A question came up recently on how I use a handheld flashlight shooting in low/no light conditions. Rather than try and explain it verbally I think in this case a short video does a better job.
A question came up recently on how I use a handheld flashlight shooting in low/no light conditions. Rather than try and explain it verbally I think in this case a short video does a better job.
Some years ago I found myself in the local gun shop looking at the various pistols when I found myself staring at a pistol I’d never seen before. It was a blocky looking thing with a Weaver rail covering the entire top of the gun. This was my first encounter with the Smith & Wesson 22A, a semi-auto .22lr pistol. Having shot the Rugers and Buckmarks forever I was intrigued by this pistol. It had a more classic semi-auto look and the price was right so I bought it. Continue reading “Pistol Review: S&W 22A”
A friend recently mentioned that he had tried out some “sub-sonic 9mm ammo” that was supposed to be good for use in USPSA Production class shooting. He asked me what I thought, which resulted in the following response.
Before I comment on subsonic ammo, a few words are in order:
As a competitive shooter, one of the key reasons for reloading is to work up a tuned round specifically to work with one’s tuned pistol to produce shots with little felt recoil that still achieve minimum power factor for the division one is shooting. In our case (Production division) everyone is scored Minor Power Factor (MinorPF), so there’s no advantage to loading higher than that. Minimum MinorPF is 125. This is Mass (bullet weight in grains) times velocity divided by 1000. So, if you are shooting 115gr bullets at 1100 feet-per-second that equals a PF of 126.5, or just over the minimum for Minor. Most factory ammo is hotter than this, which results in a higher PF but also much greater felt recoil. Shooters desiring less recoil and more control can achieve this by trading velocity for bullet weight. Continue reading “USPSA: 9mm bullets for Production – what weight?”
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?
Well, it’s been a couple of months now with the M&P9. Let’s review where we are so far:
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.
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
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!
I have always enjoyed shooting but when I tried bullseye competition it was never much fun. In fact I found it very stressful and I would often finish feeling more tense than when I started. If shooting wasn’t fun then I really had no reason to do it so I left that pursuit behind. Some time later when I first encountered “practical shooting” I felt that it was probably not a good idea for me to even try it. I watched some guys at my local range practicing stages and while I was intrigued I kept thinking about my bullseye experience.
While trying to resolve a problem with an AK-47 I was put in touch with a fellow who turned out to be the local US Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) guru. What started as a 10-minute meeting to help me with the rifle turned into an hour-long session describing practical shooting, showing me his guns and his reloading gear and even heading out to his backyard range to try out his Open gun. With this kind of introduction I could hardly resist.
A friend had a Ruger SR-9 and suggested I borrow it to try out this new facet of shooting. I took a simple Fobus holster and a nylon mag pouch and showed up at the next practice session. After getting the thorough safety briefing which is the hallmark of USPSA activity I watched the other shooters figuring out how to manage the stage then we all took turns shooting it. When it was finally my turn and the Range Officer said, “Shooter make ready.” I was pretty excited. Then the timer beeped and everything changed.
It is rare in my experience that a single event or a single place and time can be identified as the beginning or end of something in my life. Usually things happen slowly over time with very gradual change. When that timer went off it felt like a thousand volts were shooting through my body. I drew my pistol and engaged those dozen or so targets as if I was in a trance. Time stretched out like in a car accident. I had never experienced anything quite like it. When the RO said, “If finished, unload and show clear”, it took a moment to “come to”. I was exhilarated. I realized immediately that this was my sport.
I have been shooting Production class, still shooting a modified (legally) Ruger SR-9, for a little more than a year. I’ve learned a lot about the sport and been lucky enough to shoot matches at several clubs throughout New England. I’ve made a lot of new friends doing so and also brought along a bunch of shooting buddies to join in the fun. The combination of speed, power and accuracy required has been a really enjoyable challenge. I also started reloading ammunition as a result of the required high round-counts (more on that later).
Most importantly, I still get that huge rush every time that timer goes off.
Shooter make ready!