Since the 2015 introduction of its Black Label 1911-380 line of pistols, Browning has continued to grow the line, this year adding five new models.
The Black Label 1911-380 Medallion Pro will be available in Full Size and Compact versions, and ships with two magazines. These new pistols will feature an aluminum-reinforced composite frame and slide with a blackened stainless steel finish with silver brush polished flats. The grips will be checkered rosewood and feature the famous gold Buckmark logo. The Full Size model barrel length is 4 1/4″ and the Compact barrel length is 3 5/8″. Both the Full Size and Compact versions are available with steel 3-dot sights or steel night sights. MSRP is $799.99 for the 3-dot sight model; $879.99 for night sights model.
Browning is also adding three Compact models to the 1911-380 line.
The Black Label 1911-380 Compact has the same features as the Full Size model but with a shorter, 3 5/8” barrel. This model has composite black grips and includes fixed combat sights. MSRP: $669.99
Look for new Compact models in the Black Label Pro and the Black Label Pro with Rail, too. Both models have 3 5/8″ barrels and are offered with either steel 3-dot sights or steel night sights.
Since its inception in the early 1980s, Gaston Glock’s pistol has become firmly established as one of the premier polymer-frame, striker-fired handguns available in the marketplace. The simple, rugged and reliable semi-automatic pistols have been adopted by military, law enforcement, competition and self-defense practitioners all around the world. Last year, Glock expanded its product line with two new models that rest at opposite ends of its product size spectrum. For fans of the full-size, long-slide “practical/tactical” configuration, which has been available in 9 mm Luger and .40 S&W, Glock has introduced the G41 chambered in the popular and potent .45 ACP cartridge. Designed for convenient concealed carry, the new single-stack .380 ACP-chambered G42 represents the smallest pistol that the company has produced to date.
The Practical/Tactical Gen4 G41 .45 ACP The G41 is a .45 ACP Safe-Action semi-automatic pistol with a full-size (Standard) Gen4 frame and an extended black gas-nitrite-finished slide. With more metal onboard from the extended slide and barrel, it makes sense that long-slide-configured pistols would weigh more than standard models. Glock has addressed this in the past—with its lengthy G34 (9 mm Luger) and G35 (.40 S&W)—by removing material via a rectangular lightening cut in the top of the slide, between the front sight and the chamber, resulting in overall weights more in line with the standard-length models.
Instead of following this pattern of stretch-and-cut slide design for the new G41, the company used a different approach. Weight was reduced by using a narrower, thinner-walled slide with external dimensions much like those of the G34, albeit a fraction of an inch longer. The result is an upper assembly with enough room for a 5.31″ extended octagonal-rifled barrel, no cut-out in the top of the slide, and an overall weight that’s 2.84 ozs. lighter than the standard-size G21.
The G41 sight system employs a factory-standard polymer white-dot front sight and a polymer white-bracket rear sight containing two adjustment screws for windage. The slide features an extractor with a square protrusion that acts as both a visual and tactile loaded-chamber indicator. The recoil assembly is of the Gen4 variety, with a polymer guide rod, dual recoil springs and steel supports.
The rest of the pistol, including the trigger, frame and magazines, is lifted directly from the Gen4 version of the G21 service-size .45 ACP pistol. The smooth-faced trigger of the pistol tested required 5 lbs., 6 ozs., of force to cycle, according to a Lyman digital trigger gauge. As a Safe-Action pistol, the G41 contains the same three independent passive safeties found in other Glock models: a trigger safety, firing pin safety and drop safety.
The two-pin frame houses the takedown lever, along with the slide lock and magazine release, which are located on the left side. The enlarged magazine release button is reversible for left-handed users. A full-size molded-in Picatinny compatible accessory rail can be used to support a wide variety of light and laser modules. The pistol has textured finger grooves along the frontstrap of the grip with the Gen4 Rough Texture Frame blunted pyramids surface treatment on the backstrap and sides.
The G41 arrives in a hard case with a total of three magazines holding 13 or 10 rounds, depending on local regulations. Four interchangeable backstraps, two with beavertail grip extensions and two without, and an installation tool are also included. With no backstrap installed, the frame presents the smallest grip size, which is a 0.08″ reduction in the distance to the trigger compared to the Gen3 frame. Adding one of the small (2 mm) backstraps brings the frame back to the original Gen3 size, while the installation of a larger backstrap (4 mm) adds an extra 0.08″ for shooters with bigger hands.
The most notable characteristic of the G41 at the shooting range is how light and well balanced it is for a long-slide .45 ACP. With a fully loaded 13-round magazine, it feels like the gun ends at the trigger guard. In other words, it points and handles like a short-barreled pistol instead of an extended one. The trigger cycled smoothly, and the pistol ran flawlessly with test ammunition ranging from steel-cased imports to defense-grade +P hollow points.
There is one advertising point for the G41 that did not play out in the course of testing. A press release from Glock states, “The longer barrel and slide on the G41 Gen4 helps to reduce muzzle flip and felt recoil … .” That might be true if the elongation of the G41’s upper assembly resulted in a proportional weight increase, but, as discussed, that is not the case.
With an empty magazine, the G41 tipped the scale at just 26.8 ozs. That means it actually weighs almost 3 ozs. less than a standard Gen4 G21. Since the G41 uses the same recoil assembly, and the bullets fired are gaining a little more velocity due to the 0.71″ longer barrel, the lighter slide will transmit more felt recoil, not less, to the operator’s hands. In actuality, the G41’s level of felt recoil was generally on par with the G21 but in some cases it exhibited more recoil and muzzle rise. The increase was negligible, but the G41 should not be thought of as a reduced-recoil .45.
When it came to accuracy testing, the G41 proved to be a top-notch performer for an out-of-the-box pistol. The 5.31″ barrel and extended sight radius kept the five-shot group averages below the 3″ mark at 25 yds.
The Pocket-Size G42 .380 ACP Shrinking an existing full-size handgun design into a pocket pistol platform is no mean feat of engineering. Many manufacturers don’t even try; rather, they often beg, borrow, or whip up a whole new design from scratch. It’s interesting to see how the features of the G42 were compressed, modified and, in some cases, left just the same as other Glock models.
Proofmarks on the slide, barrel and frame indicate that the G42 is made at Glock’s Smyrna, Ga., facility. Although it is not marketed as a Gen4 product, it takes many of its cues from the latest generation pistols. Using the same materials and processes employed in the construction of the full-size models, this little pistol is fitted with Glock’s proprietary Safe-Action trigger and internal safety systems. The G42 is 5.94″ long, 4.13″ high, and weighs 13.8 ozs. unloaded, making it the smallest Glock pistol to date. It is listed as being 0.94″ wide but it’s only this thick near the slide lock. The rest of the frame is no more than 0.89″ wide, and the slide is just 0.83″ wide. The 3.25″ barrel contains hexagonal rifling, which means it should not be fired with non-jacketed bullets.
The pistol exhibits a mix of unique and familiar features. The matte-black slide is topped with factory standard polymer white-dot front and white-bracket rear fixed sights. The slide lock, magazine release and takedown lever are in their expected locations and are actually the same size and shape as those found on the Gen4 pistols. However, the frame has only one pin instead of two.
The grip frame has a Gen1-style straight frontstrap, with the backstrap featuring the usual palm swell. All four sides of the grip are treated with a light version of the Rough Texture Frame grip treatment. The grip has a small, but distinctive, downward-curving beavertail to protect the shooter’s hand from the slide. The backstrap extends down below the mouth of the magazine well, nearly flush with the flat base of the drop-free, fully-metal-lined, six-round single-stack magazines. This extension makes the grip a little longer, a bit more rounded, and it protects the shooter’s palm from being abraded by the movement of the magazine base during recoil.
One notable change to the interior is an enlarged firing pin safety plunger with an irregular shape and a beveled surface. The recoil assembly is of the Gen4 variety with dual recoil springs, a polymer guide rod and steel supports in key locations.
One of the best choices the company made with the G42 was to retain the familiar trigger guard and trigger dimensions of its larger pistols. Although the trigger guard is narrower, its length, shape, finger rest and the size of its opening remain the same. The trigger itself is the same size and shape as the smooth-faced triggers used on the Gen4 pistols, with the same 0.49″ travel distance. As a result, the trigger feels perfectly familiar to those who already use Glock pistols.
Specifications for the pistol indicate that it’s supposed to leave the factory with a 5-lb., 8-oz. trigger. An early version of it required 7 lbs., 3 ozs. of trigger pull to cycle, which is heavy for a Glock. Another G42 manufactured later in the year had a better trigger, with a pull weight of 6 lbs., 8 ozs., which was still heavier than listed. The trigger was good, but not quite as good as it could be.
At the shooting range, the G42 proved to be a comfortable, soft-shooting pocket pistol. Diminutive .380s tend to produce moderate to intense levels of felt recoil, with some loads becoming uncomfortable to shoot after just a few rounds. The felt recoil produced by the G42 was mild with standard-pressure full-metal-jacket and defense-type ammunition. Only when it was loaded with the hottest ammunition in the test set did it start to produce a moderate level of recoil.
Throughout the entire test, the G42 did not experience any of the traditional ammunition failures that can occur with semi-automatic pistols, such as failures to feed or extract or stove-piped cases. The only two events that could be noted as malfunctions where when the pistol’s slide locked open when firing a high-velocity load. In both cases, the chamber was clear and the next round in the magazine chambered when the slide was retracted and allowed to fall forward. This is the first time I’ve had a semi-automatic pistol go into slide lock during a test fire. But since the G42 did not lock open with any other load, it seems that the increased pressure produced by this particular load was the source of the problem.
One of the reasons the double-stack Glock sub-compacts are popular is because they are capable of producing down-range accuracy on par with the Glock Compact and Standard size pistols. The G42 did not demonstrate the same level of accuracy as the double-stack models, which was not wholly unexpected. Instead, the accuracy was in line with other pistols of the same size and caliber, such as the Ruger LC380 and the Taurus PT638 PRO SA. With targets set at 7 yds., the G42 produced group averages ranging around 1.5″ to 2″ in size. This is a solid level of defensive accuracy for an easy-to-carry, close-range defensive tool, which is how the G42 is intended to be used.
Final Thoughts Some gun owners make the mistake of thinking that all Glock pistols are alike because they share the same color scheme and profile. In truth, the new G41 .45 ACP and the G42 .380 ACP represent Glock’s willingness to take risks and move its product line in new directions. As a hybrid pistol, blending the extended-slide design, the standard G21 frame, and Glock’s Gen4 package of features, the G41 successfully reflects the best that Glock has to offer. It’s a welcome addition for competition, on-duty use and home defense.
As for the G42, Glock was successful in shrinking its platform to satisfy a broad swath of the concealed-carry market. The Glocksters among us will feel right at home with the G42’s layout. It operates like a Glock, the trigger is the same as the double-stack pistols and it’s just as reliable as the larger models. For shooters who have not owned a Glock, the G42 is soft-shooting, easy to operate, and demonstrates a level of defensive accuracy as good (or better) as other pistols in its class. It’s an ideal concealed-carry option for new and seasoned shooters, alike.
When first introduced in 1977, the Steyr AUG looked radically futuristic, and despite the intervening decades of firearm development, it still ranks highly among the guns most likely to appear in a science-fiction movie. At the time of its creation, the AUG’s bullpup design—a configuration placing the firearm’s action and magazine behind the trigger group in order to reduce overall length without sacrificing barrel length—was equally ahead of its time. And while the bullpup hasn’t exactly gone on to set the gun world on fire, several manufacturers have found reasonable success tinkering with and improving upon the formula—including Steyr itself.
Despite already being one of the most successful bullpups of all time, Steyr Mannlicher continues to make design improvements and upgrades to its AUG (or Armee Universal Gewher), including its newest iteration—the A3 M1—which offers shooters more sighting options than any of its predecessors.
Making use of a modular optics attachment platform, the A3 M1 is available in Short-Rail, High-Rail and integrated-optic versions with either a 1.5X or 3X scope built into the carry handle. In addition, all three optics-mounting modules can be easily interchanged with one another.
The Short-Rail includes 11 numbered Picatinny rail slots for the mounting of optics. It ends at the back of the receiver and sits 0.435″ above the stock comb. The High-Rail extends an additional 2.57″ from the end of the receiver and offers 16 numbered slots at a height of 0.82″ above the comb.
Steyr’s integrated optic module, in addition to an integral Meopta riflescope, features a 15-slot rail along the top of the housing to accommodate a close-quarter reflex sight, and a four-slot section on the right side for the use of a light or laser. The scope’s axis rests 1.945″ above the stock comb, allowing for a solid cheekweld.
The A3 M1 is available in two stock varieties—the traditional version, which uses Steyr’s proprietary “waffle-style” polymer magazines, and the NATO version, which accepts the widely available STANAG magazines. The traditional configuration is available in black, tan and green, while the NATO version comes only in black.
Much of the rest of the A3 M1 remains unchanged from its previous incarnation, the AUG A3 SA. The guns are short-stroke, gas-piston operated with a two-position gas regulator—one for normal use and one allowing more gas flow for use when the rifle is dirty. The receivers are made from investment cast, Eloxal-coated aluminum, and the barrels are phosphated, chrome-lined steel. The AUG’s distinctive folding fore-grip is also still here, able to be used either perpendicular or parallel to the bore. The A3 M1 likewise retains the quick-change barrel capability of the A3 SA, allowing the barrel to be removed with the push of a button.
A non-reciprocating charging handle is located on the left side of the receiver, and doubles as a forward assist. The bolt can be locked back by retracting the charging handle and rotating it clockwise against a notch in the receiver. In order to then close the action, lightly slapping the handle out of the notch will cause the recoil spring to drive it forward. A five-slot Picatinny rail is situated on the right side of the receiver, opposite the charging handle.
The magazine release, located just behind the magazine well, is positioned for ambidextrous use. At 8 lbs., 15 ozs. with an empty magazine and the integral scope installed, the A3 M1 is not a light rifle, but the gun is balanced in such a way that it feels far lighter than that when shouldered.
The A3 M1 can be reconfigured for ejection from the left side by replacing the standard bolt with a left-hand unit and swapping the ejection port cover to the opposite side. While these changes make the bullpup usable by a southpaw, the position of the charging handle may still be awkward for some left-handed shooters.
The trigger is often the Achilles heel of many bullpup designs, owing to the long trigger bar required to link the fore-mounted trigger to the action behind it, but the gun we received for evaluation featured an exceptional trigger pull for a stock factory bullpup. Initial take up was scarcely perceptible, with the trigger breaking cleanly at 10 lbs., 4 ozs.—a little heavy perhaps, but not too bad.
American shooters have been clamoring for an integrated-optic version of the AUG available here for a long time, which is why we elected to conduct accuracy testing using the 3X integral scope.
Accuracy at 100 yds. was decent for a gun of this type using 3X magnification; however, we believe the rifle capable of even smaller groups with the use of a more powerful optic.
Initially we encountered a few feeding issues, but were quickly able to diagnose them as being magazine-related. Switching to another magazine eliminated the problems. All firing was conducted using the gas regulator’s “normal” setting.
The Steyr AUG’s appearance is polarizing, with some shooters finding its lines appealing, and others finding them appalling. But aesthetics aside, the A3 M1 is a solid—if unorthodox—performer, and a good option for those seeking a 5.56×45 mm NATO-chambered semi-automatic rifle but wanting an alternative to the hoi polloi of the otherwise AR-laden general-purpose rifle market.
As wars end, the people may rejoice, but manufacturers—especially gun manufacturers—often weep, wring their hands and rend their clothes. From 1942 until the middle of 1945 U.S. manufacturing operated at a feverish pace to support the efforts of the military in Europe and the Pacific. Firearms manufacturers are often the first that must instantly switch from a peacetime civilian market to a wartime military market.
Springfield Armory could not keep up with the demands of M1 Garand rifles, and companies like Winchester, Harrington and Richardson, International Harvester and Beretta had to be pressed into service to fill the gap. It was the same for Colt and the demand for 1911 pistols. Remington Rand, Union Switch & Signal, Ithaca and even the Singer Sewing Machine Co. had to answer the call for the war effort. The ability of these companies to switch their manufacturing facilities as suddenly as if they were hit with a cattle prod, retool and start manufacturing guns is a remarkable and fascinating sidebar of American history. And so it was similarly when the war wound down to zero in just a few months—from about April through August of 1945—demand for manufactured firearms dropped to zero as well. Colt went from making more than 30,000 copies of the 1911 each month in early 1945 to zero during that four-month period. That’s hard on the bottom line and even more difficult to keep employees working. From the latter part of 1945 through 1947 virtually no new guns left the factory. Many longtime employees retired, taking the skills they had acquired with them. Because of this and a gross mismanagement of revenues during the war, once again, the then-92-year-old company was staring bankruptcy in the face. Almost like a drunk attempting to sober up after a bender, Colt desperately tried to rekindle its civilian firearms’ market—a market the company has historically only reluctantly tolerated to get it through the tough times between armed conflicts.
Meanwhile, archrival Smith & Wesson some 31 miles due north had continued its nurturing of civilian gun sales. In the depths of The Depression S&W had brought out the .357 Mag. revolver—later to be called the Model 27. Those first .357s were hand assembled, magnificent examples of gunmaking—so much so that the first ones were registered to owners through the company. The gun and the cartridge rapidly drew an eager following of law enforcement folks, outdoorsmen, hunters and even target shooters. Colt was caught with its pants down.
By September 1955 Colt’s board of directors merged the company with Penn-Texas, a relatively new company that had acquired Pratt & Whitney, a tool-making company that also makes rifling machines for firearms manufacturers. Colt also introduced a very high-end rendition of its I-frame .357 Mag. revolver brought out in 1953, calling it the Colt Python. The I-frame was a slightly enlarged and heat-treated modernization of the company’s E-frame Army Special of 1908. Like its northern competitor, the Python was from the get-go a premium revolver, and it looked the part. The first thing one noticed was the barrel with an integral ventilated rib and a full-length underlug. Stocks were a select grade of walnut in a hand-filling, target-stock profile with a generous amount of checkering and without varnish. Sights were, of course, fully adjustable. Metal finishes were either a Colt Royal Blue—arguably the finest ever seen on a factory production firearm—or a bright nickel plate. Later the nickel plating was discontinued when Colt figured out how to give an almost equal glimmer to the more durable stainless steel.
While vent ribs, underlugs and a high polish may have lured a lot of guys to the Python, it was the revolver’s superb trigger pull and accuracy that swooned real shooters. Single-action pulls came from the factory ready to go to the target line, and the double-action pulls were every bit as smooth as the Registered Magnums from S&W. Some felt the Colt’s DA pull was even better due to its V-shaped mainspring that seems to stack—or gain resistance—less than a single leaf-type spring found on the S&Ws. Nonetheless, the Python was one of the finest double-action revolvers ever produced.
The first Pythons had hollow underlugs, but that feature was quickly jettisoned in favor of more barrel weight to control recoil in hotter loads. Barrel lengths ran from 2 1/2″, 3″ (a very rare length sometimes called the Combat Python), 4″, 6″ and 8″. A few other chamberings were offered—.256 Win. Mag., .38 S&W Spl., .41 Mag. and .44 Spl., but these are also quite rare. Collectors should be very wary of fakes.
From 1955 until 1969 Python serial numbers had no letter prefix or suffix, and these are the most sought after by collectors. In 1983 the revolver was offered in stainless steel—both matte and high-polish—and featured neoprene stocks. The 2 1/2″ stainless was discontinued in 1994, and an 8″ stainless was added in 1989. Several other limited runs were brought to market until 1996 when the Python was dropped from regular production. It remained available through Colt’s Custom Shop until 2005.
The Python was at one time an issued revolver to the Colorado State Highway Patrol, Florida Highway Patrol and the Georgia State Patrol. Like virtually all law enforcement agencies, though, they sent the revolvers packing when the tidal-wave trend of semi-automatic pistols came into vogue. Today the Python has achieved a sort of mega-status as a collectable revolver. Back when I started buying guns in the early ’70s Pythons were in nearly every gun store with a price tag of $275 to $300, if memory serves. I wish I’d bought everyone I saw. Today those guns would fetch well into four figures if they are in pristine shape. Some of this is due to the use of the revolver in the television series “The Walking Dead.” Much like the fanaticism of the S&W Model 29 after the film “Dirty Harry,” people who know little about shooting but are desperate to look cool clamor to own a gun like the one they see on screen, thus driving up the prices. If you are fortunate to have one or two and are willing to part with them, this is probably a good thing. However, if you are a shooter who desires to own and shoot a quality piece, maybe it’s not such a good deal.
Having become familiar with John Browning’s Masterpiece at an early age, I have always had a 1911 close at hand. I have owned 1911s from companies such as AMT, Springfield Armory, Randall, Colt, Auto Ordnance and Kimber, as well as some lesser-known manufacturers. While these pistols are all built on the same basic design, quality control and parts tolerances can vary greatly from brand to brand and even from one pistol to the next.
In years past, it had generally been my experience that price dictated quality and the more money one spent, the better pistol one purchased. Even then, chances were the gun might need some fine tuning in order to feed and function properly. Buying a 1911 with the expectation that it would need gunsmith attention and parts replacement was just part of doing business. Fortunately, modern manufacturing techniques and the use of metal injection molded parts has changed much of that and now one can purchase a very good quality pistol that will likely need little, if any, gunsmith tuning and will probably function correctly right out of the box.
One company making major use of modern manufacturing technology is Sturm, Ruger and Co. Ruger has been in the business of making aftermarket 1911 frames for a well-known aftermarket company for years and it was only logical that Ruger would eventually launch a complete pistol. This pistol was named the SR1911 and has been a success for the company in its half decade of existence. Launched in 2011, the original Ruger SR1911 was soon joined by several different models including “Commander” variants in both .45 ACP and 9 mm Luger. Pistols in the SR line use a frame machined from a casting and a barrel and slide machined from bar stock. The stainless (or aluminum, depending on model) frame and slide are offset with blackened mainspring housing, slide stop, thumb safety and other small parts. Many of these small parts are supplied by Ruger Precision Metals, a metal injection molding parts supplier owned by Ruger.
Building on the success of these forebears, Ruger has now introduced the SR1911 Target model. As the name implies, this new .45 ACP pistol features an adjustable rear sight rather than the Novak fixed rear on other models. This new rear sight is closely styled after the famous Bomar sight. It is fully adjustable for both windage and elevation, and is blended nicely into the slide. Other changes might not be as obvious but the new Target model also features an ambidextrous thumb safety and G-10 grips that are unique to this model.
I tested the new Ruger with several different types, weights and styles of both jacketed and cast lead bullets. I found the gun to be completely reliable with the OEM 8-round magazine as well as the excellent magazines from Tripp Research. Manufacturers can often skimp on magazines; supplying only one or shipping the pistol with an inexpensive magazine with feed lips designed only for FMJ. This pistol ships with one 7-round and one 8-round mag. While I’m pleased Ruger chose to take the extra step of shipping the pistol with two mags I’d rather see the gun come with two 8-rounders.
The SR1911 Target provides the purchaser with a pistol that can be sighted in based on a specific load or personal preference and should meet the accuracy needs of most users. Even though the SR1911 Target features a fully adjustable rear sight, the gun is not a bullseye pistol and is built to the same tolerances as Ruger’s other 1911 pistols. This means that the pistol probably won’t be accurate enough in stock form to win PPC or precision accuracy competitions but it should work just fine for most action pistol sports such as IDPA’s CDP division or USPSA’s single-stack division.
While I was pleased with the SR1911 Target, the smooth ramped “combat” front sight is less than optimal when paired with the adjustable rear sight, which is nicely serrated and provides glare-free sight alignment. However, the front sight would pair better with a serrated ramp or patridge-style that would provide a darker, more precise outline. Secondly, the G-10 grip material is durable and attractive, but I found the factory checkering provided less than ideal traction for my support hand during rapid-fire strings. Neither is a big deal as grips and front sights are easily changed after purchase.
All in all, I found the SR1911 Target model to be just as expected. It performed well, was reliable and does not need any costly upgrades, gunsmith tweaks or parts replaced outside of those mentioned above. It will likely be another success in what continues to be a winning 1911 lineup from Sturm, Ruger and Co.
The semi-automatic firearm is so standard now that many accept it as the way firearms have always worked. Truth is, getting a workable semi-automatic was as groundbreaking as the repeating firearm or center-fire primer. Like so many innovations, the semi-automatic firearm is older than most think, but it took a while to work out the wrinkles enough to get widespread attention. Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, an Austrian engineer and small arms designer, is credited with the first semi-automatic firearm—a rifle—in 1885. Mannlicher also designed a number of bolt-action rifles and semi-automatic pistols, as well as the en-bloc clip. The first self-loaders were blowback operated; later on came recoil and gas-operated guns. Let’s examine how each of these systems work.
Blowback Blowback operation is the simplest of the semi-automatic operations. It relies on a combination of slide or bolt mass and spring tension to keep the slide or bolt in place until the bullet leaves the muzzle. The force generated by the combustion of the powder eventually overcomes the inertia of the slide or bolt, forcing it rearward using the fired case as a sealer. A recoil spring returns the slide or bolt into battery while chambering a new cartridge from the magazine. Because there is no mechanism to lock the bolt in battery, straight blowback-operated guns are relegated to low-power cartridges, primarily rimfires and pistol cartridges up to the .380 ACP.
A variation called delayed blowback is used in guns chambered for more powerful cartridges. Delayed blowback firearms use either a lever or roller to restrain the bolt movement. In a lever-blowback firearm, a lever on the bolt carrier moves toward the rear at a rate faster than the bolt. That lever acts against a surface via a cam or incline that increases the leverage to restrain the bolt, thus slowing its velocity. When the breech pressure drops enough due to the bullet leaving the muzzle, the bolt overcomes the restraints and moves rearward to cycle the action, returning to battery under spring tension. The most familiar to utilize this system is the 5.56 NATO FAMAS (Fusil d’Assaut de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne).
Heckler & Koch G3
Roller-delayed blowback arms use opposing rollers set into recesses within the bolt carrier, restraining the bolt movement but allowing the carrier to move rearward more rapidly than the bolt until the rollers are cammed into recesses in the bolt, allowing it to move freely. Examples of roller-delayed blowback include the Heckler & Koch G3 rifle and MP5 submachine gun. Roller-delayed arms often have chambers with longitudinal flutes machined into them to allow some of the combustion gases to help dislodge the fired case from the chamber. It seems to be a very dirty operation, but it is remarkably reliable. There are a number of lesser-known types of delayed-blowback operation, but these are the most well-known.
Heckler & Koch MP5 (image courtesy HK-USA.com)
Recoil Operation Recoil-operated semi-automatics actually lock the bolt to the barrel until the pressure decays to a safe point that the two can separate. Within this category are three sub-categories: long-recoil, short-recoil and inertia operation.
Long-recoil firearms have the barrel and bolt move rearward as a unit as the gun is fired. They are, in fact, mechanically locked together at this point. As the assembly reaches its furthest point, the bolt is locked while the barrel returns to battery, extracting and ejecting the spent case. When the barrel returns to battery, the bolt is released and returns to battery after picking up and chambering a fresh round. The Browning A-5 and Frianchi AL-48 shotguns, and the Remington Model 8 rifle are long-recoil-operated firearms. The only pistol I know of that utilizes the long-recoil system is the rather arcane and clunky-looking Hungarian Frommer Stop pistol of 1912.
Short-recoil-operated pistols have become a uniform success. They differ from the long-recoil system in that the barrel and slide—the slide taking the place of a bolt in a rifle—are locked together for a short distance before separating. A cam or eccentric link drops the rear end of the barrel so that the locking lugs disengage their recesses in the slide, allowing the slide to continue its rearward travel, extracting and ejecting the spent case. A recoil spring—usually located under the barrel—powers the slide back into battery after stripping a fresh cartridge from the magazine. Virtually all pistols from John Browning’s 1911 to today’s double-action and striker-fired pistols operate on the short-recoil system.
Inertia-recoil-operated firearms are pretty much limited to shotguns. It is most useful in guns generating a substantial amount of recoil and is intended to mitigate the felt recoil of the gun to the shooter, as well as cycling the gun. Inertia-recoil guns feature a two-piece bolt separated by a beefy spring. The front part of the bolt is locked to the barrel. As the gun is fired, the entire firearm moves rearward due to recoil and compressing the spring between the bolt pieces. Once the bolt spring achieves full compression, it has stored enough energy to launch the bolt rearward, while the remainder of the gun remains stationary. The bolt unlocks, the bolt travels to the rear, extracting and ejecting the fired hull, and returns to battery with a fresh shell from the magazine and the bolt spring uncompressed. Benelli used its version of this system some 37 years ago with some success. Browning and Frianchi also fielded inertia versions of their semi-auto shotguns—with the marketing terms “Kinematic Drive” and “Affinity,” respectively—but these were short lived.
Gas Operation Colloquially referred to as gas guns, these arms utilize a portion of the gases generated during firing to operate the firearm. A port is drilled into the barrel at some point downstream of the chamber and the gas escaping through this port operated a piston or directly impinges on the bolt carrier to provide the energy to initiate movement. Gas impingement is used in Eugene Stoner’s AR-15 rifle. The gases flow through a port several inches down the barrel and flow into a tube in a gas block that is attached to the barrel. The tube transfers the gas to a bolt key attached to the bolt carrier and pushes it rearward to cycle the action against a buffer spring located in the stock.
Top, AK-47; M1 Garand, bottom
Another form of gas operation is the long-stroke piston, where a piston is connected to the bolt carrier, traveling with it throughout the cycling operation. It is a durable and simple way to operate a semi-automatic arm, as well as attenuating recoil in heavier calibers. Examples of long-stroke piston guns are the AK-47 and M1 Garand rifles.
Since we have seen a long-stroke piston, it should follow that there is a short-stroke piston. Also known as a tappet operation, short-stroke pistons are not connected to the bolt carrier group. The gas quickly accelerates the piston which impacts the bolt carrier group sending it rearward. In this system the piston is attached to a connecting rod with a return spring. Short-stroke piston guns are lighter than long-stroke guns because the piston system is far less massive. Most gas-operated shotguns employ this arrangement, as does the M1 Carbine and the Chinese SKS rifles.
Few pistols utilize gas operation because the components are bulky and heavy. A noteworthy exception is the Wildey, a modified short-stroke piston handgun capable of handling some intense cartridges. Introduced in 1973, the Wildey is generally thought of as a hunting pistol. It is a semi-custom gun.
There are other, more obscure variants of semi-automatic operations—floating chamber, muzzle booster and gas trap come to mind. However, none of them have been widely adopted and are generally relegated to footnotes in the history of firearms design.
The din among critics is already deafening, but if a measure introduced this week passes, suppressors will be removed from the list of National Firearms Act of 1934. It’s a healthy move for enthusiasts and they aren’t the only ones who’ll benefit if noise levels drop at ranges in the 42 states where they are legal.
The Duncan-Carter Hearing Protection Act—H.R. 367—was introduced Jan. 9 and NRA-ILA applauded the legislation the same day explaining it’s, “…an important bill that gives gun owners and sportsmen the opportunity to better protect their ears and hearing.”
The National Firearms Act was originally adopted in 1934 and included, among other things, the machine guns and short-barreled shotguns. Somehow suppressors received the same sentence, and Hollywood fantasy lengthened the stay.
Suppressors don’t render a gun noise-free. Rep. John Carter (TX) explained, “Suppressors do not make guns silent or dangerous, they are simply a form of hearing protection, both for the shooter and their hunting dogs. The Duncan-Carter Hearing Protection Act is common sense legislation that increases safety while shooting, allowing people to easily hear and react to range safety officers and fellow hunters.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan (SC) noted in the joint press release, “It’s striking that even Britain, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, has no restrictions on suppressors.” Oddly, England’s Ian Fleming helped convince an unknowing American public that the devices somehow magically defy the laws of physics with his James Bond exploits.
Hiram P. Maxim, who graduated from M.I.T. at the age of 17, invented the suppressor more than 100 years ago. In 1910 it cost only $5 to put a Maxim Silent Firearms Company version under the tree “For his Christmas gift,” according to the company’s American Rifleman ad.
Despite the fact there are hurdles to clear before taking one home today, like getting the local chief law enforcement officer approval, months of delays (or longer), paying a $200 transfer fee and more, there are many reasons ownership continues to grow. The Hearing Protection Act would remedy those roadblocks, yet still require purchasers to pass an FBI background check—“… and prohibited people would be denied,” NRA-ILA explains.
Non-shooters will reap benefits, too. Vehicles are required to have mufflers for a reason, a neighborly parallel being drawn by many supporters.
Kimber is best known for their domestically-produced line of 1911-pattern semi-automatic pistols. So it came as a bit of a surprise around this time last year when they announced that their next concealed carry handgun was going to be… a revolver. It’s not easy to make a decent, double action revolver. People think of revolvers as being simple to operate, but mechanically, they are incredibly complex machines. So, for Kimber to come out of the blue and announce that they’re making a defensive revolver that will compete with established models from Smith & Wesson and Ruger comes across as a bit audacious, to say the least. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The new Kimber K6s .357 Magnum snub nose was released last year, but availability has been limited so far. It sounds like Kimber plans to start ramping up production soon, so you should be able to find one at your friendly local gun store in the near future. I was able to get my hands on a K6s a couple of months ago and I’ve put nearly 1000 rounds through it so far. The video review below offers a good overview of my impressions thus far, but if all goes as planned, I should have some follow-up reviews coming within the next couple of months.
There was a ton of stuff I wanted to squeeze into this video, but I try to keep the reviews under 8 minutes, so not everything would fit. As usual, I’ve provided a transcript of the video below embed, but if you keep scrolling, you’ll find some additional details that didn’t make the final cut.
About a year ago, Kimber announced that they would be producing a .357 magnum 2-inch barreled snub nose revolver called the K6s. This is a first for Kimber, who is mostly known for their 1911s, but the K6s now has them competing with other small, steel frame revolvers like the Ruger SP101, the Smith & Wesson J-frames, and, as of last week, the new Colt Cobra. These revolvers are all roughly the same size and weight, and when you look at variants with comparable features, they are fairly close in price as well. The most notable difference is that the Kimber and the Colt have a 6-round capacity while the more established Ruger and Smith and Wesson only hold 5 shots.
The K6s has an internal hammer, making it a double action only design. Not everyone is going to love the absence of an exposed hammer that can be cocked for single action, but I consider it a huge asset in a carry revolver to help ensure a snag-free draw stroke.
The hammerless design is complemented by a frame that has been completely dehorned so there are no sharp edges or corners to catch on clothing. The sights are also low-profile, but unlike most small revolvers, they are replaceable. The front sight is held in place by a pin in the top of the barrel, and the dovetail rear sight is drift adjustable for windage. Both sights come with a black serrated face, but I’ve painted the front sight to improve visibility. The checkered cylinder release latch is activated by pressing inward, similar to a double action Ruger. The chambers are recessed so that the cartridges sit flush with the top of the cylinder.
Kimber quietly started shipping the K6s sometime in the middle of 2016 but in very small numbers. So far, it’s been tough to find one for sale, and price tags often far exceed the $900 suggested retail price. Kimber offered to loan us one to review but said they would have to get caught up with production first. We didn’t know how long that would take, so we just decided to track one down ourselves and pay full retail. So, over the last couple of months, I’ve had a chance to put a few hundred rounds through this gun. That’s really just the beginning of the testing we have planned for the K6s, but I’ve had enough time with it so far to form a few first impressions.
The trigger is really the stand-out feature. It’s a very smooth, 10-pound double action pull with no stacking. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s easily the best factory trigger I’ve used on a small-frame revolver. Kimber put a lot of their engineering effort into making sure the trigger was usable out of the box, and that seems to have paid off. It’s still going to be a challenge for anyone who’s not already comfortable with double actions, but it’s a major improvement over the competition.
I really appreciate that they used sights that can be adjusted and replaced, but I’m not a fan of the default black on black sights. Even with some bright paint on the front sight, they’re still fairly short and not the easiest to use. Fortunately, Kimber has announced four new models coming out that have different sight options like a fiber optic front sight, a set of taller 3-dot sights, tritium night sights, and Crimson Trace LaserGrips. Hopefully, these sights will soon be made available as standalone options for those of us who want to upgrade the original sights.
The rubber grip that comes with the Kimber is a decent size and shape that is concealable but also functional. But I’m kind of particular about revolver grips, and this one is not ideal for my hands. The ability to change grips to suit the user is usually one of the major advantages of revolvers, but again, there’s nothing else available for the Kimber yet. I’d like to see some Hogue Tamer grips like the ones made for the Ruger LCR that cover the backstrap and add some girth to the grip.
The lack of aftermarket support is really the biggest problem with the K6s right now, and that’s to be expected with a gun that’s barely in production. So for now, the holster I’ve been using is an SP101 appendix holster that… kinda, mostly fits the Kimber. I’ve got some Colt Detective Special speed loaders from 5 Star Firearms that are actually the same as the K6s-branded loaders that Kimber sells on their website. But realistically, if I were to carry extra ammo with this revolver, it would be on a speed strip. Kimber includes a 6-shot speed strip with the K6s, but I prefer a larger 7 or 8 shot strip so I can space the rounds out for easier loading.
Recoil is what you’d expect with a small steel frame revolver. It’s far easier on the shooter than an alloy or polymer framed snubby, but more difficult to manage than a mid-size revolver like a Smith & Wesson K-Frame. The K6s is chambered for .357 magnum, and unlike the Airweight revolvers, shooting magnums doesn’t feel like it’s going to shatter your hand. But it’s still not exactly pleasant, and I wouldn’t recommend actually carrying the gun with magnum ammo anyway. When you go to a 2-inch barrel, .357 loses a lot of velocity and effectiveness but delivers excessive recoil. Follow-up shots are going to be slow, and for most people, accuracy will suffer too. A small, steel frame revolver like this is perfect for .38 +P defensive ammo.
I fired several 5 round groups from a bench rest at 25 yards to test the accuracy of the K6s. Most of the loads I tested gave me groups between 3 and 5 inches, which isn’t bad at all for a snub nose. From the factory, the K6s was shooting about 3 inches to the left at 10 yards, so I had to make some windage adjustments. I know very few manufacturers sight in their guns at the factory, but the rear sight was visibly off-center, so that’s a little disappointing.
And that leads me to a question I know a lot of people are wondering about the K6s. Even if Kimber has designed a good revolver, can they mass-produce a good revolver? It is well-known among discerning 1911 shooters that Kimber’s quality control is… not awesome. Stuff like misaligned sights might not seem like a big deal, but it’s not encouraging in light of Kimber’s reputation.
And unfortunately, that’s not the only issue I’ve noticed. There’s this little ridge here around the cylinder release. If you look closely, there’s some excess jagged metal there. On the right side, it’s a clean line all the way around but on the left side, someone clearly forgot a step at the factory and nobody managed to catch the mistake before the gun went out the door. It’s a small thing and it’s just cosmetic, but it’s that kind of sloppiness that I find troubling.
I’m really trying not to judge Kimber too harshly. I like the K6s and mechanically, this one has not had any problems at all. But this is just a sample size of one. As Kimber starts ramping up production on these things, I’m going to be paying a lot of attention to what other K6s owners have to say about their experiences. I’m also going to keep shooting this one, and I’ll try it with new grips and sights whenever the aftermarket catches up so I can get back to you guys with an update.
The Steel Frame Snubby
The steel frame snub nose occupies an interesting niche among modern concealable handguns. Most small revolvers made today are not steel — lightweight aluminum alloy and polymer frames are far more popular. A snub nose that weighs under a pound can easily be carried on an ankle or in a pocket. They are great as backup guns or for those times when you can’t wear a belt with a proper holster.
If you can carry on a belt, these lightweight revolvers are far less than ideal. They’re convenient but really difficult to shoot. If you carry a heavier gun like the 23 ounce all-steel K6s, you’ll barely notice the increased weight in a belt holster compared to trying to carry it in your pocket, and you’re a lot more likely to practice with the heavier gun and actually hit what you’re aiming at. But using that same logic, if you’re going to carry on your belt, it might make more sense to just carry a compact double stack semi-auto, or even step up to a medium frame revolver. That’s one of the reasons why the small, steel frame snub nose isn’t more popular. However, a lot of people find that they strike that ideal balance between concealability and shootability.
So, the Kimber K6s joins this category with the Ruger SP101 and the steel Smith & Wesson J-frames, like the excellent Model 640 Pro. The Kimber has 20% greater ammo capacity than those two, and it’s easily smaller than the SP101 and only larger than the J-frame by an insignificant margin. In terms of dimensions and capacity, it’s actually more like a modern successor to the Colt Detective Special.
For several decades, Colt made the only small-frame .38 special six-shot revolvers. The Detective Special was the original steel frame version, and for a while, they also made lightweight aluminum variants like the Cobra and the Agent. When Colt stopped making revolvers in the mid-90s, they left a big gap in the market and no one has stepped up to fill that gap, until now. After talking to some of the guys at Kimber who are involved with the project, that’s exactly what they wanted to do — their goal was to make a Colt Detective Special for the 21st Century.
However, they are not the only ones who have had this idea. Just last week, Colt announced that they are finally reviving their double action revolvers, starting with a new Colt Cobra. The Cobra name is actually a little misleading here — this will be a steel framed gun, not aluminum like the original Cobra. The new Colt Cobra is actually an updated Detective Special with a fiber optic front sight. Whether it’s deserved or not, Colt has a huge head start with this new product thanks to brand name recognition alone. The pressure is really on for Kimber to prove that their new revolver can hang with the competition.
Steel Snub Nose Comparison
Smith & Wesson
.38 spl +P
serrated black (removable)
white outline tritium insert (removable)
black with brass bead (removable)
Fiber optic (removable)
serrated black (removable)
white outline tritium insert (removable)
Novak style black (removable)
fixed trench style
DAO (shrouded hammer)
DAO (shrouded hammer)
double action w/ hammer spur
double action w/ hammer spur
Inside the Kimber K6s
I’m not going to pretend that I have an advanced understanding of the internal mechanics of revolvers, but I’m also not afraid to pop off a sideplate and start poking around just out of curiosity. That’s one of the first things I did with the K6s. The disassembly procedure was familiar, and very Smith-like. Three screws hold the side plate on, and the forward-most screw also retains the cylinder and crane. Kimber conveniently used hex-head screws for the sideplate so no obscure gunsmith-specific drivers were needed for the job.
The S&W similarities did not end with the sideplate. Like I said, I’m no expert on revolver guts, but the inside of the K6s sure looked familiar. In fact, viewed side by side with a S&W J-frame, the K6s looks like a direct descendant. The most pronounced differences seem to be with the shape of the hammer and the position of the hammer spring and strut. This could account for why the K6s has a significantly lighter and smoother-feeling trigger pull than the J-frame.
I’m not implying that it’s a bad thing that the K6s has borrowed so heavily from the J-frame. Improving an existing design to make it your own has a strong tradition in the firearms industry. If anything, I applaud Kimber for advancing the J-frame design into the 21st century. Here’s hoping S&W (and Ruger, for that matter) eventually answer with their own version of the small frame 6-shot small frame revolver.
As I mentioned in the video, I conducted accuracy testing at 25 yards from a bench rest. I started the testing with the seven loads below, but will add more as I have a chance to shoot additional groups. I fired two groups of five rounds with each load and recorded velocity with a Labradar ballistic velocity radar (not technically a chronograph, but it serves the same function). The average group sizes and velocities are below:
avg group size
Federal Gold Medal Match 148 gr LWC
Magtech .38 spl 158 gr +P SJHP
Hornady Critical Defense .38 spl 110 gr FTX
Remington Golden Saber .357 mag 125 gr
Hornady Critical Duty .357 mag 135 gr
Winchester .38 spl 158 gr +P SWCHP
Speer Gold Dot .38 spl 135 gr +P (Short Barrel)
There’s nothing too surprising here except for the disappointing accuracy of the Speer Gold Dot. This is my go-to defensive load for .38 special revolvers, but I don’t believe I would be confident carrying it in the Kimber knowing that it’s not capable of 8-inch groups at 25 yards even under ideal conditions. Concerned that I may have gotten a bad lot of the Speer ammo, I shot a quick group with my 3-inch Smith & Wesson M66 and managed 3.5 inches. So it would appear that the ammo is fine, but the Kimber and Speer just don’t make a good combination. My “other favorite” .38 special load is Winchester PDX1, but I didn’t have any on hand when I went out to shoot these groups. As soon as I have the opportunity, I’ll test the Winchester load and add the results to the chart. Hopefully it will fare better than the Gold Dots.
Point of Aim
Another issue worth mentioning is the sight picture required in order to get the K6s to hit where you want the bullets to go. This is often an issue with revolvers because the point of impact can vary greatly from one .38 special or .357 magnum load to the next, and the factory sights are often not regulated for the ammo the end user prefers. For 25 yard accuracy testing, I typically use a sight picture with the top of the rear sight held so that it horizontally bisects the “X” in the 10-ring (not that I can actually see the “X” from 25 yards on the B-8 repair center targets I use, but that’s the idea). With the K6s, this resulted in every load I tested impacting well below the bullseye — anywhere from 5 to 12 inches low. When I adjusted my point of aim so the front sight completely covered the black center of the target, the point of impact shifted close to the center for most loads. This is not necessarily a huge downside for a small defensive revolver, but it does highlight one of the reasons many people prefer their revolver sights to be adjustable for both windage and elevation.
Keep an eye out for more on the Kimber K6s in the coming months. In the meantime, let us know in the comments if you’ve had any first-hand experience (good or bad) with Kimber’s new revolver.
Building and selling guns in the United States is not an easy task. Considering the strict governmental regulations, pressure from the anti-gunners, and a plethora of frivolous lawsuits, we don’t see too many new gunmakers cropping up these days. Not only is it refreshing to see a young gun company like FMK succeed in establishing its plant in the anti-gun state of California but it has chosen to provide its customers with 100 percent American-made pistols.
What’s more, FMK is not afraid to let customers know just how it feels about this country. The 9C1 pistol could have been stamped with the words “Made in America.” Instead, the ejector is marked “Proudly American,” while the frame says “Thank You U.S. Soldiers.” The slide plate contains the words “Freedom and Liberty,” with the magazine base plate reading “E Pluribus Unum.” These are the markings of the plain-slide version of this pistol. FMK also offers the Bill of Rights version of the 9C1 with the first 10 amendments to the Constitution engraved on the slide.
Pistol Feature The FMK 9C1 is a polymer-framed semi-auto chambered in 9 mm. The overall dimensions of the pistol are similar to a compact GLOCK or medium-frame Taurus. Guns in this size range offer a useful balance of shootability and ease of concealment for legal carry. The 9C1 weighs 23.45 ounces unloaded, accepts 14-round magazines and features an accessory rail for lights or lasers.
The matte-black, carbon-steel slide is beveled and shaped to give it an interesting profile when compared with the common square-block slides of other polymer-framed pistols. The slide is topped with a low profile three-dot sight system. Five additional rear sights and two more front sights are included in the case. These are easily traded out to allow shooters adjustments for sight height and windage.
Removing the slide from the frame reveals an interior arrangement that has taken various cues from GLOCK design. The blued steel barrel is 4 inches long, and the recoil assembly consists of a captured flat recoil spring supported by a polymer recoil rod. Like other pistols in this class, almost all of the 9C1 safeties are internal, such as the striker safety, which prevents a discharge if the gun is dropped. The single external safety is located in the trigger where it’s released automatically as the trigger is pulled.
The 9C1 features two additional safeties not found on other striker guns. One is a magazine safety to prevent the pistol from firing if the magazine is removed. The other is a red plastic loaded chamber indicator located at the rear of the slide. It provides both a visible and tactile indication when the gun is loaded. Another feature not commonly found on semi-autos is a trigger that can be pulled to strike a cartridge primer a second time in case the round doesn’t fire the first time. This is a useful way to avoid having to run a clearance drill if the cartridge in the chamber has a hard primer.
FMK has paid careful attention to the 9C1’s ergonomics. Some pistols feature a dimple in the grip for the shooting-hand thumb to rest in. FMK has opted to extend the dimples into two channels running from the front to the back of the frame. The result is a noticeable narrowing of the grip for both the thumb and trigger finger. The trigger guard provides a more generous curve where it connects to the grip so as to give the middle finger more room.
The front of the grip has textured finger grooves. The sides of the grip are lightly textured and indented. These indentations do a terrific job of eliminating the blocky feel many polymer guns suffer from by providing a more intuitive resting place for the pads of the middle, ring and little finger. The indentation and texturing extend to the floor plate of the magazine.
The best of the many good features of the grip frame is the rubberized backstrap. This backstrap not only effectively reduces felt recoil, it hugs and grips the palm of the shooting hand to provide a comfortable, positive grip. The result is a grip that seems to mold to the shooter’s hand, instead of having to mold your hand to fit the grip. The 9C1 arrives with two magazines in a rugged, lockable, foam-lined hard case with a partitioned storage compartment for extra magazines or cleaning supplies.
At the Range The 9C1’s promise of comfortable shooting proved to be true. The compact grip frame provides enough room for a full three-finger grip. The shock-absorbing backstrap is effective at reducing felt recoil. This was especially true when using standard pressure rounds. It felt more like shooting a .380 than a 9 mm. For anyone looking for a low-recoil defensive option, the 9C1 would provide a good choice without reducing the caliber size.
The slide requires the usual amount of grip strength and pressure to cycle as most mid-sized 9 mm pistols. The magazine release has a smooth surface but it’s easy to locate and operate. The blued-steel magazines are constructed in-house by FMK instead of a third-party vendor. They’re sturdy, well constructed and all four of the test samples, including a 10-round version, locked tightly and dropped freely.
A digital trigger gauge shows the 9C1’s long, smooth, Double-Action Only trigger weighing in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces. This places the trigger pull between the 10-pound-plus triggers of some pocket pistols and the 5-pounds-or-less pull of some safe-action and single-action pistols. Without any creep or stacking to get in the way of the stroke, the 9C1’s trigger is easy to work.
Formal testing produced shot groups that were not as tight as I would like to see with the ammunition used, but sufficient for defensive applications. The best single five-shot group from 25 yards using a bench rest was 3.75 inches. This group, and the best five-group average of 4.65 inches, was produced using Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FXT rounds. The next best group average of 5 inches was generated with Winchester 147-grain PDX1 jacketed hollow points, followed by an average of 5.2 inches from DoubleTap’s 124-grain +P brass-jacketed hollow points.
Ammunition reliability and practical close-range accuracy of the 9C1 proved to be solid. At 7 yards, it was easy to cut a ragged 2-inch hole into the center of the target with a variety of practice and defense-grade ammunition using off-hand drills. The only malfunction in the course of testing was a single failure to feed. This occurred during the first 50 rounds fired using inexpensive bulk ammunition. After that, the pistol ran flawlessly.
Final Thoughts The FMK 9C1 9 mm pistol is easy to carry, comfortable to shoot and reliable with a variety of ammunition. With an MSRP of $399, this pistol is hundreds of dollars less than other polymer, striker-fired pistols in its class. The 9C1 should be especially attractive to shooters looking for a concealed-carry gun, full-caliber low-recoil defensive option or an affordable pistol for home defense. Buying this pistol will keep your dollars right here, supporting a company that’s willing to stamp its patriotic devotion to this country into the guns it sells.
Manufacturer: FMK Firearms Model: 9C1 Gen II Action: Double-Action Only, Fast-Action Trigger Available Caliber: 9 mm Slide: High-Carbon Steel Frame: Black, Pink, or Tan Polymer Sights: Fixed three-Dot Barrel Length: 4” Overall Length: 6.85” Height: 5.09” Width: 1.14” Weight:23.45 ozs. Capacity: 14+1 Rounds Twist: 1:16” LH Rifle Grooves: 6 Accessories: 2 Magazines, 7 Interchangeable Sights, Lockable Case Suggested Retail Price: $399
The GLOCK 43 for this review was provided by the Kentucky Gun Company.
The GLOCK 42 was something between a huge disappointment and cruel joke on expectant gun guys and gals. A .380 single-stack? Been there, done that, bought the Colt Mustang clone, sold it for a larger-caliber everyday carry (EDC) gun. Now that Gaston’s mob has unloaded freight containers of 42s – which they wouldn’t have sold had they started with a proper 9mm single-stack pocket pistol – they’re finally ready to sell train loads of 9mm GLOCK 43s. Should diehard GLOCK jocks and pocket-carrying newbies hold a grudge or buy a 43? Let’s start with a simple comparison . . .
The GLOCK 42 and GLOCK 43 are nearasdammit identical twins. To accommodate those larger, higher-pressure rounds, the GLOCK 43 is slightly longer, wider and five ounces heavier than its .380 predecessor. Ergonomically, it’s a distinction without a difference. Hold each gun in one hand (gangster style) and you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart. They’re both single-stack everyday carry pistols perfectly designed for stealth and comfort.
Which is not to say they’re perfectly designed. GLOCK’s utilitarian aesthetic fails the timelessness test; it’s now about as chic as a Volvo 240D. But shrinky-dinking a GLOCK to near soap bar size certainly increases the cuteness quotient – from none to some. Still, there’s not much, visually speaking, to get exited about.
Except the spare magazine! The G43 ships with both a flush-fit and an extended magazine. The flush-mount mag offers ultimate concealability. The extended mag may play peekaboo in small-pocketed pants, but it gives deep-pocketed owners (in more ways than one) welcome pinky purchase, increasing the 43’s shootability/accuracy by a measurable margin. If only they could fit one more round in the handle … nope. Six is your lot, no matter how you get a grip.
I suspect larger-fisted 43 buyers will go with the extended magazine or go home relatively empty-handed. Or hold the GLOCK 43 like the Three Stooges held a cup of tea (pinkies akimbo). Yes, there is that: the GLOCK 43 isn’t for our bear-pawed ballistic brethren – unless they like to practice close-up magic with a gun. In fact, accuracy observations below are void where prohibited by manual dimensions.
The GLOCK 43’s biggest advantage over the 42 (other than stopping power): the tiny nine is an ammunition omnivore.
There’s no getting around it: the G42 was a picky eater. While the .380 pocket pistol shoots average pressure rounds of various weights all day long, the 42 chokes on loads that fall on the high and low ends of the pressure spectrum. We forgave it this ballistic trespass with the understanding that any armed self-defender who doesn’t test his carry cartridges for reliability, doesn’t get what he deserves. Or maybe he does.
I fed our Kentucky Gun Company-provided pistol several hundreds of rounds of ammo. The count included Winchester White Box, Federal Premium, Remington UMC and Magtech (both 115 gr and 124 gr weights). I also ran the 43 with Winchester 147 gr Train & Defend (our 2014 Reader’s Choice Ammo of the Year award winner), 124 gr Hornady XTPs, and 124 gr Remington Golden Sabers. I didn’t experience a single failure to feed, eject or throw lead downrange in a hurry.
As you’d expect for a gun that’s smaller than a pack of Wet Wipes, the GLOCK 43 is a snappy SOB, no matter what you feed it. Is this a problem? As RF likes to point out, accuracy is a function of distance. If you’re looking for a self-defense gun that shoots minute-of-bad guy at anything from zero to seven yards, the GLOCK 43 is your new BFF. With its very respectable 5.2″ sight radius, you might even want to aim before pulling the trigger.
Which is not to say Jerry Miculek couldn’t use a GLOCK 43 to shoot the eye out of a newt at 50 paces. Once you get to grips with the 43, literally, slow-firing the gun reveals a firearm capable of 10-ring accuracy at bad breath-and-better distances. The 43’s GLOCK-standard U-shaped sights — love ’em or hate ’em — seem extra-large on such a small gun, and that’s no small advantage. TTAG’s JWT reckons all self-defense guns should have standard night sights and that makes a lot of sense. But again, the 43’s best deployed as a point-shooting point blank self-defense gun.
The G43’s trigger is no better or worse than any other GLOCK go-pedal. We’re talking about a 5.5 lbs. pull with a brick wall to bust through and a reset click that’s as hard to miss as Bruce Jenner in a bright blue dress. That’s supposed to be a selling point (the trigger, not Bruce’s dress). If you can shoot one GLOCK you can shoot them all. The longer, harder trigger pull on snub-nosed revolvers and some small semis (e.g., Ruger LC9) is probably a better bet for newbies who lack trigger discipline (i.e. all of them). But then there’s carry.
The G43’s diminutive size is its main selling point. It’s the GLOCK you can holster like a wallet. Not that you should. All guns need to live in a holster that covers the trigger. Here’s one we prepared earlier: a G43 seducing a SHTF Gear inside the waistband rig.
When carried in an IWB holster, the GLOCK 43 is the very soul of discretion Slap in the flush-bottomed magazine, rack the gun (being extra-careful not to cover the ejection port), holster-up and tuck your shirt over the gun. Unless a sharp-eyed paranoid OCD gun guy spots the clips (not magazines) you’re as stealthy as a cloaked Klingon warship. Outside-the-waistband types are equally well served. Pop the GLOCK in the slot, untuck your shirt and Bob’s your uncle.
Bonus! [ED: Raison d’etre?] The G43 is small and light enough for pocket carry. If you’ve pocket carried a Smith & Wesson hammerless snubbie 642, the GLOCK 43 is an easy choice for EDC. If you haven’t, pocket-carrying the GLOCK 43 is well worth the price of admission. Nothing is as discreet and convenient as pocket carry. As always, you’ve got to practice extraction. But it’s better to have a GLOCK 43 and not need it than to not have a gun because it was too much of a hassle to carry it.
So what’s not to love? It’s not so much a matter of “Do you take this GLOCK to have and to hold” as the fact that there are lots of other compact single-stack 9mm fish in the sea, most with lower MSRPs. Some with laser sight options. Think Kahr CM9, Ruger LC9, Springfield XD-S and Smith & Wesson M&P Shield (which offers greater ammo capacity). Not to mention the option of a frame-mounted safety (which the GLOCK 43 won’t ever possess). Or the siren song of some sexy little snub-nosed revolvers.
At the end of the proverbial day, the GLOCK 43’s greatest advantage is that it’s a GLOCK. Unlike the finicky 42, the G43 eats all ammo, delivering the “it goes bang every time” reliability that’s the brand’s hallmark. Which creates the confidence that is GLOCK’s advertised attribute. With the added appeal of easy cleaning (clear the gun first) and a predictable (if not prize-winning) trigger. All in a pocket-friendly package. Who can argue with that? Not me. The GLOCK 43 is my new carry gun.
Reliability: * * * * *
Perfection, to coin a phrase. Unlike its little brother, nothing made the 43 balk.
Ergonomics (carry): * * * * *
The G43 feels natural in the hand, with a sure grip, particularly while using the pinky extension-equipped mag. Large-pawed shooters who aren’t using the G43 for a back-up gun (probably) need not apply.
Ergonomics (shooting): * * * * *
Comfortable enough to shoot at the range. You know, for fun. More than accurate enough for its intended use.
Customize This: * * *
As a new heater, mods are scarce. That said, there are more holster options sooner than there were for the 42. And given the gun’s popularity, lights, sights, replacement triggers and lasers will be along soon.
Overall: * * * * *
There are less expensive options and 6+1 capacity isn’t a lot. But the G43 is just the thing for shooters looking for a small, reliable, comfortable, acceptably-powerful every day carry gun.