Pistol Versus Pistol-Caliber Carbine

Lessons From the Pin Shoot

The same 9mm ammo and magazines work in a Tresna carbine and a
GLOCK 17 RTF2. You can carry both and have a common feed system.

Just as auto racing teaches us about emergency driving, competition can give us lessons related to defensive shooting.

The PCC (Pistol Caliber Carbine) is all the rage today. Its relatively mild sound signature is less damaging to the ears than pistol, rifle, or shotgun if fired indoors in an emergency. It’s light, very soft in recoil and looks intimidating to a malefactor at gunpoint. The longer barrel increases velocity with most loads: A 9mm carbine can achieve hot .38 Super pistol ballistics, a .40 S&W carbine can hit like a full power 10mm pistol and a .45 ACP carbine can equal a .45 Super pistol. The PCC also promises better hit potential: It has a longer sight radius with iron sights, is more likely than a pistol to be used with an optical sight and has that critical locking point on the shoulder. But just how much of a hit factor improvement can we expect at across the room home defense distances?

The Pin Shoot (PinShoot.com), formerly known as the Second Chance match, is my favorite shooting tournament hands down and offers a cornucopia of rifle, handgun and shotgun shooting games. It also offers an interesting comparison of pistol to PCC. Two events at the Pin Shoot use exactly the same target array: a dozen ordinary white bowling pins on three steel tiers, interspersed with blue “hostage pins” that will cost you a heavy time penalty if one is knocked over. With the carbine, it’s the “PCC” event and with the pistol, it’s called the “9X12.”

You could also try a comparison at some other action shooting event which lets the shooter shoot the same stage with both handgun and PCC, but in USPSA or IDPA the scoring is primarily on cardboard targets whose scoring lines have progressively greater value toward the center chest of the silhouette. It would be a daunting task to break down accuracy vis-a-vis speed for each shooter. At the Pin Shoot, each of the dozen targets is scored the same: If it tips over, you’re good and if it doesn’t, your miss doesn’t count and if the last of the dozen targets isn’t down after 15 seconds, you lose.

The reason is a bowling pin is a remarkably representative target in terms of tactical anatomy. Pick up a regulation tenpin and hold it in front of your sternum, with the bottom level with your solar plexus. The pin widens at about the area of your heart, to about the same width. It tapers upward and truncates most of the way up your cervical spinal column. A hit anywhere on the pin would, on a homicidal human antagonist, go far toward solving your anti-personnel problems. Once the antagonist was down and had dropped his weapon, your defensive job would be done. At these Pin Shoot events, your time stops when your last pin is “down and done,” and it comes pretty close to Real World.

Phil Farr shot great with both carbine (shown) and pistol on the same target array.

Phil Farr shot great with both carbine (shown) and pistol on the same target array.

Times, Scores & Comparisons

At Pin Shoot 2021, 44 of the approximately 140 registered shooters vied in PCC and 51 took the option of trying their pistols in 9X12. Several shot both. Let’s look at comparisons. First, let’s set aside the ones who didn’t get all their pins down and maxed out at the 15 seconds allowed time per run. Some of those I observed and can tell you their guns were jamming. I didn’t think it was fair to count those scores.

Significantly, only one of the 44 PCC shooters — less than 1% — went overtime and nine shooters out of 51 — roughly 17% — had the same problem with the pistol. This by itself tells us the carbine is more forgiving, but let’s examine some other figures.

Greg Blough won both of those events, with identical 4.5 second times to get a dozen pins down. Among the top-five finishers with the carbine, average time was 4.94 seconds to accomplish the task. Among the top 10 in pistol, the average was 5.17 if my math is correct. With the pistol — winner Blough used an STI 9mm with iron sights — the top five average was 5.34 seconds and for the top 10 shooters, the figure was 5.91 seconds. Those differences are not really huge. Of the seven in the top 10 who shot both, winner Blough was identical gun-to-gun and one shooter did better with the pistol, while the other five were better with the PCC by an average 88/100ths. Pretty consistent.

Going through all the scores of shooters who didn’t time out at 15 seconds, I found an average time of 10.85 seconds to whack the 12 pins with the carbine, and 11.70 with the pistol, a difference of 85/100ths of one second — not a lot.

Fire blooms at the muzzle of Greg Blough’s STI 9mm; he won
both the PCC and 9X12 with identical 4.5-second scores.

Tentative Conclusions

Without camera footage of every run to count hits, misses and malfs, this is not precisely perfect data and we’d want a whole lot more shooters too. It also measures shooters who were confident enough to shoot in a major match, not newbies or even average gun owners. Optics aren’t allowed on pistols in “9X12” but were more the norm than the exception in “PCC,” and this is another factor to consider.

My early take-away is this — if all I have is my double-stack 9mm pistol, I won’t worry too much if I can’t access a 9mm carbine … and I’ll be back at the Pin Shoot in June of 2022 for more fun and more learning.

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