June 2012

Practical Match Pistols: Pro9, P30L, and G34 Gen4 Compete

The Smith & Wesson Pro9 and Heckler & Koch’s P30L are match gun candidates with real potential. Glock’s G34 Gen4 redefines Safe-Action. We give the nod to the European imports.

In the February 2012 issue, we tested five high-capacity semi-automatic 9mm handguns that were aimed at the Practical Shooting competitor. Practical Shooting evolved from experimentation with handguns used for self-defense. One characteristic that separates Practical Shooting from other organized pistol competition is that the scoring takes into account the amount of time it takes to deliver the required number of shots for each course of fire. So, fast-action gun handling, as well as quick, precise shots becomes an integral part of the shooter’s score. In this test, we’ll pay particular attention to features and components that make the guns faster and easier to operate, as well as more accurate.

Our February roster included two guns that were specifically prepared for competition by CZCustom.com of Mesa, Arizona. In this test the guns were not as specialized. But the $1108 Heckler & Koch P30L V3 is one of the guns favored by HK’s official Practical Shooting team, and Smith & Wesson team shooters use the $670 M&P 9 Pro Series pistol. To date, most Glock shooters use the Gen 3 version of the G34 as tested previously. In this test we’ll try using the new $649 G34 Gen 4 pistol to see what effect the Gen 4 features may have in making it a better choice for competition.

Each pistol was tested for accuracy from the 25-yard line by firing from a sandbag rest. Test ammunition was the same as used in our previous test, including new manufacture (red box) 115-grain FMJ, and 124-grain JHP rounds from Black Hills Ammunition. We also fired 147-grain flatpoint FMJ rounds from Federal American Eagle. One of our guns offered a single-action trigger, so we took advantage of this option and shot groups of record with the HK P30L single action only.

To learn more about the match potential of each pistol we set up two action tests. Our “field” course of fire was the same one used in our February test, consisting of picking the gun off a table top and firing at two IPSC Metric targets 21 feet downrange spread 15 feet apart. The shooter was centered between the two targets and the catch was that the gun was fully empty with pistol and loaded magazine lying next to each other. The shooter began with hands placed flat to either side of the gun and magazine. Upon an audible start signal from our CED8000 shot recording timer, our shooter loaded the gun, and moving from left side target to right side target, fired two shots to the center mass A-zone (a 5.9-inch-wide by 11.2-inch-tall rectangle). The shooter then reengaged from left to right but this time with only one shot to the head areas which measured about 6-inches square. Inside the head area was a 4x2-inch rectangular A-zone surrounded by B-zone values. We also carried over our “double-tap” test but with different rules. We still wanted to know how fast we could deliver a quick pair of shots, but we also wanted to know how fast the guns could be reloaded in situations where the chamber was not yet empty nor the slide locked back. We added the reload because the HK pistol utilized ambidextrous paddles rather than side-mounted buttons such as those found on our Smith & Wesson and Glock pistols. The target for this test was Caldwell’s plastic-coated 8-inch Bullseye TipTop targets which overall measured 8.5x11 inches and were punched for loose-leaf storage. Figures from our double-tap test reflected the elapsed time between the first and second shot after we had raised the gun from about a 45-degree angle from the horizon. And the amount of time it took us to reload, acquire the sights and fire, then the elapsed time between the final two shots.

In addition to judging match potential, we also wanted to know how they would relate to non-competitive or beginning shooters. The good people at FortTexas.us training helped facilitate this test, and we asked them why our test guns might or might not be included in their “dirty dozen,” a house collection of 12 different handguns that students are welcome to try to learn firsthand what type of pistol might fit them best. Here’s what we found.

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