A 9 For All Reasons


Springfield Armory first introduced the Croatian-made HS200 as their flagship XD pistol in 2002. It was my first lengthy exposure to a striker-fired polymer-framed auto.

The particular variant I most liked was the 5-inch Tactical Model in .40 S&W. But being a confirmed revolver end-user, my appreciation for the XD was—fairly or not—directly attributable to its “wheelgunny” operational simplicity. No varying trigger pulls, “carry conditions,” hammer-drops, side safeties or what not. It was either loaded or it wasn’t—pure point and pull. Because of this, it appealed to me more than traditional double-action autos. Plus, the XD’s CZ 75-informed grip configuration suited me better than the more acutely angled Austrian competition.

What got me back on the XD was my desire for a handgun I could use for one of my favorite pastimes, namely long-range plinking at small objects at 50 to 125 yards or so—generally clay targets on berms. For years I’d used S&W .38 K- and L-Frames (with the odd Colt thrown in) for this, but now I was having problems with iron sights. Namely, I couldn’t see them as well as I used to.

For guys who feel anything past 7 yards is pointless tomfoolery with a handgun, this probably wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. But for therapeutic, long-yardage goofing off—where a mere 6-inch miss is cause for high-fiving—it can make for a sad day at the range. Every time I tried to replicate shots from my younger days, I was reminded of the iconic line from Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The message was depressing. Most true ones are.

At 25 yards, the XD/Leupold combination delivered excellent results with Buffalo Bore Heavy 147-grain HC ammo (top),
despite the desultory, operator-induced flyer. At 50 yards, HPR 115-grain JHP punched impressive groups (bottom).

So I got hold of a 5-inch XD 9mm (XD9401), a Leupold Delta-Point Pro optic and a Leupold mounting plate. The general ideal was to semi-replicate Springfield’s new OSP XD, a fairly recent 4-1/2-inch-barreled offering featuring an integral red-dot sight.

I had the opportunity to shoot an OSP at Springfield’s Saint AR rollout several months back which is what sold me on the whole idea. Unfortunately, it’s not on the “California Approved” handgun list. But the older 5-inch model is—and drifting out the rear sight and installing the plate and anchoring the Delta-Point was easy enough, even for the mechanically-challenged (guilty as charged). The 5-1/2-pound trigger pull on the XD was surprisingly short, crisp and consistent—and was almost as easy for me as staging the DA trigger on a revolver—my usual method for hitting stuff “out there.”

Using this XD/Leupold setup at long yardage (a measured 100) was a ton of fun. I did learn one new thing, though. Up to now I’d always tried to dial the red dot down to the lowest intensity—making things as close to a pinprick of illumination as possible. This is still the way to go for shooting small groups off a rest. But for standing on your hind legs trying to hit faraway reactive targets with a handgun, I think it’s best to leave the dot large.

A larger one seems to move less, but you’ll have to get accustomed to the fact a dot—no matter the intensity—isn’t going to give you the illusion you’re steady as much as iron sights will. It took me awhile to resist the temptation to keep refining my sight picture and shoot at the earliest opportunity. But it’s still the old handgunner’s timeless challenge—trying to time the trigger break for when the dot is temporarily hanging on the right spot.

The striker-fired, polymer-framed XD (top) is considerably simpler to operate than traditional DA/SA autos of previous
generations, such as the S&W Model 659 (bottom) with its hammer-drop feature.

Why 9?

Back at the 2001 SHOT Show in New Orleans, I was talking handguns with Texas rancher and all-around gun guy Penn Baggett. The conversation centered around mega-powered sixguns in various Linebaugh heavyweight calibers. Then out of left field Penn said something that surprised me because I’d figured him to be a big-bore purist: “You know, they’re doing all kinds of wonderful things with the 9mm these days.” This prescient observation has been borne out in spades in the last 15 years or so. Now, the ton of premium loads out there have really upgraded the old Parabellum.

Back in my formative years I was exposed to the fulminations of quite a few “Anti-9” guys and may have been infected by the virus, if only subliminally. But years of being able to shoot some world-class 9mm pistols have cured me of whatever prejudices I may have inadvertently picked up. As far as a general-purpose, non-magnum medium caliber, I could be equally happy with the 9mm and .38 Special. Both are easy to find, relatively economical in bulk, well-represented in components, easy to shoot well, and chambered in an endless array of iconic pistol and revolver models.

At the upper limits of their respective power levels, there are premium (and pricey) offerings for both. I put four representative 9mm loads of varying brands, bullet weights and pressure levels through the “Delta-Pointed” XD to see what kind of 25- and 50-yard groups I could come up with and what kind of velocities I could get out of its 5-inch barrel. I’m getting better (I think). At 50 yards, I adjusted the dot to perfectly subtend the 3-inch Shoot-N-C bull’s-eye.

In the meantime, I’ll keep banging away at distant berms with bulk-pack, standard-pressure FMJ’s. I’m getting better (I think) to the point those clay birds aren’t as safe as they were when I started. Maybe I’ll eventually hang a laser unit on the XD’s underbarrel rail for darkness and go with the red-dot for daylight hours. But that could be gizmo overkill. We’ll see.

Shooting Facilities provided by: Angeles Shooting Ranges, 12651 Little Tujunga Rd., Lakeview Terrace, CA 91342, (818) 899-2255 www.angelesranges.com.

Buffalo Bore Ammunition
366 Sandy Creek Rd.
Salmon, ID 83467
(800) 325-2891

Federal Premium Ammunition
900 Ehlen
Anoka, MN 55303

HPR Ammunition
1304 W. Red Baron Rd.
Box 2086, Payson
AZ 85541
(928) 468-0223

Leupold & Steven
14400 Greenbrier Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006-5790
(800) 538-7653

72 Pease Blvd.
Newington, NH 03801
(603) 610-3000

Springfield Armory
420 W. Main St.
Geneseo, IL 61254
(800) 680-6866

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