How I Test and Evaluate Firearms and Knives, by Pat Cascio

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of folks ask me how I got into writing about guns and knives – I also wrote for American Survival Guide magazine for quite a few years, on survival-related topics. I also have folks ask me what my methods are for testing knives, guns, gear, etc. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give you all the skinny on this. I’m no expert on anything – I only consider myself a serious student in many things, guns, knives and the martial arts come to mind. Remember, you are getting an opinion from me, and nothing more in my articles. We can agree to disagree at times on my findings, I don’t have any problem with that.

I don’t try to present myself as an expert in my articles, either. Nor do I make any attempt to write at a level that is more than required to get my point across. I hope my articles are informative, as well as entertaining. I just e-mailed a SurvivalBlog reader a little while ago, that I like to have fun in my articles, and when it stops being fun, I’ll stop writing. As to my writing talent, or lack thereof, I don’t claim any special skills. I quite high school when I was only 16 years old, and believe it or not, one of my worst subjects in high school was English literature. Today, I can claim a Doctorate Degree – in than the Divinity field. That took much hard study and is a long story in itself.

I didn’t start out writing about guns and knives, rather, I was a reviewer (of books) for a trade publication, that sold Christian books to Christian book stores. They would send me the newest Christian books for review, I’d read ’em and give my thoughts on the books. It was a great way to build-up my Christian book library, I specialized in Youth Ministry books. My “pay” was, I got to keep all the books I reviewed fro my own reference collection.

I’ve always had a deep interest in guns and knives, and I still remember the first knife I ever got, and my first gun that I purchased. It has been a wonderful love affair for more years than I care to admit. Guns and knives, in and of themselves are not evil, as the Liberal press and politicians would have you believe. Instead, they are tools, and when used properly, they are great tools – they can provide fun as well as being used to defend yourself or your loved ones. So, don’t let the left-leaning media and politicians try to make you believe one gun is “good” and another gun is “evil.” It’s a lie.

When I was working for Col. Rex Applegate about 20 years ago, on a full-time basis, I learned a lot from the good Colonel about guns and knives, and he was impressed with my knowledge on the subjects as well. It was at the insistence of Applegate, that I started writing magazine articles and books, and when the Colonel told you to do something, you did it! I made many contacts in the firearms and cutlery fields as a result of Applegate introducing me to them. One of my best contacts was Chuck Karwan, a fellow gun writer (now gone) who helped me tremendously with my writing. When I first started writing, I was too technical, and I couldn’t sell an article. Karwan was my personal coach and editor, and he told me to just write the same way I spoke, easy-going. Chuck edited many of my articles before I sent them off to magazine editors. And, I will forever be thankful for all the help Chuck gave me, as well as the pushing and prodding that Rex Applegate gave me.

When it comes to testing firearms, I don’t have a laundry list of things I go through. Instead, I look at the intended purpose of a firearm. First and foremost, in my book, a firearm has to be reliable – if the gun isn’t reliable, I’m not interested in it. Secondly, a firearm has to be reasonable accurate – only accurate guns are interesting. Third, a gun has to be well-made – if they are junk, I have no interest. And, a firearm has to be a good value in my book.

There are custom firearms by any number of custom gun makers, and I’ve owned some custom guns in my life. Let’s take a good old M1911 .45ACP as an example. I just recently wrote about the Springfield Armory Range Officer. The gun is more accurate than I can use, and it’s been totally 100% reliable, too. The gun comes from a well-known gun company, and it’s an excellent value. I’ve had custom 1911s from some of the big names in the 1911 field – and some of them cost two or three times more than my Range Officer retails for. The custom 1911s might have been finished a little better, and maybe they were a bit tighter and they have the “wow” factor because they come from a custom gun maker. However, the Springfield Armory Range Officer can do everything the custom 1911 can do, and maybe more – for half or a third of the price of a custom 1911 – that’s value in my book. I have no fight against custom 1911 makers – they are great guns. I’m only using this as an example.

I heard from an industry insider, from a big-name ammo maker, that many gun writers fire an average of 64-rounds during their testing of a gun for an article. I don’t question the statement from my source, he knows what he’s talking about. However, the gun writers I know, are only getting warmed-up at 64-rounds. I don’t torture test firearms for my articles – the factories have already done that for me, and I wouldn’t have the time or ammo to torture the firearms I get for articles, compared to what the factories do to the guns before they put them on the market. I know, I know, there are some gun writers who are famous for doing 5,000 and 10,000 round torture tests. Guess it makes for good press and sells gun magazines. But what are they really accomplishing in their tests? They haven’t done anything the gun company didn’t already think of.

When it comes to accuracy, I like to think a good full-sized handgun, like the 1911, should be able to place 5-shots inside of 4″ or so, at 25-yards on a good day – for self-defense use. Some folks will scoff at that – and think that if a gun can’t put 5 rounds inside of an inch, the gun isn’t worth having. You have to carefully read what some gun writers say about their accuracy testing – and you’ll find many put their guns in a Ransom Rest for their accuracy tests. That’s not a bad thing, however, when you buy the same gun, and stand on your two legs and only get 4″ groups, you don’t understand why your gun isn’t as accurate as the one you read about in the gun magazines. I like to do two-legged testing, and when I want to squeeze a bit more accuracy out of a handgun, I’ll rest if over a sleeping bag, across the hood of my car. When it comes to testing rifles at 100 yards for accuracy, I’ll either go prone, or use the hood of my car again, with a sleeping bag.

I attempt to use different types of ammo for my testing, whenever possible. You’ll read that I shoot a lot of Black Hills ammunition, Winchester ammunition and Buffalo Bore ammunition in my articles. Yes, I get a lot of promo ammo from them for my articles, and so do other gun writers. Without getting promo ammo, we honestly wouldn’t be able to conduct the testing we do. It would be too expensive if we had to purchase ammo out of our own pockets. And, I’ve never given any ammo maker a free pass – I report my findings as they are – just the way the ammo worked in the guns I tested ’em in. The same goes for firearms – gun companies rarely give gun writers free guns – as most of you think they do. I’ve never had a gun company offer to give me a free gun, if I would only give their gun a good review – it’s never happened to me, and I don’t think it has happened to any other gun writer, either – you can believe it or not. Back in the day, I used to get a lot of gun companies allowing me to keep the samples they sent me – they just didn’t have a use for a used gun back in their inventory. Today, it’s a rare thing to get a freebie “keeper” firearm. Gun companies usually give us a discounted price on the sample if we want to purchase it after testing, and the prices we get usually aren’t discounted as much as you might think.

Look, I’m not rich, so I can’t afford to buy all the guns I want. Instead, I’m a habitual gun trader – I’m forever at the local gun shop trading guns for something else that catches my fancy at the time – and I’m sure a lot of you are like that, too. Sure wish I could buy all the guns I want – but I’m a middle class American, like most of you are – I have bills that have to be paid, and buying all the guns I’d like to buy just isn’t in the budget. However, over the years, I’ve probably owned several thousand guns, so I’ve had the opportunity to test and evaluate a lot of shootin’ irons in my lifetime.

Some readers of gun magazines are always saying that gun writers never say anything “bad” about the guns they test. Well, if you read my review articles closely, you’ll see that they can usually find something they didn’t like about a gun, or something they would prefer was different. And, let’s be honest here, if gun magazines started publishing articles and they said all the guns they tested were junk – just how long do you think a gun magazine would stay in business?  I’ve never had an editor tell me to change anything in my articles – never! They accept them the way they are submitted. (Other than editing my poor grammar and spelling.) But what the heck, that’s why we have editors, to make us wurthless gun ‘riters look better than we are.

I’ll be the first to admit, that no matter how great the quality control is at any gun or knife company is, some lemons slip through. I understand this, but many gun buyers don’t. If I get what I believe to be a defective gun for an article, I like to give the gun company the benefit of the doubt. I return the gun and give the company the opportunity to either repair or replace the sample. Then, if the gun is still having problems, I’ll report that in my article. I think that’s being more than fair. I don’t think it’s fair when readers jump all over a gun company when they get a “bad” gun – without giving the gun company the chance to correct the problem. And, let’s face facts, if gun companies intentionally put defective guns on the market, how long do you think they would be in business? No long, that’s for sure. And, some gun companies have better warranties than others, and some have better customer service than others – it comes with the turf.

When I’m testing firearms for articles, I like to fire a reasonable amount of ammo through them whenever possible. Like I said, I don’t torture test firearms, but I think running at least 200-500 rounds through a gun is a fair test of how the gun will perform. Oftentimes, depending on my ammo locker supply, I can fire more rounds through a gun simply because I have more of that particular caliber on hand. Other times, I might only have a few hundred rounds of ammo on-hand for my testing. I try to stay ahead of the ammo supplies whenever possible – oftentimes, I can’t get all the ammo I’d like to shoot for an article because of an editor’s deadline.

I actually carry the guns I write about – at least the handguns. I won’t tell you that a 1911 from gun company “X” was easy to conceal and was comfortable – unless it actually was comfortable.This is where the holster makers come in – they send me samples of their products so I can report to my readers (and back to them) how a particular holster worked for its intended purpose.

Honestly, I make every attempt to be fair in my firearms testing, and I report my findings to my readers. There’s no hype in my articles – I don’t have to impress anyone. There was one gun writer, a couple years ago, who did an article on a custom 1911 – he was able to put five rounds inside of  1/4″ at 25-yards, without using any sort of rest. Now, if you put pencil to paper, you know you can’t place five .45″ bullets inside of a 1/4″ hole period! And, this Bozo continues to make these claims and his editors either don’t read his articles, or just publish the lies. I don’t have an ego, and I could care less if my name appears on an article – my editors can just put that my articles were written by “John Q. Public” if they want. All I care about is if, they spell my name halfway right on my paychecks – which, at times, are far and few between, but it comes with the job. [JWR Adds: Pat Cascio is a volunteer editor for SurvivalBlog, so he deserves even greater credit.]

When it comes to writing about knives – again I have a few things I look at. First and foremost is, is a knife sharp out-of-the-box? If it isn’t, we have a real problem, as the number one thing a knife should do is – cut! Believe it or not, I’ve had quite a few custom knives come into my hands that would have a hard time cutting through warm butter. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I believe that Lynn Thompson, who operates Cold Steel Knives, set the standard for factory sharp knives with his introduction of the tanto – when Cold Steel did this, all the other factory knife companies had to jump on the super-sharp knife bandwagon or get left behind. Today, it’s a rare thing to find a factory knife that isn’t shaving sharp right out of the box. We’re talking about big name knife companies like: Benchmade, Kershaw, SOG, CRKT, and others. The cheap, no-name Chinese imports from some companies are junk and you don’t want to mess around with them.

I look at how well made a fixed or folding knife is made. Things have to fit together as intended – loose or sloppy tolerances don’t make it with me. I also look at the blade steel being used in a knife, and all the big name knife companies are using top-notch steel in their knives their days. Some steels are better than other – and you pay a higher price for higher quality steels. One of my favorite knife steels is 8USA, it’s a stainless steel, that holds an edge a good long time, and it’s easy enough to re-sharpen, too – plus, it’s an affordable steel to use – I like it. If you want a higher-quality stainless steel, like S30V, you are gonna pay a lot more for the knife.

A knife has to have value, if it’s not a good deal, I’m not interested in writing about it. I used to collect custom knives, and you pay a lot more for a custom, hand made knife than you do for a factory made knife. You are paying the artist for his efforts, not just for the materials he uses. And, you are also paying a custom knife maker on the popularity of his knives. Some custom knife makers demand thousands of dollars for a single knife. I’m glad that they can get it and have a following. However, for most of us, a good factory made knife from one of the big name knife companies will get the job done for us. For others, the pure joy and investment of collecting custom knives is what sets their hearts to racing – I have no problem with that. Just don’t think that Joe Schmo’s custom $3,000 fixed blade knife is gonna cut any better than the factory knife from a big name knife company that sells for $150.

I actually carry and use the knives I write about, too. I like to carry a folder for a couple weeks in my pocket and use it for everyday cutting chores, as well as testing the cutting ability in meat from my freezer, too. Fixed blade knives – I used them around my small homestead for various chores. So, I don’t just sit down and write about a knife without first using it. And, just like firearms, a knife has to have a good value in my eyes – remember, I’m not rich, I have to watch every penny I spend, so I’m careful how I spend my money.

I hope this gives SurvivalBlog readers a brief look at to how I test firearms and knives for my articles. And, how and why I got started doing this: I enjoy writing about guns and knives, and other gear. I hope I’m able to give you a leg-up on products, so that when you are looking at purchasing a particular gun or knife, you know what you’re looking for and looking at. As I said, I don’t consider myself an expert, but I hope my many years experience allows me to pass along my knowledge to you, perhaps making your next purchase easier, or at least well-informed.

So, you all know where I’m coming from, and where I’ve been when it comes to guns and knives. It hasn’t always been an easy road, especially when I first started out – getting samples was a bit difficult, but I built-up my contacts over the years, and that has helped. However, just like most writers, I still have a difficult getting samples every now and then – it is frustrating at times, and you’d think I learn to live with it – but I haven’t!

I have learned that SurvivalBlog readers are a very intelligent bunch, I hear from many of you all the time. I can’t answer all the e-mails I get, however, I do read them all. On average, I get about 200 e-mails a day, so I can’t answer them all. However, when you have a question, I do my best to give you an answer – and I hope I’m giving the right answers. When I don’t have an answer, I will call one of my buddies in the industry or another writer and see if they have the answer to your questions.

I hope that you all continue to enjoy my articles on SurvivalBlog.   – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

JWR Adds: I’m honored to have a writer like Pat Cascio on our masthead. Please send him a word of encouragement, from time to time. Manufacturers, importers, and major wholesalers should keep him in mind, as a recipient of sample products. Pat receives no compensation from SurvivalBlog, beyond a few free books.