Pistol-.45 cal.

2016 Guns & Gear Top Picks

November 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Toward the end of each year, I survey the work R.K. Campbell, Roger Eckstine, Austin Miller, Robert Sadowski, David Tannahill, Tracey Taylor, John Taylor, Rafael Urista, Ralph Winingham, and Kevin Winkle have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns, accessories, and ammunition the magazine’s testers have endorsed. From these evaluations I pick the best from a full year’s worth of tests and distill recommendations for readers, who often use them as shopping guides. These choices are a mixture of our original tests and other information I’ve compiled during the year. After we roll high-rated test products into long-term testing, I keep tabs on how those guns do, and if the firearms and accessories continue performing well, then I have confidence including them in this wrap-up.

Compact 45 ACP Shoot-Out: Glock, S&W, and Springfield

October 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine

The compact self-loading pistol is easily the most popular personal-defense handgun in America. Shooters realize that small-bore handguns may not have sufficient potential for personal defense. The 9mm Luger is the baseline for personal defense in most shooters’ eyes. The 40 S&W isn’t as popular due to the stout recoil it produces in compact handguns. After all, many 9mms and 40s are built on the same frame. The 45-caliber compact is slightly larger, and the lower-pressure 45 ACP gives a hard push in recoil rather than the sharp jolt experienced with the 40.

To see how our shooters rated a trio of smallish 45s, we acquired three handguns based on the service-size Glock 21, Springfield XD, and S&W M&P handguns.

l From Glock comes the single-stack polymer-frame G36, which is popular, reliable, and well suited to personal defense. The Glock G36 PI3650201FGR 45 6R FS, $561, isn’t the most popular Glock by a long shot, but a number of Glock fans, as well as 45 ACP fans, like the Glock 36 handgun for its simplicity and ease of use.

l Another gun in the test was Springfield Armory’s XD-S, a downsized XD with a slim single-stack grip. The Springfield Armory XD-S 3.3 XDS93345BE 45 ACP, $419, is even more compact than the Glock, with a short grip frame and a five-round magazine.

l The latest arrival in the polymer-frame 45 single-stack scene is the Smith & Wesson M&P45 Shield 180022, $399. The Shield series have been popular and well accepted by concealed carry handgunners, so making a 45-caliber version of it is a natural choice.

We test-fired the pistols with a total of five loads. The first was a handload with Magnus Cast bullets (#803 225-grain Flatpoint) and 4.8 grains of Titegroup powder. Our other test loads came from CheaperThanDirt.com. One was the HPR 230-grain JHP 45230JHP ($38/50 rounds), a Hornady 200-grain XTP ($15.28/20), a Hornady 230-grain XTP +P 9096 ($16.25/20), and a Fiocchi 230-grain Extrema JHP 45XTP25 ($17.24/25). We fired the handload during the combat firing test stage, shooting 50 cartridges in each pistol. We also fired a magazine of the Hornady 230-grain +P in these stages to evaluate recoil in each handgun. The HPR 230-grain load, the Hornady 200-grain load, and the Fiocchi 230-grain Extrema were used in accuracy testing. During the course of our testing, the three pistols never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject, so reliability isn’t an issue.

As may be expected, these compact 45s are popular with fans of each company’s full-size 45s. But that isn’t the whole story. As we discovered, fans of the full-size Glock may prefer the XD-S and our Springfield XD fan preferred the Glock 36 compact, and so it went. The primary difference was in handling, we found. Here are our findings.

Practical Target Guns: Kimber And Springfield Go Head to Head

May 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

In this installment, we pit two practical target guns against each other. By practical target guns we mean accurate and useful 1911 handguns suitable for personal defense, hunting, and some forms of competition. They are not so specialized that they are not holster guns or unreliable for general use. Some target guns simply are not as robust as these handguns. 

Fragile sights that overhang the slide too far, as an example, are counterintuitive in an all-round packing gun. If an adjustable sight loses its zero in competition, you will lose the match. Losing zero in a personal-defense situation carries a stiffer penalty for failure. Getting down to the nitty-gritty, fiber-optic front sights are not always desirable in a hard-use handgun because they tend to be fragile, even if they deliver superior targeting performance.

On the other hand, a service pistol or a hunting pistol with adjustable sights is desirable given the wide range of bullet weights and velocity available with the 45 ACP cartridge. Gun Tests readers already know that the 1911 Government Model platform is a versatile, go-anywhere do-anything handgun; but the question is, can target per­formance translate to de­fensive reliability and handling? 

When the Na­tional Matches got into full force after World War One, improvements were undertaken on the 1911 handgun. Barrels were welded up and carefully fitted, and high-profile sights were fabricated. These improvements led to the Colt National Match pistol’s introduction in 1933. The National Match featured a hand-honed action and two-way adjustable sights. Law officers and outdoorsmen also adopted this relatively expensive handgun. Changes and modification led to the Colt Gold Cup. The sights were fragile in many renditions — not the case in the newest models — so the shooter wishing to own a service-grade handgun with target sights had to take the custom route. Expedients, such as fitting Smith & Wesson revolver sights to the 1911 slide, were not always successful, but the Bo-Mar sight was an excellent addition to any 1911.

High-visibility adjustable sights are a good thing to have, provided they are reliable in keeping zero, are not fragile, and aren’t likely to be damaged. Today, we have the best adjustable-sight 1911 pistols yet from the factory, and our two tests guns put them to excellent use. Here’s how they performed.

Four 45s Compete for Top Carry Honors

March 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine

The high-end 1911 handgun continues to be popular, so popular, in fact, that folks are willing to drop well over one thousand dollars to gain what they hope is superior performance. On a high-end pistol, “performance” often means features, such as good sights, forward cocking serrations, a good trigger compression, and attention to detail. The discerning shooter is looking for reliability first, then handling, accuracy, and fit and feel, and four handguns that are reputed to have those qualities at various price tags come from Colt and Springfield Armory. 

We recently tested two sidearms chambered in 45 ACP from each company that would interest nearly any buyer who was in the market for a self-defense arm. The products were Springfield’s Loaded Model PX9109LP, $790; and for hundreds more, the company’s Tactical Response Pistol, the TRP PC9108LP 45 ACP, $1347. To fit in that sizable price gap in the Springfield lineup, we selected Colt’s Combat Elite 08011XSE, $1015, and the Rail Gun XSE 01070RG, $1199. These are actual counter prices from BudsGunShop.com, and our intent was to survey a range of pricing to see if additional dollars translated into additional performance that would matter to our test team of shooters.

Among the most popular sidearms in terms of numbers sold are the Colt Combat Elite and the Springfield Loaded Model. A Colt Rail Gun variant is used by the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Springfield Bureau Model, similar to the TRP, by the FBI SWAT team. All four are combat guns intended to give the user an advantage in the field, so our thorough test involved a number of trained shooters who were asked to push the pistols to the limit, so we could discover the boundaries of control, combat accuracy, and absolute accuracy. We should also note that the Loaded Model was a rater’s personal carry gun. The rater stated it came out of the box running and has never given a complaint, and it has some 5,000 rounds through it. Cosmetically, it was hard to assess the status of the Loaded by just looking. The pistol is finished in a dull, non-reflective Parkerized finish that doesn’t show wear very much. The other pistols were new out of the box. 

At this point we will mention the holsters used, as the Rail Gun demanded rail-specific holsters. The other three guns were easily passed around to the raters and standard holsters were used for them. For the Rail Gun, we had to invest in two holsters specific to it, with three raters doing most of the firing. We used Ted Blocker’s X 16 holster in both standard and 1911 rail-gun types. The holster was used both strong side and crossdraw, with excellent results. We also used a ZZZ Custom Kydex strong-side holster, which gave a good fit on the Colt’s long bearing services and is relatively compact for a rail-gun holster. The other holster was a Sweetwater Saddlery strong-side pancake design that hugs the body.

At the range, we used three loads. The Black Hills Ammunition 200-grain lead semi-wadcutter bullet was our training and practice load. Next, the Hornady American Gunner 185-grain XTP represented a lightweight-bullet defense load, and the Winchester M1911 230-grain jacketed hollowpoint stood in as a heavy defense load. These are affordable 45 ACP choices likely to be used by shooters. We expected that heavy bullets with a long bearing surface would demonstrate good accuracy, but in this case, the lightest bullet weight gave the best accuracy. Also, our shooters noted the heavier push of the 230-grain load. Following are objective data about each handgun, as well as the subjective opinions of our shooters based on head-to-head firing tests.

Range Data

February 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The team was split even before we put in any trigger time, with the 45 ACP aficionados against the 9mm clan. But as range testing progressed, we found ourselves liking the 9mm more. At first, we expected the XD Mod.2 pistols would shift in our grip during recoil, but we found quite the opposite to be true. The grip textures offered good friction against our hands without abrasion.

We also saw the sights were large and offered fast target acquisition. The pistols likewise pointed well for close work and continued to perform out to 25 yards. Most felt the pistols acted like full-size pistols.

Recoil felt less stout in the Mod.2s compared to other smaller pistols we are familiar with. We attribute this to the grip, lighter slide, and dual-spring recoil guide rod. There was some take up on the triggers — which is fine considering these are defensive pistols — as long as the breaks were consistent, which they were.

With average accuracy of about 1.5-inch groups with the 9mm model and 2-inch groups with the 45 ACP at 25 yards, we were happy. The Mod.2 in 9mm was more pleasant to shoot than the 45 ACP, though the 45 ACP was nowhere near the brute we though it would be. We could also recover faster using the 9mm model, so a follow-up shot was quicker.

Springfield Armory XD Mod.2 3.3-Inch SubCompact XDG9845BHCSP 45 ACP, $593

February 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Springfield did more than just reduce the grip and barrel and slide length like they did with the XD 3-inch subcompact, which is another pistol we have given Buy It rating to in the past. With the Mod.2 series of pistols, Springfield addressed ergonomics in small pistols, which are usually difficult to shoot due to their small grips. Add in powerful rounds like 147-grain 9mms and 230-grain 45 ACP FMJs, and the shooter finds the pistols can easily move and shift in the grip, mainly because subcompacts do not have a lot of grip to hold onto in first place. We all know consistency is the key to better and more accurate shooting, and a good grip is the foundation of that concept. Springfield tackled this issue with the Grip Zone, or three different types of textures placed in strategic places. The three zones of texture provide different types of adhesion. Zone 1 texture is located on the frontstrap and backstrap and provides a good anti-slip surface. Zone 2 texture is the most aggressive and is located on the side panels. Zones 1 and 2 are a type of stippling that our team felt offers good adhesion without being uncomfortable to grip firmly. Zone 3 texture covers the remainder of the frame and has a slight pebble texture.

9mm and 45 ACP XD Mod.2 Subcompacts Go Head to Head

February 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The compromise that shooters have to deal with in choosing a concealed-carry sidearm is this: A smaller pistol that is easier to conceal is usually more difficult to operate and shoot; and a larger pistol that is easier to operate and shoot is more difficult to conceal. A line of guns retailers have told us are popular carry pieces are the newest Springfield Armory XD variants, the XD Mod.2 series. 

They are supposedly redesigned XD subcompacts that have better ergonomics, more useful sights, and slimmer profiles. If you are looking for a concealed-carry handgun that offers a super-slim profile, less weight, and better concealability, we suggest you stick with a single-stack pistol like Springfield’s XD-S 3.3, which we reviewed in February 2015 (Grade A). On the other hand, if you want a pistol that is still concealed-carry friendly but has nearly double the magazine capacity with the feel of a full-size pistol, the Mod.2 pistols are supposed to fill that ticket. So we tested the two most-popular chamberings of the Mod.2 pistols in 9mm Luger and 45 ACP to see what all the fuss is about. The question that needed to be answered is, are these new guns so good that we would recommend you considering switching from your favorite carry piece? That is a super-high barrier for any handgun to scale, and, ultimately, each concealed-carrier has to make the decision to try them on his or her own. 

The trend these days with law enforcement is to move to the 9mm cartridge, and many agencies we are acquainted with are using 147-grain ammo. So we selected 147-grain cartridges from Atlanta Arms as well as 115-grain rounds from Black Hills and Hornady. For the 45 ACP, we stuck with the most popular bullet-weight choice, 230 grains, selecting FMJs from Perfecta and Federal and hollowpoints from Atlanta Arms. We had no experience with Perfecta 45 ACP ammo, but found it at a big-box store and thought we’d try it.

We fired for accuracy at 25 yards using the provided flush-fit magazines and a rest. We also fired for speed at 15 yards with both magazines, and with the flush-fit magazines drew from concealed carry using the included belt holsters and a Fobus IWB holster that uses either a large or small universal shell. The flexible backing of the Fobus ensures the pistol stays secure when worn. We practiced dry-firing drills with both pistols using both holsters and progressed to live fire. By no means could these pistols be dropped in a pants pocket; they need a holster.