Springfield Armory 1911 TRP: Yes, it’s that good.

My father carried a 1911 during WWII when serving as a Military Policeman. He always spoke very fondly of the weapon. Indeed the 1911 is a 20th century American icon. It comes then as no surprise that the pistol is still very popular among shooters even though it only carries seven or eight rounds (gasp!) in the typical magazine. Compact versions have even fewer rounds.

I have shot many 1911s and most were not very exciting to me frankly. Then my friend Jeff had me try out his Springfield that had been massaged at the custom shop. It was a revelation. The gun’s trigger was unreal with its very short take-up, light break and short reset. My Springfield XD45 Tactical was fun but this was other-worldy.

About a year later my friend Mike asked if I was interested in a 1911. He had two made by Springfield, which got my attention. The model was the Tactical Response Pistol (TRP) which I had never heard of at that time. This pistol is a civilian version of the pistol Springfield makes for the FBI’s SRT groups. It has a stainless, 5″ match barrel, teflon coated steel frame and slide, tuned 4# trigger, flared mag well, low profile combat night sights (tritium) and very aggressive checkering on the front strap. This gun is a combat gun in every sense of the word. The G10 composite grip panels are also agressively checkered such that there’s very little chance of this gun being wrenched out of one’s hand even if wet.

Mike sold me the black one and kept the stainless model. I have put about 2k rounds through it since this past Spring (six months) and I am very happy with it. The weight (over 2.5 lbs.) really mitigates recoil such that I figured it would be a fun gun to shoot in Limited/10 USPSA competition. I got the usual Bladetech DOH holster, Blackhawk CQC mag pouches, CR Speed Hi-Torque belt and a bunch of Chip McCormack PowerPro 10-round mags for it and away we went. I shoot it almost as well as my production guns and have really enjoyed myself doing so.

Interesting to note is that Mike recently stopped bringing his striker-fired guns to practice and has started shooting his TRP almost exclusively for USPSA purposes. His accuracy is now phenomenal. I’ll say it again: the trigger is nothing short of amazing.

I also got a Blackhawk Serpa holster for mine and I routinely carry this gun either open or concealed. It is one big, mean, tough pistol that can run under extreme conditions if necessary. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone interested in a very high-quality .45acp 1911.

S&W M&P 9 – Part V: Light at the end of the…barrel

With the trigger squared away it was time to install the new sights. My Dawson Precision sights arrived and I quickly got to work. I put the slide in a vise with some 3/4 pine blocks as buffers and got down to business.

As you may recall, the Apex kit required the rear sight be removed so taking that off was easy. The inclusion of the nylon sight tool is really nice (thanks Apex!) because it keeps the striker plunger and spring from launching into the void when you remove the sight itself. Randy’s videos show clearly how to use the tool.

One really critical thing to mention is that the dovetails on the M&P are tapered. So when you drift out the sights you must do it from left to right as you look at the slide from the rear.

Once the rear sight was out it was time to insert the Dawson unit which is a standard DP rear sight (black, serrated). Given that dovetails vary from slide to slide (manufacturing variances, wear from previous sight installations, etc.) Dawson ships them all somewhat over-sized. I have found that fitting them is not really difficult provided you use some decent needle files and plenty of patience. I started the new rear sight into the dovetail (right to left of course) and when it was clearly not going any further (moderate taps with a tack hammer) I backed it out and examined the contact points. I could then clearly see the gouges in the sight base. I then began removing material until the gouges disappeared. I repeated this step several times, advancing further into the dovetail each time. Once the sight reached the halfway point I simply drifted it all the way in. The rear sights have a set screw so even though it isn’t critical to have the tightest fit possible, that’s what I wanted. I put the rear dead-center.

The front sight that matches the DP serrated rear is .180 tall and it comes with a nice aluminum drift punch to be used for installing the new sight mar-free. Without thinking, I started trying to remove the factory sight with this soft metal tool. The results were predictable: the sight didn’t move and the tool deformed. My late father always reminded me that nothing worked better at freeing stuck parts than penetrating oil and vibration. I’ve proven him right hundreds of times so I put some lube on the sight and spent several minutes tapping on and around the sight itself. I used a steel punch and a small hammer to try and drift it out but had no luck. I then found many references to how difficult these sights are to remove so I escalated the hostilities. Eventually I was using a large punch and a framing hammer and hitting it hard enough to make things fall over on the workbench! Still no luck. I did read several places that the best way to remove this sight was with a sight puller. I suppose this is some sort of press-like device which even then doesn’t always work.

At this point (this was later the same night after my Apex kit installation saga) I was done being subtle. Out came the Dremel with a new cutoff wheel and five minutes later the sight lay in two neat pieces on my bench without a mark on the slide. This is not for the faint of heart but with patience and resting your hand on the vise it really isn’t that difficult. I knew that sight would never go on a gun again so it was really pointless to keep pounding on the darned thing and/or waiting overnight to let the oil work its magic.

I repeated the preparation process from the rear sight but this time I had to be very careful since the front sight has no set screw. Dawson has an excellent suggestion: once the sight is able to be easily tapped 1/3 of the way into the dovetail, go ahead and drive it home from there. I used the aluminum drift that came with the kit to get it dead center and that was that.

It is noteworthy that Dawson recommends regular lube of their sights. The language they use is interesting because they mention that their sights “…require regular oiling to protect against rust, just like you would your firearm.” Ironically the M&P slide is coated stainless so it actually does not require lube for rust prevention. I bring this all up because for me it would in fact be easy to forget about this and one day find a bunch of rust on the sights. So let’s keep them protected with the occasional shot of Remoil, CLP or whatever you like.

So with the action job and new sights it was time to do some shooting. Next up in Part VI: practice and first match with the M&P9!

S&W M&P 9: Part IV – A Comedy of Errors

I am exhausted. It’s after midnight and I’ve spent the last 10 hours working on this pistol on and off. Yes, this is a clear case of OCD but we knew that. The trouble started when I discovered the Apex Tactical trigger kit in the mailbox at lunch time.

The kit comes in a bubble wrap mailer and has many very small parts in it. I began watching the videos and working along with them. First I took out the sear block and removed the stock sear. Then I promptly dropped the block thereby ejecting the tiny sear spring and plunger into the Great Void known as the floor of my dining room. I immediately began searching the floor for the cap/plunger/button/thingy which is incredibly small. It is smaller than the diameter of a pencil lead. I grabbed a strong magnet, per Randy Lee’s suggestion in the video (gee, how did he know that might happen?) but still could not find it.

I gave up and called Smith and Wesson to order several sets but was told they don’t sell those tiny parts. Hmm. So where can I get them? He tells me that they can’t divulge their vendors because it’s a trade secret. OK, so what can I do? “Send the gun back to us and we will replace the sear block assembly”. OK, now I’m mad. Not only have I lost the tiny parts but now I have to pay for the whole block, 99% of which I don’t need. “Click”.

Back to the floor. I crawled over every square inch within a 10 ft. radius of the epicenter for another hour. No joy. I finally got a broom and swept every speck of dust, cleaning media, spent primers, dust bunnys and various small Lego parts into a nasty little pile and began my CSI routine. Two hours after dropping the sear block I found that damned plunger.

I took the time to polish the new sear’s bearing surface that mates to the trigger bar and also the top of the trigger bar that operates the striker plunger. Nice and shiny. I then reassembled the sear block and set it aside. You do actually need tweezers to put the new sear spring and plunger in place.

I then removed the trigger assembly. I replaced the trigger return spring and used the included aluminum slave pin to hold everything together while reinserting the trigger, trigger bar, return spring and ambi slide lock levers back in place. The task was much harder than Randy made it look in the videos. The biggest challenge was that when drifting in the trigger pin the return spring had a tendency to slip between the slave pin and the actual drift pin. The solution was to take all tension off the spring so that the drift pin could follow the slave pin out while keeping the return spring in place. There was one tiny problem: while holding the trigger and slide lock in place I needed to reinsert the locking block over them and the tiny retaining clip that ultimately holds the take-down lever decided to jump right out onto the floor. Sound familiar?

The worst part was, just like the sear spring, Randy warned me in the video. Rats! So, back to the floor. It was much cleaner this time but even with a high-intensity light and the rare earth magnet I found, I could not find it! Eventually I repeated the successful technique from earlier: I swept the entire area, gently, toward the same spot I had used earlier. Sure enough, after sifting through the (much smaller) dust pile, I found the retaining clip.

OK, with the trigger back in place I then reinstalled the sear block with the trigger bar bringing it all together. Hallelujah!

Moving on to the slide, I replaced the stock striker spring with the one from the kit. This took about 10 minutes. The only thing I had left was to replace the striker plunger and its spring. I took the set screw out of the rear sight and drifted the sight out to reveal the cap, spring and striker plunger. I replaced them with the kit parts and proceeded to reassemble. One catch: the striker plunger spring is much higher than the stock one and it wants to come out. You guessed it…

Back to the floor! At least by now the routine took only about 15 minutes. With the rear sight reinstalled I had completed the Action Enhancement Kit installation. It was about time.

I have not mentioned that I was testing the trigger each step of the way. This was fascinating because some of these parts actually made the trigger pull a bit harder. This is necessary if you want the trigger to actually reset when you release it and you want the striker to actually hit the primer hard enough to fire the round. The bottom line is that at the end of the day the trigger is amazing. There’s a long take-up that gets me 85% of the way to the travel stop. When the trigger is ready to break, there is a distinct wall. From there it is a very small effort to break the shot. The claimed 2.75 lbs. sounds right. There is almost no over-travel and the reset is very short. Is this like a single-action trigger? Not really but it is incredibly smooth, light and short. I suspect that once I acclimate to the reset I will be able get my split times much lower.

Next up in Part V: installing the Dawson sights!

The GripPod: gimmick or must-have accessory?

Forward grips have been popular for the AR-15 for some time and rightly so. Since the M4 platform starting wearing quad rails the forward vertical grip  has been a mainstay for the carbine. It makes wielding the weapon in close quarters much easier. The result is that one carries the weapon with hands oriented like a boxer with fists at the ready. While this isn’t the most stable hold for pure accuracy, it makes it very difficult for the weapon to get dislodged from the shooter’s control. I’ve used many different FVGs but once I saw the GripPod in action I knew I had to have it.

The concept is that you can combine a vertical grip with a bipod that is spring loaded inside the grip. It can be deployed by pushing a button. Securing the bipod is accomplished by folding the legs together and pushing them back into the handle. If shooting prone or from a rest is not likely then the value of the GripPod is neglible. As a grip it is large and heavy. But if you want the ability to quickly shoot from a rest/prone the device is perfect.

I first tried the clone route, just like I did with the Eotech holo sight with similar results. The cheaply made knockoff was about $35 and while it could have come from the same mold, the quality and reliability were terrible. The spring didn’t always work and it was so flimsy that the rifle wasn’t really steady when the bipod was deployed. That device is now on one of my son’s Nerf rifles. I’d say that is fitting. Why Nerf guns have rails is a mystery to me but that’s another story.

I finally broke down and bought the real deal for about $80 on eBay and the difference is dramatic. The gun rests in perfect stability on the bipod and I’ve never had an FTF with it. Sure, you can shoot prone without it but I have found that having a bipod allows my weak hand to support the butt stock by pressing it flat against my strong shoulder. I have found this to be the most stable way to shoot my AR.

Along with the all-polymer version they used to have an aluminum model but that has been replaced by a model that has polymer covered steel legs. Apparently you can stand on the rifle and not collapse them. The all-polymer model is now the LE model and the steel-leg variant the MIL model.

I will say while I keep a tactical light and the GripPod on my rifle most of the time, I often take both off during run-and-gun activities. The extra weight is annoying if I’m doing a lot of running. Most of the time however I keep the GripPod on the rifle just because I can. The other nice thing is that it makes putting the rifle down on a bench, table or even the ground much easier and I don’t have to worry about getting dirt or sand in the action.

And yes, it looks very cool.

S&W M&P 9: Part III (with a sidetrack into USPSA history)

In 2001 the US Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) decided to add a new competitive division. It would be known as “Production” class. The idea was simple: allow shooters to compete with common duty/self-defense pistols in stock configurations. These would include double-action/single-action pistols, like the Sig Sauer 226, or double-action-only pistols like the Glock 17. The hope was that by lowering the cost of admission to the sport it would attract many new shooters who might otherwise shrink at the thought of spending a lot of money on a custom-built Limited or Open gun. They certainly called that one right. The ranks have grown tremendously over the last decade with most new shooters starting in Production. The trick of course was to keep it simple with rules that are easily understood and enforceable.

With very little restriction on Limited and Open guns, the new challenge would be how to insure fair competition among this new class of shooters. Production guns must have no external modifications other than improved notch-and-post sights and grip tape. The current clarifications from the USPSA board have indicated that internal components may be improved/replaced so long as the dimensions remain essentially unchanged. Additionally the overall weight of the pistol must be within a couple of ounces of the manufacturer’s declared weight. At Level III matches and above it is routine to see guns checked against size and weight restrictions so even with the freedom to make internal changes, care must be taken to stay within the weight limits.

Given that grip tape is in fact allowed I decided to try it on my first gun and I have never looked back. It keeps the gun absolutely locked to the skin of my hand. Recoil moves the gun and my hand/skin but because the contact points do not change, the gun always comes back to precisely the same spot. This is huge for me. It also works wet or dry, with clean or dirty hands.

Getting back to my current project gun, while waiting for the Apex Tactical action kit I decided to move forward with the grip tape installation. One really nice thing about the M&P9 is that there are many third-party vendors out there making great stuff for this platform. This includes manufacturers of pre-cut grip tape panels. While I think they look great and are certainly easy to install, I just couldn’t get over how expensive they were for what is essentially skate board tape worth about $1. So, back when I started in Production I bought a roll of Black Diamond skateboard grip tape for around $8, including shipping. I have made at least 6 grip covers and still have enough to make about 4 more.

My process for creating a panel is that I start with paper, create a basic template then cut out a slightly-oversized panel out of the roll of grip tape and then custom fit it from there. Once I have a panel cut down to the precise (more or less) shape I then create a permanent paper template and trace out at least one more on the roll of tape. I then label which gun it’s for. Now to install it.

My first attempts on the SR9 resulted in the panel 1) not fully contacting the grip in all areas and 2) the seam coming loose routinely at the back. I found two tricks that fixed this. First, I used some of that awesome stretchy silicone tape to tightly wrap the installed panel. This stuff sticks only to itself so it is easy to take off after the panel is fully formed to the grip and it leaves no residue at all on the panel. Second, I found some tips on how to glue the panel to itself at the seam, which has worked perfectly.

I found the “black rubberized cyanoacrylate” at my local hobby store. This stuff is basically gel superglue with some sort of rubber in it. It is used mostly to attach rubber tires to model cars, planes, etc. It has a very strong bond but remains somewhat flexible. The key to using this stuff is the use of spray hardener. This stuff also is sold at hobby stores. You can use it several ways but what I found works best is to have one side of the seam firmly pressed against the backstrap then apply the glue to it. Next, begin to press the remaining side (or flap) of the panel onto the backstrap just to the point where it is touching the beginning edge of the glue. Then spray the hardener/accelerant right onto the glue bead then immediately press the flap down into the glue and apply the afore-mentioned silicone tape tightly around the entire grip.

I usually leave the silicone tape on overnight to give the entire panel a good chance to completely conform to the grip in all areas. The glue seam is actually set within seconds but leaving the silicone tape on longer insures a perfect fit. I like easy.

So this morning I removed the silicone tape and there is a perfect grip tape panel on the M&P! It took all of about 1/2 hour from scratch and if I need to replace the panel it can be done even faster since I have an extra panel already cut. The truth is, once I started using the glue I have never had one come loose or need to be replaced. If it does become necessary to remove the panel simply cutting it with a knife is easy. Start with the blade tip at the bottom and keep the sharpened edge away from the grip. It comes right off.

Lastly I wanted to mention that because the M&P has three different size “palm swells”, you can customize the grip fit for your hand. I went with the small model since my hands are small and I knew the grip tape would add an ever-so-slight amount of girth to the grip. I’ve been practicing reloading drills this morning and it works perfectly.

In Part IV: A Comedy of Errors, we learn the importance of following directions 😉

S&W M&P 9mm: Part II

A critical component of any competition pistol is the trigger. No matter how nicely the gun fits your hand, no matter how well the sights work and no matter how expensive or cheap the gun is, without a good trigger the wheels will come off quickly. When pulling the trigger it is essential that as few muscles as possible be used to effect the necessary movement. Any additional involvement of other muscles will cause undesirable movement of the gun, resulting in poor shots. The challenge then is to make the trigger as light and smooth as possible while maintaining complete control of the pistol.

This brings up another topic: what is the “right” amount of trigger pull? Conventional wisdom says that for duty carry a gun should have a fairly heavy trigger pull. Some police departments in the US actually require armorers to set the trigger at over 11 lbs. Most folks would say that 6-7 lbs. is best for typical concealed carry applications. However, I’ve also seen it argued that as long as you follow the basic trigger safety rule (never put your finger on the trigger until yours sights are on the target and you intend to shoot) the trigger weight can be much lighter. This debate can go on ad infinitum and I really don’t want to weigh in personally. What I will say is that for competition applications, having a trigger that is much lighter than 6-7 lbs., is smooth and has a clean, predictable break is essential.

The M&P9 comes from the factory with a 6.5 lb. trigger pull. It is smooth and predictable but with a lot of take-up and a fair amount of over-travel. This means that once the shot breaks, the trigger continues rearward for some additional distance before hitting a stop. I will say that the nice wide trigger face makes it feel lighter than it actually is. That and the absence of the trigger safety “blade” makes this one of the nicest stock striker triggers I’ve seen. Nevertheless, I knew it could be much better.

After digging around, I discovered Burwell Gunsmithing. If you are looking for a gunsmith for your M&P you will be hard pressed to find folks with a better record than these guys. They also have made available this excellent guide to M&P Trigger Work. I applaud any vendor that takes this approach. Here they have provided a clear and complete guide to Armorer stripping and completely reworking the trigger in your M&P. For those with the skills, tools, time and patience, this is all you need to super-tune your trigger. For the rest of us it shows us just what we are paying for when using Burwell’s services. Kudos.

As you can imagine I realized fairly quickly that this was not a project I wanted to take on myself. It doesn’t take much to ruin a trigger part by changing an edge or profile in the wrong way. Lucky for me I also found Apex Tactical who have thrown themselves heavily into the S&W aftermarket. In late 2009 AT began shipping hardened sears for the M&P. This eventually grew to include Action Enhancement Kits (AEK) for both duty/carry and competition applications. These kits include the following:

  • Apex Hard Sear

    Apex Tactical Competition “Action Enhancement Kit
  • Apex Ultimate Striker Block kit
  • Apex Competition striker spring
  • Apex Competition sear spring
  • Apex Competition trigger return spring
  • Apex Aluminum Slave pin for installing the Trigger Return Spring

I ordered my competition kit last night and have been watching the videos today. I expect this will take an hour of deliberate work to install. Experienced armorers can do it in 20-30 minutes. Given the rave reviews these kits have received I expect this to be a dramatic improvement in terms of over-travel, reset, smoothness and pull weight. In fact the finished trigger is guaranteed to be sub-3lbs. That’s getting into 1911 territory!

Next up in Part III: grip tape and new mags (while I wait for the Apex kit!)

S&W M&P 9mm: Part I

As you may recall from my post In search of the perfect 9mm for USPSA I have begun a new journey down the path of the Smith and Wesson, Military and Police, 9mm, semi-automatic pistol, hereafter simply known as the M&P9. Having settled on this platform as my next choice for Production division competition in USPSA, I now have to get the proper accessories and perhaps some allowed modifications for the pistol itself.

My first requirements are additional magazines and a competition holster. It should come as no surprise that I am going with the excellent Blade-Tech Dropped and Offset Holster (DOH) with their Tek-Lok attachment system. I just love this setup. It attaches rigidly to the CR Speed Hi-Torque belt and makes for a really quick draw, even with a high front sight post.

For magazines, I found a real gem: Greg Cote, LLC had factory 17-round magazines for around $25 each with $5.95 flat shipping for the whole order! Compare that to $35-40 from the online superstores. That was easy. I ordered six, which along with the two that came with the gun gives me eight. I feel that eight is a good number since it allows me to have all six pouches on the belt full, plus a barney and/or starter mag plus one. Don’t laugh, Justin ran out of rounds at Glyn’s Monster Match this summer with 100 rounds. Of course, Justin is special 😉

After shooting my Ruger SR9 for a long time now with the Hi-Viz fiber optic front sight, I have not been enjoying the stock white-dot sights on the M&P, so next up was a new front sight, or so I thought. I contacted Dawson Precision and tried to order what I thought was the right sight but as you can see here, there are many sights listed as “compatible with factory rear sight”. How is this possible? After a very patient explanation I finally understood that Dawson offers their front sights in many different heights to allow the individual customer to tailor the sight height so to make elevation corrections. I initially wanted to stick with the factory rear sight which meant I would need to match it, but with which front sight? I tried measuring the factory sight but my Micrometer’s batteries were dead. The closest i could tell (just looking at the exposed reference marks on the Mic) it was .150 inches tall. It turns out this is not correct: the front sight is actually .160 tall.

Another issue then arose: how certain was I that the gun was actually hitting my true Point of Aim (POA)? As anyone who shoots with me knows, my emphasis during USPSA shooting tends to be on speed. It’s not often that I take the time to shoot at bullseye targets to really check a pistol. So, off the the range.

I set up targets at 10 and 15 yards. Dawson tech support suggested 20 yards but most competition shooting is at the closer distances. After putting about 100 rounds into 5 targets (I really like Shoot-n-See from Birchwood Casey for stuff like this becasue you can see the hits clearly from a distance) I was satisfied that the factory sights were spot-on. So now I could order the .160 f/o front sight, right? Well, not so fast.

By the time I got home from the range I had now convinced myself that trying to use the factory rear sights was not a good idea. I’ve shot guns with Dawson fixed rears and it does make a difference. Having a pure black rear sight makes the f/o front stand out even more. The dots are just a distraction during competition. So, after toying with the idea of Wilson Combat rears I decided to get the DP serrated rear sight and matching f/o front sight. This front sight needs to be .180 tall to match the DP fixed rear.

By now you have probably realized that my borderline OCD (borderline?) can and does take me to strange places but be happy in the knowledge that you as the reader make it all worthwhile since you reap the rewards. At least that’s what I hope. All these considerations result in a final decision that hopefully works and works well. If not, well you will hear about that in due time.

So, with the sights finally ordered it was on to the trigger. I’ll cover that in Part II.

Stay tuned!

Kel-Tec SU-16c: ultimate survival gun

I will never forget the Soldier of Fortune magazine cover photo from back in the ’80s depicting a man standing next to a cow, both wearing gas masks. As crazy as that seemed to me then, I kind-of understand it now. Nevertheless, whenever I hear the terms “survival” and “gun” mentioned together I cringe. I guess my first thought is “nut-job” and I certainly do not want to be thought of in those terms. Regardless I have to say that the rifle in question is my top pick for a true survival gun.

Kel-Tec SU-16C

Kel-Tec has a long history as a manufacturer of unusual, perhaps eccentric, firearms. Many of their guns have been trend-setters to be sure. Their extensive use of polymers has also set them apart. The SU-16c is a good example of how they have really broken new ground with their forward-thinking designs.

The SU-16c, or “Charlie” model, is the latest iteration of the design, incorporating the best features of the Alpha and Bravo models and adding a couple of outstanding upgrades. The rifle is chambered for the ubiquitous Remington .223 / Nato 5.56 round and uses standard AR-15/M-16 magazines. This means that finding and using the most common rifle round in the western world should be relatively easy in a pinch. The gun uses a medium-heavy barrel and a piston/op-rod system rather than direct gas impingement (see my post on Piston vs. DI guns), making it a clean, cool-running rifle that can stand up to sustained firing. The best part? It weighs 4.7 lbs.! That is not a typo. Even with that barrel and the piston system. Amazing.

Along with the rifle’s low weight, the gun has a folding stock that permits an extended mag to protrude through it. In fact the stock can be folded over an already-inserted mag. The gun can be fired with the stock folded or open. When folded the gun is 25.5″ long making it very easy to handle in very tight quarters. The nice checkering on the grips makes it quite easy to fire in this configuration. When unfolded the rear stock makes an excellent contact point for shoulder and cheek weld.

Other features of the gun are a front stock that opens to form a decent bipod, very nice “iron” sights, threaded barrel, a top rail for optics and optional sling mounts that attach to existing bolts in the gun.  The rifle comes with a single 10-round magazine and a small phillips wing-nut screwdriver for adjusting the rear windage, etc.

The configuration I settled on some time ago was no muzzle device, Tasco Red-Dot 1x optic (low enough to work with the standard cheek weld), Giles tactical sling and PMags. The rifle can easily be carried in a day pack, tucked behind the truck seat or slung in any position. It’s so small and light that it’s easy to forget it’s there. This would be meaningless of course if the gun was less robust but it just shoots and shoots. It handles all ammo I’ve ever tried and is easy to field strip and clean. As with all piston guns, attention must be paid to the gas block as this is where the only real fouling happens.

Would I prefer this rifle in a battlefield situation? It wouldn’t be my first choice, but like I’ve heard a thousand times, the .22 in your pocket is vastly superior to the .44 magnum at home in your gun safe. I’ve carried this rifle many miles on hikes, over roads and on the water where I wouldn’t have dreamed of carrying an AR or an AK. That makes it pretty special to me.

So for my definition of “survival gun”, the SU-16c with its light weight, small form factor, reliability (piston system and heavier barrel) and ammo/mag compatibility is the best I’ve found.

Oh, did I mention that it’s fun to shoot?

NOTE 12/12/12: I have switched preferred optic for this rifle to the Burris FastFire II.

PWS FSC556 compensator/flash hider

For many AR-15 shooters the A2 “birdcage” flash hider is all they ever know about muzzle devices for their rifles. This device does a modest job of dispersing unburned propellant and/or flaming gases such that the flash signature of the weapon is reduced. The birdcage also keeps the gases going up and to either side so as to avoid kicking up dust and debris when firing from positions on or near the ground (prone usually). Both these effects help in concealing the shooter’s position from detection and in keeping clear the shooter’s visual field. Flash hiders are also frequent targets of gun control advocates.

During the 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) these devices were restricted. In some states they still are. What weren’t restricted were compensators or muzzle “brakes”. A compensator is a muzzle device (attached to the threaded end of a barrel) designed to redirect gases in such a way as to counteract recoil. This is normally back, up, sideways and/or some combination of these directions. Some of these devices are extremely effective. I had a CETME .308 (7.62×51 NATO) rifle that had very little felt recoil due mostly to the use of a very efficient muzzle brake.

There are some amazingly efficient flash hiders also. The Vortex makes use of four tines that extend forward from the muzzle for a few inches, over which the tines make a small but critical synchronized twist. This device virtually eliminates muzzle flash. It’s hard to believe unless you see it. Youtube has demonstration videos comparing the birdcage, a Phantom flash hider and the Vortex. You can also see the video on this page from Vortex. You really have to see it for yourself. Of course the Vortex does no compensating, nor does it avoid the dust signature.

Likewise most good compensators do little to reduce the flash signature. This has historically been of little concern to the primary users of brakes: competitive rifle shooters. The Miculek comp is one of the best on the market at keeping the sights on or close to the target after each shot, allowing for very quick follow-up shots. However, cardboard and steel targets usually are shot during daylight and they almost never shoot back so hiding the flash is of no consequence.

Enter the Primary Weapons System FSC series of flash hiders. These units combine an initial stage that does a good job of mitigating muzzle climb and general recoil, and a second stage that has four short tines that mimic the Vortex’s flash suppression on a small scale. Like most things that involve compromise, the solution is effective on a limited basis. The comp effects are significant. If a primary goal is to make quick follow-up shots then the FSC devices are very good and the flash hiding is good enough to keep the flash out of the shooter’s optics, again allowing for quick additional shots. It’s tough to blink your way through blindness after getting an eyeful of flash, especially through magnified optics. A side benefit is that the downrange view of the flash is also reduced quite a bit but nowhere near as much as the Vortex.

Another feature of most compensators is that they are really loud in the area around the shooter. With a plain muzzle all the gases and compression waves travel away from the shooter. A brake sends a lot of that back into the immediate vicinity of the shooter. This can be pretty dramatic, especially indoors or under an enclosed firing line. The CETME I mentioned earlier would have a profound effect on those on the firing line with me. One nice thing about the FSC units is that this is not nearly as bad as a traditional compensator.

I have an FSC556 on my main AR-15 now and an FSC47 on my AK-47. I have found that these comps are just about the perfect blend of features for my needs: good braking, reasonable flash suppression and modest noise levels.

And if you must know, yes they look very cool on the rifle.

In search of the perfect 9mm for USPSA

In the Spring of 2010 I asked my friend Glyn if I could test out some of his 9mm pistols. I had been shooting the Ruger SR9 in USPSA matches for a number of months and although I was doing well with it I wanted to know if there might be a better solution out there. He had several different popular models so I started by handling and then dry firing them. Here’s how that part went:

  • H&K USP 9mm: really not a good fit for my hands and the trigger seemed stiff. The grip was just awkward.
  • Beretta 92FS: too fat in my hand and very heavy. Trigger was OK.
  • Springfield XD9 Tactical: fine ergonomics but the trigger was squishy with a very long take-up and reset.
  • Beretta PX4 Storm: I liked this one a lot. It felt really good, had a good trigger and it looks…well, cool.
  • Smith and Wesson M&P 9: I also liked this one very much. It felt great in my hand and the trigger was excellent.
Berreta PX4 Storm 9mm
Berreta PX4 Storm 9mm

I decided to next try shooting the PX4 and the M&P. Before I discuss that I should clarify something: I have owned several XDs and I had even shot the XD mentioned above for about a week to see how I liked the particular sights on it. (Dawson FO front/BoMar blackout rear). I do like the XD, especially in the larger calibers but the current effort was specifically to find the best gun to run in USPSA Production and frankly the XD (from the factory) just doesn’t get it for me. Yes, Springer triggers are great but that puts the price of the gun fairly high and the trigger and grip safeties are just a nuisance during competition.

Springfield Armory XD9 Tactical

So, out we went to the range. I will say that both the PX4 and the M&P shot really nicely but the M&P seemed to have the edge. I later discovered that the M&P has a very low bore-axis, which probably had a lot to do with my perception. This of course keeps the recoil forces close to the plane of one’s forearms, thereby keeping the muzzle from rising as much. That whole lever principle I guess.

One thing I noticed about the PX4 that I actually did not like was the location of the ambidextrous safety. When I racked the slide those big things were right in the way, which gave my fingers a raking every time I did it. Also, while the pistol is very light and feels wonderful in my hand, it is a bit bulky. But it does look really cool.

In the end I had to say that the M&P was the clear winner. I later went on to see a lot of great Production shooters using that very pistol. I’m not at all surprised.

Smith & Wesson M&P9

I went back to using my SR9 and and continued shooting it at matches (along with my 1911 for Limited/10 occasionally) for about six months but this past week I had the opportunity to buy the very gun I had tested so…I did.

Now, I’ve been accused more than once of being a Ruger-phile, Ruger-centric or perhaps just a shill in general for that company. I will be the first to admit that I have become very fond of a number of Ruger firearms but I will assure the reader that this is purely a matter of coincidence. The purchase of these guns was never done on the basis of the Ruger name but on the basis of either a targeted need or an opportunistic purchase. So, as much fun as I’ve had with the SR9 I have to say at the end of the day that with all the effort and money I have put into making that gun as good as I could for USPSA, the M&P smokes it right out of the proverbial box. Of course the M&P price is substantially higher than the SR9 so it’s not really surprising.

One more thing about the SR9: I still think that for the money it is a great gun for Production class shooters who want a cost-effective gun with which to get started. I also love the SR9c as a CCW gun and don’t see that changing. However, for where I’m at with USPSA I think it’s time to move on to something that suits my development better.

I guess I should mention Glock at this point lest I get the G-men after me 😉 Yes, I’ve shot the G17 and the G34 many times. They are great guns in many respects, especially the 34 but the ergonomics just do not work for me. That grip angle is simply a deal-breaker. I just can’t make my wrists bend forward beyond that classic 17 degree angle common to the 1911 and most other classes of modern auto-loading pistol. If that gun works for you that’s super but please don’t tell me I don’t know what works for me.

So, where does that leave us? Oh yeah, ready to start the M&P adventure!

Stay tuned…