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Friday, May 22, 2009

Glock’s Model 23

The Glock pistol in .40 S&W cartridge is America's most widely-used law enforcement sidearm and it has proven entirely capable in that application. That fact has not been lost on the general shooting public, either.

I'm an old-school pistol shooter and Glocks, initially, did not impress me. There were well-documented issues with KaBooms and the grip angle was all wrong for us 1911/P35 guys. Glock (who will never admit they screwed anything up in the first place) eventually made subtle changes and both issues were mitigated to my satisfaction. So when a Department-Issue Glock 22 was offered to me in September, 2008, I accepted it and committed to mastering these guns.

My duty gun came with the 8 pound trigger, which I didn’t exactly see as an asset. Despite the trigger pull, ‘Total Immersion’ in the G22 soon resulted in my shooting it as well as the 1911 in typical defensive shooting exercises. This was a startling revelation to me, after spending three decades with the 'Army 45'. It also led me to try the Model 23 which is still a.40, but in the next smaller size.

My Glock 23 was purchased via OMBGuns “Individual Officer Purchase Program”- and the savings to privileged categories is substantial. Unfortunately, so is the wait and it took about six weeks for the gun to arrive. One of the first things I noticed was how much sharper the G23's grip checkering and finger-ridges were, compared to my old issue G22. They were also noticeably 'taller', to the point of limiting contact surface between my hand & the G23’s grip.
Shooting the gun only confirmed that its unnatural feel was not helping my instinctive shooting with it. Trends may change, folks-but absolutes don't. You have got to be able to attain a firm firing grip on the gun, and it must be an instinctive, subconscious process.

I have never been afraid to modify a handgun to suit my purposes. A sheet of 240 Wet & Dry emery cloth was wrapped around various bench paraphernalia and applied to the G23’s grip, until it’s feel matched that of my duty gun. The de-horned G23 appears on the right in both photos:

The grip modification made for much nicer handling and the results on target validate the work. I shot my Dept's Basic Qualification with this 23 and posted a ‘possible’ on the first run. This course includes 'yank & blast' at 6 feet, 2-taps from the holster, 3-taps from low ready and it finishes with 10 rounds each at 15 & 25 yards. The time constraints are realistic. The improved contact surface made a hurried firing grip easy to acquire and this helped me keep all but two rounds inside the 5 inch ‘X ring’'. Both of the ‘stragglers’ were still good centerline hits, maybe 3" below it.

The little gun is fairly accurate, too. Rested 25 yard groups with Remington UMC 180 FMJ are right at two inches; 50 yard results are five rounds of the same load into four and one half inches. All this requires, of course that I get off five, perfect shots and in that regard I am far less consistent than the gun. I shoot much better on 3D targets and anything the size of an empty cartridge box is likely to get nailed out to 75 yards.

Is there a significant ‘velocity loss’ from the G23's shorter barrel? To answer that question, I chronographed four, .40 S&W factory loads through the 4.5” G22 and the 4” G23. Given the current ammo situation I fired only ONE round of each. (Want more? Ship me ammo ;) My Chrony Beta Master was used to record this data at a firing distance of about six feet.

  • Load Tested-----------Glock 22 Velocity-----Glock 23 Velocity
  • Remington 165 Golden Saber----1105 fps-----1076 fps
  • Remington 180 UMC/FMJ------1061 fps-----1015 fps
  • Remington 180 UMC/FMJ------1016 fps------990 fps
  • Fiocchi 165 JHP------------------1085 fps-----1058 fps

In every case, the compact gun lost less than 50 fps and this is inconsequential.

The Glock 23 is only ½” smaller, in grip and barrel length, than the fullsize gun. It weighs 31 ounces, loaded with 13 rounds. These fiqures simply can't reflect how much better the Glock 23 conceals. I just finished a week of carrying it under a loose shirt, using a cheap Uncle Mikes IWB holster. The weather was warm and much of that time was spent in & out of a classroom. Whether sitting, driving or just walking around, the gun stayed put and rode in relative comfort. I was surprised at how well this combination worked.

Is the Model 23 ‘Perfection”? No. It definitely needs conventional rifling as an option for the US market, where we still cast bullets and load our own ammo. While the factory sight picture works just great, they are plastic. Even the basic gun should be furnished with steel sights. Why? Cops are notoriously 'hard on equipment' and the holstered duty pistol often gets a few knocks on door jambs, car doors and the like. Plastic sights aimply cannot be fitted as solidly to the dovetail as steel ones can. As an old range officer I can recall more than one occasion where a Glock shooter was unexpectedly grouping left or right- and upon examining their issue plastic sights, I invariably found something like this:

Image courtesy of Tango44, at GlockTalk

The good news is that the user can easily change the gun to suit his or her tastes- Glock pistols enjoy fantastic factory and aftermarket parts availability. Even in stock form, the Glock 23 is a powerful, accurate carry gun that lives up to Glock's reputation for reliability.

The Model 23 is a heck of a lot of gun in a nice, compact package. To say that I am impressed with it would be an understatement. Coming from an old 1911 man, that is no faint praise.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Joys of a Good Single Action…

I'd been looking for an ‘Old’ Vaquero in .45 Colt for some time. I cut my teeth on single-actions, mostly Rugers, JP Sauers & Colt-pattern black powder sixguns. This happy state of existence got mothballed when word came that I had been accepted for the police academy. I had an old Model 28 and two months of wait before it started- so I figured I better get to learnin' this double-action stuff, lest I embarrass myself. Oh, I acknowledge the efficiency of more modern defensive handguns- but single actions have held my affection, all my life.

I prefer fixed sights and I wanted a sixgun that would take the heavy loads. I passed on a couple of Old Vaqueros back before obama-fright drove the prices dizzy, and the ones I had priced recently were higher than New Vaqueros. I was actually looking for a used Glock when I called a dealer and just asked if he had any of these laying around. He said he had one, the finish wasn’t great but it must shoot OK ‘cause the prior owner killed a deer with it.

I looked it over and everything was right; perfect timing on all six, reasonable tight lockup and close to 0.050 firing pin protrusion. The gun was dirty but the bore was perfect & showed no leading. The forcing cone was well done end evenly worn…looks like maybe they got the holes in all the right places on this one. The trigger was typical New Model which at least told me that nobody had butchered the innards yet.

Per the serial# it is a 1999 gun, so I guess it stands to reason that it’d be a little worn. The colors had long since rubbed of leaving a patina and the aluminum ejector housing had worn through to the ‘shiny’ in a few spots. That didn’t bother me none ‘cause a new one would get roughed-up this bad if I carried it six for months. As it stood, it priced about$175 under the going rate for Old Vaqueros and that suited me fine.

Actually, the only thing that concerned me at all was whether the gun would shoot close to the fixed sights. While pricing .45 Colt ammo (35 bucks a box for BLAZER!!) it soon became apparent that any ‘ammo money’ would be better spent on reloading components.

I did pick a box of Starline’s excellent brass and some Hornady 255 swaged RNFP’s. The bullets weren’t my first choice but there were no SWC’s, LBT’s or even 240 JHP’s available locally- including the Sierra Outlet Store. I set about loading the Hornady over mild-to-moderate doses of W231. I had seen a published load of 7.1 grains with an OAL of 1.650” using this bullet, but the crimp lands back in the bearing surface a ways and that's probably not conductive to best accuracy. Velocity was in the high 700’s, seated out like that; the 0.005 barrel-to-cylinder gap may also play a role in that reading. The 25 yard point-of-impact with this load, when shooting two-hand unsupported, was close enough to be encouraging.

I fiddled with charges up to 8 grains, getting the velocity over 900 fps but not improving much of anything else. The closest I’d come to benching the gun so far was been to shoot it rested over one knee, while seated in a plastic lawn chair. Despite that arrangement, several six-shot groups gathered inside 4 inches, with clusters of 3-4 shots about halving that. Ongoing efforts burned 150 of the Hornady slugs, with almost no leading present. The bore proved slick and the gun was showing promise.

Initial 50 yard shooting revealed that the gun printed 6” low and about 3” left at 50 yards, using essentially factory-dup loads. Since we are taking fixed sights here, I wanted to remove all doubt before regulating them. My experience with 5 ½” Ruger SA’s in this caliber indicates that when zero is reached with the factory-duplication load, zero with Sierra 240’s at 1300 will be within a couple of inches at deep-woods whitetail range. The creep in Ruger’s lawyer-proof SA trigger sure wasn’t helping my shootin’ none…so I decided to tackle both problems at once. Pretty soon the gun was a collection of parts on my bench.

One of the great things about the advent of cowboy shooting is the proliferation of useful information on tuning these guns. Sources indicated that halving the full-cock notch depth would produce a safe, shootable trigger, so I dug out the files, stone and feeler gauges and set to work slowly. The result was an almost creep-free trigger of about 4 ¼ pounds using the factory springs- eminently more shootable and it passed the ‘push off test’ with flying colors.

While I had the gun apart I also cleaned up some burrs and cold blued the hammer and trigger. I have always disliked the appearance of the shiny ‘non-Colt-looking’ ignition parts on NM Rugers and bluing them sure helped that.

I also prefer the looks and improved handling of checkered, hard rubber grips on my single actions, so I added a pair of Vintage Grips. I'm not going to sugar coat the fact that they were a bitch to fit. They were partially drilled, about a 'half-hole off' and the side that mates to the frame was so far out of square that the bottom of one grip hung out in thin air. It was necessary to true them up in about every direction to get them to fit well. Unless you're just looking for a grip project, I wouldn't recommend them at all.

I replaced the aluminim ejector rod housing with a steel part from Borchardt Rifle Company. This is a quality product. It was a good fit to the Vaquero and the only problem was that the matte blue on its top surface was a poor match to the rest of the revolver. A few passes with 0000 steel wool corrected this. The end result of all this tinkering made the gun considerably more 'shootable' and far more in line with my notion of what a single action should be.

I also made a few light file strokes across the top of the front sight, taking care to keep it square, and serrated its visible edge with the rough-cut side of a mill file. It worked out just right and the elevation was near-perfect at 50 yards. Several shots directed at a 100 oz. laundry detergent jug, at that distance, filled it with holes and sent it skittering for cover. Offhand work on cans at ranges from 15-25 yards confirmed that we were ‘getting there’.

More Load Development…

Since this was going to be a ‘do-everything sixgun’ I figured I better get busy on developing a .45 Colt load for game to about 500 pounds. While there are several schools of thought on this I subscribe to the one that says a deep, full caliber hole in the right place will get the job done as well as anything. A 255 SWC at 1050-1100 fps will bore through meat and bone with vigor and I figured such a load would shoot pretty close to the factory-duplication load..

The first order of business was to select a load. John Linebaugh’s articles on the .45 Colt report that he settled on 13 grains of HS6 for loads in this range. I’ve had good luck with this powder, finding it accurate and kinder to bullet bases than faster powders.

For bullets, I turned to Missouri Bullet Company of Kingsville, MO. I’ve corresponded with its owner, Brad Alpert, and found him knowledgeable on alloys, bullet hardness and the like. Like myself, Brad believes that super-hard bullets are unnecessary for most applications. He offers a good 255 SWC in his ‘Cowboy No. 9’ which has a big meplat and Brinnel’s at about a 12- soft enough for proper obturation, but plenty hard for penetration on game. (This bullet can be had 50% harder if you really need it that way.) A phone call got 400 SWC’s on the way and the price was right. I also wound up some of with his 250 grain RNFP, dubbed ‘Cowboy #1’ in MO Bullet lingo. Whatever you call these bullets, they are shooters! The Old Vaquero loved them and put 5 out of 6 of the RNFP’s into ¾” at 25 yards. The 255 SWC shot equally well, planting another 5 of 6 shots into 2 9/16” inches at 50. A full report on the results with these bullets, including target pics, is here for anyone interested.

This old Ruger surprised me, proving capable of near ‘match accuracy’- two inch groups at 50 yards. Reaming the cylinder throats to a uniform 0.4525" should enhance accuracy even more. Whether or not my aging eyes can use that much accuracy on a given day, is a moot point. The accuracy is there and I sure can't blame the gun for any misses,.

I was quite happy with 'just' single-actions for years and could return to that blissful state with little effort. When I hang up this tin star in a few years, you can bet that the lion’s share of my handgun attention will vested in one or another iteration of Sam Colt’s invention- which revolutionized America.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Missouri Bullet Company’s Cast .45 Colt Bullets

I have been working up some loads for an Old Vaquero I picked up a few months ago.

My goal was to build a set of loads that would 'cover all the bases' and still shoot to the sights. As you view these targets you will note that the gun shoots a little left. This was rested shooting and oddly enough, the gun hits where it looks when I fire it two-hand, unsupported. Anyhow ignore the windage dispersion because when the load development is finished- I'll zero the gun to shoot in the middle of all of them.

I'd been corresponding with Brad Alpert at Missouri Bullets for some time. He soon convinced me that he knows his bullets and alloys, so I decided to give his bullets a try.

The first step was to build a factory-duplication load, and I used MO Bullet's 'Cowboy #1' which is a 255 RNFP. My goal was to break 800 fps and 7.2 grains of W231 averaged 825 fps. It turned out to be a shooter, too:

For my 'second gear' load I used John Linebaugh's 13.0/HS6/255 SWC load- recommended for Blackhawk-size Rugers, only. With MO Bullet's 'Cowboy #9' it runs 1045 fps, and it'll kill anything wandering the woods down here. Since this is a hunting load, I shot it at 50 yards. I did brain-fart and load one of RNFP's into the cylinder-full that made the following group. It's the shot farthest left, and you may count it or discount it at your discretion:

To say that I'm happy with these bullets is an understatement. These are bulk bullets, underselling a considerable segment of the market, and they shot exceptionally well in this old Vaquero. Missouri Bullets will be getting more of my business.

Now all I’ve got to do is get the heavy-bullet load cooked up!

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ruminations of an Old-School Pistolman…

I’ve been at this stuff awhile and it recently struck me just how radically our thinking on the subject of handguns has changed. At one time, the budding pistolero would read up on the collective works of various gun-gurus, consult a few experienced handgunners, evaluate his needs and then select a handgun.

The general consensus was that one should start with a good .22 handgun and this still makes a lot of sense. It was understood then, that a LOT of shooting would be required to make the journey from novice to expert. Close attention to established marksmanship fundamentals, and due diligence in their application, would still be required; or all that ammunition was simply wasted.

All this work with the rimfire was usually undertaken in the high hopes that perhaps in a year or two, we’d be ready for a real handgun- a .38 or .45. Committed individuals looking for some excitement turned to the .357 and hairy-chested, he-man types might eventually be able to handle the .44 (gasp) Magnum!

Our perception of marksmanship has changed, too. For decades, the gold standard of accuracy for both handgun and shooter was the X-ring of the Official NRA 25 and 50 yard pistol targets. For those unfamiliar with such things, the 50 yard target has an X-ring spanning 1.695 inches. Yes, people hit them regularly at that distance. They did it using ONE hand.

Boy, things are different today! Let’s look at some of the differences.

Today’s budding shooter wants to be an operator. No, not like Lily Tomlin; more like Steven Segal. This operator stuff is just too important for him to waste time with the little 22, so our stalwart decides that his first hand-fusil must at least be a 9mm. To determine what he should buy, he gets on the Internet and finds thousands of ‘cool pics’ of tactical-black handguns, equipped with all manner of flashlight mounts, etc.

The Internet is also where he seeks ‘expert* advice’ which usually means from the guy with the highest post count on his favorite firearms forum. The Internet has also changed the definition of accuracy, with the standard being more of those ‘cool pics’ of targets fired at seven to fifteen yards. Never mind that these targets would have gotten you laughed off the range in 1975.

I shot quite a bit on unsupervised, state-maintained public ranges a few years ago and watching this new generation of handgunners has convinced me that ‘accuracy’, in the classic sense, isn’t important to them at all. I watched in wonder as groups of 2-3 shooters would take turns loading magazines, while one of them would step to the line and empty those magazines as fast as they could jerk a trigger. 100-300 rounds would go downrange in a matter of 15 minutes, with volume of fire being the obvious goal. They were having just a hell of a good time exercising their Constitutional rights and I got a kick out of watching them.

I was usually one bench away, at the 50 yard line, busting cans or clay birds on the dirt berm with whatever handgun I happened to be carrying and/or hunting with. The hosers sometimes noticed I was actually hitting something, but few came over and asked for help on how to actually do it. When they did, the first thing I did was check their zero. Then I walked them through the basics of sight picture, alignment, hold and trigger release. I’d sit them down at my bench, let them shoot over my range bag and often within 20 rounds, I’d have them chasing cans across the berm. It ain’t all that hard when you adhere to the basics.

My perusal of the various Internet gun forums, tells me that many handgun shooters are interested in improving their results. Unfortunately, many get mislead into thinking that ‘mods’ are the answer so they bolt all manner of gee-gaws on their pistol in hopes of buying some skill.

When that don’t work, they watch videos of the various IPSC magicians charging through speed stages in colorful, sponsor-provided attire. Now these guys and gals are fast, and they definitely can shoot; but they didn’t get there by bolting fender skirts and fuzzy dice on their handguns. They did it by ingraining the basics of marksmanship, repeating them until they become second nature, and then making small changes in their technique that allowed them to do it faster. Yes, they burn a lot of ammo- but every round goes toward perfecting accuracy- so it can be done faster by means of committing it to the subconscious. Yes, ‘equipment’ plays a role- but only in the fine point spread that wins specialized matches.

No boys and girls, this modern age of handgunning, with all its fancy guns and equipment, hasn’t changed a thing. There are still absolutes and you must follow them if you intend to hit anything. You still have to zero your sights. You still have to align them, properly and in relation to the target, and you still have to press the trigger without disturbing them.

Want to get better? Want the subconscious ability to hit well under stress, when you life is on the line? The answer is to live with the gun. This topic came up in discussion awhile and my summary answer to the question follows. My good friend Rob Leahy of Simply Rugged Holsters thought it relevant enough to re-post it on his website:

“To me at least this means that you prove the gun, select a carry load and dead zero the sights to that load at 50 yards- meaning that a beer can divided by the front sight grows a hole through the middle. Then you build a bulk reload that shoots to the same spot. You might even build a third, small game and pest load which just cycles the action and also shoots to the sights at say, 20 paces.”

“From that point on you immerse yourself in THAT gun. For me that means ‘to the exclusion of everything else’. When the zero is dead-nuts, you get off the bench drone the accuracy work until you are sick of it. You shoot big and small game with it. If starlings or bluejays are a nuisance and they are dumb enough to offer safe targets of opportunity- they become delicacies for the barn cats instead. When the zero is proven to that degree, you start improving your own ‘zero’ by shooting bullseye targets offhand. When its ‘easy’ you ain’t improving- force yourself to do something harder!”

“For some variety, you do yank & blast (spitting distance), double-triple taps, point shooting and any other fast-close work that forces you to keep the gun running while moving around with it. I work hard enough at that aspect that I sometimes have to really hunt for mags I have dropped along the way. I don’t pay attention to where I changed magazines, or how I released the slide if I ran dry. (I do cuss myself for running dry, though.) All that matters are centerline hits- and that the gun seemed to run itself.”

“You’ll be through about your third 500 cast bullets about now, a pound and a half of powder and at least one bottle of Hoppes. It’s dirty work but few things are more comforting than knowing you can kill a 20-yard bluejay, with the gun you just shoved in your ‘work’ holster.”

I didn’t come up with anything new here. Elmer Keith painted an accurate picture of the process when he wrote:

"More time is required to master the handgun than any other type of firearm. To become an expert sixgun shot, one must live with the gun. Only by constant use and practice can one acquire a thorough mastery of the shortgun. You must work and play with it, eat with it, sleep with it, and shoot it every day - until it becomes a part of you and you handle it as surely as you would your knife and fork at the table." (Sixguns, page 57)

"Pistol shots are not born. They get that way by constant hard work and steady practice, studying each and every move and perfecting their technique..." (Sixguns, page 59)

I credit another friend, Jim Taylor for first citing these Keith quotes in his excellent article, Old School Gunology’ located on his page at the Los Angeles Silhouette Club’s website. A good collection of Jim’s work is available there and it is well worth your time to peruse it.

If you’re going to be loafing around the Internet, you might just as well read something constructive.

*Expert: "The Village Idiot, ten miles from home."