Sunday, December 28, 2008

Informal Tests: Hornady Critical Defense .380 & .38 Special

Hello. The arena of self-defense remains one area of concern for many handgun owners. For some, it is their only concern for their handgun(s) purpose(s) is strictly to save their hides from violent felons and to a lesser degree, dangerous animals.

In recent years we have seen much improvement in ammunition intended for such serious purposes.

But a few decades past, one couldn't expect jacketed hollow points to expand reliabily (if at all in some cases) unless driven to very high speeds for caliber or reducing bullet weight in order to achieve the higher-than-normal speeds essential for expansion.

Eventually we did get ammunition with bullets that would expanded reliably a great deal of the time, but little thought was given to penetration. Expansion was the name of the game, the "be-all-end-all" in "stopping power".

We did hear of failures to be sure but there were also successes but the truth is that results could be quite varied. Some quit worrying about expanding ammunition and went strictly with solids so that penetration, at least, could be counted upon. Others remained sure that hyper-velocity rapid-expansion or fragmenting ammo was the sure cure for those pesky, violent felons.

"Back to the drawing board" must have been a repeated clarion call for serious handgun ammunition developers these past decades. Today's shooting community has a better and probably most varied ammunition selection than ever before. (Let us hope that the current crop of freedom-hating, anti-gun politicians are not able to change that!)

Hornady has been manufacturing very fine handgun and rifle bullets for decades. Their handgun bullets for reloading were pretty traditional until the introduction of the "XTP" line after the infamous 1986 FBI "Miami Shootout" in which several FBI agents lost their lives after one miscreant had been nicely popped with a 9mm 115-gr. Winchester Silvertip Hollow Point that punched through an arm before entering the upper torso from the side. The expanded bullet stopped just short of the heart. I will not get into the (vast) number of shots fired vs. the (small) number of hits but this incident did bring both bullet expansion and penetration requirements to the forefront of "stopping power" discussions.

The "XTP" (eXtreme Terminal Performance) handgun bullets from Hornady were designed to expand to about 1.5 times the original caliber rather than the previously-desired expanded "lead pancake". They did this nicely and XTP handgun bullets have been among the most accurate I've ever shot in either factory or handloaded handgun ammunition.

Here is typical performance for the XTP bullet. This one is a factory Hornady 90-gr. in .380 ACP. Results in "wet pack" or water were consistently about 1.5 calibers and accuracy was first-rate in several .380 pistols I tried it in. It would average about 920 ft/sec from a Bersa Thunder with a 3.5" barrel. This is usually very consistent ammo from my guns and would have very small extreme spreads. This one was from a lot having an extreme spread of 16 ft/sec!

While the old claim that bullets traveling under 1000 ft/sec wouldn't expand had not been true for quite a few years, it was true that a majority of expanding bullets simply wouldn't if forced to pass through intermediate barriers before striking their intended "soft target". A bullet that might be a reliable expander in tissue would often times act like a solid if passing through leather (as in a coat), plywood, drywall, or other fabrics. Even penetration remained adequate, the wound channel was greatly reduced. This reduced the bullet's effectiveness and the fear of overpenetration reared its head again in handgun ammunition and self-protection.

Hornady was first to try and meet the FBI's 12" penetration minimum in 10% ballistic gelatin with their XTP line of bullets. They also sold these bullets in loaded ammunition as well. (It should be noted here that this 12" minimum includes such things as shooting through laminated automobile windshields, something not nearly so likely for the private citizen. The honest private citizen unlucky enough to be involved in a deadly force scenario is very likely to be face-to-face with his/her attacker and very close and we can probably get by just fine with ammunition penetrating a bit less than 12". Some ammunition that I've used on small to medium Texas game penetrates less than 12" but has repeatedly proven itself capable of human, rapid "stops". Likewise, visiting with folks who've used similar ammunition against human beings has shown that bullets penetrating less than 12" can be effective for head-on, unobstructed shots. At the same time, I cannot fault anyone who insists on ammunition doing no less than 12" in ballistic gelatin after passing through 4-layers of denim. (The denim barrier doesn't necessarily mean that one's attacker will be wrapped up like a tamale; it is described as a "worst case senario" and one that IF a bullet passes, it can be expected to almost always expand on the street.) The flagship loads from today's handgun ammunition manufacturers will usually pass this test and come with other desireable traits such as being sealed against moisture and having flash-retardant powders.

This Texas whitetail was cleanly and legally taken with a handloaded 45-caliber 200-gr. XTP. Penetration was complete and expansion evident. Overpenetration is not a worry under most hunting conditions. It is considered a serious potential problem by some concerned with having to shoot in an urban area. The XTP offered plenty of penetration but sometimes didn't expand satisfactorily if passing through intermediate barriers before striking gelatin...or tissue. Hornady's Critical Defense ammunition is reported to expand consistently, regardless of whether an intermediate target is struck or not.

Hornady's XTP appears to have been more appreciated by the handgun hunting community than those focusing on self-defense, and to that end, Hornady has come out with a new line of ammunition that reportedly passes through almost any barrier and still reliably expands. It is called "Critical Defense" and is currently (Dec. '08) available in .380 ACP and .38 Special. Hornady says up front that they didn't focus on its passing each and every FBI requirement and in at least one caliber, it doesn't make the 12" minium, but it gets darned close, as in 10 /12" or so when fired from the little Ruger .380 auto.

It utilizes a cannulured jacketed bullet and has a lead core as well as a hollow cavity at the nose. However, this cavity is filled with a red, flexible substance. Hornady calls this their FTX bullet.

Find out more about the FTX bullet here:

It seems reasonable to assume that this ammunition is Hornady's competition for Speer's Gold Dot, Remington's Golden Saber, Winchester's Ranger (LE ammo), and Federal's Personal Defense ammunition.

While not inexpensive, there are other lines of self-protection ammunition from other makers that is more costly. Each box of Hornady's .380 ACP Critical Defense line of ammo cost me $17.95 or about $0.72/shot. The 110-gr. .38 Special costs $19.95 a box or $0.80/shot. While this is certainly not too much for premium ammunition to save one's life, it is enough to make one try and be conservative in informal "tests" like this least on my retirement abilities.

I was happy to see these standard pressure loads being first available in .380 ACP and .38 Special and here's why.

The .380, be it in one of today's really compact hideout pistols or the more traditional Walther PPK, SIG-Sauer P230/232, Bersa, etc, size has had to be a "compromise" caliber. What I mean by that is that if one used expanding ammunition that actually did, penetration was frequently very lacking. These lightweight bullets and the caliber's limited case capacity combined with the shooting platform's (almost always) straight blowback design prevented ammunition powerful enough to provide adequate penetration and reliable expansion. Thus, a goodly section of the .380 ACP toters opt to use FMJ ammunition. This will penetrate but with no expansion wound channels are small. The idea is that while expansion is desireable, penetration is essential. It is also usually mentioned that FMJ round nose is more reliable than blunter ogive JHP's. (It's been my observation that some guns are extremely reliable with most JHP's while others are not. I do not believe that FMJ is necessarily more reliable than expanding ammo in all 380-caliber pistols. I do not believe it has to be an absolute.)

Shooting: The handguns used in today's informal tests were my old Bersa Thunder 380, which has a 3.5" barrel and is in stock condition. It has had several thousand rounds through it with exactly zero malfunctions. For the .38 Special, I opted for my old BUG, an S&W Model 042. It is not rated for +P ammunition and sports the old J-frame rather than the Magnum J-frame common to current S&W J-frames.
In any event, I was hopeful in finally getting to see a .380 ACP round that might offer its users both adequate penetration and reliable expansion

Likewise, I was hoping to see a .38 Special round loaded to standard pressures that could be used w/o concern in some of the lightweight revolvers not rated for +P loads. In the past, I've seen some light-for-caliber-standard-pressure rounds fired from snubs provide ballistic results similar to the .380. In other words, expansion but 6 1/2 to 7 1/2" penetration. (Speaking only for myself, this is too shallow to be trusted. I can go with 10" penetration and certainly prefer the FBI 12" minimum, but just am not confident with less than 10" penetration in 10% ballistic gelatin.)

One can certainly get adequate penetration coupled with reliable expansion from the snub .38, though it has to be "worked at" with more judicious load selection than for the longer barrel revolvers...but it has to be +P ammunition. Though I've personally experienced no problems with the occassional use of +P ammunition in quality .38 Special revolvers that are not so-rated, some folks really don't like the idea. Others cannot tolerate the increased felt recoil and some just settle on standard pressure solids, with results similar to those of the .380 ACP.

These handguns are essentially stock and both have proven reliable and accurate over the years. The snub sports Precision's black nylon "Hide Out" grips that I modified to work with an HKS speedloader.

Because of the ammunition's price coupled with wanting to focus more on expansion characteristics/potential along with velocity, I only fired 5 rounds from each gun at a bullseye target 10 yards away. Firing was unsupported and with a two-hand hold. There was no effort at speed. It is likely that the vast majority of shootings by honest private citizens will be under 10 yards and I am by no means claiming that the ammuntion is necessarily accurate beyond that distance...though I'll bet it is! (I cannot say that it is because I've never fired Hornady Critical Defense beyond 10 yards, but I suspect strongly that I will not be disappointed when I do get around to it.)

These five shots were fired standing from an unsupported position and in single-action. No effort was made at speed. My goal was to see if this load would group satisfactorily within most self-defense shooting distances for private citizens. I believe that the ammunition is capable of one-hole groups at this distance; I simply am not.

Even though I fired but 5 shots, I still loaded the magazine with a full seven-rounds and topped it off after chambering. Feeding was slick as the proverbial gut in the Bersa. Ejection was positive and consistent.

This Bersa's POA has always matched 90 to 95-gr. .380 ACP POI out to about 15 or 20 yards and I was not surprised today to find that such remains the case with this 90-gr. Critical Defense load.

I did not achieve the listed 1000 ft/sec velocity with my Bersa.

Average velocity was a respectable 911 ft/sec with an extreme velocity spread of but 11 ft/sec and a tiny extreme spread of 5 ft/sec! This is based on 10 shots fired 10 feet from the chronograph screens! In my experience, this is about as consistent of ammunition as one can ever hope to get. Does this mean that the same will be true in all .380 pistols? No, but I'll bet it groups nicely and has pretty darned consistent properties when fired out of any quality 380.

The 110-gr. standard pressure Critical Defense .38 Special loads grouped nicely as well. The shot to the far right was my fault. I knew it when I fired it. It was not due to any inconsistency with the ammunition. Being a DAO revolver, all shots were DA. Like with the Bersa, POA was the center of the bullseye. These light-for-caliber bullets hit immediately below POA. At greater distances, the divergence of POA from POI might be an issue but not at ten yards and under.

Using the same parameters as for the .380 load, the .38 Special load averaged 856 ft/sec with an extreme spread of 33 ft/sec and a standard deviation of only 13 ft/sec. This is very good and very acceptable. It would appear that Hornady's nominal listed velocity of 1175 ft/sec was not measured from firing a snub. I'll eventually get around to chronographing this load from both 4" and 6" revolvers but felt that in today's initial tests, most folks would be interested in what they might expect if using this load in their "carry gun" or snub nose.

Expansion Testing: Not having access to either caliberated 10% ballistic gelatin or a climate-controlled lab in which to achieve repeatable tests with it, I just used the old "wet pack" approach. I used plain old supersaturated news print. I soaked it for 24-hours and then drained it 30 minutes before shooting. Bullet penetration is definitely not the same as for the gelatin, but it seems roughly comparible in showing how a bullet expands. Through trial-and-error and comparing actual, repeated gelatin penetration tests with ammunition in wet pack, it seems that multiplying the penetration in wet pack by 3 and then dividing by 2 gives a pretty fair expectation of what the bullet would do in calibrated 10% gelatin.

Ten shots of each caliber was fired into wet pack from a distance of 5 feet. The depth of each "wound channel" was measured using a probe before retrieving the bullet. The measured height of each expanded bullet was added to each depth to give the true penetration distance from the wet pack surface to the front of the expanded bullet. I didn't have any denim but did fire five of each ten shots per caliber through 4 layers of the common cotton/polyester bathtowel.

Cutting to the chase, expansion was extremely consistent. I could not tell which expanded bullets had punched the towel vs. which had not by looking at the results. Penetration was extremely consistent as well. With the .380, the greatest variation in penetration depths was a surprisingly small 1/10"!

Hornady .380 ACP 90-gr. Critical Defense averaged 6.75" in wet pack. This should be about 10.12" in 10% ballistic gelatin.

The .380 Critical Defense load was amazingly consistent. Note how the two expanded bullets at the right on the box so closely match the pictured ones. Virtually no bullet weight was lost nor were their signs of bullet fragmentation. Average expanded bullet dimensions: 0.469 x 0.474 x 0.337" tall.

Fired from the S&W's 1 7/8" barrel, average penetration of the 110-gr. FTX bullet used in the Critical Defense line of ammo was 7.6". The greatest variation in penetration depths was 6/10". Based on what I saw today, I would expect this load to penetration approximately 11.4 to 12" or so in ballistic gelatin.

The .38 Special load was also very consistent and performed admirably in my opinion. In this picture, I also included the red, pliable material that fills the bullet's hollow point. Because the hollow point cannot be plugged up with debris from an intermediate target, expansion is almost certain to occur. The little red "fillers" were visible in the wet pack "wound tracks" of both the .380 ACP and .38 Special. Average expanded bullet diameter: 0.481 x 0.451 x 0.408" tall.

Conclusion: I believe that Hornady has come up with some pretty darned nice standard pressure ammunition for "serious use" in 380-caliber pistols as well as .38 revolvers. I have not seen any ammunition from any maker that is more consistent and any more likely to expand under varied conditions as this.

Even with its advanced FTX bullet and super-consistent Critical Defense ammunition, I just don't believe that we can transform the .380 or .38 snub into rhino-rolling handguns of nuclear destruction capabilities, i.e.: the FTX bullet isn't magic. That definitely does not mean that it isn't one of the best choices to maximize the ballistic potential of what a given handgun caliber has to offer.

I'll stick with the .38 snub over the .380 ACP but were I using a .380, I might very well go with this load from Hornady. In my opinion, it bests the very nice Corbon .380 DPX but only because Corbon had to use a lighter (80-gr.) bullet due to its being all copper alloy and longer than the lead core bullet used in the Critical Defense load. I am not at all convinced that this line will stand out above other premium ammunition makers' premium, best-quality defense loads.

In the .38 Special snub, for now I'll just stay with the "old technology" LHP +P from Remington. In my guns, it hits point of aim and the load has a pretty nice actual "street record" but if I were worried about the +P thing and was determined to carry an aluminum alloy slug, this would be a standard pressure load that I might very well use.

Best to all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

SIG-Sauer P232 vs. Beretta Model 85 F Cheetah...

Hello. The choice between these two quality .380 pistols will probably be decided by which one feels and looks best to the individual buyer, factors that are admittedly subjective. I am not saying that there's a thing in the world wrong with that but there are some differences that might be worthy of some consideration.

I am not going to get into the "Why-get-a-380-when-there-are-small-9mm/40-caliber-pistols-available?", or the "stopping power" issue. The reason is simple: On the forums, folks asking about specific .380 pistols sometimes put in the request not to go into the 9mm/.40 options, stating that for whatever reasons, they are going with a 380-caliber handgun...and are routinely ignored with the usual Caliber A vs. Calber B arguments which sometimes results in the threads' never getting around to answering the original questions! The thread gets "hijacked" by well-meaning posters arguing over caliber rather than answering the questions originally asked!

With that caveat, let's see what we might see...

The SIG-Sauer P232 is an easy-to-carry .380 ACP that is easy to shoot, accurate and reliable.

SIG-Sauer P232:

LOA: 6.6"
Height: 5.7"
Width: 1.3"
Bbl: 3.6" w/1:10" twist
Weight: (aluminum frame) 18.5 ounces (all stainless) 23.6 ounces. (Both of these weights do not include magazines.)
Magazine Capacity: 7
Magazine Weight (empty): 1.4-oz blued and 1.6 oz-stainless
Internal Firing Pin Safety: Yes
Magazine Disconnect: No
Sights: Fixed
Grips: Black synthetic
Trigger Pull: 10-lbs.(DA) 4.4-lbs (SA)
Decocking Lever: Yes
External Thumb Safety: No

In addition, the gun is available in blue, stainless and two-tone finishes.

The Beretta 85F has proven itself reliable as were its predecessors. The F-Series have the hooked "combat trigger guard. I prefer the more traditional rounded ones.

I much prefer the rounded, "non-combat" trigger guard on the older Beretta Model 85 BB version and the SIG-Sauer P232 to that on the Beretta Model 85 F. The reason is simple; I do not hook a finger on the trigger guard. If you do, your preferences might be just the opposite.

The Model 85F (Cheetah) is described:

LOA: 6.77"
Height: 4.8"
Width: 1.37"
Bbl: 3.81" w/1:10" twist (actually 9.84 but 10" is close enough)
Weight: 21.9-oz
Magazine Capacity: 8 shots
Sights: Fixed
Grips: Black, synthetic
Decocking Lever: Yes
External Thumb Safety: Yes, ambidextrous (Pushing these upward with the pistol cocked will safely decock the hammer and then the pistol cannot be fired until they are pushed downward (ala 1911) to disengage.

Some of the discontinued "B" and "BB" models were offered in either blue or nickle finishes. The current "F" models are available in the dark Brunitron finish which protects against corrosion.

Both the SIG-Sauer and the Beretta can be had with wooden stocks if desired. Both the front and rear grip straps on the Model 85 are serrated. These are smooth on the P232.

The SIG-Sauer P232 can be had in the lightweight aluminum frame/blue slide version or the heavier all-stainless "SL" version. The Beretta is offered only with the lighter aluminum alloy frame.

I do not have information on the DA/SA trigger pulls on the Beretta Model 85F, but to me it is similar to the SIG-Sauer. I do not find enough difference to be of any consequence. If it is of any importance, the P232's trigger face is smooth while the Beretta's is grooved and has a trigger stop. (I find neither trigger face or pull superior to the other in actual use on these pistols.)

The Beretta with its smaller serrated flats seems to generate more complaints about difficulties in racking the slide than the SIG-Sauer's if that is an issue. I find the SIG-Sauer easier to rack, but don't find either a problem. This might not be the case with some of our older folks or those with weaker hands or arms.

While both are "straight blowback" designs, the SIG-Sauer's bbl is fixed to the frame. The Beretta's is not; it is removable during the field-stripping process. That said, I have not been able to determine any accuracy degredation in the Beretta due to its "non-fixed" barrel. It is simply not an issue in my view. Neither is the slight difference in barrel length between the two. Average velocites with factory ammunition have proven very similar between these two little autos.

I've never shot a Beretta Model 84 or 85 that didn't mimick the Walther PP series in that shots hit about 1 1/2 to 2" high for me at ranges of 15 yards or more. (Most folks will not be interested in shooting these "pocket guns" at great distances and at closer ranges, the sights are "on" close enough in my experience.) Unlike shooting the Walthers, I do not suffer either slide or hammer bite with the Beretta or the SIG-Sauer.

For me, the SIG-Sauer P232's in .380 hit "dead on" for me at ranges from arm's length to about 25 yards or so. I much prefer the P232's sight picture to the Beretta's, but that might not be an issue for a pistol intended for close-in use and that was never intended as a formal match pistol.

The following is based on a relatively small number of handguns but I find either the 232 or the Cheetah to be very reliable with ball and JHP ammunition. (Most of the earlier P230's I shot were fine with ball and some were alright with JHP's but not all. I have not shot any Beretta Model 84 or 85 in any version that wasn't reliable with any and all ammunition. I think SIG-Sauer was aware of this issue because while I only own one P232, it's been 100% reliable with all FMJ and JHP ammo as have those owned by other shooters I know.)

If I shoot over about 200 rounds of standard-power .380 in a session with the P232, I do notice a couple of little "wear" areas where the edges of the tang rub my hand. None of this occurs for me with the Berettas in either the M84 or 85 versions.

Which is best? I flat do not know. Both are quality firearms. Between the two, I think I prefer the SIG-Sauer P232 but I don't intend to sell my Beretta 85F either!

I find either easy to shoot accurately in double-action mode and both are a piece-of-cake in single-action. I do not notice any difference in felt recoil between the two.

Sweeping "off" the thumb safety is easily done and comfortable for the Beretta, but it is perfectly safe to carry with the thumb safety disengaged as it has an internal firing pin safety like the P232. Some will opt for the gun having the external safety as it not only offers perhaps another level of safety but might prevent an attacker or unauthorized user from immediately grabbing and firing the pistol. If this is a major concern for you, the Beretta is the way to go as the P232 offers no such external safety; it is a "point-and-pull" design.

Both offer an external slide release.

The Beretta has the magazine release at the rear of the trigger guard like the 1911-pattern pistols, Hi Powers, etc. The SIG-Sauer's is a bottom-release design ala the Makarov and other European designs. (The Model 85F's push-button magazine release is not ambidextrous.)

While the Beretta's is probably quicker in the event of a speed magazine change, the SIG-Sauer's is considered less like to inadvertently release the magazine as might happen were the pistol sat on or carried tightly against the body. Again, what is actually "important" will be up to the individual buyer's perceptions.

I seldom carry pistols of this genre but were I depending upon a .380 for "serious purposes", I would absolutely not doubt the mechanical ability of either of these, though between the two, I would probably go with the P232, simply because I much prefer its sight picture and that POA matches POI for me better than the Beretta. (It is possible that this will not hold true for all or that it just won't be an issue for many.)

Again, speaking only for myself, I doubt that I'd pick the heavier all-stainless P232 and in my admittedly subjective observations, I don't find either the aluminum-framed P232 or Model 85 difficult to carry nor do I find one to have a "real world" advantage over the other in this regard. (Were I concerned with rust and corrosion, I'd go with the Brunitron finish on the Beretta.)

Hand-cycling ammunition through both guns seems to result in more positive ejection of the cartridges with the Beretta than the SIG-Sauer but in actual firing, both fling the fired cases well away from the shooter. Both use external, pivoting extractors and I've not noted one being better or tougher than the other.

Unlike the 1911, there is not a literal cottage industry of aftermarket parts for either of these well-made pistols, but both remain in production and OEM parts as well as aftermarket grips and recoil springs are available, as are extra single-stack magazines.

As mentioned earlier, I think that the choice between one or the other of these two pistols is not a choice between quality but between the guns' individual features as well as the buyer's subjective preferences. Either of these guns are well-made and quality firearms in my opinion.

In my opinion, a potential .380 buyer would find it difficult to pick a "loser" between these two.


Monday, November 17, 2008

FAQ on Self-Defense Handguns & "Stopping Power"

Hello. I frequently receive numerous questions concerning the "right" handgun for self-protection as well as requests for information on the "best" loads/calibers for "stopping" someone who is bent upon doing one harm.

I thought that it might be interesting to compile the most commonly asked questions I receive and answer them in an article, but let me hasten to add that I am not an expert and have never claimed otherwise. I am a retired police officer, police firearm instructor, tactical team leader, and have been seriously interested in what handgun bullets actually do to human aggressors for decades. I have seen felons shot and in each instance was seriously unimpressed with the actual incapacitation times required to truly render the bad guy harmless, be that through unconsciousness or death. Calibers involved ranged from .38 Special, 9mm, and .357 magnum through .45 ACP. Of those incidents, only two involved nonexpanding ammunition. The rest were with hollow points.

Over the years, it has been my privilege to visit with law enforcement/military personnel who had been forced to use handguns to "stop" another human being. More officers than soldiers actually had this experience since most soldiers are not issued pistols. I have not and will not disclose the names of those persons. Some of these contacts are recent while others are decades old. One faction of the "stopping power community" will declare any such information as "anecdotal" and useless because it is not documented. I honestly could not care less. It is not my goal, aim, or intention to be published in the scientific literature surrounding this topic. I truly respect the scientific method and understand its precepts from my college days as a double major in physics and mathematics, but have enough common sense to listen to those who have actually been in the urine stench atmosphere of life-and-death shootouts and close quarter combat. The laboratory approach to terminal ballistics is a fine thing and that I have great respect for. At the same time, results from the street are hard to just discount. Discussions with coroners have also occurred but on a less frequent basis. I find it interesting that when our military's scientific personnel engineer a new weapon, all that can be done in the lab to assure its reliability, etc, is no doubt done. Still, the weapon finds its way to a proving ground. Might not the street's real life conflicts be a direct parallel to the military proving ground?

I also hunt with a handgun and have since the early '70's. The largest animals I've repeatedly killed cleanly with one shot have been Texas whitetail deer. Most critters I've killed have ranged in size from the cagey and sly coyote to the tough-as-nails javelina, raccoon and fox. On these, I have been singularly unimpressed with solids used in any caliber from .38 Special to .45 ACP. (With .45 Colt using the large 255-gr. CSWC having a very wide meplat, things are much better. The .41 and .44 magnums with their smaller CSWC meplats apparently have the speed to make up for their slightly smaller flat compared to the .45 Colt.)

Fired from a Browning Mk III at about 12 yards, I hit this Texas whitetail deer's heart with a Winchester 127-gr. Ranger JHP +P+. The animal was instantly decked, unable to get up but weakly kicking for about 15 seconds. This was done under handgun hunting conditions and the shot taken only with absolutely perfect conditions. The life-or-death scenario we might find ourselves having to use deadly force in will allow for neither perfect conditions or much time for steady and sure aim. A hit like this against a dangerous felon would surely be a good hit, but not necessarily an instantaneous stop. Always expect the unexpected and don't just assume that because you're using premium ammunition that your hits will do what you want as quickly as you want.

While the shooting of animals versus felons emphatically is not the same thing, I think that there are similarities involved in "stopping" or the mechanism of collapse. How pertinent these are will always be open to debate.

With regard to "proper" defensive handguns, I personally will not go lighter than a .38 snub using expanding +P ammunition for a hideout or backup gun. The belt gun should be 9mm, .38 Super, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, or .45 ACP in my opinion. Those opting for revolvers should not go lighter than .38 Special +P.

I have little tolerance or use for the dogma so often associated with either of these related topics. I have yet to see and much less understand how some people seem to believe that such discussion is license for rudeness and all around boorish behavior.

Hopefully, you see where I'm coming from and that I leave it entirely to the reader to decide how much of this is worthwhile, on the money, or just dead wrong. It is not my aim to try and sway a single soul to my beliefs, only to provide what I believe to be true and offer them more "food for thought" in making up their own minds on these topics.

With this in mind, let's proceed to the questions.

1. What is your preferred number one defensive handgun?

For pocket, hideout, or BUG use, my preference remains the S&W J-frame snub in .38 Special and with +P expanding ammunition. Right now, the top choice for me is the Airweight S&W Model 642 or 442. I prefer it to the all-steel snubs and only carry "pre-lock" revolvers. I also choose the aluminum gun over the newer lighter scandium/titanium revolvers because I am not limited to jacketed ammo. Those revolvers lighter than the "Airweight" series cannot be used with lead bullets; they unseat themselves in recoil and lock up the gun. I have personally tried this and such has been the case in caliber .38, .357, and .44 Special. If the snub is to be worn on the belt, I'd go with a steel revolver with at least a 3" bbl, if there is a choice. With regard to semiautomatic handguns, I have no real desire for those lighter than 9x19mm nor having less than a 3" barrel…and much prefer longer barrels. My favorite all around 9mm pistol remains the lightly modified Browning Hi Power Mk III. From a strictly defensive viewpoint, I do favor the .45 ACP from a 5" 1911 pattern pistol. Using a two-hand hold, I note no real difference in handling ability, but when using one hand, I do slightly better with the Hi Power.

2. Why are you against the .380 and 9x18mm Makarov for self-defense?

This little Bersa Series 95 is a favorite of mine. I really like the gun's handling and concealment capabilities. I am not fond of the cartridge for self-protection but understand that more than a few folks find themselves able to more accurately shoot a .380 auto than a hot-loaded-but-lightweight-38-snub. Under some conditions, I have toted a .380 or 9mm Makarov for "serious purposes" but though I remained truly a staunch admirer of the guns, I never changed my belief that better defensive calibers can be had in similar size packages. I had rather face a poor shot, lousy tactician and undecided adversary who was armed with a .44 Magnum than a skilled shot, determined to survive and having but a .22! If you prefer the .380 or 9x18mm Makarov, use them; be competent, accurate and quick in their safe handling, but this is true for any caliber/gun combination to be used in the self-defense arena.

While I like and admire several of the handgun designs in these calibers, they are just a tad below what I trust to offer both expansion and sufficient penetration from any angle. Both are probably "OK" for straight on, unobstructed shots, but I have serious qualms about them if an arm, etc is struck by the bullet while on the way to the torso. I own several handguns in .380 ACP and 9mm Makarov, but they simply are not my first choices. I freely acknowledge that many folks find them easier to shoot well than the lightweight snub nose 38 revolver. At the same time, getting a good hit with a bullet that cannot get deep enough while expanding vs. one that can but has to remain 36-caliber just doesn't play well with me, particularly when either are almost below 1100 ft/sec and less than 100-grains in weight.

3. But if you HAD to go with a 380 or 9mm Mak, what would your choices be?

I would chose the traditional size pistol in these calibers. They offer enough sight radius to get the hit or hits and enough velocity to get bullet expansion using many JHP rounds. For carry guns, I would go with smaller than the Beretta double-stacks or the CZ-83. Right now, my first choice would be the Bersa Thunder, but only after testing it for reliability as well as POA vs. POI. If going with the Mak round, I would go with the Makarov handgun over all others in t his caliber. In the .380, my ammo choices would be Corbon DPX (Later runs of this ammo have reportedly had the Barnes X-bullet tweaked for slightly deeper penetration.), or Hornady XTP. With the 9mm Makarov, I'd go with either Hornady XTP or the Brown Bear 115-gr. JHP. The latter round can cause problems in some Makarov pistols as it has a slightly longer LOA than most JHP's in this caliber but it is my top pick. After I made a small correction at the bottom of my guns' feed ramps, it runs as slick as a gut in my three Mak pistols.

These expanded 115-gr. Brown Bear JHP's in 9x18mm expanded consistently for me when fired from a Makarov pistol into either super-saturated newsprint or water. Actual expansion/penetration tests when fired into calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin also show impressive expansion and penetration in the 11 to 12" range. Whether from Brown or Silver Bear, these loads are hard to find. Be sure that your pistol feeds them reliably before depending on them.

4. Which is more important, velocity or bullet weight?

It depends on the particular caliber being discussed in my view. For example, in my own informal testing I remain convinced that from the 4 to 5" barrels, the .45 ACP continues to do best with the traditional 230-gr. bullet. They usually strike at or very near POA compared to lighter, faster bullets and many JHP's are available. FWIW, my choices are Winchester Ranger JHP, Remington Golden Saber, followed by Federal Classic JHP. The Speer Gold Dot is favored by many and if it runs reliably in your pistol, it is a very good choice as well. It feeds nicely in some of my .45's but not all. The others run slick as a gut in all of them and with all magazines. In .38 Special I cling to the Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P. It expands more reliably than the Winchester counterpart from the 1 7/8" bbl in my experience, but either work fine from 3 or 4" tubes. Unless the bad guy is wrapped up like a 4-layer-of-denim tamale, the bullet expands. The two that I've seen recovered from felons expanded nicely, though not as evenly as when fired into homogeneous test media. FWIW, two new loads offer decent penetration and expansion. These are the Corbon 110-gr. DPX +P and Speer's "Short Barrel" 135-gr. Gold Dot +P. Though I am extremely fond of the DPX line of ammo, in this caliber, my second choice would be the Speer. In .357 magnum, I prefer bullets weighing 140-gr. upward if being used in service type revolvers. In the J-frame snubs, I currently use Corbon 125-gr. DPX followed by Remington 125-gr. Golden Saber. Both of these are mid-range loads offering more "whammy" than .38 Special +P, but less than the full power magnums. In the smaller guns it has been my experience that these lighter loads are distinctly easier to handle at speed and for repeat shots. I have verified this for myself using a timer. In the K-frames and up, the heavier loads work fine in practiced hands. In 9mm, my personal choices remain Corbon 115-gr. DPX +P and Winchester 127-gr. Ranger +P+. Going to standard pressure, I am pretty impressed with Speer 124-gr. Gold Dot and Remington's Golden Saber in the same weight. In the 147-gr. weight, I like the Speer Gold Dot, Remington Golden Saber, and Winchester's Ranger. Unlike the 1911 pattern pistol, most of the 9mm's I've tried run quite reliably with the Gold Dot. I guess you could say that I usually want as much velocity as I can get so long as bullet weight and penetration are not negatively affected. In small case/high pressure calibers like the 9mm, I do favor the 115-gr. DXP and several 124-127-gr bullets over the 147-gr. The .38 Special has more case capacity to be sure, but its lower maximum cartridge pressure seems best suited to bullets from 135 or 140 grains to the 158-gr. standard.

5. Do you prefer single or double-action automatics?

I personally prefer the Browning Hi Power and 1911 pattern pistols to all others for personal protection. They are simply what I am most used to and their "feel" and operation are permanently imbedded in my brain. I also prefer their consistent and light trigger pulls for each shot, first to last. Internally, they are less complex than the DA/SA automatic and more easily lend themselves to detail stripping. If their cocked-and-locked appearance frightens some, others find their easy to disengage manual safeties comforting should a firearm-ignorant felon manage to wrest the gun from them. A point-and-pull pistol such as the Glock, SIG-Sauer, etc can be fired by anyone. Having said this, I am not nearly so adamantly opposed to the DA/SA automatic or DAO, as are some other folks. In fact, I am becoming quite a fan of SIG-Sauer's super-light DAK system and have it on two forty-five's.

6. If you had to choose a traditional double-action auto, what would it be?

I get this one a lot and the reason is simple. Some shooters simply are not comfortable (yet) with Condition One Carry and others are not allowed to carrying other than a DA/SA or DAO autopistol for police duty. They may have some latitude in brands and calibers, but single-action is not one of them. I definitely do not see them as "the badge of the incompetent" as has been said by some. In .45 ACP, I'd go with the SIG-Sauer P-220. I have shot these quite a bit and found them to almost always be reliable and surprisingly accurate out of the box. While they do exhibit a bit more muzzle flip than the Commander-size 1911's, a timer has repeatedly proven to me that very nice "work" can be done with them in both slow and rapid-fire. For carry I prefer the standard version of the gun, which has the aluminum alloy frame. In 9mm, my choice is the CZ-75. This gun offers both DA/SA as well as cocked-and-locked capability. The gun points well for me and has proven reliable and accurate. I did not list the excellent SIG-Sauer P-226 simply because the gun does not "feel" that great to me, but it has proven an excellent weapon in my observation of many being used by officers over the years.

7. I shoot a 9mm better than a .45, but am afraid that it's not powerful enough for protection. What do you think?

In my book, "Defensive Handguns", I cover this and "stopping power" (as I see it & pretty extensively), but here are my thoughts, which are based on both personal observation and "anecdotal" accounts of shootings by the shooters. Though I do not believe that .45 ball is quite so grand a stopper as others, I do believe that it is better than 9mm FMJ. I have shot jackrabbits with both and neither stopped the stringy things unless hit in the forward third of the body and then death was several seconds in coming. When struck in the mid-section or guts and they ran several yards before collapsing…even with the legendary 45 FMJ. With its better loads, I believe that the .45 ACP offers an edge over the best 9mm loads, but I remain unconvinced that the differences are so day-and-night different as espoused by some. The deer I've shot with expanding bullets in 9mm, .38 Super, .357 magnum, .44 Special, and .45 ACP, exhibited no major differences in terminal effect. All dropped immediately and kicked a few seconds or jumped and ran a few yards before collapsing. (FWIW, I've seen the very same thing when using the moderately loaded .45 Colt and full-power .44 magnum. The main advantage I've seen with the heavy magnums is extended practical range over the calibers commonly associated with self-protection.) Using the better .45 ACP loads, I do believe that there is a ballistic advantage, but that does not mean that I think the 9mm with the better loads is ineffective. I use a 9mm as a primary house gun and often as my primary carry gun. I would not do this if I did not trust the capability of the 9mm loads already mentioned.

8. I've heard that a jacket hollow point going less than a thousand-feet-per second will not expand. Is this true or not?

It depends upon the bullet design and the velocity envelope it was designed to "work" within. A couple of decades ago, the 1000 ft/sec thing was generally true, but there are more than a few JHP bullets around today that emphatically do expand at less velocity. Examples include Speer Gold Dots in .45 ACP, .38 Special, as well as 147-gr. 9mm. Ditto Winchester Ranger and Remington Golden Sabers. Let's assume that a JHP weighs 125-grains and is intended for a full-power .357 Magnum commercial cartridge traveling at 1350 ft/sec from the muzzle. That same bullet may not expand if it impacts at say 800 ft/sec; the velocity may be below its minimal threshold velocity to begin expansion. A bullet designed to expand at 800 ft/sec will certainly expand at 1350 ft/sec, but may not hold together, but the old saw that a bullet must be traveling at least a thousand-feet-per-second is simply not true as a general statement with today's better expanding handgun bullets. If you hear this from someone, they are just not up to date on the realities of current expanding handgun ammunition.

9. I want a stainless steel pistol but am afraid of galling. Should I be?

In my experience, no. This "problem" stems from early stainless steel pistols introduced decades ago. With guns from quality manufacturers, today's stainless pistols use different alloys in the frame and slide to eliminate the problem…and have for years. I truly believe it to be a non-issue.

10. Does it hurt to leave pistol magazines fully loaded? Do I need to let them "rest"?

In my experience, the answer is no… so long as they are not compressed to a shorter length than they were engineered for. Mr. Wolff of the gun spring company bearing his name advises that it is the repeated compressing and decompressing of springs that causes them to weaken. In other words, a magazine that is loaded and unloaded many times will weaken before one that is simply loaded to capacity. I have experimented with this over the years leaving a couple of magazines from different make handguns fully loaded. These included the Browning Hi Power, the Glock 26/17, various 1911 magazines, as well as the CZ-75 and Walther PP in both 380 and .32 ACP. Ditto all Beretta handguns from .25 ACP to 9mm. In all of these cases the magazines being used were from the maker or were made by quality manufacturers such as MecGar, Wilson, McCormick, etc. I definitely have seen spring weakening to the point of unreliability with some aftermarket magazine makers. Most of these were with the nameless "high capacity" magazines that flooded the market before the "high capacity feeding device" ban enacted in the dark days of 1994. The only quality magazines I've ever seen weaken when left fully loaded for approximately two years were one for the HK MP5 submachine gun and one Colt-marked 30-shot magazine for the AR/15-M16 type rifles. Others from the same makers left loaded for the same time-period worked fine.

11. I do not trust automatics and prefer a revolver for a house gun. What would you choose?

I do use revolvers for such purposes and am happy with .38 Special, .357 magnum, .44 Special, and .45 Colt. The magnum is loaded with the mid-power Corbon 125-gr. DPX. My mid-size .44 Special Taurus Model 431 is loaded with CCI/Speer 200-gr. Gold Dots while I would choose Corbon's DPX load for an N-frame S&W.

I honestly believe that the 3 or 4" 38 Special remains a very viable choice for both new as well as seasoned shooters. I am not ashamed in the least to admit that one of my most trusted defense revolvers remains a 4" .38 Special loaded with Remington 158-gr. LHP +P.

12. I know that you use the lightweight 38 snub as a carry gun. My wife wants a simple handgun for home protection when I am away. Would this be a good choice?

In my opinion, no. The very characteristics that work for the snub as a carry gun work against its being comfortable to shoot or relatively easy to shoot accurately. Despite some gun store salesmen saying otherwise, I truly believe that the relatively inexperienced shooter (male or female) is better served by a mid-size, all-steel handgun for home defense. It does not need to be super small for this purpose and will reduce felt recoil and offer better practical accuracy as well. My wife is not a shooter. What works best for her is an S&W 3" K-frame loaded with Remington 38 Special 158-gr. LSWCHP +P. By the same token, a 5" all-steel 1911 will have less felt recoil and should at least point better for many than the super compact, lightweight pistols of that breed.

In my opinion, the 3 or 4" service size revolver makes much more sense for use as a house or car gun than the lightweight snub nose revolver in the same caliber. This Model 64 was bought used at a reasonable price. It has proven dependable in the extreme and can serve very well in the area of self-protection. It is also loads of fun at the range. Its size and weight make it just about "right" for many shooters and felt recoil is way less than with the lighter, more compact snubs, which also usually sacrifice one round.

13. I want a match barrel for my defense gun. Which do you recommend?

Unless the existing barrel is defective, I have very seldom seen a quality handgun that was inaccurate enough not to be used for self-defense in the private-citizen-versus-the-bad-guy type scenario. For us, distances involved are usually going to be marked by single digits with the unit of measurement being feet, not yards, but to answer the question, in the 1911 I'd go with Kart. In the Hi Power and others, BarSto.

14. What do you think is the very most important characteristic of the defensive handgun?

Reliability is first by a wide margin in my book followed by caliber/load and practical accuracy. (This refers to how easy it is for the individual user to competently shoot a particular handgun.)

15. Which defense caliber do you trust the most and why don't you just use weapons in that caliber?

I don't "trust" any of them. Compared to most rifle rounds and shotgun loads (at close range), handguns offer a ballistically weak payload in my observation. I do not trust any commonly accepted defensive handgun caliber to deliver the all elusive "one shot stop" against a human aggressor unless it destroys the brain or cuts the spinal column above the heart. It is true that many folks drop to a single shot but keep in mind that people fall down for a couple of reasons: They have to due to physical damage or because they want to for psychological reasons. The choice of the "right" defense handgun should be based on several factors in my opinion. These include the gun's "shootability" for the individual for one. Caliber and load are but one part of the equation. In whatever caliber I use, it is my view that we're better served by picking an effective load and then practicing rather than worry so much about the ne plus ultra stopping power caliber. (I begin to believe that a cartridge has sufficient "stopping power" with .223 and certain expanding rounds and am happy as a clam with .308 using expanding ammo…but understand that even these can fail to deck the bad guy…just less often it seems. I carry a defensive handgun or handguns because they are portable and with me 24/7 for the unexpected.

16. What do you consider the minimal acceptable penetration depth for a protection handgun round?

I pretty well believe the often-quoted 12" is fine. Some prefer more penetration, but I think that this depth should work on most full-grown men from about any angle. That said, it should be noted that I've received several reports of aggressive-expanding ammunition that repeatedly makes the bad guys drop with decent hits. Most of these penetrate around 9 to 10" in calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin. Two examples are Corbon's 9mm 115-gr. JHP +P and the same company's .45 ACP 185-gr. JHP +P. Go figure. One of my best friends used this load against a human aggressor with very dramatic and instantaneous results.

17. I have seen the 148-grain .38 Special wadcutter recommended as a top standard pressure load for the .38 snub. Do you agree?

I do not. Most of the commercially loaded rounds I've chronographed have been well under 600 ft/sec when fired from a snub! As I understand it, the recommendation comes because most of the .38 +P loads fired from a snub do not reliably expand in gelatin after passing through intermediate barriers such as denim. So, why put up with the extra recoil and wear on the gun? As others have said, there is no free lunch with handgun calibers. What if the target is not wearing denim? The expanding bullet will probably be more effective than the slow wadcutter, assuming equal hits. Even when the often-used LSWCHP +P doesn’t expand, it frequently flattens or deforms to mimic the wadcutter and smacks at 800 ft/sec or so. As I've mentioned in the past, I spoke with a man who had been shot through the heart with a .38 wadcutter. He was sitting on a curb and didn't feel very good to be sure, but he could talk and could've used a gun. That he died 4 minutes later is not the point; the load was simply not effective in that statistically insignificant incident. Unless a person has physical limitations or simply cannot handle recoil, I would not go with the .38 wadcutter at target velocities. Were I personally faced with having to do so, I'd prefer a .380 or 9mm Makarov with ball in this power range; I have more shots in an easier to shoot handgun. If using the .38 snub, it is my belief that the top loads are required and these simply have more recoil than the much more lightly loaded wadcutter. When I opted to go with the snub 38 as an "always" gun for the pocket, I did so understanding that this breed of revolver required frequent practice. I still believe that. With its limited 5-shot capacity (in most cases) and what I believe to be minimal power for protection, being able to get the hit(s) requires some dedication and serious practice.

18. I want a small automatic for carry and prefer 9mm. What would you choose?

The super compact 9mm's don't interest me all that much so as a result, I've tried only three extensively. These were the Kahr K9, the Kahr P9, and the Glock 26. The K9 was reliable and accurate. I had trouble with the P9. If using +P 9mm ammo, the slide would frequently lock to the rear with ammo still in the magazine. In all fairness I must admit that mine was an early production P9 and the problem may have been solved by now. Both of the Kahr pistols gnawed holes at the base of my shooting hand thumb. This was due to the way my hand fit the gun and may not be a problem for others. For me, the Glock 26 has worked reliably, is easy to shoot, and continues to prove itself durable. I continue to be surprised with how easy it is to get good defense-type hits at speed with the thing considering that I do not find it particularly comfortable. At this moment, I'd cast my lot with the Glock 26, but remind you that I've not tried this genre of compact 9mm's very much. It is the only one I can recommend based on personal observation.

19. I've been told to use ball ammo only in my self-protection pistols because it is more reliable. Is this true?

Maybe, but I've seen autos that would feed certain JHP's and not ball! In my opinion, unless one lives where round nose FMJ is mandated by law or personal choice, the defensive handgun should be reliable with most JHP's. If I have a handgun that is only reliable with ball, it usually goes the way of the goose or is not used for self-protection, usually the former.

20. If choosing a gun for the all-important task of self-survival, shouldn't I go with the best or most expensive?

This can be argued from either viewpoint, but in my experience a decent quality handgun, not necessarily the most expensive, offers about all of the qualities one can ask for in a protection handgun. It doesn't have to be the particular company's flagship model; it does have to be reliable.

21. I think I want a 1911 in .45, but it seems that this design is not reliable. Are they?

In my experience, the design is reliable, but its cutthroat competition production rate sometimes is not. The result is a sound design that is poorly executed in the finished product. The 1911 pattern pistol remains a most popular gun today and everybody and their dog seem to cranking them out to meet demand. I've seen some "entry level" 1911's that worked great and others that choked repeatedly. Sadly, I've seen this not only at the lower end of the price range, but at the middle and top as well. Based on my own experiences, if the gun is in spec, it will run reliably. Many times, if you know what to do, correcting problem guns is a snap and they become examples of reliability in the extreme. Though this is a very favored type of handgun for me and countless others, the rapid production pace and methods seen today can result in a less than stellar 1911. That said, I believe that the reliable 1911 can be found without spending thousands as some claim. I've "built" two from the ground up and they are reliable and accurate, but I paid extremely close attention to detail and dimension. If a layman such as myself can do this, I'd think the major manufacturers could too.

22. I much prefer the revolver in .357 Magnum for protection but am concerned with its only holding six shots. Should I go with the high-capacity automatic?

In the man vs. bad guy or two or three, I think the revolver can hold its own IF and ONLY IF the shooter can. There is no ammo to waste and if the dudes are determined not to stop unless forced to, every single shot is important. In general, I believe that we run out of time before ammunition and that our first shots are probably the most important ones. It's my view that the revolver shooter should really practice reloading as well as the use of cover, concealment, etc…which we all should. If one has reason to fear dedicated gang assaults, but still doesn't feel comfortable with the automatic, I'd carry at least one more revolver, ideally one chambered for the same cartridge as the primary and one that would use the same speed loaders.

23. I've been told that a .22 makes a good defense round because the little bullet bounces around within the body and does a lot of damage. Is this true?

I don't know. It could happen I suppose but most of the people I have seen shot with .22lr handguns were not stopped; they were injured and some seriously, but they didn't have to stop from immediate physical damage. The majority did opt to leave the scene rather quickly but one didn't and severely injured the man who shot him by beating him nearly to death with his own revolver. I personally do not consider the .22 a viable defense caliber. That it has been used successfully as a quiet killer in suppressed firearms doesn't translate to effective stopper. Its use in assassinations by certain military personnel or criminal contract killers is done with stealth surprise and head shots. Any handgun caliber can kill with a torso shot, but it simply may not stop the individual for several minutes vs. seconds with a more appropriate caliber.

24. What about Glocks? Are they safe? I've heard that they can explode.

The Glock pistols, particularly those in their original 9mm seem to be about as reliable as a pistol can be in my experience. I find them reasonably accurate in the G17, 19, and 26 out to about twenty or twenty-five yards. I do admit to not being able to shoot these pistols as well at extended distances, but for most of us, extended distances are not a significant concern in self-defense scenarios. I have seen 3 Glocks in which cases from factory ammo let go and the often-discussed "kaboom" occurred. These were in the Glock 22 40-caliber in each instance that I saw. It should also be noted that this was shortly after the forty hit the market. Such incidents seem to have declined and I'm not convinced that it is an issue anymore. Still, I personally prefer the 9mm Glocks to the rest. My Glock 17 sees "duty" as a house gun and is sometimes carried concealed as a belt gun. Glocks have near fanatical devotees and equally adamant detractors. I fall in the middle; to me they are decent pistols that have a well-deserved reputation for reliability right out of the (plastic) box in most instances. For me, the grip angle is not the greatest, but I've learned it and the gun should serve well as a protection piece if I do my part. Mine is loaded with Winchester 127-gr. +P+. Because of their polygonal rifling, Glock warns against the use of lead or cast bullets. Leading can build up and pressures can be increased it seems. I've shot lead reloads in my Glocks, but no more than 200 before I thoroughly cleaned the barrel. For folks interested in shooting lead, match grade barrels with conventional rifling are available from more than one manufacturer. The Glock can serve well in my view, but it is very unforgiving of poor gun handling: Especially with the Glock, keep the trigger finger off of the trigger until ready to shoot. Also make sure that if the holster has a retaining strap or device that it cannot inadvertently get into the trigger guard. If it can or does, the pistol can fire when being reholstered.

This Glock 17 has proven to be both reliable as homemade sin and plenty accurate enough for any self-defense role one is likely to envision. These guns, like single-action autos are not very tolerant of improper handling. In competent hands, these things are capable of surprisingly good performances.

25. Some say that we should use only one type of handgun if we carry a handgun for defense. Do you think this is right?

I do not think it is wrong, but neither do I think it is universally right, either. Let me explain. When firing under calm "range conditions" we are under no stress. Firing in competition adds some, but nothing like what can and does occur in an in-your-face-do-or-die-right-now situation where some dude is determined to kill you. This is when a person can completely forget about accuracy or disengaging a thumb safety, etc. For this reason some advise using a single type action so that with repeated use, its operation is second nature and can be done instantly without having to consciously think about it. If a person shoots only for self-protection and is not really into shooting all that much, this is probably a pretty good idea. In my own case, I am a certifiable firearm enthusiast and shoot all types of handguns, but the ones I shoot most are single-action automatics. This has been true over 3 decades and manipulating the thumb safety just "happens" and has never been an issue on the street. Often times when shooting at speed but using a revolver or a Glock, etc, I still find myself disengaging a thumb safety that is not there! It hurts nothing, but the reverse might very well not be true. In other words, let's say that my primary handgun used for years is a point-and-pull handgun like a revolver, Glock, SIG-Sauer, etc and I decided to start toting a Browning Hi Power after but a few weeks familiarization. If the balloon went up, it might very well be that I'd revert to just point-and-pull rather than disengaging the thumb safety on the way to the target and such an error could be fatal. I cannot speak for everyone on this issue, but this is the way I see it. I do think that if one opts to use two different types of automatics having external safeties they should both operate the same way. In other words I wouldn't suggest carrying a 1911 with which "off safety" requires a downward push one day and an S&W 9mm requiring an upward push to disengage the safety, the next.

26. Do you use 7 or 8-round .45 magazines in your 1911's?

I prefer the 7-shot magazines. The reason is simple. They are reliable all of the time in all of my 1911 pattern guns. The 8-round magazines I've used are reliable most of the time in some of my pistols, but not all. For me, the problem usually occurs with the last shot failing to feed or holding the slide back. That said, I've had the best luck with McCormick and Wilson 8-shot magazines, but am in the process of converting all of my magazines to seven-shooters using the Tripp CobraMag upgrade kit. In 8-shot magazines other than Tripp's, capacity goes to 7 shots. If used in any 7-shot magazine, capacity remains seven. This inexpensive upgrade has made even problem magazines paragons of virtue in several different makes of 1911 pattern pistols.

Hopefully, the preceding has been of some interest and use to the reader. Some will agree with all or some of it while others will not. As I mentioned at the beginning, it is not my aim to sway anyone's point of view. Each of us bases reality on what some call individual "life filters" but what I've written here is the truth as I see it.

Believe it or not, my primary interest in handguns doesn't focus on self-defense. I see them as interesting works of art and am drawn to shooting them like the proverbial moth to a flame. At the same time, I realized long ago that the handgun can be a lifesaver and that self-protection aspects should be considered by those willing to take on the responsibility for their own well being. It is an unfortunate reality that in today's world, it is necessary (in my opinion) to be able to defend one's self and loved ones against unprovoked criminal attack both at home and elsewhere. For that reason I remain armed 24/7 whenever possible and am distinctly uncomfortable when I am not.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

What Hi Power Parts for Emergency Spare Parts Kit?

Hello. This is not an infrequent question, whether from fears of a great pending catastrophy or breakdown of civilization to anti-freedom, anti-Second Amendment types making it harder and harder to do anything that is firearm-related, including send handguns for repair. Some want to know just because they like having the parts for a near immediate fix.

For over three decades I've been shooting 9mm Hi Powers quite a bit. Parts breakage has been limited but can occur to be sure. Based on what I've seen break, here is what I suggest having spares of the following:

Firing Pin Retaining Plates: (If these crack, it is usually at the 7 o' clock position when looking at the plate from the rear.)

Extractors and extractor springs: (The Hi Power requires a strong extractor spring. Usually when I've seen one with extraction problems, simply replacing the spring has solved the problem. I prefer the extra-strength extractor springs from Wolff.)

Firing Pins: (I've not had these break but do have a couple on hand should that occur.)

Recoil Springs: Changing these out is essential in Hi Powers that are shot very much. I change mine about every 2K to 2500 shots. The Hi Powers I've seen that had damaged, rounded lugs always had extremely weak recoil springs.

Ejector: (I have not seen any of these break, but if one should, it would be nice to have a spare.)

Grip Screws: These can be lost or damaged.

Spare Roll Pins: for extractor and sear lever (If you have a Hi Power having the factory extended ambidextrous thumb safety, you might want a spare roll pin or two for it, too.)

In my opinion, one cannot have too many magazines and springs as well. I try and have plenty for any semiautomatic I own. I consider 5 or 6 the barest of minimums. Having said that, I suggest strongly obtaining only quality magazines. My first choice remains Mec-Gar 13-shot 9mm magazines, be they marked "Browning" or their real maker's name.

Though breakage has been pretty darned rare, these are the parts I'd have on hand. Once these are acquired, it doesn't hurt a thing to pick up other parts just in case of the very rare possibility that something not stressed gives up the ghost, so to speak.


Mk III or Practical: What's the Difference?

Hello. It is not unusual to hear questions concerning the Mk III Hi Power and how it differs from other models based on its "chasis". Often times, this references the Practical model.

Here we go...

The Mk III and the Practical share many basic features. I sort of consider the Mk III to be the "base gun" for this newest version of the Hi Power.

The majority of Mk III pistols have the internal firing pin safety. I am not aware of any Practicals that do not. The Practical and the Mk III use the same factory barrels and both have the magazine disconnect. Both have been manufactured in 9x19mm and .40 S&W but I have not seen the Mk III offered with adjustable sights. The Practical has been.

The Mk III usually comes with black, checkered nylon grips having thumb rests. The Practical's I've seen and shot came with checkered, rubber Pachmayr wrap-around grips and backstraps. Most of the Mk III pistols I've seen had the traditional FN ring hammer but not all; I've seen a couple with spur hammers like the Mk III. I have not yet seen a ring hammer on either a Mk III or the Standard from the factory. (The Standard is a Mk III sporting a bright blue finish and checkered walnut stocks. I have seen this model in both fixed and ajustable sight versions.)

Neither model has proven itself more accurate model nor can one be expected to always have a better trigger pull, at least not in my experiences with these guns. In other words, I do not see more handfitting, accurizing, etc. in one over the other. Both have the straight feed ramp and almost always handle about any JHP the shooter might use. Such could not always be said for the Pre-Mk II "classic" style Hi Power.

This shooter's Hi Power came with the ring hammer and everything but the slide, barrel and extractor have been hard chromed. It has the internal firing pin safety along with the magazine disconnect. Though not visible, this one sports the usual Pachmayr grips. Obviously, the hard chromed frame is the most visible difference between the Practical and the Mk III. This one is factory stock with no changes.

The fixed sight version of the Practical has a more sloping non-serrated, ramp front sight than does the Mk III with its semi-post front. Fixed rear sights are the same on either.

Some runs of Mk III 9mm pistols have been with lanyard rings. I have not seen any Practicals with them.

Both the Mk III and the Practical have the "matte finish" on the slide. (This is a baked-on, black epoxy over parkerized steel.) The Practical has a hard chromed frame. The Mk III's frame has the previously described matte finish. I have seen some Practicals having the usual ambidextrous thumb safety levers hard chromed while they are not on other runs. Ditto, the triggers and slide releases.

I do not see either as having an advantage over the other in terms of reliability or mechanical accuracy. I think that the primary determinant for most shooters is which he finds more appealing be that due to looks or hammer style. The ring hammer is more visually appealing to many it seems, but it can also be more prone to bite a shooter's hand than the spur version, though both certainly can.

Checking around at both FN and Browning's sites, I do not see the Practical listed and have heard that this version is no longer being produced. I do not know if that's true or not. If it is true, I have no idea if it is permanent or not.

This 9mm Mk III has been lightly modified. Sights remain unaltered. Note the gun's semi-post front sight compared to the more sloping one on the Practical. I bobbed and recontoured the spur hammer on this one and had the gun blued and also removed the right-side thumb safety lever as they get in my way. It is wearing Spegel checkered delrin grips. Though slightly altered, one can see the differences between this lightly-modified Mk III and the Practical.

Speaking only for myself, my preference remains the Mk III. The reason is that the ring hammer definitely bites me more. I prefer the semi-post front sight on this version of the gun and can find it for less money. Other folks may feel just the opposite.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Can Less be More? A Look at .357 Mid-range Magnums

With the number of people lawfully carrying concealed handguns growing nationwide, it appears that a good number opt for the compact 357 Magnum revolver as their personal carry weapon instead of automatics chambered in 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W and so forth. Many folks simply prefer the revolver.

Initially, most are probably happy with their decision…until they get to the range!

After the initial first full-power shot, many think "God Almighty! Did it explode?"and gone is the rationale of the "inherently reliable revolver" or compactness combined with a relatively potent round being a good thing.

Let's take a closer look at some mid-power loads offered in the .357 Magnum, see what they offer and what they do not, and understand why they came to exist. Let's take a look at what they are actually meant to do.

The first .357 Magnum revolvers were from S&W. The "357 Magnum" N-frame became the Model 27, a "Cadillac" of the company's line. Later, plainer versions of the revolver were made for law enforcement or citizens wanting the power of the magnum round but in a less costly handgun. Shown is a Model 28 "Highway Patrolman". These served the Texas Department of Public Safety and others well for decades. Like the Model 27, the Model 28 is built on the S&W large & heavy N-frame. Back in the 1930's, some of the old literature actually says that gloves are necessary to protect from the heavy recoil! Full-power loads from the N-frames, particularly in years past, were noticeable but not unmanageable. In today's super compact and lightweight revolvers, those same loads might seem like holding an exploding hand grenade with regard to felt recoil.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and we find the .357 Magnum being chambered in the medium-size S&W K-frame such as this Model 19 Combat Magnum. Recoil goes up as the weight and size of the revolver goes down, but the gun was much easier to carry and became immensely popular among lawmen of the era. These revolvers are still very popular with shooters today. Before long, the Model 19 was offered in the common 2 1/2" bbl for concealed carry by detectives and others wanting a more compact magnum revolver.

Much more recently, S&W has come to offer revolvers chambered for this magnum cartridge in their small J-frame revolvers. Once the province of the .32, .38 S&W and others, and the .38 Special, the J-frame in .357 Magnum has become a most popular choice among serious concealed carry revolver toters. Improvement in metallurgy and alloy combinations have allowed the gun to be made in relatively heavy for size steel guns as well as very, very light ones.

Ruger (and others) also began offering compact .357 Magnum revolvers. Shown is Ruger's 3 1/16" bbl SP101 stainless steel revolver. This compact but relatively heavy revolver is also offered in a 2 1/4" bbl. For a small belt gun, the use of a good belt and holster negate its weight "disadvantage" to me and I appreciate its recoil dampening when shooting the little thing. There was only one thing wrong with the small three-fifty-sevens: the ammo. One could either shoot the full-power magnums suffering the consequences of stout recoil, extreme muzzle blast and flash, or go to the .38 Special, usually in +P form. This seems particularly true with the really lightweight magnum revolvers.

Finally, the ammunition makers came to the rescue. They began offering ammunition specifically intended for the compact guns.

There is only one problem…

None of these are full-power loads so these magnum rounds are "magnums" in name only.

But, is that necessarily bad?

Let's take a close look at this aspect of defensive .357 Magnum ammunition. Will it do the job? What does it offer and what does it take off the table for the defensive shooter?

Thirty years ago the clarion call was for ammunition that actually expanded. The "adequate penetration" concern was mentioned now and again, but my recollection was not so often as today. Foot-pounds of kinetic energy was almost always discussed while today it is considered moot by many of the serious researchers and a round's KE is discussed less frequently…if at all.

The gun scribes usually touted King of the Hill in 357 as any maker's "125-grain jacketed hollow point". Usually the Remington 125-gr. SJHP or Federal's 125-gr. JHP was recommended as potent medicine for bad guys. Incidents I'm personally aware of as well as others I've only read about indicated that this full-power load usually had what it took to deck a felonious opponent.

At that time, these loads were normally rated at about 1450 ft/sec. When shooting an N-frame, you knew that you'd fired a gun, but I never found full-power 357 loads punishing at all in the large frame magnum. In the medium K-frame, recoil was still manageable but sharper. The L-frame 357's I've shot feel about like the N-frames to me…but felt recoil is subjective.

Put any of these full-power loads in a J-frame S&W, small-frame Taurus, or Ruger SP101 and most of will agree that felt recoil is more substantial than in the larger frame revolvers. This is hardly surprising but should a fellow suffer the harder-kicking rounds and slower recovery times or go all the way "down" to the hotter loads in 38 Special?

Currently, Remington, Corbon and Speer offer newer technology bullets loaded to lower velocities than the true magnums. I've seen some refer to it as "357 Minimum" but think a better term might be "357 Medium". To counter these loads' lower velocities, the bullets are engineered for optimum performance at these speeds.

In decades past, ammo makers used the same traditional JHP bullets in both their .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads. That usually meant that if a bullet expanded and held together in the 357 version, it would probably offer marginal expansion at 38 velocities. Likewise, a bullet that expanded rapidly in .38 Special might very well offer very little bullet integrity at higher magnum speeds.

While Corbon uses not only different DPX bullet designs in their 38 and 357 loads, the bullet weights differ as well. The 38 weighs in at 110-grains while the 357 DPX weighs 15 grains more. Remington's 125-gr. Golden Saber bullet appears to be used in both the 357 and its parent cartridge. Ditto Speer's excellent 135-gr. Gold Dot.

The difference is that the bullet's operating envelope has been tailored for maximum performance at lower than throttle-to-the-firewall velocities. They work at both mid-range magnum speeds as well as those for the .38 Special. These newer bullet designs usually penetrate deeper than older conventional JHP's in the same weight.

Expanding bullets have an operating velocity envelope; below it expansion doesn't occur but get too much above it and expansion characteristics can be quite different than expected. The homogeneous copper alloy DPX bullet is tough to get to fragment and a higher impact velocity usually means more penetration. The same thing is true of the Gold Dot. Its jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core and separation is very rare with this round. I have seen expanded bullets cranked up in handloads that resulted in the bullet nearly turning inside out, but the jacket remained with the core and their was very little weight loss. The Golden Saber's harder gilding metal jacket can separate from the lead core, but I've seen this more with expansion testing in water than on animals I've shot with the Golden Saber in various calibers. It has happened but in the few cases I've seen it, the jacket was within a couple of inches of the expanded lead bullet. I don't consider it a major issue though I'll concede that others definitely do.

In my opinion, the mid-power magnums serve a useful purpose in the small revolvers. For those limited to the use of one-hand or who are very sensitive to recoil, they might very well be a good choice in larger guns as well. For the shooter concerned with split times using full-power loads, these might be just the cat's meow. They are going to be loud inside a structure but so is any handgun cartridge. To my subjective ear, the mid-power magnums are similar to 9mm's on the range and definitely not so loud as the full-power magnums.

The three mid-power loads mentioned all use flash-retardant powders, something that is considered de rigor for modern defense loads and they use excellent bullets. Powders are optimized for substantial velocity in shorter barrels. Bullets are designed to penetrate at least 12" of 10% ballistic gelatin when firing from the compact revolvers. In the past a man wanting maximum performance from the 357 usually went with the longest barrel compatible to his needs. Today, some express concerns over using Speer's 135-gr. 38 +P and 357 in other than shorter barrels! (This is something I intend to look into further.)

The ammunition manufacturers have done yeoman's service with the R&D performed to come up with the mid-range magnum.

But are they "as good" as the full-power .357 Magnum? Are they as "powerful"?

I have generally found them to be plenty accurate, sometimes surprisingly so. I have not yet found these to be shallow penetrators. I have found them to expand reliably in "soft targets" and considerably easier to shoot in the small 357 revolver. To me, all of these things are "good". Penetration is deep enough that most defense-oriented shooters would find it acceptable.

But, I do not believe that they are as "powerful" as full-velocity .357's.

For example, from a 3 1/16" Ruger SP101, Remington's 125-gr. Golden Saber averages 1189 ft/sec while Corbon's 125-gr. DPX gets 1176 ft/sec. The full-power Winchester 145-gr. Silvertip averaged 1207 ft/sec but with 20-gr. more bullet weight (albeit an "old technology" slug). The velocities of these three are in the same ballistic ballpark, but to me "felt recoil" was significantly greater with the Silvertip. When I used a timer to measure split times (time between shots), I was as much as a half-second slower with the full-power STHP than either of the other two. This means little if hunting critters but could mean lots if facing multiple attackers or even a single determined one in a fight. The full-power Remington 125-gr. SJHP usually touted at 1450 ft/sec averaged 1293 ft/sec from the SP101, but to me its recoil is very sharp. Federal 125-gr. JHP got an average velocity of 1301 ft/sec and the trade off for it was sharp felt recoil as with the Remington and Winchester loads.

Shown is a 15-yard group from an S&W 2 1/2" Model 19. It was fired with Corbon's 125-gr. 357 DPX load and is certainly plenty accurate for most purposes. Likewise, I have found the Remington Golden Saber and Speer Gold Dot capable of tight groups as well. (The expanded bullet was fired into water from the Model 19 snub.)

The mid-power loads offer very good expansion that seems reliable. They offer penetration in line with the much touted FBI ballistic protocols and dependable accuracy in my experience.

Speaking only for myself, I believe that the mid-power magnums are the rounds of choice in the small or light 357 revolver.

Technology and hard work from the ammo designers has provided us with some loads that perform as close to perfect as anything in this power range. They have tried to give us maximum performance for considerably less recoil, but there's only so much that can be done. Newton's laws of physics are still valid and for more powerful loads, there is a price to be paid: recoil. Part of this is also due to the heavier powder charges required for these. This adds to felt recoil as well but is seldom mentioned.

The mid-power loads offer adequate penetration and expansion for self-protection in my view. It is unlikely that they offer as large a temporary cavity as full-load magnums but many researchers consider this a non-issue, a non-contributor to "stopping power." For me, the jury is still out on that one but I do believe that it contributes something. I just don't know how much and neither does anyone else from what I can find.

I believe that the mid-range magnums serve a very useful role. At the same time I do not believe that they are as potent as full-power loads like Winchester's 145-gr. STHP, but in my mind there is something more to a "good defense load" than just power. I am sure those most have read the advice to "Choose the most powerful caliber that you can handle." This is not bad information and many can handle the .357 Magnum…in the larger revolvers, but may not handle it so well in the little ones. Some say that this doesn't really matter at "self-defense ranges", the assumption being that we're speaking of distances of but a few feet or even arm's length. True enough I guess if the first shot does the trick and there is but one assailant, but maybe not if facing a dude on PCP or a couple of armed hyped-up freaks assaulting you. I believe this to be even more possible if we're being forced to fire with but one hand.

Mid-power 357 loads may offer less power than full-throttle loads but more "shootability" for many shooters while still delivering respectable incapacitation capability. Less recoil might translate into more accuracy and I still believe that placement is power. With the first round from the small revolver, be it a hard-kicking full-power 357 or less-recoiling mid-range magnum, the shooter may very well "stop" his target but he gains little if a second aggressor receives a less accurate hit requiring longer to deliver.

Though not as important as surviving a deadly encounter, there is another reason that I like the mid-power magnums from any of the three companies previously mentioned. They're not as hard on the guns as are the full-charge loads. The K-frame S&W Model 19 is a most favored revolver amongst many wheelgun fanciers, but new replacement barrels from the company are no longer available. Though I find them easy enough to use with full-power loads, I find myself shooting them with reduced power handloads or the mid-range factory loads if other than range work or hunting is the goal. Admittedly, it is not likely that a fellow will damage his K-frame with full-power 357's. I've only seen a couple of cracked forcing cones in heavily-shot K-frame 357's in three decades, but wouldn't it be the pits if it happened to your gun?

In the larger L and N-frames, cracked forcing cones are not an issue with any sane loads. The same is holding true for Ruger's line of GP revolvers. In my opinion, full-power loads can be nicely handled in these guns and I will not argue one wit with folks opting to use them for defense. At the same time, I'll wager that they can do quicker accurate shooting with the mid-power loads in these heavy steel revolvers.

Here are three of the contenders for 357 mid-power carry loads. Left to right: Speer 135-gr. Gold Dot "Short Barrel", Corbon 125-gr. DPX, and Remington 125-gr. Golden Saber. In the short-barreled 357, the mid-power load offers very good bullet performance and controllability. While these loads may not be the most "powerful" for caliber, their performance is optimized by design for use in these guns.

If a person is determined that the best 357 snub load for them remains a full-power one, I'll not argue too loudly. The choice of "best" self-protection ammunition will always remain that of the individual, at least to me. I have found that while I do appreciate all the power that can be had in this round, my performance against the clock is better with the mid-power loads.

With the smaller 357 revolvers I find that for me, less can indeed be more in terms of overall performance.

If you carry a smaller .357 Magnum revolver for self-protection, the mid-range loads might very well be worth a look.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What is the difference between the Mk II and Mk III Hi Powers?

The Mk II was an "upgrade" of the original, classic 9mm Hi Power. The Mk II was intended for the military and police markets and finishes were normally either matte blue or parkerized. I've seen both. Some of the parkerizing was dark green while some runs were black. My first Mk II looked like it had been finished with a wood rasp! Others were much better in this regard.

Introduced in 1982, the Mk II was offered in but one caliber that I'm aware of, 9mm. It sported ambidextrous, extended thumb safeties and the classic Hi Power's checkered Walnut stocks were replaced with black, checkered nylon stocks with thumb rests. The magazine safety came along unchanged. The gun had a spur hammer and some were offered with lanyard rings. Frames were forged and at least in early runs of the gun, there was no internal firing pin safety. Some of the Mk II Hi Powers eventually did get the device as I've seen and shot Mk II's so equipped. The mainspring was the same 32-lbs that it is in current Mk III pistols and the recoil spring remained at 17-lbs, the factory standard. There is a small hole in the front of the slide, under the barrel and about where the center of the end of the recoil spring would be. Presumably this is to allow water to drain from a previously submerged pistol, something not uncommon to military handguns. The non-removable bushing extends out slightly more than on Mk III pistols. Classic Hi Powers made from the mid-70's until the Mk II was introduced did as well.

Perhaps the most noticeable change was the full-length rib on top of the slide. It is narrow and integral to the slide. The front sight is part of the rib and not removable. The rear sight is dovetailed in place and has a relatively wide notch for sight pictures in less than ideal light. These sights are usable at speed and most opine that they're an improvement over the classic Hi Power's fixed sights.

Until the introduction of the Mk II Hi Powers, the gun had been known to be picky in feeding some JHP rounds. The humped feed ramp was gone and replaced with a "throated" one similarly to what gunsmiths were doing here in the US to make Hi Powers feed reliable with other than ball. It's been my experience with several Mk II Hi Powers that they'll feed about any JHP of standard overall length or even close to it.

I am aware of no adjustable sighted versions of the Mk II nor any caliber other than 9x19mm.

FN manufactured the Mk II through 1987 are sometime near that. FN's records are more like "suggestions" rather than being as "exact" as other makers. It is possible that some variations of the Mk II exist, as its maker has been known to offer non-cataloged items to buyers having the interest and buying volume.

The Mk III Hi Power made its debut in 1988. It retained the extended, ambidextrous thumb safeties seen on the Mk II, but the barrel bushing was nearly flush with the front of the slide. Though it makes no practical difference, I like the looks of that better than the extended one. Gone was the full-length rib on the slide and both the front and rear sights are dovetailed to the slide. The hammer was the same spur type as on the '70's vintage Hi Powers as well as the Mk II. Oh, yes, we got to keep the damned magazine "safety" as well. Stocks were identical to the Mk II's. Mainsprings and recoil springs remained unchanged, but the hole in the front of the slide was not there on the Mk III. The lower rear of the ejection port is beefed up while the entire port is somewhat more "squared off" and similar to that of the 1911. Personally, I like not only the increased strength at the rear of the ejection port, but also think the Mk III pistol's ejection port change makes the gun look better.

Some Mk III pistols come with the lanyard ring, but most that I've seen do not. Finish will be either bright, polished blue covering the entire gun and is referred to as the "Standard." It costs more than the most often seen "Matte" finish, which is a baked-on epoxy finish over parkerizing and is corrosion proof. However, only the slide, sights, and frame have this finish. All other external parts do not.

Early production Mk III Hi Power's were produced with the traditional forged frame. It's my understanding that when FN tested the forty-caliber version of the Mk III the frame rails would warp or break at around 2500 rounds. For this reason, FN began manufacturing quality cast frames, which are harder. This solved the problem and allowed for the forged slides to be heat-treated a bit harder as well. The frames on the 9mm and .40 Hi Power's are the same and soon all Hi Powers were produced with the cast frame, probably to reduce manufacturing costs.

For those interested, how to easily spot a cast or forged frame pistol is here:

Though not commonly seen in the US, some Mk III pistols do not have the internal firing pin safety. However, the odds are that if you see or buy one, it will. While I don't think the device is necessary, I've encountered no problems because of it. There have been some reports of the slide cracking between the cutout in the slide for the firing pin safety's "paddle" to go through and block the pin, but this appears to be extremely isolated. Never the less, I'd prefer it if this device were not in the pistol.

More information on the internal firing pin safety and how to tell if your pistol has it, is here:

The Mk III is available in 9mm and .40 S&W. The frames are the same but the slide is slightly thicker on the forty-caliber version and it uses a 20-lb recoil spring rather than the 9mm's 17-lb. The mainsprings are the same. Mk III pistols in either caliber come with spur hammers.

There are other versions of the Mk III pistol beside the Standard. They are the Practical and the tangent-sighted Capitan.

It's my observation that the biggest controversy over the Mk III is the cast frame. Some detractors refer to this as "pot metal" or "cast iron" and roll their eyes while wringing shaking hands while saying that "quality" is gone from the Hi Power.

I shoot the Hi Power quite a lot and have done so long-term, as in 3 decades. I do believe that the earlier forged frame pistols had a "look" that is not matched, but I also believe that the cast frame pistols do hold up better for those shooting large amounts of hot-loaded 9mm in either handloaded form or +P. There is no choice for those choosing the forty-caliber. The forged frame pistols I own have not proven fragile by any means and I continue to shoot them, but prefer to pretty much stick with standard pressure loads.