Thursday, May 01, 2008

HOORAY! It's May!

And yet another snowstorm here in the Endless Winter Zone. Good day for a nap.

Anyhow, I did get to the range yesterday to put rounds through my Para Carry 9. I love this gun! So much so that since it now has sufficent rounds through it, I'm making it my Numbah One Carry Gun.

I thought for the heck of it I'd step you guys through my decision-making process on this choice, and a little history of my carry guns.

For years my primary carry gun was an STI LS9 9mm 1911-styled semiauto. I moved to the LS9 from, strangely enough, a Star Firestar M40 .40 S&W. The little single-action Firestars were among the first "sub-caliber." sub-Officer's Model-size semiautos that actually worked.

Before the Firestar, I'd settled on a Star PD — the gun Col. Jeff Cooper suggested should be carried a lot and shot a little — in .45 ACP for years. I'd arrived at the Firestar through a circuitous route through the 1980s...before I got sucked into the "combat shooting" vortex, I carried my S&W Regulation Police .38 S&W I-frame (smaller then the current J-frame) revolver — a gun I'd gotten for my 12th birthday — in a cheesey IWB holster I bought at a gun store in Tallahassee, FL, when I was in college at Florida State. YES! — I kept a handgun in my dorm room in college, in a typewriter case actually (a typewriter was a primitive word processor, FYI). Thankfully, I kept the typewriter case locked so the little Smith never got loose and shot up a classroom!

I loaded the Smith with handloads, 148-grain swaged hollow-base soft lead wadcutters, reversed so the gaping hollow base was forward, since the only commercial loads for the .38 S&W (NOT .38 Specials) was the notoriously anemic 146-gr round nose leads.

Once I got sucked into the fledgling sport of practical shooting, nothing would do but having a semiauto to pack around. I'd had one of the early S&W M-59s that worked on Thursdays and Sundays, but I had sold it to get my first 1911. I carried that steel Commander for a while, because Real Men Carried Big 1911s...not a long while because Real Men issues aside, I lived in Florida and wore shorts and Hawaiian shirts. The Commander was like carting around a brickbat, which dimmed my mellow. I briefly had a very early aluminum-framed Commander, which broke...par for the course with older lightweights.

I briefly swapped for an original Detonics Combat Master .45, which ran flawlessly but only came with one extra magazine...additional mags were rare and expensive. The gun was exotic enough that someone offered me an S&W 3-inch M24 .44 Special revolver AND a pretty new Colt Officer's Model for the little Detonics. I figured the Officer's Model was the answer to my carry prayers, except I could NOT get the damn thing to run 100%! Worst 1911 I've ever owned. Besides, it was still an all-steel gun and not that much lighter than the Commander.

I finally snagged a NIB Star PD, which carried and shot suprisingly well. I talked Mike LaRocca at LaRocca's Gun Works, who'd visit me in Florida to — John Kerry Alert! — go windsurfing, to overhaul the PD. I carried the Star for years, but the problem was the little "shock buff" recoil buffer on the recoil guide rod, placed there to protect the aluminum frame from battering itself to death like the early Colts. The little bumpers wore out and were darn hard to get, even when Star was a going enterprise. Had I any sense, I'd'a bought a hundred of the things...

I stumbled onto the Firestar at a SHOT Show in the early 1990s, and it was quantums smaller than the PD (well, I suppose "quantum" is in the eye of the beholder). It was also an all-steel gun, 5 ounces heavier than the PD's 25 ounces, but I overlooked that drawback because it was available in .40 S&W. The .40 was only a couple of years old at that point, and I was still as enamored with it as everyone else. Something for nothing!

My Firestar .40 was and is a NASTY BASTARD to shoot! But it carried great in an IWB and was a workhorse for years. I even talked LaRocca into doing a flawless trigger job on the little gun — "You have to promise not to tell anyone that I work on stuff like this," he'd made me swear briefly.

Once I stopped shooting USPSA Limited, there were a lot less .40s lying around the house and the cartridge had already lost a lot of appeal to me. I felt better about 9mm as a defensive cartridge because of the huge surge of 9mm bullet design. Besides, the 9 was much easier to shoot in the smaller packages and I was then as I am now, a firm believe in follow-up shots.

Firestar vs. Para Carry 9

PAUSE: Where, you ask, are the Glocks? Where are the little S&Ws? The small Tauruses? Sigs?

Keep in mind my background is in practical competition, and 1911-styled guns will always feel better in my hand. Glocks were, to me, too fat; S&Ws (until 3rd Generation semis) a crap-shoot on reliability and Sigs too darned expensive or too darned big.

I was actually looking at used Firestars in 9mm when STI came out with the LS9...a very thin 1911-styled pistol in 9mm. I got one, fiddled with it and ended up sneding it to Dane Burns at Burns Custom Pistols to overhaul. I got a leather IWB from Lou Alessi and a kydex belt holster from Blade-Tech and seemed pretty settled until SHOOTING GALLERY came along.

As I've discussed before, SG changed how I carried....the guns got bounced around a lot and I often used some sort of improvised off-body carry. That lead me to worry about carrying a cocked-and-locked gun in improvised carry. I also hated beating up my custom pistols. My solution was to buy an old Sig P225/P6 9mm from my local gunstore...bigger than the LS, but in the same weight category. The Sig Custom Shop tuned the old gun up and replaced the night sights with night sights that still worked; Lou Alessi made me an IWB and Blade-Tech a belt holster, and viola!

Sig P225 vs Para Carry 9

I probably would have been perfectly happy with the Sig if Kerby Smith hadn't insisted I shoot the Carry 9 down at Whittington a year or so ago. The gun I shot there was superb, largely because of the combination of 1911 ergonomics and the LDA double action trigger system. We've talked abou the LDA system before (and there's a bunch of video up on DOWN RANGE). Because it breaks differently than a revolver DA trigger or any other DA only semiauto, I find that I shoot better with it. I have a full-size L18 9mm LDA that has been overhauled for competition, and it is a sweet-shooting gun.

I've shot a couple of other Carry 9s with the same results, and I decided to get one of my own. As I mentioned on this week's podcast, I sent the Carry 9 slide to XS Sights for their 24/7 Big Dot Tritium Express sights. I'm struggling with fading vision in my right eye, so I've gone from my usual style of shooting with both eyes open to shooting left-eye...the hardest part of this (actually, there's NOTHING easy about it, LOL!) is that my left eye is slower to acquire the front sight than my right eye, which was still dominant even shooting both eyes open...not surprising, since I've got a lot of year's experience in shooting both eyes open isoceles stance.The XS Big Dot is the easiest front sight to pick up, period. I've noticed a bunch of XS sights on "old guy guns, so I';m not the only one looking for that particular advantage!

So now I've got a 1911 ergonomics and a 24-ounce 8+1 9mm with a 3-inch barrel with a double action system I feel comfortable with in off-body carry. Right now I'm using a Comp-Tac paddle holster that was introduced to me by Dave Spaulding when we were down at GUNSITE a while back, and I'm very happy with it. This probably won't surprise you much, but Lou Alessi is making me one of his newest generation IWBs, the PCH. I've also got Ted Blocker working up a leather crossdraw for driving trips.

Ammo-wise, I'm still committed to the Hornady TAP 124-grainers. I found these to be super accurate in my Carry 9 and super easy to shoot. I am going to break with my usual habits and try the Cor-Bon 115-gr +P DPX loads, which lots of people I respect have recommended to me as the best loading in a short-barreled 9mm. If the gun likes them, I may go that way.


Anonymous said...

"Glocks were, to me, too fat"

Obviously, if the perfect grip on the perfect gun doesn't suit you, you must have stuffed the wrong ammo in it. Either that or you have little girlyman hands that are better suited to hauswork.

GLOCK will not stand by idly while some shiftless gun writer takes cheap shots at our product.
If we were uberkool like HK, we wouldn't even bother with the damn civilian market. We are the best Austrian import ever. Even better than Ahhnold.

Love and peace,

Anonymous said...

While my main CCW is an airweight Chief Special I occasionally carry a Firestar 9mm. The little Firestars are damn good guns handicapped by a heavy, but manageable, trigger.

Were I to carry off body and was worried about a cocked and locked auto or a Glock going off I would choose an L frame Smith over a DA auto. Or perhaps the new Nightguard in 45 ACP. The ancient revolver still has much to recommend it.

GeorgeH said...

My Para Carry GAP in .45 GAP has become my #1 carry gun.
I handled a prototype with alloy frame if weight is critical. It's 7+1 rounds of serious hole.

Chaz said...

Michael, you never seem to have factored in any of the new generation of lightweight, small .45s in your decisions. Why is that? Para makes those with the LDA, too. I'm sure Kerby would sell you one of them to go along with the 9mm!

Overload in Colorado said...

Will you carry it with the frame safety engaged?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how sponsor Sig feels about you dumping their product in favor of the product of sponsor Para? And will sponsor Ruger be hurt because you didn't choose the flawed SR9? See what a mess you've gotten yourself in?

Maybe you should reconsider and pack a Smith or Beretta auto!

Anonymous said...

That was a truly epic post! Thanks for a great read. :)

erich martell

Anonymous said...

Michael, thanks for sharing your personal journey on this issue. Like you I have settled on the single stack 9mm as my carry gun and like you I come from the action shooting world as my frame of reference.

I am doing the HK P7 PSP thing now, I would try that little LDA but when I had one I could never get the rest to work for me, trigger freeze city, probably because I am just not able to become a trigger slapper, even though I know a lot of the big dogs like Todd and Robbie are...the design will just not work for me, especially under stress....

FD in AL

Anonymous said...

for driving, you might consider Blocker's LFI system. After using it crossdraw, you could then reposition it for strong side carry.

Saves having to carry two holsters while traveling.

Unknown said...

Gotta say I love my stainless Firestar in .45 ACP. But I much prefer the extended 7rnd mag so my little finger has a home. The compacts need more grip length for those of us large meathooks.