EDC Guns in Uneasy Times

OK, things in America are a bit off these days- pandemics, protests, riots, political unrest… I think we can all agree this is true without getting into the specifics or politics, and we won’t. Let’s just all agree these are uneasy times and keep our opinions about the reasons to ourselves.

Typically in recent years I have carried a revolver. It was consistent with the threat (extremely unlikely and limited.) I pretty much figured the most likely threats I would face could be dealt with in 5-6 shots.

My trusty (and a bit worn-looking) .38 safety hammerless was a constant companion around the home and shop for years. Pocket-carry is hard on a finish…

Small revolver in a pocket holster around the house and shop, a K-frame for general purposes. Sometimes a Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45, less because i felt the need of a little extra firepower than that I love it, shoot it well and the manual-of-arms is pretty much hard-wired at this point. But the K-frame was the champ, if for no other reason that it’s curves didn’t print as conspicuously as the little .45.

Rapid-fire 7-yard groups with ‘The Old Dog,’ a model 1902 .38, cut to 3″ of barrel, new front sight, custom stag grips. Updated as a practical carry gun in the modern world. Only six shots, but a superb trigger and as comfortable as an old pair of jeans… but the best choice for troubled times? Arguably not.

I love double action revolvers, and for normal circumstances their limitations, 6-shots and a relatively slow reload, seemed adequate to face probable threats. Formerly around home I’d drop my little top-break snubby in a back pocket and forget about it. In the vanishingly unlikely event that I needed a gun it would probably do, at least long enough to get me to something better. Going out and about I’d strap on the ‘Old Dog’ and grab a couple speed loaders.

Last summer I carried my custom Taurus M85 .38. About the same size as the .38 DA, but capable of using considerably more potent rounds. It also has a Cerakote finish that would tolerate being sweated on better than the old S&W. A great ‘around the house’ gun, but as times have changed I have been less comfortable with it when out and about.

The Tiny Taurus, a custom M85 .38. Punches above it’s weight, but still just a five-shooter.

Then Linda got me a very nice birthday present, a Seecmp LWS32. Ultra-small, stainless construction and at least notably more capable than a .25 auto. Not as capable as the .38 DA, but much more concealable. It’s been occupying my pocket pretty much any time between rising and going to bed ever since. Not an EDC for general carry, but the very definition of EDC. Hell, I can drop it in my pajama pocket and forget it’s there.

The Seecamp LWS32- not extremely accurate, not impressively powerful, but so small it can always be handy. A great gun to carry when you aren’t carrying a gun.

I’ve not been a ‘two-gun guy’ since I quit being a cop, but nowadays I often am because of the little Seecamp. Whatever else if going on it’s always there, even when I strap on a more suitable EDC gun.

Current events have altered my opinion about EDC guns, however. Fortunately as much as I love revolvers I also love semi-autos. I also find them better suited to a ‘heightened threat’ environment, as the police and military have acknowledged for decades. More shots, faster reloads, and reloads that are easier to conceal. Yes, conceal. Not big on open-carry; it alarms the general public where I live, enhances the opportunity to disarm me and announces to the baddies that they need to shoot me first. You may feel differently, and that’s fine, but I’m talking about my preferences because they affect my choices.

The Detonics Mk1 Combat Master .45. The first commercially produced sub-compact 1911. a lot of punch in a small package. Heavy, but a good gun belt and holster counter this adequately.

The Detonics .45 offers many of the advantages in terms of reloads etc., but after years of carrying revolvers I am less comfortable with a ‘cocked-and-locked’ single action that I once was. I’m surprised by this, but these days i prefer a double-action auto.

Then, for largely sentimental reasons, Linda got me another present, a Sig Sauer P6. This is a single-stock, compact 9mm that takes an 8-round magazine. The 8+1 capacity is a definite step up from the Old Dog’s six shots, or even the 6+1 capacity of the Detonics. More care needs to be taken with concealment, but with cooler weather arriving this isn’t a big deal. Yes,a more modern gun would offer significantly more shots and/or better concealability, but i have this one and I am extremely comfortable with it’s ergonomics and operation.

The Sig-Sauer P6. Compact rather than sub-compact and with a single-stack magazine. On the other hand it suits my large hands, I am very comfortable with it and, very importantly, operation is pretty hard-wired and I shoot it well. Being a big guy and since we’re coming into ‘Coat Season’ it’s extra size isn’t much an issue for me.

I’m very comfortable with this gun, and it’s ergonomics work exceptionally well for me. Unlike many guns my trigger finger slides naturally from the frame above the trigger guard to the trigger. The relatively heavy weight (compared to modern sub-compacts) is mitigated by the use of a proper gun-belt and a good holster. Low capacity is less an issue because I can reload quite fast. I’m old and fat, and frankly if I need more than two reloads I’m unlikely to live long enough to use them.

I made this high-ride holster for the P-6. It’s secure and holds the gun tight against my body. Under even a light jacket it hides very well at the four-o’clock position, and the draw is quick and easy. The trigger is covered just enough, and the heavy wax-finished 8-9oz. leather is unlikely to deform and make re-holstering an issue.

So, EDC these days is the Seecamp in a pocket, and the P6 in it’s holster with a reload on the off-side (i haven’t quite gotten around to making a two-mag carried for it yet, but I will.) Am I safer? Perhaps. Do I feel a wee bit more secure? Definitely.

Enhanced Threat Environment

So how big is the anticipated threat level? Do I really think it’s more likely that I’ll need to resort to armed self defense?

In a word- no. Or not significantly more likely, anyway. In the U.S. about three hundred people kill another person with a gun in self defense each year. Given estimates of the number of people in the country that legally have firearms this means your odds of winning the lottery are roughly comparable to the chance that you’ll kill someone defending a life, either yours or someone else’s. Mind you, that’s the odds that you’ll kill someone; most self-defense shootings involve a handgun, and most people shot with handguns don’t die. It is also widely believed that in the vast majority of incidents where a firearm is deployed for the purpose of self-defense no shots are fired. Exact data on this is not available, so we have no good handle on exactly how often this happens. It is believed that the large majority of such incidents are not reported.

In a nutshell my odds of needing to shoot in self-defense could double and they would still be vanishingly small. I don’t think the odds have doubled. I expect it’s still extremely unlikely that I will need to fire in self-defense. But the nature of the threat can change without a significant change in probability of such an event occurring.

In the current climate I think that if I am involved in a lethal force encounter it is significantly more likely I’ll face multiple opponents, in which case more shots and frankly a more visually threatening firearm, will be an asset. It’s also not a ‘happy coincidence’ that I put together a 9mm AR this year.

Whichever side of the political divide you fall on it seems likely that we’re in for a rough ride the next few months. Exercise good sense, be prepared and don’t psyche yourself into over-reacting. Keep your wits about you, keep one eye open and, for the love of God don’t look for trouble.

The Point

I had to get to it eventually, and it’s this- situational awareness is not part time, and includes more than your immediate surroundings in the moment. Be aware of the larger picture too; your neighborhood, county, state and country. Gather enough information to have a realistic assessment of the threat level and parameters, and adjust accordingly.

*Please refrain from political commentary in the comments. I’ve tried to keep this a place where we can come together over our common interest, not be divided by our differences, and I implore you to respect that.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 September 2020

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Chronograph Day!

The Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph G2 was used for all testing. Moderately priced, and can use a free smart-phone .app to record your results. A good, basic, reliable unit.

The COVID19 virus has put a real crimp in my ballistics testing, and some calibers present issues of noise and penetration in my shop, so I have been reluctant to test them. My wife needed to go see Joanne, a friend of ours on her farm near Chehalis, where they just happen to have their own shooting range set up. I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a good couple hours drive, so sadly it’s not going to become a regular thing.

I had built up a lot of loads to run over the chronograph, and thought I’d take the opportunity to do some recreational shooting with Joanne’s roommate Steve as well. I was testing a wide variety of handgun calibers, so settle in- this is going to be a long one.

The Chronograph was positioned at approximately 10′ from the muzzle. Five-shot strings were tested in each case.

Use this data at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. In most cases it is prudent to start 10% under the given load and work up, but in the case of very low-powered loads this can be problematic.

Always insure that any gun, particularly antiques, are safe to fire and in good condition before shooting.

.32 S&W

I had one .32 S&W load to test, designed to be a low-powered antique-friendly load. Testing was done with my H&R Model 732 Guardian, which is chambered in .32 S&W Long. All .32 caliber tests today were shot with this gun, actually.

4″ barrel, 75gr. LFP, 2.0gr. Unique, Federal Magnum SP primer

547 fps. 50ft./lbs ES: 30fps

This is an ultra-mild load, well-suited to punching holes in paper at moderate ranges. The load is reasonably consistent, with an extreme spread of only 30 fps. It should be suitable for any gun chambered for this caliber that is in good condition.

.32 S&W Long

Two loads to test in this caliber, either of which is suitable for target shooting or small game. Both loads are well below maximum listed loads for this caliber.

4″ barrel, 75gr. LFP, 3.5gr. of Unique, Federal magnum SP Primer

918 fps. 140 ft./lbs ES: 133fps.

4″ barrel, 90gr. LHBWC, 2.5gr. of Unique, Federal magnum SP primer

916 fps. 168 ft./lbs ES: 142

I can’t account for the large extreme spread with these loads. It appears counter-intuitive that the heavier bullet with the lighter powder charge would produce essentially the same velocity as the lighter bullet, but the hollow-base wadcutter is fully telescoped into the case, providing a much more constricted combustion space. It is actually a higher-pressure load as well; wadcutter loads in this caliber are designed primarily to be fired in semi-automatic target pistols that require more pressure to cycle, but it should be safe to fire in any quality revolver.

.38 S&W

Again, I brought one gun to test in this caliber, a S&W .38 Single Action (2nd model) modified with a 1-5/8″ barrel.

I refinished this beater S&W to mimic the style of a friend’s gun that I admired. I stripped the tatty nickel finish, cut and crowned the barrel at 1-5/8″, rust blued the gun, mounted a new bronze front sight and finished it off with stag grips. Despite the short barrel, short sight radius and tiny sights it’s quite accurate and groups well.

This is another load meant to be ‘antique friendly,’ using a light-for-caliber bullet and a small powder charge to produce modest pressures and mitigate damage from recoil. It ought to be fine in any gun of reasonable quality that is safe to be fired, but that’s going to require a judgement call. Regarding antiques, when in doubt don’t.

1-5/8″ barrel, 125gr LSWC 3.0gr. Unique, Federal magnum SP primer

598 fps. 99 ft./lbs ES: 85 fps.

First thing to note is that these 125gr LSWCs are sized to .360, so they are well-suited to the caliber. Accuracy was very pleasing; while I didn’t shoot groups on paper today I had no difficulty hitting empty spray-paint cans at 30 yards; not bad at all. Recoil is mild, but these loads proved to be quite smokey.

9x19mm / 9mm Luger

I have a couple of Beretta M1951s, and these do not do well with high-powered or +P loads, so I have been seeking some good standard-pressure loads for them. Both of these loads were created with that in mind.

These loads use my ‘COVID-Expedient’ re-swaged Xtreme Bullets copper-plated hollow points, made from their 115gr. target rounds.

My re-swaged hollow-point on the left, a standard Xtreme copper-plated hollow-point on the right. The standard bullet is a target load, and is not designed to expand.

The test gun for these loads was the robust Sig-Sauer P6.

My P6 is a West German police trade-in made in 1991, and is in excellent condition.

3-3/4″ barrel 115gr CPHP 5.3gr. Unique Federal magnum SP primer

1044 fps. 278 ft./lbs ES: 73 fps

This load did not cycle reliably in the P6. It’ll pick up a little velocity in the longer barrel of the Beretta M1951 and may cycle it. I’ll try it, but I think it’s too weak.

3-3/4″ barrel 115gr CPHP 4.9gr. Universal Federal magnum SP primer

1142 fps. 334 ft./lbs ES: 14 fps.

I’m very pleased with this load. It’s very consistent, and when tested by firing through four layers of denim into Clear Ballistics gel it showed adequate penetration and consistent expansion. It feeds well in my guns, too, and cycles very reliably. I’m going to call this one a winner.

.41 Special

This is the .41 magnum’s little brother, designed to provide a potent defensive load without the excessive muzzle blast and recoil of the magnum. The test gun for this was a Taurus Model 415 with a 2-3/4″ ported barrel.

The compact and relatively light Taurus 415 in .41 Magnum is my ‘pooping-in-the-woods-OMG-is-that-a-bear?’ gun, and full-power loads are called for in that mission. For everyday target practice or EDC, however, something milder is called for. Thus the .41 Special load.

2-3/4″ barrel 210gr. Keith bullet 6.0gr. Unique, Federal LP primer

865 fps. 349 ft./lbs ES: 23 fps.

A good, accurate load with plenty of power, but manageable recoil. I think there is room to spice it up a bit, maybe another 50 fps. without notably changing it’s usability.

Currently I am looking into some 200gr. LHPs to load to 900-950 fps. with this gun, but until then this one will do.

.44 Magnum

Looking for a load for Black-Tail deer. They aren’t awfully big so a very powerful load is not needed. The gun for this test was my U.S. Arms Abilene with a 7-1/2″ ported barrel- the same gun I will be hunting with.

The Abilene was intended as a ‘premium’ revolver for hunting and silhouette shooting in the 1980s-90s. It’s an excellent gun and undervalued today, often selling for $375-$400.

7-1/2″ barrel 260gr. Keith bullet 9.2gr. Unique, Federal LP primer.

1038 fps. 622 ft./lbs ES: 56 fps

Recoil is quite mild (for a .44 magnum) and accuracy is excellent. This load would certainly be adequate for Black-Tails, but in the interest of a clean kill I think I’d prefer to err on the side of caution and add a couple of hundred feet per second to this.

.45 Colt

I used two test guns for the first of these loads, a ‘bulldogged’ 1858 with a 2.5″ barrel and a custom Armi San Marco with a 3-1/2″ barrel. The second load was only fired from the 3.5″ gun.

This custom Pietta snubby still needs to be refinished, but aside from that it’s done. You’ll be seeing more about this gun soon.
I customized this ASM 1873 last year, cutting and crowning the barrel at 3-1/2″, a new bronze front sight, custom steel birdshead grip frame, shortened and lowered hammer spur and a re-engineered ejector that gives a full-length stroke despite the gun’s short barrel.

The goal was to produce mild loads for target shooting. the first load uses Xtreme Bullets CPHPs; these are target bullets and aren’t designed to expand. The second uses a lead semi-wadcutter.

2.5″ barrel 200gr CPHP 7.6gr. Red Dot Federal LP primer

660 fps. 193 ft./lbs ES: 34 fps.

3.5″ barrel 200gr CPHP 7.6gr. Red Dot Federal LP primer

714 fps. 226 ft./lbs ES: 36 FPS

This load produces the mild recoil and consistency I was looking for. Ought to be good for target shooting at ranges out to 25 yards. I think I’ll up the charge to 7.8gr. and see what that gets me.

3.5″ barrel 200gr. LSWC 8.0gr. Universal Federal LP primer

476 fps. 101 ft./lbs ES: 136 fps.

This load is a straight-up failure. Too little power, very poor consistency. I’ll be pulling the bullets from the remaining cartridges and reloading them.

.45 ACP

The gun used in this test is an upgraded 1911A1. The goal was to produce a target load with LSWCs and a defensive load with Speer 200gr HPs.

A dear friend assembled this 1911a1 ‘Frankengun’ many years ago, and when his interests moved on he gave it to me. I changed it to a flat mainspring housing. modified the Pachmayr grips slightly and improved the sights. Can’t say I’m a fan of the green Teflon coating, but it’s a great shooter and has been very reliable.

5″ barrel 200gr LSWC 5.6gr Unique Federal LP primer

849 fps. 320 Ft./lbs ES: 64 fps

This seems a fine load for casual practice or plinking. Mild recoil, and economical in terms of both bullets and powder charge.

5″ barrel 200gr JHP 8.0gr. Universal Federal LP primer

881 fps. 345 ft./lbs ES: 128

Not a success; this hollowpoint really needs 900fps+ to expand reliably, and the extreme spread is pretty bad. While upping the charge might produce an acceptable load I’m not going to pursue this one; the load listed below is much more what I am after, and is more economical.

5″ barrel 200gr JHP 6.5gr. Unique Federal LP primer

920 fps. 376 ft./lbs ES: 45 fps.

This is much more the thing. I’ll test it on denim/Clear Ballistics gel and see what’s what, but it looks good so far.

Other Stuff

Steve had his Savage SA .22, and I’d brought a couple of .22 rifles as well.

My home-made rolling-block .22 based on a Ruger 10-22 barrel. Brass receiver, spring-steel working parts and quilted-maple stocks with a 16″ barrel
My Winchester Model 1906, which will feed .22 Short, Long or Long-rifle loads. It holds 10 .22 LRs or 15 .22 Shorts

We fooled about with the rifles quite a bit, shooting up empty spray-paint cans out to thirty yards or so. I’d mounted a set of Ruger 10-22 sights on the rolling-block and had them roughly sighted in using .22 Colibri gallery loads at close range, and I expected them to need further adjustment but nope, it shot just fine. Needed a good cleaning; empties sometimes stuck harder than I could pry out with a fingernail and I had to resort to the pruning blade on my pocket knife, which did the job easily enough.

The Winchester is just a delight. Accurate and fun to shoot. I tried some CCI low-noise subsonic .22 Shorts in it, and it ate ’em up just fine, and they were dead quiet from the long barrel.

Shooting at stuff outdoors is just so much more satisfying than shooting paper on the range with these rifles, and as quiet as the low noise rounds are I can do it without going far from home- a great discovery!

I probably shot the Abilene .44 magnum more today than I have in total previously, and I love it more than ever. The H&R 732 also got a good workout during the fun phase of our shooting, and I put a good few rounds downrange from the little S&W single-action.

Altogether a great day; good company, lots of fun, a lot of shooting and I cleaned up most of my backlog of load-testing.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 12 September 2020

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Do Handguns Create Hydrostatic Shock?

As anyone that has ever shot a jug of water with a high-power handgun will tell you, yes. They absolutely do. A more appropriate question is, ‘Does it matter?‘ The answer to that is complicated and more than a little ambiguous.

Now, just so we all know where I am coming from I’m a layman. I’m not a forensic scientist, a trauma surgeon or a medical researcher of any kind. I have made no scientific study of wounds or terminal ballistics. I’ve read a lot, and seen a lot, and am basing my opinion on that. It’s arguably an informed opinion, but it’s no more than that, so take it for what it’s worth and if you’re curious do your own research.

Yep. definitely some hydrostatic shock there.

Watching a water bottle explode or high-speed footage of the temporary cavity produced by a high-power pistol bullet is impressive. These are consistent media that respond in a consistent fashion, and can be informative. It is accepted, both in the medical community and gun communities, that bullets travelling over 2200 fps. can create a temporary cavity that exceeds the elastic limits of human tissue, and actually cause permanent damage in tissue that the bullet never actually touches (technically this is Hydraulic shock.) They also reliably create hydrostatic (neural) shock. But after thirty years of study the FBI has determined that this effect either does not occur with standard pistol bullets, or does not do so reliably enough to to be counted when evaluating the potential performance of a pistol bullet.

The thing is that unlike water or ballistic gel, a human body is very much not a consistent media. It’s full of tissues and organs of varying density and elasticity that each respond individually to shock. Some of these organs are full of in-compressible fluids, some have air in them, which changes how they respond to compression. Then there’s bone, which is a whole ‘nuther story. Regardless the FBI has decided that only the permanent wound cavity is a reliable predictor of a bullet’s potential effectiveness.

A survey of the medical literature shows that nerve damage can and does occur at a distance from the bullet’s permanent wound track even with pistol bullets, and it is very likely that the size of the temporary cavity has an affect on this. Small diameter, low velocity bullets that do not expand (.22, .25 & .32) are unlikely to produce this effect. Larger diameter bullets and higher-velocity bullets are more likely to, especially if they expand significantly. This damage is usually mild and often, but not always, temporary. Whether or not this affects whether a person is ‘stopped’ has not been evaluated, but as stated before the FBI has determined that this is not a reliable predictor of a bullets effectiveness.

There are a lot of variables; the exact bullet placement, the individual’s body type. health, weight, body fat, mental preparedness… all of these things and many more come into play.

This image of a fully expanded hollow-point bullet passing through gel is compelling. In practical terms it probably means the bullet has a greater chance of creating remote nerve damage… but whether that nerve damage, if any, contributes significantly to stopping the target varies wildly from event to event.

So in answer to the question ‘Does it matter?’ the answers are, ‘Yes, unless it doesn’t’ and ‘Maybe sometimes.’ Not a very satisfactory resolution, but it’s an honest one, and it’s the one supported by the available data.

On the balance, speaking of defensive handguns, if given a choice between a high-velocity hollow-point with adequate penetration and a bullet that doesn’t expand and/or is low velocity, it would seem prudent to go with the former. The advice to carry the most potent handgun you shoot well and can carry comfortably seems to be well-advised. If hydrostatic shock is going to be a factor, the available information seems to indicate that it will most likely occur with a powerful cartridge, and an expanding bullet will enhance this effect. Probably.

Regardless of your feelings about hydrostatic shock, there is no real replacement for multiple well-located hits from a service-caliber handgun using modern hollow-point ammunition… but you still need to have it when you need it, and be able to shoot it well.

As a caveat, with handguns the most important and reliable predictors of effectiveness are still, in order, Penetration, Shot Placement and Permanent Wound Cavity… but it doesn’t hurt to stack the deck. If you can achieve those three things, adding a large temporary wound cavity certainly isn’t going to make it less effective! In a defensive shooting any advantage is worthwhile, as long as it doesn’t degrade the three factors listed above.

Micahel Tinker Pearce, 1 September 2020

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