Monday, July 14, 2008

Shooting the Beretta Model 85F .380 ACP

With the proliferation of very compact 9mm (and up) caliber pistols, some of the .380's former "glory" as perhaps a "light but adequate" backup gun has faded. I've made it no secret that I personally prefer to go no "lighter" than a .38 snub loaded with 158-gr. LSWCHP +P ammunition. More than a few other shooters feel the same way while there are some who steadfastly refuse to tote any defensive caliber that doesn't start with a "4".

At the same time, some shooters cannot or will not "dress around the gun" as is sometimes suggested and/or find the recoil of the Airweight (and lighter) ilk of snubs to simply recoil too sharply. Thus, some gravitate toward the compact "service caliber" automatics, some to light- loaded 38 Special snubs and others to the .380 ACP genre of pistols.

Caliber preference aside, I personally think that there are some pretty neat .380 ACP pistols and decided to wring one out for those folks who might be interested in a handgun of this type.

(This article's focus will not be on "stopping power" concerns but on how the particular pistol handled as well as what I liked and disliked. There are plenty of sites on which endless debate and pontification on "stopping power" can be found. In some instances, the discussions get rude, something I've never quite understood. Anyway, here I will focus on the pistol and offer observations. The individual reader can decide what does or doesn't equate to adequate "stopping power" for them.)

I recently obtained a like-new Beretta Model 85F .380 ACP pistol at a reasonable price. It is certainly not the most miniscule handgun in this caliber and probably not a current favorite, but it is a relatively compact shooter that offers an 8-round single-stack magazine for a total max capacity of 9 shots before the pistol is emptied.

This is a factory stock Model 85F Beretta. It is a DA/SA pistol having fixed sights, a magazine "safety", a grooved trigger dull black, checkered synthetic stocks. Both the front and rear grip straps are grooved for improved purchase with sweaty, wet or perhaps bloody hands. Finish is a combination of matte blue and "Bruniton". It has convenient ambidextrous thumb safety levers but unlike earlier versions of the pistol, Condition One Carry is not possible. When the safety lever is pushed all the way upward, it acts as a decocker, dropping the hammer to sort of a "half-cock" position. The pistol can be carried hammer down with the safety engaged or not. There is an internal firing pin safety such that the pin is not free to move unless the trigger is in the rearward position. Barrel length is 3.81". The gun weighs just under 22-ounces, empty. Barrel pitch is approximately 1:10".

At this point, some will suggest that this is just too large-for-caliber pistol. I suggest that this actually depends upon just the how-easily-concealed vs. how-easy-to-get-hits factor plays into things, something that will likely be different for different shooters. As is the case in many aspects of life, there trades and compromises to be frequently made. For some, this pistol might just be nearly perfect while others wouldn't own one on a bet!

Shooting: I shot 220 95-gr. FMJ rounds from Georgia Arms in today's test. I'd previously tested the pistol for reliability with other than ball ammo and it worked flawless with 3 magazines each of Federal 90-gr. JHP, Federal 90-gr. HydraShok, Corbon 90-gr. JHP, along with Winchester's flat point FMJ and Silvertip hollow points. The pistol functioned flawlessly in today's shooting along with the previous test-firings of the above-listed rounds.

Today's shooting was done at 5, 7, and 15 yards.

The two overlapping groups here were fired in slow-fire and using single-action only. No effort was made at speed and I fired from a sitting position with wrists braced. Note that at 7 yards and closer, a dead-on hold appears satisfactory but at 15-yards, a six o' clock hold was needed to avoid being a bit high on POI. Single marks indicate those shots fired at 7-yards while those bullet holes that are circled indicate firing at the longer distance.

Next on the agenda was Jim Higginbotham's standard "controllability drill" for defensive hanguns. Essentially, it is 5 shots at 5 yards in under 2 seconds from a low-ready position. His suggested target is a piece of folded notebook paper measuring about 4 1/4" x 11", with the latter being the vertical measurement. I fired 5 shots but at a dotted circle measuring roughly 6" or so in diameter. This was repeated 6 times for a total of 30 rounds being fired.

Each set of 5-shots began with the timer's beep and from a low-ready position. The first shot was double-action and the pistol's thumb safety was engaged. Like shooting a single-action automatic, the frame-mounted thumb safety did not appear to cause in lag in shooting times. This pistol's safety works just like those on the familiar 1911 or Hi Power pistols: up for "safe" and down for "fire".

Average time for 5-shots was 1.71 seconds. That is not particularly quick. There are plenty of folks who can beat that but I do think it shows that the double-action first-shot is not necessarily the oh-so-hard-to-master feat described by least at this distance. I am not convinced that the average shooter gives up much if anything at close range with the DA/SA autopistol so long as the double-action is smooth and the reach is not too long for his hand size.

Next up was the classic "Failure to Stop" drill. In today's session, I started from a low-ready at 7-yards and fired two to the center chest area of the target and then one to the nose/eye area of the head.

The FTS drill was repeated 10 times. Average time was 2.54 seconds. I attribute the longer times for fewer shots fired on the Higginbotham exercise to having to obtain two sight pictures and taking slightly longer for the more precise head shot. First rounds in the "controlled pair" to the chest were fired double-action. I did get one round outside the target area. I flat don't know if I did it firing double or single-action. I didn't fire "double taps" or "hammers", ie: two shots with one sight picture. I fired "controlled pairs". Col. Jeff Cooper's "flash sight picture" was obtained for each shot.

Observations: The pistol had no malfunctions whatsoever. Reliability is an absolute must in any firearm intended for serious purposes. Ejection was positive, with fired cases landing approximately 10 to 12 feet to my right.

The slide locked rearward after firing the last shot and there were no instances of its either failing to do so or locking open with rounds still in the magazine.

Firing pin indentions were adequate and well-centered.

Like the vast majority of .380 ACP pistols, this one is of straight blowback design. Unlike many, the barrel is not fixed. It is removeable for cleaning and comes off with the slide and recoil spring assembly during routine field-stripping and cleaning.

I did not find recoil to be sharp with today's 925 ft/sec load nor any other ammunition tried in this gun. To be sure, felt-recoil is a very subjective entity but for me it was a non-issue in this "standard size" .380 auto.

Neither did this pistol chew up my shooting hand. The generous tang (and rounded edges) along with the compact ring hammer resulted in there being absolutely no abrasions to my hand between the thumb and shooting finger, something I definitely cannot about my Walther PP in this same caliber!
My hands were more than a little sweaty in today's near 100-degree weather. The pistol was easy to handle and it didn't slip at all. I attribute this to both the checkered grips and the well-serrated front and rear grip straps. I really appreciate this in a protection pistol.

The sights were easy enough to use and should be pretty well snag-free. Sight picture was adequate, but I do prefer the fixed sights on the SIG-Sauer P232 to these. That said, it is not difficult to obtain a quick sight picture with the Beretta's vertical white bar rear sight and white dot front. The tang prevented any dreaded "hammer bite" at all during today's 200 + round session. The extended ambidextrous thumb safety was never inadvertently engaged during my "low thumb" shooting. The safety is sprung to remain positively engaged or disengaged and it moves quitely from the "on" to "off" position. At the end of the day's session, the pistol's action had not become "sluggish" or indicative that cleaning was immediately necessary to prevent malfunctions. It was still running faultlessly and without hesitation.

The pistol's magazine well is not beveled but there was no problem inserting magazines. I suspect that this will not be an issue with most owners of this type pistol.

Though I detest magazine safeties, the 85F has one. It caused no problems today and contributed to positive ejection of the magazine when released.

While the .380 ACP will probably never be a favorite of mine, I do enjoy this pistol. It appears to be of very fine quality and from what I've seen over the years personally and gleaned from others, they're usually reliable as homemade sin.

I may just hang on to this one.