The Rise of the PCC
The Pistol Caliber Carbine, or PCC, has been around for a long time. These firearms serve a variety of shooters in a wide variety of roles. While they have been around for as long as I can remember, they have caught on in serious way in the last few years.
If you haven’t shot a modern PCC I suggest you give one a try. There are many advantages to the PCC over a more traditional rifle. Here are just a few:
- Ammunition cost is very reasonable in the most popular PCC caliber: Cheap 9mm can be had for just over half of what cheap 5.56 ammo sells for and a third or less of what you have to pay for .308 ammo. Cheaper ammo means more rounds down range. More rounds down range means more practice and more fun.
- PCCs can be shot at facilities that don’t allow rifle calibers. Many indoor ranges only allow pistol calibers or they charge a premium for high velocity rifle calibers because they cause more wear and tear on the backstop. Pistol caliber carbines can be used anywhere handguns can be used. If you shoot primarily at indoor ranges this can be especially handy.
- PCCs can be used to shoot steel targets at close range and they can be used on steel that is only rated for pistol calibers. Shooting steel is fun, and it is great practice. Rifle calibers require much heavier duty steel and much longer ranges to be practical. PCCs can shoot handgun steel targets at handgun steel distances. This opens up a world of options for a creative shooter.
- Many PCCs are designed to accept common handgun magazines. It is handy having your PCC and your handgun use the same magazines if, for no other reason, you don’t have to buy a bunch of new magazines for your new gun.
- USPSA now allows the PCC to be used in matches. Carbines are easier to shoot fast, and easier to shoot accurately, than handguns. USPSA is all about speed and accuracy and the PCC fits right in. Shooting a USPSA match with a PCC is great fun, simpler, and much cheaper (for both equipment requirements and entry fees) than shooting 3-Gun where you need two other competition ready firearms. Many 3-Gun shooters have also found that shooting USPSA with a PCC is good way to get rifle practice for 3-Gun.
- PCCs are handy little rifles. There is no reason for long barrels because straight wall pistol cases use a low volume of fast burning powder. Barrels gain very little velocity when adding length over 12”. The only reason 16” barrels are so common is simply because that keeps people out of SBR (short barreled rifle) territory that federal registration, long waits, and an additional $200 tax stamp. Despite these requirements, short barreled PCCs are common as pistol calibers are begging for 6”-12” barrels.
- Speaking of short barrels, did I mention that pistol calibers suppress well? Subsonic 9mm ammo is far cheaper to source than any subsonic rifle caliber ammo and suppresses very well. With a short barrel and suppressor a PCC can be considerably shorter than a 16” carbine, and surprisingly quiet.
With these advantages in mind it isn’t hard to see why so many people have taken an interest in PCCs. The most common reasons people give for wanting a PCC are recreation, cheaper practice, home defense, and competition. I’ll share some of my thoughts on each of these.
Shooting a PCC is fun. A full size rifle in a pistol caliber like 9mm is pleasant to shoot and cheap to shoot compared to its rifle caliber cousins. It can be shot in many places that rifle calibers cannot be used and it can be used on steel targets that rifle calibers cannot be used on. This, more than anything else, seems to be a driving factor for PCC popularity. If you want a gun that is fun and reasonably inexpensive to shoot, packs more of a punch than a .22LR, but is easier to shoot well than a handgun the PCC may just be for you.
Many people interested in improving their rifle shooting skills, specifically rifle caliber carbines, have found that a PCC in the same platform, such as an AR, allows them to shoot more frequently and at more locations than they can use their regular AR in 5.56mm. There are many options for 9mm ARs these days and since the manual of arms is identical to a regular 5.56 AR the practice and training value is excellent.
Quite a few people have recently expressed to me their interest in having a PCC for home defense. One can be a reasonable option, with some caveats.
On the pro side the PCC is easier to make fast hits with, particularly under stress, than a handgun. This is true of any long gun, actually, and is one of the best arguments made by people advocating the use of a shotgun or rifle for home defense.
Another plus is that a PCC isn’t nearly as loud as a rifle caliber. The concussion and noise of a rifle caliber being fired indoors will cause significantly more hearing damage to the shooter as well as any other parties nearby. If I’m in a position that I must use deadly force to defend my family hearing loss is low on my list of priorities, but it is still on the list.
A commonly cited reason to choose a PCC is concern of over-penetration with a rifle caliber. This is often an overblown concern. A properly designed defensive 5.56 round doesn’t penetrate more than a properly designed defensive handgun round, but it must be a round designed and tested for this purpose. Use of improper rifle caliber ammunition in a building can result it dangerous overpentration.
As with anything, there are some cons to using a PCC for home defense. First and foremost is that a handgun caliber has significantly reduced terminal performance compared to a rifle caliber. Some argue that if you are using a rifle sized firearm, you should have rifle caliber terminal performance. This isn’t without merit.
Another concern is reliability. While I have seen and shot many PCCs that run well, I have to say that I have seen a higher percentage of PCCs have reliability issues compared to modern defensive handguns and/or rifles in rifle calibers. Some PCCs, such as ARs, are adaptations to designs originally meant for rifle calibers. It isn’t surprising that they are more prone to reliability issues and sometimes need some tweaking to run well. This seems to be less of an issue for guns designed from the ground up as PCCs, such as the Sig MPX or the CZ Scorpion, but PCC ARs seem to be the most common on the market and the most commonly used by your average shooter so it is worth mentioning. If you plan to use a PCC for home defense, shoot it enough to know it is reliable and make sure it functions well with proper defensive ammunition (a good idea for any gun used for defensive purposes).
Lastly, a long gun can be harder to maneuver in tight confines. It isn’t impossible, and with training this can be significantly mitigated, but it is a valid concern. If you don’t spring for the short barreled version (with waiting period and requisite $200 tax stamp) a longer barreled PCC can be tricky to use indoors. If you plan to use a PCC for home defense, it is worth getting some long gun training in this area (when isn’t training a good idea?).
USPSA began allowing PCCs in 2016. Since they were introduced, the number of PCC shooters at matches has steadily increased. This hasn’t been without opposition. Some USPSA shooters don’t like the inclusion of long guns as USPSA has traditionally been a handgun sport but enough people have embraced the PCC that I doubt it is going anywhere anytime soon.
Since a PCC can be used on pistol caliber steel targets, and used on any ranges where handguns are allowed, it was easy to include in “pistol” matches. They are fun to shoot and often wind up as the overall high score at matches. While PCCs aren’t the cheapest competition guns, they also aren’t as costly or as specialized as compensated open pistols with optics. Many people who don’t compete already own PCCs and can jump right in with one.
As I mentioned earlier, many 3-Gun competitors have found that shooting USPSA with a PCC is excellent practice for rifle shooting in 3-Gun (shooting USPSA with a handgun is also excellent handgun practice for 3-Gun). Practice is always good, but being able to run stages in a competitive environment on the time and against other competitors takes it to a level that is hard to replicate in a practice session.
While a PCC isn’t for everyone, they certainly fill a fun niche of the gun market. If you are interested, but aren’t sure if a PCC is right for you, find a buddy with one you can borrow or rent one at your local gun range. My guess is you won’t have to wonder if you want one when you’re finished.
Glock 19 Gen 5 – First Impression
We recently received our first Glock 19 Gen 5 pistols at the store. Many have asked about the differences between the Gen 4 and the Gen 5 and what advantages, if any, exist. Here is my first impression of the gun.
The Gen 5 shares the grip texture of the Gen 4 and feels very similar except for the front strap. The Gen 5 no longer has the finger grooves that have long been a source of complaint about Glock pistols. If the grooves fit your fingers, as they do mine, it isn’t a problem. If they don’t fit, however, it can make the gun uncomfortable for the shooter. While the grooves never bothered me, I don’t miss them when handling the Gen 5 so this was probably a good move for Glock.
What I don’t feel was a good move was the addition of the cutout at the base of the front strap of the grip. This void sits directly under my strong hand pinky and has a bit of an edge to it. I found it instantly uncomfortable and annoying. It was clearly added to make it easier to strip a magazine that is reluctant to come out of the mag well but I do not like the feel of it. Perhaps a little sanding would smooth it out and at least mitigate this but I doubt it will eliminate this issue. They added a lip to the front of the magazine base pad as well. That, coupled with this cutout, definitely will improve grip on the magazine should stripping it be necessary so it isn’t without merit. The longer grip of the 17 may negate this issue as well but I haven’t gotten my hands on one yet.
Speaking of the magazine well, the flared magazine well is a nice addition. It isn’t very aggressive, so it won’t afford a tremendous advantage over the Gen 4 magazine well, but every little bit helps. The spread of the Gen 4 was 1.04” while the Gen 5 was 1.18”. That is over 1/10 of an inch extra margin for error when inserting a magazine in a hurry. This was done with only a barely noticeable increase in grip width on the outside. I’ll take it.
The Gen 5 slide on the 19 is contoured in a manner similar to a Gen 4 26. The muzzle end is melted, making it a bit more sleek. This may aid somewhat in holstering the gun, though I would consider this change to be primarily cosmetic. I do prefer the look of it.
The Gen 5 has an ambidextrous slide release. This is a welcome addition for our left handed brethren. Unfortunately an ambidextrous magazine release was not included. It is still reversible, I would just like to see one that works from both sides all the time. That may require a magazine overhaul, which could affect magazine compatibility between generations. While the new magazine has the lip on the base pad I mentioned earlier, and now uses a high visibility orange follower, both new and old magazines appear to work in both generations of pistol.
The firing mechanism is still definitely Glock but they have made use of compressing coil springs rather than stretching them. I don’t expect this to affect the function of the gun in any discernable manner to the shooter but as a design feature I prefer the new setup. The new mechanism also has one fewer pins in it, though the internal block on this Gen 5 appears to be indentical to the Gen 4 and still has the groove cut where the pin would normally go. The frame, however, has no hole for the pin.
The trigger in the new Gen 5 has a slightly lighter pull weight. I measured the Gen 5 to be 6.5lbs while the Gen 4 was 7lbs. The Gen 5 did have a smoother feel to it, as well as a slightly shorter reset. These observations are largely subjective, but I place significant value in trigger feel and I definitely preferred the Gen 5 trigger to the Gen 4.
The new sights are a different size on the Gen 5. The new rear sight measured 0.759” across where the Gen 4 measured 0.892” across. The only reason I can think of for this change is to make the rear sight more adjustable for windage before part of the sight is hanging off the edge of the slide. Also of interest is that the notch in the rear sight is both wider and deeper than on the Gen 4. It is 0.170” wide on the Gen 5 rear sight and 0.142” wide on the Gen 4. While 0.03” doesn’t sound like much, it is quite a bit different on something as small and precise as a sight. It seems to aid in rapid sighting but may have a slightly detrimental effect on precise sight alignment, particularly at longer ranges. I won’t be able to test this until we have a gun to actually put rounds down range but given the general purpose of a Glock 19 I would personally opt for the larger notch of the Gen 5. The extra depth of the rear notch on the Gen 5 allows the entire white dot to be visible on the front sight when the top edges of the sights are aligned properly, whereas the dot was partially obscured (albeit slightly) by the rear sight on the Gen 4 when everything was aligned.
In summary most of the changes made seem relatively minor but beneficial. I would not consider it necessary for anyone who currently owns and shoots a Gen 4 Glock (or any previous generation, for that matter) to run out and get a new Gen 5. If, however, you were in the market for a Glock anyway I would suggest trying out the Gen 5 to see if it fits you well. The small changes may be worth the extra $20 for the latest generation.
Part 3 – Behavior
So you have decided to give competitive shooting a try, you have your gear all lined up, and you’re ready to attend your first match. Now what?
As I have mentioned repeatedly, the number one concern for every shooter needs to be safety. The safety rules for the sanctioning bodies we have mentioned thus far are all essentially the same, though each individual range may have some of their own rules. We will cover the basic expectations that will allow you to show up at any match without breaking rules or making those around you feel unsafe. From there you can ask about range specific rules if necessary before you start shooting.
The first thing you need to know is that these matches are universally run as cold ranges. While the range you are using may not always be a cold range, it will be on match day. What that means is that no firearms can be loaded unless the shooter is on the firing line under the direction of a range officer and is told to load and make ready for their stage. Don’t show up at the range with a loaded gun on your belt, don’t take a loaded gun off your belt in the parking lot to clear it, and don’t put a loaded gun on your belt before leaving the range property. Guns must be unloaded at all times while at a match, period. If at any point you have a firearm under your control that is found to be loaded when you are not shooting a stage you will be disqualified from the match.
Do not handle a firearm, at all, unless on the firing line under the direction of a Range Officer (RO) or at a designated safe area. The safe areas will be well marked and they will be pointed out to you during the shooters meeting before the match. Safe areas will typically be tables with some sort of backstop. If you handle a firearm at the safe table you are expected to keep the muzzle pointed at the backstop. You are allowed to unbag (simply remove a handgun from a bag or case to put it in a holster) or to address an equipment problem at the safe area with one important caveat, you cannot handle ammunition at the safe area. I recommend not even taking ammo with you to the safe area but you absolutely cannot handle loose ammo or magazines loaded with ammo while at the safe area. Doing so will get you disqualified from the match.
Taking a gun out of your holster or out of a case when not at the firing line under the direction of a Range Officer or at the safe area will get you disqualified from a match. If you should happen to have a holster malfunction and your gun falls to the ground from your holster don’t touch it. Notify a Range Officer and they will recover the firearm, clear it, and return it to you. If you pick it up, you are handling it when not permitted and will be disqualified. If your pistol falls from the holster during a stage while loaded, it is a disqualification from the match.
I should note that long guns (rifles and shotguns) are a little different than handguns. Some ranges will allow you to handle them outside the direction of an RO long enough for you to fetch them from a rack or cart before a stage and to return them to the rack or cart after a stage. This can be somewhat range and discipline specific so make sure you know the rules before you handle a long gun in this manner. Long guns will be required to have a chamber flag, also known as an ECI (Empty Chamber Indicator), installed so that the gun is clear and that is visible to other people in the area. You also cannot point the muzzle of a long gun, regardless of whether an ECI is installed, at another person or yourself.
Matches will generally operate with a 180 degree rule. What that means is that while shooting a stage (as in, you’re the shooter and the buzzer has gone off telling you it is time to actually shoot) you cannot break 180 degrees with the muzzle. It can point directly to your right, and directly to your left, or anywhere in between to the downrange side, but if you break that 180 degree plain you are disqualified from the match. While this sounds like an easy rule to follow it actually winds up being the one most likely to cause a disqualification. Many seasoned competitive shooters have found themselves disqualified over breaking the 180 rule inadvertently. It is most often an issue when a right handed shooter is moving to their left while reloading, or vice versa for a left handed shooter. Typically, especially with new shooters, Range Officers will point out during a stage brief (more on this later) where it is important to watch for this error.
Don’t point the muzzle of your firearm at anyone, including yourself. If you inadvertently point your muzzle at your own leg during a stage, for example, you will be disqualified from the match.
Don’t fire a round when you are not actively in the process of shooting a stage. This can happen while loading or unloading and if it does, it results in a disqualification. Don’t fire a round over the berm. If you fire a round while your gun is pointed upward and the round leaves the range, this will result in a disqualification.
Violations of the rules listed so far all result in an automatic disqualification. While this may sound overly harsh, this is why matches are such safe environments. There is no room for error and the consequences for sloppy safety practices are severe. In short: come with an unloaded gun, don’t handle your gun unless directed by an RO or while at a safe table, keep your muzzle pointed down range and don’t point it at anyone or yourself while handling your gun on the firing line, don’t fire your gun unless you are actively engaging targets during a stage, and don’t fire any rounds that leave the shooting area.
Another rule that may result in a warning or a disqualification, depending on the range and sanctioning body, is you must have your finger off the trigger while moving and/or reloading. Having your finger on the trigger while moving or reloading is a common cause for firing a round out of the shooting area and is not an acceptable practice. This is most likely to happen if you are trying to go too fast for your skill level. Remember, forget about speed when you are starting out (refer to Part 1).
So you’ve shown up to the match unloaded, you haven’t touched the pistol in your holster at all yet, you’ve watched 9 other people shoot the first stage and now it is your turn. You will already have heard a stage briefing. The stage briefing is when your squad (group of shooters) first arrives at a stage and the RO reads the stage description and answers any questions people may have about the stage itself. You’ve watched others shoot it so you should have a pretty good idea of where to go and what you’re supposed to do. When the RO tells to you step up you will walk to wherever is appropriate based on the stage and wait for the RO to give you the “load and make ready” command. Once you’ve received this command you can take your handgun out of its holster and load it. You cannot handle your gun until you receive this command.
What happens after you load depends on the specific stage but most of the time the gun will return to the holster. Some stages will have the gun on a table, for example, but the majority begin with a holstered and loaded handgun. It should go without saying but if the stage begins with the shooter facing uprange (away from the berm and targets) you should load it while facing downrange and holster before turning around.
The next thing the RO will say is, “are you ready?” If you are not ready, verbalize that you are not ready. The RO will give you more time. If you are ready you can nod, you can say “ready”, or you can do nothing. The next thing will be when the RO hits the button on the timer and you hear a beep or buzzer. When the buzzer goes off, indicating the start of your stage, you may begin. If you are facing uprange you must turn downrange before drawing your handgun. If you start facing downrange you simply draw at the buzzer.
Ok, the buzzer went off and you took your gun out, now what? Take your time and shoot through the stage as best you can. You may miss targets, you may hit no shoots (targets that have penalties attached if you shoot them), you may reload in a manner that gets penalties assessed, you may shoot with your foot outside of the shooting area, you might forget some targets all together, etc. Yes, these things will make your score disappointing, but nobody cares. Just do it safely. There are lots of rules about how you shoot a stage and they are different with each sanctioning body. You won’t know them all starting out and you will likely learn many when your RO tells you after the stage is over why you received penalties. If violations are not safety related, it hurts nothing but the number on a piece of paper (or iPhone screen) that you will look at hours later after the match. It really doesn’t matter until you progress to the point where you are actually competing with people rather than just learning the sport. Score doesn’t matter at all starting out, so don’t let early penalties bother you.
When you are done shooting you will hear the RO say, “if finished, unload and show clear.” At this point, assuming you are done shooting (you decide when you’re done, not the RO), you can remove your magazine and open the action to clear the chamber. When you pull the slide back, hold it there and let the RO see that the chamber is empty. The RO will say, “I see clear, slide forward and hammer down.” At this point, let the slide go forward and with the gun pointed at the berm, pull the trigger to drop the hammer or striker on an empty chamber. This is the final check to make certain that the gun is empty. If it goes bang, you get disqualified. None of this is on the timer so don’t rush, go through these actions slowly. Once the hammer has fallen on the empty chamber you will be told to holster. You simply holster your gun, without pointing it at yourself or the RO, and you are done with the stage. Once the gun is safely in the holster the RO will call the range safe.
I know this all sounds very complicated but it really isn’t. You’ll get to see several other shooters do all of this before it is your turn to go. Mainly just remember that you don’t do anything until told you can do it and you’ll be fine. Just take it slow. Trying to go fast early leads to mistakes and sometimes they are mistakes that can get you disqualified or worse.
If you do get disqualified, don’t let it get you down too much. Yes, it means you made a mistake and it was likely a serious one. Still, I’ve seen many veteran shooters get disqualified at matches. We are all human. You won’t be black listed, you are welcome to shoot another match, you just can’t shoot any more that day. Every shooter I’ve seen disqualified handled it gracefully. They didn’t argue with the RO, they accepted their consequence, and they moved on to come back and shoot another day. It isn’t the end of the world but if you’ve never been to a match before it can feel like it.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basic procedures let’s talk about etiquette. Each different sanctioning body will have its own quirks but generally speaking there will be some expected behavior that is universal.
You will have to reset or past targets after each shooter. By paste I mean place small stickers the color of the targets over the holes left by the last shooter. Everyone needs to be pasting if they are not doing something else. If you are “on deck” (the next shooter) you are exempt. If you just shot and are reloading magazines you are exempt. If you are running the scoring device or you are the RO you are exempt. If one of these conditions doesn’t apply, you need to be Johnny-on-the-spot ready to paste or reset targets after each shooter. Everyone working together keeps the match moving smoothly. One word about this, don’t move downrange until the RO calls the range safe. Going ahead of the shooter before the range is declared safe is extremely dangerous and may result in disqualification. Also, don’t paste targets until the RO has scored them. While you won’t get disqualified, you will annoy people if you paste targets before they are scored. This usually means the shooter has to shoot again and it slows everything down. Take your cues here from others that have done this before, they will steer you in the right direction.
A word about brass. If you reload you will probably want to pick up brass. As long as the range allows it (some don’t) and you can do it without interfering with the flow of the match or shirking your pasting and resetting responsibilities you can pick up brass. Some matches you will have to wait until everyone is done and the stages are torn down before you can pick up brass. Whatever the rules are for the range and match you are attending, follow them.
After the match competitors are expected to help tear down. This sport is almost all volunteer and taking down the stages is much easier if everyone helps out. Normally you will be responsible for taking down the last stage you shoot. If each squad does this the entire match is taken down with minimal time and effort. Again, follow the lead of experienced shooters here. Watch what they do and ask if you aren’t sure.
As a final note, ask questions. You won’t know much your first time out. That is normal and expected of new shooters. People are happy to help out and fill you in on the details. If you have a question about safety, or about the rules, or about etiquette, ask someone.
Now, get out there and try out some shooting sports! You won’t be sorry that you did, they are tremendous fun and a great way to seriously improve you shooting. Nothing else even comes close.
Part 2 – Equipment
Next we will talk about equipment. The second most common reason people give us for not trying out competitive shooting is that they don’t have the proper equipment. A quick look at a sponsored USPSA shooter or Multi-Gun shooter and you’ll see some very expensive guns and supplemental equipment like belts, holsters, and ammunition pouches.
While the gear described above is quite expensive, none of it is required to try out the shooting sports.
In order to talk about gear we must first discuss what type of competition a new shooter is interested in trying. Team Applied participates in USPSA, Indiana Multi-Gun, IDPA, and Steel Challenge so we’ll discuss those specifically, though there are many other shooting sports available.
The least expensive of those listed is Steel Challenge. In steel challenge you shoot strings of fire at stationary steel targets. You can do this with almost any firearm. They have divisions that mirror all the USPSA divisions (more on this later) as well as rimfire divisions. You can shoot Steel Challenge with a carry pistol, a night stand pistol, a full tilt race pistol, a pistol caliber rifle, or a .22LR rifle or pistol. About the only things you can’t use in Steel Challenge are shotguns and rifle caliber long guns. Basically anyone that owns guns is likely to have a firearm that qualifies for a Steel Challenge match. If you shoot a non-rimfire pistol you will need a strong side hip holster that meets USPSA requirements but a rimfire pistol or any eligible long gun will not require a holster or sling. You typically shoot 5 shot strings five times in a given stage so having enough loaded magazines avaiable to prevent having to stop and reload magazines during a stage is highly recommended and is likely the only additional equipment most shooters will need to try out Steel Challenge. A basic rimfire rifle like a Ruger 10/22 that sells for $240 and a few extra magazines at $18/ea ($40 for a 3 pack) and you’re ready to give Steel Challenge a try.
IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) is also fairly inexpensive to try out with only modest equipment requirements. Nearly any handgun from .380 ACP and up can be eligible for use. IDPA was formed with a focus on using handguns designed for concealed carry use so if you own a typical defensive handgun it will likely fit into one of the IDPA divisions. SSP (Stock Service Pistol) is dominated by polymer framed striker fired guns like Glocks, S&W M&Ps, Springfield XDs and XDMs, etc. It is also home to DA/SA (Double Action/Single Action) guns like CZ 75s, Beretta 92s, Sig Sauer 226s and 229s, etc. Most full size unmodified carry guns will fit into this category. The CCP (Carry Concealed Pistol) division is made up of smaller carry pistols like S&W Shields, Glock 43s, Springfield XDSs, and small 1911s. This division was made with the idea of having people compete with their actual daily carry guns as most people don’t carry full size service models that you see in SSP. CDP is a division dominated by full size 1911 pistols chambered in .45 ACP. The 1911 has a long history in competitive shooting and if you own one you probably understand why. The 1911 has its own division in IDPA. ESP (Enhanced Service Pistol) is where slightly modified or high performance service pistols are used. People who modify their Glocks or S&Ws for improved performance or people who shoot high performance pistols like STI 2011s compete in this division. This is the division where it can start getting expensive to compete and I don’t recommend ESP for new shooters unless they already happen to have a gun that falls into this category, such as a 9mm full size 1911. Revolvers have their own division so if you happen to have a .38 or .357 revolver it is at home in IDPA, though most shooters choose semi-automatics. If you use a revolver don’t forget the speed loaders, you will need several. The last division we’ll talk about is BUG (Back Up Gun). This division was designed for small pocket pistols and is the only division .380 ACP is legal (most use 9mm or larger). This is where you would shoot a Glock 42, a S&W Bodyguard, or a Ruger LCP. While an interesting division that includes truly tiny concealed carry guns, these guns are more difficult to operate in a competition and I wouldn’t recommend them for beginners unless that is all you have. For most shooters I would recommend starting IDPA with whatever gun you have currently but if you are looking to buy a gun for this something like a Glock 17 or 19 would be a good choice. The Gen 4 Glocks generally cost around $550 and come with the three magazines you will need. Less expensive pistols like a S&W SD9VE ($330) are also usable but will require the purchase of additional magazines for around $40 each. Other equipment needed will be a belt (you do have a belt right?), a strong side hip holster ($40-$80), and a weak side magazine carrier ($30-$40). You will also need a “cover garment”. Since IDPA is designed to mimic concealed carry you have to wear a shirt or vest that covers your handgun when it is holstered. Something as simple as an untucked T-shirt can be used or you can use an untucked button down shirt, jacket, or vest. IDPA scoring favors accuracy, which tends to favor slower more deliberate shooting compared to some other disciplines. It also has shorter courses of fire with simpler equipment so it is a great place to start.
USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) is less about concealed carry and more about speed. That doesn’t mean you have to shoot fast, and I don’t recommend you shoot fast as a beginner (refer to Part 1 of this blog), but the scoring is set up so that it favors high speed shooting. This is the sanctioning body that produces the videos of guys in fancy shirts shooting pistols with optics and compensators at blazing fast speeds. What these videos don’t show are the other 95% of shooters that are everyday shooters, wearing jeans and t-shirts, shooting their carry pistols. The equipment required is not much different than that of IDPA, and if you have equipment for IDPA you will likely have what you need for USPSA. SSP in IDPA usually fits into Production division in USPSA. CDP in IDPA usually fits into Single Stack division in USPSA, though you can use different calibers in USPSA. For example, a 9mm 1911 fits into ESP in IDPA but Single Stack in USPSA. ESP pistols in IDPA fit into Limited in USPSA, though USPSA allows larger magazines that typically hold 18-20 rounds of ammunition (IDPA only allows a max of 10 rounds per magazine). Limited in USPSA is where things can begin to get expensive. This division is dominated by high performance guns like the STI 2011s which begin around $2000. While they are fantastic guns, I don’t generally recommend them for beginners. USPSA also has an Open division. This division allows guns that are completely off limits in IDPA. These guns have compensators, red dot optics, and require special holsters and rigs. You can tie up $4000-$5000 pretty easily on one of these setups.
The other equipment needed isn’t much different than IDPA, though the advanced divisions of USPSA allow holsters and gear that can be far more expensive. A normal belt, holster and magazine carrier used in IDPA is right at home in USPSA Production division. One thing to keep in mind is that the stages in USPSA typically have a higher round count than those in IDPA. If you are shooting a division with low capacity (such as a 1911 in Single Stack Division) you will need additional magazines and carriers. A 32 round course of fire with 8 round magazines means an absolute minimum of 4 magazines assuming your shots are perfect and no make ups are needed. Most single stack shooters carry 5 or 6 extra magazines on their belts. If you shoot limited, where you can load magazines up to capacity (up to 20+ if you buy extended mags) then two magazines on your belt will likely be plenty. If you have a Glock 17 with 17 round magazines you can shoot it in Production and only load to 10 rounds, but will need extra magazines, or you can shoot it in Limited and load to capacity. Shooting Limited just means that you will be scored against people shooting much fancier gear. But you aren’t trying it out expecting to win (see Part 1 of this blog) so that doesn’t matter and allows you to participate without buying extra gear. With this in mind, trying out USPSA doesn’t have to have any additional gear cost over IDPA.
Indiana Multi-Gun, our state’s version of 3-Gun, requires a bit more equipment than the other disciplines. For starters, you have to have three guns. A handgun usable in IDPA or USPSA is fine in Multi-Gun but you will also need a shotgun and a rifle. Most shooters use an AR pattern rifle as they are well suited to the type of shooting done in Multi-Gun while being common and relatively inexpensive. The shotgun is where most people get hung up. A standard low capacity shotgun like a Remington 870 is not well suited to Multi-Gun. The vast majority of competitors use a semi-automatic shotgun with at least an 8 round magazine tube. This is a bit specialized for most beginners but you don’t have to have one. If you use something like an 870 with a 4 round magazine tube expect to spend quite a bit of time reloading your shotgun during stages of fire. Since we don’t care about time (refer to Part 1 of this blog) that doesn’t matter.
The divisions in Multi-Gun are a bit looser with divisions having a larger variety of guns usable. It is worth mentioning that if you shoot a rifle that qualifies as Open division, you shoot Open even if your shotgun is the previously mentioned 4-shot tube 870. A full tilt Open division setup for Multi-Gun can cost more than some cars but starting out I recommend using what you already have. If starting from scratch you will need a basic pistol like the Glock mentioned earlier ($550), holster ($40-$50), pistol magazine carrier ($30-$40), AR rifle ($600), AR magazines ($15 x 2), shotgun ($370), shotgun shell carriers ($35 x 2), cases for both long guns ($30 x 2), and a cart to lug all your stuff around ($80).
Competitive shooting is like any hobby, you can spend as much as you want on it. Unlike some other hobbies, however, it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Most people reading this probably already have most of what they need (the gun is the most expensive part) to get started. If you don’t, but you know people who shoot competitively, odds are they would loan you whatever you needed to try it out. Competitive shooters really are a great group and growing the sport is high on their priority list. Don’t hesitate to ask a friend, or stop in at Applied and speak with Aaron or Dan about it.
Now that we’ve discussed the reasons most commonly given for not trying out the shooting sports, Part 3 will be about match safety rules and generally accepted etiquette. We’ll make sure you know what you need to know so that you don’t get yourself in over your head your first time out.
Part 1 – Skill and Experience
Getting started in competitive shooting can be an intimidating proposition, especially if you don’t have a friend that is already doing it to show you the ropes. In this multi part blog we’ll walk you through the reasons commonly given when people are reluctant to try out the shooting sports as well as some advice on how to overcome these concerns.
Many people express interest in competitive shooting only to back away when offered a chance to try it out. We will start by addressing some of the common reasons given by people who want to try out competitive shooting yet don’t take that first step. There are a variety of reasons given but they typically boil down to two things:
- I’m not good enough to compete
- I don’t have the equipment necessary to compete
The first one is the most common we hear. People are worried that they will go out and make a fool of themselves. They aren’t used to having other people watch them shoot. It is like stage fright, they don’t want to be embarrassed by a poor performance on the range.
It doesn’t help that they watch videos, like those we post on our Facebook page, of seasoned competitive shooters running through a course at high speed. A good run by a seasoned competitor is impressive to watch. To a new shooter, or even a seasoned shooter new to the realm of competition, it looks very intimidating. One look at a video like that and the thought, “I can’t compete with that!” leads to them looking no further into the idea. To the uninitiated going to a match with no experience seems like climbing into a race car and going out on track without any experience or training.
While I completely understand that concern I can genuinely tell you that it is unfounded. Nowhere have I found a less judgmental group of people than in the shooting sports. They want to see new shooters. In fact, new shooters are present at nearly every local match so you won’t be alone your first time out. The veteran guys go out of their way to make new shooters feel welcome. None of them care if you score well or how you place at the end of the day. Of far greater importance are a set of concerns for every new shooter that don’t revolve around performance. When my daughter began shooting competitively at age 10 I told her to concern herself with the following things, in order of importance:
First, shoot safely. This trumps everything else. Being unsafe or violating the very strict safety rules that revolve around competitive shooting will get you disqualified from a match, and for good reason. Accidents are remarkably rare and it is due to the strict adherence to these safety protocols. It is in everyone’s best interest to keep accidents rare. The first rule is to shoot safely, if you do that you will be welcome back. As a new shooter you will be walked through exactly what these rules are and you will shoot last so that you can see everyone else do it first and know exactly what is expected of you before you fire a single shot.
Second, have fun. This is a distant second to safety, but what’s the point if you don’t have a good time? Don’t expect to win your first time out, you won’t. Simply go out with a good attitude and an eye on safety, have fun, and learn. I was one of the better shooters on my police department the first time I shot competitively. I assumed I would do well, and I was wrong. I got my butt kicked, by an accountant! One of the things I learned that day was how much I still had to learn. Shooting among seasoned competitors will humble you but it will also help you learn what it is you have to learn and improve on. Getting into competitive shooting sports has improved my shooting more than anything else, and it has been fun getting there!
Third, shoot accurately. This is a distant third, but starting out I always recommend an emphasis on accuracy rather than speed. Competitive shooting, at least the types Team Applied Ballistics is involved with, are always about balancing speed and accuracy. Speed comes with time, time spent shooting accurately. Spraying rounds and missing doesn’t win matches or gunfights but it can be reckless to the point of being dangerous, and safety is rule number one. Shoot accurately first, let speed come with time and practice as you get more comfortable with the mechanics of the shooting sport you choose.
Fourth, forget time. When you first start shooting competitively your stage plan (how you picture yourself shooting the stage) has a tendency to go right out the window when the buzzer goes off. Ignore time starting out, focus on learning how to shoot accurately and within the rules of the sport you are engaged in. Only after you have some practice under your belt should you start worrying about the timer.
I give this advice to any shooter trying competitive shooting sports for the first time. Nobody cares how well you shoot, they only care that you conduct yourself in a safe manner.
In part 2 of this post we will look at equipment, and how to get started on a budget.
We have a rental AR that was rebuilt in 2014. After that rebuild it was practically a new gun. The only parts it retained were the bolt carrier, the lower receiver, and the small parts typically included with a lower parts kit (trigger, hammer, detents, springs, etc). Since this gun had been at the store long before I got here I don’t know exactly what brand those parts were but the lower receiver was an Essential Arms and it was a 20” A2 fixed carry handle rifle. It seemed nobody wanted to shoot a fixed carry handle, 20″, fixed stock rifle so we converted it to a 16″ with an adjustable stock.
We replaced the upper with an Anderson Manufacturing Sport upper. The barrel used was a 16” used DPMS chrome lined 1:9 twist M4 profile barrel I took off one of my personal rifles several years before. We swapped the fixed stock for an Anderson M4 adjustable stock and the handguard was a custom one made for us with our logo by Unique ARs. We topped it off with a set of Magpul MBUS sights and we put it back into service.
For the last three years this rifle has been our primary rental rifle chambered in .223/5.56 and it is rented and shot every single week multiple times. Based on the number of times it is rented, and the average number of rounds fired through it, the round count on this rifle is estimated to be between 100,000 and 120,000 rounds. That is a substantial amount of ammunition through a rifle by anyone’s standards.
At around 80,000 to 90,000 rounds we had a bolt break. It broke at the cam pin, a common point of failure for these guns. We decided to swap the entire bolt carrier group with one from Ballistics Advantage (made by Aero Precision) and it has been running with that bolt carrier group since.
Aside from needing to be cleaned regularly, and needing new gas rings periodically, the gun requires very little maintenance. Over the last few weeks, however, we have noticed that the rifle regularly gets taken down for service. It was experiencing failures to extract, to eject, and to feed. We would clean it thoroughly and find that it would run again, only to go down after a few rental sessions.
I took the gun out and shot it and it ran fine for me, but I noticed that it was cycling hard. The recoil impulse was off and it was ejecting brass at a short forward angle hard enough that it was actually chewing into the upper receiver a bit at the forward edge of the ejection port.
Once apart we found that the gas block, and gas tube, were both in very good condition. This was surprising given that the gas block was an aluminum block from Anderson Manufacturing. We have seen aluminum gas blocks erode terribly and with the round count on this particular gun we expected it to be in rough condition. It turns out, that concern was unfounded. We did find that the gas port itself was eroding. Not horribly, but it was over spec for a carbine length gas system. This was likely a contributing factor for many of our cycling issues and made sense given what we noticed while shooting it.
The most interesting thing we found was the throat erosion on the barrel itself. If you aren’t familiar with the term, throat erosion is just the throat of the chamber eroding down the barrel. This increases the distance the bullet must travel after leaving the brass case before it contacts the lands of the rifling. When measured next to a new barrel, the throat on this barrel had eroded nearly .500 inches (see pics). Since this jump to the lands of the rifling should start at around 0.100” (it can vary somewhat due to chamber spec) the throat was approximately 6 times longer than it should have been.
Unfortunately we didn’t test the accuracy of this barrel before taking the gun apart. It would have been interesting to see how poor it had become. None of our customers complained about accuracy but since our indoor range is only 25 yards and this particular rifle only had iron sights it isn’t surprising that it went unnoticed.
Needless to say we are replacing the barrel and will be replacing the gas block and gas tube as well (they are cheap and owe us nothing). We’ll be stripping and re-coating the upper, lower, and handguard as they are getting well worn. We plan to coat it in the new Cerakote Elite series coating to see how it holds up to hard use. Once this is done the gun should look and shoot like new and we expect many more years of service. You gotta love how versatile and robust the AR platform is, and how easy it is to breathe new life into a worn out old rifle.
For those that don’t know Applied Ballistics, we are an indoor shooting range in Lafayette Indiana. We are also a gun store, gunsmith, certified Cerakote applicator, a firearms training facility, and a USPSA affiliated range.
This blog was created for a place to share information about the things we learn from putting lots of rounds down range, working on guns, teaching a broad variety of students, and spending an inordinate amount of time around firearms and shooters. You will see things here related to guns, equipment, training, competition, and just about anything involving firearms or shooting. I will be writing most of our posts but we may have guest posts from time to time as well.
For a little information about me, I began my professional career as a police officer. I specialized in firearms, becoming a handgun instructor first and later receiving certifications for rifle and shotgun as well. I was also certified as an armorer for Sig Sauer, Remington, and Rock River Arms while working as an officer. I was used as an expert firearms witness in court and developed the recruit firearms training program for my department. I am also a competitive shooter in the United States Practical Shooters Association, Indiana Multi-Gun, the International Defensive Pistol Association, and the Steel Challenge Shooting Association. Outside of the police department I also received an NRA Basic Pistol instructor certification as well as a Smith & Wesson armorer certification.
I purchased Applied Ballistics in late 2014 while still working as an officer. After about 18 months of working what amounted to two full time jobs it became clear that I needed to make a decision between my two career paths. I’m a gun lover at heart and was getting burnt out with police work so I made my decision, and here I am.
I hope you find these posts interesting and informative. Feel free to leave comments or to share them on social media.
Those of you that know me know I’m not generally inclined toward polymer framed striker fired guns. I’m not knocking these guns. In fact, I recommend them often. I feel they meet most peoples needs very well in an affordable and convenient package. They are reliable, they hold ample rounds, they are simple to operate, easy to clean, and they are at a price point nearly anyone can afford. For these reasons I often steer new shooters to try out a couple and find what fits them before a first gun purchase.
Having said that, I prefer 1911s and 2011s, particularly for competitive shooting. This is primarily due to my love of a fine trigger and my old fashioned love of the feel (and recoil mitigation) of a heavier gun. Of course, I love the look of these pistols as well.
My biggest complaint about most striker fired guns is the trigger. After years of trigger time with 1911s most polymer guns are really disappointing in this area. So when we received our first Walther PPQ M2 at the store for a rental (pictured above left) I was expecting it to be more of the same. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with what I found. The trigger on the Walther still had more take up than I prefer, but once you get past that takeup (it isn’t long by striker fired gun standards) the trigger itself was rather impressive. It broke cleanly and without much overtravel at 5.5 lbs. The reset was fantastic for a striker fired gun. It was short, audible, and tactile. Exactly what I like in a trigger.
After dry handling it and finding I liked the trigger it piqued my interest so I started looking at it more seriously. I found that the small grip insert (the Walther has replaceable grip inserts like most polymer framed guns do these days) fit my hand the best. The slide release on the PPQ is long, meaning this is one of the few guns I can actually manipulate the slide release on using my firing hand thumb. I don’t have large hands and on a 1911 I can’t even come close. This actually posed a bit of a problem for me with the Walther, as I’m used to using my support hand thumb to release the slide. The Walther release was mounted further back, making it hard to use in this way. This isn’t a criticism of the Walther, it is just a work around I’ve had to develop using another platform that creates an issue for me with this pistol. The one down side for many shooters, however, is that with an appropriate high grip this long slide release may be prone to causing the slide to go forward on an empty magazine. Longer thumbs tend to ride on the slide release, holding it down and causing the slide to fail to lock open. Since my thumbs are short, this is not a problem for me, but it is worth mentioning.
I shot the rental gun early on and was happy with the results. It shot to point of aim out of the box and shot nice groups. I shot a few different types of ammo through it, mostly 115gr reman ammo we sell cheap at the store, and it never had any function issues. I did find that it was harder to shoot quickly than my competition guns, but that is to be expected. My STI DVC Limited is over a pound heaver, weighing in at 41.8 ozs compared to the PPQ’s 25.2ozs. The trigger is also 3lbs heavier (5.5lbs for the PPQ vs 2.5lbs for the DVC).
Ultimately I was impressed enough that I decided to pick one up for myself to try in USPSA Production division. I had never shot production before, as none of the guns I previously competed seriously with fit into the restrictions of that division. I had considered it in the past but never found a gun I liked enough to give it a try.
I ordered a PPQ M2 with a 5″ barrel (pictured above right). This wasn’t going to be a carry gun so I had no need to conceal it and the extra sight radius and weight would help with competition. I wanted the Q5 match but it was impossible to acquire at the time. Perhaps I will get one later for Carry Optics, but for now I’m using the PPQ.
When the gun arrived I found it to have the same trigger and feel as the 4″ we had as a rental gun. It also shot well right out of the box and has had zero issues with a variety of ammunition. I have approximately 2000 rounds through the gun as I write this, but we have well over 10,000 through the rental gun now and so far we haven’t had anything break or any malfunctions that we’ve been made aware of by those renting the gun. While it is still early, I have no negative reports related to durability or function.
On June 3rd at Wildcat Valley Rifle and Pistol Club I shot my first USPSA match with the PPQ. I used a Double Alpha Academy belt and Racer magazine pouches similar to what I use for other divisions. I used a Comp-Tac International holster with the drop offset attachment permitted in Production. Overall I found the gun and rig to handle very well. I was used to the Comp-Tac holster as I use it for IDPA and had used it in USPSA before upgrading to a DAA holster so it felt familiar and comfortable.
The gun had performed well for me in practice and I had dry handled it enough that the draw and reloads were smooth. I felt ready when I stepped up for my first stage. The timer went off, and away I went. I missed 4 times and my score was terrible…
Through the course of that match I learned quickly that in an actual competition environment I could not run the Walther like I run my STIs. Double the trigger weight (my STIs are 2.5lb triggers) and more muzzle flip under recoil simply meant I could not run the gun as fast. By the end of the day I was settling in with the Walther and my scores were competitive. By the end of the match I finished 4th out of 9 in Production. Not a bad showing, especially given my difficulty with that first stage.
After that first match I went back to the practice range and worked on my trigger speed with the Walther. I found a shooting cadence that, while marginally slower than with my STIs, was controllable and accurate. With more practice and a match under my belt I went out for my second USPSA match on June 25th at Atlanta Conservation Club. I went into this match with the goal of slowing down and making good hits rather than trying to make a production gun run like a limited or open gun.
My first stage the gun performed well. I posted a solid score and it felt good. I proceeded to shoot six stages and every one of them felt good, I made good hits, and my time was competitive. By the end of the day I had gained a great deal of confidence with the PPQ and once the scores were tallied I finished 3rd in Production Division out of 22 shooters. I was very happy with that.
In conclusion, I’m happy with the PPQ and plan to continue to use it for Production Division. I will also give it a try in IDPA Stock Service Pistol soon. The PPQ has been reliable, accurate, and fast for me compared to other striker fired polymer framed guns and I like it.
But it won’t be replacing my 1911s or 2011s any time soon…