April 2018

Downrange April 2018: 'Say Something' Leads to 'Do Nothing'

We also posited that it’s up to us to be sufficiently aware of our environment and the people around us - to be on the alert for people who might commit these horrible acts of violence against innocents. Following the Parkland massacre, there have been many discussions about how, and even if, we can spot those sufficiently deranged who might be capable of committing mass murder. But we have to try - like the grandmother in Everett, WA, who led police to her violence-prone Aces High School grandson and probably stopped another mass killing.   More...

How About More 44 Specials?

Reader Andrew complained about the “apples to oranges” comparison of the GP-100 44 Special to two 44 Magnums. I have to agree. As a long-time fan of the 44 special (I prefer large holes), I would prefer to see a comparison of carry-worthy, relatively short-barreled 44 specials from Ruger, Taurus, Charter Arms, S&W or any other manufacturers still providing us with revolvers in this great caliber. While you have done comparisons in the past, I would like to see an updated and comprehensive comparison of 44 specials with cylinders dedicated to the caliber, and not including short-barreled 44 mags.   More...

New Revolvers from Kimber, Charter Arms, Ruger, and Colt

Why are there so many snubnose revolvers being manufactured? There is no sign that big-bore snubnose revolvers are going away any time soon, especially with manufacturers introducing new snubnoses. Snubnose wheelguns have been and are still excellent choices for self-defense sidearms. Easy to use, no magazine to lose, and chambered in powerful calibers, revolvers are here to stay. So we took a look at four new snubnose revolvers: the Charter Arms Boomer, Ruger’s LCRx, the Kimber K6s CDP, and the Colt Cobra. These snubnose revolvers all proved to be reliable, safe, consistent, and accurate for self defense. What we experienced with these revolvers was a variety of grip sizes, some of which our testers said were too small for comfortable shooting or they were too big for ideal concealed carry. The sights on three guns were very serviceable, while one didn’t have sights at all. The triggers separated the pack, as did the chamberings. Two used a double-action-to-single-action trigger and two featured a double-action-only (DAO) trigger. A revolver chambered in 357 Magnum offers convenience because it can shoot 38 Special ammo, too. After tallying the scores, in our opinion the Ruger LCRx is a good choice for concealed carry, though we would tweak it. The Charter Arms Boomer, Kimber K6s, and Colt Cobra are all pretty good choices, but as you will see, the devil is in the details on those three. We tested at 10 yards because these snubnose revolvers are made for concealed carry and short-range encounters. But we learned 10 yards was too far if you don’t have sights, so we accuracy tested the Charter Arms Boomer at 7 yards. Not having sights is a liability as the distance between you and a bad actor increases. Though we typically test at 25 yards, FBI data shows that most gunfights between an officer and an attacker occur from a distance of 0 to 5 feet apart. We concealed-carry citizens can expect the same. The reality is these revolvers are made for up-close work. Short sight radii, smallish grips, and DA triggers do not make for tack-driving accuracy. We also carried these revolvers in inside-the-waistband (IWB) and appendix-carry-style holsters. We took the time to practice our draw and dry-fire these revolvers at an imagined bad actor a few steps away. On the range, we tested for accuracy using a rest. The DA/SA trigger mode on the LCRx and Colt provided an edge over the DAO models. We also tested a variety of ammunition, and the K6s and LCRx proved to be more practical and versatile because they can fire both 38 Special and 357 Magnum cartridges. Here’s what we thought about each handgun in more detail.   More...

Affordable Home-Defense Rifles: AR-15 or M1 in 30 Carbine?

Subscribers Only — When we evaluate firearms, there are guidelines we follow. Some of the projects are a result of market forces, where we are guided by what is new in the market place. Then there are reader requests. The following evaluation combines those arenas. Readers have shown interest in the M1 30 Carbine because it is a lightweight, handy rifle with historical overtones that shooters of a certain age respect. Accordingly, we have done comparisons of the rifles head to head and also ammunition testing. Likewise, we have extensively tested AR-15 rifles and ammunition. So, coupled with experience in handling both rifles and the preference of some of the raters, we cooked up an AR-15 versus M1 Carbine shoot-out, with a slant toward inexpensive rifles for home defense. The M1 Carbine is fairly inexpensive in most examples, including good-quality modern reproductions such as the Auto Ordnance. Until very recently when regulatory bans began pointing anew at the semi-auto rifle, the AR-15 had been increasingly affordable, and we even saw something of a price war going on as late as January 2018. So, with a budget theme in mind, we chose two rifles for a new shooter on a budget and limited the spend to $800, including a reasonable number of magazines and a credible ammunition supply. Counted in this evaluation were the opinions of inexperienced and female shooters, the latter of which we listened to carefully to find a combination of recoil, muzzle blast, and firearm weight the distaff gun owner might prefer. Some prefer a long gun for home defense for its power and accuracy, and the fact that handguns require time and inclination to master, a rifle can be an easier-to-learn tool, especially if area defense is also a consideration — that is, your yard is pretty large or if roaming predators, such as coyotes and feral dogs, are a consideration. A hard-hitting but light-kicking rifle can give results much beyond what a handgun can do for most shooters, if the rifle is reliable and accurate enough. The ammunition testing we have previously done in each caliber is an important part of the summary of facts in this feature. In terms of power, the 30 Carbine round in its most-common size, 110 grains, runs slightly behind the standard 223 Remington in a 55-grain bullet. But power isn’t the only consideration for someone using a rifle inside a home. Too much penetration is a problem. Choosing the right round is crucial to balance what’s needed to stop the fight and what’s too much. In previous tests, we found the Hornady 110-grain Critical Defense 30 Carbine round produced 1980 fps and the resulting energy of 957 foot-pounds. Shot into water, that round terminated with an expanded width of 0.47 inch and weight retention of 100%. It penetrated 20 inches of water. A Hornady V-Max 223 Remington load with a 55-grain bullet sped along at 2890 fps and produced muzzle energy of 1019 foot-pounds. That might worry the home defender, but this particular round finished with an expanded width of 0.44 inches of the largest fragment. It retained 50% of its weight and only penetrated 10 inches in water. The AR, again, has the edge because it’s possible to tailor the load to the home, and that’s not as feasible with the 30 Carbine rounds. How do these rifle rounds stack up to some common handgun loads? They’re much more powerful. As noted above, the 30 Carbine Hornady FXT generates muzzle energy of 957 foot-pounds and the 223 Hornady V-Max 1019 foot-pounds. In comparison, a Double Tap 10mm 135-grain round generates 1555 fps and 725 foot-pounds of energy. A Black Hills 357 Magnum 125-grain round running 1430 fps makes 567 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, and a Black Hills 45 ACP 230-grain JHP clicking along at 850 fps makes a paltry 369 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. So with those facts in mind, we compared an Israeli Arms International M1 30 Carbine and a home-built AR-15. Average price at outlets was $480 for the 30 Carbine. Also, we found a Universal Carbine in a local shop for $425, and average price for a new Auto Ordnance 30 carbine was $775. We found a new Del-Ton AR-15 for $399 new in the shop. There are many good AR-15 rifles going begging at the beginning of the year for $600 and less. This is a turnaround from a year ago. So, a clear winner on the price scale goes to a budget AR, at least until a new buying boom changes that. For more stable pricing, we chose to test a gun we built ourselves. The test AR-15 rifle consists of an Aero upper and receiver, Brownells barrel, and Brownells bolt. The parts priced out to $600, and we got what we consider to be an average rifle with good components. We realize you can go as high as you want on the AR-15 and spend several thousand dollars, but that isn’t what we are doing in this report.   More...

Affordable Handgun Ammo: Is It Up to Par for Your Firearms Use?

Subscribers Only — A few months ago we received an insightful comment from a reader. He asked us to do an ammunition comparison on inexpensive loads from diverse makers. How do they perform, he asked, compared to the big three (Federal, Remington, and Winchester) and the well-known Black Hills, Hornady, and Speer, and a few more. We are lucky to have so many choices, and because most, if not all, manufacturers subscribe to SAAMI standards, the ammunition should be safe and reliable. There are two aspects to reliability: feeding and chambering properly and then going bang. We have run across poor ammunition that fail on either or both counts, but most of it is surplus ammunition from third-world nations. We won’t discuss it here. If a brand makes it to the national market, the product has some merit. There are economy loads that offer jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) bullets, and most of these do not have the development behind them that the Big Three loads do. However, we did test some JHP loadings in this report because they were as inexpensive as any other loads, and, in some cases, were all that was available. The goal of this report was to fire as many types of ammunition as possible in both popular and less popular calibers and determine if we were getting our money’s worth in practice ammunition. Safety came first, then reliable function. We also paid attention to powder burn. We have had experience with foreign-produced ammunition that simply did not have the powder technology of our domestic loads and the result was a lot of powder ash. If a load was particularly dirty — lots of smoke and debris — we took that into account. Thankfully, the recent ammunition shortage that now seems to have abated had us searching out and trying anything we could find. Brand loyalty took a hit. So it is good to know if these inexpensive loads will function and if they are accurate enough for practice. Some of us like to fire for accuracy at longer ranges, but nothing tested wasn’t accurate enough for practice at 15 to 25 yards. Some of the loads tested are among the very few available in certain calibers. There isn’t a broad choice in 32 Smith & Wesson Long and 38 Smith & Wesson, as two examples. It is worth noting that one of the raters has different criteria for loads, and they are reliability, dirtiness, and speed. His old Colt will not feed hollowpoints, so he concentrates on finding reliable rounds, getting a clean burn, and generating velocity, goals that are worthwhile to pursue. As we told the reader who asked for this test, in our gun evaluations we strive to be fair and present a level playing field. That is why we use proven ammunition when testing a new gun. We generally include a generic ball load and one or two defense loads from the major makers when testing a new gun. This is only fair. Testing an unknown load with a new gun may not prove anything — does the ammunition or the gun bear the responsibility for failures? As one of our raters noted in his work at our sister publication, the well-respected American Gunsmith, and as a private gun fixer, he keeps a supply of generic ball from Federal, Fiocchi, Black Hills, Speer, and Winchester on hand. The gun is sick if it doesn’t feed these loads. By the same token, when testing the ammunition in this report, we did not pick up new guns, but instead relied on proven firearms from our team’s collections that have proven reliable and reasonably accurate. We were able to collect loads in thirteen calibers for use in this feature. During the test, our shooters used a Bullshooters pistol rest to confirm accuracy. Some of the results were excellent, others poor, and most fair. Accuracy is relative, and the 38-caliber Iver Johnson break-top would not be in same accuracy range as a tuned 45 ACP or 9mm pistol, but we expected some type of pattern. One note about these burner loads: Brand performance isn’t always consistent among the makers of inexpensive ammunition. One maker may have a poor load in one caliber and a standout in another. Let the buyer beware, but we found good loads for practice in most cases. We fired at least 50 rounds of each load tested, including 35 rounds off hand and three five-shot accuracy groups. Accuracy testing was conducted at a distance appropriate for the handgun. In each case, we describe the performance of the test rounds, but we highlight one round in particular that we recommend.   More...

New Rifle Introductions for 2018

Subscribers Only — Gun Tests reporters and editors on the scene at SHOT Show 2018 in Las Vegas scoured the show for new rifle, pistol, shotgun, and accessory entries for our readers to consider this year. For what seems like a long time now, new rifle introductions have been dominated by variations on the AR-15/AR-10 platform. But for 2018, we’re also seeing the emergence of more dedicated long-range precision sport and hunting rifles. Here’s a rundown on quite a few just-introduced rifle choices for 2018, some of which we’ll be looking at later this year.   More...