So I have this S&W K-frame project based on a Model 1902. Shortened barrel, crane detent, hammer bobbed and checkered; just a whole bunch of modifications really. The Goncalo Alves grips I made for it are very grippy and look good. But they just didn’t seem to fit the pugnacious, no nonsense gun. I felt it required a different sort of nonsense.
Enter The Antler!
I thought that antler had just the look I wanted. Because antler is cool. I grabbed the biggest chunk in the shop and commenced to sawing. Then it was on to the belt sander to get the pieces flat. I marked the flats based on the shaped of the grip frame and with bandsaw, belt grinders and files fitted the results to the frame.
Then it was more shaping on the belt sander, then sanding drums and finally hand sanding. I finished the grips with many coats of lacquer, and liked the look a lot.
I felt they meshed well with the retro character and details of the gun, and they worked alright in my hand. Firing was comfortable, but…
Trouble in Paradise?
…not perfect. The stock round-butt K-frame shape works OK for my hand, but isn’t ideal. I’ve always done better with custom grips, Pachmayrs or at least a T-grip adapter. The classic of course would be the Tyler T-grip; been around forever and suits the gun’s esthetics. But there are two choices for procuring one: pay too much for one on eBay or play t-grip roulette with Tyler.
OK, I love Tyler T-grips and like I said, they’re classic. But no one has let them in on the fact that it’s the 21st century. You send in a check with an order, and before you die you will almost certainly get your T-Grip. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe.
BK grip adapters make them too. They are plastic, but have their advantages like having two clips instead of one. You can also order and pay online and their service is great. But plastic, even their ‘ivory-‘colored ones, seem again just a bit out of step with the gun. I dithered, but then realized something. I have opposable thumbs, and they work. I also have a workshop and some skills. I have aircraft aluminum in said shop. I can make one. And I could maybe find a piece of antler to make it out of. Because antler is cool.
I did, sawed the chunk out, cut and ground it to shape then hand-sanded it and lacquered it. I got some thin nickel-silver that was lying around, cut and bent it around the frame of the gun. But how to secure it? Typically it would be riveted to the casting, but antler does not rivet. I contemplated a screw, but then my brain started working. I used the Foredom Tool with a carbide burr to carve out a place for the clip to fit, fetched some random dust from the belt-grinder table and grabbed some super-glue. I glued the clip in place (which would never hold the clip if it was on the gun by itself.) Then I filled the cavity over it with dust and dripped superglue into it and let it solidify.
After the glue set I couldn’t pull the clip out with my fingers, and I Am the Brute Squad, so I figured it is good enough.
This gives me just the grip I desired, high on the gun and very comfortable. I’m really happy with how this came out.
Antler is a lot easier to work and finish than aluminum, so this did not take too long as such things go. For me at least, with the tools and considerable skill to draw on; your mileage may vary.
Now I need a holster, and I know a guy with leather and a shop…
Times change and we change, and we may perceive our needs differently as our lives progress. Selecting a concealed carry pistol is an ongoing process. When I was a young man in my twenties I suffered from a combination of ‘kid in a candy store’ and champagne taste on a tap-water budget.
I swapped and traded and spent the rent on this or that. I changed guns almost as often as I changed my underwear (which was very often.) These days I tend to think of that decade as ‘The Stupid Years’ for reasons that go far beyond guns. But as a consequence I developed a wide appreciation for a variety of handguns, even if I never really achieved the sort of expertise I might have sticking to a single gun.
At the end of my twenties I took on my career, and for a decade or more I lived, ate, slept and breathed my job. Whatever gun was on-hand would do, and while I changed guns now and again it was not central to my existence. Then I entered what I call, with blinding optimism, the ‘Adult Years’ of my gun life. I’ve still changed carry guns, but it’s been more situational than dictated by meager finances or whim. Our evolving knowledge about handgun effectiveness, civilian self-defense shootings and advances in gun technology has frequently informed my choices.
I was gun/caliber agnostic (within rational limits) for many years. Most civilian self-defense incidents (CSD) end if not when the gun is presented then almost always when shots are fired. The baddies are looking for a score, not a gunfight. Committed Attackers (people who are willing to die as long as they can take you with them) are rare in CSD shootings but they happen. Not often, but it’s a thing to think about.
The Modern Threat Environment
The crimes likely to affect the average civilian are attempted robberies or sexual assault. In both cases the odds are the bad guy will run when shot. We call this the FIBS (Fuck! I’ve Been Shot) syndrome. If you count on the odds pretty much any gun in any caliber and any level of skill will be sufficient. ‘But what about multiple attackers?’ I hear you cry. Most of the time multiple attackers just means more people running away.
But here’s the rub; the odds that you will ever need a gun for self defense are very, very low. If you’ve already beat steep odds against needing to shoot can you really afford to take a chance you’ll beat the odds against a Committed Attacker?
There is also, sadly, an increased incidence of mass-casualty shooters and ideologically motivated violence. These perpetrators are, for the most part Committed Attackers. If you find yourself facing one of these individuals you need to be able to get a ‘Hard Stop.’ That means removing their capacity to act as quickly as possible. The only reliable ‘instant stop’ is a solid hit to the central nervous system, meaning the brain or upper spine. But that’s a hard target in the middle of a gunfight; your best bet to stop them quickly is with multiple hits center-mass, preferably with a potent caliber using effective modern defensive ammunition.
We need to consider these factors, our tolerance for risk and the likelihood of encountering such an attack. That is to say the least a tricky proposition. It may well be worth erring on the side of caution.
Address Your Needs Realistically
There are a lot of these. Is your work-environment non-permissive? Your friends and family? Do you need to compromise on your carry gun to accommodate this? What’s the climate like and what sort of clothes can you wear without standing out and/or being uncomfortable? What sort of guns fit your wardrobe profile?
Realistically what is your threat profile? Let’s stick to reasonable threats, if you don’t mind. You can what-if yourself to insanity here, and the simple fact is you cannot be prepared for every possible threat. Model your assessment of threats based on reality and hope for the best; it’s all any of us can really do.
It’s easy to say ‘dress around the gun,’ but it’s not always easy to do in real life. I mean, if you have a life. You’re going to casual outdoor wedding on a 90 degree summer day. Because of family relations you cannot skip it. Let’s see you dress around your CZ75 Shadow then, hmmm…?
Considering Your Gun Options
In a perfect world a compact service-caliber semi-automatic with a high capacity is a perfect compromise. But we don’t live in that world, and perfect compromises are rare on the ground. People are short, tall, skinny, fat and everything in-between. People’s strength, physical ability and coordination vary. So do the amount they are able or willing to train. There is no single solution or one-size-fits-all answer.
Paradoxically for a person who does not/cannot train one of the better choices is the oldest: the revolver. It’s extremely simple to use, unlikely to jam or to be impeded by neglect. They almost never jam, but if it does the gun is effectively out of the fight. They come in practically every modern caliber and don’t care about power levels (appropriate to the cartridge,) bullet-weight etc. ‘If it seats it yeets.’
I really don’t recommend someone that doesn’t want to train carry concealed, but in real life there are a thousand things that can limit or otherwise interfere with extensive training. Revolvers are excellent for dry-firing, simple to operate with a limited manual of arms. This can make them a good choice for some people. hell, some people just find them easier and more comfortable to use.
As a caveat I do not think any single-action revolver is a good option in the modern world. For any but the most expert they are slower to fire accurately than double-action revolvers of semi-automatic pistols. As far as reloading in the fight? Forget about it.
..the advice to carry the most potent weapon you can reasonably carry is a good start. It’s also axiomatic that no one has ever come out of a shooting saying, ‘Man, I wish I’d had less ammo!” High capacity is unlikely to be decisive; potency of the cartridge is unlikely to be decisive…
…unless you face a Committed Attacker. Then they could be the difference between living and dying. So, best to sacrifice those as little as possible if you can manage it. With the plethora of very compact 9mms with ten-round magazines it’s likely you can find something to suit you unless climate or life make even these options hard to carry discreetly. If even those are too much there are a near-equal variety of ten-shot .380s, and there’s some very decent defensive loads for these.
When you get to calibers smaller than .380 ACP options get limited, and in some cases availability can be an issue. You also run into the problem that in the smaller calibers you usually need to choose between expansion and penetration. OK, .327 Magnum breaks this rule but guns that fire it and ammunition can be hard to find locally.
As the cartridges get less effective your skill needs to increase proportionately. A half dozen .32 ACP, .25 ACPs or .22s to the face or center-mass are probably going to do the job just fine, but in the face of a Committed Attacker you need to be absolutely certain you can put them there under the extreme circumstances of mortal combat. That’s a pretty high bar.
It’s true that any gun gives you better odds than no gun, and that the gun you actually have with you when the fight starts is better than a more capable weapon you had to leave home. But guns like the Beretta Pico in .380 are genuinely not much harder to carry than most .22, .25 or .32 autos and deliver significantly better real-world results. They tend to have better sights and better ammo availability than .25 or .32 ACP too.
Ammunition cost and availability is definitely a factor; you can’t practice if can’t find/afford cartridges. 9mm, .380 ACP and other service calibers are pretty easy to find and reasonably affordable. Others not so much. It needs to be considered.
It’s not likely that you can find one gun that will fit every situation and circumstance; it’s best to have options if possible. I have a main carry gun and several options to fit different circumstances. They all represent compromises, but that’s how real-life is. Whatever you choose in the end it absolutely must be reliable, and if at all possible it should be a gun you can afford and are willing to practice with.
Look, we’re all individuals with different lives and different circumstances, budgets etc. My top choices will probably not be your top choices; in many cases they can’t be because some of these guns are one-of-a-kind. This is mostly just a mental exercise peculiar to me, but it can be food for thought for you. One thing we do have in common regardless of our experience, skill and budget: the absolute, number-one consideration is reliability. If anyone going to bet on a gun it needs to work first and foremost. So here’s my choices:
#1 AR-Based 9mm
This is a Franken-gun, and a compromise with my budget. Aero Precision EPCC lower, Foxtrot Mike 9mm upper, Timney trigger, Magpul grip etc. Yes, that’s a Bushnell TRS25; it’s outdated but it’s a robust and reliable optic. As budget allows it will be replaced by a more capable unit with better features, but it will do the job.
The reasons why this is my first choice (with reliability as a given) is that shoulder arms are easier to fire quickly and accurately, and more stable with multiple points of contact. It’s also small enough to maneuver easily in close-quarters. With a 30-round magazine I’m unlikely to survive any situation that requires a reload. The fact that it’s visually intimidating is definitely not irrelevant.
#2 CZ P-01 Omega
Excellent track record, hyper-reliable, 15-round magazines. It’s a time-proven design, and with the full CJW trigger set-up it’s a delight to shoot. I’ve never had so much as an ammunition-related malfunction with it. The double-action first shot gives a bit more of a feeling of security.
With the improved trigger, excellent recoil management and ergonomics this gun is super-easy for me to rapid-fire accurately, and that’s important; the ability to put rounds on-target fast and accurately is paramount in a home-defense scenario.
#3 Custom Tisas 1911a1
This gun got edged-out by the CZ for two reasons: Capacity and reliability. Magazines hold 10 rounds, and it does not like underpowered 115gr. range ammo. It also had issues with some Sig magazines, but that’s on them, not the gun.
This gun was purpose-built to shoot rapidly and accurately before I got the CZ, and in that regard it holds a small but noticeable edge over the CZ. Not enough to offset the CZs almost supernatural reliability and 50% greater capacity though.
#4 Custom S&W M&P .38 Special
Dropping even further in capacity we come to this. 3″ barrel, custom grips, fantastic trigger, bobbed hammer and other custom features. The Wonderstight adjustable sight is another plus. This gun is a serious shooter.
The last time I had this at the range the RO heard me doing rapid-fire strings, looked up to see what I was shooting and was shocked to see it was a revolver. He was even more shocked when he looked at the target- a 2-1/2″ group centered on the bullseye at seven yards.
While it’s not my first choice (obviously) it’s utter reliability and superb accuracy win it a place on the list.
#5 Custom 1911a1 .45 with Ported Barrel
I really dithered over this one. It’s another Franken-gun, but this time designed for competition. It took 5th place because it has less capacity than the other autos and importantly less test-firing. Mind you the only reliability issues were ammo-related (cheap re-manufactured range ammo failing to ignite and some after-midnight reloads I screwed up)
The barrel porting makes it as fast on-target as the 9mms and it’s a great gun, but I just don’t have the confidence I do in the guns higher on the list yet. Maybe next year this will edge one of them out.
Again, this list is very specific to me, and your mileage will definitely vary.
JC Higgins (High Standard) 12-gauge pump shotgun. This is the slickest pump-shotgun I’ve ever handled, and would be a great choice for home-defense but I just haven’t practiced with it enough.
Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45. This gun is ultra-reliable and shockingly good at close-range rapid-fire but the 6+1 capacity and compact format make it a less-good choice than those that made the list.
Custom S&W hand-ejector converted to .45 ACP. Fantastic shooter, very fast to reload… but I’m not as fast or accurate with it as the M&P.
I wouldn’t feel under-gunned with any of the choices or runners-up, but objectively some guns are just better tools for some jobs. Of the guns I have I think I made the right choices. There were a lot of other options, but these guns meet the criteria for reliability, capability and how well I shoot them. As trifectas go that’s pretty hard to beat. No doubt with an unlimited budget I would make some different choices but living in my world doesn’t include financial security, let along massive disposable income.
The take-away? Reliability first, your capability with the weapon second and the weapon’s capability, while not inconsequential, is firmly in last place.