As we have learned from my first installment, you have learned what you want and decided on a caliber and frame size for your ideal home defense or concealed carry companion, but what about action type?
With centerfire rifles, there are several different operating methods for (semi)automatically loading rounds after each shot. But with pistols, you’re basically stuck with two major variations of operation. One type is simple blowback, usually found with calibers lower than 9mm. The barrel is usually fixed and the recoil is absorbed by a stout spring. That means with pistols that use it (like the Walther PPK ) just racking the slide is A LOT harder to manipulate than the other kind which is short-recoil operation. Short-recoil has two major variations when the slide and barrel traverse together for a short distance before unlocking and separating. During which, the barrel stops early, while the slide continues to move rearward, using the extractor to extract the spent casing, eject it and finally chamber a new round after being sprung forward by the recoil spring, and entering battery.
The major difference of the types of short-recoil pistol designs are mainly in how they lock the action together to delay it until internal pressures reach safe levels. The overwhelming majority of these guns use tilting barrels to unlock, using either a swinging link like the 1911, or a camming locking block like the CZ-75. The other major method is the use of a locking block to secure the action, like in the M9/Beretta 92 series of handguns. The last method secures the barrel VIA a rotating barrel with integral lugs that cam the action in and out of battery. The short-recoil operation system does not require a heavy spring needed for a blow-back pistol, so it is easier to rack – which is important for folks who are smaller or don’t have a lot of hand strength.
The arguments behind which of these is objectively, ‘best’ deal with real and perceived advantages that have next to zero effect on your everyday shooter. Because of this, we’ll concentrate on another aspect of the action – the trigger and hammer.
The ability to consistently place bullets EXACTLY where you want them (accuracy) is different than how consistently that firearm can group bullets on a target (precision). True accuracy would be a measure of how close to the bullseye, or in our case, point of aim, the pistol can fire projectiles. A precise firearm would simply fire the bullets in a consistent group, whether or not that group ever reached the bullseye or not.
Since most firearms (except revolvers) have some user-adjustable form or sights, a precise firearm can be transformed into BOTH a precise and accurate one. Thus, consistency is vastly more important than anything else.
This consistency isn’t limited to the projectiles and the barrel either. The more consistent a shooter’s actions are, the more likely they are to get the same result. This is why match grade ammo is painstakingly loaded to very tight, demanding tolerances; the more consistent the charge propelling the round, the more consistent, and accurately precise their placement will be.
What am I getting at?
This ties in directly with how I choose a trigger type for a firearm, and why I never recommend a double/single action handgun that can’t be carried in condition one for competition. This is because double/single action triggers by definition, have two wildly different trigger pulls.
Shooters looking to become proficient with one of these pistols has to train three times as much as someone else using a double action only, or single action only handgun.
How do I figure that?
That have to become proficient with both methods of operation, and with transitioning between them.
This doesn’t mean that double, single-action handguns are meritless, though. Shooters who don’t trust themselves with a light single-action trigger on their first shot, but who don’t like the long, heavy pull of either double action only or striker-fired guns, might fine some comfort with this setup. Plus, the double-action trigger allows shooters ‘second strike’ capability on dud rounds. Meaning, should a round fail to fire, they don’t need to perform a clearing drill, but simply pull the trigger again – much like a DA revolver.
If a shooter likes the second-strike capability of a double action trigger, but prefers a more consistent trigger pull, they should take a look at an older wonder-9, the Browning HiPoint. It’s double, single-action, but can be carried in condition one. AKA, locked and cocked.
For the average shooter, however, I normally recommend a striker-fired pistol like any of the Glock handguns. These utilize a striker, or spring-loaded firing pin, instead of a hammer like traditional designs.
Their trigger pulls tend to be spongy by comparison to hammer-fired weapons, but the pull itself is 100% consistent every shot. Even though the pull itself isn’t great, shooters can quickly become accustomed to it with a few boxes of ammo and some dedicated dry fire practice.
The same can be said of double action only firearms, with the added benefit of second-strike capability. One drawback of them, however, is that their triggers tend to be heavier, and longer than any other. If a shooter is already familiar with using a revolver, however, they’ll feel right at home behind a pistol in this configuration.
Like I said in the last article, none of this matters if a shooter isn’t willing to put in the time and effort to become proficient with whichever gun they decide on. Shooters should be able to reload their firearm without looking at it, clear a malfunction, and safety handle the gun while loaded (but always treat it as if it were loaded) before they consider carrying it, or leaving it by their bedside.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An easy and cheap way to become proficient with your firearm is frequent dry-firing. That means PERFECT practice to ensure that you do not imbed incorrect habits through repetition. That is why it is essential getting professional training to start with, and then practicing the correct techniques with both live and dry-firing. To do it properly means you practice ALL aspects of your craft including gun safety, trigger discipline, unholstering, reholstering, sight picture and stance. Just make sure that when you practice DON’T BE THAT GUY and think you can practice with a loaded firearm instead of ensuring it is unloaded, and then double checking yourself, and then have another person in the house verify the chamber is clear. Gun safety is no joke as the results of a ND is always terrible and sometimes tragic. DON’T BE THAT GUY!