USPSA Pistol Shooting: How’s My Grip?

I have benefited greatly by watching Todd Jarret’s Youtube video on pistol shooting tips. I think his explanation of the placement of the pistol within the strong hand and the grip of the weak hand is outstanding. I have followed the guidance regarding the use of the pad of the trigger finger, the alignment of the pistol and the forearm and the 360-degree grip contact for a long time. Interestingly enough, after watching the videos of my shooting at the last match I realized I was missing a key point he makes: the placement and direction of the weak-hand thumb.

I have apparently been letting my weak-hand thumb come to rest along the left side of the slide in a near vertical position. With the black slide on my M&P, this really stands out in the videos (as opposed to the stainless slide of my SR9). This past week I have begun to really look at this issue. If you notice towards the end of the video Todd shows the student how you can check your grip by looking down at the top of the slide and checking to insure that both the trigger finger and the weak-side thumb are the same distance from the front of the slide. This of course is done while the trigger finger is resting along the right side of the slide.

In order for me to get the weak thumb in this orientation I have had to rotate my weak hand forward significantly. While this may sound like a simple, perhaps insignificant change, it has created a very different feel to my pistol shooting. It is very awkward at this point but I have to say that I can feel more positive control and recoil mitigation with this different grip.

I recently read a blog post by Brad Engmann, a USPSA Grand Master in Production division. Most people know Brad from his appearance on the first season of the History Channel’s Top Shot program. He received a lot of criticism for some of his perceived whining about the Beretta 92FS and its grip angle, compared to the Glock he shoots in Production. As most people know, the producers of these shows are trying to use footage to create drama rather than to show educational information. Emotion tends to sell more than knowledge I guess. Anyway, in his post Brad talks about the long climb to top-level pistol shooting in USPSA. He points out that the road to success is not easy and that each time a new area of our technique is adjusted our performance goes off. This dip is inevitable but must be experienced if we are to improve. If the adjustment is a good one, the change becomes comfortable and the performance dip is followed by better shooting than before.Those of us who can tolerate the discomfort and short-term drop in our shooting can continue to improve and ultimately reach the highest level we can personally achieve.

I think the thing that really makes Practical Shooting so unique is that we are moving at speeds that make the shooting entirely dependent on our training. There simply is no time to contemplate. If my grip adjustment is going to work, I must draw to it hundreds of times during practice at home, dry-firing and just doing draws and mag changes. That lays the foundation for live-fire practice which lets me really feel the new grip in action. Once the technique change has become fully integrated then I can see how it really works. So far I’ve only had a few tweaks that have not worked out. This one I think is destined to stay.

A final note: There really is no substitute for watching video tape of yourself shooting, especially at matches. If you can arrange it, have someone tape you from the strong side on some stages and weak side on the others. This will allow you to see your draw, grip, mag draws, mag insertions, recoil management, general grip geometry, etc. from all possible angles. Try and capture footwork on stages with movement but don’t zoom out unnecessarily. Remember: there’s no real point in having the targets in the picture. Paper hits are invisible and hits on steel can be heard distinctly in the videos. When reviewing stages it is important to have your scores readily viewable also since the best looking run in the world is pointless if you weren’t accurate. We try and get a shot of the score sheet at the end of our practice sessions and match scores are posted on the USPSA site. This way you can compare technique with results.

So, my grip is under construction…again. How’s yours?

S&W M&P 9 – Part VII: Update

Well, it’s been a couple of months now with the M&P9. Let’s review where we are so far:

  • Apex Tactical “Competition Action Enhancement Kit”
  • Dawson sights (fiber 1.25 red front/ black serrated wide rear)
  • Black Diamond grip tape
  • stainless guide rod
  • ISMI 13lb spring
  • Polished the bearing surfaces on the trigger bar, striker block plunger and the sear.

That’s everything that’s been done to the pistol other than shoot it and clean it. As you may recall in Part VI, I didn’t have a great experience at my first match with this setup but this past weekend saw much improvement.

Since the September match I have put about 2.5k rounds through the gun. As you can see in the videos of the match the true character of this pistol is being revealed. I came in 2nd in production, winning the longest stage of the match outright. Additionally GMPS calculates combined scores across all divisions, which isn’t valid as far as USPSA is concerned but it’s a nice set of data to compare overall placement. Even with minor PF and 10-round mags, I was 6th overall. This is the best I’ve shot at a GMPS match by a good margin. The biggest change was in my accuracy. If you watch the Part IV video my run was under 40 seconds, due in large part to the fact that I cleared the Texas Star in six shots (one miss). Granted it wasn’t far away but it did have two no-shoot poppers sitting at the 5 and 7 o’clock positions, which made it pretty difficult. Also my A-hit ratio for the match was my highest ever.

During the course of the match I had one failure to feed after a mag change but I couldn’t tell what happened and you can’t see in the video. That was almost certainly not the fault of the pistol so I have to give it a perfect score on that account.

So this is much more the kind of result I expected from this platform. I think it will only get better. Hats off to the fine folks at Smith & Wesson for producing this outstanding pistol. Thanks also to Dawson Precision for those great sights and of course, thanks to Apex Tactical for the action kit which makes this easily the best competition pistol I’ve ever shot by a wide margin.

Maku Mozo!

Hornady Critical Defense ammo: when it really counts

I have a lot of fun shooting firearms but let’s face it, we really do this for a much more important reason than simple pleasure. While it is true that many people hunt with guns, most hunting is done with long guns so time spent shooting pistols has a more profound purpose: self-defense. The handgun is the great equalizer, allowing almost anyone the ability to wield deadly force. This makes it much tougher for an assailant to justify risking their own safety by jeopardizing that of a would-be victim. So, if all this is true then the only remaining question is: how effective will I be when it really counts?

My skills as a shooter ultimately serve to give me every possible advantage in a lethal force scenario. I simply will not give an advantage to an adversary If I can avoid it. Life is precious and I’ll be damned if I will let someone take it away from me, my loved ones or any innocent person. In order to be most effective it takes a reliable, accurate weapon, skills, preparation and perhaps most overlooked of all: the best ammunition available.

I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus (well, mostly I don’t) or any magic bullet that through mystical properties is perfectly effective against any and all adversaries. I believe, as do most experts in the field, that Marshal and Sanow’s famed study was deeply flawed and that the holy grail of firearms science, “stopping power”, is at best an incredibly complex phenomenon. Stopping Power, Knock-Down Power and One-Shot Stop Effectiveness are all really constructs of fertile imaginations and perhaps over-zealous gun writers. They are really just efforts to reduce data almost to the point of no meaning.

Does this mean that the famed .357 magnum is no better than a .380acp? Not at all. What it means is that whenever we discuss terminal ballistics we have to keep in mind that this is only a fraction of what goes into making ammunition truly effective. Above all else, shot placement is absolutely the most critical factor of effectiveness.

So, with all that said, the specific ammunition chosen for defensive/carry purposes is more important than most people think. Winchester White Box 115gr. FMJ rounds are great for practice but when life is at stake I want the very best I can buy. You will notice I said “buy” and not “load”. I make match ammo myself, which is very reliable and carefully constructed, but when life is on the line, I want rounds that are made in large batches with intense quality control before, during and after the process. I want those rounds to be made from the highest quality materials with the best properties for the application. And arguably nobody does that better than Hornady.

Typical JHP vs. Hornady Critical Defense

After looking over the usual suspects for defensive rounds, I recently selected Hornady’s Critical Defense line of ammunition for my personal carry rounds. They are Jacketed Hollow-Point bullets (Hornady’s patented FTX model) in nickel cases with fast-burning, low flash powders. This powder selection permits full velocity to be achieved even in short-barreled pistols while minimizing muzzle flash and thereby visibility. They also have a rubber plug in the slug cavity to keep lint, etc., out of the nose of the bullet. This material is designed to keep stuff out but to completely disintegrate upon impact, leaving the bullet to do its job. The nickel case is designed to reduce tarnishing and allow easy chamber checks even in low light.

As with any defensive rounds, you should always fire enough of them through your gun to insure they will function properly. I put about 100 through each gun and they were flawless. The cost is inline with other defensive rounds and for me is a bargain at twice the price.

I like this round, especially for smaller concealed carry pistols and with Hornady’s commitment to excellence I would bet my life on it.

Springfield XD: Striker-Fired Excellence

Marketing is a funny thing. Sometimes it can get folks to buy something they really shouldn’t and sometimes it can help them buy something that they really should but otherwise might not. Such is the case with the Springfield Armory XD series of pistols.

Springfield Armory, the self-proclaimed “oldest name in American firearms” or something like that, is actually a relative newcomer to the industry. Yes, the name is old but unlike the US government-owned armory, these folks haven’t been around for over 100 years. Nevertheless, they make some outstanding guns. I’ve already written about my 1911 TRP and how much I love it. I will shortly be doing a piece on the M1A rifle, also one of my favorites. The funny thing about the XD is that SA doesn’t actually make it. It isn’t even an American design. It is however a fine pistol, deserving of its recent accolades.

In the late 1990’s the Croatian IM Metal Company developed a pistol for the Croatian army. This design was released in 1999 as the HS2000. The pistol made its way to the US in 2000 but it did not sell very well. Late in 2001 S.A. became the sole importer of the pistol and began marketing it as the XD (Extreme Duty) series of pistols. The XD had some very minor design changes but is functionally and cosmetically identical to the HS2000.

I first bought a .45 Tactical and then later an XD9 sub-compact. I liked both pistols very much. At first glance they can be mistaken for Glocks, especially if you don’t look at the grip closely. The slide is very blocky and wide which is in sharp contrast with the grip which is impossibly thin and incredibly comfortable, even with my small hands. In fact, the ergonomics of the pistol are what seems to be the favorite feature among owners everywhere.

Even with the double-stack .45acp rounds inside the grip, my XD45 Tactical was comfortable and easy to handle and shoot, even with one hand. This is a testament to modern polymer technology. The walls of the grip must be very thin but I never noticed any problem, nor have I ever heard of a crack or break in the grip.

In terms of safety, the XD has both a grip safety, like the 1911, and a trigger safety, like the Glock. Later models also have an external thumb safety. There is thankfully no mag disconnect.

The triggers in these pistols are typical of striker-fired guns. Long take-up with short over-travel and reset. Not bad at all but if you want better, Springer Precision can “Springer-ize” the action for you. SA’s custom shop also offers carry/duty and competition action jobs.

I think the XD and its progeny the XDm will be around for a very long time. They are accurate, reliable, easy to field-strip and clean, and above all they are very comfortable to shoot. Lucky for most of us those marketing folks steered us right this time!

Blackhawk Serpa CQC holsters: a singular achievement

I’ve made several references to the Serpa holsters but I think it is high time I talk about them directly. They certainly deserve it. I have one for every semi-auto pistol I own except for the diminutive Ruger LCP.

I’ve tried many different holsters, including in-waistband (IWB), outside-waistband (OWB), shoulder, ankle, drop-leg, tac vest, pocket, etc. I’ve tried many different manufacturers including Fobus, Uncle Mike’s, Bladetech, Blackhawk, Safariland and a host of other less-known brands. I have found that while many of these companies have fine offerings, there are some key features that are critical.

The fit of holster to weapon is absolutely essential. If the gun doesn’t fit the holster its finish can be damaged and in a worst-case scenario, the gun can fall out of the holster. Also critical is the ability to draw and re-holster cleanly and quickly, the former being most important. I have found that while many of the plastic holsters on the market are OK, the best are made from Kydex or carbon fiber. These are very lightweight, hold their shape forever and typically are very kind to the gun’s finish.

The Blackhawk CQC Serpa is distinct from its contemporaries in several major ways. First, it is flawless in its basic design and manufacture. The holster comes with both a belt and paddle attachment system. I really like the paddle since it spreads the weight of the gun across a large area of my waist, allowing greater stability. This is especially important for larger, heavier pistols. The paddle also has “teeth” that hook under the wearer’s belt from the paddle and holster side, making it virtually impossible to dislodge without great effort. The only downside to that is that I usually have to remove my belt to take the holster off. That’s a small price to pay in my opinion for the security the system brings.

All this is great but the most amazing feature of the Serpa, and what puts it head-and-shoulders above its competitors, is the namesake locking mechanism. When holstering the weapon one hears a distinctive “click” when the gun reaches the bottom. This is the Serpa lock that holds the front of the trigger guard. Once this lock is engaged it is impossible to pull the gun out without first releasing the lock. This is accomplished by pressing a release lever that is right under your index finger when you grasp the pistol. This assumes that you are holding your index finger high “above” the trigger as standard training dictates. There is an adjustment screw on the side of the holster to produce the perfect amount of tension in the holster. I like mine to be buttery-smooth so that there is essentially zero force required to insert or remove the pistol. Once this setup is achieved the holster is simply marvelous. The gun will never come out unless you want it to.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a problem experienced with the early design of this holster. There were a few cases of law enforcement trainees inadvertently shooting themselves in the leg while drawing a weapon using the first generation design of the holster. It is believed that the problem was a result of finger pressure on the release button that transferred to the gun’s trigger as it cleared the holster resulting in the accidental discharge (AD). I can only say that having used the earlier design that I can’t imagine this happening unless the person was incredibly uncoordinated and/or experiencing some sort of extreme physical distress. Honestly, I would question whether such a person should be handling firearms at all. As a result, Blackhawk redesigned the holster to include a finger groove that guides the trigger finger as the weapon is drawn and deposits said finger on the frame above the trigger guard as the gun clears the holster. While I don’t think this is a bad idea, I really wonder if this would have helped these unfortunate souls mentioned above. In any case, I have both versions still in use and I see no difference.

With its superb design, excellent fit-and-finish, carbon-fiber construction, and of course, the Serpa lock, the Blackhawk CQC Serpa holster is my hands-down favorite for open or concealed carry. I also have a Level-II version on my drop-leg 1911 holster.

It’s just that good.

Arredondo Base Pads: bottomless mags-R-us!

Those of us lucky enough to be able to indulge in the shooting sports are doubly blessed with a large number of entrepreneurs who have made it their business to provide us with all sorts of things to help improve our game. One example is Arredondo Accessories. These folks make all kinds of ingenious devices that cater to the needs of practical shooting enthusiasts. Recently they have expanded to include the needs of the burgeoning 3-gun community. But what got them on the map was arguably their best and most successful product: the magazine base pad replacement.

During my time shooting USPSA I have been curious about and interested in shooting in different divisions. In that respect Production division has served as a “gateway drug” to lure the unsuspecting into the more and more hardcore addictions. This goes all the way up to the Heroin of USPSA: Open Division. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The introduction of a Production division has undoubtedly helped USPSA to become the most widely practiced competitive shooting discipline in the United States. It is interesting to note that our version of Production differs in one very significant way from the Parent organization’s version. The International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) allows 15 rounds in each magazine, which can be a stock or aftermarket mag. This makes a big difference in how courses are shot obviously but this pales in comparison to the Limited and Open divisions where capacity is limited only by the overall length of the magazine (140mm and 170mm, respectively). This is where the afore-mentioned base plates come into play.

Arredondo makes a base pad for the Springfield XD, the XDm, the Glock and the Smith and Wesson M&P series pistols. This consists of a hard plastic housing that slides onto the bottom of the factory magazine along with an insert that 1) holds the spring up inside the magazine while the base pad is installed and 2) after installation pops down inside the base pad to keep it secured to the magazine in correct alignment.

So instead of shooting with mags loaded with only 10 rounds, I realized I could shoot Limited/Minor PF (9mm) with 23 rounds in the magazine! This was very intriguing. I ordered two in kit form, which includes a longer, stiffer mag spring. At $22.00 apiece plus modest shipping, this was short money to get into Limited in a meaningful way. With 23+1 rounds there are relatively few courses that would require a reload based on round count. I’ve seen a number of guys do this to good effect. In fact Andy normally wins Limited at our local match with his G34 with this same setup. A-zone hits all count the same, regardless of power factor!

I got the kits and installed them on my two original mags for the M&P. These are shiny and slick, unlike the matte-finish mags I purchased later. I figured that the extra slipperiness can’t hurt with all those rounds in there. First thing I noticed was that it was hard to load the last few rounds. In fact with the replacement springs i could only get 22 rounds in the mag. Hmm. I have since read that this is all too common. I switched back to the factory mag spring in one just to see if it made a difference. I was in fact able to get the 23d round in there but it was more effort than should be necessary and it was questionable in terms of the stresses on the feed lips, etc. I switched back to the high-power spring and decided to be happy with 22 rounds in there.

I went to the range and was delighted to find that even with the 13lb recoil spring in the M&P I could load and fire every single round in both of these mags. Outstanding! I will say that barney’ing the first round then loading that mag is tough, but doable. If a stage required more than 23 rounds I would skip the barney round and actually only load 21 in the second mag, just to remove the potential for a failed mag lock during the reload. That means 43 rounds with only one reload!

So now in addition to Production and Limited/10 I will be trying my hand at Limited-Minor PF, thanks to our friends at Arredondo.

Oh, brave new world that has such mags in’t!

S&W M&P 9 – Part VI: bottom line (sort-of)

After all the time, money and work spent on this project I was very anxious to get to the range with this tricked out pistol. This past weekend the Upper Valley Practical Shooters (UVPS) met per usual on Saturday morning to set up a practice stage and run through it several times. I asked if I could shoot the gun into the berm just as a function check and everyone was OK with that. I loaded one round and fired it without any trouble. I then put a 10-rounder in and blasted about a half-dozen rounds faster than I’ve ever done before. This was going to be fun.

I went first through the stage, which was a bunch of poppers and 1-shot paper targets, then transition to Box B and repeat. Plenty of hard cover on the paper too. We went through the stage five times each and I did OK, but nothing unusual. Once the usual suspects left Neil and I stayed to shoot some paper targets with the usual 2-shots-per-target routine. It was then that I noticed something disturbing: most of my shots were quite low but usually in line vertically with the target center. I then tried some aimed slow fire to confirm zero and was relieved to see that my groups were spot-on. So, what was happening? I can’t say with certainty but I suspect it is just that the cumulative changes will take time to get used to. I then went on to spend a good deal of time trying to gauge the reset. This was harder than it sounds, especially in the heat of running a stage. This will take some time too.

I went home puzzled but truthfully, between the action job and the sights this was a completely different gun. Not to mention that I only had the gun a week in total by this time. That’s a lot of change to assimilate. So, what to do next? Shoot a match!

Green Mountain Practical Shooters (GMPS) is another group to which I belong. We hold monthly matches in Morrisville, Vermont and yesterday was the scheduled monthly match. Bill and I headed up early in the morning.

I would love to tell you that I had the best match of my life but that isn’t what happened. I shot worse than usual, with a fair number A hits followed by C or D hits low. This is similar to what I noticed Saturday. I just don’t have the muscle memory in place yet for this radically different trigger. Now, there were other factors that should be mentioned. This match was the first multi-gun optional match ever held at GMPS which meant that I was shooting pistol on stages meant for rifles in many cases. Had these stages been more traditional I would certainly have done better, but even on the more normal sections I had trouble.

The other big thing to mention is that for some reason I decided to wear contact lenses instead of my usual glasses. This was just foolish. My extreme Myopia renders soft contact lenses only moderately effective at close ranges, like say the distance to the front sight of my pistol. My sight picture for the day consisted of a fuzzy red blob that sometimes appeared out of the darkness of my rear sight. Yep, not my best MENSA moment.

The last thing I’ll mention is that the match was delayed an hour starting and was only about 2/3 complete when we had to leave at almost 4 pm. Sure, it shouldn’t matter but the frustration of sitting around waiting all that time was certainly a factor.

Am I being a cry-baby? Probably, but this is shared in the interest of full disclosure. The bottom line is that this was far from an ideal match at which to try out a radically different gun from what I was used to shooting. I already knew from practice that I would need a ton of trigger time to dial in this new system but on the other hand I wasn’t going to miss the fun of a match just because I had a new platform.

So, where does that leave us? Well, there’s little doubt in my mind that with several thousand more rounds down range I will acclimate to this system and I will be better for it. The platform is everything I could ask for so now the rest is up to me. I will post a follow-up in Part VII after a few weeks so stay tuned.

Wish me luck!

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!