Monthly Archives: November 2010

Shaken, Not Stirred

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2010

Walther PPK

The Walther PPK/S performs as good as it looks on the range and in personal-defense scenarios. The author chose to replace the factory front sight with one from XS Sight Systems, making the gun an excellent carry option—despite being larger than newer .380 ACPs.

Shaken, not stirred…

Sometimes it takes a little public relations boost for a product to achieve the recognition it deserves.

Case in point: the Walther PPK. Recog­nized by knowledgeable handgunners as a jewel of German engineering, it was a fictional English spy who made the little semi-automatic almost a household word. The compact pistol was a perfect choice for James Bond to carry beneath the impeccably tailored tuxedos and expen­sive suits he wore almost nightly in the great casinos of Europe.

While I’ve never owned an Aston Martin, I did recently acquire a Walther PPK/S during my search for the “shaken, not stirred” way of life. As it turns out, the PPK/S is a nifty concealed-carry gun.

My Walther is a stainless steel model distributed by Smith & Wesson. It’s a simple blowback action, like most semi-autos chambered for .380 ACP. Barrel length is 3 1/4 inches, about .6-inch shorter than the original PP barrel. The PPK/S is larger and heavier than more modern .380s with polymer frames and even shorter barrels—something you will appreciate when firing the gun.

A true single-action/double-action pistol, the little Walther can be fired when the hammer is cocked and the trigger is in the rearward position (single action), or when the hammer is down and the trigger is in the forward position (double action). As you would expect, its trigger pull is much lighter in single-action mode, which translates to better accuracy. Unlike many double-action semi-autos, the PPK/S is compact enough for shooters with medium-sized hands to get enough finger on the trigger to effect a controlled double-action pull.

The safety lever is mounted on the slide rather than the frame, and it is quite interesting. If engaged while the hammer is down, the safety prevents the hammer from being cocked and the trigger from being pulled. On the other hand, if engaged while the hammer is cocked, the safety rotates a block and drops the hammer safely against it while locking the trigger in the rear position. This safety is not as easy to operate as that of a 1911, but it is manageable.

Its magazine release is a frame-mounted button located just behind the trigger and below the slide. Both the magazine release and the safety are set up for right-handed shooters. The grips are plastic with molded checkering—nothing fancy or elaborate, but more than adequate to maintain your grip when firing the relatively mild .380 ACP cartridge.

The PPK/S is sold with two, seven-round magazines. One has a flat base for easier concealment, while the second has an extended finger rest for more comfortable shooting.

My first range session with the PPK/S was unusually fun but perhaps less than scientific. I had some time around hunting camp, so I set up a couple of pie plates at 10 yards and used several brands of .380 ammo. The focus was on verifying the little pistol could function under rapid-fire conditions with repeated kill-zone hits.

There were two malfunctions, specifi­cally failures to feed, and both occurred with the same Federal ammunition that seemed to be a touch longer than rounds from other manufacturers. The magazine and ejection port dimensions are rather tight, which probably explains the difficulties I encountered when trying to chamber rounds with a slightly greater overall length. The rest of the ammo I tested reliably transitioned from magazine to chamber 100 percent of the time. I also found loading the single-stack PPK/S magazines was more difficult than loading 1911 magazines.

Keeping all shots in the 10-inch plates was fairly easy when running at a rapid, but controlled rate of fire. The safety functioned flawlessly and magazines dropped clear of the gun when the release button was pushed.
Slapping loaded magazines into the gun demands a little care. The heel of my shooting hand protrudes well below the pistol and tended to block a new maga­zine from fully locking into place. It seemed easier to reload with the extended magazine than the flat-base model, but I still needed to rotate my shooting hand off the grip to ensure proper seating.
The PPK/S comes with conventional fixed sights: a small front blade and a rear notch. The front blade has a red dot in it while the rear sight has a red mark under the notch. In bright daylight, the sights worked fine, but things changed dramati­cally as light faded. I had trouble seeing either the sights or the red marks, and when I could see red, I couldn’t tell whether I was looking at the rear or front sight. This probably had more to do with my poor eyesight than the pistol.
Regardless, I needed to make a correction to ensure I could handle a defensive scenario in low-light condi­tions with the PPK/S. I shipped the gun to XS Sight Systems for the company’s Big Dot treatment. Three weeks later Marketing Vice President Dave Biggers brought the remodeled Walther to me at Gunsite with the new sight system installed.
With the Big Dot sights, the PPK/S proved to be an excellent defensive firearm for low-light scenarios. The big white front dot is visible (if not perfectly focused) to my naked eye so I can put it on the center mass of a close-range threat and feel confident of making hits. The small tritium bead in the center of the white dot is visible in even lower light.
Did I surrender some precision in longer-range shooting? Yes, although several of us demonstrated it is possible to put hits on a torso-sized target at ranges beyond 25 yards with the XS Big Dot. But keep in mind a defensive scenario suggests engaging targets at very close distances, and it is here where the XS sight excels.
I mentioned the PPK/S is considerably heavier than its modern, polymer counterparts. This means you will have to put a little more thought in how you choose to carry it. Galco’s Pro 436 holster fits the PPK/S beautifully. And with its rough-side-out finish, the holster holds its position inside the pocket perfectly when drawing the Walther or when just moving around.
Walther PPK

Timothy Dalton carried this Walther PPK in "Licence to Kill." It, and many other Hollywood guns, are on display at the National Firearms Museum through April 2011

Whether or not the PPK/S is too heavy for pocket carry is a personal decision. To me, the Walther’s minimum width suggests that an optimum carry tech­nique would be in an inside-the-waistband holster with the grip hidden by an overhanging shirt or other garment. Obviously, when venturing out in evening wear, one should feel obligated to continue the Bond tradition of using an under-the-armpit holster made of luxurious black leather. Since I don’t have a tuxedo, let me know how that works.-
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New Sizzle for Ruger Standbys

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” May 20New Ruger

When Federal announced the new .327 Fed. Mag.,

Ruger responded first with its SP101

The theory was to offer some serious power in a compact self-defense handgun for recoil-sensitive shooters. Having known a couple of folks who were recoil sensitive, yet were interested in a firearm for self-protection, the gun-and-caliber combination made sense to me.

A respected gun-writer friend sug­gested Ruger chamber the new round in a larger-frame revolver, particularly the Blackhawk. Having been so impressed with the .327 Fed. Mag.’s performance when it first came out, I thought this was a great idea, but I didn’t really expect to see it happen. To my delight, Ruger is offering the hot cartridge in both its single-action Blackhawk and its double-action GP100 revolvers. And I can see justifiable applications for both.

Ruger Cylinder

Ruger's GP100 chambered in .327 Fed. Mag. is a big, tough gun whether intended for home defense or outdoor use. The asymmetric look of a seven-shot revolver has been known to shock old-time gun writers, but that extra round is universally accepted as a good thing.

The new .327s are from Ruger’s stainless steel stable of revolvers. The GP100 has a 4-inch barrel, but one big surprise is its cylinder holds seven rounds. The extra round is made possible by the GPlOO’s frame being beefier than that of most mid-size revolvers.

 When it comes to self-defense, more rounds are better. For the millions of Americans who keep a gun for home defense, but don’t carry concealed, there is no need for a small revolver. Your nightstand doesn’t care what the gun weighs, and your practice sessions will be much more pleasant with a larger-frame gun. Self-defense isn’t about having fun, but enjoying training sessions is better than dreading them and will translate to greater proficiency with your gun.

The GP100 also comes with Hogue’s finger-groove rubber grips, which happen to fit my hand perfectly. Although the .327’s recoil doesn’t necessitate soft grips, I’d keep them because of the excellent ergonomics. If the gun doesn’t fit your hand as well as it does mine, you might have to look at different grips.

Not much is simpler than a basic double-action revolver. No manual of arms is required for presentation or prepara­tion; simply aim and pull the trigger. If, for any reason, a round doesn’t go bang, pull the trigger again. Speaking of just pulling the trigger, I was more than happy with the smooth, double-action trigger on the GP100. In a defensive scenario, shooting double action is simple and effective.

Admittedly, a revolver is slower to reload than a semi-auto, but when fully loaded, the GP100 gives you seven opportunities to solve the problem. And how many of us with semi-automatics in our nightstands put a spare magazine in a pocket when we pick up our gun in response to a bump in the darkness? Please don’t tell me you wear a spare magazine carrier to bed. I’m not saying we should surrender our semi-autos for a wheel gun in .327 Fed. Mag. However, I am saying there’s a self-defense role for the GP100 in many homes.

Given my boyhood love affair with a Ruger Single Six, it was the Blackhawk in .327 that really got my attention. For this offering, Ruger chose stainless steel and a 5 1/2inch barrel. If sales warrant, we’ll probably see it in blue and with other barrel lengths in the future.

Ruger Blackhawk

Prepare for a shock when you see the eight chambers in the Blackhawk cylinder. Other than the increased capacity, the rest of the gun is classic Blackhawk with wood grips and adjustable black sights. If you were a kid west of Rhode Island, your first centerfire handgun was probably a Ruger Blackhawk. And if you’re old enough, to this day you know that with a centerfire Blackhawk revolver within reach, you will not be someone’s prey.

I found the .327 Fed. Mag.’s performance very impressive, particularly in normal-length barrels. Federal’s 85-grain Hydra-Shoks generated right at 1,600 fps from the Blackhawk’s 5 1/2-inch barrel and just more than 1,580 fps in the GPlOO’s 4-inch barrel. At 25 yards with my wrists on a rest, groups ran slightly over 2 inches from the Blackhawk and a little more than 3 inches in the GP100. Black Hills 85-grain .32 H&R Mag. gave 1,158 fps in the Blackhawk and 990 fps in the GP100. Groups were just a little more than 2 inches in the Blackhawk and just less than 2 inches in the GP. I had only one box of Federal 100-grain jacketed soft points and wanted them for a javelina hunt, so I just tested them in the Blackhawk. Results were velocities around 1,530 fps and groups around 1 1/2 inches.

 One of my favorite hunting pastimes is chasing rabbits with handguns, and the new .327 Blackhawk looks like a perfect small-game gun (with self-defense capabilities included) for bumming about Arizona’s high country and game-rich deserts. It would also make an excellent trail gun.

 I should comment about the sights on the revolvers. Both have black front blades and black, adjustable rear sights. The only difference is the GP100 has a white line around the rear-sight notch. It’s easier to see the rear sight in dim light or against a dark target, but it’s not the rear sight at which you should be looking. For daylight hunting, I find plain black sights seem to work best. For defensive shooting, particularly up close, it’s the front sight that needs to be seen, not the rear. Both guns should be fine as equipped for hunting, unless the angle of the sun is such that the white outline catches the glare and washes out your sight picture. But that’s just my opinion, and if your vision is better than mine, you might have a different preference.

 

It will be interesting to see how the .327 Fed. Mag. fares in the marketplace. The cartridge doesn’t really do anything the .32-20 Win. or .30 Carbine won’t do in a medium- to large-size handgun. But, the .327 is a more compact cartridge and will work in a small-frame revolver. It’s also available with a greater variety of high-performance ammo than either the .32-20 Win. or .30 Carbine and will prove easier to reload than the tapered .32-20 Win. case or rimless .30 Carbine. In any case, several gun manufacturers and a large ammunition company are sinking some resources into the new caliber. The rest is up to us shooters.

 

 
 

 

 

Wilson Combat Spec-Ops 9

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” May 2010

Polymer Twist

                                                                                                                            Photos by Loyd Hill

In a life full of changes, it’s nice to know one company’s innovation shows, year after year.

Enter the Wilson Combat Spec-Ops 9

Some things are pretty safe bets. Taxes must be paid by April 15. birthdays come once a year, and Wilson Combat turns out good pistols. There are some exceptions. Congress might pass a law exempting themselves from having to pay taxes. If you were born on Feb. 29. your birthday only comes around once every four years. On the other hand. I’ve yet to be dis­appointed in a new Wilson pistol, and that includes the company’s latest offering—the Spec-Ops 9.

The Spec-Ops 9 is aimed directly at the concealed-carry market with two predominant characteristics driving the design: light weight and increased capacity. Light weight in today’s semi-automatic pistol market means a polymer frame, while increased capacity dictates double-stack maga­zines. In a sense, those thicker maga­zines do not result in guns conducive to the “concealed” part of concealed carry because the grip frame must be wider than guns using single-stack magazines. Wilson’s approach to this problem is a polymer frame with stainless steel rails molded in place. The result is minimum bulk and weight (29.6 ounces empty. 7 ounces heavier fully loaded) with plenty of structural strength. The Spec-Ops magazine not only holds 16 rounds— satisfying the increased-capacity promise—but loading the magazine to full capacity without a special tool was easier for me than any other double-stack pistol I’ve tried. My thumb was most appreciative.

The slide is carbon steel with a 472-inch barrel, which to me is a good compromise length. You get almost as good a sight radius as with a 5-inch barrel (6.2 inches), while the balance point doesn’t move too far forward as is the tendency with polymer-framed guns equipped with longer barrels. There are serrations at the rear of the slide to facilitate cock­ing, but none near the muzzle. However, about an inch from the muzzle there is a small but noticeable reduction in slide width, creating a distinct shoulder I found to be very helpful in performing chamber checks, both visual and tactile. As always when grasping the slide near the front end. be careful that no part of your hand extends in front of the muzzle.

Hammer

Wilson's skeletonized hammer not only adds to the modern aesthetics of the gun, its reduced mass also helps ensure a crisp trigger pull.

Sights are of the 3-dot tritium vari­ety, making them highly visible in low-light conditions. On a recent trip where the Spec-Ops 9 became my nightstand gun, the glowing sights made it easy to find in the dark. These are Wilson’s new Tactical Combat Sights and are considerably less bulky than the sights on my Wilson CQB 1911, the primary gun on my California concealed-carry permit. The front sight blade is almost the same width and height as on my CQB, but instead of being fit into a laterally cut dovetail slot, it slides into the front of a longitudinally cut dovetail slot. The rear sight is considerably smaller than on my CQB and is screwed into a recessed cut in the slide rather than slid into a dovetail. One similar fea­ture on both rear sights is the concave rear surfaces to eliminate any possible glare or light reflections. Nice touch. The Spec-Ops hammer is Wilson’s new ultra-light, compact design and resembles a commander-style ham­mer with the top and bottom “pinched” together. The Spec-Ops fea­tures a single, hand-fitted lug barrel.

Trigger

The Spec-Ops 9 features Wilson's custom-machined, aluminum three-hole trigger, which is adjustable for overtravel.

The polymer frame has Wilson’s distinctive starburst grips, a feature I fell in love with while evaluating an earlier gun. Both frontstraps and backstraps have checkering molded into the polymer. The grip safety is the compact-carry design, which closely resembles the grip safety on my CQB except that the beavertail doesn’t sweep as high on the new 9 mm. Wilson’s extended tactical model thumb safety is slightly smaller and shorter than that on my CQB. but is easily, naturally and reli­ably operated by my thumb in the act of presenting the gun. I would describe it as being as small as it can be. and no bigger than it needs to be—a great combination on a gun intended for concealed carry.
The magazine release is slightly larger in surface area than the one on my CQB. but it doesn’t protrude as far from the frame. My fingers are rela­tively short, so I have to shift my grip to hit the release on single-stack 1911s as well as the Spec-Ops 9. Recog­nizing that as a strictly personal limi­tation, the Spec-Ops magazines released cleanly and dropped from the gun on every touch, whether or not there were rounds in the maga­zine. Likewise, those inserted quickly and cleanly into the gun due largely to the flared mag well molded into the grip frame.
Double Stack Magazine

The distinctive look of the gun comes from the shape of the trigger guard with its sharp corner, as opposed to the more common rounded guard on steel and alloy guns. It seems almost a throwback to some of the designs of yesteryear, but it may simply be an easier shape to mold.  I had no problem shooting the gun since my grip doesn’t involve the front of the trigger guard, but a couple of custom 1911 holsters would not allow the 9 mm full entry due primarily. I think, to the bulkier trig­ger guard. Fortunately, one of my favorite factory holsters is Galco’s Avenger, and it eagerly accepted the Spec-Ops 9 like an old friend.

Molded Rails

To provide maximum concealability with minimal bulk, the Spec-Ops 9 contains molded-in stainless steel rails

Internally, the Spec-Ops 9 has the features we’ve come to expect from Wilson Combat. Its barrel has a pol­ished feed ramp, and the polished extractor is precisely fitted. The gun has an extended ejector, the Wilson custom three-hole trigger, an extra-power firing pin spring and a heavy-duty recoil spring. There are actually five holes in the trigger, but only the three large holes are there to reduce weight. Two tiny holes allow mounting of the trigger bow to the trigger.
There was no pretense of being gentle or babying the gun when I got the Spec-Ops 9 out for a shooting session.  I had a mixture of ammo, including some various-weight cast-bullet handloads that have been in my garage for more than 20 years. I literally jammed a mixture of factory ammo and hand-loads with jacketed and cast bullets indiscriminately into the magazines and started blazing away. Targets were paper plates at 10 yards, and every load with every weight, style and shape of bullet chambered, fired and stayed in those plates, even when I hit the throttle. The gun gob­bled up everything I fed it. When I concentrated. I could feel the vari­ance in recoil between the different loads. Slowing down. I thought I could detect a slight difference in point of impact between the various loads, even at 10 yards, but the disparity was insignificant. The 147-grain jacketed hollow points went exactly where the sights pointed, while the 115-grain jacketed hollow points hit perhaps 1/2 inch lower.
Sight picture with Wilson’s new Tactical Combat sights was crisp and clearly in focus thanks in no small part to the “old guy cheater lens” in my DeCot shooting glasses. The paper plates are another way of cheating by ensuring a clean white background in front of your sights, thus enhancing your sight picture. And since the plates are round, they tend to provide a natural assist in pulling your groups toward the center. Just as the eye nat­urally centers an aperture or peep sight, the eye wants to find the center of the round plate. Having said all that, there was no discreet aiming point on the plates that might help a shooter produce smaller groups.
Sights

Wilson's new Tactical Combat sights complement the Spec-Ops 9 in its concealed-carry mission. The svelte profile mini­mizes the chances of the gun getting hung up during the draw, and the longitudinally cut dovetails enhance the practicality and aesthetics.

Even shooting off hand. I felt the gun could live up to the Wilson claim of 1 1/2 inch groups at 25 yards (I actu­ally saw one of the Wilson technicians do this test a few years back). But more importantly for a carry pistol, the Spec-Ops 9 put every single shot into the kill zone at fighting distances, even when I pushed things beyond my reliable speed and regardless of ammo selection.

Given my hand size and short fin­gers. I would prefer a slightly shorter trigger on the Spec-Ops 9. The wider grip frame stretched my hand just enough—more than a standard 1911 — that I had trouble putting the pad of my finger on the trigger. As you know, changing your grip plays havoc with shot-to-shot recovery times, and despite the 9 mm’s low recoil, I found myself readjusting my grip more than once in the course of emptying a 16-round magazine. Admittedly. I’m notoriously sloppy about proper shot-to-shot recovery, and I get even more careless when shooting mild-mannered 9 mms. But. besides emphasizing my need to work on this deficiency, it stresses the importance of having a gun that fits your hand. For you. the Spec-Ops 9 may be a per­fect fit. or as many small-handed shooters (including me) have found, one of Wilson’s narrower frame guns might better suit your needs.
All that said, the new Spec-Ops 9 is a gun I would find quite comfortable to carry exactly as it comes from Wilson, except I would purchase a couple of extra magazines. With two spare magazines and one in the gun. you’re hitting the streets only one round short of a full box of ammo—all of it ready to rock with only two lightning-fast reloads. That’s a lot of defensive fire­power per ounce carried. At a retail price of $1,995, the Spec-Ops 9 is delivered with two magazines and a Wilson carry bag. t’s not cheap, but good life insurance rarely is.
Disassembly

Disassembly of the gun should come naturally to those familar with a 1911. No busing is necessary thanks to a flange on the reversed recoil plug.

Speciifications
Magazine Well

Despite the gun's thin waistline, the magazine well on the Spec-Ops 9 is flared to aid in ultra-fast reloads.Unlike most custom 1911s which contain full-length guid rods, the Spec-Ops 9 utilizes a standard recoil spring guid complete with a Wilson Shok-Buff.

Recoil Spring

Unlike most custom 1911s which contain full-length guid rods, the Spec-Ops 9 utilizes a standard recoil spring guid complete with a Wilson Shok-Buff.

New Life for the .32

Shooting Illustrated

As published in “Shooting Illustrated” January 2009

Freedom Arms Model 97 and Ruger SP101
The Freedom Arms Model 97 and Ruger SP101 illustrate the .327 Fed. Mag.’s versatility for both field and self-defense applications. Look for revolvers chambered in the new cartridge from Charter Arms and Taurus soon.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a surprise to me that the .32 H & R Mag. hasn’t been discontinued

Two of the big manufacturers have stopped producing revolvers chambered for this nifty little round, and to my knowledge, only Federal and Black Hills still turn out ammo. Although I refer to it as a “nifty little round,” I would be hard-pressed justifying continued production to any major gun or ammo manufacturer based on the feedback I’ve received over the last few years.

Suffice it to say I was stunned when Federal introduced the .327 Fed. Mag. and Ruger began chambering its SP101 for this hot new miniature magnum. But I recover quickly when there’s an opportunity to try a new handgun round.

I received two revolvers for testing the cartridge. The newest gun was Ruger’s all steel, six-shot, double-action SP101 with a 3 1/16-inch barrel. It’s Ruger’s small-frame gun, but it’s a beefy little guy weighing 28 ounces with a triple-locking system to hold the cylinder securely in place and in proper alignment. It also has a heavy under-barrel lug that tapers upward just before reaching the muzzle. Rubber grips with plastic panels featuring horizontal cuts improve the shooter’s ability to control the gun when firing Federal’s high-stepping .327 jacketed hollow points.

Contrary to most of the material I’ve read over the years, I’ve always rated the trigger pull on Ruger’s double-action revolvers as being quite good. Perhaps it’s a bit heavier than some other models, but the pull weight is consistent and smooth throughout the firing process. When firing a double-action revolver in a high-stress, self-defense situ­ation, consistently smooth and heavy is bet­ter than light and erratic.

The other gun was Freedom Arms’ single-action, stainless steel, small-frame Model 97. This downsized Freedom revolver was introduced in 1997, and when cham­bered in .32 caliber was available with two cylinders, each with a capacity of six rounds. One cylinder fired the .32 H&R Mag. and the other handled the vintage .32-20 Win. When the new .327 Fed. Mag. cartridge appeared, company president Bob Baker simply cham­bered an additional six-shot cylinder that can be swapped with the other two because all three cartridges shoot the same diameter bullet. (Don’t bother trying to fire the new round in one of the other Freedom Arms cyl­inders because it won’t chamber.)

When the .32 H&R Mag. was introduced a few years back, it was viewed as a minimum-recoil, self-defense round for small revolvers. Keep in mind small revolvers were, and still are, a favorite self-defense handgun for many Americans. It’s a simple rationale: For those of us who don’t consider ourselves “operators,” the small revolver is easy to carry in a pocket, simple to use and incred­ibly reliable.

In fact, at a recent lunch with a mix of retired and active-duty cops, and gunwrit-ers, a quick tally revealed every man present was carrying a .38 Spl. J-frame Smith & Wesson in his pocket. Everyone admitted this would not be his first choice of hard­ware if he knew a fight was coming, but on that warm, August day in southern California, it was the first choice of carry when leaving home in the morning. All of these guys had either been police trainers or been through extensive self-defense training, and yet they chose the .38 Spl. rather than the .357 Mag. The idea of the .32 H&R Mag. was to offer a credible self-defense cartridge in a small revolver to smaller statured. less experienced person­nel. The .327 Fed. Mag. takes that rationale to the next level, and in terms of perfor­mance, the next level is a huge step up.

The Ruger SP101 shot about an inch to the left at 15 yards. Looking at the white-outlined rear sight mounted in the revolver’s topstrap, it was indeed a bit left. Since the sight can be adjusted for windage, moving the point of impact slightly right was not a problem. Elevation with the 85-grain jacketed-hollow-point ammo was perfect. The rear sight notch is generously wide, leaving ample light on both sides of the black, ramped front-sight blade. A sight pic­ture is easily and quickly acquired as long as there is adequate light. Firing double action offhand at a reasonably slow pace, six-shot groups at 15 yards ranged from 2 to 3 inches without too much concentration on my part.

While the .32 H&R Mag. loads were much milder than the .327 Fed. Mag. ammo, recoil was quite manageable with both car­tridges, and I had no trouble switching from the shorter .32 H&R Mag. to the longer .327 Fed. Mag. There was no need to scrub out the cylinder after shooting the shorter cases. It might be different if one were using heavily lubricated lead bullets, but with the self-defense oriented jacketed hollow points, the two cartridges were totally interchangeable in the SP101.

Bullets

The power offered by the .327 Fed. Mag. (second from right) is comparable to that of the .32-20 Win. and .30 Carbine, (both on left) outclassing the .32 H&R Mag. (right).

I was astounded when I chronographed both cartridges. I had expected an increase in velocities, but not nearly the 50 percent I measured. The 3-inch Ruger went from 968 fps with the .32 H&R Mag. to 1,400 fps with the .327 Fed. Mag. That’s a 45-percent increase in velocity shooting an 85-grain bullet from a case that’s only 1/8 inch longer. In the longer-barreled Freedom Arms Model 97, the increase was 48 percent, from 1,000 fps to 1,480 fps. No matter how you calculate energy, we’re talking about a giant improvement in performance.

Admittedly, it’s terminal bullet perfor­mance that really determines the success or failure of a small-caliber self-defense round, and I did not conduct any tests of this nature. However, I know manufactur­ers have achieved excellent results in controlling bullet construction to produce a specific effect in various target media at specified velocities.

When I called Tim Brandt at Federal, he confirmed the company has done such tests with the .327 Fed. Mag., which uses an 85-grain jacketed hollow point that is different from the bullet loaded in the .32 H&R Mag. to accommodate the higher velocity of the new cartridge. Brandt cau­tioned handloaders against trying to achieve .327 Fed. Mag. performance using bullets designed for the .32 H&R Mag. Next year, Speer will have .32-caliber Gold Dot bullets designed specifically for the .327 Fed. Mag. available for handloaders.

Meanwhile, the bare gelatin penetration tests conducted by Federal with the .327 Fed. Mag. and 85-grain bullets fired from a 3-inch barrel yielded an average pen­etration of 12.75 inches and a final diameter of .520 inch. The velocities that produced these results were right around 1,300 fps, and the retained weight of recovered bullets ran from 84 to 84.6 grains. From the same barrel length, 100-grain soft points expanded to about .55 inch, and penetrated the gelatin an average of 16.75 inches. Velocities for the heavier 100-grain bullets actually averaged about 40 fps more than the 85-grain hollow points. This is impres­sive performance for a “small bore” in a short barrel.

There is a penalty associated with the enhanced velocity of a high-performance round in short barreled handguns, as we learned when .357 Magnums were first fired in small revolvers and when Ruger introduced the .30 Carbine in its Blackhawk. They’re noisy! Be absolutely sure you are wearing adequate ear protection when fir­ing this round. And as usual, firing any round inside an enclosed space makes things worse.

One thing you might consider, particu­larly if you’ve already suffered extensive hearing loss, is to put on a pair of good elec­tronic ear muffs if you’re awakened at night and think there may be an intruder in the house. I recognize there may not be time to do this, particularly if you don’t have hear­ing protection immediately available, but there are advantages. Keep in mind that electronic hearing protection functions like a hearing aid, in that it also amplifies small sounds (like an intruder might make), which you might not otherwise hear. And if you have to fire your gun, whatever the caliber, you may be overpowered by the resulting acoustic assault on your senses. If follow-up action is necessary, you’ll be much more capable of performing if you’re not trying to recover from the overwhelming shock of your first round. If you prefer in-the-ear protection, fine, but I find it’s much easier and quicker to slip on a pair of earmuffs and switch them on.

So far the two revolvers I tested are the only ones available in .327 Fed. Mag., but I’m told Taurus and Charter Arms will both have compact double-action revolvers chambered for the round in the near future, possibly by the time you read this. I don’t know whether anyone will be making a lighter-weight, alloy-frame .327 Fed. Mag. While such a gun would be preferable for carry, the steel guns are great candidates for home defense for anyone who’s recoil sensitive. Personally, I’d love an opportunity to take the Freedom Arms .327 Fed. Mag. on a small-game hunt, but then I say that about most handguns. Meanwhile, I’m not surrendering the .45 on my nightstand, but my daughter, who has kept an older .32 H&R Mag. revolver by her bedside for the last several years, probably will be looking for an upgrade. It’s nice to have choices.

 

 

 

 

 

Double Strike

Shooting Illustrated

As published in “Shooting Illustrated, January 2009Double Strike

 

It’s tough for an old dog to wax eloquent about a new polymer-frame handgun. I grew up with guns made of blued steel, later accepting stainless versions because I had become slothful and lazy about cleaning hardware after a day’s shooting or a few days in a hunting camp.  It look me longer to accept lighter-weight handguns made of aluminum and other exotic materials, but at least they were made of metal.

I still struggle with the polymer-gun concept simply because the gun doesn’t Feel the way a gun should Feel, and because it doesn’t seem intuitively right for a gun to

flex when fired. All that said, I became a “born again” believer in lightweight handguns when I obtained my CCW permit and began venturing out while trying to keep a handgun hidden some­where under my clothing or in a trouser pocket. And one of the more affordablc materials that can be used to achieve weight reduc­tion is polymer.

Magazine

The pistol comes with two, 12-round magazines and a handy loading tool, which makes prerange preparations more pleasant.

At first glance, Taurus’ new PT845 doesn’t look much different than other polymer-frame handguns on the market. It’s chambered in .45 ACP and has a double-stack magazine with a capacity of 12 rounds. For those of you who don’t enjoy loading wide-body magazines, be aware that the Taurus box contains a magazine-loading tool along with two magazines. The magazines have two witness holes with the numbers 6 and 12 in their right side to indicate how many rounds you have loaded. The magazines have extended bumpers that provide a finger rest to facilitate slapping loaded magazines into the gun and protect the magazine when it hits the ground during a speed reload. Other items delivered with the gun include two additional, different size backstraps that allow you to change the shape and feel of the grip, a nylon bore brush for those of you with a cleaning fetish and the Taurus key set for operating the internal safety lock.

Interchangeable backstraps allow PT845 users to find the best fit for their hand size. The pistol comes complete with three different sized options, making the pistol tailorable, right out of the box.

The frame is made of a hard polymer: there’s nothing soft or squishy about the feel of the 845 grips, unlike those on some of Taurus’ revolvers that are designed to absorb recoil. There are ridges running laterally around the grip that provide some surface roughness for grip control, plus there are vertical cuts in the ridges at the front and rear of the grip frame for additional roughness. Polymer-frame .45s do tend to jump around a bit. and these measures did help in controlling the gun during strings of rapid fire.

What really got my attention on the frame was the ambidextrous set of controls that accommodated righties and lefties equally well. The safety lever, decocking lever, slide-release lever and magazine-release buttons were in exactly the same position on each side of the gun and were mirror images of each other in terms of how they functioned. I could operate the slide release latch and the safety lever without changing my grip position. It required a slight rotation of either hand to hit the magazine-release button, but the movement was minimal. I wasn’t nearly as smooth running the controls with my left hand as with my right, but that’s to be expected.

Integral rail

A major advantage of the polymer framed pistol is the ease with which an integral rail can be molded into the gun's body. The Pt845 has such a rail, which makes mounting a laser or a light a snap, quite leterally.

There is a Picattiny accessory rail on the front of the frame for mounting your flashlight. Given the number of gunfights that take place in low-light conditions, this is an excellent feature on any defensive handgun. A disassembly latch protrudes from the frame on both sides, and both ends must be depressed to remove the slide from the frame. A bit of dexterity is required, but since I mastered it in less than 10 seconds, I consider the 845 an easy gun to take down.

steel slide

Serrations in the steel slide offer positive purchase when clearing malfunctions or performing a chamber check. The safety lever also functions a a decocking device.

The slide is steel and has serrations both front and rear to facilitate manual operation in the event of a malfunction or chamber check. In the upper edge of the external extractor is a thin piece of metal that functions as a loaded chamber indicator. Normally, this piece lies flush with the extractor and slide, but when a cartridge is in the chamber and the rim under the extractor, the indicator protrudes slightly out from the surface of the slide. In bright light, you may be able to see the strip of red that appears, and if you have the sensitive fingers of a safecracker, you might feel the slightly protruding indicator. In dim light. I could not see the red, nor did a tactile check assure me of the gun’s condition. The good news is that the slide serrations and overall ergonomics make a manual chamber check of the 845 a simple and quick task.

Sights

Novak sights provide a great benefit to shooters. They are easy to see and offer quick target acquisition, even in high-pressure situations. Both sights are dovetailed into the slide for windage adjustment and the rear offers elevation changes as well. They are the author's favorite feature on the PT845.

The 845’s sights are Novaks, and they are superb. In fact, they are my favorite feature on the 845. being easy to see and seemingly quicker to acquire than any other sights I’ve used lately.

The ratio of rear sight width to from sight width is such that lots of light shows on both sides of the blade. Both front and rear sights are mounted in large dovetail slots with setscrews that allow adjustment for windage. They were dialed in perfectly with Black Hills 230-grain jacketed hollow points when I received the gun. and when I switched to the lighter-weight frangible Remington and TTI ammunition, there was no noticeable change in point of impact between the 7 to 15 yard ranges at which I did my testing.

 Unlike the Taurus OSS, on which the Model 845 was modeled, the 845 has an external hammer. Unlike the 1911, the 845 can be fired double action with the hammer down in addition to allowing single-action firing with the hammer back. And while the 845 has an external, manually operated safety, it also has an internal firing pin block that won’t allow the gun to fire unless the trigger is in the rearmost position.

Trigger

The PT845's trigger had a single-action pull weight that averaged 3 3/4 pounds. In double-action mode, the pull weight was a few ounces shy of 10 pounds.

 At first this sounds like it might be a more complicated arrangement than you would want on a defensive pistol, but take a second look before decid­ing. With a round in the chamber, you can fire the gun with the hammer cocked or down as long as the safety lever is not in the up position. Push the safety down with the thumb of your shooting hand, just like a 1911, and a short pull of the trigger fires the weapon. Push the safety lever too far down and the hammer falls harm­lessly to the double-action firing posi­tion, which then requires a long pull on the trigger to fire the weapon. When the slide cycles after a shot, the hammer returns to the cocked posi­tion, which puts the gun back in sin­gle-action (short trigger pull) firing mode. If you have issues carrying cocked and locked, you can carry hammer down with the manual safety on or off.

Taurus 845

The Taurus 845 has the same "Strike Two" capa­bility as found on the company's 24/7 lineup. Should a primer fail to detonate, the trigger resets to the double-action mode and the shooter has a second chance to fire the round.

The Taurus 845 has the same “Strike Two” capability as found on the com­pany’s 24/7 lineup. Should a primer fail to detonate, the trigger resets to the double-action mode and the shooter has a second chance to fire.

 

One other feature I like is the ham­mer’s shape; I can thumb the hammer back with the shooting hand much more easily than I can perform the same function on a 1911. It’s not as natural as on a single-action revolver, but a much smoother maneuver than any other semi-auto pistol I can recall. This feature may mean more to me than it would to you because I had some difficulty in firing the 845 dou­ble-action from the hammer-down position—more on that later.

The initial range trip was more fun than expected simply because I had the Taurus magazine loading tool. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but it did start the day right. There was only one problem with the hardware, and I might have been the cause. One of the two furnished magazines failed to drop clear of the mag well when the release button was pushed. It dropped about half way and stopped, whereas the other magazine fell clear. It was easy to strip the stuck magazine clear of the pistol with the reloading hand, which is not a bad exercise to practice since Murphy’s Law says this will only ever happen at the worst possible time. Since the other magazine worked perfectly, it was obvious something was wrong with that specific maga­zine, an occurrence not uncommon to any semi-auto pistol and easily fixed by acquiring additional magazines. In fact, all trainers will tell you to sort magazines and only carry those known to work perfectly.

Once the shooting started, there was only one smoke-stack malfunc­tion where an empty case failed to clear the ejection port and was trapped between the closing slide and edge of the barrel hood. The shooter was a friend who was shooting left-handed, admitted to having hurt his wrist recently and suspected he had been less than aggressive in his shooting stance. Everything else went perfectly. We started with two boxes of Black Hills 230-grain jacketed hollow points before switching to frangible rounds.

PT845

Minimum group size at extended range is not the objective of a defensive handgun, so our shooting was done at ranges from 7 to 15 yards. Nevertheless, at 15 yards groups were easily held to 2 inches shooting relatively slowly and stayed around 4 to 6 inches when I hit the accelerator. Running the gun single action was easy, and that’s how the 845 is made to operate after the first shot-fired with the hammer back and a short trigger pull.

It’s difficult to design a gun with ergonomics that fit everyone. When the gun is required to operate in sev­eral different ways. i.e. single and dou­ble action, it’s impossible. Double-action pull will be noticeably heavier (and lon­ger) because more functions are being performed by the same action.

When executing the long double-action trigger pull of the PT845, my trigger finger tends to slide to the bottom of the trigger away from the trigger’s pivot point where I get more leverage, thus making the trigger easier to pull. Unfortunately the bottom of the trigger guard slopes up as it joins the grip frame so my trigger finger drags along the inside of the trigger guard. This added resistance makes the trigger pull incredibly heavy and rather uncomfortable.

I think the reason for that upward sweep of the trigger guard is to allow for a higher grip on the frame, which helps control recoil. This may not be a problem for you. but for me to operate the gun in all its intended running modes, a redesigned trigger guard shape (including eliminating the hook at the front) would be helpful.

Other than that. I was quite pleased with the 845’s ergonomics and operat­ing characteristics. It naturally pointed exactly where I looked, and even when firing the first shot double-action, all shots hit center mass or within a head-sized target at 15 yards. Even without the magazine in place, my hand fit comfortably on the grip frame, which meant I would have no problem shooting the pistol with the magazine removed. Still. I think the magazine extensions are a good idea for several reasons. First, they do facilitate a speed reload. Second, they help in rapidly removing a magazine that might fail to drop clear of the gun. And third, they are forgiving if your initial grab for the gun fails to achieve a perfect grip.

Overall. I think Taurus has done a good job on the new Model 845.1 can’t bring myself to say I think any polymer semi-auto is beautiful, but the top half of the 845 is cool, and the bottom half is functional. At the company’s suggested MSRP of $623. the gun has the makings of a winner.