Project: Red dot pistols

Here’s something we’ve worked on in the past, but never spent a significant amount of pixels on. However, with the addition of USPSA’s Production Optics division there’s finally a place where you can take your slide mounted red dot pistol and pressure test your skills. While I think the PO division rules are a little wonky, it’s still better than nothing.

m&p pro core

I’ve been beating the slide mounted red dot drum for a while, and spent a decent amount of time and effort campaigning for IDPA to have a Carry Optics division created. That unfortunately failed, as IDPA choice to add the Glock 19 division CCP division instead. Then in a curious development, USPSA went ahead and approved Production Optics. That was also odd, because what, 2 years ago IPSC killed Modified, which would have been a great place for these guns to play, but that’s a different post for a different time.

But if we want to do this red dot thing right, we need some test platforms. Here’s what we currently have in the stable:

  • M&P9L Pro CORE – 5 inch M&P equipped with a Leupold Deltapoint
  • M&P9 with thumb safety – currently the gun I’m carrying, equipped with an RMR02
  • Lone Wolf TimberWolf 9mm with ALG 6 Second Mount – This gun does not have a slide mounted optic, it’s set up for an Aimpoint Micro or similar optics, more on why we’re rolling this later.
  • Coming soon: Timberwolf Compact with RM06

Smith & Wesson M&P9 in PHLster Skeleton

Before Production Optics came around, the only place where you could really compete with these guns was in Open division, where you’d get trashed by race guns with fixed optics. The reciprocating dot isn’t competitive with a fixed dot, it just isn’t. But now, if you’re willing to stay within the limitations of the division, you can compete with your gun heads up. And lots of companies are now offering pre-cut guns for dots. Glock and Smith & Wesson both have factory guns set up for a slide mounted optic, and at NRAAM this year Kahr got into the game as well. There are also loads of shops doing slide cuts now as well. There’s never been a better time to play with red dot equipped carry guns, and it’s a subject I’m personally fascinated with.

What are the advantages of a red dot equipped pistol? While they are slower for me in rapid fire, it’s also easier to be accurate out of the gate with them, and it’s much easier for new shooters to learn to shoot with two eyes open with a dot equipped gun. There are drawbacks, of course. Batteries, and the potential for your optic to lose zero from getting battered around at 1 billion Gs when the slide flies around from regular shooting. However, because the trend of dot mounted pistols has been growing, manufacturers are taking that kind of abuse into account when they build their dots.

Of course the real reason I want to run red dot guns? I think they’re cool. Yes, there is a lot of good data we can get from this project, and I’m glad that I finally have the time and resources to do it right, but ultimately? I’m doing it because if I learned one thing from taking 8 months off, it’s that there’s no time for shooting projects that don’t interest me. Red dot equipped pistols are interesting.

Timberwolf with ALG 6 Second Mount

Training again and it sucks

After taking (now) 8 months off from any sort of shooting sports training, over the holiday weekend I finally sacked up, loaded up some guns and ammo and went to the new Badlands Gun Range here in Sioux Falls. A quick note on the range itself, which I’m going to talk about later on, it is by far one of the nicest facilities I’ve ever had the pleasure to shoot at. Right up there with the NRA HQ range or West Coast Armory in Bellevue. But anyway, back to training.

Smith & Wesson M&P9 in PHLster Skeleton

I took two guns, my M&P9 with RMR that I’ve been using as an EDC, and an M&P9L Pro. I had a couple of specific training goals: check the zero on my RMR, and then use the Pro to work on draws to a low percentage target and reloads. Zero on the RMR gun is fine, and it functioned well with a magazine of carry ammo, so it basically got loaded up and sent back into its holster for the duration of the session. The reason I had the Pro out is because it’s the only gun I currently own that’s legal for IDPA SSP and ESP both; and we also have a CORE version of it if I wanted to get silly and play Production Optics (I want to get silly and play Production optics).

So let’s look at the actual training. 8 months off is a long time, so I needed to set some baselines first to see where I was at. First drill was straightforward, shoot Dot Torture at 5 yards. 49/50, and the only reason I dropped a point was because the first shot out of the holster I wasn’t quite aware of the gun’s POA/POI, so the first round went low. Everything after that was where I wanted it to be. Not bad.

Smith & Wesson M&P9L Pro

Up next was 2 shots to a 3×5 card at 7 yards. I set the par time to a generous 3.00 seconds to start with, which I was able to beat pretty easily. I’ve always like the way the 9mm M&P Pros return in recoil, which makes running this drill a bit simpler. I dropped the par to 2.5, then 2.25, and finally 2.00, all working from an open top holster without concealment. I struggled a bit around 2.00, which isn’t too surprising, given how much time I’ve taken off. But honestly, I was feeling pretty good. I was getting my hits, my draw was nice and smooth, everything felt awesome.

Then I started working on reloads. Oh my dear giddy aunt, I suck so bad. Sure, I can reload the gun smoothly…but quickly? Nope. My shot to shot reloads were all over 2.00 seconds, and try as I might I couldn’t get there. I was actually starting to get really frustrated with myself, because my reloads sucked pretty hard. I know how to fix it though…lots and lots of dry fire. In fact, dry fire is the best place to fix reloads, because you can remove a lot of the distractions and focus entirely on the fundamentals.

My first training session coming back from months off definitely showed me a lot. My accuracy, the fundamental of my marksmanship hasn’t degraded. I can still shoot itty-bitty groups really slow, which is nice I guess. I can still run the gun itself pretty quick, I turned in a 1.88 bill drill as my last exercise of the day. But I can’t reload the gun worth two bags of dog crap, and that’s a big problem. If you’re shooting Production or IDPA, reloads are important. You’ve only got 10 rounds in the gun, which means almost every IDPA stage will involve a reload, and most USPSA stages will have an average of 3 per stage.

Guess that means I’ll be doing some dry fire today. The point of the story? Downtime was good for me, it really was. I needed it, but if I want to get back to where I was and even get better, I’m going to need to hit the dry fire pretty hard.

Roadmap to no-lock heaven

Yesterday, we talked briefly about how Smith & Wesson will always have the infernal lock as part of their revolver line. However, there are ways that they could be rid of the lock. The following is pure speculation on my part, but if I was the CEO of Smith & Wesson, here’s how I’d get rid of the IL without ending up on CNN.

Smith & Wesson 640 Pro Series

First, we have to remember that S&W is currently making some guns with no lock. The best example, and the only one I happen to have handy is the 640 Pro Series. They also did a run of the Model 42 in their classics line which lacked the IL. To my knowledge they haven’t made any medium or large frame guns recently without the lock. When you look at S&W’s lineup there is a perfect place to start the war on the lock, and that’s the Performance Center (and Pro Series) line of guns. The Pro Series/PC guns are marketed as “for shooters” and bring a higher price point than the standard revolvers in their lineup. That makes them the perfect place to start removing the IL. Offer all of the Pro Series and PC guns in “no-lock” configurations for a slightly additional premium. In year 1 of our three year plan, the no-lock Pro/PC guns would represent a small chunk of the lineup, with an appropriate price increase.

The reason they’d have to be more expensive than the lock-equipped PC guns is because the CNC machine doesn’t know if it’s making an N-frame for a vanilla 629 with a lock or a 929 no-lock gun, it’s just following a program. So you’d have to run a special program for the no-lock guns, and that costs money and time. That’s why the no-lock PC/Pro guns would carry a small price increase relative to the other guns in their class.

It’s a solid assumption that those guns would sell out. That gives S&W the financial justification to expand the “no-lock” modification to the entire Pro Series and PC lineup, because the no-lock guns sold so well in year 1. Now in year 2, all guns in that class are sold without a lock, leaving only the “standard” revolvers and the classic line equipped with the IL. Year 2 is the most dangerous part of the operation, because the no-lock guns have to sell well enough that they cut into the sales figures for the lock equipped guns. That in itself is a risk, because if the no-lock guns undermine S&W’s core lineup, there’s a 50/50 chance that they just get killed off. So in year 2, we need two things to happen: the no-lock guns to sell great, and the appropriate corporate people to look at the sales numbers and go “huh, people really like no-lock wheelguns. Let’s sell more of these.”

Which brings us to year 3, when S&W announces their new “Collector’s Series,” a spin off of the Classic series. Here at the end-game, the classic series is essentially discontinued in all but name only, and replaced with the Collector’s Series, which are all no-lock versions of S&W’s historical greats, the Model 10, the 29, etc. After three years, the IL continues to exist in S&W’s “main” production revolvers, however all guns branded under Performance Center, Pro Series, or Collector’s Series are now sold without IL, with these guns making up the bulk of S&W’s revolver sales now. As time goes by, the lock would simply be quietly phased out of all production, citing reasons like “cost savings” – since the no-lock guns were outselling the lock equipped guns.

Sadly, this is all speculative on my part. Would it work? Probably. There are some rough spots in the plan that would need to be worked out, and I know that it likely won’t happen, but it’s healthy for me to exercise my mind. Until then, I’ll keep buying revolvers with the lock, because it’s really not that big a deal. But man…it sure would be nice to be able to buy a factory new, no-lock Model 25 in .45 Colt.

Revolver Tour #11: Smith & Wesson 986

Smith & Wesson 986

As it turns out, I like revolvers chambered for autopistol cartridges. I have three right now, a 625, a 929, and this – the Smith & Wesson 986 Pro Series. This a seven shot L-frame chambered in 9mm, and in my opinion it’s the best of the 9mm Smith guns.

Continue reading “Revolver Tour #11: Smith & Wesson 986”

Choosing the right revolver for concealed carry

After looking at several options, I selected the S&W 638 as my new small revolver.
After looking at several options, I selected the S&W 638 as my new small revolver.

A couple of weeks ago I talked a bit about the ubiquity and utility of the small revolver and mentioned that I’d purchased one for myself. Today I want to talk about the options on the market and why I made the selection that I did. First, my requirements: A durable, reliable revolver in a minimum chambering of .38 SPL (rated to handle +P ammunition) that is small and light enough to carry in the pocket of a pair of gym shorts.

If you look on gunstore shelves you will see a number of different options for small revolvers. The cheapest are typically the revolvers made by Taurus and Rossi…and I find neither brand appealing. Because I’m a shameless brand snob? No, because Taurus has a pretty dreadful track record for quality control and reliability of their products and their customer support has been pretty horrible, too. I have not personally encountered a single happy long term Taurus owner who bought a gun from them manufactured after the early 1990’s. I’ve seen scores of guns sent back and I know of some stores who outright refuse to carry Taurus products because of angry customers bringing back broken guns. There are other options on the market that don’t come with all that baggage, so I’d rather just buy one of those.

That pretty much leaves Smith & Wesson and Ruger. This isn’t a bad thing as both manufacturers make a pretty good range of revolvers intended for concealed carry. Ruger’s flagship snubby has been the SP101, a very durable revolver. Unfortunately the bit of extra heft and size that makes it pleasant to shoot with hot loads also makes it difficult to fit inside a pants pocket, so I had to rule it out. The Ruger LCR seems like a decent little revolver with a nice trigger, but unfortunately it’s also just a tad bulkier than what I’m looking for in a small revolver. That left me looking at Smith & Wesson revolvers.

This doesn’t really narrow things down too much as Smith & Wesson makes quite a few small revolvers. They’ve been making J frames for a long time and over the years they’ve offered so many different configurations I couldn’t even begin to list them all. The most recent innovation in small revolvers from Smith & Wesson is their “Bodyguard” series of revolvers. When those were introduced I was quite excited because the J frame, as good as they are at what they do, could definitely stand to be improved. The triggers on them are quite heavy and the deplorable gutter sights are difficult to use even under ideal range conditions…much more so on moving targets in low light. The prospect of a modernized J frame with a replaceable front sight, a better trigger, and a more ambidextrous cylinder latch had me out hunting for one to handle in person. When I did finally get to touch one, my enthusiasm drained almost immediately. The internal lock work of the “Bodyguard” revolvers is completely different than that of a traditional J frame. The trigger may have been a tad lighter, but it was worlds rougher. I was also completely underwhelmed with the laser they included on the revolvers. The original lasers that came on the guns were made by Insight, and they were awful. The laser itself was weak, and the controls were so awkwardly placed I wondered aloud if anyone who designed that thing had ever actually tried to draw this revolver from a holster, activate the laser, and then fire an accurate shot with it under any form of stress. I’m betting they didn’t. The newer production guns are apparently shipping with laser modules from Crimson Trace which probably offer a much brighter and more visible laser, but from the looks of things they still have the same useless controls.

Handling “Bodyguard” revolvers again before my latest purchase, all the same drawbacks were immediately apparent. I stood there with one of the “Bodyguard” revolvers in one hand and the S&W 638 I eventually bought in the other hand and thought “Why couldn’t they just put a replaceable front sight and a decent rear sight on the 638?” The “Bodyguard” is not, in my opinion, the way forward for the small revolver. The S&W model 640 “Pro” is much closer to what I think an improved J frame should be thanks to the better sights and improved trigger pull with the reliable and proven J frame internals. Sadly it’s also rather heavy and rather rare, so it wasn’t a realistic option for my needs.

Tubbs' signature sidearm in Miami Vice was the original S&W Bodyguard
Tubbs’ signature sidearm in Miami Vice was the original S&W Bodyguard

I ended up purchasing the S&W 638. For most of my years on the planet a J frame with a shrouded hammer was referred to as the “Bodyguard.” If you asked a gun nerd what revolver Ricardo Tubbs was packing in Miami Vice, he/she would tell you that Rico packed a S&W Bodyguard. Why S&W decided to name their new gun “Bodyguard” despite having nothing in common with the original, I’ll never know. To me the appeal of the original Bodyguard was having a useful hammer that wouldn’t snag in the pocket. Generally speaking one shouldn’t depend on the single-action function of a small revolver but a part of me has always liked the idea of having the ability to use it should I want to. With the shrouded hammer you can get that without any worries that the revolver will hang up in your pocket as you attempt to draw. I’ve also owned “Centennial” style revolvers like the S&W 442 and had good service from them, but the original Bodyguard has been on my brain for a long time and it was actually cheaper on the shelf than the “Centennial” revolvers…so I went with it.

It’s not a perfect handgun, certainly, but the 638 fills my requirements for a small revolver better than just about anything else at the pricepoint where I snagged it. The store I bought it from actually had the gun on sale, discounted from the already reasonable price S&W’s Airweight revolvers sell for anyway. When I did the Hi-Point test a while back I mentioned that if I had a bare minimum of cash to spend on a handgun for personal defense that the Hi-Point would be my absolute last choice. One of S&W’s Airweight revolvers, on the other hand, would be among my first. The compact size, relatively light weight, and reasonable price point make them a very attractive option for concealed carry. There’s a pretty sizeable aftermarket for these little revolvers, too, so some of the imperfections can be ameliorated somewhat with intelligent modifications…which we will get into later.

More on the IDPA ban of the CZ Accu-Shadow

Yesterday, the day before IDPA Nationals kicked off, IDPA announced via email to members and a post on their facebook page that the CZ Accu-Shadow was not legal for SSP. The internet reacted predictably, with at least one shooter affected by the decision voicing his displeasure here in the comments. Many other shooters not affected by the decision, or even shooting IDPA Nationals, also voiced their objections. Objections to the decision fall along two fairly broad lines. 1st, the timing of the announcement by IDPA, and 2nd that the ruling banning the Accu-Shadow is not consistent with IDPA’s other rulings. Let’s take a look at both of those.

cz accu-shadow

IDPA released the ruling in social media on Monday, and via email to their members on Tuesday. We published it on Tuesday to make sure that any affected shooters would have access to the information prior to leaving for the match. The timing of the ruling is undoubtedly terrible. It leaves affected shooters in the position of needing to find a new gun and possibly magazines to compete with in the match, or to use one of the loaner guns provided by IDPA. I have argument with anyone who objects to the ruling based on the timing of it.

However, let’s look at the options. Option 1 would be to say “screw it, the Accu-Shadow is legal for this match, we’ll ban it afterward.” That would have been better in my opinion, but would have created the inevitable push-back from shooters that would used the Accu-Shadow’s legality at Nationals as a reason to keep it legal in SSP forever. Alternatively, IDPA could have simply DQ’d every shooter who showed up with an Accu-Shadow. I think we can all agree that would have been the worst choice of all.

The question raised by this is “why does it matter?” Well, it matters because a strict reading of the IDPA rules would actually make the Accu-Shadow illegal for SSP. That’s the second part of this, the consistency of the ruling.

To understand why the Accu-Shadow is illegal for SSP, you have to understand what the Accu-Shadow is. It is a custom variant of the CZ75 Shadow, which has an external barrel bushing fitting to it in order to improve accuracy. Barrel bushings are on the list of prohibited modifications in SSP.The Accu-Shadow is made by CZ Custom. CZ Custom is not a division of CZ-USA, but is in fact an independent company. CZ-USA may list the Accu-Shadow on their website, but because the bushing is not an OEM part made by CZ and fitted by CZ, the modifications to the Accu-Shadow make it illegal for SSP, and by default then illegal for IDPA. It’s the difference between a Roush Mustang, which is modified by a third party, and a Mopar Challenger. Dodge owns Mopar, Ford doesn’t own Roush.

Some of the objections have noted that IDPA allowed guns from the Performance Center which have illegal modifications to play, specifically, the PC 1911s with the cool slide cuts are legal for CDP. The reasoning behind this ruling is that those slides are OEM, they’re made by S&W and if you want to buy one, you order it from Smith, not a custom shop. Those slide cuts are functionally the same as the hogged out slides on Glock 34s and XDm 5.25 pistols – factory original equipment placed there by the manufacturer.

That’s the big difference here – the bushing modification to the Accu-Shadow isn’t OEM. Yes, it’s in the CZ Catalog, but just because a thing is listed in a catalog doesn’t make it OEM. As a sharp commenter pointed out yesterday, you can frequently buy Roush Mustangs from the Ford Dealer, that doesn’t mean that Ford offers those parts.

This is a frustrating issue for many shooters, and I believe that the timing makes it worse. I honestly feel that if this ruling had been made after the match, and the affected shooters allowed to shoot in SSP with their Accu-Shadows, that would have been the best choice. As it is, there are at least four people affected by this ruling who will now need to bring alternate guns to the match.

Smith & Wesson® Expands M&P® Series with New M&P®22 Compact Pistol

GunUp the Magazine will have an exclusive first look at the M&P22 Compact in the September issue, available August 20th on iPad, iPhone and Android. Visit the App Store to download and subscribe or Google Play for Android.


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (August 12, 2014) — Smith & Wesson Corp. announced today that it has added a new model to the company’s flagship line of M&P® polymer pistols with the introduction of the M&P22 Compact. Engineered to professional standards, the new tactical rimfire pistol incorporates a variety of features inherent to the design of the full size M&P centerfire pistol in a new, smaller scale version. Manufactured entirely in the United States by Smith & Wesson, the .22 LR pistol provides shooting enthusiasts with M&P accuracy and reliability in a new fun-to-shoot, compact profile. To round out the shooting experience, from now through December 31, 2014, Smith & Wesson will ship 222 rounds of Winchester .22LR ammunition to each M&P22 Compact consumer who redeems the promotional coupon.

M&P22 Compact

James Debney, President and CEO of Smith & Wesson, said, “The new M&P22 Compact gives consumers the opportunity to own and experience a unique tactical sporting pistol engineered with premium features that have made the M&P line of handguns a leading standard in the shooting sports. Target shooters, recreational shooting enthusiasts or anyone looking to add more excitement to their shooting experience can now enjoy a compact .22 LR semi-automatic pistol with all the adaptability and versatility that are synonymous with the M&P brand.”

Designed to be 15% smaller than the full-size M&P 9/40, the new M&P22 Compact is lightweight, comfortable in the hand and conveniently carried. Like its centerfire sibling, the M&P22 Compact accommodates the needs of both left and right-handed shooters with its ambidextrous manual safety and reversible magazine release. Its Picatinny-style accessory rail underneath the barrel easily accommodates after-market lights and laser sights when using in various light conditions and sporting activities. This pistol is suppressor friendly and is standard with a 3/8 inch x 24 threaded barrel with muzzle cap for easy accessorizing. Shooters of all experience levels will appreciate the crisp, 5.8-pound trigger pull with reset which makes shooting the M&P22 Compact easy and fun.

The M&P22 Compact began shipping to select partners in mid-July and is available now for immediate shipment to dealers. In addition, a variety of high quality accessories are immediately available from the industry’s top holster, laser and after-market sight manufacturers. Buyers can instantly personalize their M&P22 Compact with high quality accessories from companies including Crimson Trace®, DeSantis®, Laserlyte®, LaserMax®, Streamlight®, Triple K®, and UM Tactical®.

The M&P22 Compact has an MSRP of $389 and ships complete with two 10-round capacity magazines.

For more information on the new M&P22 Compact and its accessories, visit or for exciting new videos on all of the latest products.

M&P22 Compact Specifications:
Barrel Length: 3.56″
Overall Length: 6.65″
Overall Width: 1.48″
Weight: 15.3 oz.
Barrel Material: Carbon Steel
Slide Material: Aluminum Alloy
Frame Material: Polymer
Front Sight: White Dot
Rear Sight: White 2-Dot – Screw Adjustable for Windage & Elevation
Capacity: 10+1

About Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation (NASDAQ Global Select: SWHC) is a U.S.-based leader in firearm manufacturing and design, delivering a broad portfolio of quality firearms, related products and training to the consumer, law enforcement, and military markets. The company’s brands include Smith & Wesson®, M&P® and Thompson/Center Arms™. Smith & Wesson facilities are located in Massachusetts and Maine. For more information on Smith & Wesson, call (800) 331-0852 or log on to

And old friend come home: the Smith & Wesson 625

The first gun I ever really learned to shoot halfway decent was a Smith & Wesson 625 revolver. I used it to make Master class in IDPA, and shot a number of state level IDPA matches with it. As guns go, I really liked it…so for some reason I sold it about three years ago. I do that from time to time – I go through the guns I own and sell a bunch of them off because “I never shoot this anymore” which is usually because I’m getting paid to shoot something else, or I’ve been seized by a fit of gunderp temporarily and have decided to only shoot vintage Star BMs chambered in 9mm Largo.

Smith & Wesson 625 barrel

I mentioned a while ago that I always seem to come back to revolvers for my shooting guns, and it’s true. I like shooting revolvers, and I generally think they’re fine things to own just to have around. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I recently picked up a second hand 625 that had pretty clearly been set up for IDPA/USPSA competition by its previous owner.

It’s a simple gun, the 625. Based on a design that’s almost 100 years old, it updates the old 1917 revolver with modern engineering, a stainless finish, full moon clips instead of half, adjustable sights, and a full underlug barrel. This particular gun has been converted to DAO (as all good competition revolvers should), had an action job, and had a overtravel stop installed in the trigger. In all, it is a pretty nice gun that’s ready to go out of the box for IDPA ESR division…which is exactly where I plan on shooting it. The thought of getting back to my IDPA roots is kind of appealing to me – I got my start in ESR, so I might as well go back and shoot it again. Plus, shooting the 929 got me hankering for a proper big-bore N-frame, and the 625 fits that description in every possible way.

Smith & Wesson 625 right side

I am probably going to make some changes to the gun, because that’s how I roll. I’ll probably ditch the adjustable rear sight in favor of a Cylinder & Slide Extreme Duty sight, and I definitely want to change the trigger rebound spring to something heavier. Right now the DA trigger pull is about 6 pounds, which is very light, but because the rebound spring isn’t as heavy as I like, I find myself at times short stroking the trigger. I have my 929 set at about 9 pounds with a factory rebound spring, because I’m willing to sacrifice a little pull weight for a reliable trigger reset.

But all of that is immaterial, because I’m just happy to have a proper, big bore N-frame in the house again. Wheelguns are realguns, after all.