Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blackwater Blog Weekend: The Gun Blog .45

I know my reader has been anxiously waiting for me to write about The Gun, right? OK, here goes.

First of all, let's establish who I am and who I'm not. I am not a 1911 expert. I think Tamara almost severed a longstanding friendship when she found out that, prior to this weekend, my entire 1911 experience consisted of seven rounds through our old friend Son Tao's custom gun, and that was almost 8 years ago now. I like guns, and I like pistols, but I shoot a SIG and a Glock.

With that said, let's move on to the two big questions people were trying to answer this weekend:

1. What's this 1911 thing really like, anyway? Is any of the hype for real?

2. What's this LDA trigger really like, anyway? Is any of the hype for real?

If you were a 1911 guy, you were probably trying to answer number 2. If you were more familiar with the Glock/XD/M&P or some of the double-action guns out there, then you were probably spending your time on number 1.

Personally, I spent more time on number 1. The gun itself is a Commander-sized pistol, which I found a convenient size, but I can't really compare it to the full-sized 1911. Thanos, the President of Para-USA, spent a lot of time asking whether they'd brought the right size--he seemed concerned that the bloggers would write snarky things about the accuracy of the 4.25" guns, but he knew that most of us were most interested in concealed carry, so they thought that size made the most sense. I don't think anyone had a problem with the accuracy of the guns. After all, Todd Jarrett was shooting little bitty groups with any gun he picked up, and I don't care how good he is, he can't do that with a gun that isn't capable of that accuracy. Now, the consistency of the
shooters is another matter and was certainly cause for consternation, but you can't blame the gun for that.

I liked the grip on the Para gun a lot. I'd always thought a 1911 clone would feel more or less like my P220 (they're both single-stack .45's, right?) but it's a much flatter, much thinner grip. I have large hands, but they're mostly palm with short, stubby coal-miner fingers, so there was a noticeable difference in the way the gun handled. I still couldn't reach the magazine release with
my strong thumb without shifting my grip, but I've never found the .45 that will allow such a trick. Getting hits was easy if I did my part, and in a Jarrett class it's easy to know when you're not doing your part because he'll call it out to the whole class. "SQUEEZE THAT THING HARDER WITH YOUR WEAK HAND, DOUG!" he'll call, and you'll cinch down your grip and watch your group close up like magic. By that time, you don't even care that he called you Doug.

The sights were beautiful; a red fiber optic in front and big, black, serrated BoMar-style on the rear (what Tamara calls "Faux-Mars.") I did not experience the snagging and tearing others reported from the sight, but I could see on examination how it could be an issue. I'm not terribly worried about it because of my unique situation. When I compete with the gun, it shouldn't be a big deal. When I carry it, because of the Draconian gun laws of this state, I have to carry it inside a case; it won't have the chance to snag on clothing or tear skin in there. I found that the red fiber optic dot really sped up my shooting; I just followed the bouncing ball. Jarrett made a point of telling us up front that his specialty was not pulling a trigger fast, but acquiring targets fast. Unfortunately, I've never been good at either, but at least with the fiber optic I rarely lost sight of my front sight.

Reliability, in my gun, was great. We put between 800-1000 rounds through each gun, I would guess, under hot and dusty conditions. The ammo was much cleaner stuff than I load at home, but that's a lot of crud. I experienced zero failures to fire or eject, although the gun did fail to lock open on an empty magazine once on a slow string from 25 yards. I'm still not sure what happened there; maybe just a typical tight gun, but it never happened again. Late on Saturday, with the guns not having been cleaned or oiled beyond the factory lube, the gun began to balk at going forward into battery. At about the same time, it got harder to seat a magazine--the mag would seem to be fully seated, then
pop out partway. I visited the sidelines, where Kerby Smith of Para added Lucas Gun Oil to the frame rails and the gun came back to life. We cleaned the guns at the end of that session, and I experienced no other malfunctions. I did twice manage to put the safety on during a string of fire as I tried to get my grip right, which was bothersome--but can you blame the gun for that kind of operator error? I wish I could, but I suppose not. Others did experience some malfunctions, notably Tamara and John Farquhar. Neither could be attributed to user error. Tamara's biggest problem was a consistent failure to lock the slide when empty in her first gun; her replacement piece didn't have that problem. "Probably a .45 slide stop in a 9mm gun," she opined to our Para rep. "That'll do it every time."
I nodded sagely and continued to load my magazine, although of course she could have blamed it on the Ferkelator and I'd have had the same reaction.

So what about question number 2? The answer, as Tattoo said when the Pend family visited Fantasy Island, is "It depends." If you're not familiar with the LDA, it stands for "Light Double Action" and is supposed to be like a double-action-only trigger with a light pull and a completely surprise break. Para-USA insists that this is not an attempt to make a DA 1911 clone, exactly, because the trigger is so revolutionary that it would make a big difference in most other platforms, too. Well, I liked the trigger, because it met my one and only criterion--I tried it and I got hits. Therefore it is Good. It's not true double -action as I think of it; for one thing, there's no second strike capability. For a guy like me, who shoots a DA/SA SIG in competition and wonders what all the fuss over the DA/SA transition is really about, the LDA is no big deal, just a really good double-action-style trigger. I will say I think it was a little smoother and certainly lighter than my P220, and that's saying something. Is it better than a single-action trigger on a 1911? Maybe. Do you work for a department that demands you carry a double-action? Do you work for a department that won't let you have a cocked-and-locked single action? Do you happen to like double-action triggers better? Are you trying to transition from the Glock or a simlar design? Then the LDA trigger might be a big deal for you. For me, it's just something else to try. After the weekend, I know it can shoot and do it well. Now I want to monkey with it for awhile and see if I come to prefer it. If you, like some of the other bloggers, are a 1911 guy who has good history with the single-action trigger on the 1911, I don't believe I would change that unless someone can show you a good reason. I don't see the LDA as the revolution that will sweep the single-action pistol aside. But I liked shooting it, I got hits with it, and it was safe. That's about all it takes to sell me.

So what didn't I like? Well, a lot of the bloggers griped that there was no need for the safety. I should probably be one of them; I carry guns with similar triggers in holsters with no safeties, and it works fine. Besides, I just told you that I put the safety on and killed my own shooting at least twice that weekend, right? Right, but here's the thing--I kind of like the safety. I'll even train myself to keep my thumb on top of it. You see, I hate re-holstering my weapon. It always seems to involve a little wiggling and experimentation, and the whole time, I'm trying to make sure all my clothing is tucked in and nothing can catch the trigger, causing me to shoot a tunnel throug my leg. With the manual safety, I can put the safety on and holster the weapon without worrying as much, and I like that peace of mind. All in all, I'd probably keep the safety, but if Para made a run with "slick sides" I believe they'd sell some.


Bunnyman said...

I'll bet the safety going on is using a SIG grip on a 1911...seeing as using a 1911 grip on a SIG will keep the slide from locking back every time, one needs to get one's thumb somewhere other than riding the safety, namely riding one's offhand (or riding *under* the safety).

Good write-up.

Don Gwinn said...

I agree. I don't think it's an issue of the safety. I do find it odd that everyone says to put the thumb *under* the safety, though. To me, it seemed like that was when I got into trouble--that was when I could inadvertently force the safety up.

With my thumb on top of the safety, I thought it ran pretty well, but I was cautioned against "riding the safety" several times. Am I causing wear and tear by doing that?

I know this seems like the kind of thing you'd ask Todd Jarrett or Thanos Polyzos (CEO of ParaUSA) while you had them in the room, but there was a LOT to cover.

kaveman said...

I recently got a 35 page Para catalog with photos of Todd on every other page. Both posing for the camera and in actual competition.

Call me crazy, but he's got his thumb on top of the safety in every shot that shows his left side.

I've managed to duplicate his grip from looking at the photos, and it was a bit awkward at first, but with alot of dry fire exercises, I can pull the trigger without the front sight moving at all. Still need to go to the range and try it for real, but I already feel that I've learned a little more about my bad habits and how to correct them.

Don Gwinn said...

If you really want to get his grip, I think you've got to treat it as pointing your thumbs at the target and bringing them together, then squeezing the hell out of your strong side hand+pistol with your support hand. If your strong hand doesn't hurt, you probably need to squeeze harder.

Joe Huffman said...

Keep your thumb on the safety while you are shooting. If you don't you can bump it to the on position and you will unexpectedly stop shooting.

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