(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the two-part article.)
Firing from a Rest
When comparing the accuracy of various ammo, it was usually helpful to fire from rest rather than offhand. This involved putting a couple of dense foam blocks on a table, and resting the frame of the gun just in front of the trigger guard on the blocks. It helped to have my arms extended in front of me just like I was firing offhand, but with the gun resting on the foam blocks for extra stability.
At first, I sat by the table in a chair while firing from rest. Leaning forward over the table made it difficult for me to tilt my head back far enough to focus on the front sight through my bifocals. Kneeling by the table rather than sitting in a chair gave me a better angle for acquiring the sights.
CLP and Hoppe’s No. 9
Decades ago when I took my hunter safety course in junior high, military surplus ammo using corrosive primers was still in common use. As a result, our instructors recommended cleaning our firearms after every outing. Old habits die hard, so I still clean my guns after every range session. Growing up, I always used the Outers gun oil that my Father used. Later on, my father-in-law, who had served in the military, gave me some Break-Free CLP. For a while I used that exclusively. Then I discovered that Hoppe’s #9 bore cleaning solvent was more effective than CLP at cutting through carbon deposits and other dirt during the early stages of cleaning. Hoppe’s No. 9 is also less expensive per ounce than CLP, making it a less expensive solution for the preliminary stages of cleaning. I continue to use CLP for the final stages of coating the bore and other parts that need lubrication and/or protection from rust.
Dry Fire Practice
Although many people shoot the Hi-Point C9 well, I found its gritty double action trigger difficult to master. In retrospect, I should have invested more time in dry fire practice. Dry fire practice involves holding the unloaded gun steadily on target (on a safe backstop) while pulling the trigger.
Note: Dry firing is not recommended with most rimfire firearms, since the firing pin may eventually damage the edge of the chamber. With a centerfire gun, it may be wise to use a snap cap during dry fire practice in order to reduce stress on the firing pin.
One way to test whether or not you are holding the gun steady during dry fire practice is to balance something like an empty cartridge case on the top of the frame while you pull the trigger. The goal is to pull the trigger smoothly enough that the balanced object does not fall off.
Since I did not do enough dry fire practice, I was not able to shoot the C9 as well as I should have. If my goal had been simply to hit man sized targets at home defense ranges, my skill with the C9 would have been sufficient. But I wanted to do better than that.
The Beretta 92S
My son purchased a Beretta 92FS. I found that I could shoot it more accurately than either of my own handguns. With that in mind, I purchased a Beretta 92S through Gunbroker.com.
When the 92S arrived, I found that I could not shoot it nearly as accurately as I could shoot my son’s 92FS. The 92S was worn after many years of service with the Italian Carabinieri. Its point of impact tended to vary based on how well lubricated the rails were at any given moment.
Ciener Practice Kit
I thought that additional practice with the 92S would improve my performance, so I bought a Ciener 22LR practice kit for Beretta 92. I needed to modify the kit for use with my 92S. The magazine release for the 92S is in a different location than later Beretta 92 models, and the 92S is not equipped with a firing pin block. After cutting extra notchs in the appropriate places in the Ciener magazines and removing the Ciener firing pin block, the kit functioned perfectly with my 92S. It was also significantly more accurate than either my P22 or the 92S in its 9mm configuration. Very soon I was using the Ciener practice kit for the vast majority of my range time.
I kept my ears open, and took note of which of my friends expressed interest in shooting. I then shared my own interest. They, in turn, told me about still other of my friends who were also interested. Soon, it was not unusual for me to get together with friends to shoot, either at my range or elsewhere.
One of the benefits of shooting with friends is that it is far more fun than shooting alone. Another benefit is that it gives the opportunity to try out friends’ guns. I found out that I could shoot most of my friends guns better than I could shoot my 92S in 9 mm.
One drawback of shooting with friends was that they began to tell non-shooting friends that I shoot. I prefer for non-shooters to be unaware that I shoot.
God commands us not to covet our neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, donkey, or anything else that is our neighbor’s. That would include our neighbor’s handgun. There is a fine line between learning that I might be better served by a handgun like my friend’s, and coveting my friend’s handgun. May God guard our hearts, and help us to make wise decisions about tools without coveting the tools of others.
Smith and Wesson SW22 Victory
After I purchased my Beretta 92S and Ciener practice kit, I rarely shot my Hi-Point C9 and Walther P22. I decided that I did not need them taking up room in my gun safe anymore. I took them to a local gun shop and traded them in on a Smith and Wesson SW22 Victory.
The SW22 was a revelation. Its fiberoptic sights are much easier for my aging eyes to acquire. It has a wonderfully smooth and crisp trigger, a long sight radius, and almost no recoil. As a result, I can shoot it more accurately than any other handgun that I have ever used.
The accuracy of the SW22 made the inconsistent accuracy of the Beretta 92S even more disappointing. I then decided to see if changing the slide, barrel, or sights would help. I bought a used Beretta 92FS slide and barrel. I then modified the slide to work with the 92S frame by disabling the firing pin block. The 92FS slide and sights were an improvement over the 92S slide and sights, but the gun still tended to fire low. I then bought an adjustable target sight. In spite of all of this work, the point of aim was still significantly influenced by how well lubricated the rails happened to be. I should have anticipated this, since the aluminum frame would be more susceptible to wear than the steel slide. The end result was that I spent more money on the 92S than if I had just bought a brand new 92FS in the first place. And my gun was still not consistently accurate.
The Walther P99
I finally decided to replace my 92S “Frankengun” with a used Walther P99 from a reputable gun shop in my area. The double action/single action arrangement of the P99 with a de-cocker made it’s operation familiar to someone used to the Beretta 92. It has a wonderful trigger, and shoots much more accurately and consistently than the 92S. But I have still never found any handgun in a self-defense caliber that I can fire as accurately as the SW22.
Based upon my own experiences, I have some recommendations for those who are thinking about beginning their own handgun journey.
In most cases, I would advise starting your journey with a handgun chambered in 22LR If you are planning to just buy a handgun, throw it in the back of your safe and never train with it, then buy any gun in any caliber you like. Any cheap handgun will function as effectively as the most expensive handgun you can buy, because the most expensive handgun and the least expensive handgun will both be equally ineffective if you do not train with them. But if you are planning to actually train, a handgun chambered in .22LR will help you to master basic handgun skills inexpensively, with minimal noise and recoil to distract you in the early stages of your learning process.
If your ultimate goal is just to be able to hit a man-sized target at home defense ranges, almost any .22LR handgun will be sufficient as a training tool. If your ultimate goal is push your skill level beyond home defense ranges, then a relatively more accurate .22LR handgun will be more helpful (perhaps something like a Smith and Wesson SW22, Ruger Mk IV, or Browning Buckmark).
Another good option is to buy a self defense handgun for which a .22LR practice kit is available, and invest in both the handgun and the practice kit. This has the advantage of using the exact same trigger and grip for both .22LR and higher caliber shooting.
A third option is to buy handguns that have versions available in both .22LR and in a self-defense caliber (for example, the Walther PPQ in both 9mm and .22LR).
When buying a handgun, it may be best to buy it new, test fire it before buying, or buy it from a reputable dealer who will stand behind his product. I have purchased a number of firearms and firearms-related products from online auctions. In most cases I have been satisfied with my purchases. But a few of my purchases have been unsatisfactory. You should consider how risk adverse you are before making any online purchases.
I have mentioned a number of products and vendors in this article. I did not receive any financial or other inducement from any manufacturer, vendor or supplier in return for mentioning them. This is a simple factual account of my own experiences: good, bad or indifferent.