May 2009

Reader: Why Not More Guns?

John Lamkin laments that we don’t test more guns per article; news on the rollout of the Palm Pistol; Arliss Thompson seconds our F-grade on the Urika; John Smith lobbies for single actions.

Re "6.8 SPC AR-15 Carbines: The Stag Arms 5L Gets the Nod," January 2009

First, let me say several good things before I get into the bad things.

I am a longtime subscriber and will continue to be for the indefinite future. I have the highest regard for your publication and consider it to be an invaluable resource to assist me in selecting firearms for future purchase. Your conscientious, almost

Lamkin said, “You pointed out the lousy trigger on the Stag. That’s a good catch and point well made, as far as it goes. Good information, but then what?”

scientific, approach to testing methods seems fair and reasonable. It is comforting to know that, since you don’t accept commercial advertising, your advice is far less likely to be biased in favor of one brand over another for fear of irritating any certain manufacturer and thus losing an advertising revenue source. You are the Consumer Reports of firearms in my opinion—and for that, you deserve great respect.

However, unlike Consumer Reports, you do not test virtually every product currently in production in a particular category. This is your prime failure, I think. For example, I was excited to find that your January 2009 issue included a report on 6.8 SPC AR-style rifles, a particular caliber and type of rifle I intend to purchase very soon. However, I was also immediately disappointed to see your report did not include those two brands currently at the top of my list for consideration—Barrett and Bushmaster. This follows a pattern that has a long history and is my primary disaffection with your magazine. You only cover a small slice of what is available. This doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzy that I’ll be buying the best rifle; only that I’ll be buying the best among those few you tested.

To make your magazine far more useful to me, in a perfect world each report should cover all guns falling into the category in question. Now right away I realize what I am asking might be unreasonable, given economic reality. I can think of at least six different manufacturers, and there may be a dozen or more for all I know who make this caliber and style of rifle. Purchasing every one of them would cost a lot of money. After all, any company has to limit its expenses. I do appreciate that fact.

You seem to limit yourselves to testing two, three, or four guns at a time—and I can understand obvious financial limits. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give me all the information that I seek—or allow for rendering a fully informed purchase decision. In reality, the very best rifle of the lot may be the one you don’t test.

If I have to wait several months to read multiple articles over time to get a full picture of 6.8 SPC rifles, then so be it. But at least I’d have a comprehensive, accumulated amount of data upon which to decide. Moreover, when your last of several reports on 6.8 SPC rifles is done, you could re-visit the topic with a summary report and say something like, "Although Model X came out tops in our review of rifles costing from $1200 to $1500, we think that Model Y, which won the $800 to $1200 price range, is actually a better rifle than X and gives you more bang for you buck for these reasons…." 

Sometimes you leave as many questions as you answer, at least inside my head. For example, you pointed out the lousy trigger on the Stag. That’s a good catch and point well made, as far as it goes. Good information, but then what? Assuming a potential buyer or owner is not happy with this fault you reported, what are his options, if any? Does Stag offer an "upgrade" or optional "Match trigger" like Bushmaster does? Can this trigger be adjusted by the owner or "stoned" to a lighter and crisper pull by a competent gunsmith? Are there third-party, drop-in triggers available for this model of rifle? And if so, at what price?

Do you get the idea? Look at it from the reader’s standpoint and see if you can anticipate his logical questions.

I have discussed the relative merits of various models, including the three you reported on with my retail gun seller. He brought up what I think is a valid consideration in buying a gun which you seldom mention (although sometimes you have.) That is the quality and promptness of after-sale customer support. He slammed the Stag brand because, in his experience, when problems with their rifles surfaced in the past and he turned to them for a solution, he got largely stone-walled. That’s why he doesn’t even stock Stag rifles now. Conversely, problems with Bushmaster rifles were addressed and solved promptly and cheerfully. The two companies obviously have a different definition of "customer support." He said Stag was a relatively small operation, whereas Bushmaster is huge, although on balance I don’t know that greater volume or company size necessarily equates to better product support. In this case, he considered Bushmaster a clear winner. His opinion, like yours, has no ulterior, financial motive, since he charges a flat 10% markup on all firearms he sells, regardless of brand.

I follow your stated reasoning for your grades on rifles (and handguns), but at the end of the day, I think the lion’s share of a grade should revolve around only two things: reliability and accuracy (meaning group size.) Does it go "bang" every single time you press the trigger?  And does the bullet go exactly where you aim the rifle? Price should be the tie-breaker. Everything else is superfluous.

John Lamkin,
Carson City, Nevada

John, I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that went into your letter. You made great points. Yes, unlike Consumer Reports, we test fewer products at a time, but the bigger CR presentation has its trade-offs as well. I’ve bought several appliances, cars, and tires using CR ratings over the years, and while the Consumers Union protocols are thorough, they are usually dated, since testing so many products takes a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever bought the exact product CR recommended, because the names and features change with each model year. Still, your point about aggregating test results is well taken, so beginning this month, I’ll build at least one "Value Guide" sidebar each issue (see page 15) that summarizes how guns have fared that fit a certain "use" category, such as self-defense. They may be a mix of apples, oranges, and tangerines, since their configurations will vary, but they’ll all be suitable for a certain job. We have to limit the number of guns tested per article not only because of the upfront cost, but also because of page count. If I were to collect and shoot all the available 6.8 SPC rifles, readers who are in the market for those guns would be very happy. Everyone else would be miffed, however, because that’d be the only feature in that issue. So if the "Value Guide" sidebar is a treatment you and other readers like, then we’ll look at expanding the concept to more than one feature an issue.

—Todd Woodard

Re: "20-Gauge Auto Shoot-out: Beretta, Browning, Remington," April 2009

I would like to second the Gun Tests grade of F for the Beretta AL 391 Urika 20-gauge shotgun. I, too, experienced numerous failures to feed when using light loads produced by several manufacturers. Since I had purchased the gun for my teenage daughter to use in 4-H competition, the inability of the gun to function with target loads was a major failing.

I had the gun inspected by the dealer and a gunsmith. The dealer suggested that the "jam-o-matic" needed a break-in period. After running two cases of ammo through the gun, I found that reliability improved, although it will still occasionally exhibit failure to feed. I would rate the overall performance of the Urika as being very disappointing.

Arliss Thompson,
Parker, South Dakota

Re "Terrific Trio of Custom 45s: Volkmann, Wilson, Les Baer," April 2009

You compared Les Baer, Wilson and Volkmann custom pistols. I am thinking of purchasing a Nighthawk 1911 and would have liked to have seen how it stacks up in your review of custom handguns. Have you made such a comparison? If so, I would appreciate the information on the results. If not, I would be interested in your opinion of Nighthawk products, and the company. Thank you! And thank you for writing such excellent, timely articles in Gun Tests magazine.

John Oprendek

In the November 2006 issue, Ray Ordorica wrote of the Nighthawk GRP, "Don’t Buy." He added, "We did love the accuracy of the Nighthawk. It seemed to be the finest of the trio, though not by a whole lot. The worst accuracy of the test trio was way more than enough for self-defense shooting. Workmanship of the Nighthawk was outstanding, for the most part, but it was also the heaviest of the trio, and by far the most costly. We all noticed the extra weight, even novices, and the GRP didn’t seem as lively to us as a result. We liked the cut-off slide stop on the right side of the frame, which we’ve seen previously only on the Valtro. Our favorite aspect of the Nighthawk was its extra-cost finish. The gun, like all three, functioned perfectly but the sharp edges, atrocious rear sight picture, too-sticky grips and extra weight were not to our liking. We would not buy it as long as either of the others were available, even without the extra-cost options. You might just love it. We didn’t." —tw

Re "News Roundup," December 2008

The Palm Pistol has been creating quite a stir in the news media. This has been overwhelming and very unexpected. You may have been following our interactions

The FDA cancelled the Palm Pistol’s registration and device listing as a medical device, claiming the original action was done in “error.”

with the FDA. On December 2, 2008, we were directed by the agency to register our company as a "medical device establishment" and list the Palm Pistol as a "device." On December 8, 2008, following wide domestic and international news media coverage of our product, and we can only assume in response to certain political pressures, the FDA cancelled our previously issued establishment registration and device listing, claiming the original action was done in "error."

This turn of events will have no impact on our plans. Unfortunately, the only effect will be upon seniors and disabled. They suffer a disproportionate share of becoming victims of a crime, precisely because they are one of the most weak and vulnerable segments of society.

The good news is, with all this unplanned publicity, we are well on our way towards reaching our goal of 200 pre-production reservations. Those of you have so far reserved a Palm Pistol, we owe a debt of gratitude.

Matt Carmel
President, Constitution Arms

Re "Double-Column 45 ACPs: CZ, H&K, and FN Shoot It Out," April 2009

Para Ordnance is the most well-known of all double-column 45 ACP manufacturers, and they’ve been making them longer than any of the other companies in your test? This is a glaring omission. Any reason why you didn’t include one? 

Gary Fullington
Las Vegas, Nevada

Nothing against Para-Ordnance. We’ve tested Para-Ords more recently than we had the 97B (August 2000); the FN USG is a new product; and the Heckler 45C had never graced these pages. —tw

Dear Sir:

I have been a subscriber to your magazine for many years. You used to have some articles on single-action pistols, but even with so many new ones out there today catering to mounted shooting and ground shooting, I still don’t see any reports.

Also, in mounted shooting, they are starting to use 45 LC lever-action rifles, and it would be interesting to see how different makes compare. Mounted shooting is one of the fastest-growing sports on horseback.

It seems that all you test any more is semi-autos.

John Smith,
Stites, Idaho

I’ll get right on it. Thanks for the tip. —tw

Grading Scale

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