Pistol Review: Ruger LC9

Ruger LC9

When I first heard about Ruger’s follow-up to the LCP, the LC9, I was immediately interested. On a personal level I find the idea of using 9mm for a deep-concealment pistol very attractive. I like keeping my calibers to a minimum and since I reload 9mm it makes practicing a lot simpler and cheaper. In the case of .380 ammo, much cheaper. So it was very exciting when I finally got the chance to shoot one yesterday. Continue reading “Pistol Review: Ruger LC9”

Ruger Super Blackhawk: singularly unsubtle .44 Magnum

I’ve long been a fan of .44 Magnum revolvers. Like many of us, I first saw one of these in the Dirty Harry movies. The venerable Model 29 carried by Inspector Callahan had been around almost two decades before the first film but what most people don’t know is that it was not in fact the first .44 Magnum on the market. It was beaten to market by several months in 1956 by Bill Ruger’s Blackhawk. The story of how this happened remains shrouded in mystery but the commonly-held assumption is that a Ruger employee found some brass on the range where the round was being tested and brought it back to the armory. Regardless of its genesis, the Blackhawk has secured a place in American firearms history that is still being written.

When Kevin told me he was going to sell his New Model Super Blackhawk, I knew I had to have it. I had already shot it many times and given its history I could not resist. From what I can tell the pistol was manufactured in 1987. The gun is very rugged. The frame is extremely solid and is built to shoot full-power .44 Magnum loads all day long. This was in fact Kevin’s “Bush Gun” when he lived in Alaska. There are not many pistols in the world that can be depended on to stop a Brown Bear but with 300gr FMJ bullets traveling at 1,200 fps, the only real question is “can I make the shot?”

The pistol has a really beefy cylinder too, which it needs of course to handle the high pressures of the round. It also has an adjustable rear sight and a scope rail on top. For safety there is a trigger bar separating the hammer and firing pin, protecting against impact-related accidental discharge. Being a single-action-only pistol and with a one-round-at-a-time loading and unloading scheme, it is not a gun for rapid firing and reloading, although I’ve seen Cowboy shooters do an impressive job while “fanning” the hammer.

I have to say that this is in fact one of my favorite guns. There’s just something about shooting it that is very gratifying. The trigger is light and crisp. The recoil of full-power loads is considerable but the results are equally impressive. From a home defense perspective this pistol is outstanding, provided you can become comfortable handling it. It is small enough to wield in close quarters but powerful enough to stop any threat. In fact, the sight of the weapon alone would give most intruders pause. The fireball from the muzzle blast is also spectacular, especially in low/no light.

Arguably the best feature of this revolver is that it is inexpensive. It is also very accurate, reliable and durable. And you never know when you might run into a Cape Buffalo in your yard 😉

In search of the perfect 9mm for USPSA

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

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

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

Springfield Armory XD9 Tactical

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

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

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

Smith & Wesson M&P9

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned…

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”.

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!

Ruger SR-556: my latest AR-15

With Ruger’s foray into the AR-15 market, many have taken notice. Some because Bill Ruger always said there was no reason for civilians to own “high-capacity” semi-auto rifles. Others because this seems like an awfully late arrival to the party. After all the noise died down we discovered that the rifle was in fact a very nicely built, well-appointed, great shooting gun. I tried shooting one twice and was very much impressed. When it came time for a new AR-15 it was the obvious choice to me. Yes, I really wanted the Masada/ACR but we know what happened there.

I got my SR-556 from a local dealer at a very good price then installed my Magpul CTR stock, GripPod forward vertical grip/bipod, sling mounts and the Aimpoint CompM3 and away we went. The gun is awesome. The weight at 8 lbs unloaded is a full pound heavier than my Bushmaster but this is to be expected with a piston system and a 10-inch quad rail. I think you get what you pay for with weight. This is “good weight”, so to speak since I would want a quad rail anyway and the 2-stage piston system is superb.

I don’t notice any difference in the recoil impulse from any other 5.56 AR-15. Also the inside of my buffer tube shows no signs of the dreaded carrier tilt problem. In fact I can’t see any markings at all in there. After about 1k rounds the gun still shoots beautifully. My accuracy using the CompM3 is dependent on my vision, which is simply not that great. I can get 2″ groups at 100m from the bench, which frankly is better than I’ve ever done before with those optics. At 25m all five shots touch so I’m very happy. With a scope I suspect one could do much better at distance.

The gun runs very cool and clean. Yes, I can touch the bolt carrier immediately after a mag dump. The upper receiver, bolt carrier group and the chamber appear almost as if the gun hasn’t been fired. This is just amazing and very welcome compared to the sooty mess that is the normal direct gas impingement system experience. The only “gotcha” is that the gas block, piston and regulator valve do in fact get quite dirty. The good news there is that they are very easy to disassemble and clean. This contrasts sharply with the usual AR cleaning regimen.

I personally do not like the Troy Industries rail covers as they make the quad rail too big. I really like the Ergogrips Low Pro rail covers for taming the quad rail. They make it really comfortable to grip, they protect your weak hand from getting cut on the rail edges and they cover up those annoying white indexing labels on the rails.

Ruger SR-556 stock configuration

I also am not a big fan of the standard M4 buttstock. I hate when they rattle and I don’t like the lock release because it is so obtrusive. The Magpul CTR is the best stock I’ve ever used for a multi-use carbine. It locks up solid, there is nothing on which to snag clothing or other material, it has a built-in quick-release sling mount and it is beautiful to look at. This is essential kit for any AR that I own.

The Hogue grip is just wonderful. I really like how sticky it is. I have not noticed it catch on clothing or tactical vest but it does provide a very solid connection between my strong hand and the rifle. I would not change it.

As I’ve already mentioned the Troy battle sights are outstanding. I had originally intended to swap them for Magpul MBUS sights but when I tried the Troys I was hooked. Also, they are just as light as the MBUS sights. No-brainer there.

So my initial impressions of the SR-556 are very positive. It is everything I love about the platform without the thing I disliked the most: the DI system. I expect I will have this rifle as a permanent member of the collection.

UPDATE Fall 2010: I’ve lately switched to the Eotech 5.12 over the CompM3.  Also, I neglected to mention the sling, which is detailed here.