Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thunder in a Small Package

For my second handgun review, I bring you the Bersa Thunder 45 Pro Ultra Compact.  I don't know how much you guys know about Bersa, but they are an Argentinian firearms manufacturer imported by Eagle Imports here in the US.  Many are already familiar with their .380 pistol, which has garnered an almost cult-like following.  Bersa typically replicates other firearms, although I believe this model (the Thunder Ultra Compact; also available in 9mm and .40 S&W) is a unique Bersa design.

Let me start by saying that this pistol will not become your show gun, a safe queen, or anything that you show off to your friends.  However, if you want a .45 that gets the job done, one you don't have to worry about scratching, and most importantly, one that is reliable while being affordable, this may just be your gun. 

The frame is alloy, with a steel slide and polymer grips.  Standard features for the Ultra Compact include ambidextrous safety (switching to safe employs a decocker) and slide release, ambidextrous mag release (can be switched to either side), loaded chamber indicator, polygonal rifling, lifetime customer service, and interchangeable front and rear sights (interchangeable with sig sauer-type sights).  Not listed as a feature, but something I enjoyed was a simple takedown lever, whereby you lock the slide back, flip the lever down, and pull the slide right off the gun (ala Sig).

The finish on it is labeled as "matte," but it looks more "unfinished" to my eye than any particular purposeful finish.  I can't speak to the longevity of the finish, as the model I reviewed is relatively new, and I did not attempt to abuse it.  As I mentioned earlier, you don't have to worry about scratching this one!  It's about as ugly as it will get when it is brand new out of the box.  However, the finish is where you will save a good amount of money.  Without a beautiful finish, the price comes down.  I will try to keep you guys updated on other finish problems (such as rust) as time goes on.  There are also some unexplained "holes" on the top of the slide, which also detract from the overall look, but do not impact performance.

Capacity is good for a compact .45.  The Bersa employs a double-stack magazine, capable of holding 7 rounds.  Therefore, the total capacity for the pistol is 7+1.  As I did not unbox the gun, I'm not sure of how many magazines it comes with, but I do know that new mags are fairly expensive (~$37) and can be hard to get (not carried everywhere).

The action is a DA/SA style, and I found the initial trigger pull to be quite smooth.  I was expecting it to be much more gritty due to the inexpensive nature of the pistol, but was pleasantly surprised.  Followup SA shots were even smoother, with no problems there.

The sights are what I would call "Glock style," with the U-shaped white outline in the back, and a white dot front sight.  Accuracy was very good: the target pictured was only at 7 yards, but I did not get any wild patterns (ignore the 2 down low-I flinched) with it, and I did not get to test it at further distances.  Although I think the pistol would be quite capable at further distances, I would label it as "combat accurate" for purposes of this review.

Recoil was also very manageable.  The pistol is labeled as weighing 27 ounces, which is average to light weight.  I had no trouble managing the recoil, and with the easy-visibility sights, followup shots were a breeze.

Where this gun really stood out to me was in reliability.  That is my first consideration for any gun; I need it to go bang every time, especially if my life (or the lives of my loved ones) depend on it.  I was able to run about 100 rounds through this gun.  Hardly a torture test.  However, considering that these rounds were the first fired through the gun, I would expect any failures to have shown up during this timeframe.  This gun was 100% reliable with approximately 50 rounds of FMJ (230 grain) and 50 rounds of hollow points.  I was especially impressed that it had no problems with the hollow points, as that is where many guns hiccup.  Granted, I would not call this reliability test conclusive, but it definitely caught my attention having had cheap guns before that were not as reliable.

One final way this gun was outstanding was in the price department.  I know I said earlier that magazines can be expensive, but that's more than made up for with the initial cost of the gun.  Budsgunshop.com last had it for $348, which is unbelievable for a reliable compact .45.  They do not have it in stock right now, but impactguns.com does have it in stock for approximately $400, which is still pretty good.  So with the savings over a more expensive gun, you can afford a couple more mags and some ammo.

To sum it up, Straight recommends this gun to those who are looking for a reliable, compact .45 which can be subject to some abuse.  Throw this one in a toolbox, a glove box, or a backpack, and it will remain unharmed.  You wouldn't do that to your $1k Sig/H&K/1911 (at least, I wouldn't!), but with this gun, you never have to worry about getting that first scratch.  It comes from the factory that way! ;~)  I highly recommend it for the low price, high reliability, and good accuracy.  I will be checking out more Bersa products in the future!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Announcing The Art of the Dynamic Shotgun

My review of the Dynamic Handgun inspired to me post this trailer for the upcoming "Art of the Dynamic Shotgun."  I may not get this one since I don't have a tactical shotgun, but I think it would be great for someone who does.  Of course, the trailer gets you fired up.  Enjoy!

DVD Review - The Art of the Dynamic Handgun

I think I promised a while back that this review would be forthcoming. Well, here it is....finally. Guys, this four DVD set is some of the best stuff I've ever seen for gun training. I considered myself to be an "experienced" handgun shooter until I watched this DVD set. There were *so* many things I learned from Chris Costa and Travis Haley, the two instructors. Make no mistake, this video is extremely well done, with professional shots for instruction and application.

Let me start off my listing the contents (something difficult to find online in my experience!), then I'll go over some of the things I found to be most applicable.

Disc One: The Dynamic Handgun
Seven Fundamentals of Shooting
The Draw
Tactical & Speed Reloads
Balance of Speed and Accuracy
Kneeling & Supine Positions
Prone & Urban Prone

Disc Two: The Dynamic Handgun Part II
Off Line of Attack
Shooting on the Move
Reflexive Firing
Combat Mindset
Reality Check
Scenarios: LEO, Military, Civilian, Student & Concealment
Special Features

Disc Three: Concealed Carry
Concealed Carry Lifestyle
Drawing from Concealment
Off Line of Attack
Single Hand Operation
Special Features

Disc Four: Drills and Special Features
Handgun Accessories (Belts, Holsters, Lights and Lasers)
48 Quick Reference Drills

I can't possibly go over everything I learned or thought was good, but suffice it to say, I do not regret paying approximately $50 for this DVD set. I discovered after many years of shooting that I was not gripping the gun in the best possible way that I could. As a result, my patterns have gotten better, followup shots are faster, and I have more control over the muzzle of the gun in general. Further, they pointed out that for reloads, malfunction clearing, etc., the gun should be in your "workspace" (up at chest/face level instead of down at the waist) to ensure you are keeping an eye on your target area. When I saw that, it was one of those "duh" moments; it made sense, but I had never actually thought through it (all my work to that point had been done at waist level with my head down....dumb). There were so many moments like this during the series, I couldn't possibly list them all.

I promise you, if you apply what you see on these DVDs, you *will* end up a better/more knowledgeable shooter because of it. The people being recorded on the DVDs are cops/military/shooting industry people/regular civilians. If they can learn something from the course, of course most of us average Joe's will as well.

You really have to watch these DVDs several times to get even 50% of what they're teaching you. But, there's good news: on disc four, all of the drills that you can practice are demonstrated in full speed, 50%, and 30%. You can jump or select chapters to go over the drills on which you need to work. This is VERY helpful to master the various aspects of using your handgun.

Overall, I recommend this DVD set to beginners, amateurs, and experienced shooters alike. EVERYONE that wants to become proficient with a handgun should buy this course! Chris and Travis are never arrogant, but they are extremely experienced. They know what they're talking about, and they are very likable to boot. You will want to learn from them. That's the magic of the series, and has kept me coming back over and over again. Don't make a bad decision: buy this DVD set NOW!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Product Review: NcSTAR 3-9 x 42mm Mark III Tactical Scope

I recently acquired the NcSTAR Mark III Tactical scope with carry handle mount for use with my AR-15.  I have to say, guys, this is a very neat scope for the money.  First of all, let me start by explaining some of the features it offers, then going through what I think about those features and other comments I may have along the way.

This particular scope is offered with both a carry handle mount (like mine) and a picatinny mount.  Because I have a carry handle that I like using for open sights, I chose the carry handle mounted scope as my best option.  I like this setup because I can "cowitness" both the open sights and the scope; so for close ranges, I can use the open sights, then if I was going to shoot long range, I could move my head up and utilize the scope.  I have a friend who has this same scope with the picatinny mount, and I will warn you that if you choose to go that route, you will want to purchase a "riser" picatinny rail, as the scope would sit too low on a flattop AR to be comfortable for normal use.  With the carry handle mount, the scope sits a little higher than what I'm used to, but it is still very serviceable, but something to consider.

The scope is offered in mil-dot, rangefinder, and other reticles.  I have the rangefinder version, which uses a range-finding reticle to estimate distance provided a standard width target.  I can go into detail of how it works if someone needs me to, but I won't bore the rest of you with the nitty-gritties of it all.

More importantly, the scope offers an adjustment knob for a 55 grain .223 caliber bullet for yardage from 100 to 500 yards.  Once you have the dial set to 100 yards, and then sight it in for that range, you can simply turn the knob at further ranges, and the scope will adjust the reticle for zero at that range.  I was able to try this by going from 100 yards to 200, and it seemed to work quite well (see the middle circle on the target; the four small areas were at 100 yards [sighting it in] while the primary circle was at 200 yards).  You won't win any shooting competitions with this scope, but for tactical accuracy, it's great!  I had no problems putting all five shots into a 2.5 inch square, which could be just as much a reflection on this shooter as it is the scope (remember that I was shooting a 16" AR platform).

Perhaps the coolest feature of this scope is the illuminated reticle.  You can adjust the brightness of the scope from one to three for both red and green.  Of course, you probably would never need this, but it definitely adds to the "second kind of cool."

Overall, I would recommend this scope to those who are looking for an inexpensive tactical scope that can attach to your AR with very little modification.  It is not a Leupold or a Swarovski, but it is serviceable scope that I would feel comfortable shooting out to 200-250 yards.  You can typically get this scope at a gun show for less than $100 or at your favorite online dealer.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Five for Sure

For my first gun review on Straight Shooting, I thought I would review the venerable Smith & Wesson model 637 revolver. This gun is an "airweight" (aluminum alloy frame), reliable, double-action five shot revolver. This gun is a perfect companion for concealed carry. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.

The J-frame revolvers offered from Smith and Wesson are extremely compact. This particular model is 6 3/8” long, 1 1/4” wide, and height will depend on the grips on the gun (with the crimson trace grips that I have, the gun is 5” tall. The barrel is extremely short (1 7/8 inches), which means that you will lose some velocity compared to a 4” barrel, but it’s not a big deal considering the higher concealability. The weight is where this gun really shines: 15 oz. empty! Let’s compare that to a Glock 26 (subcompact 9mm); the Glock (which is polymer and steel) weighs 19.75 oz. empty. So very, very light.

Although the gun is very compact and light, the recoil is still very controllable. This pistol is chambered in .38 special + p, which means it can shoot standard .38’s as well as the more aggressive “+p” rounds. My wife carries this model and does not have a problem with keeping on target or flinching with each shot. Of course, she does not prefer the +p rounds, but that’s not a problem. One can simply practice with standard .38s and then load the +p’s for self defense carry. In a real life shooting situation, the adrenaline would cover any additional perceived recoil.

As we know from my previous post, .38 special is not the most powerful load for a handgun. However, it’s one I would trust, as would millions of others. This is an extremely popular round, thus guaranteeing ease of finding ammo fairly inexpensively. The big drawback to the caliber is that it’s revolver only, meaning that reloading is going to be slow. So you are more or less stuck with the number of cylinders (in this case five). That being said, remember that the FBI statistics of self defense shootings suggest that most encounters are three shots or less. Therefore, for most “social situations” (ie. *not in the slums with druggies everywhere), five rounds is plenty adequate to make room for an escape or stop a threat.

The biggest advantage of this revolver is the title of this entry. Five *for sure*. I have NEVER had my revolver jam on me, fail to eject, failure to *anything*. It has consistently gone “bang” every time I pull the trigger; exactly what you want from a concealed carry gun. When lives are on the line, seconds can be eternities, and there is no room for doubt about your weapon. This little revolver will function every time all the time.

This is a traditional double action revolver, meaning that it has a hammer, and can be fired by either pulling the trigger or by cocking the hammer and then pulling the trigger (for a lighter trigger pull). The beauty is the ease of use. It fires just like you’d think a gun would! No safeties to worry about (the safety is in the handling: don’t point it at anything you don’t want to destroy, and don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to destroy it!), just aim and pull the trigger. There is no need to worry about the trigger going off on its own as it takes a good firm pull to the rear to discharge. They also offer similar models without hammers, etc., depending on the shooter’s needs. Hammerless models are less likely to get caught when drawing, but Straight prefers the hammered versions due to the option to have a lighter trigger pull when cocked. However, that is just my opinion, and you should select a handgun based on your needs.

Some additional perks of the Smith and Wesson are interchangeable grips (you don’t like rubber? Switch to classic wood or synthetic with just one screw), and lifetime warranty to original purchasers. Smith & Wesson are renowned for their excellent customer service, although their revolvers are such high quality, I doubt that most will ever need to take advantage of this. There are plenty of holsters for these guns, so you should have no problem finding a way to carry this every day.

Smith & Wesson are the industry leaders for revolvers, and because of this, you will pay a slight premium for their products. However, their quality control for revolvers is second to none. Also, the gun will retain its value much better than other brands. Some of the differences you’ll find between revolver brands will be the smoothness of the trigger pull, the tightness of the moving parts (no rattle or “give”), and the quality of the finish. This revolver’s street price is approximately $450 without crimson trace (laser) grips, and approximately $650 with those laser grips. In the future, I plan to review some less expensive alternatives. However, you will definitely be getting your money’s worth with the Smith.

Straight Shooter recommends this pistol to those who want a simple operation and utter reliability in a compact, lightweight package, and don’t mind giving up a few rounds to achieve this. Feel free to sound off in the comments section with anything I’ve missed or other opinions you may have! As for me, I’m going to stick with five for sure!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Concealed Carry Options

There are a tremendous number of options when it comes to selecting a method for concealed carry.  Once you have your permit in your respective state, it's time to go shopping for some holsters.  Yes, I said holsters (plural) rather than a single holster solution.  That's because no holster/method of carry is perfect.  You always need to adapt to your circumstances, and most of us are not always wearing the same thing all the time.  I'm going to present a few options with which I have experience, and I'll let others chime in on the comments section about their favorite methods and why.

The first option is a standard holster.  That is, it's outside the waistband.  This method is better for larger guns that will not fit (or are too uncomfortable) inside your waistband with a larger barrel.  The only way to conceal utilizing this method is to wear a longer shirt untucked or a coat (jacket, suit jacket, winter coat, etc.).  As you can see, it conceals very well and is relatively easy to get to.  The drawbacks to this approach are that you must always wear something untucked/over the gun and unless your holster is snug enough, you may not be able to run with it.  One advantage to this method is that it can be used for open carry and can also allow for one handed reholstering (with the right holster selection: a firm leather or kydex holster).

Next is the "in the waistband" approach (IWB).  This method of carry holds the gun much more snugly against the body as it is inside your waistband.  Typically, these holsters are for smaller guns, with a clip going over the outside edge of your pants to hold the holster in place when you draw.  Since the nose of the gun is inside your pants, you do not need a long shirt to cover it; only something that goes past your waistline.  With a small gun like a revolver, you can wear this kind of holster with shorts and a light t-shirt without concern of printing or flashing.  The downside is that IWB holsters usually don't allow for one-handed reholstering and are usually restricted to smaller guns (although I have no doubt some people could hide a 1911 IWB).

Finally, there are shirts that are designed to hold your gun under another shirt (under your arm).  Mine is from 5.11 Tactical, and is made from stretchy material to keep the gun snug up against you.  It also has padding on the outside of the gun pouch to smooth out the lines and keep it from printing.  It works very well for deep concealment, and the advantage is that it can be worn with either golf shirts or dress shirts tucked in.  Another advantage is that they will work with almost any gun (not specific to a type of gun like most holsters).  The disadvantage is that this is the hardest to get to in an emergency, but with a little practice, it should still fall well within the two second rule (you should be able to go from concealment to "shooter ready" within two seconds).  Another disadvantage is that these shirts can be hot and itchy.

Although these are not the only types of holsters, they have worked well for me.  I will try to bring reviews of specific holsters in the near future.  Please feel free to post with your experience with concealed carry holsters!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Handgun Calibers

Before I get into handgun reviews, I want to start off with a few discussions, or prerequisites, to build our fundamental understanding of guns before starting to review them specifically. Today I want to look at calibers and how they affect gun choice.

There are many common calibers to choose from when selecting a handgun, and I’m going to get into some of them, but first, let’s discuss something more basic. A projectile basically has two properties to it as it relates to caliber: 1) weight of the bullet, and 2) the amount of powder behind it. In other words, each caliber is going to have a certain weight range for its projectiles (weight is determined by the length of the projectile since the width is set), as well as a maximum amount of powder behind it (determined by the brass that holds the projectile; also determined by length since the width is set). Usually, the wider the bullet diameter, the heavier it will be.

To put it simply, lighter bullets tend to go faster given the same amount of powder. In the same way, given the same weight bullet, more powder typically makes the bullet go faster (although not always the case). Bullet weight is measured in grains, as is the amount of powder (1 grain = approximately 65 milligrams). However, for our purposes, I am going to discuss weight range and velocity range for the projectiles.

Why is this important, you ask? Because the heavier a bullet is or the faster it is going, generally the more damage it will do to its intended target.

Now, if I haven’t managed to confuse you yet, let’s press on to specifics of these calibers. I am going to focus on the most common calibers out there, in order of their relative power (weakest to strongest - this is my scale, and good men may differ on this): .380 ACP, .38 special, 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W, .357 magnum, .45 ACP.

.380 ACP: The .380 ACP is what many consider to be the very minimum they would carry for self defense. These bullets are .355” in diameter, which is exactly 9mm (this round is also called the “9mm short”). The cases are shorter than a standard 9mm case, which means that these bullets have less powder behind them than a 9mm. Typical bullet weights range from 85-95 grains, and achieve an average velocity of 1000 feet per second. Most guns that are chambered for this round have a capacity of 7-9 rounds.

.38 special: Ah, the classic snub-nose revolver. This cartridge first became popular as a police round and is still widely respected as a great concealed carry caliber. The projectiles are .357” in diameter, and typical weights are anywhere from 110-158 grains. From a four inch barrel, these bullets are capable of approximately 700-1000 fps, although you do lose some velocity from a 2” snub barrel. There is also a “+p” variant of this caliber which indicates additional powder. You should only shoot +p bullets in a handgun that is labeled as a “.38 special +p”. This round is only available for revolvers, so typical capacity is 5, but some are up to 7 rounds of firepower. Oh, and a bit of trivia; it’s called a “.38” because the diameter of the brass is .38”, even though the actual projectiles are .357”.

9mm Parabellum: Also known as the 9mm NATO, 9mm Luger, and 9x19. This is the most popular handgun caliber in the world today, and for good reason! It offers high speed projectiles, light weight, and high capacities. There are so many guns to choose from when going with this caliber. Also, you shouldn’t have to worry about finding ammo for this during the apocalypse as it is what all military and most law enforcement uses. The projectiles are .356” in diameter and typical weights for these bullets are 115-140 grains. What really sets the round apart, though, is the screaming velocity: 1000-1400 fps. Due to the lighter weight and higher speed, some complain that the bullets “overpenetrate” and don’t transfer enough energy to the intended target. However, with the right bullet choice (hollow points instead of FMJ), I don’t believe this is a significant issue. Handguns in this caliber have a typical capacity of 7-17 rounds, depending on the size of the handgun.

.40 S&W: The .40 S&W has the honorable distinction of being the only caliber listed that was actually a step *down from another caliber (instead of an attempt to make an existing caliber stronger). It’s a good compromise between the speed of the 9mm round and the weight of the .45 rounds (and my personal favorite). Projectiles are .4005” and typically 155-185 grains. Standard loads put them at 1000-1300 fps, and capacities are usually from 7-15 rounds.

.357 magnum: The .357 is another revolver-only caliber. However, this is one of the granddaddies of them all, and is actually powerful enough that most states allow it to be used as a deer hunting cartridge. Bullets are .357” in diameter (duh!) and usually 125-158 grains, but they come screaming out of the barrel at 1200-1600 fps. As mentioned before, this is a revolver-only caliber, so 5-7 rounds are about all you can expect in terms of capacity. As an added plus for this caliber, all .357s can shoot .38 special rounds (but you should NEVER try to shoot a .357 in a .38 special), since the .38 is the same diameter projectile, but just has less powder behind it (due to a shorter brass case).

.45 ACP: As the old saying goes, “I carry a .45 because they don’t make a .46.” The .45 is the brute of handgun cartridges. These are slow, fat bullets. But, it’s undeniably a knockdown powerhouse. These bullets are .452” and extremely heavy (185-230 grains). Speed is sacrificed a bit (800-1100 fps), as is typical capacity (7-14 rounds), but if you want the job done right the first time, this is the one for you!

Ok, so let’s briefly address a question you may have. Why would you not carry a .45 all the time, right? I mean, it’s the big gun! That’s exactly the point. My ranking also closely follows the size and recoil of these handguns (although there’s more to it than that, and we’ll get into more of that later). So, while a .45 has undeniable stopping power, it’s also most likely to have the biggest frame for a handgun (making it less concealable) and the most recoil, as well as lower capacity. This is where the fun part starts, though! Now we get to start balancing all of these factors to determine what is the best caliber for you!

Soon I will start reviewing specific handguns, but I wanted everyone to be on the same page about calibers and understand the differences. I hope this has been helpful and clear. If you have any questions, please feel free to post in the comments section. Looking forward to helping you make the right choice of handgun for *you*!