Which Gun Shoots Best for You?
Doing a baseline evaluation tells you where you are as a shooter and how well you handle a particular pistol. The gun shown here is the Remington R51.
When faced with alternatives, can you select which gun you can shoot best? There are a number of ways people have tried. I've always used various law enforcement qualification courses to test the gun's "fit" to me. What "feels best," subjectively, is not always best – as I found out.
I recommend you break the process into two parts: one is just enough shooting to get to know the particular firearm as you work through the same problems over varying distances. This isn't a timed exercise; you have to know the gun first, then work on adding tasks and adding time pressure.
This handling examination should get you enough work behind the sights, on the trigger and including a reload without adding aspects that can throw the process off: this includes holsters and working under time.
I don't like reinventing the wheel – especially as the hard work of course development has already been done for me. Claude Werner, in his blog
, listed the first part of his Pistol Practice Program, "Establishing the Baseline." The concern there was to determine at what distance one could have 100% shot accountability – zero misses – with the chosen sidearm. Misses when one has to "shoot for real" are actually "unintentional hits" as every round fired goes somewhere
. He has students use a silhouette target, only count the central scoring zone as a 'hit,' and makes (unintentional) head shots 'misses' as well.
The same stages are fired from 3, 5, 7, 10 and 15 yards. At each distance, one fires four strings for a total of ten rounds per distance. There is no time limit. The magazines (or revolver cylinder) starts loaded with five rounds each. Chamber the first round before starting.
The M&P45 Shield shot remarkably well. While the course isn't timed, it was apparent that shot-to-shot times were long. Trying a course based on speed to hits would sort that out.
All strings start from 'ready,' the pistol pointed in at the deck below the target, finger off the trigger. String one is a single hit. Hold onto the aiming point for one second before lowering and decocking (if the gun is so equipped). String two is a pair, following the same procedure. String three is three hits (firing the last two in the gun, reloading it, and firing the last single). Finally, fire four rounds into the center of the target, pausing for that second, benching the gun and checking the target.
As there are five positions, ten rounds each, you fire fifty rounds. Following the lead of Greg Ellifritz, as he mentioned on his blog
, I used NRA B-8 repair centers. I collected three recent T&E sample firearms: Remington R51, S&W M&P45 Shield and the Ruger American Pistol Compact, the ammo and targets and headed to the range.
As noted, this was a run to (1) gain enough familiarity with each piece to give it a "best" chance in evaluation and (2) find out which one was objectively best in terms of being able to accurately shoot it over this evaluation. It's not complete: doing holster drills, multiple target exercises, distance shooting and work under the timer would finish it up nicely. The Tactical Professor's Baseline Evaluation gives us a solid foundation to proceed.
A critical component of the course is scoring the target after completing each individual distance. This tells you where you had problems and need work.
With the bullseye targets, I looked at the actual score (as far as it was possible to do so) and measured the accumulated group on target. The results surprised me.
With the R51, hits tended low, right of center and the accumulated group showed vertical stringing. There were three hits in the "8" ring, 6 in the "9" and 41 in the "10" and "X." I could feel my finger dragging on the base of the trigger guard on the right and the feel of the trigger was vastly different – a bit of a 'crunch' at times.
The R51 shot better than expected. The notes at the upper right of the target are made at the end of each stage before going on.
The Shield in .45 ACP was notably slower – while I wasn't running a timer, I was watching the front sight leave the "black" circle at ignition. Remarkably, there was a centered cluster that tore out the "10" and "X" rings. A few leaked out into the "9." None went into the "8" ring.
The Ruger American Pistol Compact in 9mm is the most "alike" other guns I routinely use and I could tell by the quicker pace. I had to force myself to slow down. There was one hit in the "8" ring – it was after a "light strike," felt almost like there was something wrong with the gun. I reset the striker without ejecting the round and promptly stood on the trigger, putting the round into "flinchville." There were only four hits in the "9" ring. Jerking the trigger pulled the Ruger right out of first place.
I used ASYM 230 grain FMJ in the Shield and Federal American Eagle Syntech in the two 9mm pistols.
Ruger American Compact
3 7/8" high without 'jerk'
The Ruger American Pistol Compact was easy handling -- tended to make me think I could shoot 'faster,' resulting in the hits in the "9" ring. The sole trigger jerk put the hit low left into the "8."
One could argue these three guns don't necessarily serve the same purpose. I think they're close enough in size to fit – but you may not. The M&P45 Shield was remarkable. This shows the accuracy of the .45 ACP along with the ergonomics of the Shield. The R51 was frankly better than I expected. If I could center it up, it would help me some. Even at that, it's a virtual tie. The Ruger American though pulled away – or would have if I hadn't messed it up.
If the bullseye is a bit much, use a silhouette. Do take a look at Claude's blog and get his take on this course, his invention, and check into Greg's blog as well to see how he used it. I intend to use this course more often: it's a great familiarization with a new gun. I'm interested in seeing how other sidearms will stack up as well.
Finally, even if you own one gun and you're not looking to buy another, the Baseline Evaluation
also can help you improve your shooting. Following Claude's plan, you can shoot this thing periodically and keep a log of results. It's a way to improve and keep a record of progress.
-- Rich Grassi