Written by: Greg Ellifritz
I don’t really understand the appeal, but posts like this one where I describe which gear works and which gear doesn’t work are universally the most widely read articles on my site. Instead of reading my reports, most of you would be better off running your own gear hard in a class like mine (or another instructor’s) and seeing for yourself what works FOR YOU. Since I know that less than 1% of gun owners will do that, I guess I’ll keep providing write ups about what I see in the classes I teach.
Last Saturday I taught my “Level One” handgun class at the excellent range at Blackwing Shooting Center. It was a full class with 14 students filling up the seven-lane range (shot in two relays). This class is designed to be an entry level tactical shooting class for those with limited training beyond their state-required CCW class. As such, I expected to see a whole bunch of gun and gear issues. I was pleasantly surprised and found most of the students had their guns and holsters reasonably squared away. Almost all of the students shot Glocks or Smith M&Ps. I had one Springfield XDM (which ran flawlessly), and a Smith and Wesson 3913 traditional double action autopistol. Students shot between 250 and 400 rounds depending on their magazine capacity
Here’s what I saw:
1. Mid and Full sized Glocks and M&Ps run demonstrably better than their small sized cousins. I had two folks with Glock 26 pistols and one with a Glock 42. All of the Glocks did well, but I saw a few malfunctions in the smaller guns. Especially with the 42, if you don’t do everything right as a shooter, you are more likely to have an issue. Those smaller guns just don’t have the same gripping surface or spring length as the larger guns. It’s easier to get an improper grip on the little guns and if you aren’t holding them tightly, they are more likely to have feedway stoppages.
If you carry a Glock 26, 27, 42, 43, or Smith and Wesson Shield as a primary defensive sidearm, I think you need to practice a little more often than you would if you carried a bigger gun. The smaller guns just require more attention to detail to perform perfectly.
2. Get rid of the unnecessary crap on your gun. One of the only Glock issues I saw in class was with a Glock 26 that had an aftermarket external safety and a Lasermax guide rod laser installed. The gun gave its owner some fits when the external safety moved to the “safe” position when the student drew the gun, reholstered, or operated the slide release. The student was attempting to run the gun with the safety “off” the whole class. I saw him repeatedly aiming at the target and trying to pull the trigger with the safety engaged. It made for a frustrating experience for the shooter and could have fatal consequences in a defensive encounter.
His 26 malfunctioned more than the other one in the class. I am certain it was the laser guide rod causing the problems. I’ve seen a lot of those lasers come through my classes over the years. Almost all negatively affect feeding reliability. Not recommended.
If you want an external safety, buy a 1911 or one of the Smith M&Ps with the safety option. Don’t put in a home-gunsmithed aftermarket safety on a gun not designed to use one. If you want a laser, choose one of the Crimson Trace grip-operated lasers instead of anything that replaces your guide rod.
3. Grips that don’t fit your hands will make it harder to shoot accurately. The same shooter with the laser sight was also using the largest grip adapter on his Gen 4 Glock 26. His hands were on the smaller size. The larger grip made it hard for him to shoot well. Once I removed the large backstrap, his accuracy improved significantly.
I had another student who had very large hands running a Glock 26 with factory 10 round magazines without baseplate extensions. He had some troubles too. The gun was just too small in his hand and he only had one finger to control the recoil. Not having the lower two fingers supported on the grip led to some issues that made it more likely for him to contract his whole hand rather than just squeezing with the trigger finger.
The true test of the gun’s proper grip is in shooting quantifiable standards, not in how well it “feels” in the gun store. Both of these shooters reported that the guns felt good in their hands. Both needed significant adjustments to allow them to shoot to their full potential.
4. Traditional double action semi autos are harder to master than DAO or striker fired pistols. My student with the 3913 lives in Montana and normally carries an N-frame revolver for defensive purposes. He brought the 3913 to class so that he could become more proficient with the auto pistol. He had challenges with remembering to decock before holstering. Most students shooting those guns will usually have problems mastering the long double action first shot as well. My student, being used to shooting revolvers, had no difficulty with that issue. He had trouble remembering when to de-cock the gun.
If you shoot a traditional double action pistol, you will need to spend more time in practice working on decocking your pistol before holstering. It’s something that I universally see as an issue in my students who don’t exclusively shoot a gun with a decocking lever.
5. You need a couple good magazine pouches. I usually see all kinds of holster issues in this type of class, but mercifully I didn’t have any issues last weekend. All of the students’ holster selections worked fine and no one had significant problems. The one issue I did see was that some of the students showed up to class without magazine pouches. Speed loading from pockets caused cumbersome delays.
One could make a case that carrying a reload may be unnecessary for an armed citizen toting a 15-shot pistol. I would disagree, but I have to admit that I see very few defensive shootings that require a spare magazine. Even if you don’t carry a spare magazine as you conduct your daily business, you WILL need spare magazines when you come to a shooting class.
Invest in a couple of single or double magazine holders that you can carry on your belt. The models from Comp-Tac and Blade-Tech are perfectly adequate and reasonably inexpensive. If you carry different types of pistols, the Raven Concealment Copia mag carrier would be a good choice. It adjusts to fit almost all double-stack 9mm and .40 magazines from every major manufacturer.
Reloading from proper magazine pouches will make your life much easier than digging around in your pocket for a spare mag when you need to reload your gun in class.
I had fun teaching this pistol class and the students seemed to really enjoy it. If you would like to take a class like this, check out my upcoming class schedule HERE.