Most readers probably believe that gun writers get specially picked firearms to test for their articles. I used to believe it myself, until I started writing about firearms. If I ever received a hand picked firearm from a gun maker, I sure didn’t know it. To the best of my knowledge, all my guns came off the shelves at the gun companies without being checked over or hand picked. As a matter of fact, I’ve had more than my share of lemons in the 25 years of writing about guns, and that is probably because I’ve tested so many different firearms. Some bad ones slipped through and got into my hands.
When testing firearms, I like to give the gun companies the benefit of a doubt. If I believe that I simply got a “bad” gun for testing, I’ll give the gun company a chance to correct it, and the gun gets sent back for repair or replacement. However, if I get another gun with problems I’ll report it as such in my article. I think that is fair enough. I don’t care which gun maker it is, some bad guns slip through. It may be a loose rear sight or a bad magazine came with the gun, loose grips, a heavy trigger pull, or whatever it might be; it does happen. A bad gun slips through, period!
A short story that I might have written about before. I purchased a brand new Taurus Model 85 .38 Spl snubby revolver at a gun shop. Again, this was a purchase and not a gun sent to me as a writer’s sample. I examined the gun at the shop, pulled the hammer back, dry fired it, and bought it. I took the gun out to shoot, and I could not pull the trigger in the double-action mode. I could cock the hammer and pull the trigger in single-action; however, in the double action mode the trigger couldn’t be pulled. The gun was sent back to Taurus, and in a couple of weeks it was returned repaired. Somehow one of the internal trigger parts didn’t get completely milled and the hammer couldn’t be pulled in the double-action mode! Like I said, a lemon slips through every now and then, and I don’t hold that against any gun maker.
Enter the Remington R51 semiauto handgun. The R51 is loosely based on the Remington Model 51. Don’t get confused here. The R51 is based on the old Remington Model 51 that came out around 1918 and was discontinued around 1927. It was a hot-selling gun in those days, too. It was based on the Pederson device, which in the case of the Model 51 allowed the breech block to slide rearward a little bit upon firing and the barrel was fixed in place. If interested, our readers can do the research on the Pederson device for complete information.
Remington came out with the R51 about two years ago, and it was a total disaster for them. I’m not talking about some “bad” guns slipping through to the consumer. I’m talking about guns that just didn’t work, period! Well, I guess some, but not many, guns did actually work most of the time. However, there were reports of the sights falling off the guns, guns that wouldn’t feed any type of ammo, guns that had a horrible trigger pull, and the list went on and on. Remington recalled the entire batch of guns with the intent of repairing them. Instead, Remington went back to the drawing board and completely went through the gun and improved it. Now, every now and then, when guns are recalled they are repaired or a part or two is replaced, but with the first batch of R51 pistols they just couldn’t be fixed. So, Remington engineers went and redesigned the gun. I applaud Remington for doing this. It’s not very often a gun maker will admit “oooops, we really messed up on this gun design…”
My local gun shop got in the newly reengineered R51, and I checked it out over and over again for a week. I worked a trade and took the gun home! Now, I really, really wanted to not like the R51. I checked it over closely, working the action, pulling the trigger, and dry firing it! I could only find a couple things I didn’t like, but overall I was rapidly falling in love with the gun. Remington calls the R51 a “sub-compact”. We can certainly agree to disagree on this point. It is a compact by my standards, not a sub-compact. A sub-compact is a gun I could carry in a cargo pants pocket. The R51 ain’t it!
The Remington R51 is at once a futuristic looking handgun as well as something that reminds me of guns from the early 20th century– retro! I like it, a lot. The R51 comes with two 7-rd magazines, and they both have stout springs. It takes a little of effort to fully load the mags. The black plastic follower has a raised “rib” in the front of it to get the 9mm rounds up into the chamber of the fixed barrel. (I have more on the barrel shortly.) The R51 weighs 20 ounces empty, and it has a frame that is made out of anodized aluminum, not polymer, as is the trend these days on semiauto handguns. The slide is forged steel and black in color to match the frame. The black checkered polymer grips are actually inserts. They fit nicely in the frame. They are not raised above the frame. There is a full-time ambi magazine release, not one that you switch from side-to-side. It is full-time and plenty big enough, not overly small, as found on many handguns.
The R51 has a white, three-dot sight system, and it is very fast to pick up. However, the rear sight can cause a slight, ever so slight, problem. Remington made the rear sight very futuristic and slick. It rises from the rear of the slide and gets higher as it gets further forward on the rear of the slide. The two white dots are nestled in the front of the sight, so much so that if there is sunlight or any light off to the side of the rear sight it can slightly shadow one of the white dots. I tried to capture this event with my camera, but the camera pics just wouldn’t cooperate. While this really isn’t a problem, with one of the rear white dots being a little bit shadowed, when the light is off to the side of the rear sight, I still thought it was worth mentioning.
The polymer trigger, at first, seemed a little bit on the small side; however, it really isn’t. It works perfectly, and the trigger pull is very crisp, releasing at 5.5 lbs. There is a tiny bit of take up and then resistance, and then the trigger breaks cleanly. My second small complaint is the grip safety. It makes a “click-clack” noise when you depress it and release it. It is more annoying than anything. Unlike the grip safety on a 1911, this one is hinged on the bottom of the frame, instead of up towards the top of the frame. It doesn’t operate nearly as smoothly as that on a 1911. Still, it gets the job done, and it depresses with about a pound of pressure. After firing the gun during my testing, I noticed that the “click-clacking” sound wasn’t nearly as noticeable, and it seemed to smooth out a bit, too.
On the front of the grip frame is some nice checkering at about 20 lines per inch. This is a nice touch. The grip safety has no checkering. The trigger guard is big enough for my trigger finger to get in there, just the perfect size. There are angled slide serrations on the back side of the slide for a sure grip when chambering a round. The ejection port is large. There are no worries about an empty piece of brass getting caught up in it. The slide release dropped the slide with a simple push on it.
Remington advertises that there is 25% less recoil, because the slide sits extremely low in the hand compared to other designs. And, to be sure, the gun rides nice and low, with the slide only about a quarter inch above the web of the hand when properly gripping the gun. That’s nice! It does have a very low bore-to-axis in the hand. I’m not sure if there is 25% less recoil. It’s hard to measure that type of event, but I’m sure there is less recoil compared to similar 9mm handguns. I will say that the R51 does get you on-target very fast, and it points extremely well. I’m a huge advocate for the lost art of Point Shooting, and the R51 does point naturally. When you bring the gun up to eye level, you are on-target! For more information on Point Shooting, check out my DVD from Paladin Press. My video is entitled “Tactical Point Shooting”. While it was done more than 20 years back, the information is still up-to-date. The DVD has myself, Sheriff Jim Wilson, and the late John McSweeney demonstrating three different methods of Point Shooting.
Remington says the grip angle is 20 dgrees, and it feels like it. I don’t recall any gun that points more naturally than the R51 does for me. The gun feels absolutely fantastic in the hand. Everyone who handled it said the same thing. Great job, Remington!
Now, to the 3.4-inch “fixed” barrel that Remington advertises. Not so fast there, Remington. The barrel is “fixed” in place when the gun is assembled and fired. However, the barrel is not permanently fixed to the frame. When you disassemble the R51 for routine maintenance and cleaning, the barrel is removed from the slide/frame. The barrel is fixed to the frame via the slide stop/release when the gun is assembled. The barrel does NOT move back and forth or up and down upon firing. A fixed barrel gun is almost always more accurate than guns that have barrels that move during firing.
My one main complaint, and it is still a minor complaint, is the disassembly of the gun. It is more than a little bit tricky, to be sure. Instead of my trying to explain it, go to https://www.remington.com/handguns/remington-r51 and watch the four and a half minute video that shows how to disassemble and reassemble the R51. Don’t get discouraged. It really isn’t all that hard after you’ve done it a few times. Practice! BTW, the “threads” you see on the barrel, they are not for attaching a suppressor. They are there to aid you in disassembly of the R51.
The barrel of the R51 is marked 9mm Luger +P. I don’t recall seeing any 9mm handguns that were specifically marked for +P ammunition. While owner’s manuals will advise you can shoot +P ammo in many 9mm chambered handguns, they also advise that it shortens the life of the gun. However, this gun thrives on 9mm +P ammo, and I did test some +P+ ammo in the gun. I had not a single problem with this hotter ammo. I had but one malfunction, and that was in the first magazine where one round didn’t fully chamber. Again, this was in the first mag, and no other problems were observed.
For my testing, I had a great selection of 9mm ammo on hand. From Buffalo Bore Ammunition, I had their 147-gr JHP Subsonic Heavy load, 147-gr +P Outdoorsman Load, Hard Cast FN +P load, 115-gr Barnes TAC-XP all-copper hollow point +P+, 95-gr Barnes TAX-XP all-copper hollow point +P+, and their 124-gr FMJ FN +P+. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their 115-gr JHP +P, 124-gr JHP +P, 115-FMJ, 115-gr EXP (Xtra Power) hollow point, and their 115-gr Barnes TAC-XP +P load.
The R51 just seems to run a little bit smoother with the +P and +P+ loads, compared to standard velocity loads. Go figure? The lone malfunction I had was with a FMJ load, and as mentioned it was the first magazine I fired through the gun. The round didn’t fully chamber. After that, I had no problems. As to accuracy, I tested the gun rested over a sleeping bag on the back of my pickup with the target at 15 yards. I had groups as small as two inches. They were with the Black Hills 124-gr JHP +P and the Buffalo Bore 124-gr FMJ FN +P+ loads. That is outstanding accuracy from a 3.4-inch barrel handgun, and I believe with more use and practice, I can get groups well below two inches. The gun showed a lot of potential. All the other loads didn’t exceed three inches. In all, I fired 300 rounds of ammo during my testing for this article and even more rounds after my testing that were not recorded.
I tried, I really tried to not like the R51, but the gun just grew on me. The more I shot it, the more I liked it. The more I handled it, the more I liked it. The few minor complaints, like the problem with the rear sight dot being shadowed and the grip safety making a little bit of noise plus the take-down procedure– those are very minor complaints to my way of thinking. The gun is super slick. There are, no sharp edges or corners. It is fast in the hand and very fast on follow-up shots, too. Full retail is $448 but can be found for under $400. This one is a keeper. Did I happen to mention how much I loved this gun? Yeah, I thought so.
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio