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

    comp_aek_600-300x189
    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!

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.

XD9__6_straight_640
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…

Semi-auto pistol cleaning: what works for me

If you read the manual that comes with any new semi-automatic pistol there’s a lot of information about how to field strip it but not a lot about how to actually clean the gun. I’ve seen a lot of different techniques but for me there are some basics that I think are worth sharing.

If it’s dirty, clean it. Sounds simple and it is. If you look inside the barrel and it is cruddy, it needs a good scrubbing. I typically use Hoppe’s #9 solvent to loosen the fouling. I apply it either with a saturated patch or just dip the brass brush into the small Hoppe’s jar then put it right into the barrel. Always clean the barrel starting from the chamber so as not to damage the crown (the precisely machined end of the barrel which imparts the final “kiss” to the bullet as it begins its flight). Also don’t stop part way through the barrel and change direction with the brush. This causes the bristles to press against the inside of the barrel with too much force. At the least it will shorten the life of the brush. Always continue all the way out the other end. After letting some time elapse you will want to run clean cloth patches through the barrel until they come out clean. After that you will want to send a patch with lubricant on it through the barrel in order to leave a light coating of lube on all the surfaces.

While most folks pay attention to the lands and grooves, the chamber and feed ramp are just as critical. In fact I’ve seen pistols fail to load due to dirty feed ramps quite a few times. While I’m waiting for the solvent to work inside the barrel I usually take the time to wet down the feed ramp and the other areas surrounding the chamber at the rear of the barrel. Often there will be significant carbon buildup there which can keep the gun from going fully into battery if it builds up enough. Again if it’s dirty, clean it.

A word should be said about cleaning products. I mentioned Hoppe’s #9 but I will often just use Break Free CLP (clean, lubricate, protect) to remove fouling and to serve as the final lubricant. This is especially common if the gun was not very dirty to begin with. Even with the #9 I often use CLP as the final lubricant. It’s good stuff. Also, if the barrel is really bad inside (lots of lead and/or copper stuck in the grooves) I will use Blue Wonder and let a heavy slathering sit inside the barrel for 20-30 minutes. It’s important to turn the barrel quite a bit to insure the slimy stuff evenly coats all the way around. Then just go back to the normal solvent/brush/patch/lube routine. Works great.

Once the barrel is under control the next area I work on is the slide. With semi-autos this will include (among other things) the breech face, the extractor and the slide rail grooves. These areas are critical. The breech face is the area against which the base of the cartridge rests. It can get really cruddy and must be thoroughly cleaned. The extractor is the small hook-like metal finger that extends out and over the case rim. As the gun cycles the extractor is what yanks the case sideways and, with the help of the ejector, expels the spent case through the ejection port. If too much carbon builds up under the extractor it can fail to eject the spent case and case a major jam. I find that an old toothbrush works really well on this area, as well as most everyplace else I’ve mentioned outside the barrel.

While I like Hoppe’s for the barrel I typically do not use it anywhere on the slide. I just don’t like the idea of getting solvent inside the striker raceway and it causing undue wear on the striker and/or striker spring. So, after spraying CLP all inside the slide I then scrub all the fouling loose not only on the breech/extractor area but also the slide grooves and the entire underside of the slide, especially toward the rear of the pistol. Then I wipe it down with a series of clean patches. I use the toothbrush to get the patch down inside all the crooks and nannies…er, something like that. So, what about all the CLP that is down inside the striker raceway, etc.? I hold the slide on a 45 degree angle (upside down with the muzzle end in the air) and use compressed air to blast out all but a thin film of lube. Holding a rag around the bottom will help contain the oil blast.

Getting the excess lube out of the striker raceway is critical since oil attracts dirt and dust and in cold temps it can congeal into a mass that will hinder the striker such that the gun won’t fire. NOTE: do not use an air compressor as its air contains a lot of moisture that can get blasted into your gun. The reason canned air is so expensive is that it is clean and dry. Your gun is worth it!

After the barrel and slide are finished the only thing remaining is the frame. With most pistols there’s not much to do other than wipe off any dust, dirt or oil that has found its way down there. Some designs however integrate the feed ramp into the frame (or at least the bottom of the ramp). In this case rule #1 still applies. The same old drill with the solvent/brush/patch/lube will serve you well. With some pistols a drop of lube between the frame and trigger bar is good also. If I do lube the frame I again get all the excess out with air.

I will mention that I do occasionally clean out the magazine well, usually with a rag with some Tri-Flow on it. This insures my mags drop out easily when I hit the mag release. I don’t do this every time I clean the gun but if the mags have been going in the sand/mud/dirt then I do (along with cleaning the mags themselves).

This method take about 10 minutes of efficient work once you are used to the process, unless the gun is really dirty. Expect to spend 20-30 minutes the first time or two while you are getting to know the pistol.

There are tons of products out there and some may work better than what I use but for now this system works nicely for me on everything from my 1911 to my LCP.

Ruger LCP: ultimate “pocket protector”

When first looking for a CCW pistol I was interested in several criteria: size, weight, conceal-ability, reliability and power. There are lots of manufacturers of 9mm sub-compact guns on the market today and they make some fine pistols. There are also lots of nice compact and sub-compact 1911s out there. All these are nice but sometimes there is a requirement for a really, REALLY concealable weapon. Here’s where the .380 acp round shines. It’s the same diameter as the 9mm but only 17mm long instead of 19 for the Parabellum. The bullet is usually 85-90gr and is going a little slower than the 9mm but many people agree that it is still adequate for close-quarters self-defense work. I certainly think so.

Walther PPK
Bersa Thunder 380 CC

My first experience shooting a .380 was, like many of us, with the venerable Walther PPK. Anyone who grew up watching James Bond movies would immediately recognize this pistol. Unfortunately, like much Hollywood fare, the reality was less than expected. The PPK has a nasty habit of slide-biting the shooter and I just never really liked them. Enter the Argentine manufacturer Bersa and their Thunder 380. I got my hands on a CC model and that replaced the XD9 sub-compact I had been carrying. I liked it quite a bit but I somehow felt something was missing.

Eventually I decided to go back to the 9mm as my primary CCW caliber but I wanted a deep-concealment option in the form of a .380. I shot a couple of Kel-Tec P3AT pistols and was not happy. The snappy little thing would consistently jump up in my hand with every shot such that I would go from two fingers on the grip to only one thus requiring a grip adjustment between every single shot. Having a gun trying to jump out of your hand is not a good feeling, especially if this was a life-and-death scenario.

Kel-Tec P3-AT

When Ruger released the LCP it looked so much like the P3-AT that I figured they were simply trying to cash in on the mouse gun’s popularity by cloning the design. This was certainly not the case. I tried shooting a couple of different LCPs and I was really impressed. The ergonomics are subtly different such that with a firm grip, the pistol stays exactly in place while firing. It is also accurate, as much as it can be given the size and very low-profile sights.

The LCP is not a particularly pleasant gun to shoot. With its low mass the .380 round makes it a real handful to shoot, but like anything with regular practice it becomes routine. I find that I can keep all my hits in the A zone at 10 yards, even shooting rapidly. Given the long

Ruger LCP

double-action only trigger that does take some practice.

Tucked into a nice pocket holster (get one with the rubber strips on the side so it stays in your pocket when you pluck the pistol out) this pistol is almost not there. I like the square pocket holsters because they keep the gun properly oriented for a quick and easy draw and they avoid the dreaded “printing” issue.

With it’s ultra-thin, ultra-light form factor and it’s excellent quality, I consider the LCP my ultimate “pocket protector”.

Pistol review: Sig Sauer 226

My friends Kevin and Bill are long-time Sig fans and after some teasing about me being Ruger-centric I decided to try one out and see what all the fuss was about. Bill loaned me one of his 226s and I checked it out over the last week.

To be fair, I had shot Kevin’s 229 and this 226 previously but only a few times. The plan now was to really put some rounds through it and get a good sense of the pistol. My experience was a mixture of confirmed assumptions and surprises.

The 226 has been around a long time and it is no accident that it remains a popular pistol. With its metal frame and slide it is a durable, solid pistol that feels massive and does a good job mitigating recoil. It looks good too. I shot factory 115 gr Georgia Arms ball ammo and my own handloads (124gr JHP from Montana Gold, 4.1gr Titegroup, CCI small pistol primers using mixed brass) and found that from a recoil perspective it was very pleasant to shoot. Two other things struck me immediately: first, the grip is fat and second the pistol is really accurate. Ergonomics being all the rage recently this pistol is not a great fit for my small hands. I found it uncomfortably large compared to my SR-9 and my 1911. Nevertheless I found that I was very accurate shooting at 10 yds.

The first day shooting the 226 was shared with my friend Neil who was at the range fighting with his new PPK. Just for fun he tried the 226 and was astonished at how much he liked it. In fact he shot most of the ammo I brought and was contemplating a trip to the gun store to pick one up on the way home.

The 226 has an exposed hammer, a de-cocker and no manual safety. This means that to fire a round left in the chamber requires the first shot be taken as double-action. This is not a simple task for those of us accustomed to DAO guns or the locked-and-cocked 1911. I’m told that you get used to it but there’s no question that the first shot is going to be either slower or less accurate or both. I just don’t see how you can get around that.

So I figured I would try the gun again after our next practice just to see how it felt on a second day and then I would write the review. Yesterday when I got to practice I was very unhappy to discover that when I reassembled my SR-9 after cleaning that I had left out the take-down pin. I then remembered that I had brought along the Sig so I used it instead. The results were impressive.

Bill, Mike and I shot “Can you count?” and “Mini-mart” from the USPSA classifier book and even with the double-action first shot I was able to really move through the first stage very fast. The trigger’s short reset and short, crisp single-action pull make up for the first shot. The big surprise for me was my accuracy. Sure, these are not long-shot stages but as anyone who has shot with me knows, I tend to get wide when I’m blowing through stages. Interestingly enough, on this day I had quite a few runs that were all Alpha hits and I had no Mikes and no No-Shoots. I broke into the six and seven hit factors, respectively. You can’t argue with success.

After about 200 rounds we concluded the practice and I gave the pistol back to Bill. It is worth noting that I was using a nylon holster that was loose on my normal leather belt. Once the front fiber optic sight caught on the holster during a draw and cost me at least .5 seconds. I suspect with a Bladtech DOH I would have done even better.

So, am I (like Neil) headed to the gun store? I don’t think so. I certainly was surprised at how this gun performed under stress. My groups looked really good. But I couldn’t shake the ergonomic issue. Not only that but the double-action first shot costs, regardless of how nice the remaining shots are.

I always think of Jack Bauer when I see that pistol and for many people it is the perfect competition and/or carry gun. For me it is a fun gun but not for serious business.

Your Mileage May Vary

Ruger SR-9: big bang for the buck

In October of 2007 Sturm Ruger introduced their first striker-fired polymer-framed pistol, the SR-9. Although they had a recall for early models, the pistol has been very successful. I’ve been shooting them since early 2009 and have been highly impressed.

At 1.18 inches thick, the SR-9 is very thin. It is also light at 26.5 oz. The pistol was obviously designed for self-defense/concealed carry purposes with its 4.14″ barrel and sleek design. With a street price well under $400 and the Ruger name, this pistol was bound to be popular. What surprised me is that it is in fact a really nice pistol for USPSA Production division.

As mentioned in my earlier USPSA post, I first starting shooting this pistol when one was loaned to me by my friend Jeff. I wound up shooting it so much that I felt compelled to buy it from him due to the wear on the gun. Frankly after several months I had grown quite fond of it also. This model was post-recall (mid-2008) which meant that it already had the trigger safety. I did a lot of polishing and some spring replacement due to the heavy trigger. The trigger as originally tested was about 8.5 lbs. which way too heavy for a competition gun. After some work and several thousand rounds the trigger was at about 6.4 lbs. but smooth. For anyone interested in how to do this stuff, Rugerforums.com is a great resource.

Fall 2009 I purchased a second SR-9 which had the improved trigger. It was still a little gritty when first received but after an initial cleaning it was much better. The pull measured 6.5 lbs. I sent it off to Dwight Clark of CGS, LLC in Orrville, Ohio (330-466-1257) who changed the striker spring and did a lot of polishing 0f the internals. The result was a 4.15 pound very smooth trigger with a crisp break. I replaced the main spring (13.5 oz.) with a Glock 11lb spring. This setup runs perfectly with 124 JHP Montana Gold bullets with 4.1gr Titegroup powder and CCI primers.  This is the gun I still shoot in Production and after 8k rounds it continues to perform well.

I made a couple of other Production-legal modifications that I would recommend: I installed a red fiber-optic front sight (Hi-Viz) and grip tape. When the sun hits that sight it looks like an electronic red-dot and is highly visible. This is perfect for my vision which is somewhat compromised in my right eye.

Grip tape is essential for me as it really locks the grip to my hand and works wet or dry. This is nothing more than standard Diamond skateboard tape. One suggestion on the tape: after getting the pattern just right and cutting the tape, cut another strip about 1/2″ wide to run the length of the backstrap. I put this on the grip before installing the main tape so that I have a base upon which to superglue the two edges that meet at the back. Any hobby shop will have the “rubberized black cyanoacrylate” that you apply to the back of the thin strip before pressing both ends of your main tape onto it. This creates a permanent connection of the tape to itself but doesn’t change the grip. The whole thing can be removed just by cutting it off.

One gotcha with this highly-tuned pistol/ammo combination is that I have to be very diligent about seating the primers on my handloads. If the primer is the least bit high the striker only has enough energy to push the primer fully into the primer pocket and leave a light strike on the primer itself. The resulting unfired round will always fire if loaded again. I’ve never had a failure to fire (FTF) with my match ammo but I occasionally have one while using practice ammo.

After being so pleased with the pistol I was delighted when Ruger announced a compact version to be sold in January of 2010: the SR-9c. I bought one right away and was delighted to see the improved 6.0 lb. trigger it sports. This is my primary CCW pistol and as such I would not want a trigger any lighter. I have left this gun unaltered other than shooting several hundred rounds and a little polishing of the visible bearing surfaces. That and removing that infernal magazine disconnect safety is all I’ve done. The geometry is identical to the SR-9 so my natural point-of-aim is perfect.

So, is the SR-9 the best pistol on Earth? Certainly not but I think it is every bit as good as a Glock 17 for significantly less money and it has the “proper” 17 degree grip angle, like the 1911 and it has a reversible backstrap which was nice for my small hands. Also, the longer this pistol is on the market the more good aftermarket parts and accessories will be available. For USPSA shooters it offers a low-cost way to get started in the Production division and can be turned into a very competitive little shooter!