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Guns & Ammo’s Single Stack 9mm Shootout (Updated)

by G&A Staff   |  July 27th, 2015 0

Guns & Ammo wasn’t the first to break the news about the Glock 43, but after some careful thought, we considered the next few questions G&A readers would ask:

1) How does the G43 stand up to its competition? 

2) Should I trade in my carry gun for that one?

3) If I can’t afford to put at least 500 rounds through one, how can I trust that it will function well for me when I need it?

With these questions before us, G&A surveyed the market for available offerings and pulled together our collective resources. We borrowed and/or purchased 10 single-stack, polymer-frame 9mm carry pistols costing less than $600 with a similar barrel length that measured between 3 and 31/2 inches.

In an effort to keep our results consistent, we reached out to Winchester for 8,000 rounds of its 147-grain Train & Defend loads. These two types of ammunition are performance matched, giving us a control by which to compare accuracy and reliability. The Train load features a full-metal-jacket (FMJ) bullet, and the Defend load carries a jacketed hollowpoint (JHP), so feeding both types of bullet-nose styles would aid in evaluating reliability.

Knowing that G&A’s result could be hotly contested, we photographed and cataloged every malfunction regardless of whether it was user induced or a problem experienced with the pistol.

Further, a “third man” was on hand and inserted into the shooting rotation. In addition to G&A Editor Eric Poole and Managing Editor Chris Mudgett, three full-time law enforcement officers joined this team to provide their perspectives and validate the execution and results of these tests.

Last, a videographer with multiple cameras captured the action. This video will be edited for length and made available to G&A readers at gunsandammo.com shortly after this issue appears on newsstands.

Each pistol was tested using only the elements supplied by the manufacturer, just as one would purchase it new. For example, if a pistol was supplied with one six-round magazine, that was the only mag loaded and reloaded during the entire test.

Win_Train_Defend

Testers went through more than 8,000 rounds of Winchester‘s 147-grain Train & Defend loads during the shootout. The performance matched ammo served as a control for comparing accuracy and reliability among the 10 different pistols.

No pistol was lubricated or cleaned at any time. The very first 25 shots averaged three shooter’s five-shot groups from a 25-yard benchrest for accuracy at the beginning, and the same was done at the end of the 650-round testfire. We’ll let the data speak for itself.

The Guns

Beretta BU9 Nano:
Beretta_BU9_Nano

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 6+1 rounds (standard); 8+1 rounds (extended)
  • Weight: 1 pound, 4.48 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Black nitride (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer shell, textured
  • Sights: Three dot, drift adjustable (rear)
  • Trigger: 8 pounds, 3.5 ounces (new/final)
  • MSRP: $450
  • Manufacturer: Beretta

Beretta’s smallest 9mm is the Nano, which is unique in that it features an internal subchassis that serves as the pistol’s serialized component. It is a modular design, meaning that its chassis will readily accept optional grip frames, which marry neatly to the no-snag slide assembly. For now, its polymer grip shells are available in black, Flat Dark Earth (FDE) and pink. For an additional $200 more than the standard configuration, the Nano can be ordered with a
Crimson Trace laser unit.

Shooting the Nano quickly revealed that it was easy to control through rapid-fire drills, particularly when fired using the 8+1-round magazine. This particular magazine comes with an extended basepad to rest your firing hand’s pinky finger on for optimal control.

Other positive takeaways include that the magazine release was always readily accessible, and the texturing on it was very good (much like the no-slip grip). Though the trigger pull averaged 8 pounds on our gauge, during this evaluation shooters indicated that it was notably smooth.

Accuracy results were not representative of the pistol’s real potential. Our pistol shed its rear sight on round 12 and its front sight on round 363. Further, the lack of a slide-lock lever made failure-to-extract (FTE) malfunctions especially cumbersome to clear.

The Nano is easy to maintain and disassemble. A flat-tipped screwdriver — or the rim of a spent case — is necessary to rotate a takedown pin 90 degrees.

Glock 43:
Glock_43

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 6+1 rounds
  • Weight: 1 pound, 1.9 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Black nitride (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer frame, Gen4
  • Sights: White dot (front), U-notch (rear)
  • Trigger: 8 pounds, 6 ounces (new); 8 pounds, 13 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $549
  • Manufacturer: Glock

Many Glock fans cried foul after learning that 2014’s G42 introduction would be a single-stack .380. (However, we are told that Glock sold nearly 200,000 G42s after its launch.) All was well when Glock announced on March 20, 2015, that the G43 would be a single-stack 9mm. Those who appreciate this brand’s familiar ergonomics will quickly become comfortable with this compact nine.

Size-wise, the G43 is a little more than a quarter-
inch longer in overall length than last year’s G42 and .16 inch shorter than the subcompact G26. One interesting decision will be made by users of the G26: Is it worth giving up standard 10-round or extended-
capacity magazines for the slim handling of the G43? (The G26 measures 1.18 inches wide versus the G43, which measured 1.05 inches.)

At the range, the G43 was extremely accurate, with Eric Poole shooting an unexpected 1.89-inch best group at 25 yards — after the pistol had fired 625 rounds without incident. The G43 was a favorite among our “third man” participants, each indicating that they would soon own one.

The G43 performed consistently well, and G&A has no reservations in recommending this model for carry. Our only gripe would be the desire for a more than six-round-capacity magazine and steel sights to replace what Chris Mudgett jokingly refers to as the “Glock dovetail protectors.” No doubt the aftermarket will soon follow with some options.

Kahr CM9:
Kahr_CM9

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 6+1 rounds
  • Weight: 1 pound, .8 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Stainless steel (matte)
  • Grips: Polymer frame, textured
  • Sights: White dot (front), white post (rear)
  • Trigger: 6 pounds, 4.5 ounces (new); 5 pounds, 6 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $549
  • Manufacturer: Kahr Arms

“value priced” is the takeaway Kahr Arms wants us to have with its CM9. The CM models differ from the more expensive PM models in that CM pistols utilize a conventionally rifled barrel rather than the PM’s match-grade polygonal-rifled tube. Additionally, the CM series uses a metal-injection-molded (MIM) slide-lock lever rather than one that is machined. Roll marks indicate make, model and caliber on the slide rather than if it had been laser engraved, and the CM9 is shipped with one magazine rather than two. The result is that this pistol requires fewer manufacturing processes. This means Kahr customers save money.

Everybody involved in testing the CM9 agreed that, though the stroke was long, the trigger was good and exceeded our expectations. Even more interesting, the trigger got even better by losing almost a full pound after having been fired more than 650 rounds!

Kahr’s CM9 proved reasonably accurate, manageable to shoot fast and very reliable. Most important was that there were no malfunctions experienced in firing to the end of our performance test.

Of note, some users with dexterity challenges will find that the slide on the CM9 requires more strength to rack, and G&A recommends at least one spare magazine be obtained … preferably one with an extended basepad allowing for a more positive grip. One or two extra rounds in capacity would also be greatly appreciated.

Kel-Tec PF-9:
Kel-Tec_PF-9

  • Type: Hammer fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 7+1 rounds
  • Weight: 14.6 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Parkerized (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer frame
  • Sights: Three dot, adjustable notch (rear)
  • Trigger: 7 pounds, 5 ounces (new); 6 pounds, 11 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $333
  • Manufacturer: Kel-Tec

Perhaps the lightest 9mm ever made is the Kel-Tec PF-9. Besides a few inherent attributes that make it an easily concealed pistol — slim, lightweight, accurate — the best feature is its price. Though the MSRP indicates a higher number, we have found that street price is significantly less; the Parkerized/black model we tested here currently averages $270 nationwide. Other finish and color options include blued and hard-chrome slides atop polymer frames molded in desert tan, olive drab and gray.

The rear sight is new, which is adjustable for windage using the Kel-Tec-supplied Allen wrench. The aging eyes of our “third man” did not care for the small sights, but young eyes will find them useful in obtaining a sharp sight picture.

The PF-9 is one of the few carry compacts with an accessory rail, which we applaud. Downrange results in the real world are improved when two hands are available to control the pistol while shooting rather than one hand needing to manage a handheld
flashlight.

Our hands still ache from the beating the PF-9 gave us. This lightweight pistol’s narrow grip translates to unequaled pain. In time, the PF-9 was the only handgun that we chose to wear gloves to shoot. Ouch.

A sight to see was beheld at the range. The Kel-Tec’s 1.21-inch leaf-spring-powered extractor helped chuck spent cases far and away … nearly 30 feet on several occassions.

Ruger LC9s Pro:
Ruger_LC9s_Pro

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 7+1 rounds
  • Weight: 1 pound, 1.3 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Blued (steel)
  • Grips: Glass-filled nylon grip frame
  • Sights: Three dot, drift adjustable (rear)
  • Trigger: 5 pounds, 2 ounces (new); 4 pounds, 11.5 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $449
  • Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co.

The latest and greatest iteration of Ruger’s popular LC9 series is the LC9s Pro. The reason is simple: the trigger. We’ll get to that shortly.

The LC9s Pro model is a striker-fired version of the original (and popular) hammer-fired LC9. The Pro model offers no external manual safety or magazine safety, and this one works with all the accessories such as lasers, lights and extended nine-round magazines that already exist for the LC9.

Open the box, and new shooters are greeted with an unexpected bonus: a Ruger-labeled softcase. But the lasting takeaway was experienced during the first dry fire. The LC9s Pro incorporates the lightest trigger of any polymer-frame, single-stack 9mm compact we’ve encountered. The Lyman trigger-pull gauge averaged 5 pounds, 2 ounces out of the box. It slightly improved to 4 pounds, 111/2 ounces by the time this pistol fired its last and 650th round.

Only one malfunction was experienced, and we suspect that it was user induced. It occurred on round 171 and was caused by our “third man,” who may have accidentally pushed up on the small slide-lock lever with the joint behind his thumb during firing.

Besides having the most pleasant trigger pull of the lot, it surprised us that the LC9s Pro didn’t champion any particular category. Accuracy was a little ho-hum average, and one shooter thought the trigger was “too light,” a feature that is obviously subjective. It certainly was a solid performer, and it has no-snag lines.

SIG Sauer P290RS:
SIG_P290RS

  • Type: Hammer fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 6+1 rounds (standard); 8+1 rounds (extended)
  • Weight: 1 pound, 4.6 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Nitron (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer textured, interchangeable panels
  • Sights: SIGLITE three-dot night sights
  • Trigger: 9 pounds, 12 ounces (new); 10 pounds, 5.3 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $513
  • Manufacturer: SIG Sauer

The P290RS is Loaded with features that distinguish it from other single-stack, polymer-frame Wonder Nines. For example, the P290RS arrives in an excellent plastic case that contains the pistol, two magazines and a holster (among other things). Only Springfield Armory offers more accessories, with its XDs. Further, this subcompact offers interchangeable grip plates to personalize the grip — we’ve seen a picture of orange, purple and pink side panels also — and it is the only pistol in this roundup to come standard with night sights. The P290RS wears a set of three-dot SIGLITE tritium-filled irons.

The “RS” suffix indicates that this model utilizes a double-action-only (DAO) trigger that’s restrike capable. Some feel the need for this capability should a live cartridge in the chamber not fire initially. Such an incident was not experienced in G&A’s testing, so this feature could not be evaluated.

The trigger on the RS model is much longer and “very stagey,” as one shooter put it. This aspect made rapid-fire drills challenging with a lot of shots pulled low. It seems to encourage slapping the trigger. We’d prefer the P320’s striker setup over this hammer gun.

To acheive this pistol’s best results, we recommend using the supplied eight-round extended magazine over the flush-fit six-round mag for an awesome grip that mimics the control of a full-size gun. G&A’s favorite feature of the P290RS is its texturing, which is also applied to the extended magazine.

Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield:
SW_Shield

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 7+1 rounds (standard); 8+1 rounds (extended)
  • Weight: 1 pound, 4.8 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Black 68 HRc (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer frame, textured
  • Sights: Three dot, drift adjustable (front/rear)
  • Trigger: 7 pounds, 1 ounces (new); 7 pounds, 2.5 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $449
  • Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson

The Shield is a concealable striker-fired pistol with an enviable reputation. It boasts a 1-inch profile and an instinctively pointable 18-degree grip angle.

Smith & Wesson achieved a good balance between concealability and shootability, perhaps better than any other single-stack 9mm polymer-frame handgun. Though the grip is textured, G&A felt that after shooting 650 rounds, in comparison with other makes the Shield could stand to benefit from more aggressive texturing to improve positive handling.

The trigger was a highlight of this pistol and featured a consistent pull that averaged nearly 7 pounds at the beginning and end of this evaluation. It quickly built this pressure with short travel, then crisply snapped as the striker is released forward. The click to reset was tactile, quick and somewhat audible to the shooter, providing very fast and predictable follow-up shots. During drills, this latter feature combined with its full-size-like grip (using the eight-round extended magazine) to control groups in very tight order. The Shield posted many of our test’s best results.

Springfield XDs 3.3:
Springfield_XDS

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 7+1 rounds (standard); 8+1 rounds (extended)
  • Weight: 1 pound, 7 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Melonite (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer, textured
  • Sights: Fiber optic, red (front); white dot (rear)
  • Trigger: 8 pounds, 9 ounces (new); 7 pounds, 14 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $599
  • Manufacturer: Springfield Armory

There was just something about it. Each time one of us put down Springfield Armory’s XDs 3.3, we’d look at the grip’s imprint remaining in the palm of our hands and ponder about the threshhold between comfort and control. This pistol’s coarse, molded checkering sticks to hands like no other. It is also well equipped.

The XDs comes in a value-added packed plastic case that opens to reveal a pistol with an outside-
the-waistband (OWB) holster and spare mag carrier. The pistol itself is fitted with a red fiber optic sight up front that seems to gather light and focus your attention where it should be: on the front sight.

This model’s 3.3-inch barrel offers a little more sight radius than other single-stack nines, which, in conjunction with the eight-round extended magazine, helped us all print respectable groups out of the box. This performance seemed to remain consistent over 650 rounds, but everyone felt it could shoot better if the trigger were lighter and crisper. (The XDs trigger did lighten 11 ounces by the end of this test.)

Two failure-to-feed malfunctions occurred during the first 100 rounds of testing and then no more. The left-side button of the XDs’ ambidextrous magazine release became increasingly difficult to press the more it was shot, but it never did seize. Therefore, G&A feels this model deserves consideration … especially by those who want a compact 9mm pistol that won’t squirm in your hand when called on.

Taurus 709 SLIM:
Taurus_709_Slim

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 7+1 rounds
  • Weight: 1 pound, 3.2 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Blued (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer frame, textured
  • Sights: Three dot elevation and windage adjustable (rear)
  • Trigger: 7 pounds (new); 6 pounds, 10 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $302
  • Manufacturer: Taurus

Get ready for this: The striker-fired Taurus 709 Slim proved to be this test’s best value. Why? Let’s start with MSRP: $302. This year, Taurus dropped the prices for several of its models, to include the 709 Slim. That means we’re likely to find one of these for about $270 across the counter at the local gun store. But a low price doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.”

Frankly, some of us entered this test with a slight bias. By the end of the test, all of our opinions had radically changed. It’s unfair to judge the new Slim until you’ve actually shot one.

To start, the 709 Slim printed the single best five-shot group of this entire test — 1.18 inches at 25 yards — in the capable hands of Chris Mudgett. And it did so after it had fired 635 rounds without a malfunction. (Then it went far, far beyond and has yet to stutter.)

The Slim weighs 3 ounces over a pound and has a grip that points naturally and a single-action trigger that’s impressively crisp. Though it only comes with one flush-pad magazine, we grew to appreciate its bright-yellow follower, which clearly indicated its status in low light, visible through the ejection port. (All companies should follow Taurus’ lead on this.)

Keeping an open mind and evaluating the Slim in hand with nine other pistols of this class, we all — including the three police officers among us — concluded that its ergonomics and performance earned it a place on the list of everyone’s top pistols tested.

Walther PPS:
Walther_PPS

  • Type: Striker fired, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 7+1 rounds (standard); 8+1 rounds (extended)
  • Weight: 1 pound, 5.6 ounces (empty)
  • Finish: Tenifer (steel)
  • Grips: Polymer frame, textured
  • Sights: Three dot drift adjustable (rear)
  • Trigger: 7 pounds, 1 ounces (new); 6 pounds, 5.5 ounces (final)
  • MSRP: $599
  • Manufacturer: Walther Arms Inc.

At the start of our test, all of us wrote down predictions. No one scribbled “Walther” as a top finalist. However, by the end of our second day, we were all dumbfounded. Where every other target had 600-round holes averaging the size of a large pizza, the Walther PPS had shot a ragged hole the size of a grapefruit. And, besides the initial accuracy test, most of it was shot rapid fire. The PPS with its large, eight-round extended magazine proved to be as controllable and easy to shoot fast and precisely as a full-size service pistol.

OK, there was one feature that none of us really cared for on this model: the ambidextrous paddle-style magazine release that straddles half of the triggerguard. We should note that we don’t mind this type of magazine release on other pistols, but it’s unnecessarily awkward to work for this little pistol. A conventional mag-release button as found on the PPQ M2 might make this the best single-stack 9mm money can buy.

That one criticism aside, everything else was spot on. The length of pull and grip angle facilitated comfortable operation by big and small hands alike, and it sported consistent accuracy, a fine trigger and a grip that was easy to hang on to during rapid fire.

The Walther PPS posted no malfunctions during our test. After 650 rounds had been fired, Eric Poole printed a 25-yard 10-round group (for his own amusement) that measured 3.18 inches.

Beyond

At the completion of our initial performance test, several pistols moved on to shoot more than 650 rounds. Treating it as a final elimination stage, we agreed to run these pistols against the new Glock 43 to 1,000 rounds as long as there was no type of malfunction. This number is considered by many (particularly those in the law enforcement community) as the standard any duty gun must meet before they are willing to trust their lives to its reliability. Only three pistols made it: the Kahr CM-9, Taurus 709 Slim and Walther PPS. The CM-9 had an FTF on 763.

The road to 1,000 was quite a boring journey for the Glock 43, Taurus Slim and Walther PPS, which continued to run with five-minute breaks between strings of 100 rounds. All three evaluators rotated and pushed these pistols through several rapid-fire sessions at near-80-degree temperatures. After the 1,000-round mark was met, Eric Poole decided to push all three pistols through one final program he calls the “typewriter test.” This drill draws from different loads and bullet weights staggered in each magazine — usually leftover ammunition from other tests. Though all loads were of Winchester’s manufacture, the audible report heard through ear muffs is akin to a typewriter smacking paper. Springs and small parts must instantly react to the changing pressures resulting from different loads.

These last 50 rounds did nothing to affect the performance of these pistols. The Glock 43, Taurus 709 Slim and Walther PPS all successfully pushed to 1,050 rounds fired.

 

 

 

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