Pistols, Other

New Handguns and Ammo for 2018

May 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Gun Tests reporters and editors on the scene at SHOT Show 2018 in Las Vegas scoured the show for new pistol and handgun accessory entries for our readers to consider this year. Amazingly, a handgun made of steel with a design more than 100 years old — the fabled 1911 — still drives the market. A third of the new guns that follow are based on this legendary platform, followed closely by pocket pistols, and it’s clear the revolver is not the antiquated firearm many assume. In fact, when it comes to handguns, 2018 is a good mix of old, new, plastic, and steel, with a wheelgun or two thrown in for good measure, along with loads for defensive handgun use to feed these new beasts. Here’s a rundown on a few new handgun and ammunition choices for 2018 that our staff thought were notable and which we’ll be looking to include in future issues. 

Non-1911 Magazines: We Test A Passel of Them Head to Head

March 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine

You can never have enough magazines. Modern pistol shooters practice hard; compete in IDPA, IPSC, and Three Gun matches. They need reliable equipment. Personal-defense shooters need reliable, functional magazines at a fair price. In this installment, we are testing magazines for fit, function, reliability and durability. In common with recoil, striker, and hammer springs, magazines should be replaced from time to time. While new springs may help magazines retain some function, there is a time when cracked or bent feed lips demand the magazine be discarded.

In this test, we followed the same criteria we used in testing 1911 magazines, except this test was more diverse in both handguns and cartridges. The handguns used in the test were proven examples, with few function exceptions. Since the firearms had long-ago proven reliable, there would be no confusion as to which part was responsible for the malfunction, the pistol or the magazine. We also used good-quality ammunition to test the magazines. In each case, we used at least two magazines of each type to bang on.

Using proven criteria and a team of experienced raters, we learned some magazines were durable and service grade; that is, we would be comfortable putting them into “service” in critical situations. We also learned others were okay for range use, but not critical use. In all of these cases, we recommend spending a little more for service-grade magazines across the board for all uses. We don’t think it’s advisable to mix low performers with high performers in this critical area of function.

Hot Handguns and Cartridges From Springfield, Coonan, Glock

March 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

For more than a year, we have been testing and evaluating some of the most powerful and interesting self-loading handgun cartridges. These are the ubiquitous 9mm Luger, which we think has become the baseline against which all other handgun chamberings can be compared, and the far-less-common but still commercially viable 38 Super, 357 SIG, and 357 Magnum, the last of which is chambered in a Coonan handgun. The evaluation was the result of a reader request, and three of which, the 9mm, 38 Super, and 357 SIG, sometimes use the same bullets, but at different velocities.

We began with a number of goals. First, as always, reliability has to be foremost because the handguns were competing as personal-defense choices. We also viewed them as outdoors-carry choices for defense against feral dogs and big cats. We wanted to see how efficiently each cartridge delivered its power, with the idea that the 9mm set the floor. Increased flash, blast, and recoil may be counterproductive in the others, and as it turned out, we got more horsepower with less recoil than expected. The energy difference wasn’t incremental; it was profound. We didn’t choose average 9mm or 38 Super loads, but instead picked those loads that had given good results in the past. Only the top performers in 9mm and 38 Super are in this report. With the 357 SIG and 357 Magnum, we were on new ground and chose a representative sample of bullet weights. The 357 SIG and 357 Magnum enjoy an excellent reputation for terminal ballistics. The 9mm, less so, and based on previous data, we expected the 38 Super to be as effective or more than a 9mm Luger +P+ load. The primary consideration was personal defense, so control was important. The larger guns may not be ideal for concealed carry, but would be good handguns for field use or home defense. For those wishing to deploy a handgun with plenty of power and accuracy, the 357-caliber self-loaders are easier to control than Magnum revolvers. The self-loaders demonstrate less recoil due to the smaller charge of faster-burning powder and the movement of the action and compression of springs as the handgun is fired. So how would they compare to the revolver? As it turned out, these modern powerhouses outclass the 357 Magnum revolver, in our opinion, on many levels.

We collected a good supply of ammunition, five loads for each gun versus our usual three. We chose three powerful hollowpoint loads for accuracy testing, as is SOP for Gun Tests. We added a fourth load for ballistic testing to test penetration and expansion. We added an economical practice load for use in the combat-firing test phase. So, this was a thorough test requiring several months. We elected not to go lighter than 115-grain bullets in any chambering. The 357 SIG, 38 Super, and 9mm Luger are usually loaded with bullets in the range of 115 to 147 grains. We fired 125-, 140-, and 158-grain bullets in the 357 Magnum Coonan. Here are the results.

2017 Guns & Gear Top Picks

December 2017 - 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, and Ralph Winingham 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.

We Wouldn't Buy Ruger or Howa Precision Rifles

December 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

When a firearm leaves the factory in a condition that precludes the buyer from using it as designed, that firearm deserves an “F.” I believe it is acceptable to point out whether the problem is severe or an easy fix. However, the evaluation needs to stress that the firearm should have never left the factory in the condition tested. Personally, regardless of the grades given, I would not buy the Ruger or the Howa. Keep up the good work.

Big-Bore Autos: Two More 10mms and One 357 Magnum

November 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Other than the 45 ACP, a big-bore automatic means a pistol chambered in 10mm Auto or a less-common caliber. In the recent past, we have tested a few new 10mm pistols and found we liked what they offered. For this test we went to Colt, one of the original manufacturers of the 10mm in the 1911 platform, and acquired one of the company’s new Delta Elite pistols. We also went back in time to the early 1990s when the FBI determined they were under-gunned and opted for the 10mm round. We found a used Smith & Wesson Model 1076, which is similar to the FBI Contract Gun, and shot it side by side with the Colt. Then we added a Coonan, which has been around for a number of years, with its claim to fame being a 1911-style platform chambered in magnum revolver calibers. We acquired one of the latest models, the Classic 1911 chambered in 357 Magnum, to pit against the two 10mms from Colt and S&W.

Bottom line is, these are expensive pistols with expensive ammo appetites, but that wouldn’t stop us from owning any of these three tested pistols. Any of these pistols are well suited for short-range hunting and personal defense. These pistols are all full-size models with heavy steel receivers, and that is a good thing when firing hot 357 Magnum and 10mm loads. In addition to their weight, another similarity were locked breech actions, where a lug or pair of lugs on the barrel locked into grooves cut on the inside of the slide, similar to a 1911 set up. They also had single-stack magazines and fixed three-dot sights. The triggers on the Coonan and Colt were exceptional. The S&W was heavy, but it still kept pace with the newer pistols.

We tested for accuracy using a rest at 25 yards and found these pistols were well matched in accuracy. Accuracy averaged about 2 inches for five-shot groups. We also practiced double taps at targets set at 10 yards. During that round, we found the 10mm pistols were easier to control than the 357 Magnum pistol.

For ammunition, we used SIG Sauer V-Crown 180-grain jacketed hollow-point bullets and SIG Sauer full-metal-jacket 180-grain bullets. We also used Armscor USA rounds loaded with 180-grain FMJs. The Armscor clocked about 100 fps less than the SIG ammo. We’ve noticed that SIG is loading 10mm ammo hotter. Many factory loads in 10mm are light and do not bring out the true potential of the 10mm round. The 357 Magnum rounds consisted of SIG Sauer V-Crown 125-grain JHPs, Aguila 158-grain semi-jacketed hollow points, and Winchester PDX1 Defender 125-grain JHPs. We had issues with the Winchester ammo in the Coonan, which we will get into below. Here are details about how each gun performed.

A Trio of Unusual Revolvers: Worth the Trouble and Money?

September 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

Most gun owners want firearms they can shoot and have fun with, even their life-and-death carry guns. Some of us also want the unusual because we like a walk on the wild side, irrespective of whether it has any use beyond messing around with or plinking. In this Special Report, we take a look at three wheelguns for which there are little or no match ups to find, so head-to-head testing isn’t possible. But even without something to shoot beside them, we can learn plenty about whether some unique, or nearly unique, handguns are worth the time and trouble to find and add to your collection as a real, firing item.

Herewith then, we look at the Nagant M1895 7.62x38mmR, the Smith & Wesson Model 929 9mm Luger, and the Chiappa Buntline 22 LR.

Surplus 1911s Might Be Back

September 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 2810, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018. Included in the bill is a provision that would make U.S. Army surplus 1911 45 ACP pistols available to the American public through the Civilian Marksmanship program (CMP), according to an NRA release. In November 2015, then-President Obama signed the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2016 into law with language that authorized the Secretary of Defense to transfer 1911s no longer in service to the CMP for public sale. That language made the transfers subject to the Secretary’s discretion and capped them at 10,000 per year. Unsurprisingly, no actual transfers were made under the program while Obama remained in the White House.

Ruger Recalls Most Mark IVs

August 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

Ruger has issued a wide recall of all Mark IV and 22/45 models because of a problem with the safety and sear and has told owners that the pistols should not be used.

The issue is: In some cases, if the trigger is pulled while the safety lever is midway between the “safe” and “fire” positions and not full engaged in either, the pistol may or may not fire when the trigger is pulled.

If the gun doesn’t fire when the trigger is pulled, it may fire if the user then pushes the safety to the “fire” position without the trigger being activated.

Here’s a statement from a Ruger press release on the company’s website:

“Although only a small percentage of pistols appear to be affected and we are not aware of any injuries, Ruger is firmly committed to safety and would like to retrofit all potentially affected pistols with an updated safety mechanism. Until your Mark IV pistol has been retrofitted or you verify that it is not subject to the recall, we strongly recommend that you not use your pistol.”

Ruger says they have received a “small number” of reports from the field indicating the problem exists. Additional testing confirmed the issue and the recall was issued.

The Return of Remington’s R51 Semi-Auto: How Does It Fare?

August 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

We recently tested four single-stack 9mm Luger defense-oriented handguns, among the most popular carry guns in America. Three were single-action pistols and one was a double-action-only model. The spread in expense was pronounced, from less than $200 to more than $700. As always, when we’re evaluating carry pistols, handling and accuracy mean a lot, but reliability is the bottom line, and we start with a pistol that has had a mark beside its name for being unreliable. In the lineup was a pistol taking its second bite at the apple, Remington’s R51 96430 9mm Luger, which has undergone a recall and revamp and is now back on dealer shelves. Pitted against it were a SIG Sauer P938 Engraved Rosewood Micro-Compact 938-9-ESR, a Taurus 709 Slim 1-709031FS, and a Kel-Tec PF-9.

All of these handguns have a history with us. Most recently, the R51 did well in its initial test in our pages, but was recalled shortly thereafter. In the August 2014 issue, we said, “The Remington R51 was a handy, comfortable pistol of just the right size for its power. Felt recoil with the hottest ammo was amazingly light, and muzzle flip was almost non-existent. It had an odd takedown procedure that was easily mastered. The gun had enough accuracy for its intended purpose. It worked well, was not too expensive, had a great trigger and great sights, and we really liked the concept.

“Though our FFL advised us that other shooters were having function problems with the R51, our test gun simply did not exhibit those problems. Because we only report what happens in our tests and base our grades on our own experiences, we could not fault the R51 for issues other people were having.

“However, after publication of the August print issue, we learned that the R51 had been recalled by Remington. We adjusted the grade on the R51 to an F and returned our test gun to the factory under the recall program.”

Then, late last year, Remington Arms Company announced that the R51 had returned to the market with enhancements that included updated slide internals, precision-engineered extractor, locking snag-free sights, tuned recoil spring, hard-chromed barrel bushing, a single-action trigger, and two semi-flush 7+1 round magazines. At the time of the re-release, Remington said the pistol had been extensively tested. The company again touted the R51’s features and benefits, including a lightweight aluminum frame with rounded edges for comfortable conceal carry, a grip safety, low bore axis for reduced recoil/muzzle flip, a concealed carry trigger that was a light, crisp single action, low slide racking-force for ease of manipulation, an ambidextrous magazine release, locking drift-adjustable sights, and optimized grip angle. Our test gun, a full replacement of the original, has a suggested retail price of $448.

The last time we looked at the Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm was in April 2011. Of the PF-9, we said, “All business-like flat black, the blued Kel-Tec PF-9 is slim and easily concealable. It was a bit too big for most trouser pockets, but would fit most overcoat pockets. The fixed sights gave an excellent picture that we thought could be improved by widening the rear notch. There were three white dots. The rear sight was adjustable for windage, and by shimming for elevation. An Allen screw secured it. Both the front and rear sights were polymer, as was the trigger and, of course, most of the frame.

“The integral grips had a coarse checkerboard pattern that provided excellent traction, and the front and rear grip straps had vertical serrations. The magazine release was a steel button that was not easy to hit accidentally, but let the mag come out easily when intentionally pressed. The gun could be fired with the magazine removed.

“In our testing we came to love the trigger of the Kel-Tec. We had no trouble whatsoever with short-stroking the trigger in rapid shooting. In fact, the recoil seemed to blow the gun backwards and our trigger finger forward. We were unaware of the trigger needing to be carefully allowed to go all the way forward. We essentially had no problems at all with the Kel-Tec PF-9. We had one failure for the slide to lock back on empty with the first magazine-full through it, but that never happened again. We think this is one mighty fine 9mm handgun, but it is not for the recoil-sensitive person.”

About a year later (March 2012) we test-fired the Taurus 709B Slim No. 1-709031. Back then, we said of the handgun, “We never suffered a failure to ignite or any other type of malfunction, so all shots in our tests were performed using the single-action trigger. From the 10-yard bench, only two groups measured 2 inches wide or larger. Overall average size for all groups fired in our tests computed to about 1.5 inches.

30 Carbine Picks: Hornady, Speer, Buffalo Bore Loads Tested

July 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The 30 Carbine cartridge is an interesting and historically significant round. The M1 Carbine was the first little-maintenance firearm issued to the U.S. Army and was also among the first firearms that might correctly be called a Personal Defense Weapon (PDW). Designed for military officers, back-area troops, truck drivers and other personnel not usually armed with a rifle, it was specifically intended to allow officers to carry a lightweight rifle that was more powerful and accurate than a handgun. The carbine was not a short-barrel full-power rifle as earlier carbines had been, being instead designed for a lower-powered cartridge compared to the 30-06 cartridge used in the M1 Garand. Compared to the Russian M44 or the British No. 5 carbine, the M1 carbine is much easier to use well and handle. The M1 Carbine was designed for close-range area defense and personal defense. The concept was successful, and eventually, the army manufactured more than 6 million carbines. Numerous police agencies used the M1 carbine, including post-war Berlin and the NYPD. For close-range battle, the M1 carbine has much to offer.

We feel that the attributes of the M1 Carbine might make it even better suited to home defense than the typical AR-15 rifle. For hunting use and predator control, not so much. We cannot recommend the energy level of the 30 Carbines for deer-sized game, but its low recoil and low muzzle flash are essential for home defense, and the 30 Carbine offers both, but with 357 Magnum energy. The rifle is ergonomic and provides high hit probability. We admit the standard 110-grain FMJ load at about 2000 fps isn’t the best choice for home defense, based on over penetration and a lack of wound potential. There have been 110-grain jacketed soft points and jacketed hollowpoints used by police agencies, but most of these loads seem out of production by old mainstays Winchester and Remington. Still, we were able to collect loads using modern expanding bullets and compare them for accuracy penetration and expansion. What we found was that accuracy is good to excellent for all loads, although some were more accurate than others. For use in the home or area defense and animal defense against feral dogs and coyotes to 50 yards or more, the little rifle is plenty accurate. While we find there was something to recommend about all the loads tested, there are standouts. The Buffalo Bore full-power load and the Speer Gold Dot are at the top of the pack for home defense, with the Critical Defense load a strong contender for tactical use.

In this test, we fired 50 cartridges of each load, which included three cartridges each for penetration and expansion testing and fifteen cartridges (three five-shot groups) for accuracy. The remaining 32 rounds were fired in off hand shooting for personal defense work at 5, 7, and 25 yards. We tested accuracy from 25 yards. The rifle was a vintage Israel Arms International carbine. Here are the results.

.410 Bore Ammo Tests

July 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The argument for a .410-chambered handgun is moot if ammunition performance isn’t credible, so we tested the loads used in evaluating the three .410s, two handguns and a shotgun, using water, our standard ballistic material. For consistency, we used the same ballistic testing for the two revolvers and the pistol-grip shotgun that we have developed in testing all defensive ammunition. We tested four shotgun loads and two personal-defense handgun loads. The 45 Colt loading was fired in the Judge and the Governor, while the 45 ACP loading was tested only in the Smith & Wesson Governor because the Judge isn’t chambered for 45 ACP. In the end, the difference in performance was stark. We cannot recommend birdshot for personal defense. The buckshot and PDX loads are interesting and have some merit. The slug is speedy but very light in weight for personal defense. The 45 Colt is a heavyweight with good performance, while the 45 ACP load was below what we expected in velocity compared to a full-size 5-inch-barrel 1911 handgun.

Since the .410-bore handgun is often chosen for personal defense in the home based on a perceived lack of penetration, we conducted a modest test of penetration in the home. One of the raters spends his money on guns, but he recently replaced an aging door in his home. Not wasting anything, we subjected the hollow door to fire from the Remington birdshot load, the Winchester PDX, Winchester slugs, and Federal buckshot. The results (no table needed) were that all the loads penetrated. We were surprised that the birdshot penetrated both sides of the door, but it did. Every pellet exited. The Federal buckshot made clean holes, and so did the slug. The Winchester PDX penetrated fully, but the discs, in some cases, were found on the ground 4 to 5 feet behind the door, indicating they lost a lot of energy. If you wish to limit penetration among the A- and B-rated defense loads, the Winchester, with its lighter payload, seems to be the choice.

It is an odd coincidence, but as we were doing research for this report, we saw a newscast of two robbers, holding a man at gunpoint, who were subsequently shot with a shotgun by another person coming in from the second floor of the dwelling. While details are sketchy, it seems birdshot was used, lightly wounding the felons who fled, were treated at a local ER, and then were arrested at the hospital. Yes, it’s anecdotal, but we thought it was worth mentioning. Here’s how the various loads performed in these handguns:

.410 Bore Self-Defense Choices

July 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The decision of which self-defense .410 firearm is the correct choice for up-close-and-personal situations encountered in the home often comes down to a handgun in one hand or a short-barreled pump-action shotgun in the other. Because of their ease of handling, two revolvers that are capable of firing both .410 loads and handgun rounds are becoming quite popular; and pistol-grip short-barrel shotguns remain a favored option in self-defense circles. The question arises about which type of close-range firearm is the most effective with the diminutive .410 loads, including those that have recently been developed with short-barreled revolvers in mind.

Acting on a reader request, we conducted a multitude of tests on a trio of readily available self-defense firearms that included a Taurus Judge (handles .410-bore shotshells and 45 Colt) that retails for $629; a Smith & Wesson Governor (handles .410, 45 Colt, and 45 ACP) that retails for $809; and a Mossberg Model 500 Cruiser that sells for $467 and fires .410-bore shotshells.

Each of the firearms (all have been examined in previous GT reviews) is specifically designed for close-quarters action, such as when an intruder has illegally entered a residence, placing the people living in the home in a potentially life-threatening situation. In such a life-or-death scenario, a reliable, easy-to-handle, and effective self-defense tool is essential.

In this part of the GT evaluation and match-up, our focus was on the handling ability of the three firearms and their patterning performance at close-quarters ranges. We attempted to walk the fine line that divides ease of handling with putting the pattern in the right place to evaluate the two revolvers and the pump-action.

We tested the firearms on the range with targets set at two ranges used in concealed carry courses to simulate typical home-defense scenarios. The close targets were set at 9 feet (3 yards) and the second set of targets was shot at 21 feet (7 yards). Here are our findings.

10mms: How About the P220?

July 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

Neat comparison of 10mms; kinda hoping you’d toss the SIG P220 in 10mm into the mix. I thought your comments on the Kimber TLE II grips were interesting. I haven’t shot that model, but I own a Kimber Custom Eclipse II in 10mm and have no such issue with my grips when firing up to 100 rounds in a session. For those who would like the edges less raspy, I use blue buffing on a buffing wheel mounted in my drill press to polish out G10 revolver and knife grips. It’s not too aggressive, and you could take a little edge off without substantially changing the grip’s appearance. Clean up with a little denatured alcohol and a toothbrush and you’re ready for the range.

Browning Adds Five New Pistols to Black Label 1911-380 Line

June 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Browning has added new offerings to the Black Label 1911-380 pistol line.

The new Black Label 1911-380 Medallion Pro will be available in Full Size and Compact versions. These new pistols will feature an aluminum-reinforced composite frame and slide with a blackened stainless steel finish with silver brush-polished flats. Grips on this new model are checkered rosewood with a gold Buckmark logo. The pistol comes with two magazines. The Full Size model barrel length is 4.25 inches and the Compact barrel length is 3.625 inches. Both the Full Size and Compact versions are available with steel three-dot sights or steel night sights. Suggested Retail price with the 3-dot sights: $800. Suggested retail price with night sights: $880.

Browning is also adding three Compact models to the 1911-380 line in 2017. The Black Label 1911-380 Compact has the same features as the Black Label 1911-380 Full Size but with a 3.625-inch barrel. This model has composite black grips and includes fixed combat sights. Suggested retail: $670.

Browning is also adding Compact models to both the Black Label Pro and the Black Label Pro with Rail. Both of these models have 3.625-inch barrels and are available with either steel three-dot sights or steel night sights. The Black Label Pro Compact has a suggested retail price of $800 for the three-dot model and $880 for the night-sight model. The Black Label Pro Compact with Rail and three-dot sight has a suggested retail price of $830, and the railed night sight model has a suggested retail price of $910.

Three More 10mm Autos: Kimber, Dan Wesson, Tanfoglio

May 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Last year we tested three 10mm Auto pistols and found there was a lot of interest in these big-bore handguns, so we decided to return to these powerful handguns for another look. Our most recent crop of 10mms includes two 1911 platforms and one based on the CZ 75 platform. The Kimber Custom TLE II and the Dan Wesson Bruin Bronze share the 1911 platform, while the Tanfoglio Witness is based on the CZ 75 design. We liked all three of these pistols and found that all three could serve multiple duties from hunting to self-defense. Since the 10mm has the power of a 41 Magnum, we feel it is a bit much for everyday carry. If we ever were in a shooting incident, it’s possible the overpenetration of the 10mm could be a liability. But in a self-defense situation where you are facing an angry bear in the back country, we think the 10mm Auto makes perfect sense. Also, as a hunting round, the 10mm offers a lot of power and is well suited for game like deer and pigs at short distances. We’d even use it in a tree stand to take black bears visiting a bait.

All three pistols ran exceptionally well with no malfunctions or jams, and we found they were accurate. Two-inch five-shot groups at 25 yards were the norm. For ammunition, we used SIG Sauer V-Crown Ammunition loaded with an 180-grain JHP bullet. The SIG ammo was loaded to velocities that 10mm Auto was designed for.

The other two loads were Federal American Eagle and Armscor USA labels, both using 180-grain FMJs. These two rounds weren’t as hot as the SIG load, as the table data reveal. The SIG ammo factory data shows a muzzle velocity of 1250 fps; we got very close to that muzzle velocity from the Kimber and Dan Wesson. The Tanfoglio produced less velocity. The Federal and Armscor ammo is factory-speed stamped at 1030 fps and 1008 fps, respectively. With the three pistols, we saw higher muzzle velocities than the factory figures.

For accuracy testing, we used a rest and open sights, firing at targets placed 25 yards downrange. For our speed stage, we fired at 10 yards. A fast and accurate follow-up shot was faster with the Bruin and Witness, which we will get into shortly. Remember that a 10mm Auto is not a learner’s pistol or for those who are sensitive to recoil. In our opinion, the Bruins and the Witness helped us manage recoil the best. Shooting this trio side by side at the range, we learned a lot about them. Here’s the skinny on all three.

Big 9mm Pistols Tested? Yes!

May 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The March 2017 issue compared “Forward-Mounted-Mag 9mm Pistols from SIG, Zenith, & CZ.” The  three super-sized pistols tested included the Zenith Firearms MKE Z-5RS with SB Brace, the CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1, and the SIG Sauer MPX-PSB. The Zenith and SIG came with braces, while the CZ did not, but one could be purchased separately. All three proved to have good accuracy and reliability as defensive firearms. We preferred the Zenith, though the SIG and CZ performed well. As a subscriber, log on to Gun-Tests.com and read the entire review, either the online version or download the whole issue as a PDF.

Four Affordable 1911 Rail Guns

April 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

Guns fitted with accessory rails, aka rail guns, are a popular choice for both self defense and home defense because of their ability to mount a combat light or advanced laser. These are nice features to have on a defense handgun, but they must be paired with features that make a difference to accuracy, reliability, and handling, such as a speed safety and a well-designed beavertail and functional grip safety on their 1911s. Good sights and a crisp trigger response are always important factors as well. But the most important factor is reliability. 

New Handguns at SHOT 2017

February 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The New Black Label 1911-22LR Gray full-size and compact models are available with or without a rail. The slides on both are machined aluminum, and the barrel has a gray anodized finish. The frames are composite, with a machined 7075 aluminum subframe and slide rails. Sights are fiber-optic. SRP: $699.99; $719.99 with the rail. A Black Label 1911-22LR Medallion full size and compact will also be offered with similar features for $670.

The Black Label 1911-380 Medallion Pro model, in full-size and compact versions, features a matte-black frame and a blackened stainless-steel slide with silver brush-polished flats. The grips are made of intricately checkered rosewood with a gold Buckmark. Barrel length on the full-size model is 4¼ inches; on the compact model, it’s 3 5⁄8 inches. SRP: $800; $880 with night sights. Black Label 1911-22LR Medallion full-size and compact versions will also be offered with similar features for $670.

357 Magnum Personal Defense Loads: Black Hills Is a Best Buy

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

When it comes to the 357 Magnum cartridge, the consensus is the round is a great performer. The cartridge has taken deer, bears, and even larger game. However, the rub is that these exploits were made with larger revolvers, often with barrels of at least 6 inches. When it comes to personal defense, most folks are going to carry a 2-, 3-, or 4-inch-barrel revolver. So, for those shooters who prefer the wheelgun, the Magnum needs to work in a shorter barrel.

The slow-burning powder used in Magnum loads is often a canister grade of Winchester 296 or Hodgdon H 110. This powder develops its power and velocity from a slower burn. Purpose-designed defense loads must use relatively faster-burning powder, usually a powder in the middle range. Another problem with accuracy and consistent performance is bullet pull. The lighter bullets used in defense loads often do not show as consistent a powder burn as heavier bullets, and this limits velocity with 100- to 110-grain bullets. However, makers such as Cor-Bon seem to have perfected a loading process that has solved many of the problems with bullet pull and have even gotten a consistent powder burn in short barrels. More pertinent in recent years, the Magnum has been downloaded. In present form, SAAMI specs restrict 357 Magnum pressure levels to about the same as 9mm +P+ loads.

When you consider the flash, blast, and recoil inherent in the Magnum cartridge, the question must be asked: Is the 357 Magnum the best choice for personal defense over other revolver cartridges? We believe it is. The Magnum offers excellent performance in a relatively compact package that the big-bore revolvers cannot match for speed and packing ability. The Magnum is superior to the 38 Special, no matter how hot the Special is loaded. In the May 2012 issue, we looked at the 357 Magnum for animal defense and also have looked at the 9mm versus the 357 Magnum. In this report, we are looking at the 357 Magnum solely as a personal-defense cartridge and letting the Magnum stand on its own.

There are several concerns in choosing the 357 Magnum for personal defense. One of our raters has a great deal of police experience. He noted that the 22 LR, as an example, was a proven, though under-regarded, self-defense round when fired from a rifle largely because of the ease with which accuracy was obtained. From a pistol, the results are often dismal, so the shorter-barrel, lighter revolvers might also produce poor results. Another concern is muzzle blast. The concussion inside a home could be severe, the muzzle blast is tremendous in dim light, and sometimes the flash causes night blindness. The Magnum might literally leave you deaf and dumb. However, some modern loads are especially treated to create only light muzzle flash, and as a result, they are much better suited to personal defense. If you choose a heavy hunting load and fire it in a 4-inch barrel, you will probably experience excess muzzle blast. If you use the 110-grain Cor-Bon personal-defense load, you will not experience this excess muzzle blast. The Buffalo Bore 125-grain Tactical load is another excellent choice, carefully tailored to personal defense.

A Better Price on SIG P226 CPO

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Just got my December issue, and the first thing I noticed was the Guns of the Year choice of the SIG Sauer P226R as the “Best in Class Pistol.” Had to snicker. I got mine at Bud’s Gun Shop in Lexington, Kentucky. And it was as good as yours. When I first looked at it, I did the field strip, and it looked brand new. I am not an expert on SIGs, but I carried a 226 in 9mm for many years. I was just happy to hear the same story on the Certified Pre-Owned model. The bit of a snicker I had was because I only gave $636 for mine, whereas you paid $725. I also bought a 357 SIG barrel for it, and I am happy to say it handles the 357 SIG as well as the 40 S&W you tested. Thanks for the great article.

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.

Ruger Introduces a Bevy of New Rifles and Pistols Mid-Year 2016

October 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine

The American-made LCP II is built on a one-piece precision-machined anodized-aluminum chassis with integral frame rails and fire-control housing. Additional features include a through-hardened alloy steel slide; a black, one-piece glass-filled nylon grip frame; a textured grip frame to provide a secure and comfortable grip; a finger grip extension floorplate that can be added to the magazine for comfort and more secure grip, and a blued, alloy steel barrel. The LCP II ships with one 6-round magazine.

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.

1911 Magazines: Some Are Good, And Some Should Be Avoided

September 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Magazines for the 1911 pistol have evolved more during the past two decades than during any other time since the pistol’s introduction. The bane of the 1911 is cheaply made magazines, with poor ammunition close behind. For many years, the only choices were Colt factory magazines, which were usually high quality, then GI magazines, and poorly made gun-show magazines. Some were marked COLT 45 on the base in bold letters, and these usually meant the shooter was the real deal. At a time when new Colt magazines were around $15, aftermarket magazines sold for as little as $4, and most of them were not worth the aggravation. GI magazines were good quality, but shooters often found them bent and worn out, unless they were new in the wrapper. Quite a bit of barrel feed-ramp polish and tuning of extractors went on that probably was tied to ammunition and magazine problems. Some of the aftermarket magazines were not properly welded. In other cases, the follower was too tight in the magazine body; and in other instances, the magazine springs were weak. Others had poorly attached buttplates, that gave way when dropped on the ground during IPSC competition. Some survived, others did not.

The basic construction of the magazine itself has changed from sheet steel to aluminum and plastic followers versus metal followers. We have examined quite a few magazines that invited a situation called false slide lock. The follower appeared to catch the slide lock, but the slide lock was actually on the wrong shelf, which isn’t good for any of the parts. A 1911 feeds by the loading block on the bottom of the slide stripping the cartridge forward as the slide moves forward. The cartridge case rim catches under the extractor and is pressed forward. Some feel that it is a good thing that the bullet nose snugs a little over the feed ramp and bumps the cartridge case head into the breech face as the cartridge enters the chamber. Some magazines, notably the Wilson Combat, allow the bullet nose to strike much higher on the ramp, which results in missing the feed ramp’s edges more so than others.

5.56mm Pistols from Kel-Tec, Spike’s Tactical, and CMMG

August 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

It could be argued that the AR pistol evolved out of a desire and need for shooters to own a legal short-barrel rifle-caliber weapon without having to jump through BATFE hoops or pay for a tax stamp to own an SBR (short-barreled rifle). The difference between an AR rifle and pistol comes down to the pistol not being compatible nor able to attach a stock. We wanted to take a look at these AR pistols for home defense and other uses where a compact firearm makes sense, because they offer a number of benefits over a conventional AR rifle, mainly, being more maneuverable while being chambered in a rifle caliber and being compatible with common AR-15 magazines. We acquired three examples, a Spike’s Tactical The Jack custom build, a CMMG Mk4 K, and a Kel-Tec PLR-16. The Spike’s and CMMG are true AR-15 mechanisms reconfigured to a pistol, while the Kel-Tec uses a different operating mechanism. All three are chambered in 5.56mm NATO/223 Rem. and all are compatible with AR-15 magazines.

We tested these pistols for accuracy, performance, reliability, compatibility with a range of AR-15 magazines, maintenance, ability to be customized, and cost. We found that the Kel-Tec was inexpensive compared to the CMMG and Spike’s Tactical pistols. The Kel-Tec, however, needed to be operated differently. The CMMG and Spike’s were an easy transition from AR rifle to AR pistol. An AR pistol, as we found out, is nearly as effective as a full-size AR at close to mid range. With the right ammunition, they could be tuned to be a very capable home-defense choice for anyone in the family competent to operate a firearm. Namely, using frangibles to limit overpenetration through walls and doors while still supplying lots of pop.

The AR pistol’s edge is its size, but it is also a disadvantage, as an AR pistol is not as easy to shoot as a rifle or a traditional handgun. They are large and require two hands to effectively deliver accurate shots. You could get off a few shots holding an AR pistol with one hand, but the weight of the pistol causes muscle fatigue. A typical full-size handgun may weigh more than 2 pounds loaded, compared to these AR pistols, which weighed from 3.2 to 6 pounds unloaded. Add a pound or more for a 30-round magazine, and you’ve got a sidearm that would wear out nearly anyone who didn’t transport them with a sling, just as you would with a rifle. We used one of the SIG SBX Pistol Stabilizing Braces ($149; SIGSauer.com) and found we liked to use the brace differently than intended, which we will get into shortly.

We also fired the pistols using a Blackhawk Storm Sling ($33.95; Blackhawk.com), a single-point sling with a built-in bungee cord, which many team members felt was an excellent way to carry and control the pistol. We tested with three different AR-15 magazines, including a Brownells USGI CS (Brownells.com; $14) constructed of aluminum, and two polymer magazines, the Magpul PMag Gen2 (Brownells.com; $12.30), and the FAB Defense Ultimag (TheMakoGroup.com; $25). For fast reloads, we also used a Kydex AR magazine carrier from IBX Tactical (IBXTactical.com; $35).

Building an AR pistol is not just a matter of installing a short barrel in a upper receiver and swapping out the receiver extension/buffer tube. Short barrels lose velocity and provide less dwell time for the projectile, so manufacturers need to tune and time the mechanism. A short barrel also needs to work on a range of loads from low- to high-quality ammunition. Reliability can be an issue.

Hands down, the CMMG and Spike’s offered more customization than the Kel-Tec because they are compatible with a range of AR-15 aftermarket products — triggers, rails, pistol grips, BUIS, and more. The Kel-Tec is not as compatible. Also, for those testers already familiar with an AR-15, the CMMG and Spike’s were much easier to maintain. But there’s much more to consider, which we relate below:

Folks Liked the 380 ACP Review

August 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

While you didn’t like the sights, short grip, or the long DAO trigger of the Kahr CW380, I loved all of them when comparing this gun to the others available at the time, especially the long smooooooth trigger. What a wonderful trigger the Kahr has! Once I bought it, I began adapting it to my own needs and use. First, I added two additional magazines and a pair of Pearce grip extenders, then added a Hogue rubber grip. The Pearce grip extenders allow me to get all three fingers on the grip, and the Hogue makes it extremely comfortable. Next I added a Crimson Trace laser for low-light situations. Now, I have what I consider to be a perfect pocket pistol. It is invisible in a pocket holster. Sorry to disagree, but IMHO, the LCP doesn’t come close to my Kahr. I suggest everyone adapt whatever they buy/use to their hands, eyes, stance, needs, and abilities to maximize its utility. Then practice, practice, and practice.

380 ACP Shoot Out: Ruger LCP Takes On Remington, Rock Island

July 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

New pistols chambered for the 380 ACP continue to flow out of factories because these generally smaller handguns feature reduced recoil firing the 9mm Kurz or 9mm Short, two other dimensionally accurate names for the 380 Auto cartridge. The 380’s case is about 2mm shorter than the popular 9mm Luger case, though their bullet diameters are the same. The advantage of chambering ammunition with a short overall length helps keep these guns concealable.

One, the Ruger LCP, has sold in greater numbers than perhaps any other modern 380 ACP pistol, and with good reason, if the results in this magazine are any guide. In the June 2008 issue, we tested a just-released LCP and gave it an A- grade, saying of it, “This gun did what it was designed to do. Perhaps the grips could be more effectively textured, but we’d hate to spoil its looks. The Ruger LCP may be limited in its application, but could prove invaluable in its service.” Head to head against the Kel-Tec P3AT, we said that Ruger had basically refined the Kel-Tec, in our view. The checkering on the slightly wider LCP grip frame was finer, which resulted in the Ruger jumping around in the hand more than the Kel-Tec. In that first look eight years ago, we narrowly preferred the Kel-Tec. Then in 2009, Ruger issued a recall for the LCP because the company had received a small number of reports that the gun, “...can discharge when dropped onto a hard surface with a round in the chamber.” The company offered a retrofit of a different hammer mechanism to cure the problem, which was offered at no charge to the customer, and the little gun kept on chugging. In the February 2013 issue, we tested a variant of the LCP, the Ruger LCP-LM No. 3718, which mashed together Ruger’s tiniest pistol with LaserMax’s trigger-guard laser sight. The laser was nicely integrated into the pistol. In that test, we noted, “the female tester in the group had a hard time racking the slide. As pistols get smaller they can be harder to use and operate.” We also said, “More seasoned testers did not like that the slide did not lock open on the last shot, like it did with the SIG P238 and Walther PK380.” That pistol earned a B+ grade, and Our Team Said, “The Ruger was the best choice for deep-conceal carry” in that test. Then in the October 2015 issue, we tested a Ruger LCP-C Custom No. 3740 against a Taurus Curve and gave the upgraded LCP-C an A grade, saying of it: “We found the Ruger LCP-C Custom to be reliable, accurate enough for personal defense, and compact enough for concealed carry and pocket carry. The sights and trigger are improvements over previous versions of the LCP. The Ruger’s footprint is smaller than the Taurus, but the Ruger is lighter and developed more energy.” So, clearly, this is a capable, consistent handgun that has survived nearly 10 years because of its merits — simple operation, light weight, reasonable shooting characteristics, and affordability.

Seeking to take some of the LCP’s market share, Remington officially introduced the RM380 Micro at the 2015 NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits. The RM380 is a double-action-only pistol with second-strike capability. It operates from a delayed blowback action and has an aluminum frame. Remington produced an unusual marketing angle for the gun, claiming its slide-racking force was very low. That was something we asked the test team to evaluate in particular.

Also introduced at the 2015 NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Nashville was Armscor’s Rock Island Armory Baby Rock 380 ACP 1911 51912, though it had been shown as a prototype as early as the summer of 2014. At introduction, Rock Island President and CEO Martin Tuason called the pistol a “mini 1911” and said it was a single-stack pistol with a seven-round magazine. We previously tested a similar concept (an 85% 1911) in Browning’s Black Label 1911-380 in the September 2015 issue, giving it a B ranking. Also in that test was the smaller, but still 1911-style Kimber Micro Carry Advocate Brown, which got an A- grade and was much better in the pocket.

While we conducted accuracy testing with our standard three loads, combat firing and initial break in was accomplished with six different loads. In order of use, they were: Winchester USA 95-grain FMJs, HPR 90-grain JHPs, Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics 90-grain JHPs, Winchester Train & Defend 95-grain FMJs, Gorilla Ammunition 95-grain JHPs, and the Black Hills Ammunition 60-grain Xtreme Defense.

Initial firing was done with Winchester FMJ loads, then we poured more than 100 rounds through each pistol for reliability testing and during combat firing at 5, 7, and 10 yards. Here’s how the Ruger LCP, the Remington RM380, and Rock Island Baby Rock did.

Optics-Ready: M&P9 Ported, FNX-45 Tactical, G17 Gen4 MOS

June 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

If there is one new trend taking hold of pistol manufacturers, it is making optics-ready pistols. These handguns come out of the factory with the ability to mount a reflex-style red dot sight. The newest is the Glock G17 Gen4 MOS, which debuted in 2016. Kahr, SIG, and the Canik from Century Arms may also see optics-ready models in 2016. Custom gun makers have been crafting pistols with reflex sights for years, and back in 2012, both S&W and FN launched optics-ready pistols. Just like Picatinny rails have emerged as a widespread feature and laser pointers are being offered on many handgun variants, the optic mount is the next evolution of the handgun. We have seen this same scenario play out with AR rifles, where optics were once an anomaly and they are now the norm. Why? Ease of aiming and faster target acquisition. What, perhaps, has slowed the trend is cost. Reflex sights can add anywhere from $240 to $600 extra, depending on the sight. There may also be a need to purchase a new holster to accommodate the optic on the handgun and taller iron sights. This seems a little odd to us because many shooters might consider the cost to be excessive on a handgun, but we don’t think twice about mounting a high-quality optic on a rifle. There is no doubt that in the same situations, red-dot reflex sights allow users to aim faster and easier compared to iron sights. Also, reflex sights allow users to aim with both eyes open, peering through a small glass lens that the sight uses to project a reticle onto it via a light-emitting diode. The sight provides an unlimited field of view since there is no magnification and no tube, so tunnel vision is less of an issue when aiming. Also, there is also no need to align three planes — target, front sight, and rear sight — as with iron sights. However, during testing, we found that taller iron sights that co-witnessed with the red dot were preferred because they can help find the dot. Also, BUIS are there in case the optic fails or the battery dies when we need it most. A proper maintenance schedule can alleviate this concern. To see how various red dots could be mounted and used on factory optics-ready pistols, we acquired a Glock G17 Gen4 MOS, an S&W M&P9 Performance Center Ported model, and an FN America FNX-45 Tactical FDE. The Glock and S&W were 9mm striker-fired pistols that are well known to us. We have reviewed numerous Glock G17 models over previous model generations, but this is first G17 Gen4 MOS that our testers have evaluated. The same is true with the S&W M&P9. We have tested other variants of the M&P9, but this is a first for the S&W M&P9 Performance Center Ported model. The 45-caliber FNX-45 Tactical is also new to our testers. What we were looking for with these optics-ready pistols was ease of installation, accuracy, ease of use, and durability.

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.