Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

Timeless Advice on Point Shooting

The original Remington Model 51 designed by Pedersen.

The original Remington Model 51 designed by Pedersen. Hatcher considered it an archetypically well-designed pistol for instinctive shooting.

Sometimes the age of a document shows. But the underlying principles may actually be timeless. Take, for instance, this brief excerpt from p. 487 of Julian Hatcher’s 1935 Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers, a bonus bound in a single volume with his Firearms Investigation, Identification and Evidence, a wide-ranging book whose title does not truly do it justice. The subject Major Hatcher is discussing is one of great interest here — shooting without sights, and whether the ergonomics of some weapons (he is specifically talking pistols) enable this more than others. Here’s what Hatcher said:

While I fully agree with the ideas of Mr. McGivern about the necessity of sights, I consider it important for the practical pistol shot to know how to get fairly good results without using the sights at all, but rather, pointing the gun entirely by instinct, as the finger is pointed in indicating an object. This is really very important, because any shooting that may be done at night will have to be this kind. Also pistol shooting on the battle field or in holdups is more likely to be at night than it any other time.

Ed McGivern, who passed away some 20 years after Thatcher’s book hit the shelves, was already all but retired, due to rheumatoid arthritis. McGivern is less famous now than he was when Hatcher penned those words, but he was a legendary trick shooter capable of prodigious feats of shooting speed and accuracy. How good was McGivern? Watch the NRA’s National Firearms Museum’s senior curator Phil Schreier wax rhapsodic about him:

And in 1935, night shooting meant blind shooting. Night vision equipment was unimaginably futuristic at the time, and even the laser was decades in the future as a laboratory device, and decades more before anyone could do anything practical with one.

And it’s understood it when Hatcher speaks about holdups, he’s talking more about interrupting or resisting them, than he is dispensing advice on how to  commit them. (One hopes).

The sort of instinctive shooting Hatcher is talking about here, the sort made famous by McGivern, is even more out of favor these days. Modern instructors teach you to acquire and use the sights at all but the shortest — contact! — ranges. But the fact is, in 1935 as well as today, you can engage targets at quite a considerable distance without using the sights at all. The Major continues:

You will find that if you will suddenly extend your arm and point your finger at any object near you, the finger is pointing pretty closely in the direction of the object in question. In the same way a pistol or revolver can be pointed without looking at the sights. One thing that makes it hard, however, is the fact that pistols and revolvers are of so many different shapes and that most of them do not point in the same direction that the finger would — without considerable practice.

The Remington Model 51 automatic was carefully designed after months of study, with the object of having it point just where the finger would point if it were not on the trigger. Many other pocket automatics point the same way, and the Colt Woodsman and the Luger are among the best in this respect. The .45 Government Model Automatic also closely approaches this ideal, especially with the improved mainspring housing adopted about 10 years ago.

Now that’s dated. The “improved mainspring housing” he’s referring to is the arched housing, introduced as part of the M1911A1 upgrade in 1926. Even with that, we never found a 1911 pointed as well as a Luger or another gun with a similarly raked grip, like the Woodsman Hatcher mentions or the High Standards that he doesn’t, because they weren’t designed yet. That said, some prefer the 1911 grip, which is why High Standard diversified from its traditional grip (that was exactly the same rake angle as the Woodsman’s) and later added the Military product line with a grip angle that was an exact match for the Government Model .45.

Celebrate Diversity! we always say.

Hatcher goes on to describe how to develop the art of pointing a gun, like a revolver, that may not point as naturally as some of those early-20th-Century self-loaders.

If you use one type of revolver and stick to it, you can easily learn to point the barrel accurately without using the sights.

He suggested a five-step program to master point shooting:

  1. Select some distant object as a target, and then close your eyes and point the gun. Open your eyes. How near are you pointing to your target? With practice, you’ll get better at it.
  2. Standing about 10 feet from a mirror, point the pistol at your own eyes. The reflection should tell you how close you are. Again, the more you do this, the better you get at it.
  3. Once you’re “accurate” enough just drawing and pointing, it’s time to add dry-fire: snap the gun when you present it. What happens to the muzzle when you do this? Practice, again, is the key to muzzle control.
  4. Move to live-fire, working on shooting without the sights. This requires a range that’s safe enough; back in the twenties, Hatcher had used the ocean off a then-undeveloped Florida.
  5. Optionally, continue at night, with white targets. You’ll be sble to see the target, but not your sights, forcing  you to shoot by instinct.

In the end, Hatcher promises that such a program will lead you to success:

Such practice as this, especially if you will stick to one particular gun, will rapidly train the subconscious mind so that the hand will always hold and point the gun so as to send the bullet into the right place.

It is surprising how soon you get so that you can simply extend the gun toward the object in question, at the same time smoothly contracting all the muscles that do the trigger pulling, and strike just about at the mark.

We have mentioned several times, both in this chapter and elsewhere, that the best way to aim is to extend the revolver straight out the object you are going to shoot, and not swing it from the shoulder in the old western style. This gesture had a reason in those early western days and was necessary. The reason was that the muzzle-loading or cap-and-ball revolvers were used, and when a cap was exploded it split in fragments which were liable to get into the revolver mechanism and clog the works. Swinging the gun with the muscle vertical when cocking allow these pieces to fall off the nipple and drop to the ground.

We can confirm that practicing instinctive shooting, which the Army once taught as “quick kill,” does rather rapidly show up as improvement in your instinctive fire results. But we didn’t know that percussion Colt trick before reading of it here.

Hatcher continues (p. 489 and following) with a discussion of the pros, cons, and methods of instruction for “hip shooting,”  which he considers “spectacular and interesting,” but more or less completely lacking “practical value.” There is no royal road to Ed McGivern level skills, Hatcher explains: “Lots of practice is what really counts in acquiring ability in hip shooting.”

You could substitute any other modifier for “hip” in there. Or leave it out entirely. Lots of practice is what really counts in acquiring ability in shooting.

Of course, it has to be focused, disciplined practice with concrete objectives, but that’s a post for another day.

Is this Bubba the Gunsmith’s Luger?

Is this a case of Bubba the Gunsmith devaluing a collector gun?

Nickel Luger

The ad says: LUGER, NUMBER 42, 9MM, DRESS/PARADE NICKEL, MATCHING #. Parts of that are true, and parts are not. Here’s the other side, and then we’ll comment a bit:

Nickel Luger 2

The true parts: It is a Luger; since it’s clearly a P.08, it’s almost certainly 9mm; it’s definitely nickel-plated; and it appears to be matching, serial number 7190.

The uncertain part: Code 42. We’ll take their word for it, but it also makes sense for a 1940 production Luger to be coded 42 (Mauser-Werke).

The false part: “Dress/Parade.” The Wehrmacht did have some dress bayonets that were plated, but (unlike US veterans organizations) they never inflicted that treatment on their firearms. Also, why would there be a “dress” version of a pistol that was carried in a holster? It makes as much sense as

Furthermore, if you look closely at the firearm, you can see that the finish is somewhat beat up with scratches and abrasions, but also is letting some rust come up:

Nickel Luger 3

It sure looks to us like plating overlaid over holster wear (on the side plate and takedown latch, for example) and possibly even pitting (on the slide under the serial number, but also along the barrel, if you look at the left-side picture blown up). Here’s another fishy-looking angle on the gun:

Nickel Luger 4

No German plated this gun, unless it was after he emigrated to the US and set himself up as a gunsmith. It looks like it might have been polished and plated perhaps to cover up a bad finish, extensive holster wear, or surface rust. Whoever did it, though, wasn’t Bubba, because the plating is generally well done and has held together for quite a long time. Crap plating is slapped on over the extant bluing, and flakes off in a couple of decades; quality plating is done in three layers, usually on bare metal, and is how the factories did it (albeit not the Mauser-Werke with military P.08s).

It’s also perhaps halved the value of the pistol, now.

So who did it? It was almost certainly done in the period from 1945-70 or thereabouts. Lugers were common pistols in regular commerce (TV shows and movies of that era often armed bad guys with Lugers and P.38s, even if the bad guys were, say, Russian). And nickel plating was the third most common gun finish at the time (after rust bluing and Parkerizing).

But in 1960, a Luger wasn’t anything special. It was just another used gun. It had a little bit of war-trophy cachet — we remember a guy who carried one as a young SF troop in Vietnam, because Luger, which you either get or you don’t. And, decades before stainless-steel firearms, the first of which stuttered haltingly into the market in the mid-70s, nickel was enormously more popular than it is now: the whole Smith and Colt catalogs, basically, could be had in blue or nickel, and nickel had a durability and cleaning edge.

A Luger was just another used gun. It’s hard for 21st century collectors to get their skulls around this idea, especially if they came late to the 20th (and soon, we will have a generation of collectors for whom the 20th century might as well be the 16th in terms of personal experience).

So some guy with a beater Luger took it to a smith he knew, or some Smith bought an el-cheapo, cosmetically-challenged Luger, and plated it up. And the new shiny Luger went on the shelf — maybe it had the bullshit “Dress/Parade” story already attached, a story impossible to check in those days where there was not only no Intertubes but also no 18-pound three-volume comprehensive Luger collector books — and it sold for more money than it would have done in its “original” condition, because better original condition Lugers were in every gun shop in the land. It was just another gun.

The Luger in these pictures, on a Florida gun site, has already sold. The asking price was $1,150, and maybe the guy got it, which is a lot less than the gun might have drawn in original worn condition.

But there is a silver lining in all this. We have all seen how collectors treat their most prized arms: spotless cleanliness, an OCD level of attention to temperature and humidity, handle with cotton gloves. There’s an awful lot of cherry-condition Lugers that will never fire another shot, and this P.08 isn’t one of them. Its buyer can shoot it to his heart’s content, and get the peculiar delight that comes from watching a toggle action eject spinning brass cases from behind the gun. Lugers are fun to shoot. Now, it’s a free country, and if you want to take rare Lugers and lock them up in a dark room, you’re welcome to do so. Knock yourself out. Meanwhile, we will buy the plated, reblued, numbers-mismatching or otherwise “polluted” guns that a collector disdains: and shoot the living daylights out of ‘em.

After all, it’s a free country.

Stricken with Gleprosy — infectious agent: Bubba the Gunsmith

Bubba is in da house! Check out this case of Gleprosy. Also called Handtool’s Disease.


Words fail. Well, maybe except for one word: FUGLY. And what can that thing feel like? Nothing good. It looks like a marital aid for frigid Komodo Lizards.

"Yeah?! Bet you wouldn't say that to my face!"

“Yeah?! Bet you wouldn’t say that to my face! I’m way better looking than that abortion.”

Hat tip, Miguel at Gun Free Zone.

Aimo Lahti

Aimo Lahti

Aimo Lahti with a Suomi KP/31.

Aimo Lahti was born 118 years ago today in Viiala, Finland. He was the greatest gun designer in Finnish history, which makes him a big frog in a pretty small pond. But he was influential far beyond the borders of his Scandinavian homeland.

As a Finnish biography by Simo Kärävä says:

Asesuunnittelija Aimo Johannes Lahti (28.4.1896 Akaan Viiala – 19.4.1970 Jyväskylä), jonka suunnittelemat aseet tulivat 1930-luvun sotilaille ja suojeluskuntalaisille sekä sotiemme veteraaneille tutuiksi usein toistuneen koura- ja olkatuntuman kautta, on jäänyt ihmeteltävän vähälle huomiolle sotia ja puolustusvoimia käsittelevässä kirjallisuudessa sekä tämän vuoksi myös melko tuntemattomaksi muille suomalaisille, sotilaita ja aseharrastajia lukuun ottamatta.

via Aimo Lahti.

Lahti-designed 20mm AA gun VKT 40.

Lahti-designed 20mm AA gun VKT 40.

Yeah, that. There’s really no run-on sentence like a run-on sentence in Finnish. Anyway, Aimo is little known in the Anglosphere, but his name rings a bell because two of his best-known guns bore his own name: the Lahti M/35 automatic pistol (also adopted in Denmark and in Sweden as the M/40) which combined the natural-pointing grip angle of the Luger with a completely different mechanism, and the Lahti M/39 semiautomatic antitank rifle, advertised for years in the pages of American Rifleman and other 1960s gun magazines. The M/39 was the object of every boy’s envy, later, even if by 1939 it was already marginal medicine on tanks. Lahti would use the same basic mechanism in the beefier VKT 40 anti-aircraft gun, usually seen as a twin mount.

He also co-designed the standard Finnish light machine gun of the Winter and Continuation Wars, the Lahti-Saloranta L/S 26. (It would be replaced by Russian DP LMGs which were captured in vast quantities). He was also responsible for some of the Finnish improvements to the Mosin-Nagant rifle, and for a modified Maxim for aerial and AA use called the VKT. All in all he designed over 50 weapons, counting designs like the M/27 rifle (a modified Mosin).


Lahti’s most influential gun did not bear his name at all. It was the Machine Pistol (“Konepistooli” or KP) 31, the famous “Suomi” (a word which just means “Finland.”) While by 1931 this submachine gun was not entirely revolutionary, we need to bear in mind that the 1931 model was an update of a 1926 model, which in turn was an update of a 1922 run of prototypes. That makes the Suomi, for all intents and purposes, a contemporary of the early Thompson, yielding primacy only to the Thompson and the German MP18.

Like those guns, the Suomi featured sturdy, machined parts and a wooden stock and was very heavy, especially with a loaded drum magazine. The first Suomi drum was unreliable; it was replaced, while a new drum was being designed, by the four-column “casket” mag, that squeezed the four columns down to a single feeding position. The casket mag was a Suomi original that has echoes today in some Russian designs and the Surefire 60- and 100-round magazines.

Suomi 50-round Casket mag. From ARFCOM.

Suomi 50-round Casket mag. From ARFCOM.

The Russian submachine guns of the mid-20th Century all owed a great deal to the Suomi design. The PPSh drum is a rather direct copy of the second, reliable Suomi design and shares its 71-round capacity. The Soviet designers were never slow to adapt a foreign idea that could be turned to Soviet military purposes.

Sweden, which built Suomis under license, used the Suomi mags as the feed system for their indigenous submachine gun, the M45 Carl Gustav (and M45 “Swedish K” mags work in a Suomi). But that’s another post.

After the Continuation War ended in 1944, Finland was occupied by a Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission (there were a couple of token Brits) and by Finnish communist quislings who had been indoctrinated for years in the USSR and were determined to bring the joys of the Russian Revolution to Finland. However, the Finns had hidden tens of thousands of arms, and the thought of the whole nation rising in guerrilla warfare terrified the Soviets a little and their puppets a lot. The Finnish communists reinvented themselves as a political party, competing at the ballet box, and their secret police withered away when their Soviet puppetmasters withdrew.

The spiteful Soviets, whose troops had been shot full of holes by many Lahti designs, demanded that that the Finn retire from arms design, and he did, living on a pension until 1970. His only child became a Finnish Air Force aviator and perished during the Continuation War.

There is a biography of Lahti, Aimo Lahti: Finnish Weapons Designer by Maire Vaajakallio, but it is, alas, only available in the Finnish language.

The FBI Teaches Defensive Shooting — circa 1955

We’re guessing the date from the 1955 Chevy we see in one of the role-playing scenes, where Officer Friendly nails a couple of deserving burglars with his .38.

Many of these techniques have fallen out of fashion — after all, a newborn baby then might be drawing Social Security now. But that’s not the same thing as saying those tactics don’t work. Well applied, those tactics are quite capable of winning gunfights. We’re just pretty sure we have a better way to do things now.

One thing that has changed a lot is trigger discipline. In those days, the FBI had their students get on the trigger quickly. Nowadays this is not as popular, in part because it’s a lot easier to accidently touch off a round from a modern striker-fired trigger-safety auto pistol than it is reef back on an old Smith or Colt revolver’s double-action trigger.

If you want this film to use in a training class, you can probably get a higher-res version at the Internet Archive, using the following catalog information:

Fundamentals of Double Action Revolver Shooting – National Archives and Records Administration 1975-04-28 – ARC Identifier 4523715 / Local Identifier 330-DVIC-27541 – Department of Defense. Office of the Secretary of Defense. (09/18/1947 – ). Synopsis: Explains fundamentals of handling double action revolvers. Illustrates various positions, correct grip, methods of aiming and sighting. Shows how to acquire confidence, speed and marksmanship. Emphasizes the necessity of having great respect for the deadliness of the revolver. Simulated gun battles afford tips on boosting the chances of survival when “playing for keeps” with the underworld.

Indeed you can. Here it is, available in .mp4 or hi-res .mp2.

Sok it to me, Baby! The weird and wonderful Sokolovsky Automaster

Sokolovsky AutomasterThe Sokolovsky Automaster was promoted, shortly before its entry into production, as the “Rolls Royce of .45 Auto Pistols.” The pistol was starkly beautiful in an angular, Modernist way. Indeed, the design might be called Brutalist, although we don’t think the Brutalists ever escaped from architecture into industrial design, did they? And frankly, the Sokolovsky was very attractive with its smooth stainless finish. It was a child of the 1980s, when angular industrial design (think DeLorean and Countach) was all the rage. The gun was completely devoid of any external hint of the knobs, buttons, levers, pins  and screws that collectively comprise the human interface, and mechanical axles and pivots, of its contemporaries.

It was designed by Paul Sokolovsky of Sunnyvale, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Sokolovsky was employed as an engineer by Valley semiconductor powerhouse Advanced Micro Devices, and a search of his name at the US Patent and Trademark Office shows an interesting mix of patents for firearms innovations — apparently a sideline — along with patents for AMD that involved either microchip production — even a machine optimized to tape 90º corners on boxes! About Sokolovsky personally we don’t know much. A search of the Social Security Death Index reveals a Paul J. Sokolovsky who was born on 24 April 1926 and passed away at the age of 82 on 1 December, 2008, in Auburn, California. His Social Security number (060-26-3226) was issued in New York. This seems to be our guy.

Sokolovsky Automaster L side

A more thorough search expands his middle initial from J. to “John” and has him living in Palo Alto from 31 December 1996 to 13 November 2000, but maintaining residences in both Sunnyvale (from 1980) and Auburn (from 1993) until the summer before his death. We also have evidence, here and there, that he was an avid target shooter, and that his handgun was an attempt to make a better bullseye pistol than the then-reigning modified 1911.

It takes a bold man to improve on a John M. Browning design. Sokolovsky’s clean-sheet design pays homage in styling to the Browning classic, and offers a similar grip angle and trigger position, but differs in almost all aspects of its operation. No parts interchange.

Screenshot 2014-04-14 00.12.34The ads with the Rolls-Royce comparison ran in 1983, inviting correspondence to “Sokolovsky Corp., Sport Arms,” at a Sunnyvale PO Box. The ad shows one of the gun’s unique features, its smooth sides. At a glance, it appears that the sole user interface is the trigger, but that’s not exactly so. It’s the triggersSokolovsky may have intended to make different models — one prototype is marked, “Model TP,” perhaps for “target pistol” — but the few survivors whose images have been published seem to closely resemble one another.

The Sokolovsky Automaster is large and heavy, much larger than a 1911. It weighed nearly four pounds, and with each part machined from billet stainless, was extremely expensive even when new – $5,000 in 1984-90 dollars. These things together, and its target-shooting orientation, combined to limit its market and only 45 or so were ever made, including prototypes. They do not come up for sale often enough for a market value to be estimated.

The pistol is striker-fired, like many of John M. Browning’s early-20th-Century designs. A look at the back of the pistol is reminiscent of a Browning Model 1910 or a Baby Browning .25, among others. When cocked, the striker protrudes through a small hole in the back of the frame, behind the slide. The line between the frame and the slide shows very tight fitting, more reminiscent of a matching-numbers Luger than any truly mass-produced handgun.

Pretty With a Purpose

Sokolovsky Automaster rear of frame

All of these pictures are courtesy the National Firearms Museum. And they all embiggen to giant size — even the ones that are already “large”.

Unlike most firearms that are marked in simple block letters, the markings on the Sokolovsky are in script. They are marked with the company name and applicable patents (at least the initial 4,203,348) on the left side, and the model name and serial number on the right side.

The other end of the firearm is just as striking in appearance. The muzzle has a smooth crown, and retracting the slide shows that the barrel is a thick bull barrel. Unlike the 1911, the Sokolovsky barrel doesn’t tip, one of many reasons for the pistol’s demonstrated superior accuracy.

Sokolovsky Automaster muzzle and frame railsThe slide is wider than the receiver, but the slide rides on internal, SIG-style rails. Along its top, it had a rib, into which the sights were integrated. The adjustment screws on the rear sight are the only exposed screws on the entire handgun (there is also a barely visible, under close observation, pin athwart the rib holding the nose of the sight assembly in position). The angle of the slide serrations and of the back end of the slide match the angle of the grip’s front strap; the rear strap is raked at a sharper angle, which is a little reminiscent of the 9mm Radom VIS-35, a Browning system gun that was the Polish service pistol in World War II. What appears at a glance to be a grip safety is merely a removable backstrap.

Sokolovsky Automaster markingsThe operating system of the Sokolovsky takes some understanding. In place of the normal controls, there are two shadow triggers, one on the left (which is the “safety trigger”) and one on the right (“the magazine release trigger”), that can be manipulated without manipulating the main trigger. At a glance these look almost like part of the frame, but they are moving parts that slide longitudinally just as the firing trigger does.

The slide stop was of the internal variety, functioning much like the one in the Luger pistol or SKS carbine, locking the slide back when the magazine follower activated a slide stop and releasing it, so long as the follower is no longer pressing on it (i.e. empty mag removed or replaced with a loaded one), with a tug on the slide.

A Series of Patented Innovations

Sokolovsky’s trigger is the subject of US Patent 4,203,348, “Firearm Apparatus.” It is complex enough to be hard to follow; it includes over two dozen images and makes 18 claims.  He (and/or the examiners) cited nine other patents, from unknowns as well as greats (Browning and Garand). He copied part of his trigger mechanism not from any firearm, but from the familiar mechanism of a retractable ballpoint pen. The Safety Trigger, when on “safe,” is in a forward position and blocks the firing mechanism of the gun mechanically. Actuating the Safety Trigger causes it to retract (like a ballpoint pen), allowing the weapon to fire, and providing a solid visual and tactile clue as to the firing readiness of the firearm. In addition, if the pistol is cocked, a pin protrudes from the rear of the frame behind the slide, a Browning-style cocking indicator.

The Magazine Release Trigger is more straightforward. It works on a pivoting bar, one end of which is fixed and the other of which contains a hook that holds the mag in place. It is spring-loaded and so has a “momentary” effect, and reverts to the forward position when finger pressure is released.

While the use of multiple triggers — “plural triggers” was Sokolovsky’s term — may seem to be a safety hazard, remember that this is not a duty weapon, it’s a target-shooting pistol.

The barrel is held to the frame by a series of spring detents, and fits snugly into three narrowed areas of the slide, but even after careful examination of the patents, how it actually locks is a mystery, unless it is unlocked, fixed in place, and the firearm relies on the pneumatic slide decelerator (described below) to delay blowback.

Another patented Sokolovsky invention is a spring guide that doubles as a decelerator, reducing recoil by forcing air through small holes in its rear. This is described straightforwardly in US Patent 4,388,855 Firearm pneumatic slide decelerator assembly. We can’t be sure this was actually used in production (if “production” is really the word) Automasters. But the patent illustration does show it in a clearly recognizable Automaster. It resembles the idea of the H&K P7 or the Gustloff VG1-5, but instead of relying on a volume of combustion gas to be metered out valve hole(s), it compresses ambient-pressure air through four metered valve holes arrayed around the rear end of the assembly. The chamber reloads with air after it returns, expanded, to full extension as the gun comes into battery again. Such a mechanism seems ill-suited for a combat arm, but might reset quickly enough for timed and rapid fire in bullseye terms.

Yet a third Sokolovsky innovation is described in US Patent 4,646,619, Singulating apparatus for a semiautomatic firearm. This is essentially the Sokolovsky sear, and it is designed to make the gun more drop-safe than previous striker-fired handguns while also greatly reducing trigger pull weight for higher accuracy. (This patent also references one of the greats, Václav Holek).

An exception to the stellar quality finish on most of the Sokolovsky Automaster is the rather crude-looking magazine on this toolroom prototype. It appears to be made from two 1911 mags spot-welded together to give an 8-round capacity.

Sokolovsky Automaster crude magazine

The NRA’s National Firearms Museum holds a prototype, a pre-production gun and one of the production run, which is thought to comprise about 45 pistols all told. All of the museum guns were donations from Mr Sokolovsky during his life. The beautiful photos here are from the NRA NFM (and there are more pictures there), but their brief blurb on the firearm does not contain a lot of detail, which set us to digging. Researching the Sokolovsky has been a lot of fun, and we’re looking for an example for a closer examination. We understand that the Museum of Modern Art wants one, too. See why?

Sokolovsky Automaster in Recoil

Is a red dot better than iron sights — for a pistol?

Here's a Glock 17 with a TRijicon RMR, The guns in the study were the slightly smaller but similar G19

Here’s a Glock 17 with a TRijicon RMR, The guns in the study were the slightly smaller but similar G19

According to what appears to be a Norwich University undergraduate study from 2011 that was recently noted by Soldier Systems Daily, the answer is in and it’s a strong “yes.” From the report’s Executive Summary:

This project examined the comparative effectiveness of traditional iron pistol sights with Trijicon, Inc.’s red dot optic sight. Twenty-seven students from Norwich University participated by undergoing a simulated training course of fire using International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) silhouette targets for four different stages. Thirteen students used iron sights and 14 students used the optic. The results of the project indicated that there was a statistically significant difference favoring the optic for “hits on paper” in Stage 1 (15 yard slow fire) and for accuracy (hits near the center mass of the target) for all four stages of fire. 

Summarized Summary: more hits with the Trijicon RMR in Stage 1, and better hits in all stages.

The study is credited to James Ryan, apparently a student at the university, and Robin Adler, a professor of Justice Studies and Sociology.

While the summary led the report, and the statements made in the summary are well supported by the study data, at the end, the study reached three conclusions. The interesting thing is that we can only find support for two of the three in the findings and data. The conclusions were:

  1. This comparative pistol project indicated the Trijicon Inc.’s RMR was more effective than traditional iron sights.
  2. The results suggest that trainees in military and law enforcement specialties may gain proficiency more efficiently with the RMR.
  3. In addition the RMR is useful for seasoned professionals.

We find support for the first two conclusions in the study, but didn’t see anything at all to support the third. (We would expect that the RMR would be useful for pros — we’ve found it useful –but we could find nothing in the study itself that backs that statement up).

If this study is repeatable, we’re going to see more sights like the RMR on more handguns in the coming years. The key limitations of the study are that it was of short duration (one range day for each group) and very small groups (the control and experimental group were each 15 pistol shooters,  plus three alternates. Both groups were generated by random assignment, and about evenly split betwen complete novices and people with some shooting and/or pistol experience. In the end, 27 total students participated, 13 using three-dot iron sights and 14 using the RMR).  This experimental data set is too small to generate a high degree of confidence, but the group with the RMR steadily and consistently outshot the iron-sight group.

The pistols were otherwise identical Glock 19s. The targets were modified IDPA standard targets (the head was removed as a point-advantaged target, because the shooters were instructed to engage the targets only at center mass).

The small sample size meant that a result would have to be extremely disparate between the two groups to meet measures of statistical significance. The measure used judging the variance between teh groups’ mean scores in the stages was the non-parametric Mann-Whitney U.  In each of the four stages, the RMR group had more hits than the iron-sight group, but only on Stage 1 was the difference statistically significant. The measure used for evaluating overall accuracy was the chi-square, familiar to every survivor of freshman stats. The accuracy advantage of the RMR was statistically significant.

For both the mean scores in Stage 1 and the accuracy superiority overall, the probability of these results being the consequences of random chance, rather than an actual advantage of the RMR over iron sights, was 1 in 100.

WeaponsMan Analysis — Why the RMR “wins.”

The key advantage of the RMR on a pistol is the same as the key advantage of any optic on a rifle, compared to iron sights: it eliminates the need to consciously focus on one of three focal planes (the front sight) but allows a shooter to focus on the target and have the aimpoint superimposed in the same focal plane. A secondary advantage is the red-dot’s ability to compensate to some extent for poor presentation, pistol cant, etc., in ways that iron sights cannot.

The key disadvantage of the RMR is the way it juts out from the top of the pistol slide, making the pistol more awkward. While optical sights are often considered frail and vulnerable, the RMR  is a fairly robust unit, and a blow that would dislodge or damage it might well dislodge the standard three-dot iron sights also.

The full study can be read on SSD at this link or downloaded from here: 2011_Norwich_Study_RMRvIronSights.pdf

Hey, dude, where’s my Glock?

A Glock 22 Gen 4 with a Streamlight lightn attached. (File photo from

A Glock 22 Gen 4 with a Streamlight light attached. (File photo from Missing pistol is similar.

A Tucson cop is asking that question as an important piece of personal equipment turned up missing last week, after he chased a purse-snatcher on foot. The cops bagged the criminal — one Adrian Pride, who’s a career criminal despite being only 18 — after a long and kinetic steeplechase through back yards and over fences and walls. But one of the officers was Glockless as Pride was being read his rights. The Arizona Star:

A Tucson police officer chasing a man in connection with a theft and purse-snatching on the city’s westside discovered that he lost his handgun during the pursuit.

The .40-caliber Glock, which fell out of the officer’s holster, was not found Monday, and police are asking the public for help in finding it, said Sgt. Chris Widmer, a Tucson Police Department spokesman.

On Monday at about noon, an officer was flagged down at Safeway, 1551 W. Saint Mary’s Road, regarding what was initially reported as a purse snatching, said Sgt. Chris Widmer, a Tucson Police Department spokesman.

A description of the suspect was broadcasted to responding officers, and one officer located a man matching the description near West Saint Mary’s Road and North Westmoreland Avenue, Widmer said.

The man ran as the officer attempted to make contact with him. Officers chased the man through neighborhood yards, and climbed over several walls before capturing him in the 500 block of North Shawnee Avenue, said Widmer.

Police determined that Adrian Pride, 18, shoplifted an item from Safeway, and as he left the supermarket he grabbed the purse of a woman in front of the store, Widmer said. Pride was booked into the Pima County jail on suspicion of shoplifting and theft. In November, an arrest warrant was issued for Pride in connection to a robbery at the Maui Smoke Shop at 1099 E. Broadway.

After the foot chase Monday, officers searched for the missing police officer’s weapon. Officers immediately retraced the path of the chase, but the weapon was not located. An extensive search lasted throughout the day, Widmer said.

Police are asking the public for help in locating the handgun, which is a Glock 22 Gen4 with an affixed StreamLight tactical light. The serial number is RVS121, Widmer said.

via Tucson police officer loses gun during foot chase.

This is actually a pretty rare thing, for a PD that loses a gun to put the serial number out to the media. The BATFE, which loses between 10 and 20 guns in an average year and has been doing so for many years (their own guns, not the ones they walk to criminal organizations), has never done that; the FBI, which loses guns at about half ATF’s per-agent rate (but is much larger) has never done that; most local PDs never do that. (ATF doesn’t even enter all its lost and stolen guns in NCIC, and their compliance with their own regs on this has been worsening steadily).

About the only worse thing than losing your duty gun is having it turn up in a murder or other violent crime.  Many stolen or lost police guns are recovered in less-serious crime investigations, before innocents can be harmed. It’s impossible to prevent some level of weapons loss in a large department or agency, because however well-selected and -trained, the personnel will still be human. In an organization with poor selection, training, or morale, of course, the loss rate is higher than it needs to be.


The Prettiest Handgun that Never Was

Prototype No 3, the last known Webley Jurek pistol.

Prototype No 3, the last known Webley Jurek pistol.

Pity poor Dr Marian K. Jurek (YOOR-eck). He had a great gun design, and first-class machining skills. He was just always in the wrong country. Most of what we know about his beautiful Experimental Webley 9mm pistol we know thanks to British gun historian A.J.R. Cormack, who carried on a correspondence with him while both still lived. Ezell’s magisterial Handguns of the World does not contain anything on Jurek or his designs, not because Ezell didn’t know of them (he almost certainly did) but because they were postwar, and outside the 1900-45 scope of Handguns. Reportedly, there is a chapter in Cuthbertson’s book on Webley pistols that covers this gun, but the Unconventional Warfare Reference Library does not contain that volume (note to editors… order book, update post).

And most of what we know about Jurek’s life we know from A.J.R. Cormack as well, who wrote:

The designer, Dr Marian K. Jurek, was born in Poland on 7 September 1904 and even at the age of 15 was dabbling in the art of the gunmaker. In 1937, after a brilliant scholastic career, Dr Jurek became the Head of Research at an ammunition factory. During the war Dr Jurek saw service with a number of branches of the [British is implied] Services including the 1st Armoured Division Workshops.

(The same text appears in Cormacks Famous Pistols and Hand Guns starting on page 111, and in his edited Small Arms in Profile, Volume 1 on page 15 and in the booklet Small Arms Profile, No. 1, Webley and Scott Pistols – available on Scribd).

Much is implied, but unstated, in this brief paragraph — Jurek like many others was somehow uprooted from his native land as it fell under Nazi and Soviet occupation in 1939, and began what he probably intended to be a temporary exile, but turned into a new life, in Great Britain.

Fortunately, a Polish military magazine, Komandos, published a short biography of Dr Jurek “The Emigré Designer,” and much of that has been picked up in an entry in the Polish Wikipedia.

After the war, Jurek still served for a time in the Parachute Regiment, and designed two submachine guns,  hammer-fired from a closed bolt in an attempt to reduce the cyclic rate. He may have been aiming at the round of trials that would ultimately select the Patchett (Stirling) as a Sten replacement, but his were not accepted. (According to the Wikipedia bio, his SMGs were designed in 1942 and 1946).

The receiver of Jurek's Protptype No. 1 was still in his possession when he ccorresponded with Cormack. It was made of mild steel.

The receiver of Jurek’s Prototype No. 1 was still in his possession when he corresponded with Cormack. It was made of mild steel and reveals some of the pistol’s secrets.

After leaving the service, Jurek, who had been working on a pistol design owing much to the Walther P. 38, was engaged by Webley & Scott to develop this gun for upcoming British automatic pistol trials. World War II was the swan song of the revolver as a general service sidearm, and the British forces were the last to issue revolvers widely. Automatics including Lend-Lease Colts (1908 and 1911 models) and Inglis Hi-Powers were also widely used, especially in elite units like the Commandos, and British ordnance officers knew and liked the Hi-Power and its 9mm cartridge.

Webley had experience with auto pistols, but its early 20th Century designs, which seem to have gone out of production by the outbreak of the war, were not competitive with the latest designs from overseas. Webley managers hoped that they could develop a design that would match the advantages of the foreign guns, while allowing British officers to “buy British.”

Jurek No. 2 was the first Webley version. It was (and may still be) in the Pattern Room, incomplete.

Jurek No. 2 was the first Webley version and was tested by the Army. It was (and may still be) in the Pattern Room, incomplete.

Enter Jurek and his 9mm parabellum prototype, this time with the venerable house of Webley and Scott and all the energy of Birmingham and the industrial Midlands behind him. Circa 1952, a single Jurek pistol made in Webley’s Birmingham toolroom and well-finished and tested entered British Army trials.

It was an uphill fight for Webley, and the Hi-Power had a head start and did, in the end, win. But the gun Webley and Jurek entered was, as Cormack wrote, “of great interest both historically and technically.” The “historical” part is clear: it was the last gasp of a dying Webley, at least as a firearms design and manufacturing concern.


Jurek No. 2. Note the longer barrel, given in Cormack as 6".

Jurek No. 2. Note the longer barrel, given in Cormack as 6″. All photos enlarge with a click.

Technically, parts of Jurek’s design sincerely flatter the Walther P.38. It had a single-stack, 8-shot magazine and a double-action trigger, a takedown lever where it fits in the P.38, a safety that appears identical to the classic Walther decocker. Even the slide serrations look like the German gun, and in the parts of the gun we have described so far, the differences are largely cosmetic. The Jurek hammer, for instance, has a circular spur like that of the Hi-Power, and the slide and frame extend further back over the shooter’s hand. The photos we have do not show what sort of recoil springs were used, but the frame of prototype 1 — a gun made of mild steel by Dr Jurek before he started with Webley — shows reliefs for Walther-P.38-style dual coil recoil springs. It appears that the P.38-style takedown switch may have been the first stage of a takedown mode that involved a PPK-style trigger bow, but without more pictures or a chance to examine a gun, we can’t be sure.

The unique Jurek links and cradle. Versions existed with one, two and three locking lugs.

The unique Jurek links and cradle. Versions existed with one, two and three locking lugs.

The departure came forward on the slide, and underneath. Where the Walther has an open slide, the Webley 9mm has an ejection port in a closed one. This is because, where the Walther has a tipping locking block (as would be used in later Berettas as well), the Jurek lock has some kinship to earlier Browning and Webley practices. From Browning, Jurek took the locking link as in the 1911, but he used two in parallel, one ahead of the other (the Browning 1905 did this, one at the breech and one at the muzzle. Jurek’s are both at the breech).

Mechanism in recoil

Mechanism in recoil. Note: all these pictures can be expanded with a click.

Like the .455 Webley, then, the 9mm Webley had a barrel that always stayed parallel to the same axis it was on when fully in battery, although the WWI vintage Webley had angled cams riding in slots. Also like the Webley, Jurek originally used a single large locking lug (a bit like the future SIG, Glock etc. practice of making a top ejection port the single locking recess). To ensure that the barrel stayed locked to the slide until the bullet had exited and allowed pressure to drop, a sliding cradle held the two lower pins of the locking lugs, and the sliding cradle recoiled with the barrel for a fraction of an inch before being stopped and pulling the barrel down and the locking lugs out of engagement with the locking recess on the top of the 9mm’s slide.

Other side of #3. All of these images are scanned from Cormack.

Other side of #3. All of these images are scanned from Cormack.

A total of three prototypes were made, and at the time of Cormack’s writing, long decades ago, at least one (#3) survived in the Pattern Room and the stripped receiver of #1 survived in Jurek’s possession. The guns underwent many modifications. The locking lugs particularly were modified, and Cormack published photos of three variations, with each new one having more lugs (and therefore, more lock-up area) than the previous. Both 4″ and 6″ barrels were tried. The Wikipedia bio suggests 22 examples of the 3rd prototype, adapted to take a 13-round magazine, were made, but Cormack does not suggest this. We believe that the bio author has misread Cormack’s comment that the British Army had also requested a .22 caliber training version.

According to Cormack, the British Army asked that the gun be lightened by changing the receiver from steel to aluminum, and asked if it could be adapted to a double-column magazine. Had that been done, it would have been the first double-action double-column “wonder nine,” decades before the US Navy would ask Smith & Wesson to build one (a request that led to the S&W M59).

Sketch of the never-built Prototype No. 4.

Sketch of the never-built Prototype No. 4.

At this point, Webley threw in the sponge, abandoned the project, and Jurek left Webley and set up shop in Birmingham, where he handcrafted single-shot target pistols that had some of the same fine aesthetic as his ill-fated service pistol entry. His called his principal pistol the Popular model, and made 186 of them by hand, mostly for British competitors. (In an act of national vandalism, any survivors of these in Great Britain were seized and destroyed after a nut case committed a school shooting). He also made other guns, including long guns with a toggle action. He had dreams of continuing his 9mm service pistol design — Cormack had a picture of a prototype No. 4 sketch (left) — but as far as we can determine, never cut metal on it.

And this is why he was doubly unlucky in his countries: when the US considered a dozen or so 9mm pistols, not only the winner (the Beretta M9), but the runner-up (SIG 226) and a number of the also-rans achieved great market success. In a nation where the only gun buyer is the government, the way of the gun designer is a rocky one; and the nation winds up dependent on foreign minds for its small arms.

According, again, to the Wikipedia bio, Jurek and his business, met as anticlimactic and tragic an end as his designs did.  As his health failed in the late 1970s, the government, at the time ideologically opposed not only to private manufacture of guns but to private, free enterprise, full stop, revoked his manufacturing license. He had been one of only three gunsmiths in the country licensed to make guns, a fine British art that was marked for extinction.



His records showed that he made 352 guns in total in his shop; this doesn’t include the (probable) 3, or (if you believe the Wikipedia entry, which is probably an error) 25, or Lord knows how many pretty 9mm pistols he handcrafted while in the employ of Webley & Scott, or the lost submachine gun prototypes of his Army years. Dr Jurek passed away in 1982 in his adopted city of Birmingham.

Had Jurek only emigrated to Birmingham, Alabama (or any of a thousand American cities) instead of the English namesake, there might be one of these sleek nines in your collection.

Look Ma, no hammer! SIG P320 hits the market

Full Size P320

Look Ma, no hammer! Full Size P320. They’re initially available in 9mm and .40, soon to be in .45, and the SIG-SAUER site is contradictory on whether the .357 SIG is available now, or RSN.

SIG has now cataloged the P320. Unfortunately, the website launches an autoplay video. It’s a good video, in our view, but we’d rather have a say on when something comes blaring out of our speakers. Anyway, if you can give it a listen, the page is here, with the two versions of the pistol on it — just expect the video to automatically pop-up. Once the video’s over, you can dig into the specs and the details about the guns.

We’ll reproduce some of it here, and in between paragraphs and after SIG says their piece, we’ll have some comments. 

Introducing the P320, a polymer-framed service pistol designed from the ground up with the input of law enforcement officers. The result is the most operator-safety focused striker duty pistol on the market today. Taking into account the concerns of military and police training officers, the P320 provides an enhanced level of safety not found on most modern service pistols. Unlike its competitors, the P320 does not require the operator to pull the trigger nor use a special tool to take-down the firearm for cleaning or routine maintenance.

They’re obviously reacting — as everyone has, since S&W’s bleak “Copy the mother******!” days that produced the lawsuit Sigma — to the runaway popularity of Glock. Here, SIG is trying to address what makes Glocks popular, not just with street cops and team guys, but also with white shirts and procurement officers; while differentiating the P320 by hitting the high points of “I only wish it didn’t…” in the Glock world. The trigger-pull disassembly is one Glock feature that not only makes folks trained on other pistols uneasy (and makes ambulance chasers salivate), but it also really has produced oh-crap holes in cops’ thighs, cruisers, locker rooms, range facilities, buddies, and family members.

Yes, it’s completely safe if one complies with all the other rules of safe gun handling. The reason we have multiple rules (where any one would prevent a fatal mishap) is to keep all the holes in the swiss cheese from lining up. The trigger-pull disassembly is one hole that comes prealigned.

One of the big deals at SHOT this year was modularity. (Well, one friend said, “Nothing but walls and walls of near-identical ARs with invisible differences — it was boring.” We think he was trying to cheer us up). The P320, as we predicted beforehand, has modularity in spades:

This is the Carry size. There is a third grip frame size. Spare and conversion parts are not yet cataloged.

This is the Carry size. There is a third grip frame size, also. Spare and conversion parts are not yet cataloged.

Featuring a modular grip frame and removable fire control assembly pioneered by SIG SAUER, the P320 is customizable to any hand size or duty requirement. The P320 can quickly be converted from a Full-size to a Carry pistol. Slide and barrel conversions allow the P320 to change between calibers and barrel lengths as well. The P320 will be immediately available in 9mm, .40S&W and .357SIG, with .45ACP coming later in 2014. With a partially pretensioned striker, the P320 has a short, crisp trigger pull with a quick, pronounced reset right out-of-the-box.

The serialized bit is the metal frame that holds the locking block, trigger, hammer, mag release and lockwork. The grip frame is cosmetic and ergonomic, kind of like the body panels on the old Pontiac Fiero, and like those, will probably lead to aftermarket variants if the underlying gun sells well.

The standard trigger is smooth, and a Glock-style trigger safety is an option, as is a thumb safety, a magazine disconnect, and a loaded-chamber indicator.  SIG suggests that some of those multiply redundant safeties will be available only to the LE customers who insist on them.

The P320 comes in two trigger variants: a standard trigger and a tabbed safety trigger for specific law enforcement clients. Featuring the SIG SAUER internal safety system, the P320 has no external safety or decocking lever to snag or hang up on the draw. A frame-mounted thumb safety version will be available for law enforcement needs. SIGLITE® night sights come standard, and the reversible magazine release makes the P320 completely ambidextrous. Whatever the requirement, patrol duty, competition, time at the shooting range, or concealed carry, the P320 brings SIG SAUER legendary reliability, durability, and quality to the polymer-framed, striker-fired duty pistol.

Unlike any other pistol in its class, the P320 features a unique 5-point safety system, standard on all models:

- Striker Safety
- Disconnect Safety
- 3-point Take Down Safety System
- Takedown is prohibited without removal of magazine
- System prohibits takedown without slide locked to the rear
- Rotation of takedown lever allows disassembly without tools or trigger manipulation.

- Four additional optional safeties round out the P320 safety system:
- Tabbed Safety Trigger
- Frame-mounted ambidextrous Manual Safety
- Loaded Chamber Indicator
- Magazine Disconnect Safety

The unique modular design of the P320 offers the user the ultimate in flexibility to change calibers, sizes, and fit. Small, medium, and large complete polymer grip modules ensure comfortable and optimal fit for the widest range of hand sizes.

SIG’s previous modular pistol, the hammer-fired  SIG 250, hasn’t been a resounding commercial success, but it let SIG work out the technology they’re using here, on a pistol that has a lot of sales potential in LE, military and civilian markets. There probably needs to be some critical mass of sales for a third-party infrastructure to develop. SIG could help this along by releasing a technical data package, and evangelizing it to industry partners; this would get the 320 rolling towards must-have status before it can get there if it has to depend on accessory vendors reverse-engineering the gun.