Tag Archives: concealed carry

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.-

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.


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.


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.

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 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.

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.

Subtle Improvement

Shooting Illustrated 




Published in “Shooting Illustrated” August 2009

Bill Wilson Carry Pistol


Bill Wilson is no stranger to the shooting world. His CQB pistol graced the cover of Shooting Illustrated’s November 2005 issue and was the subject of a full length feature entitled “The Perfect IDPA Pistol.”

Given IDPA’s emphasis on designing match scenarios that might duplicate potential real life street encounters, it was not surprising that much of my evaluation focused on CCW requirements in addition to match rules. Upon completion of the article, I purchased the CQB from Wilson, and it became the number one gun on my CCW permit. Until now, I did not expect to find an all-steel 1911 that I would prefer for street carry.

 Wilson Combat recently created the Bill Wilson Carry Gun, and as you might expect when one is introducing the next generation of a great handgun, the new carry pistol is not vastly different from the successful CQB. That said the minor changes are truly worthwhile and quickly appreciated. Overall dimensions remain the same; a slide shortened from a standard 1911 to accommodate a 4.1 inch barrel, and a frame reduced in height to 5.25 inches overall (with the 7 shot magazine installed.) Like the CQB, the new model handles both the 7-round magazine (recommended for concealed carry) and slightly extended 8-round magazines that are easily concealed in spare carriers without revealing any unusual lumps or bulges. Internal configuration, cuts and polishing is essentially the same on both guns which accounts for the superb accuracy and reliability of a Wilson 1911.


The first 15 rounds through the Wilson were a mix of bullet styles and weights. Functioning was perfect and, at the group at 15 yards offhand, indicate that whatever ammo is fed to the new gun, it will reliably handle any threats to its owners life and well being.

 Most noticeable and having the greatest impact on my shooting the new gun is the modified Ed Brown bobtail on the shorter grip frame. Normally this rounding of the base is only done on full-size 1911. On the smaller frame, the curvature is not as severe, but the change is dramatic in terms of comfort during firing, and the more magazines fired in a range session, the more you’ll appreciate the increased comfort. Because of the bobtail treatment, the base had to be modified slightly making the gun feel a bit smaller, but shot-to-shot recovery didn’t seem to be compromised. The rounded edge of the back strap is fully checkered just as it is on the CQB, but there is no longer a distinct edge to create abrasions on your palm. A couple of years ago when I first acquired the CQB, I spent some time at Thunder Ranch and ended up applying bandages on the second day and changing guns on the third day. In a recent trip to Gunsite with the Carry Gun I was able to comfortably complete the week long class without having to apply any patches to my palm. For me, the bobtail is much more important on a downsized 1911 because the sharp edge of the backstrap doesn’t extend below the palm swell, but rather is driven into the meaty part of the hand by the recoil of each round. Given that steel is harder than flesh, can you say “Ouch!”

 The other “comfort” revision is the G10 grips. These feature radial lines instead of checkering with the edges of each line slightly rounded. Tactile control is still excellent, but long term abrasion in an extended class is reduced. Call me a sissy if you like, but I like those grips. The single thumb safety lever, set up for right handed shooters, is smaller on the new carry gun. I think it’s a good idea if you can reduce the size of a component on a CCW weapon without compromising performance, and over the 5 day-class, I did not notice any difficulties in operation when presenting the gun from concealed carry. The slide stop pin has also been shortened with the frame countersunk on the right side. This change does two things. One, it will allow the use of Crimson Trace grips with no interference from a protruding pin. Second, you may need to modify your disassembly technique slightly when you clean the gun. There are also serrations on top of the new gun’s slide for the purpose of reducing glare. Firing both the old CQB and the new pistol in the bright Arizona sunlight I did not notice any difference in glare from either gun, but most of our outdoor shooting was during morning hours with the sun behind us. Still, I would rate this as a worth while addition on a carry gun.

 The new gun has several relief cuts that strike me as being well thought out and useful. The front half inch or so of the slide has been reduced in width. It may not save much weight, but depending on how you execute a press check, you might find the new configuration helpful in grasping the slide with the support hand. There’s also a relief cut in the front strap just behind the trigger guard. Perhaps it let’s you get your hand in higher and tighter into the grip, but it’s so small that I really couldn’t notice a functional difference between the two guns either when holding or firing. The final relief cut is in the left grip panel behind the mag release button, and this did have some tangible benefits. I’ve never been able to drop a magazine on a 1911 without shifting my shooting hand grip simply because I don’t have particularly long fingers/thumbs. With Wilson’s new carry gun, I still have to rotate a bit, but it’s noticeably less movement than is required on the CQB, much more comfortable to execute, and much quicker to recover. This is the kind of change whose value will depend on your individual dimensions and operating technique for an evaluation, but even with only a partial improvement, I like the change.

 The last change noticed was the “U” shaped notch in the fixed rear sight. I believe the purpose of this is to make sight acquisition a bit faster in a life-threatening situation. Perhaps it did, but I couldn’t tell. In fact, the entire time on the line I didn’t notice the difference. Sight pictures on both guns are extremely similar simply because you don’t see the bottom of the notch where it’s rounded. Neither could I detect any difference in the amount of light visible on both sides of the front blade, even when shooting slowly. The only thing that struck me as slightly different was that the first 15 shots fired offhand with three different Black Hills loadings at 15 yards seemed to have more of a lateral spread than usual. I know Wilson pistols shoot one-hole groups in the hands of testers at the factory shooting from a rest, and while I didn’t expect exactly the same results, I felt the vertical spread (about 1 ½ inches) was more representative than the horizontal spread of something like 2 ½ inches. As stated, when I got into the class, both worked superbly. For the record, I was wearing corrective lenses and I’m quite new to “U” notch rear sights.

 I can’t fault the Wilson’s reliability. By being abusive, I was able to cause malfunctions, but it was only by breaking all the rules. After firing 2 to 3 boxes of ammo (without first cleaning the gun,) I put the gun away dirty and un-oiled for two weeks before going to Gunsite. Again without cleaning or lubricating, I shot the gun for two days of class. When the gun failed to go into battery, some oil cured the problem until late in the third day when the same failures reoccurred. Additional lubrication continued to cure the problem but for shorter periods of time. As the instructions state, clean the gun and it will (and did) work flawlessly. The only “failure” not attributed to my atrocious behavior was on the third day when the “Wilson” escutcheon in the left grip panel fell off. A call to John May in Arkansas revealed that this was one of those occasions where the least expensive adhesive worked the best and the expensive glue failed. Problem fixed forever.

 I’ve succumbed to the Siren calls again. No, I’m not buying a new carry gun because my existing CQB is tied to my CCW permit by serial number, and changing things like this is California would be a nightmare. But I am having my CQB remodeled to the new Wilson Carry Gun. It’s that good.


Three-Part Plan

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007

At the age of seven it became apparent that I was destined for a lifelong love affair with firearms.  There would be other even greater loves in my life, but my interest in guns has never faltered and remains a dominant force these many decades later.  For almost that entire time, my focus has been on recreational rather  than tactical uses of guns.  Unfortunately, the world is not as safe or friendly a place as it used to be.  As a younger man. I kept a loaded handgun in the house, but unless there was some kind of civil disturbance or unrest underway, I rarely risked breaking the law by carrying a handgun in my vehicle.  Today, many citizens believe quick access to a self-defense firearm is nothing more than good, common sense.

In the mid-’80s, Florida enacted the greatest piece of firearms legislation since the Second Amendment. That state made it crystal clear that no one could deny an honest citizen the right to carry a concealed weapon. Many states followed Florida’s lead with similar laws, including those recognizing concealed-carry permits from other states. The majority of states now have “shall issue” laws, while others that have not passed such legislation still have provisions for their citizens to be granted concealed-carry permits.
It may come as a surprise to many shooters to know that in California it is still possible to obtain a concealed-carry permit, depending on where you live in the state. This apparent contradiction of California’s anti-gun law reputation exists because permit approval is left to the discretion of the applicant’s senior local law enforcement official. If you live in Los Angeles or San Francisco, don’t bother applying. Those bastions of personal security and welfare simply don’t grant permits to average citizens. But in many communities and counties, permits are issued to citizens who have presented a viable reason to carry, attended mandatory training and passed the required tests. It’s not as good as a “shall issue” environment, but it’s far better than a “won’t issue” state.
Fortunately, I live in a California county whose sheriff ran for office promising to make concealed-carry permits available to us common folk, and to date he has kept that promise. I’ve submitted an application for a concealed-carry permit, and in the process have encountered the kind of dilemma a gun writer dreams of. California allows a maximum of three guns to be listed on the permit, and the bearer of it is prohibited from carrying any gun not listed. For years I have avoided the classic “if I could only have one gun” dialog. But if I were allowed to choose three guns, maybe I could get through the exercise and generate only a minimal amount of hate mail.
Wilson Combat CQB

Proven design and a record of superb stopping power gives the Wilson Combat CQB in .45 ACP high credentials as a primary concealed-carry pistol. A slightly shorter 4-inch barrel makes it easier to carry than the standard 5-inch barrel of a full-size 1911.

Concealed Considerations
An immediate thought was to pick the “best” gun and follow that up by choosing two almost identical guns for backup. This would ensure I always had the optimum gun available regardless of possible downtime for such mundane things as repairs or modifications to the primary firearm. There would be no retraining on handling procedures when switching guns, and I could use the same accessory gear no matter what gun I carried. I mulled this strategy over for some time because it made a great deal of sense and offered a solution with the utmost simplicity. It also defined the type of firearm I would carry, because if there would only be one kind of gun, it would be the one with which I am most familiar and proficient. That meant I would have three 1911s in various configurations and sizes, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. But ultimately I discarded this approach, thinking that since this would be a concealed-carry gun. there would be situations and dress codes that might suggest a different firearm in order to maximize concealment and carrying comfort.
This change in approach made it easier to choose the type of gun that would be number two on the license. With some kind of 1911 as number one. the second choice would be a pocket pistol of the utmost simplicity. It could be carried anywhere on my person for a reasonable period of time without fear of discharge and would function with absolute reliability simply by pulling the trigger and if there was a failure to fire, another pull of the trigger would be all that was required. You’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about a small-frame revolver, with only the model and caliber to be determined.
My thoughts on the third gun didn’t start to gel until I took one of the training classes that California mandates in order to obtain the permit. My instructor was Bill Murphy, an active-duty California police officer and head of the SureFire Institute’s low-light training program. He did not tell the students what gun they should carry, but he strongly advised our alternate guns function the same way as the primary firearm with which we trained. Murphy’s key message was that during moments of stress we do not rise to new levels of performance, rather we revert to our basic training. If you trained with a Glock or Springfield Armory XD. for example, and had to deal with an emergency using a gun with an external safety, you would probably forget to deactivate the safety and try to fire just by pulling the trigger, because that was how you had trained. Such an error, however short lived, could prove fatal. It became clear my third gun would have to be a 1911. but probably tailored to different circumstances than my primary.
Number 1 Gun
More than a year ago. I wrote an article on Wilson Combat’s CQB entitled “The Perfect IDPA Pistol” (November 2005) in which I stated the CQB would make an excellent concealed-carry handgun. The CQB became my pick for the first and primary handgun on my concealed-carry permit, and while no man ever needs to defend his choice of a Wilson Combat pistol for his self-defense gun. I will review some of my thinking during the original evaluation.
This pistol was absolutely reliable, first shot, every shot, regardless of the ammo I used. Its barrel is 4 inches long, and it’s 5.4 inches high, making it easier to hide than a full-size 1911. However, since the gun is steel it is not unpleasant to shoot serious self-defense loads.
The CQB has excellent, fixed Combat Pyramid sights with tritium inserts, and all sharp edges have been rounded and smoothed. Its trigger is a crisp and repeatable 4 1/2 pounds. Though the colors are not particularly important, the Armor-Tuff finish does protect the OD green frame and black slide from corrosion. The feed ramp is polished, the barrel is throated, the frontstrap and flat main spring housing are checkered, and the magazine well is beveled. There is a high-ride beavertail grip safety and an extended tactical ejector.
Wilson offers two magazine sizes, a feature I particularly like. The standard seven-round magazine fits almost flush, while the eight-round spare magazine extends slightly below the grip frame. This allows concealed carry of the gun with eight rounds (seven in the magazine and one up the spout), and provides eight more in each tucked-away backup magazine.
While shooting three Black Hills .45 ACP jacketed hollow point loads (185, 200 and 230 grains), the lighter bullets printed dead-on at 25 yards and the 230-grain slugs hit about an inch left. I’d call that street-ready.
Backup Made Better
Smith and Wesson Model 442 and Model 340PD

Smith & Wesson's Model 442 (right) weighs just 3 ounces more than the company's Model 340PD and is nearly half the price of the top-tier .357 Magnum. The author plowed that savings into an XS Big Dot front sight, along with some refinements and an action job from Cylinder 8 Slide.

Nothing is as inherently reliable as a revolver, and while I normally prefer the large-frame magnums, concealed carry dictates something smaller. Since this was to be the go-in-any-pocket gun. and therefore would not be supported by a belt or other type of body harness, lightweight was the order of the day. Smith & Wesson makes some very light snub-nose revolvers, and then it makes some insanely light snub-nose revolvers. I say “insanely light” because when you touch off a full-house .357 Magnum in an 12-ounce scandium-frame revolver, you’ll start thinking only an insane person would do such a thing. In a moment of stress you might not immediately notice how painful the recoil is. but you will during practice sessions. Even if you minimize your practice. California requires that permit holders shoot 75 rounds through each handgun listed on the permit. I’m a big believer in handgun practice, so selecting the revolver and caliber required some serious thought.

Since this was a pocket gun. I wanted a hammerless model. The Smith & Wesson website shows two interesting candidates. One is the top-of-the-line Model 340PD. a scandium-frame .357 Magnum weighing 12 ounces. The other is the Model 442, an aluminum-frame .38 Special weighing 15 ounces. That’s not much difference in weight, but you can feel it when holding the gun in your hand or in your pocket. I’m not sure if the extra few ounces would make a difference in firing .357 Magnum loads, since the slightly heavier gun is rated for .38 +P. not .357. The real noticeable difference is in the price, with the scandium .357 retailing for several hundred dollars more than the aluminum .38. I made a decision and sent the Model 442 off to Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide to work his magic.
The fixed sights on a snub-nose revolver are rudimentary at best. Even with the red insert in the front blade of the Model 340PD. I could barely see the sights in daylight. I couldn”t see anything in low light. The first change Laughridge made was to install an XS Sight Systems Big Dot Tritium front sight on the Model 442. Given the minimal space at the rear of the topstrap and shallow trough that was the rear sight. Laughridge rounded out the channel so the Big Dot nestled nicely into the enlarged half-moon notch. Without my shooting glasses nothing was clearly in focus, but I could see the large white ball in daylight and the glowing tritium in darkness. I wasn’t ready to take the little gun squirrel hunting, but I was definitely a force to be reckoned with even in low-light conditions.
Laughridge added some other nice touches that should prove useful, such as chamfering the rear edges of the cylinder’s chambers, polishing the trigger and tuning the action. My first thought in looking at the finished Model 442 was the vertical face of the front sight would be prone to catch the tight edge of the front trouser pocket during the draw. While true, I think this is a non-issue since it only happens in small pockets on tight pants like jeans, and when the pocket is that small and tight. I have trouble getting the gun and my hand in and out of the pocket. With more realistic clothing it is fine, and besides, ramped front sight blades frequently have serrations that can snag clothing as well. Eliminating the front sight would alleviate the problem, but in a situation warranting the use of a concealable firearm. 1 want to see something at the front end of that barrel.
Smith and Wessson Model 442 in .38 Special

When wearing a holster just isn't practical. Smith & Wesson's Model 442 in .38 Special is an effective alternative to going unarmed. Its simple operation and reliability, combined with the shrouded hammer and light weight, allow it to be carried unobtrusively in a coat or cargo pants pocket.

Last But Not Least
Picking the third gun was even more difficult than the second. I decided it would be another semi-auto, and based upon Murphy’s Law (the good one learned in class), it would have to be a 1911. However. I wanted something a little smaller than the CQB for slightly-easier concealment and a little lighter for more comfort during prolonged carry. This meant I needed a pistol with a shorter barrel than the one on the Wilson and an alloy rather than steel frame.
I recently spent some time with a pair of little 1911s from Kimber and Springfield Armory and was very impressed with the offerings of both companies. In the March 2007 issue
I reviewed Kimber’s Aegis and Springfield Armory’s EMP, both in 9 mm. Ordinarily I would have selected a .45-caliber micro compact for my third concealed-carry gun. but those pistols opened my mind to the world of mini-nines. They are easier to shoot than a comparably sized .45. Since they’re 1911s, all the controls are the same. If I suffered some kind of injury that forced me to shoot with the weak hand, I would do much better with a 9 mm than a .45. Finally, if I found myself in a life-threatening situation, the outcome of which depended on one of the women in my family picking up my carry gun. I think our safety would be better served by a more manageable, less intimidating 9 mm.
Springfield Armory's EMP

Springfield Armory's Enhanced Micro Pistol (EMP) in 9 mm takes the final spot on the author's California concealed-carry permit. The ability to carry as many as 27 rounds of 9 mm ammunition should make him relatively comfortable when venturing into the urban wilderness.

For now. I plan to list the Springfield Armory EMP as the third gun on my permit. The differences between the EMP and Aegis are small, but the EMP does have an ambidextrous safety, making it easier to operate with the weak hand. Its magazine carries one more round than the Aegis (nine versus eight), and its frame is slightly shorter.
I’m familiar with the arguments regarding stopping power of the .45 versus that of 9 mm. which is why the .45-caliber CQB is my primary gun. Likewise, the .38 Special gives up something to the .357 Magnum, but as always, measuring or calculating stopping power requires a hit rather than just a very loud miss. Perhaps a heavier weight .357 Magnum snubbie might be better for the number two gun, allowing me to use .38 Special loads for practice while carrying magnum loads on the streets.
During the next year. I may change my mind about what guns I want on my concealed-carry permit, and the good news is that for a few bucks and a short qualification session using the new gun, firearms listed on an individual’s permit can be changed in California. What I am comfortable with is the XS sight on the front end of that little barrel. In fact I might put an XS sight on the third gun. and as long as I don’t change firearms, this would not require any modifications to my permit. As always, more low-light practice sessions are in order, particularly since cockroaches rarely come out to dine in bright light.
Smith and Wesson new subnose revolver
Another Option
S ince I started this project. Smith & Wesson introduced a new snub-nose revolver that has some of the custom touches Cylinder & Slide made to my Model 442. It’s the Model M&P 340, and at a weight halfway between my two prior options (13.3 ounces) it’s worth a look. Mean­while, if any of you aging warriors with dim­ming vision have a snub nose on which you might someday bet your life, you might want to give Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide a call.
Cylinder & Slide
245 East 4th Street Fremont, NE 68026 (402) 721-4277 www.cylinder-slide.com
Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Avenue Springfield, MA 01104 (413) 781-8300 www.smith-wesson.com
Springfield Armory
420 West Main Street Geneseo,1161254 (800) 680-6866 www.springfield-armory.com
Wilson Combat & Scattergun Technologies
2234 C.R. 719 Berryville, AR 72616 (800) 955-4856 www.wilsoncombat.com

Pocket Protectors


Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007


Pocket handguns are not a new concept. Even in the cap-and-ball era there were small revolvers designated as pocket pistols. Looking at these guns, two things are immediately obvious: First, fast reloads were not an option, and second, pockets were apparently much larger in those days. Many of these pistols were simply single shots with no pretense of offering any follow-up capability for the user.

During the latter half of the 19th century, when self-contained cartridges were replacing caps and balls. Smith & Wesson and other manufacturers made some very small revolvers that were the forerunners of today”s snub-nose revolvers. As we rolled into the 20th century, several companies such as Colt, and I believe Savage, offered some compact semi­automatic pistols for those choosing not to announce they carried a handgun. But the epitome of old-time pocket pistols for most Americans was the two-shot derringer with over-and-under barrels. Hollywood made these hideout guns famous in numerous Westerns, and even today, cowboy action shoots frequently feature a special event for them. If you’re willing to settle for just two shots to resolve hostilities, the old-style derringer with its flat outline and compact size offers advantages unsurpassed by many of today’s concealed-carry handguns. However, besides being limited to two shots, these derringers are single-action pistols requiring the shooter to manually cock the hammer each time before firing. They not only lack firepower, they are much slower into action than double-action revolvers.
In the 1930s, many people utilized 2-inch-barreled revolvers. Colts and Smith & Wessons filled the hands of cops, bootleggers and private eyes on the movie screens. Initially, the short barrel was the only real attempt to downsize these revolvers for hideout duty, with nothing being done to reduce frame size and further facilitate pocket carry. Both companies had six-shot revolvers with external hammers, and while the cops were sometimes shown with holsters, I don’t ever recall seeing a bad guy draw a short revolver from leather. While longer barreled revolvers were occasionally carried tucked in the waistband, snubbies emerged from a pocket or were sometimes fired from within. At that time, the nylon pocket holster had not yet been invented, and while a few really clever guys might have utilized a couple pieces of leather inside the pocket to protect their clothes and facilitate getting the gun into action, I doubt this was the case since clothes then were made of heavier material like wool, and fashions seemed to dictate a more casual look.
J-Frame Revolver

Smith & Wesson reduced both capacity—five rounds instead of six—and frame size in its J-frame revolvers. Although more concealable, heavy loads are also more difficult to control.

Smith & Wesson’s J-frame revolver reduced both frame size and capacity, giving the savvy shooter a smaller pocket pistol that carried five rounds instead of six. The smaller grip frame further helped conceal the pistol but at the expense of making the gun more difficult to control when shooting the standard 158-grain .38 Special police loads of that era. Subsequent development of more sophisticated self-defense ammunition helped alleviate this problem, but at the time the downsized frame was a decision that proved to be brilliant over the next several decades. With a couple additional refinements, the five-shot J-frame-size revolver is the pocket pistol of choice for millions today, doing double-duty as the primary self-defense gun in many homes.

One of the other favorite handguns during the early 20th century was the Colt 1911. You couldn’t classify it as a pocket pistol, but its flat profile made it more comfortable to carry tucked into a waistband or belt than a revolver. Colt picked up on this market and began producing the Commander. With a slightly shorter barrel and an alloy frame, it was lighter in weight and less bulky than its all-steel big brother, and knowledgeable gunnies capitalized on its virtues. Some cursed the Commander, claiming its alloy frame wouldn’t take the abuse of continuous full-power loads. Perhaps someone destroyed a Commander in prolonged firing under a controlled and monitored test program, but I don’t remember reading about it. Several clever gunsmiths recognized the advantages of customized 1911s and began chopping them to make them more concealable. Ultimately, manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, and the result is an array of incredibly compact and durable 1911s with 3-inch barrels and lightweight frames made of exotic metals.
Late in the 20th century, a couple of major developments occurred in the handgun world that would bring about a new class of pocket pistols. One was the semi-auto that accepted double-stack magazines, and the other was the use of lightweight polymer frames. Beretta‘s winning of the U.S. military handgun contract cemented the high-capacity pistol’s place in the market, while Glock revolutionized handgun design with high-tech materials. Other companies started manufacturing both wide-body and synthetic-frame pistols, and many produced downsized guns intended for the pocket. While some of these have been quite successful in terms of sales, none are as well suited for pocket carry as the compact revolver, at least in this old dog’s opinion. With that thought, let’s start by looking at the revolver pocket pistols available on today’s market.
Spinning Wheels
Smith & Wesson has long been the master of the small revolvers, and its current offerings have never been better. The top of the company’s line is superb. I’m talking about its scandium wheelguns that reduce weight to 12 ounces while still providing the power of .357 Magnum loads. In my mind. Smith & Wesson’s quintessential pocket pistol is the Model 340PD, a 12-ounce masterpiece with a 2-inch barrel and an internal hammer. With no hammer to cock, it can only be fired double-action, which is the proper technique with a close-quarters, self-defense revolver. It can be fired from within a jacket pocket with minimal chance of malfunctioning. This technique is not recommended, nor is it suitable for achieving pinpoint accuracy, but for hostile encounters occurring at touchy-feely distances, it’s something that could save your life. If you draw the revolver before firing—the recommended technique— the hammerless design minimizes the possibility of snagging the pistol on pocket edges or linings. A compromise between hammerless guns, or rather those with internal hammers, and guns with external hammers are Smith & Wesson’s Model 638 (an alloy-frame .38 Special +P) and Model 649 (a steel-frame .357 Magnum), both of which have a small, rounded portion of the hammer protruding through a slot in the top of the frame. The company calls this the “Bodyguard” frame, and it minimizes the possibility of snagging the hammer during the draw, but still allows the revolver to be cocked single-action to make a precise shot.
Example guns
The downside of scandium revolvers is their cost, which is nearly double that of a similar alloy-frame gun and saves only 3 ounces in weight (12 ounces versus 15 ounces). Stepping up to a comparable pistol in steel takes the weight from 15 ounces to 23 ounces but does reduce felt recoil. Smith & Wesson’s Model 60 has been around for decades and was. in fact, the company’s first stainless steel pistol. The version available today can handle full-power .357 Magnum loads, and housed in a pocket holster that masks telltale bulges, the 2-inch workhorse is still an outstanding pocket pistol. When shooting full-house .357 Magnums, none of these small revolvers offer a pleasant experience, but practice ammo can be tailored to your tolerance for any of these. In addition, some of the .38 Special self-defense loads on the market are designed for settling serious social disputes.
Taurus has stepped into the pocket pistol void created when Colt ceased production of its double-action revolvers. Like Smith & Wesson, Taurus offers a variety of pocket pistols in both steel and alloy so the weight of a gun with a 2-inch barrel ranges from just under 16 ounces to 25 ounces. While the majority of the company’s sales in this style of revolver are .38 Special and .357 Magnum, it also makes a pocket pistol in .32 H&R Magnum. The latter handgun with its 2-inch barrel weighs less than 20 ounces and holds six rounds. Although the .32 H&R Magnum is considered by many to be too small for self-defense, it is not to be trifled with and it offers a degree of parity to those with the kinds of injuries or infirmities that prevent them from mastering the .38 or .357. On the upper end of power. Taurus offers a 2’/2-inch-barreled Model 415 chambered for .41 Magnum in its Tracker series of revolvers. This big boy holds five shots and weighs 30 ounces. It tends to exceed available dimensions of the pockets on most street clothes, but if you have a bulky jacket and can carry the weight, go for it. Amongst learned pistoleros. a .41 Magnum round, even modestly loaded, provokes very little debate on stopping power. A couple of other interesting Taurus options include factory porting and some soft grip materials to tame recoil. Nowhere on my list of things to do is there an entry for tiring a ported revolver from inside my pocket, but porting is certainly an appreciated accessory during range sessions. For those who prefer to compromise with a shrouded hammer design. Taurus makes the Model 651 and Model 851.
Charter Arms, which has been in and out of the market, is back with a couple of unique ideas. It now makes a left-handed revolver—chambered in .38 Special +P—called the Undercover Southpaw. This mirror-image gun holds five rounds, has a 2-inch barrel and weighs 12 ounces. It has an all-aluminum, one-piece frame with a three-point cylinder lockup system. Righties need not panic. The revolver can be fired with either hand, but the cylinder-release latch is on the right side of the frame. The cylinder swings out on the right side so a left-handed shooter can hold onto the gun with his shooting hand while reloading with his support hand. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, unless you’re left-handed.
Example guns
Demonstrating a rather clever bit of marketing nomenclature. Charter Arms has named its snub-nose .32 H&R Magnum the Undercoverette. It has a regular hammer and 2-inch barrel, holds five shots and weighs 19 ounces. An Off Duty model, while competing in weight with the Smith & Wesson scandium revolvers at 12 ounces, will handle .38 Special +P but not .357 Magnum. And Charter Arms would not be Charter Arms without its trademark Bulldog revolver. This is a very serious self-defense handgun that holds five rounds of .44 Special, has a 2/.-inch barrel and weighs 22 ounces. There are a variety of excellent hollow-point loads for the .44 Special today, making the Bulldog rival the 1911 in everything except round capacity and reloading speed. Welcome back Charter Arms.
Secretive Semis
That brings us to the semi-automatic handguns. Over the last five years. Shooting Illustrated has done a number of articles on 1911s, including some on the ultra-compact .45 and 9 mm pistols. Considering the incredible popularity of the 1911, one would have to consider the small versions as pocket pistol candidates. But as much as I love these guns. I would not select one as my first choice for pocket carry. Having a cocked-and-locked 1911 with its short trigger pull loose in my pocket, particularly a trouser pocket, would make me very nervous. Even a pocket holster doesn’t seem to offer enough constraint given the typical body movements one generates in a normal day. In fact, the thought of any semi-auto with a short trigger pull in my pocket gives me chills. That said, there are some 1 would consider for pocket carry.
Last June. I  reviewed in my “Handguns” column a couple of polymer-frame pistols from Kahr and was particularly impressed with the CW9. I’ve always liked the steel-frame Kahr pistols, but they are rather heavy for the pocket. The polymer CW9. however, weighs less than 16 ounces, putting it in the class of alloy-frame revolvers. Even lighter and more suited for pocket carry is the company’s PM9 with a 3-inch barrel and an overall length of 5.3 inches. That’s more than an inch shorter than Smith & Wesson’s 340PD. The PM9’s standard magazine that sits flush with the bottom of the grip frame holds six rounds of 9 mm and keeps the height of the semi-auto to just 4 inches, but the gun also comes with a seven-round extended magazine for those having a little more room in their pockets and the need for someplace to rest their pinky during firing.
Width is an important factor to consider when you are looking for a pistol to carry in your pocket, and with a slide that is a slim .9 inch wide, the PM9 rides nicely in its hiding place without being bulky. The PM9’s steel slide has several near-vertical serrations that facilitate manual slide operation, but the edges are relatively smooth to minimize the possibility of snagging the gun while drawing it from the pocket. Like the rest of the pistols in the Kahr lineup, the PM9 is double action only and utilizes the locked-breech design with an internal striker and no external safety. It keeps the pistol streamlined and makes it fast to fire—just pull the trigger—but there is no second-strike capability. If your first round fails to fire, you’ll have to manually rack the slide to cock the action. Molded, rather aggressive checkering on the frontstrap and backstrap along with stippling on the grip sides help hold the pistol still in the pocket while offering good control during firing, but since these surfaces are covered by the shooting hand during the draw, there is little resistance when removing the gun. The PM9 is a potent little pistol that will fit comfortably in almost any pocket.
Kel-Tec P32

The Kel-Tec P-32's small size makes it an ideal candidate for pocket carry. Although some consider its .32 ACP chambering less than ideal for self defense, the little powerhouse holds seven rounds and weighs just 6.6 ounces.

Kel-Tec makes some interesting and very economical handguns that offer great potential as pocket pistols. Featuring a steel slide and barrel, an aluminum frame and polymer grips, the locked-breech. double-action-only PF-9 weighs slightly less than 13 ounces, is chambered for 9 mm and has a magazine capacity of seven rounds. Kel-Tec’s P-l 1 is made like the PF-9. but weighs 14 ounces and holds 10 rounds of 9 mm. Both have 3.1-inch barrels. The PF-9 is less than 1 ounce heavier than the scandium-frame Smith & Wesson and the P-l 1 weighs an ounce less than the alloy-frame Smiths. If you have tiny pockets. Kel-Tec makesan 8.3-ounce pistol that holds six rounds of .380 ACP and a 6.6-ounce pistol that holds seven rounds of .32 ACP. While neither of these calibers are near the top of the list of self-defense handgun cartridges, the P-3AT and P-32 housing them are certainly in the proper size range for a pocket pistol and may offer as much power as some shooters can handle. If concealment is one of your primary goals. Kel-Tec deserves a good look before making your decision.

Taurus has a line of semi-autos called the Millennium Pro that bears consideration. Available chamberings go from .32 ACP up to .45 ACP with all the in-between cartridges you would expect. Weight doesn’t vary much with the .380 ACP hitting the scales at less than 19 ounces, and the .45 ACP at 22 ounces. Capacity of all guns is high due to their double-stack magazines, but you pay for the firepower in increased size that may take the guns beyond pocket dimensions.
At least one candidate in the guns I have mentioned should fill your need for a pocket pistol. I apologize if I’ve missed any of your favorite handguns, and if you find your solution somewhere else, my feelings won’t be hurt. The important things are to stay safe and to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and the means to do it can fit right in your pocket. 

Compact Nines

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” March 2007

It’s become trendy in recent years to trash any defensive handgun with a  bore diameter less than .4 inch. Slogans abound, but one of my favorites is, “Friends don’t let friends carry mouse guns.”
It would be interesting to find a genu­ine ghost whisperer to interview a few of the people on the receiving end of a prop­erly placed 9 mm. I’d be very surprised if any of those folks would categorize it as a mouse gun.
Admittedly, discussions of defensive handguns and calibers usually focus on their ability to produce one-shot stops. The argument for a defensive handgun with a bore diameter of at least .4 inch stems from the basic premise that big bores are more effective stoppers than small ones. With­out debating this premise, which ignores the excellent one-shot stop record of the .357 Magnum, it only holds true if the defender is able to properly place his or her shots. I would suggest that a miss with a .45-caliber handgun has less chance of stopping an assailant than a torso hit with a 9 mm.

In many cases, a criminal has been stopped by the mere presence of a hand­gun with no shots being fired. I’m not sure whether these occasions involved big- or small-bore handguns, but I do believe a potential victim’s demonstrated confidence when holding a handgun has a big influ­ence on an aggressor’s decision whether to stop or press the attack.

The confidence level of most citizens relates directly to their proficiency. Since 9 mm handguns are usually mastered more quickly than big bores, particularly when training and practice sessions are minimal, confidence begins to show earlier. This is especially true for a person of small stature or with small hands.
Early attempts to popularize the 9 mm for self-defense focused on large handguns with high-capacity magazines—an approach driven by the police market and its use of external-carry pistols. When Florida opened up its concealed-carry policies and started a nationwide trend, smaller guns began receiv­ing more attention. But the double-stack frames of the high-capacity nines, while read­ily available, weren’t the optimum approach.
A few companies offered some slimmer, single-stack guns, but these candidates didn’t possess the inherently desirable characteristics of the classic 1911. Now two major American companies, Kimber and Springfield, are making downsized 1911s in 9 mm, and while both guns are distinctly 1911, there are some noteworthy differences. Unlike many of the new hand­guns I have the opportunity to evaluate, both guns had some run time in the hands of a professional trainer and a couple of new shooters.

Above: The EMP magazines had base pads and held one more round than the Aegis II, but the Aegis II had checkering on the frontstrap. While features varied, reliability of both was flawless, and shooters may have a difficult time choosing one over the other

We’ll look at Springfield’s EMP first. EMP stands for Enhanced Micro Pistol, which is a bit of an understatement when you look at the major changes Springfield has made to its regular micro pistols. While the EMPs sport a 3-inch barrel like the company’s .45 ACP Micro model, its slide has been shortened, which required shortening a number of other components like the firing pin, firing pin spring and extractor.
Knowing they were onto a good thing, Springfield’s engineers shortened and nar­rowed the frame—the single most impor­tant component in the interface between shooter and handgun. This required short­ening the trigger bow, the end result being what Springfield refers to as a short-action 1911. While this was a substantial re-engi­neering effort, it made excellent sense when building a gun around a cartridge smaller than the .45 ACP.
Springfield had already successfully built a 1911 around the .45 GAP cartridge, which simplified the 9 mm project. The difference in frame sizes between the EMP and a standard 1911 is obvious when looking at the base of the frames with the magazines removed.
Springfield spared no expense in opti­mizing the EMP for concealed carry. All the sharp edges were radiused and fixed sights with tritium inserts have been dovetailed into the stainless steel slide. The frame is a blackened, anodized alloy with a beavertail grip safety and ambidextrous thumb safe­ties. Thin, cocobolo grips are checkered and have the attractive Springfield logo. The magazine holds nine rounds and has a small bumper pad extension providing plenty of room for the pinky finger on the shooting hand, even for those with larger paws. Overall it’s an extremely handsome, practical concealed-carry pistol.

Springfield includes a molded holster and magazine carrier with every EMP. That makes the package ready to go as a concealed-carry pistol, right off the shelf.

Kimber took a slightly different approach, perhaps because it had not downsized a 1911 frame for the .45 GAP. Rather than changing the basic frame and slide dimen­sions, the company took a 3-inch barrel/ slide and shorter frame, like those used on its Ultra Carry models, and installed the minimum-size components that would still make a fully reliable gun.
The result is Kimber’s 9 mm Aegis II, a two-tone gun like the EMP but with some slightly different touches. First, the Aegis II has reversed colors, a blackened stainless steel slide and an anodized alu­minum-alloy frame with a brushed finish. Unlike the EMP’s rounded hammer, the Aegis II has a bobbed hammer that does not extend beyond the back of the slide in the down position.
While both guns have serrations on their backstraps, only the Aegis II has a check­ered frontstrap for better grip control. At the rear of the slide, there are four, wide vertical cuts on the Aegis II and nine thin serrations slanted rearward on the EMP. The Aegis II has a single thumb safety for right-handed shooters and has been de­horned for concealed-carry market.
I’ve always liked the extra purchase provided by checkering on the frontstrap of 1911s, but given the minimum recoil of the 9 mm, it would not be a necessity for me on either of these guns. I also like the wider slide serrations on the Aegis II but can’t personally justify a need for a bobbed hammer. I believe in having ambidextrous safeties for “just in case” scenarios, but I wouldn’t get into any serious arguments regarding their necessity on a concealed-carry pistol.
The wood grips on the Aegis II are remarkably thin, and when combined with the slightly longer grip frame, they feel a bit narrower and slightly longer than those on the EMP. The bases of the Kimber magazines have been drilled for bumper pads, although they are not provided, so the magazines fit flush with the bottom of the frame. With the 9 mm’s minimal recoil, the lack of a definitive home for the pinky finger does not pose a control problem. The Aegis II magazine holds eight rounds.

The difference in frame sizes may not be great, but the grip frame circumference of the Springfield EMP (left) has been shortened. On the other hand, the Aegis II has slightly thinner grip panels, allowing both pistols to handle and feel very similar.

Like the compact .45 ACPs, the mini 9 mms utilize double recoil springs and a guide rod. For someone as clumsy as I am, disassembling and cleaning these guns is akin to learning to juggle sharp objects, but these features are regarded as neces­sary on compact 1911s, and I am getting more proficient.The reliability summary for both guns is simple: no failures in either gun with any ammo. I was helping a friend who had invited some family and friends for a day at the range. Attendees included a mother and two sons who had never fired hand­guns before. In loading one of the compact nines, the oldest boy did not release the slide but rather eased it forward, resulting in the slide not going fully into battery. A light push on the back of the slide resolved the problem, and when the correct load­ing technique was demonstrated, it never happened again. This was the only problem encountered during any of the range ses­sions with both guns. Interestingly, the hand sizes of the mother and sons varied from small on the youngest boy to medium on the mother to rather large on the teen­ager. All were quite comfortable shooting the small-frame nines, and while their com­bined experience was quite limited, their shooting was much better than I expected and their verbal inputs were honest and reflected no personal agendas.

As a Gunsite instructor, II Ling New spends i | a lot of time on the range. Although she usually uses full-size, double-stack handguns In her classes, she found the 9 mm Springfield EMP to her liking.

At the other end of the expertise spec­trum was Gunsite Academy instructor II Ling New. At something over 5 feet tall, New does not have large hands, and while she regularly utilizes full-size, double-stack pistols in her classes, she liked both compact nines and the enhanced controlla­bility the smaller caliber provided in rapid fire. She preferred the smoother, shallow slide serrations of the EMP. Recognizing the enhanced control offered by the check­ering on the frontstrap of the Kimber, she felt it was more than needed on the lower recoiling 9 mm, particularly in an extended practice or training scenario.

I did get some personal time with the compacts and was quite impressed. The usual snappy recoil of mini .45s is absent with the nines, and recovery time is much improved. Ammo fired included lots of Black Hills full metal jacket along with some Winchester and Federal jacketed hol­low points.
Perhaps the best summary I can give is to say that I rate these guns so highly both have become candidates for the final gun on my concealed-carry license when it’s issued. Deciding which one will require more range time with both guns before making such an important decision. But that’s another story.