January 2009

$1000 Carry Guns: SIG Sauer, Glock, Springfield, and Smith

The P220 Carry 45 ACP was easy to master, and the 45 GAP Model 38 is a bargain. Accomplished shooters may prefer XD40 Pro Carrys in 40 S&W, but we’d pass on the 327NG 357 Mag.

When it comes to describing or categorizing a gun, it is very easy to throw around words like tactical, custom, elite, or professional. The banner we’ve thrown over the four handguns evaluated herein reads Pro Carry. What makes a sidearm a professional carry gun? Our working definition begins with the second word first. A carry gun is one that lends itself to being on the person for extended periods of time, often in concealment. A professional’s gun is one that fits his or her purpose.

For the professional it should follow that every aspect of the gun be absolutely of the finest quality and design. But the reality is that top line guns are too expensive for the average policeman, detective, agent, or bodyguard. However, we think that for about $1000 there should be a grade of firearm that offer features superior to standard models that are just as functional as those found on more expensive custom-made guns. In this test we will try to confirm this theory. Recognizing that handguns are not a "one size fits all" proposition, we will test four different models chambered for four different calibers, each of proven stopping power.

Glock 38

Some pros like black guns because they attract less attention. Top left: Our $685 Glock 38 was upgraded with night sights, an extended magazine release and 3.5-pound connector for only about $71. Chambered for 45 GAP, it fired big bullets faster than the Sig Sauer. Our other black gun, the $1082 Smith & Wesson 327 Night Guard (right), was capable of firing 38 Special target loads or fire-breathing 357 Magnum. It housed eight rounds, but it was hard to reload fast.

Our first gun was the 45 ACP Sig Sauer P220 Carry SAS 220R3-45-SAS, $1093. Test ammunition included the Hornady Custom 185-grain JXP/XTP and 200-grain JHP/XTP +P rounds. We also tested with a light target round we loaded ourselves. Components were fresh Remington cases (head-stamped R-P, Winchester Large Pistol primers, Winchester 231 powder, and the Sierra Tournament Master 230-grain FMJ bullet number 8815.

Our second gun was the 45 GAP Glock 38, ($685). Test ammunition was the 185-grain Speer Lawman FMC round, Federal’s 185-grain Hydra-Shok JHP, and Speer’s 200-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints. Our Glock 38 was fit with several handpicked upgrades.

From Springfield Armory we ordered a 4-inch barrel XD40 with the Custom Shop Pro Carry modifications in place, plus a couple of features picked a la carte, $1005. Test ammunition for our XD40 Pro Carry consisted of Black Hills 165-grain JHP EXP rounds plus two choices from Winchester USA. They were the 165-grain full-metal-jacket rounds plus the 180-grain jacketed hollowpoint Personal Protection load.

Our final gun was a high-capacity lightweight revolver. Smith & Wesson’s $1082 327 NG Night Guard is an eight-shot .357 Magnum snubnosed revolver built on an alloy frame. Magnum test rounds were 130-grain Federal Hydra-Shok hollowpoints, and Black Hills 158-grain JHP rounds. We also tried a remanufactured 38 Special 125-grain semi- jacketed hollowpoint round from Black Hills.

Our tests were performed in two parts. Outdoors at Phil Oxley’s training facility in Monaville, Texas (theimpactzonerange.com), we recorded five-shot groups from a distance of 25 yards. These shots were hand fired, but over a bench with sandbag support. Compact guns are seldom tested from 25 yards, but we were spurred on by the clarity of sight picture afforded by each gun and the perfect shooting conditions (not to mention the fact that since these guns cost more, we expected more). We also visited Houston to shoot at our favorite indoor range, Top Gun (topgunrange.com). At Top Gun we were able to perform rapid-fire tests under a variety of ambient-light conditions. We wanted to know how fast and how easy we could deliver two hits onto a Hoffners ABC16 training target, ($75 per 50-count from hoffners.com, [713] 957-1200). Test distance was 21 feet. Our start position was holding the gun below eye level with our hands pulled in toward our chest. After the start signal from our electronic shot timer, we were looking for perfect hits. By perfect we mean not just two hits inside the A zone and one to the B zone (chest and head respectively), but exactly on top of the 2-inch-high letters themselves. We repeated these three-shot strings ten times for a total of 30 rounds. We wanted to find out what it took to make these guns shoot their best.

To some, spending $1000 for a handgun may seem excessive, but some shooters demand high quality irrespective of price. We should mention that all four guns ran flawlessly without the slightest hint of trouble. We think that most civilian gun owners will never need to use their guns in self defense. But the professional can reasonably assume that relying up his weapon for survival is inevitable. That being said, a lifetime warranty, even one that promises full replacement, could prove useless. An accurate, reliable gun is the best guarantee in our view. Let’s find out which guns are right for the job.

Sig Sauer P220 Carry SAS 45 ACP

The most accurate gun in the test was the $1093 Sig Sauer P220 Carry SAS 45 ACP, right. Its DAK trigger provided plenty of precision, but the double-action stroke did inhibit extreme rapid fire. The Springfield Armory XD40 Pro Carry 40 S&W is a $1005 complete pistol from Springfield’s Custom Shop. The Pro Carry provided the highest capacity and fastest cycling action.

SIG Sauer P220 Carry SAS 220R3-45-SAS 45 ACP, $1093

Sig Sauer (formerly known in the United States as Sigarms), offers as many as 13 different 45 ACP P220 "Carry" models. These pistols are distinguished from the venerable P220 pistol by their shorter top ends, which house a 3.9-inch barrel instead of the original length 4.4-inch tube. Variations include action, grips, slide finish and "dehorning" of edges. Prices for the different P220 Carry models range from $929 for the most basic pistol to $1286 for the Carry Elite Stainless.

Our Carry SAS featured combination knurled wood and checkered grips that covered the back strap and a radical dehorning of edges, primarily on the slide fore and aft. This model did not feature an accessory rail but rather a smooth traditional dust cover ahead of the trigger guard. The slide was stainless steel and finished with cocking serrations to the rear. The front sight featured a tritium dot to be read over a non-luminous white line that was centered in the rear notch of the Sig Sauer Contrast rear sight. Magazine ejection was via a left-side-only button. But this button can be shifted to the opposite side for the left-handed shooter. Magazine capacity was eight rounds with a viewing hole for each round visible from both sides of the stainless-steel magazine. The base pad was removable for service. Two eight-round magazines were supplied, but ten-round magazines are also available from Sig Sauer.

The P220 Carry SAS is a DAK model, meaning that the trigger is full-time double action. With the chamber empty and the trigger forward, the hammer sat deep inside the recess of the slide. Movement of the slide cocked the hammer and left it standing back slightly from the firing pin to avoid accidental discharge. From this position pressing the trigger required about 8.5 pounds to raise the hammer and break the shot. We noticed that pressing the trigger about one-third of its stroke (not to ignition) will also cock the hammer. This can be useful primarily when practicing with an empty gun. But we would rather work the slide manually each time for fear of building a habit such as working the trigger without the intention of firing. Dry-firing with the hammer in the fully down position presented a heavier trigger pull and a longer stroke.

Before our test session began, we posed three questions about the P220 Carry SAS: First, given the shorter barrel, how much would velocity be reduced when compared to the standard-length model we tested in the August 2007 issue. Second, would recoil be increased? Third, what role would the DAK trigger play in terms of accuracy and rapid-fire performance? Comparing the one common round from both tests, we found that our P220 Carry SAS lost about 61 fps when firing 185-grain Hornady JHP/XTP ammunition. The reduction of power may have played a part in answering our second question. With less velocity (and power), we found our Carry model did not transmit objectionable recoil even when loaded with Hornady’s 200-grain JHP/XTP +P rounds. The 200-grain rounds were the most powerful of our 45 ACP ammunition, producing about 338 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy.

Our third question, how the DAK system might affect accuracy and speed during rapid fire, was answered during our indoor tests at close range. But first, let’s review the accuracy we achieved with the P220 Carry SAS from support at a distance of 25 yards.

The aforementioned 185-grain Hornady rounds presented only moderate recoil and printed an average group size of 2.4 inches across. The spread from largest to smallest group was only about 0.6 inch. The extra pressure +P rounds produced the same amount of spread, but thanks to a best group of 1.7 inches across, final average width per five shots was just 2.0 inches. But our most accurate test ammunition was our handload. Our best group measured only 0.75 inch center to center. One "blown" shot produced a 1.6-inch group, bringing the final average for five shots to 1.2 inches. Credit is due to the 230-grain Sierra Tournament Master bullet combined with a starting load from Richard Lee’s Second Edition of Modern Reloading.

But we think the DAK trigger should also take a bow. The DAK trigger allows the operator to modulate the trigger while tracking highly visible sights until ignition. These are two key elements of any good shot.

In our rapid-fire test we learned that we could maintain accuracy even when faced with a shot timer and a little adrenalin. When it came to producing perfect strings of fire (two holes on the A and one on the B), we ultimately produced more with the P220 Carry than with our other guns. But it didn’t start out that way. Initial runs had big flyers. The first shot was the key. Once our finger had a feel for the stroke, second and third shots were more accurate. In fact we had more shots touching the letter B in the head area than punctured the letter A at center mass. Total time was about 2.30 seconds for a perfect run. Our best first shots took about 0.9 seconds, but we could see shrinking this by advancing the trigger more aggressively as we came on target.

The DAK trigger presents nearly a 1:1 ratio of movement regarding the distance the trigger must travel and how far the hammer must move. Distance equals time. So we don’t think the P220 Carry SAS will ever be a screaming-fast pistol. The SAO model or even a good hand on the traditional double-action trigger would likely be faster. But the precision available from the P220 Carry SAS with DAK trigger might very well even the score.

Glock 38 45 GAP, $685

The model 38 is Glock’s midsize pistol chambered for 45 GAP. Capacity of the larger model 37 was 10+1 rounds and the smallest of the trio, the model 39 carries 6+1 rounds. In terms of fitting our hands, the model 38 reminded us most of the 9mm model 19, but the 38 carried 8+1 rounds of 45 GAP.

The 38 was built much heavier than a 9mm, which became evident when we removed the top end. The differential between the weight of the grip frame and the top end was remarkable, 19.6 ounces to 4.7 ounces, respectively. The bare slide alone weighed in at 15.7 ounces. Caliber 45 GAP is a powerful round that shares the same bullet diameter as 45 ACP, but the GAP case is shorter. It also ignites from a small pistol primer. This caliber has not gained the popularity with civilians as much as Glock would have liked, but many law-enforcement agencies put their faith in Glock 45 GAP pistols.

Glock does not really make a separate series of upgraded pistols. They have even curtailed the production of alternate frame colors. Limiting the cost of retooling for special models is one reason why the price of Glock pistols has changed very little over the years when compared to other brands. Simple updates in design such as adding an accessory rail have been consistently phased into the lineup with little fanfare. Glock does not maintain a custom shop, but you can request a few options. We ordered night sights and three parts found on the G34, which is generally considered to be Glock’s target/competition gun. We requested an extended magazine release, extended slide stop lever, and a 3.5-pound connector. Within the Glock SafAction design, it is the connector that greatly affects trigger-pull weight, making it lighter and more precise, our test team said. The result was an increase in price of $71 over the standard G38 pistol.

At the range we found out how well our choice of upgrades worked. The slide release was a good choice. It proved just as snag free as the original design, but the ability to make contact with the lever was greatly enhanced. The Glock night sights looked good on the target in daylight and registered well in complete darkness. They also made the gun easier to find in the middle of the night.

We did have second thoughts about adding the extended magazine release, however. Mounted on the G34, which is built on a full-size frame, the extended release was a better fit. It also worked better blending into the wider grip of the G30SF, which we are continuing to test after its initial evaluation in our August 2008 issue. But in the case of the model 38 the extended magazine release stuck out too much. Most of our staff felt contact with the rear edge of the release against their support hand. Firing left handed, some unnecessary contact was reported as well. But even with the incidents of unintended contact, the magazine was never dislodged or ejected unintentionally. Rounding off the rear edge of the release would probably be a sufficient fix. But due to the slim profile of the model 38, we don’t think the extended magazine release was a necessary addition.

Operating the Glock trigger was different than the Sig Sauer pistol. Whereas the Sig Sauer trigger gave us the sensation of moving a lever, the Glock trigger relayed a sense of compression. But the action was smooth and the takeup to ignition was predictable. We measured the trigger pull weight to be about 8 pounds, very similar to our model 30 SF that also featured the 3.5-pound connector. We spent some time forgetting about our Sig Sauer technique and adapting to the Glock. Then we settled in to the 25-yard bench and recorded five shot groups. Our 185-grain Speer Lawman TMJ, (total metal jacket), rounds were the least expensive to buy and produced the best accuracy, 1.9-inch groups on average. But our 200-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints were more powerful. Accuracy was very consistent, with group size ranging from 1.9 inches to 2.3 inches across. Our most powerful 45 GAP round was the Federal 185-grain JHP Hydra-Shok rounds. They produced 417 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy on average and printed an average size group measuring 2.5 inches center to center. Just as we found in our tests with the Sig Sauer Carry SAS, here was a compact pistol that was most accurate and controllable when firing heavier bullets.

Our rapid-fire tests showed us that shooting a striker-fired pistol such as the Glock demands avoiding a specific pitfall. Some instructors call it pulling the trigger with the hand instead of the finger. This would be the tendency to close the entire hand while compressing the trigger. Instead, a firm, steady grip on the pistol, isolating the index finger, was the key to perfect accuracy. Tracking the sights during our dry-fire warm up helped us overcome this problem.

After a couple of live-fire strings we began reeling off perfect runs. Perforating the letter A and B on the Hoffners target took about 2.35 seconds on average. But we were taking about a full second to land our first shot.

Overall, we liked the power and controllability of 45 GAP afforded by the model 38. Note that with little more than an extra 0.1-inch of barrel length compared to the P220 Carry SAS, the difference in velocity and muzzle energy was substantial.

The variety of available 45 GAP ammunition is limited, yet some retailers have told us they have a backlog of inventory. Perhaps if the supply of 45 ACP or 40 S&W ammunition dwindles or becomes too expensive, 45 GAP may be what the public turns to. Then again, 45 GAP is not a difficult round to handload, and ultimately this could be the best option.

S&W 327 NG Night Guard 163422 357 Mag., $1082

Among revolvers, those that chamber eight rounds have no peer. That’s why we chose to match the Smith & Wesson Night Guard against semi-autos instead of other revolvers. The numerical designation 327 was first used for the 5-inch stainless-steel N-framed eight-shot revolver that the legend says was developed to help the phenomenal Jerry Miculek keep up with the higher-capacity semi-automatic pistols that ruled the speed-shooting world. Much of the innovation distilled to create the 327 should probably be credited to those who participated in the Open division at the International Revolver Championship during the early 1990s. Revolvers that fire more than six rounds were not new. But making an eight-shooter smooth and reliable enough to compete in a game of speed and extreme accuracy was quite an achievement. Smith & Wesson began sponsoring the IRC when names like Bauman, Priest, and Kilhoffer were producing seven- and eight-round prototypes.

The current full-size 327 hot rod features a titanium cylinder to reduce the energy needed for faster rotation. The 327 NG is the carry gun version. Its scandium alloy frame, stainless PVD cylinder and short 2.5-inch barrel makes it light and maneuverable. The fixed rear sight was non-adjustable but nearly impervious to impact. The XS 24/7 tritium dot was solidly mounted to the front-sight blade. It fit like the last piece of a puzzle inside the rear notch when the gun was properly aligned. A Pachmayr Compac Custom grip of special shock absorbing rubber was applied.

The 327 NG can be fired double action only or single action by manually cocking the hammer before each shot. It is capable of firing both 38 Special and 357 Magnum ammunition. The contrast in power between 38 Special ammunition and 357 Magnum rounds can change the attitude of the shooter in a hurry. Full-power magnum loads are more than most people can handle, especially when loaded into a 28-ounce revolver such as the 327 NG. We avoided one classic 357 load with a 125-grain JHP because of its renown recoil and pyrotechnics in favor of tamer 130-grain Federal Hydra-Shok rounds. Firing the Hydra-Shok single action only from the bench, our average group size was about 3 inches in width. Not bad, but point of impact was almost 2 inches low at 25 yards. Next we tried 158-grain 357 Magnum JHP rounds from Black Hills. These rounds were dead on regarding elevation, signifying the gun was set for 158-grain ammunition. Variation in group size was very narrow, and we could depend on this combination to shoot 2-inch groups consistently. We tried shooting our 38 Special Bianchi Cup loads (148-grain lead wadcutters by Black Hills), but the big slow-moving lead bullets did not respond well to the short barrel. Black Hills 125-grain JHP remanufactured rounds performed better, with a best single group measuring 1.7 inches across. A gun like this gives the shooter a lot of choices in ammunition. A 38 Special +P load topped with a 158-grain bullet would be ideal for most shooters. But we didn’t find recoil from the 158-grain magnum loads to be prohibitive either.

Performing our rapid-fire tests double action only required a different technique than firing the pistols. The key to shooting a revolver quickly is to constantly prep the trigger. This means the trigger finger must be kept busy. In its stock form, the double-action trigger on our 327 NG required 13 pounds of pressure to raise the hammer, rotate the cylinder into place, and break the shot. Most of our staff felt that the supplied grip was too large in circumference. They wanted the hand to feel less spread as it addressed the grip.

We would suggest that the supplied grip on any revolver be considered a blank to be replaced with a grip of personal choice. This shouldn’t be difficult because there are probably more replacement grips for revolvers currently available than for any other type of handgun. Ideally, the grip should place the hand in a position of strength with the inside of the first joint of the index finger catching against the face of the trigger. The grip should also fill the hand. Any empty space will cause the gun to shift in the hand. For the rapid-fire tests our shooter removed the stock grips and applied a wooden grip that had been shaved and contoured just for his hands. Without any reduction in trigger pull weight, his ability to shoot the gun quickly was immediately enhanced.

We liked the rear sight but thought the front sight was too big for true precision work. At speed it was easier to find the big dot above the sight than it was to place it inside the tight-fitting notch. But with the lights turned down low, we liked the big dot’s visibility. In our opinion, we would opt for either a smaller front sight or a more generous rear notch.

As we developed the habit of prepping the trigger during recoil, our elapsed rapid-fire times began to drop. Rolling the trigger as we moved toward the target produced the fastest first shots of our test by about 0.1 second.

If there is any argument we would make against the 327 Night Guard revolver it would not necessarily be its cost, but rather the inability to reload it once all eight rounds had been fired. The face of the cylinder found on the full-size 327 revolver is relieved by machine to accept full-moon clips. These clips consist of thin steel that holds all eight rounds in position so that the cases enter all eight chambers simultaneously and once spent, can be ejected as one piece. Loaded clips can be carried on the belt, and even the average practitioner can perform a full reload very quickly. Another feature absent from the 327 NG was chamfering of the chambers. Chamfering the chamber mouths makes them funnel like, which helps the rounds find their chambers more quickly. This is comparable to adding a beveled magazine well to a semi-auto, which is standard equipment on many guns. But even with moonclips as standard equipment, the ejector rod of the 327 NG was too short to eject spent cases reliably, whether they were 38 Special or magnum-length.

Springfield Armory XD40 Pro Carry XD9302HCSP06 40 S&W, $1005

The Pro Carry version of the XD pistol is a Springfield Armory Custom Shop pistol with a specified set of modifications. The Pro Carry package is the most basic of three available levels, providing a 4.5- to 5-pound trigger job, optional sights, the application of a national match barrel, a slick Armory Kote of all internal metal parts, and extension of the magazine release to one side as specified by the customer.

The second level of modification is the Tactical Pro pistol, which along with other custom work adds more sophisticated trigger enhancement. The Custom Pro adds even more refinement, including grip-frame reconfiguration. Similar packages on customer-supplied guns are also available, with a complete price sheet at springfield-armory.com/custom.php.

The basic XD pistol is a polymer striker-fired pistol with a 4-inch barrel. It has a beavertail grip safety, which sets it apart from other non-1911 pistols. The XD lineup is based on the original 9mm Croatian police pistol that was proven before Springfield Armory began running the show. We don’t think the Croatian police were carrying anything as fancy as the Tactical Pro XD, let alone our Pro Carry with stainless-steel slide. Our pistol also had a Trijicon brand tritium-dot front sight and the grooved target version of the rear sight found on the new XDM pistol. We ordered these parts piece by piece. The face of the safety lever at the center of the trigger face was polished, as was the surface of the grip safety.

The most noticeable difference between the stock gun and the Pro Carry was the trigger. Promised to be somewhere between 4.5 and 5.0 pounds, we measured it repeatedly right at 4.75 pounds of resistance. We wondered how exacting the rest of the modifications had been carried out. Disassembly and inspection revealed several highly polished surfaces among the smaller action parts.

Our first test of a Springfield Armory XD40 was performed for the October 2002 issue of Gun Tests. This was the first production run of the XD40. One test round was common to both the stock 2002 model and our Pro Carry. That was the Winchester USA 165-grain FMJ round. In 2002 we printed groups ranging from 1.7 inches to 2.4 inches across with the standard edition. The average size group was calculated to 2.1 inches. Our Pro Carry shot groups ranging from 1.3 to 2.7 inches across. If we could only leave out the 2.7-inch group, we wouldn’t have to suggest you read between the lines that the Pro Carry is more accurate than the standard production pistol.

The Black Hills 165-grain JHP EXP Express cartridge pumped out 457 ft.- lbs. of muzzle energy on average, and group size varied between 2.2 inches and 2.5 inches across from 25 yards. Groups from the Winchester USA Personal Defense 180-grain JHP rounds were a little tighter, and the Pro Carry felt the most comfortable with these rounds, in our view.

In our rapid-fire tests at Top Gun Range, we learned that our Pro Carry was the hot rod of the test. Cycling speed is the time it takes for a round to be fired, the chamber reloaded and the trigger made ready to fire. This speed is a product of the machine and is more or less constant. What varies is the ability of one shooter versus another to reacquire the sights and press the trigger. Overall, our perfect runs were about 0.05 seconds quicker. But the majority of our staff reported that the gun was ready and the sights were under control well before we re-engaged the trigger between shots. Firing our other test guns we could recall a period of pressing, steering, and waiting. The trigger of the XD40 Pro Carry seemed to short-circuit this process. In our opinion, working the trigger of the Pro Carry required finer motor skill much closer to the demands of a fine single-action 1911 than a double-action service pistol. Not all professional lawmen are world-class marksman. But we think superior shooters will favor the Springfield Armory XD Pro Carry.

PRO CARRY RELOADING

Sigarms P220 Carry SAS 220R3-45-SAS 45 ACP

ACCURACY & CHRONOGRAPH DATA

GLOCK G38 45 GAP

ACCURACY & CHRONOGRAPH DATA

SMITH & WESSON 327NG NIGHT GUARD 163422 357 MAGNUM

ACCURACY & CHRONOGRAPH DATA

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY XD40 PRO CARRY XD9302HCSP06 40 S&W

ACCURACY & CHRONOGRAPH DATA

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD