Overdue Calibration

It was election day in my state. I hadn’t been to the range since the Presidential Election of 2020; over a year ago now. My absence from the range was not politically motivated–Covid-19, protests that hinted of civil unrest, & growing popular support for the Democratic party had all conspired to render ammo difficult to find & expensive when found. My decision to avoid the range was a fiscal, not a political one. Nonetheless, I believe in the responsible exercise of the “Right to Bear Arms”–meaning, I believe in “exercise.” I wanted to assess proficiency with my primary defensive weapon–a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. This handgun is a 9mm pistol carrying a maximum number of 8 bullets. It is not an “assault weapon;” but provides an honest man a reasonable chance to defend his life if need be, especially give it’s suitability to carry concealed with appropriate license if legal to do so in your area.

I was sent to the hybrid lane. Given the long layoff, it took me more time to readjust to this lane’s touch screen controls vs the old-fashioned switch in my usual pistol lane than it took for me to rediscover my aim. Although my first shot was low, it was still straight center & in the target. This would have been an effective self-defense hit. My sight picture & trigger control had not fallen off much.

My very first shot after a year-long layoff at 5 yards was slightly low but still passable for self-defense.

Mag 1

I was using 3 of my 4 magazines today–my two extended 8-rd ones & 1 of my two 7-rd ones. The other seven rounder I was holding out of practice as I like to keep at least one loaded for a just-in-case self defense situation. Despite its 8-round capacity, I only had it loaded to 6. I was using an already opened box of Remington Range 124 grain ammo that I purchased during the Covid summer of 2020. Early on, my pistol tended to malfunction with 115 grain Winchester “white box” ammo. After talking to some RSO’s (Range Safety Officers) & a couple of friends who were retired police, I decided to focus on my grip & use 124 grain bullets when possible. The weapon has proven much more reliable since then, & today was no exception. Today would feature a malfunction free performance.

Despite a couple of low shots I was satisfied with the results from my first magazine.

Mag 2

A bit prematurely, I decided to test how well I had retained trigger reset discipline . I loaded my second 8-rd magazine with 7 FMJ bullets this time. I fired one slow shot as I had done all throughout my first magazine but over the next five rounds I managed to perform two separate double-taps. Results were decent but were nothing to get excited about. I was only shooting at a target 5 yards out.

Mag 3

I pushed the target out to a more serious 10 yards. I used my smaller 7-round magazine & chose the target at the top of the left column as it had not yet been punched. I noticed that I had to focus a bit more on my grip, initially at least, after dropping down the the shorter magazine featuring barely any space for my pinky to grip. Nonetheless, I managed two sets of double taps & two slow, deliberate shots over the course of the 6 rounds I’ve loaded. AMMO CHANGE: Since I knew the Remington Range 124 grain tended to cycle well through my pistol, I didn’t want to burn through the entire box. I took advantage of the opportunity to buy a new box of target ammo for a reasonable $23.99. (Because of the ammo shortage, many gun dealers/ranges only sell ammo if you are renting a lane for practice or buying a firearm.) I bought a box of Fiocci Line Classic at 123 grains. While I liked the bullet weight, I had not cycled this bullet through my weapon before. I wanted to test it for proper function. Starting at Mag 3, this is the ammo I used until I choose to fire off a single Speer GD hollow point that I found loose in my range bag.

Mag 4 & 5

Back to an 8 round magazine. I aimed for one of the bottom circles at 10 yards. I go back to double taps. I’m a bit low. (no picture). Dissatisfied, I reload the next 8 round magazine with 7 rounds. I use six Fiocci FMJs & the one loose Speer GD.

Here is a lower target following an assortment of drills from between 7 & 10 yards.

Mag 6

I loaded another 8 round magazine to six or seven then moved the target closer to the common self defense practice distance of 7 yards & practice double taps. I didn’t photography for accuracy as I was more concerned with trigger reset & quicker follow-up shots. While my accuracy at self defense ranges had not fallen off much over the last year without practice, the speed of my follow-up shots had. I wanted to redress that situation quickly m, if possible.

New Pistol

By this time, I had run through 6 magazines with my subcompact 9mm pistol. I had expended between 36-40 rounds using primarily 124 gr FMJs from Remington & Fiocci plus one lone Speer GD HP, also at 124 grain. Satisfied with the reliability of my ammo as well as my residual proficiency, I wanted to try some rounds through my “deep cover” pistol. In a post from November 2020, I reported that my beloved Kel-tec P3AT pocket pistol, which had served me dutifully since 2007 with barely any malfunctions, suffered a catastrophic failure that made me consider retiring the old warrior for good. But over the layover, I decided I didn’t want to give up on such a faithful companion so soon. I purchased a factory replacement recoil spring & guide rod thinking changing them out would most likely solve the problem. If not, I could at least try this $12 solution myself before contacting the manufacturer for a possible warranty repair.

My first shot with my little mouse gun was promising. Sadly, the promise would soon be broken.

Old Gun

I don’t remember if I was shooting from 5 yards or 7. But my first shot was decent considering how dramatically smaller this .380 ACP pocket pistol was compared to my “subcompact” 9mm. I was optimistic with my first shot but not yet satisfied. Over the next 5 shots (I had my 6 round magazine loaded to the max), I would try to dial in my aim. It wasn’t meant to be. On my 5th shot, I noticed the round failed to expel. I thought I had experienced a common jam when I racked the slide to examine the issue. What I discovered was well worse. I experienced the same catastrophic malfunction that I had witnessed back in 2020. Even with the new springs & guide rod, I was still hanging on to an old gun.

Oh well. This Kel-tec was no Colt. It didn’t have legendary status. It didn’t cost a fortune. But for what it was meant to be, it had done it’s job. I still plan to call Kel-tec about it for any warranty options I may have. But either way, I’m hanging on to this old gun for the memories of nothing else.

Notes & Observations

Since I had shot a little low at 5 yards to start & then a little high at 10 yards later on, I didn’t bother testing my proficiency at distance. For my primary CCW pistol, I want to see about half my shits strike the intended circle for a distance of 25 yards. That assessment would have to wait until next time though.

When I go through a layoff from the gym, the first thing to go isn’t my strength but my stamina.

When it comes to shooting, the first thing to go isn’t my accuracy but speed.

Moving forward. I know I can go a year without practice & still remain competent with my weapon; but that’s pushing it. A more reasonable time frame would be nine months max between sessions if I am to retain my speed with follow-up shots.

My overdue calibration was now complete. I passed.

RANGE: Friday, Sept 18

This day marked my second range session since completing the holster draw class. I would be shooting my M&P Shield 9mm, drawing from a Blade Tech IWB holster. I planned to shoot 30 rounds of Sig Elite Performance FMJ left over from my previous session as well as 36 of the 50 rounds of Remington Target FMJ that I purchased at check-in for a total of 66 rounds. All bullets weighed in at 115 gr. I hadn’t cleaned my pistol since last week’s session but I did lube it prior to dry firing at the target downrange. I always practice sight acquisition & dry firing before I fire my first live round at every range session. My pistol tends to run more reliably when it’s a little dirty; I haven’t decided yet whether or not this is good or bad.

This is a view of my pistol & the target set at 10 yds, which is a typical practice distance for a self defense pistol.
The results from my first live magazine of the day from a distance of 7 yds.

START TIME, 6:02PM–MAG#1: I began the live fire portion of the session the way I always do; no drawing from the holster, no rapid fire sequences. I used the flush 7 round mag. I was satisfied but not thrilled with the results. The group could have been tighter but it was adequate; and my sight picture was solid as I essentially left a pattern of a vertical line. I moved on to 10 yds with my (mag#2) extended 8 round magazine & produced satisfactory results (no picture provided).

Results from mag#3: The purple snow flake is much smaller than the blue one targeted on my first magazine. I essentially shot at a palm-sized target from 10 yds, scoring 3 direct hits & 2 near misses.

Mag#2: Mag#2 results left much to be desired. I was low & to the left on 1/2 of my 8 shots with one outlier landing way left. Angered, I reloaded the same extended mag for a do-over, aiming this time for the even smaller target at the top right corner of the rectangle: the purple snow flake! I even double tapped on I believe my last 4 rounds for good measure. The results (pictured above) were much better so I felt confident about moving the target out to 15 yds from mag#4.

Mag#4: I at least want to know that I can hit a target out to real world, less than perfect, crucial self-defense ranges. My ability to hit a plate-sized target at least 1/2 the time at 15 yds out is a must-do have any handgun that I will depend on for defense. I aimed for a clean snow flake, the light blue one on the bottom right corner. Satisfied with the results (pictured below) I wanted to assess my ability out to 20 yds; after which time, I would move on to the holster draw portion of the day’s practice.

Mag#5/Hail Mary: To save bullets for my holster draw practice, I only loaded the extended mag to 4 rounds. Bear in mind that this light blue snow flake (#19) is MINISCULE! Landing any of my 4 rounds in the vicinity of said snow flake while simultaneously avoiding any horrible miss would constitute a success. I passed (see below).

From 20 yds away, I aimed for the small, light blue, “19” snow flake at the bottom right. My four shots all landed in that vicinity with only one outlier to the left.

HOLSTER DRAW/ STAGING THE DRAW STROKE–6:16PM: Everything I covered so far took less than 15 minutes. I spent the next 8 minutes practicing the draw stroke, breaking it down into 3 major stages. At first I focus just on gripping the pistol firmly in the holster, without even drawing it. I later progress to pulling the weapon out, meeting both hands on the grip around chest area, then punching out to a shooting position while quickly acquiring good sight picture. I even dry fired once or twice towards the end of the 8 minutes. Well, once you’ve made your way up to the high dive at the pool, you have to jump some time. I was ready for live fire.

LIVE FIRE HOLSTER PRACTICE, 6:24PM–MAG#6: On my last 4 shots from mag#5, the ones from 20 yds out, I broke into my 2nd box of ammo–Remington Target FMJ. I actually had one flush mag filled with my last 7 rounds of Sig Elite Performance. I choose not to use the flush mag from distance because the extended mag of 8 would give me a better grip to help precision. Moreover, I like drawing from the holster with the flush mag because I am more likely to carry the pistol with the flush mag to enhance concealment. No big deal to start out; 5 yds out, no rapid fire. My focus was on safely & consistently drawing the weapon up to a shooting position, firing a shot, then re-holstering. The draw felt good all the way through the trigger pull. I was happy with the results except for one outlier. I think it was towards the end when I got greedy & double tapped. (See picture below.)

MAG#7: Still using the flush mag, I moved the target back to 7 yds. To maximize my holster draw/re-holster opportunities, I promised to outlaw double taps. From this point forward, I chose to load each mag to only 5 rounds.

From my notes (I’m writing this journal entry 2 days after the fact), it appears as if I fired 2 more mags loaded to 5 rounds. If memory serves, it believe I fired a 3rd mag with a total of 10 total mags used. On my last two, I backed the target out to 10 yds & drew from the holster to engage the target. I even captured video of my last or 2nd to last mag; my notes indicate the target was set to 10 yds.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I was pleased with the progress of my holster draw/re-holster technique. Oddly, it seems easier when I’m live firing then it does when I’m practicing with an empty pistol. The less I think about it, the smoother the operation seems to go. I felt vastly improved from the previous week, when I would complete a decent draw stroke but then pause to acquire target before I could squeeze off a shot. My practice of drawing the weapon then acquiring sight picture without taking the shot earlier seemed to help. The only thing that didn’t show vast improvement was my accuracy–which was adequate for self defense but nothing that would wow anyone. I want to “wow” everyone. In my defense, my groups with the 9 have been extremely tight both this week & last when not drawing from the holster. In addition, I had the target out out to 7 & even 10 yds for the majority of my holster draw practice & the group still looked a bit tighter than last week’s, when the target was only set to 5 & 7 yds. All in all, the day was a success. (66 shots fired, all fmj, all 115 grain: 30 Sig Elite Performance + 36 Remington Target.)

RANGE DAYS (.380 ACP)

Date: Monday, Jan 27th/ Day 2, 3rd session of 2020

Brought: nothing

Rented: Browning 1911-380 & Glock 42

RSO: unknown

I made the mistake of procrastinating after this range session. As a result, I never wrote down my observations & only remembered to mention this session when I came across the time stamped pictures in my phone. However, I do know that I was in the middle of a tug-of-war trying to decide between the .38 Special & the .380 ACP to power my next CCW. On this day, I rented the Glock 42 & the Browning 1911-380.

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I used the most economical FMJ ammo; I know this because the range where I go requires that if you rent one of their firearms that you run their store bought ammunition out of it only for quality control purposes. I remember that I fired all shots at either 7 yards or 10 tens, but nothing in-between. These are my standard self-defense practice distances except in the case of a DAO revolver, in which case I will often start at 5 yards until I can adjust to the heavy trigger pull.

 

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I remember thing that the Glock 42 would be a real keeper but the Browning, although all steel & beautiful, would serve as more of a collector’s piece than a day-to-day defensive tool. After shooting so many striker-fired pistols & DAO revolvers, I just don’t feel comfortable with a 1911 inspired cocked & locked pistol.

My Winner: Glock 42 hands down.

Click Here for results of S&W 642

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