and reloaded in all-out pedal-to-the-metal Practical Shooting competition. We were pleasantly surprised at their quality.

Range Session
We fired five-shot accuracy tests from a sandbag rest at 25 yards. We checked velocities using an Oehler 35P chronograph at 10 feet from the center screen. This is important because in USPSA Practical Shooting, there are actually two levels of scoring depending on the power factor developed by the ammunition. Power factor is computed by multiplying bullet weight times velocity and dividing by 1000. The minimum power factor is 125 and is referred to as minor. Major power factor is 165 or more. Ammunition producing a major power factor produces more recoil, so the shooter is awarded more points.

Click here to view Accuracy & Chronoghraph Data for .40 S&W Limited 10 Pistols

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Click here to view Accuracy & Chronoghraph Data for .45 ACP Limited 10 Pistols

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Because targets are scored according to the placement of the best two hits on paper, a quick second shot is essential. The size of the scoring areas on Practical targets are labeled A, B, C, and D zones. Steel targets are scored as A-zone hits as long as they are knocked down. A-zone hits on paper targets are worth 5 points, B and C zones 4 points, and the D zone 2 points. If the shooter’s ammunition is making only minor power factor, then hits outside of the zones are awarded one fewer point per shot.

This math played a part in our choice of test ammunition. In fact, we ignored self-defense type cartridges completely, looking for less expensive supplies. With only L10 in mind, we were looking for accurate rounds that produced major power factors by a safe margin without introducing unwanted levels of recoil. It is interesting to note that Winchester recently introduced a 185-grain cartridge to its white-box line of .45 ACP ammo and a 165-grain round to its forty-caliber lineup. Both rounds make major with comfort.

Also, Triton Cartridge (), a company known for its Quik-Shok hollow points, is now offering a line of ammunition loaded for competition in the USPSA. While the forty-caliber version of the new Team Triton Competitor line was not yet available, we did manage to shoot Triton’s 165-grain Reduced Hazard Flat Point (RHFP) .45 ACP ammunition.

We used both the Winchester and the Triton rounds in the forty-fives for our practical test, which consisted of ten runs for low elapsed time at a six-target plate rack at 10 yards. The first steel plate on the left was a 6-inch square and the far right-hand plate a 6-inch circle. The four plates in the center were four 8-inch octagons. Firing was from low ready.

Here’s how the guns performed.

Para Ordnance P16 .40 S&W
Forty-caliber pistols became popular in Practical Shooting for two reasons. The hotter load and lighter bullet cycle the gun faster, and you can fit more rounds of this cartridge inside the magazine than its main rival, the forty-five. In that’s the case, however, why not use 9mm Parabellum?

Click here to view the Para Ordnance P16 .40 S&W features guide

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Sorry, due to the pressures a nine loaded major would produce, this kind of load isn’t allowed for safety reasons. So, by default the .40 Smith & Wesson is the minimum cartridge for making major in a semi-auto.

Winchester’s 180-grain FMJ “white box” ammo had long been a favorite for making major with the .40, but now that a major power factor of only 165 is required, the level of recoil the 180-grainer produces is too high. Neither Winchester nor Federal advertises the new 165-grain loads as perfect for USPSA competition, but they are. While the Federal rounds proved accurate enough for 2.5-inch groups at 25 yards, we consistently printed groups measuring a full inch tighter with the Winchester ammunition.

Accuracy is what gives the shooter confidence to go fast. To this end Para Ordnance has upgraded its P16 pistol with several features that put it in the Limited designation (as in USPSA Limited division) for which it was first designed. This stainless-steel wide-body 1911 features a fully supported barrel with a bushing up front and a full-length steel guide rod. Slide serrations are cut front and rear, and the Bo-Mar style rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. The hammer has been skeletonized to weigh less and reduce lock time. The thumb safety is ambidextrous for those weak hand/strong hand stages, but the left side platform is relieved to accommodate the safety lock plunger.

The mag release is raised slightly and cut for sure engagement. The grip panels are plastic but are checkered, and their thickness has been reduced from earlier models. Grip screws are stainless steel Allen head fittings that sit flat for comfort. The mainspring housing is left flat to offset the width of the grip frame, which is built wide to accept a staggered-column magazine. The beavertail grip safety offers a raised area for sure activation.

However a couple of features common to many Practical Shooing pistols have been left out. For one, the mag well is neither beveled nor enhanced with a guide blended into the frame. But we did not find this to be problematic on the Para Ordnance pistols. While we have seen mag guides of plastic, aluminum, or even heavy tungsten steel (supposedly to cut recoil) the Para’s wide body alone is hungry enough. We found the combination of a tapered magazine and a 1.5- by 1-inch hole in the bottom of the grip to be convenient for fast reloads. The lone 10-round magazine supplied comes in two pieces with a plastic bottom blocking its stainless upper portion. The second feature we expected to see on the Limited series Paras was a skeletonized trigger. This may be for show only, but such triggers are common on Practical guns.

At the plate rack our elapsed times ranged from 4.52 to 5.35 seconds with an average of 4.92 seconds. We felt that the low-profile front blade, which measures 0.11 inch wide, hindered our performance. We’d thin it down to about 0.09 inch for faster acquisition. Actually, we found available light and sight combinations to be big-time players in both our accuracy and speed testing across the board.

Another important element was trigger feel. All three 1911s, the two Para Ordnance pistols and the STI Trojan, feature sliding triggers with a soft feel. We much preferred the hinged trigger of the CZ, which was the fastest. The CZ was way ahead of the other guns because the sight picture was far more open and the trigger far more eager.

The P16 stayed ahead of its .45 ACP P14 brother for a couple of reasons. First, the Winchester 165-grain ammunition was far better suited for this kind of work than either of our choices in .45. We were very comfortable with the Winchester 185-grain FMJs, so in this case we’ll blame slower times on the less distinguishable front sight. Also, the Team Triton .45 ACP rounds recoiled more heavily, slowing target acquisition further.

One last note about the performance of the .40 S&W P16: The only malfunctions we had during the test came while we were warming up with the Winchester 180-grain FMJ ammunition. Rounds refused to climb the feed ramp. We first diagnosed the problem as being caused by too much tension on the extractor. But when we switched to Winchester’s 165-grain rounds, the gun ran without incident. Could it be the latest batch of P16 Limiteds are tuned to the new power factor as well? We feel this may be the case and theorized that a change in recoil spring may be all that is necessary to fire the heavier, slower bullets reliably.

CZ-USA ST .40 S&W
In the August 2000 issue, we tested the delightful CZ97B, a large-frame .45 ACP pistol. It handled and shot very well, and if you speculated on what a race-version of this pistol would be like, you probably came up with something very much like the ST. However, the ST is chambered in .40 S&W and cycles much faster than the 97B.

Click here to view the CZ-USA ST .40 S&W features guide

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As much as it seems to recoil, the ST comes back to target quickly, and the high-visibility sights all but scream at you to pull the trigger again. The trigger weight on our ST measured only 3 pounds. This is far and away lighter than any other production semi-automatic we’ve measured. The vertical profile of the trigger tells you the ST is single-action only, and the lever action of its hinged trigger makes it seem lighter still. Firing the other three guns we were able score our fastest runs at the plate rack by shooting with the sensation of going slowly on the aforementioned soft triggers. With the CZ our reflexes were challenged to keep up with the gun. Firing the Winchester 165-grain ammunition, our fastest run broke the four-second mark at an elapsed time of 3.93 seconds. In fact we only had three runs above 4.25 seconds, producing an average of 4.24 seconds for ten runs. We tested the CZ ST just after finishing a workout with the P16. Unfamiliar with the CZ, our test shooter actually aborted one run because he was sure he’d had an AD (accidental discharge). However the little 6-inch square plate went down with the shot and the timer read only 0.61 seconds!

The CZ ST comes in an oversized blue plastic presentation case with four 10-round mags, a registered test target, and a small bag of spare parts. The four magazines are two-piece units, the lower halves of which block the addition of extra rounds. Since this is an imported gun it may not be legal to purchase high-capacity mags with this pistol. For the truly practiced hand it may not matter, but for now the ST is perfect for Limited 10. The test target was produced firing Sellier & Bellot ammunition at 25 meters, presumably from a rest. The six-shot group measures 7.70cm, or about 3 inches. They should have used Winchester ammunition instead. We fired groups that averaged 1.5 inches with both the 180- and 165-grain rounds.

The goody bag of extra parts contains a sight adjustment key, an elevation screw and hinge pin for the rear sight, a firing pin stop, Allen wrench and three slide stops. One slide stop is a spare for the one installed. These two are design to lock the slide back when the mag is empty. Because many competitors don’t want a gun to lock back, two more are supplied that allow the slide to return forward when the mag is empty. Obviously, CZ USA expects you to do a lot of shooting.

CZ originally developed the ST for competition in Europe under the auspices of the International Pistol Shooting Confederation (IPSC), the international body that stages a tri-annual championship referred to as World Shoot. IPSC and the USPSA are currently at odds over some minor details of rules and regulation, including the administration of the European version of Limited class that IPSC calls Standard. The CZ ST is in fact a IPSC Standard pistol, hence the name ST. If you have already purchased a 97B, we feel you are on the way to having a very good L10 pistol. But if you buy the .40 S&W ST tested here, in comes with some helpful for about $240 more. They include a high-crowned, thin-gauge front sight pinned in place at the most forward position possible to produce 7.5 inches of sight radius; a fully adjustable rear sight cut-lined to kill glare; front and rear serrations on the slide with a lowered ejection port, two-tone finish, blued-steel slide, and steel frame covered with Krylon. Also, the hammer is relieved and the action has been ground light and crisp then fitted with a specially contoured trigger with overtravel screw. The grip frame has been slightly recontoured and checkered. The mag well has been beveled and flared to blend with a polymer mag guide. The slim-profile wood checkered grip found on the 97B has been retained, and the magazine release has been extended and checkered. A hand-fit solid bushing replaces the screw-in model found on the stock gun. The linkless system with ramped barrel is also retained. The CZ ST was built to fire quickly. It also tied with the STI Trojan for accuracy honors.

You may wonder what holsters are available for this large pistol. Blade Tech ([253] 581-4347 or ) fashioned a fast, solid holster for CZ USA team shooter Ted Bonnet, but did not keep the mold. The next time someone sends them a ST, we bet they hold on to the pattern for other customers. But for all-out racing, Safariland’s 011 series holsters ([800] 347-1200 or ) are top of the line for this gun, and in fact, we used the same holster for all four of the guns in this test. Also helpful was the muzzle platform from Arredondo. Both items can be found in Brownells catalog ([641] 623-4000 or www.brownells.com).

As big as the gun is, it is nonetheless comfortable to hold. The feeling may be a little top heavy, and we thought it was recoiling more than we like. But now that USPSA major power factor is only 165, this characteristic has been minimized, and we feel it is not as important as the speed at which the sights return, as proven by our rapid elapsed times.

Still, the pistol does have shortcomings. The ambidextrous thumb safety can be difficult to reach unless you have large hands. We adapted to this by performing the downward release with our thumb and raising it again when needed with the inside of our trigger finger. In fact, this could be looked upon as a plus because the finger will definitely be off the trigger when reholstering. We feel some may have a problem with the oversize mag release getting in the way and causing the magazine to drop unexpectedly. This happened repeatedly when our tester tried an alternate hold, canting the wrist downward and bringing the left hand aggressively forward on the grip. Releasing the magazine intentionally requires a brief stroke of the mag release instead of a sustained press. Unlike a 1911 that will completely let go of a magazine when fully depressed, a sustained press can result in a CZ magazine being hung up or only partially ejecting. This is a remnant of the European-style combat retention design. Inside the grip frame of CZ pistols there is a dust shield between the mag and the mainspring that can be fixed out of the way to assure drop-free operation. We would adjust this so that the mag got out in a hurry. The two-piece mags include a polymer lower section that, unlike the Para Ordnance mags, is solid from bottom to top. We were a little uncomfortable with this at first because it tended to shift until the increased tension of a loaded mag made it rigid. Once we realized the lower block served as a giant basepad, we relaxed. The CZ ST ran flawlessly with all ammunition.

Para Ordnance P14 .45 ACP
The P14 is very much the same gun as the P16 from a structural standpoint. For those wanting a further upgrade in function and handling, Para Ordnance offers a gunsmith frame and slide kit that allows the buyer to pick and choose the remaining components and hand-fit the pistol to the most refined detail. According to a series of custom gunsmiths we contacted, the cost of assembling the ultimate Para Ordnance from the F-Series gunsmith kit should range from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on components. But in their base configurations, which we tested, both the P14 and P16 Limited series pistols should be available for less than $900.

Click here to view the Para Ordnance P14 .45 ACP features guide

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How do the two production models differ? The difference lies in the handling characteristics that their respective cartridges cause. For example, in each case we want accuracy and controllability from the ammunition. The way our tests were going with the new major .40-caliber rounds performing so well, we expected the same from the new 185- and 165-grain rounds of .45 as well. As it turns out, the Winchester 185-grain rounds missed making major by 7 to 10 points. And we noted, this round performed well in the P14 but better in the single-stack STI. The best round out of the box was the Winchester 230-grain roundnose jacketed bullet. But this round, as well as the Black Hills 200-grain SWC, were so far over major we wouldn’t choose it for competition. Team Triton’s 165-grain round was nearly perfect regarding power factor and was accurate as well but, we felt this round produced too much muzzle flip compared to the softer-shooting 185s. Granted, the 185s did not make major, but handloading would cure that. The use of a lead bullet, which is more slippery than a jacketed slug, would likely produce higher velocity with less powder and lower recoil even further.

That said, we need to clarify our position regarding the use of the lighter 165-grain bullet, such as in the case of the Team Triton ammunition. In some ways the snappy 165s are being used to speed cycling and make the .45 ACP pistols perform like a .40. Did the P14 return to a ready to fire condition faster as it did in the case of the CZ pistol? Yes. Did it produce faster times at the plate rack? Not for us.

Why? Because the sights were more difficult to pick up, we had to wait even longer for the harder-recoiling gun to settle. If we improved the sights on the Para Ordnance pistols would our elapsed time improve, especially in the case of the P14 firing the Triton 165s? Yes. But, now is the time to look in the mirror. Do you have the hand to eye, or rather eye to hand reflex to take advantage of a faster-cycling gun? Triton ammunition sponsors a team of extraordinary shooters for whom this ammunition was loaded. It is a challenge to use it to its fullest advantage. For the average competitor, the type of shooter who will largely populate a division such as L10, a more forgiving round will likely enable the shooter to score with more consistent results.

At the plate rack we were able to produce runs faster with the Winchester 185-grain rounds simply because we had the time to aim and stage the trigger during a soft, consistent recoil. Elapsed times ranged from 4.45 to 5.56 seconds with an average of 4.94 seconds. The Triton Competitor ammo produced more muzzle flip, and we felt rushed. The P14 trigger is not crisp, but is instead pleasingly progressive. We wanted to stage the trigger as the gun began to settle, find the sights and fire. But, with the additional muzzle flip we found ourselves fighting with the gun instead of being patient. Our elapsed times were consistent, but ranged between 5.45 to 5.75 seconds.

STI Trojan .45 ACP
The single-stack 1911 is one of the most beloved pistols of all time. Perhaps this is why the Limited 10 division is being so enthusiastically received. Since the single-stack’s natural maximum capacity is 8+1, longer magazines that hold ten rounds are allowed. The number of single-stack 1911s available that are ready or nearly ready for competition out of the box would boggle the mind of anyone who hasn’t paid attention to the scene for about 10 years. The cost of a single-stack 1911 in custom trim from the factory is generally over $1,000. A custom gunsmith working in a one-man shop can typically produce a superior model for $1,200 to $1,400. Name custom shops charge even more.

Click here to view the STI Trojan .45 ACP features guide

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That’s why we feel the $970 Trojan pistol from STI is an excellent choice. The Trojan matched the CZ for accuracy with each load we tried. Also, there are countless accessories available for this 1911-style model, including holsters and grips.

STI has been making firearms that excel in Practical Shooting since 1991. If you have visited a USPSA championship match on any level, then you have seen the STI banner flying. However, it is only in the past seven years that this small firm based in Georgetown, Texas, has offered complete pistols. And the STI staff has brought a lot of that competition experience to bear when tooling up the Trojan series.

The Trojan series pistols, which are also available in 9mm, .38 Super, .40 Super and .40 S&W, are all-steel with polymer trigger faces. The grips are wood. Checkering on the back strap (mainspring housing) is 20 lpi with mild stippling up front. The grip safety is raised like Ed Brown’s memory groove, and the hammer is fully relieved. STI’s copy of a Bo-Mar sight includes a glare-free face and rounded edges. Coupled with a plain front blade this provided an excellent sight picture. The slide is cut-lined front and rear with easy-to-handle serrations for racking and chamber checking. The mag release is not lined nor checkered, but the trigger guard is undercut to seat the gun lower in the hand for more control. The thumb safety is not ambidextrous. Inside, the barrel is not ramped, but lockup does employ a bushing. It’s not necessary to use a tool to remove it. Instead, STI employs a breakdown technique more commonly found on competition guns. To disassemble the Trojan, the top end is removed by pushing back the slide and removing the link pin. With the top end removed, place the thumb at the rear of the full-length guide rod and push it forward so that it protrudes from underneath the barrel far enough to expose a small hole. To capture the spring and remove the guide rod you must then insert a slave pin that one can easily fashion by cutting a short length of paper clip wire (approximately 0.3 inch) and bending it into an L shape. With the pin inserted, the guide rod, collar and spring will simply lift out. The bushing can then be turned by hand, releasing the barrel.

At the plate rack we experienced the same results pitting the Winchester 185-grain rounds against the Team Triton 165s. Sights on the Trojan are far more precise and open than on the Para Ordnance pistols, so runs were quicker due in part to the shooter seeing the target better. Firing the Triton ammunition, we found it easy to duplicate 5.25-second runs for an average of 5.35 seconds. The milder-shooting Winchester 185-grain rounds helped us turn in an average of 4.74 seconds. For USPSA competition, the two supplied seven-rounds mags by Metalform may not pack enough ammunition. We tried four different 10-round big-stick mags available from Brownells to see if they would feed reliably in the Trojan. These included the Power 10 from Chip McCormick’s Shooting Star Industries, Mec-Gar, Ed Brown and Wilson Combat. We loaded them with slide closed and with slide fully open, utilizing both the slide release and the “bow and arrow” method. Happily, each mag functioned perfectly with each of the four ammunitions we tried. This included roundnose truncated cone and lead semi-wadcutter profiles.

In comparison to the other pistols in this test the advantage of a single-stack over the other pistols in this test is versatility. With its narrow profile and versatile capacity, the Trojan is the only pistol in the test we would likely be able to conceal and carry on our person as well as shoot in L10 games.

That said, there are two items we would change. Our Trojan arrived with the slimmest set of 1911 grip panels we’ve ever seen. Of course this is an option that one chooses on the basis of hand size. These thin grips are ideal for shooters with very small or fleshy hands. Otherwise, this profile tends to offer a rectangular shape that applies too much pressure fore and aft. For serious competition, the only other modification needed is the addition of a blended magazine well. Single column magazines are narrow and sharp, and they need help lest they catch on the edge of the well during a reload. Perhaps STI’s VIP model, slated to be introduced next year, will incorporate these changes.

Gun Test Recommends
CZ-USA ST .40 S&W, $995. Best Buy. We adapted to the odd thumb safety but would still opt for a modification of this piece and the mag release as well. Otherwise this is a legitimate threat to 1911 dominance within Limited 10 competition.

Para Ordnance P16 .40 S&W, $899. Buy It. With a high-capacity mag legally available from Para Ordnance, this makes it a player in the USPSA’s other divisions as well as L10. We’d thin the front sight for faster acquisition, pack some of Winchester’s new 165-grain FMJs, and go racing.

Para Ordnance P14 .45 ACP, $899. Conditional Buy. Conditional means we’d pick the forty-cal P16 over the P14 on the basis of capacity. Also, it was most accurate firing the heaviest bullet, which results in slower cycling speed. But, handloads with lighter bullets might change on our minds.

STI Trojan .45 ACP, $970. Buy It. Despite the odd look of a 10-round mag sticking out of the grip, a single stack is going to have the best ergonomics hands down. The STI Trojan is one of the best factory guns we’ve seen in a while.

 

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