Way back when, a guy bought a SIG P220ST at a local gunshop. He then took that double action/single action (DA/SA) .45ACP and famously “tore down the house that 1911s built” at the 2003 IDPA National Championship and won the CDP title. Never an organization to be so inflexible enough to not ban pistols other than 1911s in the CDP division, IDPA changed the rules, making the P220ST illegal for the CDP division due to new weight restrictions (a newer, lighter P220ST was released shortly thereafter by SIG coincidentally). Personally, this ranks right up there with the time the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) showed up at Camp Perry and used M16s to beat the Marines’ M14s handily as “a moment in time in which I wish I could have been there to laugh with much gusto.” This guy’s name is Ernest Langdon and he is one of those oddballs in the firearms world in that he is a combat veteran and a shooting champion, proving that the tactical and competitive worlds are not mutually exclusive.
Getting a bit closer to the subject of our article, DA/SA handguns are making a comeback in competition and elsewhere. The last five USPSA Production National Championships were won with DA/SA guns, three times with a Beretta and twice now with a Stock II. The noted 1911 manufacturer Wilson Combat is even selling custom Berettas. CZ 75 variants abound in my local USPSA matches.
Finally circling in and landing upon the subject of our article, Ernest Langdon recently found himself in a quandary: he wanted the desirable combination of size, shootability, and magazine capacity that the Glock 19 offers albeit in a DA/SA pistol. I’ll let Ernest tell the rest in his own words, as taken from his original Pistol-Forum post.
The newest handgun on my radar screen is the Beretta PX4 Compact. I’ve never really given it a second thought even though it has been out and available for years. Some people really love the PX4. Some people don’t. I have heard great things about its accuracy and there are still a few police departments carrying the PX4 as their issued side arm. That being said, why is it a gun that almost no one considers as a personal carry option?
I started asking myself this when I was working in the Beretta booth at the NRA Show this year. I was talking to customers about the new handguns from Beretta, like the M9A3, Wilson Combat Brigadier Tactical, and the full 90 series product line. I am fully familiar with all of them, but I was contemplating getting a smaller gun for daily carry. I carry the full-size M9A1 now and while I have become accustomed to it, summer was right around the corner and I wanted something smaller and lighter.
Of course, most would say “get a 92 Compact” and while that was an option, there were a few things that have stopped me from carrying it full-time:
1) No front sight options. You get what you get unless you send it off to Tool Tech and have a night sight put in. No front dove tail!
2) No G model available, or at least not currently. Of course, I could send it down to Wilson Combat and have it converted, but that’s an added cost.
3) 13 round magazines. Not a big deal, but in my opinion, a gun that size should have 15 rounds of 9mm.
4) Hard for me to load with the standard mag. I can do it really well with a full size mag in the compact gun, but a quick reload with the standard 13 round mag often ends up with some of my skin between the frame and floor plate of the magazine. The grip on the 92 Compact is about a ¼ of an inch too short for my hands.
So, this brings me to the PX4. I started playing with the PX4 Compact and realized it had the features I was looking for in a smaller, lighter compact carry gun. The PX4 also has has 15 round mags (17 with extension), dove tail front and rear sights, the safety converts to a G configuration easily and it has the same manual of arms as my full size 92s. Most importantly, I can load it full speed without catching the heal of my hand with the magazine floor plate. Not to mention, the trigger is smooth and shootable out-of-the-box.
The PX4 was feeling like a great option, but there were some other factors to consider. Right off the bat, those huge safety levers! They were way too big for my liking and have some really sharp edges on them. The ambi slide stops are bigger than they need to be and seem to make the gun wider than it should be.
So I started asking the questions…
Ernest: What about those huge safety levers?
Beretta: “We make stealth levers that are much smaller. ”
Ernest: Really? What about those huge ambi slide stops?
Beretta: “We make a smaller single side one.”
Ernest: Really? What about that really little mag button?
Beretta: “We sell a kit with three different size buttons.”
I mean why did I not know this stuff? I consider myself a gun guy and a Beretta guy, but I did not really know anything about the PX4 at all. I knew the safety lever could be converted to G and that it was a rotating barrel design like the Cougar, but that was really about all I knew.
So, when I got back from the show I continued looking into the PX4 with more detail and finally broke down and picked one up from my favorite gun shop, Virginia Arms in Manassas. I drove straight to the range to make sure I wasn’t going to have buyer’s remorse. I put 200 rounds through it right out of the box. Easy to shoot, very flat shooting for the size and weight. (Surprisingly flat shooting, actually). It also hit to point of aim and was very, very accurate!
I liked it, but, of course, I headed home to take it apart and swap out the hammer spring to a 12 pound chrome silicon spring for the 92 (thanks to Bill Wilson for that tip – he likes them too). The DA pull weight decreases quite a bit and I decided to start the 2,000 round-test with this thing. I clean it, lube it, black out the rear sight and add some orange paint to the front dot, slip a piece of bicycle inner tube over the grip and we’re off to the races.
2,040 rounds later and I had no issues; so, 2,240 total at this point and I’m liking my decision so far. (Shot 147 SXTs, 147 grain reloads, 115 AE, 147 AE, 124 AE, 124 Winchester FMJ, 115 grain WinClean, and even some 90 Grain Frangible stuff.) Not a single malfunction.
So, now what? If I am going to carry this thing there are some things that need to be addressed. To start with, I need those “Stealth Levers” I was told about. A call to my buddy Eric Stern at Beretta had those sent my way. I also ordered up as set of Trijicon HD sights and a holster from Custom Carry Concepts. When the sights came in, I did a little bit more trigger work (it’s basically just like a 92 in that respect – lucky for me). I also did a little stipple work on the frame (got rid of the inner tube) and changed out the smaller magazine button for the medium mag button to make it slightly larger. Lucas Gun Oil is what I use for lubricating these pistols.
So here I am, a couple months later and many trips to the range, and I really like this gun. Not kidding! It is almost exactly the same size as a Glock 19, the trigger is now under 7 pounds DA and right at 4 pounds SA. I really like the Trijicon HD Sights. In fact, I now have over 4,000 rounds through this gun with no problems. The only failure I have had with the PX4 was in firing with the 115 WinClean, but it went bang on the second hammer strike by pulling the trigger again. (I don’t blame the gun for that, however, as I have seen lots of FTFs with WinClean.) I like it so much that I am carrying it all the time now and used it to qualify as my off-duty carry gun with the Sheriff’s Department.
The “Stealth Levers” make it a ton thinner. My my measurements the compact is about 6mm thinner with the small levers, but most of that comes from getting rid of the right side slide stop. I don’t have a standard PX4 to measure. The safety levers are about 5mm thinner than the stock ones. So that should do it if that is the widest part of the gun. If the standard PX4 does not have the ambi slide stops, then the safety levers are likely the widest part of the gun.
I have two more PX4’s that I am playing around with and changing things up to see how it performs with different features. I have modified another one, which also has Trijicon HDs, “Stealth” levers, medium mag button, stippling on the grip, G conversion, and more aggressive trigger work. The DA on this one is just over 6 pounds and the SA is 3.5 pounds. I only have about 300 rounds through this gun, but so far, it is just as good as the other one and the better trigger makes it more fun to shoot. I now have one to carry and one to practice with.
I am going to use the third PX4 as a gun to experiment with to see what can really be done with the trigger. So far it has been really easy to get the DA down and I think I can go a lot lighter on the hammer spring with a bit more work. I would not be surprised to get a sub 6 pound DA on this third gun with 100% reliability if I set it up correctly – I’ll keep you posted.
OK, so I now have just a little over 2K through the second gun. A 1,000 of that was Winchester WinClean (known for not being the most reliable ammo) and now a second PX4 has passed the 2,000 round test. So far the best hammer spring is the Cougar “D” spring. Gun has proved to be super accurate with everything I shoot in it and how I have a little over 6K through two guns and they have both been 100% reliable. Interestingly they both run the Winchester WinClean better than my 92 does. The WinClean gives me fits in the 92 pretty often. The PX4 Compact not only runs it well, it seems to shoot it very accurately also.
I have also heard that there are even more parts for the PX4 than I knew about. Turns out Beretta Italy has spent quite a bit of time developing some accessories for these guns. There are 4 different versions of the safety levers in different sizes. There are steel guide rod kits and even an improved trigger group. Basically it is a whole hammer and sear group that just drops into the frame that includes a better hammer spring. Both DA and SA are improved with this kit. I am trying to see if I can get my hands on one to try. This kit includes a stiffer cage that houses everything as well as plated parts for a smoother action.
All-in-all, I don’t know why this gun is not way more popular. If you are like me and prefer a DA/SA Traditional Double Action gun for carry, this is a great option. I carry AIWB, therefore, I prefer an external hammer gun – this PX4 is treating me well.
Here are a few comparison photos for you: