Category Archives: Out Of The Box

The Umarex Legends Makarov Ultra

Airfun Guns Are Inexpensive
And Cheap To Shoot.

The Umarex Legends line-up of action CO2 pistols now has another worthy member. It is a spittin’ image of none other than the redoubtable Makarov PM semi-auto pistol developed in the old Soviet Union. The real powder-burning Makarov is the brainchild of one Nikolai Makarov. It first appeared back in 1948 and incorporates some of the function features of the Walther PP, with single- and double-action operation.

The Makarov pistol has seen widespread use for over 50 years as the issue sidearm of Russian military and police forces. It has also been produced and used in most former and current Communist countries. Introduced to the US civilian market years ago, the compact Makarov has also remained fairly popular in this country. This concludes the history lesson.

Although looking almost identical to the real 9x18mm Makarov, the Makarov Ultra from Umarex differs from the original in some key function aspects. For instance, the 9mm Makarov features single- and double-action operation. The Ultra has single-action operation only. Also, the real deal has a slide-mounted safety that also serves to decock the hammer, while the Ultra’s safety simply disconnects the trigger. Despite those functional differences, the Ultra is a superbly realistic semi-auto BB pistol.


The Umarex Makarov Ultra is an ideal low-cost training pistol also adding quite of bit of
realistic fun for recreational shooting practice, due to the recoil of the slide as it cycles.


The Legends Makarov Ultra (above, bottom gun) is a faithful look-alike of the real thing.
Both the real Makarov (below) and the Ultra can be fieldstripped the same way. The CO2
capsule fits in the Ultra’s BB magazine.


The Ultra is powered by one standard 12 gram CO2 cartridge with a rather potent blowback action and impressive recoil. The CO2 capsule fits in the detachable magazine (the latter can load up to 16 steel BB’s, by the way). Like the real Makarov, the Ultra’s slide remains open when the last BB in the magazine is fired. Tests yielded an average muzzle velocity of 355 fps with Crosman BB’s. While definitely not meant for serious paper punching, the Ultra on test-blasted empty tin cans and other traditional plinking targets at a distance of 10 yards without fail. Many of the cans—not the flimsy soft-drink kind—were drilled and bounced around by the hail of BB’s from the Ultra. The accuracy delivered by this BB-spitter is more than adequate for a BB pistol with a short 3.5-inch smoothbore barrel.
Construction of this little beauty is all cast alloy with a matte black finish. Weighing a hefty 1.4 pounds, the Ultra is just a few ounces lighter than the real thing. The grip plates are checkered plastic, like those found on the original.

The fixed sights also duplicate those of the 9mm original: basic but adequate for short-range action. The single-action trigger was a bit mushy, also comparable to the triggers I have experienced in most of the 9mm Makarovs I have fired.

I have owned several 9mm Makarovs over the years and have found they are adequate as personal defense sidearms. In fact, I know a couple of local police officers who carry Makarovs as off-duty pieces.

Another interesting feature of the Ultra is it fieldstrips just like the powder-burning original. Pulling down on the triggerguard permits the removal of the slide from the lower receiver. I think this is a nice feature and one handy for training.

There is no doubt that the Umarex Makarov Ultra is an impressive piece, suitable for both backyard plinking and firearms training. Its decidedly affordable price is another reason sure to make the Ultra popular with a lot of folks.

Makarov Ultra
Maker: Umarex USA
7700 Chad Colley Blvd.
Ft. Smith, AR 72916
(479) 646-4210
Caliber: 4.5mm (.177-inch) steel BB’s
Power source: 12 gram CO2 capsule
Mechanism: Single action, blowback
Magazine capacity: 16, Length overall: 6.375 inches
Barrel: 3.5-inch smoothbore steel
Weight: 1.4 pounds
Sights: Fixed
Safety: Manual
Price: $109.95

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Order Your Copy Of The GUNS Magazine July 2015 Issue Today!

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Ruger’s Petite Perfect Packin’ Pistol

John Had Been Wishing For An Adjustable-
Sighted Bearcat For 57 Years. Now He Has Number 1!

That wonderful year was 1958. Ike was in the White House and thousands of young girls all around the country wept as Elvis was inducted into the Army. The Yankees beat the Braves in the World Series, a really nice house would cost the buyer $8,500, Chuck Berry told us about Johnny Be Good, and Connie Francis asked Who’s Sorry Now? My teenage life was changed dramatically as I met a blonde teenage girl now known as Diamond Dot. On the sixgun scene Ruger brought out the slickest little .22 single action which not only fit very small hands, but somehow even felt good to someone as ham-handed as I.

The .22 Bearcat had standard fixed-sights such as those found on the Colt Single Action, and did not even have the windage-adjustable rear sight of the Single-Six. The problem with fixed-sighted sixguns is the fact they do not always shoot to point of aim, and even if they do with one type of ammunition, they may not with another. Everybody does not see and hold a sixgun in the same way, which also affects point of impact. For whatever the reason, Ruger never saw the need to put adjustable sights on the little Bearcat. Several gunsmiths have corrected this problem over the years, however, every Ruger Bearcat, whether it was the original, the steel Super Bearcat, or the stainless steel Super Bearcat, came with standard fixed sights. This has gone on for well over 55 years.

Kids and .22’s go together. They always have and they always will; that is, unless political correctness totally corrupts us. Great memories come from friends and families enjoying things together and firearms and being outdoors are grand memory builders. No firearm is as good as a .22 for building those memories. Inexpensive to shoot and having low recoil, they are great for families on a budget and with young kids not ready for anything larger.

My first revolver was a .22 Ruger Single-Six in the mid-1950’s and in the 1970’s, my son was 10 years old and ready for his very own revolver. I knew it had to be a .22 single action and it had to be a Ruger. The bargain we struck together then was I would pay half if he would save up the other the other half. It took him quite a few odd jobs to come up with his bucks, but on his 10th birthday we walked into The Gunhaus and bought a brand-new Ruger Bearcat.


Ruger’s Ken Jorgensen presents John with the first adjustable-sighted
Ruger Bearcat. Photo: Gary Gelson

The shop owner threw in a box of .22’s, I fashioned a belt and holster, a friend made custom grips, and another generation was ready to enter the satisfying world of sixgunning. He still has that Bearcat. My granddaughter, his youngest, also has a Bearcat as her first firearm as I presented her with one of the Lipsey’s Ruger stainless steel, roundbutt Shopkeeper’s Models. Diamond Dot also has a Super Bearcat and my old Bearcat is well-worn but still shoots the way we expect any Ruger to do.

If there is anything more enjoyable—and at the same time more simple—than shooting .22’s at tin cans, I do not know what it is. If I could somehow capture the enjoyment we experienced as teenagers gathering together to shoot Marlin lever action .22’s and the then-new Ruger Single-Sixes and spread it from one end of the country to the other, it would certainly have a most positive effect on people’s attitudes. We must not listen to those who would have us believe times have changed to the point that kids and guns no longer go together. That is total nonsense. Kids and guns have always gone together, at least since the invention of the .22 rifle and the later advent of so many wonderful revolvers and semi-auto pistols chambered in this most popular of all cartridges.

I can’t emphasize enough that kids, and quite often women who are beginning to shoot, should be started on the right track with revolvers that do not beat them up. I remember from my silhouetting days how often men would have their kids shooting their big-bore Unlimited handguns. Daddy may have been proud, but junior, and often Mom, were getting beat up and quickly learning that shooting was not for them. Kids should be started young, but they should also be started easy.

When Ruger switched to New Model production with a transfer bar safety in both the Single-Six and Blackhawk series, they elected to drop the Bearcat rather than adding a transfer bar. The Bearcat was resurrected in 1993 complete with a transfer bar safety, however, unlike the Single-Six and the Blackhawk sixguns, the Bearcat features a 1/2-cock notch on the hammer.

Many of us repeatedly requested adjustable sights over the years, however, no one seemed to pay any attention. Then this past summer Ken Jorgensen of Ruger contacted me to see if I would be willing to be interviewed to be on the Ruger Inside and Out TV show. I expected Ken to show up at the house with a handheld video camera, spend a half hour or so, and be gone. Instead the cameraman filled my family room and most of my office with equipment and we spent the whole morning filming, then went out for a very satisfying Mexican lunch, and then it was off to the range for an afternoon of shooting and filming. It was a most enjoyable day.


Taffin’s youngest granddaughter (above) with a Ruger Bearcat more than 10 years ago. The new Ruger is safe
to carry with six rounds (below) while the old pre-transfer bar safety Super Bearcat should only be carried
with five rounds and the hammer down on an empty chamber. Notice the difference in sights and hammer in
comparing the new Bearcat with the Super Bearcat.


As we talked during the morning, Ken asked if I could have any Ruger what would I like to see produced. I did not hesitate to say an adjustable sighted Bearcat. Ken’s immediate response was: “It’s coming.” He made my day! Little did I know how quickly it would be coming and what the occasion would be.

Two of my friends worked for nearly a year contacting others in the industry and result was an elk and buffalo hunt for me followed up by an appreciation dinner two weeks later. I was stunned and humbled when over 250 people, both local and from around the country, showed up for the dinner. Ken Jorgensen of Ruger went to the podium, looked down at me sitting with all my family, and asked, “Do you remember what Ruger you said you’d like to see when you are interviewed a few months ago?” “An adjustable-sighted Bearcat,” I replied. And with that Ken left the podium, came down to my table, and presented me with the very first adjustable-sighted Ruger Bearcat. I was stunned. After nearly 60 years we now have the finest little .22 single action “kit gun” which is now a Petite Perfect Packin’ Pistol.

Ruger did not just adapt the regular Bearcat frame to accept an adjustable rear sight as many gunsmiths do by removing metal from the top back of the frame to accommodate the sight. Instead, Ruger redesigned the frame to incorporate the same ears on both sides of the rear sight as found on all of their Blackhawk Models. The sight is fully adjustable for both windage and elevation and mates up nicely with the ramp front sight.

I said “fully adjustable,” however, there were two minor problems with the adjustment. The elevation screw would not go down far enough to bottom out the rear sight, and if it did the rear sight prevented the hammer from going all the way forward. My gunsmith Tom at Buckhorn quickly fixed both problems. Now the sight is fully adjustable and it does not interfere with the hammer.

The Bearcat is a joy to shoot and, as I have mentioned, it is basically a one-size-fits-all as it’s a rare hand that doesn’t feel comfortable wrapped around the Bearcat grip frame. It shot very well with many of the 5-shot groups in the 1-inch range at 20 yards. CCI Mini-Mag HP’s really stood out clocking over 1,060 fps and grouping in 5/8 inch.


Targets fired with the adjustable sighted Bearcat (above) show it is quite a capable little revolver.
The new Ruger Bearcat rides safely and securely in this holster (below) from Chisholm’s Trail.


The Bearcat is rarely seen in holsters. Instead in can be found in backpacks, fishing tackle boxes, pockets, anywhere a small space is encountered which will accept this diminutive .22. The reason very few Bearcat holsters are seen is because it is very difficult to make a holster for such a small revolver. When my son got his Bearcat I managed to fashion a belt and Threepersons-style holster for it. There is so little cylinder and frame to wrap the leather around it takes a special leathercrafting skill to come up with a holster. Chisholm’s Trail specializes in historical style leather and came up with a beautiful rendition of a Mexican-style holster for the little Bearcat. There is nothing more worthless for carrying a firearm, especially when roaming the sagebrush, foothills, forests, or mountains than a loose fitting holster. Chisolm’s Trail makes tightfitting leather, which secures the sixgun in practically any situation. The Bearcat will not fall out of this exquisitely built little holster.

By the time you read this I expect the adjustable-sighted Bearcat will be in standard production. My son started his shooting with a Bearcat and many of the grandkids also spent learning time with the little .22 single action. Not only did I have a fabulous hunt, a very humbling dinner, and the presentation of the first adjustable sighted Bearcat this past year, my grandson and his wife also presented us with our first great grandchild. As Miriam Rebecca grows she will learn to shoot with this new Bearcat, and when she is old enough it will become hers. The family tradition will continue.
By John Taffin

Chisholm’s Trail
P.O. Box 162
Newman GA 30264
(678) 423-7351

.22 LR Factory Ammo Performance

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The Sphinx 9mm Compact

Thanks To The Good Offices Of Kriss USA,
This Swiss-Made Arm Is Back And Better
Than Ever.

Some years ago, its original importer offered it at a price that was—back then—too high for all but the most affluent buyers. This time, the figure is not out of reach for anyone looking for precision Swiss engineering and a basic CZ 75 design.

In the current SPHINX SDP Compact, there are two departures from the original CZ 75 pattern. One of these involves the materials used. The grip-frame—triggerguard included—is made of high-tech polymer. The mid-frame, containing the action parts, is alloy. All of the working parts, including the barrel and slide, are made of high-grade steel.

Another change is in regard to the manual safety. On my sample, it has been replaced by levers on both sides, a hammer-lowering system. Not a “hammer-drop,” it is the best kind of safety. As you release the lever, the hammer is eased down.

The trigger system is selective double action/single action, and in both modes very nice. I’m sure this is partly a result of the precise attention of the workmen in Switzerland, but it’s also in the basic CZ 75 design. The DA employs the mechanical advantage of a push-bar, not a drawbar. The trigger does have some vertical ridges, but they’re not very deep and cause no discomfort.

When you use the lever to lower the hammer, it is left slightly to the rear, giving access to the grooves in its top for single-action cocking. As on the CZ 75, the slide latch is located high and forward, not within easy thumb-reach of the shooting hand. So, just use the European police/military method. When you insert a new magazine, use that hand to trip it.

The SPHINX has all of the little modern touches you expect, of course. There is an automatic internal firing-pin-block released only in the last fraction of trigger pull. The magazine release button, in the usual location, is reversible. More good news: no magazine-disconnect safety. If the magazine is damaged during your plane crash in the Outback, you still have a single-shot.


One of the targets with the CorBon DPX load gave 2 inches offhand at 7 yards.

The SPHINX has all of the little modern touches you expect, of course. There is an automatic internal firing-pin-block released only in the last fraction of trigger pull. The magazine release button, in the usual location, is reversible. More good news: no magazine-disconnect safety. If the magazine is damaged during your plane crash in the Outback, you still have a single-shot.

For the back of the grip-frame, there are rubber-covered inserts in three sizes, and a tool is supplied so you can change them. If you still use that weird finger-in-front version of the 2-hand hold, the front of the triggerguard is cross-grooved and concave. A standard rail at the front allows mounting of a laser or a light.

Two Allen screws secure the rear sight in its dovetail, allowing lateral movement. The sight is Novak-style, and its back is cross-grooved and all-black. The front sight has a white dot. The sight picture is square post/square notch, and the rear notch has ample width for easy eye pick-up. The sights on my sample pistol required no adjustment.

A little square lug on the extractor protrudes to tell you the chamber is loaded. Also, there’s a slim window at the rear edge of the barrel where the rim of a chambered round is visible. After-shooting takedown for cleaning is not difficult, but read the manual. Lower the hammer before removing the slide.

Test-firing the SPHINX was done at 7 yards, with a 2-hand hold. On one target, with assorted ammo, the first shot was fired DA, and it hit slightly to the left, but still in the 8-inch black of the Champion VisiShot target. The other four rounds made a neat 1.5-inch group at dead center. That one DA round expanded the total to 4 inches.

The rest of the shooting was with an excellent load from CorBon, their +P 115-grain DPX. The group average was an impressive 2 inches, perfectly centered. Another tribute to Swiss precision, perhaps? One other thing, a note to those who reload: the SPHINX deposited the fired cases in one little area to right rear, 6 feet away.

The felt recoil was mild, even with the +P loads. Jacketed hollowpoints caused no problems. The gun worked perfectly every time. As mentioned earlier, there are some notable SPHINX additions to the basic CZ 75 design. And, of course, you get that Swiss precision. With this one, you can’t miss.
By J.B. Wood


The SPHINX SDP Compact 9mm is light, handy accurate and with accessible controls.
The fire controls are ambidextrous and the magazine release is reversible.


Importer: Kriss USA
2697 International Pkwy.
Suite 3-140, Virginia Beach, VA 23452
(855) 574-7787

Type: Double-action semi-auto,
Caliber: 9mm, Parabellum,
Weight: 31.8 ounces,
Length: 7.3 inches,
Height: 5.34 inches,
Width: 1.36 inches,
Barrel length: 3.75 inches,
Sight radius: 5.8 inches,
Capacity: 15+1,
Price: $995 to $1,295

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Order Your Printed Copy Of The GUNS Magazine May 2015 Issue Today!

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Smaller Government

Browning’s New 1911 380 Is As Slimmed,
Trimmed, Light & Lethal .380 ACP.

Since I can’t even estimate the number of 1911’s I’ve handled and shot since childhood, I guess you’d say I’ve had my share of experience with ’em. OK, maybe my share, Fred’s share, Pete’s and Larry’s, Earl’s and Frank’s and all their first-born’s shares too. The overwhelming majority were full-size Government Models chambered in .45 ACP, but many too were chopped at the muzzle end, chopped at the butt, judiciously trimmed at the corners or crazily whacked into a nearly unrecognizable state. Other chamberings included 9mm, .38 Super, .40 S&W, some oddball .50’s and .22 LR.

Some sorta-worked; most didn’t. For me, the net effect just drove me back to my roots, to full-sized service pistols in .45 ACP. It seemed to me the more slashing and jiggering of ol’ JMB’s design, the more you invited finicky failures. When the Big Cheese Editor Jeff (AKA Le Gran Fromage du GUNS) told me Browning had proportionally shrunken a 1911, built it with a composite synthetic frame and chambered it in .380 ACP, I instantly developed an involuntary facial tic that cocked an eyebrow like a boomerang. I felt a block of salt forming in my cheek. Not a grain of salt, mind you—a block.

Jeff had shot a prototype at an exclusive preview event, and reported that based on his brief experience poppin’ some steel plates, it handled well and ran just fine. He gave you a lot of details on it in the January issue, and I encourage you to go online or pull out your paper copy and peruse it. However, he promised you a full review of the over-the-counter “production gun” by an A-list gunwriter. He couldn’t find an A-lister with time available, so…

As soon as I opened the box I thought, “Bold move, Browning. Maybe dumb, but bold.” I couldn’t get over the weight, a mere 15 ounces. But when I repeatedly gripped it, ran through some balancing and pointing drills, cycled the action and tickled the trigger, my thoughts ran to IF this puppy can run right, shoot straight and hold together, Browning’s gonna have a winner. It does, it can, it did—and I think they do. Let’s do a quick tour.

In appearance, the 1911 380 closely mimics its big brother. Iron sights are sharp and clear, with a perfectly dimensioned U-notch and post for fast and precise work. The slide is a slim 0.77-inch as opposed to a 0.91-inch “standard.” The upswept beavertail grip safety is generous, very nicely enhancing your grip, and has a pronounced “memory bump” for sure engagement. Ambidextrous thumb safeties are well proportioned, crisp and positive. Trigger “reach” (the distance from the grip safety to the trigger’s surface) is only 2.3 inches, while a full-size 1911’s reach runs about 2.8 inches.

Inside the triggerguard, “finger space” measures 0.90-inch both vertically and horizontally to accommodate all but the fattest fingers. XL-size gloves are snug to tight on me, and I had no problem with the dimensions at all. The skeletonized trigger is smooth-faced, and has a little lateral and up-and-down movement. I don’t think that’s a flaw in design, but rather a little built-in clearance. It doesn’t affect function at all.


Bangin’ headshots on Zombies with the little Browning. It’s a
tough job, but somebody has to do it. Woof-woof!

Inside the triggerguard, “finger space” measures 0.90-inch both vertically and horizontally to accommodate all but the fattest fingers. XL-size gloves are snug to tight on me, and I had no problem with the dimensions at all. The skeletonized trigger is smooth-faced, and has a little lateral and up-and-down movement. I don’t think that’s a flaw in design, but rather a little built-in clearance. It doesn’t affect function at all.

The trigger pull has about 1/4-inch of take-up under very light pressure. The break is fairly crispy and measures 4.5 pounds on my Lyman Electronic gauge. Reset is short, tactile and audible. An important note here: This pistol has a magazine disconnect, so the mag must be in the well in order for you to drop the hammer—and possibly touch off a chambered round. But the mag doesn’t have to be completely OUT of the gun to enable that safety feature. If it’s pushed in just beyond the magazine catch-point, about halfway up, the trigger will function and the hammer drops. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a consideration.

The girth of the grip, measured rough with a fabric tape is 4.5 inches. The girth of my daily-carry 1911 is 5.375 inches. The difference is a tad less than 1 inch, but the feeling is significant. The height of the grip allows for a full, firm 4-finger grip. During testing, I had three women and three men of varying hand sizes try the grip, trigger, thumb safety and operation. All gave very positive responses, including one petite—really, tiny—experienced shooter who loved it. She also commented on the relative ease of operating the slide. Stiff spring resistance is a problem for lots of ladies. Not so, it seems, with the 1911 380.


That’s eight shots cadenced at one per second at 7 yards (above). With a full 4-finger grip
and low-bore axis, the .380’s feathery weight did not detract from stability and control. Is
it inherently accurate? Shooting 2-handed at 10 yards at a 2-inch sticker (below) produced
a 5-shot 1.3-inch group.


The front and back straps are lightly textured for grip, and, something rarely seen on polymer-framed pistols, the grip panels are removable. The panels on our sample are checkered “composite.” Feels like a hard rubber compound to me, and they feel fine. Optional grip panels in imitation aged ivory, imitation pearl and real rosewood will be available too. The 8-round mag loads with very little effort, inserts smoothly and then drops freely after popping the mag release. If you’re a seasoned full-size 1911 shooter, you might appreciate that operating the mag release with your master hand is faster and requires less hand movement than with your service pistol.

Inside, the only notable differences from the original are the substitution of an integral fixed link for the usual pinned swinging link, and a synthetic recoil spring guide. Fieldstripping is straight-up 1911 (already familiar to many of you). Enough mech-and-tech. Let’s get to the pudding. That’s where the “proof” is, I’m told.

The pistol arrived pretty dry, so I sparingly lubed it with SLiP 2000 EWL on the primary points. Ammo for testing included Winchester’s excellent “Train & Defend” 95-grain loads—Jeff also covered these in detail in his January piece—and SIG SAUER’s “Elite Performance” 90-grain V-Crown JHP’s.

Shooting for break-in and all-angles function checks, about the first 15 cases ejected sluggishly, looping over my shoulder to 5 o’clock and about 4 feet out. Within 10 more rounds ejection turned brisk and consistent, tossing empties to 4 o’clock and 8 to 10 feet out for the remainder of testing. I experienced a half-dozen failures to feed completely into battery in the first 40 or 50 rounds, mostly the first round up from a full mag after the chambered round was fired, then never again. That’s a fairly routine thing.

What drove me a little nuts was repeated erratic failures of the slide to lock back after emptying the mag. I checked the mag, engagement and everything else I could think of. Browning only furnishes one mag so I couldn’t try another. Then it struck me: I was alternating shooting 2-handed and single-handed. When shooting 1911’s 2-handed, I “ride the safety” with my master-hand thumb. My off-hand thumb is placed so I won’t accidentally engage the slide lock/release. When shooting single-handed, my master hand thumb curls under the safety. I feel that provides more control. It’s automatic for me; I do it on autopilot.


It looks just like its big brother, but Browning’s 1911 380 (above) is 85 percent the size
and less than half the weight of a steel-framed Government Model. The 1911 380 perched atop
a full-sized Government Model (below), for comparison. The biggest difference is the weight,
at 15 ounces for the 1911 380 vs. 37.5 ounces for the full size.


Here’s what I found: I’ve got big hands. With the 1911 380’s reduced size, when my thumb rides the safety, it overlaps right onto the slide release, pushing it down. The slide couldn’t lock back. Changed grip, problem solved. I called Aaron Cummins at Browning, a big guy with even bigger hands. He just laughed; it happened to him too. He told me the shorter slide release of Browning’s 1911 .22, a pistol I wasn’t familiar with, also fits the .380, and can solve that problem. Good to know, huh?

This little pistol shot and handled much better than I would have expected. With that 4-fingered grip and nice beavertail, controllability is excellent, and even at a wispy 15 ounces, recoil effect is negligible. I would compare it to shooting 9mm from a 40-ounce 1911. Extended range sessions can be comfortably completed. Recovery from shot-to-shot is terrific. The 4.25-inch barrel and 5.5-inch sight radius make for excellent “pointability,” and the longish barrel boosts listed factory ammo velocities by 40 to 50 fps. There were zero stutters or chokes from about round number 50 through 300. Just give her a good break-in, OK?

Is she accurate? Check the group data. Any pocket pistol that can put five rounds into 1.375 inches at 10 yards can hold her head high. But it’s not a target pistol, and it excelled at its real role: Engaging attackers with speed, accuracy and reliability. Toward the end of testing, at 7 yards, my 8-shot groups cadenced at about one round per second ran from 2.5×2 inches to 3.5×3 inches.

Did you know John Moses Browning designed both the 1911 and the .380 ACP cartridge? And now, the company bearing his name has made a mighty fine marriage of the two. Connor OUT.
By John Connor

Model 1911 380
Maker: Browning
One Browning Way
Morgan, UT 84050
(801) 876-271

Action Type: Locked breech semi-auto
Caliber: .380 ACP
Capacity: 8+1
Barrel Length: 4.25 inches
Overall Length: 7.5 inches
Weight: 15 ounces
Finish: Matte black
Sights: Fixed, anti-snag, combat type
Price: $669.99

.380 ACP Factory Ammo Performance
Load Velocity Group Size
(brand, type) (fps) (inches)
American Eagle HP 978 1
CCI Blazer 1,019 1-1/2
CCI Mini-Mag HP 1,016 1-1/2
CCI Mini-Mag +V 1,065 5/8
CCI SGB 959 1-1/4
CCI Pistol Match 893 1-3/8
CCI Standard Velocity 904 1-1/2
CCI Green Tag 889 1-3/4
CCI .22 Short HP 1,024 1-3/4
Load Velocity BEST Group Average Group*
(brand, bullet weight, type) (fps) (inches) (inches)
Winchester Defend 95 JHP 983 1.5 1.68
Winchester Train 95 FMJ 982 1.375 1.625
SIG Elite 90 JHP 1,038 1.5 1.625

Notes: Groups shot at 10 yards, rested 2-hand hold, 5-round groups.
*Average of 3 groups. Chronograph Data:
Competition Electronics Pro Chrono Digital 10 feet from muzzle.

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The Sightmark Pinnacle

An Optimized Glass For Today’s Tactical Rifles.

We black rifle aficionados were once a fairly disenfranchised mob. Nowadays, however, Americans ranging from teenagers to grandparents enjoy shooting AR-15’s all across our great republic. The gear to support such stuff is big business and the inevitable cross-pollination with the military drives the evolving state of the art to ever more rarefied strata.

There is certainly a place in this world for inexpensive stuff sold in blister packs at Walmart. I own a fair amount myself. However, there is also a niche for high-end mechanical art that embodies state of the art precision and borders upon optical perfection. Such is what we shall discuss today.

Calibers .223 and .308 feed the weapons of most tactical shooters in America. The mil-pedigree of these two cartridges means they will drive most of the iron encountered on shooting ranges today. However, in response to the exploding market for legal sound suppressors comes the .300 AAC or .300 Blackout. This unique 7.62x35mm cartridge utilizes a .30-caliber projectile mounted atop a modified .223 cartridge case. The liberal helping of awesome this brings to the table is that .300 AAC rounds can be readily had in both supersonic and subsonic loadings. When stoked with subsonic .300 AAC a suppressed AR rifle enjoys the many splendored benefits of a large caliber weapon adequate to take hogs, antelope, or deer while rendering conventional earplugs obsolete. If you haven’t already, run a magazine of subsonic .300 AAC ammo through somebody’s sound-suppressed rifle. It will change your life.

The rub is simply that while governments come and go, the dicta of physics remain immutable law. When you change velocity for a given bullet weight and profile the resulting trajectory changes predictably as well. For the dedicated shooter who is serious about his craft, Sightmark produces two pieces of combat glass perfectly optimized for these particular cartridges.


The Sightmark Pinnacle scopes are optimized tactical optics for
serious shooters. Packed with features and offering flawless
precision, the Pinnacle scopes are precision sighting tools.


Throw levers on the Sightmark CJRK 1-piece mount are long and handy.
AR rifles will need an extended charging handle latch for adequate clearance,
or the mount’s levers can be repositioned to work from the front.


The Sightmark Pinnacle TMD model scope is designed for today’s quality
black rifles. Interchangeable elevation turrets allow the scope to be
optimized for .223 or .308 platforms.

Efficiency And Compromise

Typically, compromise is like kissing your sister. The theory is sound but there is little satisfaction in the execution. In the case of combat optics, the challenge is divining some way to run the rifle up close as well as far away without cluttering up your rails unduly.

Pivoting magnifiers snap in place easily enough but they typically offer a fixed magnification and add yet another instrument to your rifle’s precious real estate with its commensurate weight and mechanical liability. In the case of the Sightmark Pinnacle, the goal is clearly to be all things for all operators nestled snugly within the same 24mm tube. After a little time spent turning ammunition into noise it turns out they did a simply splendid job.

The Sightmark Pinnacle incorporates a first focal plane reticle and a battery-powered illuminated aiming point user-selectable in both red and green. A first focal plane reticle simply means the stadia lines move along with the power adjustments. Therefore rangefinding and holdovers are true at any setting. The Pinnacle is adjustable from 1X to 6X by turning the knurled adjustment knob. Turrets can be had capped or open.

As with all first focal plane scopes, when the power adjustment is turned down to 1X the reticle all but disappears. At that point fire up the illuminated aiming point and you have a both-eyes-open tactical solution maximized for those times when you are close enough to smell what the threat had for dinner.

Roll the power knob up for distance work and the reticle springs to life. The onboard Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) on both Sightmark Pinnacle models is meticulously calibrated for their specific loadings. The TMD version sports a reticle calibrated in mils and comes with two interchangeable elevation turrets. These turrets compensate for bullet drop for either .223 or .308 loads dependent upon the platform. Gross range estimation via the TMD reticle is based upon typical head size. With the appropriate turret the Pinnacle TMD can be swapped seamlessly between .308 and .223 rifles.

The AAC variant compensates for subsonic vs. supersonic .300 AAC loadings at a glance using nothing more than the etched reticle in the sight.
Holdover is determined based upon typical shoulder width, the aforementioned mantra of physics mandating bullet strikes for these two loads be markedly different at different ranges. Place the stadia lines on the left of the array across the shoulders of a target to range subsonic loads. Lines on the right side of the reticle accomplish the same end with supersonic rounds. Using nothing more than the reticle lines a skilled shooter can range either load with remarkable accuracy all the way out to 800 yards.


Sightmark scopes (above) maximize the effectiveness of these tactical rifles. Whether you
run .223, .308, or .300 AAC, the Sightmark Pinnacle line of premium rifle scopes can help
deliver precision fire from across the room all the way out to the maximum effective range
of the round. The Sightmark Pinnacle AAC (below) is designed around the revolutionary .300
AAC cartridge. Using nothing more than the reticle in the scope, an experienced shooter can
compensate for bullet drop for both supersonic and subsonic loads out to 800 meters.



The revolutionary .300 AAC cartridge maximizes the effectiveness of the suppressed AR platform.
Sufficient to take big game like deer and pigs, yet available in subsonic loadings, the .300
AAC mates beautifully to the Sightmark Pinnacle AAC tactical optic. Both subsonic and supersonic
.300 AAC rounds are comparably reliable in an AR rifle. The reticle on the Sightmark Pinnacle
AAC tactical optic facilitates instant bullet drop compensation between these two loads.

Unmatched Versatility

Up close with the aiming point illuminated and the scope screwed down to 1X makes for a both-eyes-open CQB solution to equal any dedicated close range optic. Addressing targets at longer ranges is as simple as turning the power adjustment knob. The actual minutiae of ballistics are unique based upon load and barrel length and it takes practice to match the particulars of an individual rifle and load to a scope. However, so long as you master your craft, the Sightmark Pinnacle will lob those big honking .30-caliber slugs right where you want them all the way out to the ballistic limits of the round using nothing more than the reticle for drop compensation.

Swapping the TMD version between .223 and .308 platforms showed the dedicated elevation turrets to be similarly effective for these two rounds. The TMD allows a single optic to be swapped between different rifles in either caliber, re-zeroed and then shot accurately to any reasonable range. Practical results are obviously a function of ammunition, barrel length, shooter skill and a half dozen other factors, but the Sightmark TMD Pinnacle is a precision instrument designed around these two popular military cartridges.

The Sightmark Pinnacle is an expensive piece of glass. However, its optical clarity approaches perfection and the mechanical aspects are simply superb. Workmanship is top flight throughout and the design is robust enough for hard use. The throw-lever mount allows the scope to be removed without losing zero. While the long levers on the mount make for easy manipulation they do stick out far enough to interfere a bit with the charging handle on an AR. Add an extended charging handle latch and you have plenty of clearance.


The reticle on the Sightmark Pinnacle AAC (above) allows instant bullet drop compensation
for both subsonic and supersonic .300 AAC loads. Stadia lines on the right side of the
reticle correlate with supersonic 125-grain loads while the lines on the left correlate
with subsonic 220-grain rounds. Orient the lines across a typical set of shoulders and
you instantly have the appropriate holdover. The illuminated reticle on the Sightmark
Pinnacle AAC optic is an easy-to-pick-up chevron. Illumination is user-selectable
between red or green at several different brightness settings.


The reticle on the Sightmark Pinnacle TMD allows manual range finding based upon
typical head size. Exchanging the external elevation turrets calibrates the scope
for .223 or .308 rifles. For up close work or shooting in low light conditions the
Sightmark Pinnacle TMD reticle is manually illuminated in either green or red.

The Sightmark Pinnacle is a refined tool for professionals. The illuminated aiming point draws the eye and is lightning fast for indoor operations. Additionally, the accomplished marksman can accurately estimate range, compensate for the ballistic personality of the individual round and accomplish the appropriate holdover to achieve first shot hits with these four specific loadings as far out as they might reasonably shoot.

My own gun collection is liberally smattered with cheap rifle scopes. A couple are impressive, most do OK and a few simply fell to pieces with their first hard use. If you are serious enough about your craft to spring for the good stuff, then the Pinnacle from Sightmark really is a Cadillac solution. The clarity is stunning, the illuminated reticle draws the eye for CQB applications, and the dedicated Bullet Drop Compensators fit the unique eccentricities of these four cartridges like your favorite pair of broken-in boxer shorts.

Perfection is expensive but some of us find ourselves dissatisfied with anything less. The Pinnacle from Sightmark is tailor-made for black rifle guys in that category.
By Will Dabbs, MD
Photos By Sarah Dabbs

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Gorilla Ammunition
3895 39th Square
Vero Beach, FL 32960
(772) 766-5805

Pinnacle 1-6×24 TMD & AAC
Maker: Sightmark
(817) 225-0310

Magnification: 1X to 6X
Objective Diameter: 24mm
Eye Relief: 4 inches
Internal Adj. Range: 144 inches elevation & windage at 100 yards (both TMD & AAC, Click Value: 0.1 MRAD (TMD), 1/2 MOA (AAC)
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Weight: 20.4 ounces
Overall Length: 10.24 inches
Reticles: Illuminated (TMD), CDC-300 (AAC)
Price: $1,439.99


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Dress Up Your Shooting Iron

Rio Grande Custom Grips.

Many sixgunners purchase a single action and are content to use it just as it is for their entire shooting life and then pass it on to someone else. I am not one of them! I prefer to make most of my revolvers distinctly my own and the easiest way to do this is by adding custom grips.

I have purchased grips for my sixguns ever since I bought that first inletted 1-piece walnut block for an 1860 Army in 1957. Since that time I have spent everything from $5 for a pair of B-Western faux stags at gun shows all the way up to several hundreds of dollars for ivory, stag, pearl, bone and ram’s horn. Now there is a much easier, and certainly less expensive way to personalize sixguns and that way is Rio Grande Custom Grips.

Dale Ayars of Rio Grande designs the molds to fashion high-strength engineered polymer grips. These grips are then “tattooed” using a patented process on the polymer surface providing a durable and permanent application. Once that image is applied, Rio Grande Custom Grips are salt, solvent, water, impact and abrasion resistant. A large array of images are offered including patriotic, animal skin, animal images, dragons and many other striking patterns. In addition to the standard patterns Rio Grande can duplicate customer’s images and also add such things as initials to their standard grips.


Rio Grande Rattler grips dropped on
John’s modern Ruger Single-Six.


The color and texture of the Rio Grande
Rattler grips is exceptional.

The grips pictured are of the “Rattler” pattern and made for all Ruger Single Actions on the XR3-RED pattern. The bane of all custom grip makers is the fact manufacturers have not always maintained the same tolerances, which is why high dollar grips require the maker have the frame itself for custom fitting. I felt the Rattler image would look good on a smallbore .30 Carbine Blackhawk, however I found my 45 year-old Blackhawk had grip pins larger than the holes on the Rattler grips. I switched to a fairly recent production .22 Single-Six and the grips slipped on perfectly. By the time you read this Rio Grande plans to have Ruger grips to fit the New Vaquero and New Model Flat-Top Blackhawk grip frames.

After more than 100 years the basic 1911 remains right at the top of the list of most popular semi-automatic pistols. Personally, I prefer to make all my pistols just that, personally mine. Polymer pistols are wonderful pieces of machinery; however, it is very difficult to make them a distinctive part of myself. When it comes to a 1911, it simply a matter of loosening two screws on each side of the grip frame and replacing the panels. Rio Grande Custom Grips offers dozens upon dozens of different grip panels for both 1911 standard models and the smaller Officers Model-style semi-automatic pistols.

Of all the Rio Grande grips, my particular favorite, among many favorites, is the black grip panel with Wild Bill Hickok’s Dead Man’s Hand consisting of black aces and 8’s and the jack of diamonds.


John chose Rio Grande Custom Grips (above) Officers Model-style
Dead Man’s Hand for his compact Officer’s Model 1911 and the
full size grips emblazoned with an eagle and flag called the
American Spirit. The Dead Man’s Hand Rio Grande grips (below)
for the Officers Model size 1911 feature the poker hand Wild
Bill Hickok allegedly held when he was shot.


1911’s are offered, and have been offered, by dozens upon dozens of manufacturers and there is no guarantee every one is manufactured to the same tolerances, so some slight alteration may be necessary to the Rio Grande grips to make them fit the chosen grip frame. I had two pairs of Rio Grande Custom Grips at my disposal. For the 1911 it is a most attractive American Spirit in red, white and blue with an eagle head on each panel. Switching to the Officer’s Model-style I had the Dead Man’s Hand. It was necessary to spend about a minute with a Dremel tool to relieve the top of the back of the left grip panel and also open up the notch ever so slightly for the free operation of the magazine release. This is very common depending upon the particular pistol selected. Rio Grande’s are priced at a very reasonable $64.95.
By John Taffin

Rio Grande Custom Grips
(303) 330-2812

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A More Perfect “10”

Federal’s 180-grain Trophy
Bonded JSP Gives 10MM A
Real Performance Upgrade.

Looking back, it is easy to conclude the 10mm cartridge came from a nearly dysfunctional family. It started out in the right direction; however, problems arose of one kind or another.

The 10mm cartridge goes back to the early 1970’s when experimenters cut down .224 Weatherby brass and loaded it with 180-grain .38-40 bullets. Muzzle velocity in a Browning High Power was reported at 1,100 fps. By 1977 the velocity was up to 1,250 fps and it caught the attention of Jeff Cooper who rarely ever looked past the .45 ACP.

For the first time there was a possibility a semi-automatic round was available, which could replace the .45 ACP in Col. Cooper’s mind. He really liked the 10mm and we soon had a new pistol and factory ammunition in .40 caliber. This new 10mm round was loaded by Norma with a 200-grain bullet at more than 1,200 fps. The semi-automatic pistol, which housed it was the Bren Ten, an improved CZ 75 produced by Dornaus and Dixon.

This new semi-automatic pistol could be carried in the double-action mode with hammer down on a live round and safety engaged, or it could be carried in cocked-and-locked mode—Colt Government Model-style. Cooper got behind the project and the orders poured in, but problems surfaced quickly. Production was slower than had been expected, ammunition was too powerful, causing problems with the gun and magazines were not made in-house but produced in Europe.

Through no fault of Col. Cooper, Dornaus and Dixon failed, with some buyers getting pistols but no magazines. It appeared the 10mm was dead. Ammunition was available but the pistol was not.

Colt went out on a limb and chambered the Government Model and Gold Cup in 10mm and saved the cartridge. Soon 10mm’s were everywhere (around 1990) and we soon had 10’s from S&W, Glock, Springfield Armory, IAI/AMT, LAR, Auto-Ordnance, Wyoming Arms, Thompson/ Center, and Ruger even offered a Convertible Blackhawk with two cylinders in .38-40 and 10mm.

Law enforcement looked to the 10mm as a solution to such problems as they had in the Miami shootout. However, it was soon surmised the ammunition was too powerful and the call went out for a 180-grain bullet at about 950 fps. If it looks familiar it is because it became the .40 S&W. The 10mm languished and the .40 S&W flourished.


John shot the Federal loads for accuracy at 20 yards and offhand for fun.


Federal’s new 10mm 180-grain Trophy Bonded JSP load delivers power
and performance in John’s test pistols, exceeding published velocity
in 5-inch-barreled 1911’s and even higher velocity in the 6-inch,
longslide Nighthawk.

Today the 10mm is still available from Colt and is also offered in 1911 form from Kimber and Nighthawk. There are others, but these are the four I had at my disposal for testing Federal’s new 10mm load. Federal has been offering both JHP and FMJ 180-grain 10mm ammunition at a rated muzzle velocity of 1,030 fps. They have now upped the ante considerably with a 180-grain Trophy Bonded JSP at a rated 1,275 fps.

Federal says of this load, “… it is a full-power load that takes complete advantage of the caliber’s true capability. While many 10mm loads are watered down to produce ballistics similar to or just above those of the .40 S&W, this cartridge offers the muscle needed for both big-game hunting and personal protection. Its new Trophy Bonded JSP bullet makes the load even more effective. Based on the proven Trophy Bonded Bear Claw rifle bullet, its heavy jacket features a formed internal profile that pre-programs and controls expansion to ensure deep penetration. Nickel-plated cases provide easy extraction.”

Federal does not fudge at all on their muzzle velocity claims and this is very potent ammunition. In the 5-inch-barreled Colt Delta Elite and Kimber Stainless Target II, muzzle velocity was 1,309 (685 ft-lbs of energy) fps and 1,302 fps respectively while the longer barrel on the Nighthawk resulted in 1,342 fps. Only the shorter 4-inch barrel of the Glock 20C gave less than advertised muzzle velocity at 1,226 fps. Accuracy in the three 1911-pattern semi-automatics for 5 shots at 20 yards came in at 1-1/4 inches in the Colt Delta Elite, 7/8 inches in the Kimber Stainless Steel Target II, and a very miniscule 5/8-inch group came from the barrel of the Nighthawk. The Nighthawk is a totally custom pistol and expected to perform this way even when the shooter is in the middle of his eighth decade as I am.


Five-inch barreled guns were no slouch either. These
targets were shot with the new Federal Trophy Bonded
load from Kimber and Colt 10mm’s.


Federal’s new 10mm Trophy Bonded load (above, far left)
compared to the .45 ACP, .38 Super and 9mm. The 10mm
load literally blew a gallon of water apart (below).


Recoil will definitely get your attention, especially in the Colt and the Kimber, while the heavier weight and longer barrel of the Nighthawk cuts down on subjective recoil somewhat. The Glock was the most pleasant to shoot because of two factors; one being the compensated barrel and the other the fact polymer-framed pistols go a long way in soaking up some of the recoil as the frame flexes somewhat. Don’t take my word for it. Bill Loughridge of Cylinder & Slide says the same thing.

To get some idea of what power I had in my hand without resorting to the messiness/extra work of ballistic gelatin, I used a one-gallon jug of water. The Federal 180-grain Trophy Bonded JSP literally exploded the selected target. The picture provided tells the story.

While the new load may be more than most want for self defense, especially when Federal offers 180-grain loads at 250 fps less muzzle velocity, it should be just the ticket for hunting and every bit as effective as the lighter weight .41 Magnum loads. I expect the new Federal load will provide excellent results in the game fields especially on feral pigs and deer-sized game.

Of all the semi-automatics offered in a long range of calibers, I would rate the 10mm using the new Federal load in a 1911-style, semi-automatic pistol as the best combination of both power and packable portability. There are more powerful semi-auto cartridges and larger, heavier pistols, however the 10mm full-house load in the 1911 pistol seems like a most sensible compromise.
By John Taffin

Federal Cartridge
900 Ehlen Dr.
Anoka, MN 55303
(763) 323-2300

P.O. Box 1868
Hartford, CT 06144
(800) 962-2658

6000 Highlands Parkway
Smyrna, GA 30082
(770) 432-1202

1 Lawton Street
Yonkers, NY 10705
(914) 964-0771

Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, AR 72616
(877) 268-4867

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Pump Power

Winchester SXP Marine Defender 12-Gauge.

Self-defense means, well, defense of self. It does not mean self-offense nor does it mean lawnmower-defense. Self-defense is protecting self and family against death and/or serious injury. As much as we may be angered at someone stealing a lawnmower from our property, shooting in such a case is not self-defense. You could buy 1,000 lawnmowers for the cost of a defense attorney for shooting when self-defense is not involved. Keep the shotgun loaded, stay in the house and call 9-1-1. Self-defense begins if home intrusion takes place, and the noise of a pump shotgun being activated is not something intruders want to hear.

I always have a handgun close at hand, however, there is also a shotgun or two handy and my latest choice is the new Winchester 12-gauge pump shotgun, the SXP Marine Defender. The “SXP” stands for Super-X Pump. This latest Winchester pump shotgun is produced in Istanbul and imported by Browning.

The name does not refer to it being used by the United States Marines but rather being able to be carried on a boat without worrying about rust. The main components are chosen for this with the buttstock and forearm being a black synthetic, the receiver a black coated alloy and the barrel and magazine tube finished in a matte hard chrome as is the interior of the barrel.

I have a better chance of winning the lottery without buying a ticket than finding myself on a boat of any size. However, my use of this excellent new shotgun will be confined to home defense and occasional carrying in my pickup. There are a lot of things right about the shotgun and only one thing wrong, which is highly subjective. The latter is the same thing that bothers me about most rifles and shotguns, which is the fact the buttstock is too long for my too-short arms and I have to make a concentrated effort to really push it forward as I bring it up to my shoulder and tuck it in.


The Winchester SXP Marine Defender has been weatherproofed with a
synthetic stock and a hard-chrome finish on the barrel and magazine tube.


Diamond Dot and home defense with the Marine Defender.
Loaded with birdshot, the 12-gauge pump is lethal at
the close range of the home.

As with every pump shotgun—which this is—there is the extra added bonus of the “Ka-chunk” which is that ominous sound heard in a quiet room as the homeowner works the slide to chamber a round. It is a sound no bad guy and/or home intruder wants to hear. It is often effective enough that no other action is necessary. My hearing has paid a deep price over the years with the right ear now being totally dead and the left ear at only 25 percent hearing, however, even I can hear this “Ka-chunk” quite loudly.

To activate this sound and chamber a round, the Winchester Marine Defender has a large, rounded synthetic forearm with over a dozen deep ribbed grooves for a very solid handhold. It works very easily, and in fact the whole action of feeding rounds is also quite smooth. This is aided by the twin bars, one on each side of the forearm and Winchester also calls this an inertia-assisted action. Once a round is fired the action almost works itself backwards making it very easy to eject the fired round and insert the next round; if needed this shotgun can be emptied quite quickly. The synthetic buttstock also provides a secure non-slip grip with a textured area found on each side of the pistol grip. Both the buttstock and forearm, as well as receiver with their dull matte black finish will not glare or reflect light.




No. 8 birdshot fired from the 5-shot Marine Defender gives a fairly open pattern at 20 feet
(top), however, 00 Buckshot shot delivers all nine pellets on the target (middle) and
slugs shot from the Marine Defender deliver plenty of “Oomph” on the target (bottom).

The SXP loads through the gate at the bottom of the alloy receiver in front of the trigger guard and has a magazine capacity of five 2-3/4-inch shells or four 3-inch shells. The trigger assembly drops out for ease of cleaning. The cross bolt safety is on the front part of the triggerguard and easily operated. When the SXP is fired the action is unlocked, allowing the pumping action to move the spent cartridge and insert the next one. Should you wish to unload without firing a round, pressing a button on the left side behind the triggerguard allows safe operation of the slide to unload. Although the Marine Defender is capable of accepting different chokes; however it comes only with an Invector-Plus cylinder choke installed, with others available separately. Winchester considers this a good choice for both buckshot and slugs.

Sights consist of a brass bead on the barrel and the receiver is drilled and tapped in four places for the use of optional sights or optics. One very excellent option is the fact a front sight comes already snapped on the front of the barrel right behind the bead sight and is a green TruGlo fiber-optic. For home defense, this is the next best thing to a laser or red-dot sight as in a lowlight condition that little green dot picks up any light available. Since it is snapped onto the barrel, it is easily removable should you want to do so.

We all know how hard it has been to find anything related to firearms not in a backorder situation. This was brought home to me when I tried to order two simple things: an elastic buttstock carrier and a web sling. Even though the magazine holds five rounds I wanted the ability to carry extra rounds easily and also a sling in case I needed to carry this 12-gauge pump very far.
My self-defense plan is to have the Marine Defender at the ready with an empty chamber and four rounds in the magazine tube. Those four rounds would all be birdshot and the reason for being one under capacity is the fact I could easily insert a round of buckshot or a slug into the magazine then quickly pump it into the chamber if I felt it was needed first. For home defense birdshot should be all we need, however there is always that possibility I want to be prepared for.


Ka-chunk! Racking the slide on a 12-gauge pump shotgun (below) has been known
to deter aggressors. Just in case the “Ka-chunk” doesn’t work (above), the
12-gauge shotshell has been known to permanently deter aggressors.


Testing time found me recovering from a minor physical problem, however I did not want to take the chance of making a minor situation worse. My friend Denis helped with the initial shooting using birdshot, buckshot and slugs. All rounds were fired at a self-defense typical room distance of around 20 to 25 feet. Using a half-size silhouette target the No. 8 birdshot provided an excellent pattern, the buckshot put all nine pellets on target and very slightly left, while the two slugs printed dead center with the holes touching each other.

Recoil with the birdshot was very mild and this is made possible not only by the relatively light shells themselves, but also by the very generous Inflex Technology recoil pad, which is part of the buttstock. Felt recoil, of course, was a little more with the buckshot and slugs, however, nothing of any great concern. With its 18-inch barrel, 38-1/2-inch overall length, and weight of just over 7 pounds, the Marine Defender is quite compact and easy to handle. With a suggested retail price of one penny under $400, it is also quite easy on the checkbook.

As mentioned earlier, my only highly personal and subjective complaint is the length of the buttstock. I would definitely like to see the Marine Defender offered with a Compact Model buttstock and also in a Compact Model version for those who are also averse to the recoil of a 12-gauge. Diamond Dot would especially prefer the latter. Her current shotgun is an old 20-gauge double-barreled Stevens and I would certainly like to see this replaced with a higher capacity pump shotgun.
By John Taffin

SXP Marine Defender
Maker: Istanbul Silah Turkey
Importer: Winchester Repeating Arms
275 Winchester Avenue
Morgan UT 84050
(800) 945-5237

Action Type: Pump
Gauge: 12
Choke: Cylinder; others available
Capacity: 5+1 (2-3/4-inch), 4+1 (3-inch)
Barrel Length: 18 inches
Overall Length: 38-1/2 inches
Weight: 7 pounds, 5 ounces
Finish: Hard Chrome
Sights: Bead front and removable TruGlo green fiber optic front
Stock: Black synthetic
Price: $399.99

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The Bond Arms Back-Up

This Deep-Cover Derringer Offers
Plenty Of Power In A Small Package.

When I think of the Bond Derringers, there is usually an “Old West” connection. The classic scene, the gambler reaching into his vest pocket when the deck produced more than four Aces. Well, not this time. They’re calling this one the “Back-Up” and it’s designed for present-day serious business. The initial chambering is for .45 ACP.

The rest of the Bond Derringers are things of beauty, with high polish and handsome grips. This one, while just as carefully made, has a more workmanlike appearance. The stainless-steel barrel unit is matte gray, the frame has an electrically-applied black powder-coat, and the black grips are soft rubber, giving a good hold. (You’ll need it!)

The triggerguard is bead-blasted steel. If you prefer the traditional derringer look, the guard is removable by taking out one screw. On the Back-Up, though, you might want to leave it in place, as it aids retention during the substantial recoil. In regard to that, there’s an old saying that in a dire social situation, you won’t notice it.

About 20 years ago, when Greg Bond re-designed the old Remington 1866 derringer, he corrected all of William Elliot’s mistakes. And, he added a few innovations, one of them a patented feature. This reference is to the system that rebounds the hammer, causing it to re-engage the sear.


Compared to the 9mm barrel unit, the .45 is impressive—in size and recoil (above, left). With this .45 ACP CorBon Plus-P load (above, middle), the felt recoil will be memorable. There is no ejector, but the access cut (above, right) allows easy thumbnail extraction of fired cases. The stainless steel barrels (below) have a matte bead-blast finish and the frame is matte black powder coated. The triggerguard is steel. The Bond Back-Up is designed for deep cover concealment. The soft rubber grips are a blessing.


There are numerous other notable differences. The weak barrel-pivot of the iron-framed Remington was replaced by massive loops of good steel. The barrel latch was moved to the left side of the frame, and spring-loaded to snap into locked position. Not only was this more convenient for operation, it resulted in a much stronger engagement.

One of Greg’s best ideas was to switch the pivoting striker-block in the hammer to the left side. This worked perfectly with the added cross-bolt push-button safety, allowing the off-safe movement to be toward the right, more convenient for thumb operation. The safety is a true hammer-block, an excellent drop-safe. For secure storage, a tiny Allen screw in the top right of the frame can lock the safety in on-safe position.

The sights are square-picture, non-adjustable, of course. In this close-quarters gun, they are mostly for reference. Even so, at the classic 7-yard encounter distance, with a 2-hand hold, the Back-Up kept both shots in the 8-inch black of the Champion VisiShot target. Usually, one was well centered, and the other was low or high, depending on which barrel fired first.

In deference to my bone structure, which has been around for 8 decades, I put on a shooting glove, and fired it with the .45 barrel unit for just two shots. Then, for the rest of the test firing, I installed the optional 9mm unit. The target results were essentially the same, and the felt-recoil was much less, even with high-performance loads.

The extra 9mm barrel unit has a suggested retail price of $109. This is another good thing about having a Bond derringer—you can change calibers by removing/replacing a single screw. In the 3-inch length, there’s quite a list of options. Those cost a little more. Altogether, I’d give the Bond Back-Up 4 stars.
By J.B. Wood


The barrel latch and the safety button are
located for easy left-side operation.

Maker: Bond Arms, Inc.
P.O. Box 1296
Granbury, TX 76048
(817) 573-4445

Caliber: .45 ACP, 9mm (tested), many others
Capacity: 2
Weight: 22 ounces
Barrel length: 2-1/2 inches
Overall length: 4-3/8 inches
Height: 1-1/8 inches
Width: 15/16 inch
Price: $405

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Nighthawk Custom Remington 870

Famous for their high-quality, built-in-house
1911 pistols, Nighthawk CUSTOM now offers
their own tricked-out 12-gauge Remington PUMP.

I first met this 12-gauge pump while teaching at Nighthawk Custom Training Academy in Centerton, Ark. Shawn Armstrong, Nighthawk Custom’s Director of Operations, brought assorted goodies from the Nighthawk factory in Berryville, for show-and-tell.

The custom 870 caught my attention. And that of everyone else who shot it.


Lee Turner (above) runs the timer as Mas shoots an IDPA shotgun side-match with Nighthawk 870.
Mas came in second. John Strayer (below) wins “jungle lane” shoot with the smooth-operating
Nighthawk 870, winning against semi-auto shooters.



Buyers can order with standard cylinder or improved cylinder choke but we went instead with the Vang Comp option. These Hans Vang barrels are backbored. “Shoot one next to a standard barrel,” says Armstrong “and you can feel how much the backboring reduces the recoil.” These 18-inch barrels are designed to pattern buckshot tighter than full choke.

The action bars and indeed the whole slide assembly get hand-honed, to make the 870’s famously smooth action even smoother. The trigger pull is likewise smoothed, but not lightened, kept to a 5.5- to 6-pound pull. The safety is replaced with the super-fast Big Dome unit, also a Vang Comp product. Furniture fore and aft comes from Magpul. The shotgun’s front end is completed with a 2-shell magazine extension, muzzle porting if the Vang Comp option is chosen, and choice of Tritium post or fiber optic front sight, shielded by large protective wings in either case.

You’ll align that green Tritium night sight or bright fiber optic ball within the generous aperture of Nighthawk’s proprietary, adjustable ghost ring rear sight. By the time this handsomely Perma Koted thoroughbred workhorse is ready for shipping, Armstrong told me, it will have been lavished with 11 to 12 man-hours by the company’s master craftsmen.


Mas used the Nighthawk 870 to teach the defensive shotgun portion of a MAG-80 class.
Mas purchased this all-black one. The black stock set is a $165 upgrade.


With low-recoil shells, Mas enjoys speed of fire and excellent recoil control
delivered by the Vang Comp ported barrel and hand-honed action.


Hornady’s tight-patterning Reduced Recoil Pump buckshot, when combined with the Vang Comp barrel, kept the shot pattern amazingly snug. Two .33 caliber double-ought pellets strayed out of the group, and the rest of the charge stayed where the wad hit from 15 yards, creating a rat-hole about 1-1/4-inch wide. The total pattern, if that’s what it was, went about 4-1/2 inches.

A friend of mine calls these Hornady shells “Vang Comp in a box,” and when that’s combined with actual Vang Comp, the result is amazing. If you’re looking for a localized, massive wound at more than across-the-room distance, this combo will deliver. If instead you seek the traditional “saturation effect” of the buckshot charge piercing a variety of organs at once, this load in this particular barrel may be too much of a good thing.

Federal’s “132” Tactical Buckshot, one of the original low recoil buckshot loads, performed more traditionally. At 15 yards all nine pellets were in an even, 7.20-inch pattern for optimum saturation effect. This is tighter than we generally see with conventional cylinder choked or improved cylinder police-type shotguns.

Slugs? Reaching for Federal again, I shot the Nighthawk off the bench with full power 1-ounce loads. All three touched in a tight “3-leaf clover” at the 6 o’clock point of aim on the Caldwell Orange Peel aiming marker. The group measured right at 1-inch center to center. Slug shooting is the real reason for those neat Nighthawk adjustable ghost ring sights, which greatly increases versatility for defensive needs and “practical shooting” competition.

With the low-recoil Federal Tactical and Hornady Reduced Recoil Pump (called such because it may be too soft to cycle many autoloading shotguns), and the comfortable, cushy-butt Magpul stock, recoil was not at all hard to manage. The Vang Comp muzzle vents, designed to jet burning gases upward and hold the muzzle down, did seem to do just that. Virtually all the several people who shot the Nighthawk 870 (including almost everyone, male and female, in a MAG-80 class I taught in Arkansas) commenting on how easy it was to control for a 12-gauge pump.


The Nighthawk Custom 870 (above) proved accurate and reliable. This one, featuring the
Magpul stock in custom tan camo, was used by Mas’ students in the class. The tan, green
or urban camo stock set is a $365 upgrade to the basic gun. Hornady’s Reduced Recoil
Pump ammo gave this awesome 00 buck pattern at 15 yards (below) from the Nighthawk’s
Vang Comp barrel.



Between the Vang Comp barrel and the recoil-absorbing Magpul stock, kick was “poofy” with light birdshot loads, very manageable with low-recoil “tactical buckshot,” and surprisingly well-cushioned even with full-power rifled slugs. The honed action made working the slide almost effortless. Though it’s possible to “short-stroke” any pump gun and cause either a stoppage or a “click” when you need a “bang,” none of the several shooters on our test team did so when I was present. The smoother the action, the less likely such an error is to occur.

Helping-was the design of the Magpul foreend. Its textured surface gives excellent traction to the operating hand. There are flanges front and back to keep your hand from slipping off when rapidly pumping the shotgun, in case the shooter has taken a less than perfect grasp. One downside I noticed was for those of us who grasp a fore-end with index finger pointing to the target, if the fingertip touches the forward Magpul flange, recoil can be painful and even leave a bruise.

The Magpul buttstock is unique, positioning the angle of the firing hand between where it would be on a traditional 870 stock, and where it would be with a full pistol grip as on an AR-15 stock or Remington’s own, old-style folding stock. It is not as easy to retain in a struggle using stickfighting-like retention techniques as the traditional stock, but better for that than the AR-15 type. On the other hand, the Magpul is much better for a one-hand-only “wounded shooter” shot, if not quite so good as the AR-style configuration. Good news if you live in a state that bans “assault shotguns” and allows only one “assault shotgun feature.” With the Nighthawk 870, it would be the extended magazine. Armstrong states emphatically the Magpul stock does not constitute a “pistol grip” per se.

One rainy day, shootin’ buddy John Strayer and I took the test gun to an IDPA match with a shotgun “jungle lane” side event. John won and I took second with this pump gun, running against some autoloaders. We were delighted with the Nighthawk 870’s performance.

At $1,865 the way ours was configured, the Nighthawk 870 ain’t cheap, but its suggested retail is consistent with its features and custom workmanship. Your price will vary depending what you pick from the list of optional features.
By Massad Ayoob
Photos By Gail Pepin

Tactical Pump
Maker: Remington Arms
870 Remington Drive
Madison, NC 27025
(800) 243-9700
Customizer: Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, AR 72616
(877) 268-4867

Action type: Pump-action
Gauge: 12-gauge, 3-inch
Choke: Vang Comp (tested)
Cylinder or IC
Capacity: 6+1
Barrel length: 18-1/2 inches
Length of Pull: Spacer adjustable
Overall length: 40-1/2 inches
Weight: 7-1/2 pounds
Finish: Perma Kote
Sights: LPA ghost ring rear, protected tritium front (tested), or fiber optic
Stock: Magpul stock and fore-end
Price: $1,450 (base gun), $1,865 (as tested)

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