Palmetto State Armory 5.7 Rock

David Freeman

I have become a fan of the 5.7x28mm cartridge as the result of reviewing pistols in that caliber by FN Herstal, Ruger and Smith & Wesson. Palmetto State Armory released a 5.7x28mm pistol a couple of years ago. That one, called the “Rock,” is the subject of this review.

Palmetto State Armory Rock 5.7
The Palmetto State Armory Rock 5.7×28 Caliber Pistol

The 5.7x28mm came about as a result of NATO seeking a 9mm replacement with greater range and accuracy and the ability to penetrate body armor. FN Herstal designed a cartridge to meet the NATO requirements and built a gun that would shoot it. The new FN 5.7x28mm cartridge featured a 1.138-inch-long case with a rebated rim and a 35-degree shoulder designed for a .22-caliber bullet weighing anywhere from 23 to 31 grains. Obviously it’s a much smaller projectile than the 9mm, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in velocity. Shot through a long barrel, the cartridge drives a 26-grain slug at a velocity of nearly 2,400 feet per second, about 2.5 times faster than typical 9mm loads. The size of the projectile has evolved so we’re now shooting 40 grain most often and there are even 5.7x28mm rounds with 62 grain projectiles. These larger bullets are slower, traveling in the 1650 to 1799 fps range.

FN’s first two guns to shoot the cartridge were the FN P90 PDW (Personal Defense Weapon), along with the FN Five-seveN pistol. The Five-seveN became an immediate hit with some militaries, law enforcement agencies and sport shooters, but its price kept many potential firearm buyers away. All of this happened in the latter part of the 1980’s. In recent years, several firearms companies have designed new guns around the 5.7 cartridge causing somewhat of a rebirth in interest among shooters which led to more companies giving the cartridge a try. 

Ruger somewhat surprised the market with its 2019 introduction of the Ruger 5.7. Featuring a 4.9-inch, alloy steel barrel with a nitride coating for wear resistance, the full-size pistol has a lot going for it. Impressive ergonomics include an easy trigger reach, robust slide release and reversible magazine release latch. The hardened, billet steel slide with lightening cuts is drilled and tapped for easy mounting of optics with separately available optic adapter plates.  The Ruger 5.7 ships with two 20-round steel magazines and is priced several hundred dollars below the FN pistol.

At this year’s SHOT Show, Smith & Wesson announced it was jumping into the 5.7 game. The M&P line now includes the M&P 5.7. The M&P 5.7 uses a newly designed internal hammer-fired, gas-operated, locked-breech barrel system in which the barrel doesn’t cam open until the bullet passes the gas port for what the company calls “worry-free consistency.” The polymer-framed, full-size pistol features a 5-inch barrel to utilize as much of the cartridge’s potency as possible. It comes optics-ready and with a threaded barrel for use with a suppressor if desired. Capacity is 22+1 giving it a bigger ammo payload than similar-size 9mm pistols. I’ve previously covered the Ruger 57 and the S&W 5.7 here on the Shooter’s Log.

Palmetto State Armory’s 5.7 offering is similar in size and capacity to the Ruger and the Smith & Wesson. As best I can tell from studying PSA’s website, the Rock is available in 52 different configurations. The one I have is the 5.7 Rock Black Standard. It has a black frame, non-treaded barrel and 3-dot day sights.

This is the PSA Rock Standard Model

The PSA 5.7 Rock is a striker-fired, polymer-frame handgun designed to maximize capacity with the small FN cartridge. It can be had in an optics-ready configuration with a milled slide cut for the Shield footprint, and open-sighted models with night sights are available that accept Glock-pattern sights.

Externally, the PSA 5.7 Rock is highly similar to the Ruger-5.7 and the S&W M&P 5.7. All three guns have a Picatinny accessory rail on the frame, front and rear slide serrations, extensive texturing throughout the grip frame, blade trigger and a magazine capacity of 20 or more rounds.

They are very similar in size:

 LengthHeightWidthWeightBarrel LengthCapacity
PSA8″5.2″1.2″25 oz.4.7″23+1
Ruger8.65″5.6″1.2″24.5 oz.4.94″20+1
S&W8.5″5.25″1.1″26.7 oz.5″22+1

Here are specs for the Rock as listed on the Palmetto State Armory website:

  • Model: PSA Full Size 5.7 Rock
  • Caliber: 5.7x28mm
  • Capacity: 23+1
  • Weight with Empty Mag: 25 oz.
  • Barrel Material: Carbon Steel with QPQ Finish; Fluted
  • Barrel Length: 4.7″
  • Twist Rate: 1/9″
  • Slide Material: 416 Stainless Steel with QPQ Finish
  • Action: Delayed Blowback Striker-fired
  • Mag Catch: Reversible
  • Safety: Trigger & Striker
  • Accessory Rail: Picatinny
  • Magazine: 23 round Steel 5.7x28mm Magazine (Ships with 2)
  • Designed to work with Glock™ compatible sights
  • Ships in Palmetto State Armory Soft Pistol Case 

Right about now you may be asking, “What’s QPQ?” QPQ stands for “Quench Polish Quench.” It refers to a process used to increase corrosion resistance. Other properties can also be improved by performing the QPQ treatment including: wear resistance; capacity to reduce friction, known as “lubricity,” and fatigue resistance.

I’ve received several guns lately that were shipped in canvas cases. The one from Palmetto State Armory has a pouch for the barrel and Velcro strap for the grip to secure the gun plus pockets for the two magazines and the lock. On the outside front it has a very nice, embroidered PSA Logo with a clear plastic pocket beneath it for displaying ID information such as a business card. Unzipping the case and pulling out the gun for the first time felt a little bit like Christmas morning.

PSA Rock in Canvas Carrying CAse
PSA Rock in it’s Carrying Case With Two Magazines

Although some say the Rock designers stole its look from the Ruger 57, I don’t think so. I find it very attractive in its own right. My first impression when holding the gun in my hand was, “If this gun shoots like it should, this is a gun I will be proud to own.” Naturally I racked the slide to clear the gun, found a good dry fire target on the wall and pulled the trigger. Very nice! I struggle with the slide on some of my 9mm handguns, but the 5.7x28mm doesn’t require a strong spring to cycle the gun; therefore, I can easily rack the slide on any of the 5.7 handguns, this one included.

The size of the 5.7x28mm round is such that the pistol grip is long and narrow to accommodate. There is a high undercut on the trigger guard allowing a high grip on the frame. The trigger reach is such that even my short, stubby fingers have plenty of extra length there. Sights on my gun are the standard three white dot arrangement. The slide has the standard Glock cut for sights making any of a number of aftermarket sights an easy upgrade. Front and rear serrations on the slide are there to assist with any hand position the shooter likes to use for racking slides. The Picatinny rail has three slots, and behind it the trigger guard is squared off in front for those of us who like to put the index finger of the support hand on the front of the trigger guard for stability.

The slide lock lever is small but easy to manipulate and it has a protective ridge around the bottom and front to prevent inadvertent operation during shooting. Unfortunately for South Paws, it exists only on one side. The magazine release button is rectangular in shape and reversible. Its operation is positive, resulting in a nice magazine ejection. The magazine baseplate is slightly larger than the bottom of the grip allowing for an easy grasp to pull out a magazine that may be stuck. Also there is an indention on both sides at the bottom of the grip to facilitate grasping and pulling the magazine out. The texture on the grip and on both sides of the frame where the index finger rests is very comfortable, yet aggressive enough to provide a non-slip grip. There’s a single bump on the front strap positioned to go between your index and middle finger. It makes a secure grasp easy.

Takedown for cleaning is non-standard by very easy.
Follow instructions in the manual for the first time.

Takedown for the Rock is a bit non-standard. After ensuring the gun is unloaded, the trigger pulled and the magazine out of the gun, wrap your firing hand over the top of the slide and pull the slide back until approximately ¼ of it extends toward the back. Don’t go too far or the trigger will reset, and you’ll have to start over. With your support hand, pull the takedown levers that are located above the center part of the trigger guard down on both sides. Release pressure on the slide with your firing hand, allowing it to move forward until the rear of the slide is approximately 3/8 inch forward of the end of the grip. You can then lift the slide off the frame. Remove the recoil spring, then lift the barrel out and that’s it. Reassembly is a simple matter of replacing the barrel and recoil spring, then setting the slide down on the frame, the notches on the slide aligned with the front and rear tabs on the frame, then sliding it rearward until you hear and feel a click. Then rack the slide and you’re done.

One nice thing about loading 5.7 magazines is you simply push the rounds down from the top like you do an AR magazine. I didn’t take the time to load a full 23 rounds but once, but when you’ve got that many rounds in the gun on your hip, you’ve got a pretty good defensive load in my opinion. Speaking of carrying the gun on your hip, the Rock fits easily into any of the holsters I have that were made for the S&W M&P.

First rattle out of the box shooting from ten yards away, I was very disappointed. The Rock was putting all my rounds off to the left of my aiming point and with an unacceptable spread of 5 inches or more. I handed the gun to one of my shooting buddies, and he had the same experience except instead of shooting off to the left, his rounds were going low. I tried loading some rounds from a different box of ammo, and darned if the gun didn’t shape right up and start looking pretty good. Those first rounds were from a box of FN 27 grain ammo. The second load was American Eagle 40 grain ammo. Amazing difference. After shooting that for a while,20 I tried some FN 40 grain ammo, and it also shot well.

Typical target for the Rock, fired offhand at ten yards.

The Rock is a very comfortable gun to shoot—nice trigger, low recoil, acceptable accuracy, right on par with the Ruger and S&W examples I have of 5.7x28mm handguns and at a price below the others. If you’ve not tried a 5.7x28mm pistol yet and want to jump in the game, the Palmetto State Armory Rock is a great place to start. And if one 5.7x28mm is all you’ll be buying, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Welcoming Kimbers to My Collection

During the years we operated live handgun classes, I developed a negative opinion about Kimber firearms and really had no desire to own one. Every week we ran at least one weekend class with 25-30 participants and two weekday classes averaging 10-12 participants. Each participant was required to shoot a 50-round proficiency test, so we saw a lot of people shoot, sometimes with our loaners, but more often with their own guns.

As we observed shooters on the firing line, several patterns emerged. One pattern, for example, involved Springfield XD pistols. We observed them to be consistently accurate and consistently trouble-free. There were other brands that just did what they were supposed to and presented no issues. The brand that presented the most issues regarding failure to feed, failure to eject (FTF, FTE) stoppages were Kimbers. At first, I was puzzled by this as Kimbers were among the more expensive handguns people brought to our course.

The free gun cleaning classes we ran the first Monday night of every month served to unlock the secret of why Kimbers did not operate smoothly during the range sessions. For the most part the people who had purchased the Kimbers were new to guns and didn’t have the experience to operate them properly. They brought them to the gun cleaning class to learn how to take them apart and put them back together. Although we had taught them how to hold and fire them during the regular course, a lot of it didn’t stick because we were dealing with people who had not grown up around guns and who had little or no background from which to operate.

We were operating in an area in which many of the inhabitants were well to do professionals who lived in upscale neighborhoods. Yet they were having break-ins or knew someone who had experienced a break-in or even a robbery. The changing tapestry of the world we live in caused them to decide they needed to get a gun. As they researched what to buy they were drawn to the full color ads Kimber ran on the back of every gun magazine there was. Putting that exposure together with the fact Kimbers were expensive, they figured they had to be good, so they bought two of them, one for the husband, one for the wife. Sometimes the wife’s gun was one of those micro models. So the failures we were seeing for the most part were caused by limp-wristing or guns that were dirty.

A couple of shooters who attended our class were former members of an Army shooting team that competed. Both of those Kimbers ran like they were supposed to. Naturally, I asked their owners why and the answer I was given had to do with magazines. Toss the Kimber mags and use either Wilson Combat or Chip McCormick aftermarket magazines. Okay, whatever. I figured I’d just stick with my Sigs, Smith & Wessons, Rugers and Springfields. But during a traffic stop I had a short conversation with the training officer for the Hurst, Texas, police department. After evaluating various brands and models they had settled upon the Kimber 1911 as the official issue gun of the Hurst Police Department.

It seemed Kimber was getting its act together and shooters were giving the gun great reviews so I began to think about maybe someday, if the price was right and the money was there, I might get a Kimber. GrabaGun, is a local gun store known for running some pretty good specials from time to time. One of their Internet ads caught my attention because it was a very attractive and well-equipped Kimber for a price I could afford, so I bought it. Here it is, the Kimber Shadow Ghost:

The Shadow Ghost features an aluminum frame to reduce weight, a blackout finish on the smaller parts such as the magazine release and pins. A white dot rear sight with a red fiber optic front sight is included to enhance accuracy. The LW Shadow Ghost is equipped with a match grade stainless steel barrel and a match grade trigger. It has an 8-round magazine and it leaves the factory with black rubber grips with diamond checkering. I had some G10 grips on hand that I thought would enhance the gun’s appearance so I installed those on my gun. In this day and time I’ve got to answer two questions: No, it’s not optics ready and no, it doesn’t have night sights. I’m fine on both accounts because I really like the sights that are on the gun and I don’t plan on carrying it for self defense, at least not at night.

I’ve taken it shooting and have been pleased with the results. It has not given me the slightest bit of trouble and is pretty accurate.

This Kimber had not been in my possession long before it was joined by another Kimber, this one pretty special. My friend, Jerry Colliver, is moving to Thailand and is consequently liquidating his gun collection. I helped him with a couple of guns, one being a very special custom Kimber, the F22 Fighting Eagles model built for and exclusively sold to the first group of pilots of the F22, and some of the support people. The gun I have is #360 of 413 according to engraving on the slide.

It came with its own custom display case.

Now to find the story. From what Jerry could tell and I have to agree after digging myself, this is the only one of the 413 to have ever been offered for sale in any way it could be traced publicly, i.e. at auction. We wouldn’t know if there have been private sales. I’ve reached out to Kimber and to former Kimber employees and have not found anyone who can tell me how to determine who any of the original 413 were or how the product was marketed to them. Collectible arms that are of a limited number are usually sold through a magazine ad in a trade magazine only read by those who would be eligible. So far, nothing. I’ve posted some request for information on some Kimber forums. I tried contacting the person who sold the gun to Jerry only to learn he died in 2014.

Meanwhile back to the other Kimber. The one I’ll actually shoot from time to time. It joins the ranks of some other 5-inch 1911s I have.

I like Commander-size 1911s for carrying and I have a number of those, but the Kimber rounds out this collection nicely.

Friends (2)

This is another short article I found among a box of old writings and felt it was worth sharing. There was no date associated with the pages so I have no idea when it was written. Current author’s notes are in italics.

You’ll have the opportunity to cultivate many friendships during your life on earth. Some of these friendships last a lifetime, while others will last only for a season. Friends are among the most treasured possessions a person can have. I’ve found two reliable tests of friendship. One is time, the other is difficulty. Neither test is one you can administer or orchestrate. They just happen.
The best way to have good friends is to be a good friend. You can’t win somebody’s friendship by trying to win their friendship, but you will find that certain people respond when you are a friend to them.

How do you become a good friend? I have always held transparency in high esteem. A person who is transparent hides nothing from those with whom he feels comfortable. It’s not that you bare your life to someone without cause. It’s just that when a person shows signs of honorably wanting to get to know you, you let them. The real you, not who you wish you were, or who you want them to think you are. Think about how you want to be accepted and accept your potential friends the same way. When they tell you something that’s a deep, dark, secret, you’re not shocked and you don’t start judging them. If they ask you how you feel about it, tell them simply and honestly without condemning them.

As a friend, you need to be willing to help someone, even when it’s not convenient You need to support them in the things they are trying to accomplish to better themselves. Simply withhold approval on those things you feel are not right.

Friendship takes on many forms and degrees. For example, you may have friends because of a common interest. When I was young and spent a lot of time hunting, fishing, and camping, there was a group of friends with whom I frequently did these things. We trusted each other not to be careless with guns and to help you get unstuck if you drove off into mud that was too deep. We became close by sharing adventures and telling stories around campfires. If we were deep in the woods and somebody forgot something, we shared what we had. There was friendly competition about who would shoot the most dove or quail, or catch the most fish, or who could drive through muddy forest trails without getting stuck.

Then there was the group of guys with whom I started a band. We practiced together many nights, working on songs that were difficult and which we wanted to perform well. We learned to be patient with one another. We learned to anticipate each other’s actions in the music. We traveled together, playing at dances, some hundreds of miles from home. On the late night/early morning drives home we discussed what we had done wrong and what we had done right and how we would do it differently the next time. We shared successes and failures together.

Over time these types of relationships have developed around the show horse business, my involvement in aviation, and in the computer business. One thing that stands out in all of these situations is the amount of trust that true friends develop in each other. You had to. Sometimes, like on a hunting trip or when flying in combat or in bad weather, your life depends on the other fellow doing what he is supposed to do. Even in the other situations, like in the band or in business, it’s not necessarily your life that is on the line, but your success or failure in the endeavor. In these situations where trust is involved, it is not unusual for a deep, lasting friendship is to form that goes far beyond the common interest.

Because we all have limited time and energy, we have to make decisions about the friendships we cultivate. Often, we don’t do this consciously. Many friendships develop without any effort on our part They grow because two people, or a group of people, enjoy being together. Time together is like the glue that seals a friendship, especially in the early stages.

You don’t have to walk on eggshells with a friend. If you find that you are always doing the listening and the other person’s burdens are being “dumped” on you, and there is no reciprocation, it’s probably not friendship. It’s just a person who needs help and they are coming to you for it. If you help them, or if you don’t, when the crisis is over, there will be no lasting relationship. With a friend you share both the good and the bad and it’s a two-way street, each sharing with the other.

I learned back during my single days women sometimes need a man friend with whom they can be themselves. They need a friend they don’t have to put on makeup or do their hair up for, because they’re not trying to impress you or win your love. Sometimes, if you have a friend like this she will share the secrets of her heart with you, but she’s more likely to do that with her girlfriends. If she does share some of her innermost secrets with you, you really need to guard that friendship by not betraying her. Avoid too much affection with girls that are your friends. It can ruin a friendship. She doesn’t want that from you. The fact that she has opened up to you means she thinks she has a friend that can give her a man’s perspective on life, but who isn’t trying to “get in her pants”. You may have trouble with this, especially if you begin to get affectionate. She may want, or even need a hug, or even to be held. It won’t mean the same thing to her as it will to you, so you’ve just got to be careful. Sometimes one of these relationships will turn into a romance. If it does, it will probably be a good one. (My marriage, which at this point has lasted 46 years, began as just a friendship.)

Even though it takes time together to seal the initial stages of a friendship, lasting friendships will survive long periods of time apart. When you do get back together it will be interesting to discover the changes in each of your lives. When you can freely share these changes and find they have no effect on the depth of your friendship, then you know you have a valuable relationship


This is a story I wrote in 1992. I found it recently in an unfinished writing box stuffed away in my closet. I figured it was worth sharing.

I tested the waters of a relationship today. Found them cold. Might warm up, might freeze over. That’s something over which I have no control, but I hope they warm up. My mind compared it to a small lake. It’s a great place to swim, drift, enjoy the changes in current and often the quiet pools, still and peaceful. I like it especially when the sun is shining, warming the waters. Stepping back, I looked at the surface, now beginning to glaze over with ice. I thought of the reflections I’ve seen in the water’s surface and shuddered, thinking the chill might remain. My thoughts drifted to other friendships I hold dear.

My grandfather had many friends. He was “Pop” to me. I often rode with him through the backroads of the county we lived in. We’d stop and talk, visiting people on their front porches—people who rarely made it to town. Sometimes we walked or drove through a pasture looking at a herd of cows. My grandfather bought and sold cows, so his interest was always appreciated by a proud owner.

At times we would stop and pick muscadines or plums we found growing wild beside the road. At other times we talked beneath a pecan tree, cracking one pecan against another and picking out the meat of the pecan. I always made an effort to pick the meat out whole.

My grandfather taught me a lot about enjoying life. I have so many memories of my times with him. One stands out in particular because I don’t know how he knew what we would find. Behind the church is a cemetery. Behind that, in the woods, is an old slave cemetery with simple stone monuments, cracked and scarred from age and neglect. You have to pull away honeysuckle vines and Johnson grass to find many of them. You have to cross a fence to get there. There’s no gate. My grandfather took me one day, behind the main cemetery, through the slave cemetery, into the woods. He led me through the trees where we eased up quietly to the edge of a clearing. There, in the side of a clay bank, was the opening of a small cave. Sitting in its doorway was a mother fox. Five or six fox kittens played in the sand in front of the cave under their mother’s watchful eyes.

He bought me a horse when I was six. Said a boy shouldn’t be without a horse. My older cousins already had their horses. Pop died the year I graduated from high school. Just a year earlier we had ridden horses together, a day long ride with my cousins. We carved our initials on the branch of a sweet gum tree on the bank of Burney Branch, just beyond the cotton field in the branch bottom. The date was October 19, 1965. Many times since I’ve looked for that tree, but I’ve not been able to find it.

We rambled a lot, driving all over the county in Pop’s Plymouth. In the early days my grandmother was invited to go with us. A few times she did. She was a wonderful lady, but when she went with us the roads were always too rough. I’d never noticed before. She was certain the car was going to break down leaving us stranded on the back side of nowhere. Her eyes were always on the sky. If it was cloudy, we were going to get rain, which she declared we surely didn’t need. If the sky was clear and blue, we were in for a long dry spell that was sure to ruin the crops. She never wanted to stop and visit. A waste of time. She needed to be home getting dinner. If we drove the car in a pasture, as we often did, she was sure we would run over a stump in the grass and bust an oil pan or something. I now understand why Pop stopped inviting her.

We were buddies, Pop and me. He’s been gone many years and I still miss him. I decided when he died, I would know the back roads as he did. I got a county map at the courthouse and started marking off roads as I explored them. First, I rode my motorcycle, then, later, the Ford pickup I had rebuilt from the ground up. By the time I left home to join the Army only half the roads were marked.

Pop took me to visit a widow woman who had two grown sons, twins in their fifties. They took us out back of the house to an old chicken barn. Inside were maybe a dozen of the most beautiful automobiles I have ever seen, all built in the 20s or 30s, all immaculately restored. It took me twenty years to find that place again and when I did the barn was gone. Some of the cars had burned, others had been given to a museum.

Pop instilled in me a dream. A quiet, well-maintained homestead in the country. A tree-lined driveway. A porch. Shade trees. An anvil on a stump under a shade tree. A barn. A shed for a truck and tractor. Enough animals that no matter how rough times got, you could always eat. A garden with enough vegetables to share. His pastures were always mowed and the brush trimmed away from the fences. The ponds were always stocked so the children could fish. The woods were full of game, the land posted against trespassers. Family had free access for hunting and fishing.

Saturdays were always special. During the week we worked hard, often from dawn to dusk. When it rained, we rested. Come Saturday, all work stopped around noon. The afternoon was spent cleaning up and resting. If you needed something from town, you got it on Saturday afternoon. The town square was the place to meet friends from other parts of the county and catch up on news. Saturday nights we had a cookout, usually two or more families together. Sometimes it was fish caught from the pond, other times it was hot dogs and hamburgers. The kids played, while the adults sat and visited, often over cards or scrabble. It seems we only watched TV on rainy days, Sunday nights and the rest of the week while waiting for supper to be served.

Sunday mornings we all went to church. We wore our Sunday best, watched our language and did our best to make our parents proud of us. Sunday afternoons were filled with horseback rides, baseball games, a swim in the creek or a ramble in the woods.

Without friends none of this stuff makes much difference. With friends, you take the time to enjoy the quiet moments of life. Those same friends stand by you when life is not so quiet.

I have heard it said much of life is making memories. I once caught a seven-and-a-half-pound bass. I was by myself. It doesn’t mean nearly as much as the six-pounder I caught when I was with a friend. I have few solitary memories. Whenever I see or experience something that causes me pleasure, supports my dream or causes me to grow, my first thought is to share it with a friend. Stay tuned for more on friends.

Holster Magic

By David Freeman

You may have just one gun you wear all the time. If that’s the case, I’ll help you pick just what you need for that one gun. Or you may have multiple guns that will work in the carry role, and you like to alternate them from time to time. Something else that factors into your holster choice is clothing style. I’m lucky in that I get to wear polo-style shirts all the time. I’m partial to a particular brand—Propper®— that has long enough shirttails that wearing an OWB holster works for me. More on that later. Your clothing choices may necessitate a good IWB holster.

Whenever gun toting individuals get together, it seems inevitable that a discussion will come up about drawers full of holsters. There are numerous manufacturers and most of them make holsters for all of the popular make and model handguns. It’s a big industry and I appreciate all those choices, but I need my life to be simple. You might think the business I’m in would complicate my holster choices. I review and write about firearms, I train people in the use of firearms, and I may be carrying a different gun every week, sometimes every day. I also write about and have tested holsters from CrossBreed, DeSantis, 1791, Alien Gear, Bianchi, Milt Sparks, Bullard Leather and dozens of other makers. And, yep, I’ve got them all. But a recommendation from my editor a few years ago, when I was working on a holster article, was life-changing. He told me to be sure I included the Bianchi 101 Foldaway Belt Slide holster in my review. That’s a lot of words for a simple piece of leather with two slots cut in it. I ordered one and when it arrived, I laughed. Carry a gun with this? I’m not laughing anymore. When ordering, you can select a size by make and model, but chances are the recommendation is going to be a Size 16. The Size 16 packaging lists 25 different models it fits and that’s just listing guns made by Springfield, H&K, Sig Sauer, S&W, Beretta and Walther. There’s no way they could list all the guns this holster will accommodate on the small label that’s on the package. Earlier I mentioned I wear polos with my shirttail out. The Bianchi 101 Foldaway is an OWB holster that is so easy to use and so universal, it’s an amazing product. It really doesn’t matter where around your waist you wear it. I put it on my belt at the 3:00 o’clock position every day, and I don’t even have to think about what gun I may or may not be carrying that day. They all fit. Mine is a right-handed version, but they also come in left-hand.

The Bianchi 101 Foldaway is an OWB holster that is so easy to use
and so universal, it’s an amazing product.
David uses it for almost every gun he carries.

That’s a lot of words for a simple piece of leather with two slots cut in it. I ordered one and when it arrived, I laughed. Carry a gun with this? I’m not laughing anymore. When ordering, you can select a size by make and model, but chances are the recommendation is going to be a Size 16. The Size 16 packaging lists 25 different models it fits and that’s just listing guns made by Springfield, H&K, Sig Sauer, S&W, Beretta and Walther.

This is a Springfield XDm with 4.5″ barrel in a
Bianchi 101 Foldaway holster.

There’s no way they could list all the guns this holster will accommodate on the small label that’s on the package. Earlier I mentioned I wear polos with my shirttail out. The Bianchi 101 Foldaway is an OWB holster that is so easy to use and so universal, it’s an amazing product. It really doesn’t matter where around your waist you wear it. I put it on my belt at the 3:00 o’clock position every day, and I don’t even have to think about what gun I may or may not be carrying that day. They all fit. Mine is a right-handed version, but they also come in left-hand.

The Bianchi 101 Foldaway holster easily accommodates small guns such as the S&W CSX.

The biggest gun I’ve carried in my belt slide holster would be a Springfield XDm with 4.5″ barrel. The smallest would be a S&W CSX. Among other full-size and mid-size guns I’ve carried in it are the Beretta M9, Beretta PX4, Sig P226, Sig P229, Glock 19, Taurus G3, CZ-P07, S&W M&P and a few Turkish imports. I’ve carried 1911s, both Commander and Government size. I’ve carried several single-stack nines such as the Shield and XDs and all the current round of double-stack mini-nines such as the Glock 43X, Springfield Hellcat Pro, Shield Plus, Ruger Max-9 and Sig P365XL. Let me pay it forward. If you can wear OWB, get this holster; it’s unlikely you’ll need another. And it works with guns that have optics mounted.

This is a rather large 357 Magnum in a belt slide Bianchi Foldaway holster.
The Bianchi 101 Foldaway holster accommodates 1911s,
Government or Commander-sized.

Maybe you need an IWB holster. I carried my gun that way for years. There are two choices in holster material—Kydex or Leather. I’m not going to try to convince you one is better than the other. I’ve worn both types. But I do have a suggestion here that can save you money if you’re prone to using different guns. If you carry a 1911, get a 1911 holster. But for other types, I’ve found that ordering a holster for a Sig P226 or a Springfield XD with 4″ barrel will get you a holster that will work for almost any mid-size to large semi-automatic pistol. My Kydex holster came from CrossBreed, and it was actually ordered for a Taurus Millennium Pro, but it fits the P226 and countless other handguns as well.

Here’s a Ruger American in a Crossbreed SuperTuck holster that David has owned since long before the Ruger American was made. The holster was originally ordered for a Sig Sauer P226.

My leather holster is a Bullard Leather Company holster that is stamped P226 on the back. That’s the mold they used to make it, and it has carried my P226 plus a plethora of other guns.

Bullard Leather Company made this IWB holster for a Sig P226.
It is currently carrying an FNX 40.

You’re going to get the argument that your holster should be molded for your particular gun, and I get that. If I only carried an H&K VP9, I’d order a holster custom made for my VP9. But I don’t and chances are you will try different guns from time to time. I’m telling you the shape and dimensions of the P226 are so universal, holsters designed for it will accommodate most of the similar-sized guns on the market.

You don’t have to go with my Crossbreed or Bullard to make this work. Get an Alien Gear Holster, a Bianchi or DeSantis or any well-made holster that says it’s for the P226, and you’ll have a holster that will work for most of the common gun choices for a carry gun.

Alien Gear Cloak Tuck holsters are a great buy.
This one was made specifically for a 1911.

If you go IWB, where do you wear it? I wear mine at the 3 o’clock position, but you can wear it in front, appendix style, or further back on your strong side or even reversed on your non-strong side. Just determine what’s comfortable and go for it.

Pocket carry may be relevant to you. More and more we’re being offered guns of an acceptable caliber and enough ammo to do the job that will fit in a man’s pocket or in a pouch in a lady’s purse. If you carry that way, your gun needs to be in a holster that will cover the trigger and keep the gun oriented for easy access. Most makers have a pocket holster in their product line, and some have multiple ones designed for specific makes and model. I like the Nemesis from DeSantis because it does a good job of keeping the gun upright in your pocket and the holster remaining in your pocket when you draw. But a generic holster from Blackhawk or Uncle Mike’s that will fit any small semi-automatic is a good choice. That same holster will work with small revolvers such as the Taurus Ultra-Lite 856UL or a S&W K-Frame.

The Nemesis from DeSantis does a good job of keeping the gun upright in your pocket and the holster remaining in your pocket when you draw. Shown here with a S&W CSX.

You may say, “All of this is well and good, but I wear scrubs all day at work.” Or, “I wear leotards pretty much all the time.” In that case, get a belly band holster. Several companies make them and they’re pretty generic. You don’t have to worry about gun fit within reason.

I hope you carry every day. If you make a holster choice along my recommendations, carrying should not be a burden. Put on your holster just like you put on your pants or skirt and add your gun, loaded with one in the chamber. Unless you’re using a belly band holster, you will need a good gun belt. These belts are thicker and wider than a normal belt, so they offer a secure attachment for your holster, be it IWB or OWB. Any questions?

Guns and Mistletoe

As I the leaves fall off the hardwoods there’s still a bit of green among the oak branches. That’s mistletoe, a parasite which attaches itself to hardwood trees from which it draws water and nutrients. Unless the mistletoe is pervasive enough to kill the host tree, it is relatively harmless, and it contributes to the natural order of things by providing berries for birds to eat and in some places, it is thought to have medicinal value. My interest in mistletoe spawns from its use as a Christmas decoration and the method used to harvest such decorative greenery — a .22 rifle.

Mistletoe is a parasite that exists in Oak trees throughout the US.

The request from my mother or grandmother to collect some mistletoe was always met with enthusiasm and a little bit of trepidation. These days I can walk through the woods with a Ruger Wrangler in one hand and a Heritage Rough Rider in the other, popping mistletoe from here and there, watching it fall through the branches to the ground so I can send my retriever to pick it up, but it wasn’t always so. And, yes, I’m kidding about being able to pop mistletoe from a tree with a revolver. I have also missed the last 50 years or so harvesting mistletoe for Christmas.

Growing up in a rural environment with my earliest shooting years being 65 years ago, the concept of learning to shoot at a gun range was unheard of. Without a gun range, learning to hit what you’re aiming at requires a lot of creativity. My cousins and I had .22 rifles and pistols, cheap ammo and all the time in the world to become good shooters. Since we had no gun ranges, our practice targets were chosen from our surroundings.

All That’s Required for a Mistletoe Hunt is a Good .22 Rifle

We had plenty of opportunities to practice our shooting skills besides gathering mistletoe. Although the dumpster was invented in 1936, it wasn’t until the 70s before dumpsters were placed in strategic areas around a typical county for the country folks to dump their garbage. Most families had a burn barrel plus a garbage ditch. Don’t get all upset about garbage being dumped in a ditch; it was an environmentally friendly concept. Filling the ditch stopped erosion. These garbage ditches were also the source of many creative targets. Ketchup bottles, mustard jars, soft drink cans or bottles all make wonderful plinkin’ targets. But harvesting mistletoe has a particular training advantage in that it involves skills and safety rules inherent in squirrel hunting with a rifle.

When you’re pointing a .22 rifle with a range of at least a mile at an object in a tree, it’s imperative you make sure a tree branch or trunk will be there to stop the bullet, or that you’re shooting in a direction in which there would be no danger to people, livestock or property should your bullet continue on into the air only to fall to earth off in the distance. Ammo choice is also important. Severing the base of a mistletoe stalk is best done with a hollow point bullet that will provide the widest track on impact. 

A good shot to the base of a mistletoe branch usually does the trick, but herein lies the difficulty. The branch is small and way up in a tree. Basically, it’s like shooting at a dime 20 to 40 feet in the air. Hitting it requires an exceptional amount of skill with a rifle. My earliest instruction in rifle shooting came from my dad who showed me how the sights should be aligned and explained the trigger squeeze necessary to keep the sights on target until impact. That lesson in marksmanship was expected to produce squirrels or rabbits for dinner and mistletoe for Christmas decorations.

My grandkids are so busy with school and sports, teaching them to squirrel hunt would be an exercise in futility. But I did manage to squeeze a day in grandson Josh’s busy baseball schedule to teach him, and his best friend Easton, the fine art of harvesting mistletoe. There are several oak trees well-laden with it on the property where we do a lot of our target shooting.

In preparation for the great Mistletoe Hunt, David and his shooters
checked the sight alignment on all his .22 rifles.

Before taking on the mistletoe challenge, I thought it would be good to check out the accuracy of the .22 rifles currently in my safe. When preparing for the sight check outing, I decided to add a little competitiveness to it. I had some 50-foot rifle targets published by the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife for their Hunter Education classes. Each sheet had six four-inch targets, perfect for what I had in mind. I printed up some file labels with the rifle types on them and labeled sheets of targets for each of the shooters. The objective, in addition to competition, was to give each of the shooters an indication of which of the rifles they could shoot the most accurately for the mistletoe mission.

It was quite windy the day we set out to test the rifles, but since scheduling with the boys at that time of the year is tough, we soldiered on. My Marlin 80, the only .22 with a scope, failed to eject despite some work I’d done on it recently to solve that problem. The rifles we did shoot included a Remington 514, a Winchester 67A, a J.C. Higgins (High Standard) Model 30, a Henry lever action, a Ruger 10/22, a Remington Nylon 66 and a Henry pump action. For this round of testing, we fired from the bench at a range of approximately 40′. The Ruger 10/22 has a red dot sight, but the others were all iron sights.

Without a doubt, Josh won the sighting contest. His targets all featured tighter groups than mine or Easton’s, so we declared him the target shooting winner. It remained to be seen who would harvest the most mistletoe. Josh’s grouping with the Remington 514 was the tightest of the bunch, which didn’t surprise me because I had used that same rifle almost 60 years earlier to earn a series of NRA Junior Marksmanship awards at Boy Scout Camp.

Mistletoe is a common greenery used for Christmas decorations as well as for hanging over a doorpost to encourage kissing among romantically involved couples.

Because of the wind, which approached 45 mph in the meadow where we were shooting, we delayed harvesting mistletoe until another date. But we each had picked the rifle we wanted to use for that adventure. For me, it was going to be the Ruger 10/22 with the red dot sight. Josh intended to use the pump and Easton liked the J.C. Higgins Model 30. I knew I would bring the Remington 514 along as backup since it obviously shot true to aim.

David’s grandson Josh with his first ever Mistletoe shot from a tree.

Feeling magnanimous as I dropped Josh off at home after that first day shooting the eight rifles, I asked him which was his favorite. He didn’t hesitate in identifying the Henry lever action. That gave me a little pause in what I was planning because it was the newest and most expensive rifle in the bunch and an excellent choice. I’d been giving a lot of thought about the disposition of my gun collection after I’m gone and had decided this day I was going to give Josh a rifle. “It’s yours,” I told him. “What? No way!” he said with great surprise. But that little gesture gave grandpa a good feeling, and the Henry went home with a great young man. I kind of figured that would be the rifle he would choose for his mistletoe outing, but I was surprised when he stuck with the Henry pump.

Twenty 20 oz. Wonders — A 2022 Overview of the World of Small Carry Guns

David Freeman

The firearm industry’s current idea of what a carry gun should be is a gun that weighs around 20 ounces, holds at least ten rounds and is six inches long, an inch wide and four to five inches high. If you’ll permit me to vary an ounce or two here or there and perhaps as much as an inch in length, I’ve identified twenty handguns that fit in this category. I own and have personal experience with 15 of these 20 and I’ll give you my take on them. Don’t ask me to choose a favorite, however. I find myself switching out my carry gun on a regular basis because I enjoy and have an appreciation for quite a few of them.

Some of the guns in this group pre-dated the current micro-nine offerings by several years. Taurus, long a favorite of mine because my first semi-automatic handgun was a Taurus 24/7 DS Pro, which I acquired in 2006 or thereabouts, and I loved that gun. Taurus had a smaller gun dubbed the PT-111 that became the source of some controversy and a class action lawsuit because one customer claimed his went off when he dropped it. The perception I have is that all over the world money-hungry Taurus owners began to throw their guns on to hard surfaces to see if they could get them to go off and out of thousands one or two did which was all it took for a group of lawyers to go after Taurus with a vengeance. Well, Taurus offered up some money in settlement, survived and tweaked the gun. The result was the PT-111 G2, newly named the Millennium G2. It’s a very nice little gun that sports a 12 round magazine and the unique Taurus double-strike capability which enables a shooter to pull the trigger again if for some reason a gun doesn’t fire. I find that feature most helpful for dry-fire practice because you can get additional trigger pulls without having to rack the slide. Although Taurus has since released a G3 and G4 the G2 is still in their lineup and still a great buy with street prices below $250.

I’m going to skip going to the Taurus G3C and G4X right now and bring up another of the early members of what’s being called the micro-nine crowd. The CPX-2 pictured above is the gun that’s in my holster today. I’ve been carrying it for about a week now, though I’ve owned it for several years. Listed here are four SCCY guns— a CPX1, a CPX2 and a CPX1 Red Dot all with a 10+1 capacity. I have all three because I did a feature article a few years ago on SCCY’s color schemes and the company generously provided me with samples for the article. SCCY makes some pretty guns.  I have a blue one, a green one, and this one with an attractive camouflage finish. After I wrote about these guns, I sort of passed them by as carry guns because of their 10 lb. double-action trigger pull. That was a mistake, as I found out when I came back to them later. These are fine firearms and worthy of my CCW holster any day of the week. I especially like the one with the camo job.

The big difference between the SCCY CPX-1 and the CPX-2 is the safety. You can get a SCCY with or without a manual safety, your preference. There are those of us who believe a 9-10 lbs. trigger pull is enough of a safety, while others really want to experience the click-on, click-off of a manual safety.

SCCY was one of the first in this class of guns to offer a red dot sight pre-mounted as shown on my blue CPX-2 here. They did a fine job with the Crimson Trace. The holster I use accommodates pistols with a red dot as well as those without, so this is a gun I enjoy carrying, especially when I want to get in some red dot practice.

Since I mentioned the holster, this is a good place to stop and share with you my daily carry holster solution that lets me easily carry any gun in this article or if I want a bigger gun such as a Sig P229, a Taurus G3 full-size, an M&P or a 1911, it works for them as well. Here it is:

Bianchi Foldaway™ Belt Slide Holster

This holster works well for me for two reasons: 1) I use it with a genuine heavy leather gun belt and 2) I wear polo shirts with the shirt tail out pretty much year around. If I need to tuck in my shirttail, I have several nice IWB holsters that will work with most of these guns. Texas allows open carry, but I’d rather have my gun hidden so as to be a surprise to the bad guys if I need it.

Like many SCCY followers I was excited when the DVG-1 was announced with a single-action trigger with a target pull of 5.5 lbs. The DVG-1 improves on SCCY’s design in several ways that affect shootability and accuracy. What’s so interesting about SCCY pistols is how well made they are while selling at a much lower price than some of the competition. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of SCCYs as “cheap” guns. Mr. Joe Roebuck, founder of SCCY, is the engineer and designer for these guns and a master at putting out a quality product that is not overpriced.

After the Taurus G3 made such a hit in the mid-size gun department Taurus management probably felt they needed a smaller version of the G3 to stay relevant in the marketplace. So they did the G3C which is a little different than the G2 and inexpensive enough that if you want one you might as well get one. I use my G2 and G3 Compact interchangeably.

The G4X is an entirely different gun. Taurus brags that it’s the best trigger they’ve ever had. It does have a short takeup and a crisp break, but frankly I didn’t see anything wrong with the G2 and G3 trigger. The G4X has a smaller, redesigned grip that makes the gun easier to hold on to. It has Glock compatible sights, which means you can swap out the existing sights for any number of aftermarket sights designed for a Glock. It has an easier takedown method. It’s thinner than the G2 and G3.

Springfield put forth a challenge with the Hellfire, a gun that won accolades near and far due to its double-stack magazine. That first Hellfire had a capacity of 11+1 or 13+1 and was specifically positioned to challenge the single-stack nines from Ruger, S&W and Glock. The Hellfire definitely stirred the market as it was followed by the Shield Plus from S&W, Max 9 from Ruger, G4X from Taurus and P365 from Sig Sauer.

Springfield likes the idea of being a market leader so they sprung the Hellcat Pro on us. This one has a 15+1 capacity and just barely stretches the 20 + 6 + 4 limit. In spite of hearing and reading so much about the Hellcat, I missed out on getting one, but when Springfield launched the Hellcat Pro, I got one and I’m glad I did. Here we have a gun with 15+1 capacity in a flush-fit magazine and though it’s a little longer it’s right in there close to being a 20 oz. gun. The slim-line grip feels great and offers excellent contact and control. There is enough weight in the slide and barrel to reduce muzzle flip. The slide is optics ready, though I haven’t bought the bullet and added a red dot to mine, I probably will in the near future. The existing open sights are great as it is. With front and rear slide serrations I’m able to run the gun pretty well and I certainly feel confident with Springfield’s quality.

S&W’s CSX is an all steel 12+1 package that’s actually lighter weight than most of the polymer framed guns in this group. Some conversation about the gun was that the CS in the name was a throwback to the old, very popular Chief’s Special revolver that was a favorite of police detectives and other undercover cops. When I got a CSX the first thing that struck me was it just felt different, something I attributed to it being an all-steel gun. It’s designed for single-action cocked and locked carry and I find myself feeling comfortable carrying it that way. It makes a good pocket gun, but when I carry it, I put it in the foldaway holster and make it my primary gun for such days. Because of its weight it doesn’t shoot like the small gun it is.

About the same time they released the CSX, S&W joined forces with Federal Ammunition to introduce to us a new caliber and a gun designed for it. The new caliber is 30 Super Carry and it fits somewhere in between .380 and 9mm on the ballistics scale. What’s really cool about it is the reduced diameter of the cartridge allow for more rounds on board. S&W actually modified their Shield Plus to carry 16+1 rounds of 30 Super Carry. That’s impressive in this size gun. The recoil is only slightly reduced from that of a 9mm, but there is a little reduction. I have one of these and I’ve enjoyed shooting it. I’m hoping this will be a caliber that lasts for the additional capacity of nothing else. If James Bond could stop bad guys with a .380 you and I should be able to do it with a 30 Super Carry. I mean it does have “Super” in its name. That has to account for something.

Glock tweaked their single-stack 9mm G43 to work with a 10-round magazine and added an X to the name to get us the Glock in the class of firearms we’re working with. The G43X is classic Glock all the way and if you’re a Glock fan is the one you’ll probably want that’s in this category. I shy away from Glocks just because so many people have them there’s not a ready writer’s market to describe something new and nifty. Glocks are nifty. I’m reminded of that every time I shoot one. The Glock shown in the picture above is my personal firearm, primarily acquired because of the really cool Duracoat® finish put on it by my favorite gunstore owner, Brandon Allred of Kentucky Windage in Hurst, Texas. How does my Glock shoot? Just like a Glock should, excellently.

Back when I said I wasn’t going to pick favorites, I clearly wasn’t thinking about the Sig P365. I’m a Sig fan and this one fits right in there with my expectations and enjoyment of owning a Sig firearm. You may have noticed mine looks a little different than the P365s you see advertised or in use here and there. That’s because I put it in a custom frame built by Wilson Combat. I’m also about to modify it with a short reset Gray Guns trigger. I do tend to carry this one and the Hellcat Pro a little more often than the others, but that’s simply ego. Whenever I go somewhere others are gun people or talking about guns and if the subject comes up “What am I carrying?” I want to be really cool and show off something like a Hellcat Pro, Sig P365X or S&W CSX. What I really should do is show off some of the Taurus or SCCY models because they’re really cool, too. It’s just when anybody and everybody can afford one, they lose some of that upmarket appeal.

Mossberg and Stoeger are two shotgun makers who haven’t traditionally made pistols but have each brought a family of them to market within the past few years. The one shown here from Mossberg is a baby brother (or maybe sister) to the MC2C which is one of my prize possessions. If this smaller version shoots and handles anything like the Mossberg I have, it’s a winner. I’ve not tried one yet, but maybe soon.

Diamondback’s DB9 has been a leader in the small gun arena for years. In fact, when you see the influence the DB9 has on the design of other guns in the market, you can’t help but think of the DB9 as an important component of firearm history. Now Diamondback has upped the ante by offering an extended grip and barrel version that has the kind of capacity we’re looking for in this group of micro nines. One magazine offers 12 rounds and there’s an additional one with 17 rounds. This beats the Shield Plus 30 Carry for capacity in a small gun.

Ruger innovation keeps them as a major influencer of which way the market is going to go. I’m not sure when this little gun hit the market, but it’s based upon an earlier Ruger handgun called the LCP, which I remember as being a hit as a “pocket gun” for many people in the industry. At the time I thought pocket guns were silly, so I didn’t pay much attention to it until students started bringing them to my concealed carry classes to shoot. Frankly, it needed a little help and I see that help in this gun that’s heavier and has a higher capacity. Shooting the Max-9, for me, is a breeze, and carrying it even easier.

When I saw Ruger’s Max-9 I immediately thought of this gun. I have a Security 9C and I love it. it’s an easy to carry, easy to operate, easy to shoot and easy to clean offering from Ruger. Yes, it’s a little longer than 6″ and slightly heavier than 20 oz. but it’s still a diminutive gun that will serve you well whether in your holster or in the nightstand. When you compare the two guns from Ruger up close, you get a good feel for how the designers took the best features from the Security 9C and shrunk them down a bit to make the Max-9.

One day I’ll get my hands on this little gun and it will immediately become a favorite. How do I know? I have a long and pleasant history with the full size B6 and this one looks to be almost the same except for size. If you know the CZ-75, you know the SAR B6 is a faithful clone. I’ve read and seen the reviews on this one and it appears SAR stayed true to form when they shrunk the gun.

So there you have twenty 9mm pistols that are small and easy to hide, but with a capacity of 11 rounds (10+1) or sometimes a lot more. Which one should you buy? All of them, of course. I tend to favor whichever one is in my hand at the moment. I’ve found that I shoot the mid to full size guns better and when I first started shooting these micro-nines, I was frustrated more than pleased at my range results. But I kept at it and got better and better. I firmly believe that any one of these guns would serve me well as a defensive gun. If life continues to treat me well these will stay with me for a long, long time and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some others added. If you have a favorite and good way to justify that favorite, let us know

S&W CSX – Is it Really the New Chief’s Special?

David Freeman

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm pistol
Smith & Wesson’s CSX 9mm Handgun, with its steel frame and 1911-like features has changed the landscape of the micro-nine world. David likes it so much it has become his EDC.

To be honest, when the CSX was announced, I was kind of burned out on the whole line of micro nines. As a journalist who reviews guns for a big portion of my livelihood, I feel it’s important to give shooters my take on the various offerings out there to help them make the best decisions when it comes to buying guns. I like the idea of having a small gun that carries at least 10 rounds as opposed to the string of six of seven shot single-stack nines we’ve had from most of the major manufacturers. But I delayed on the CSX for some reason. Instead of being out on the forefront, I sat back and let others review the gun, and I read or watched their take on the gun.

Ambidextrous controls on the CSX are a bonus, especially for left-handed shooters.

Most liked it. As with any new gun there were a few complaints, some about the trigger, some about the magazines. There was some discussion about where S&W got the name and speculation it might be because this gun would make a good substitute for the Chief’s Special revolver of days gone by because of its size and the steel frame. When the folks at Smith & Wesson sent me a gun to review, my first thought upon opening the box was, “This is different.” In other words, it was obvious it wasn’t “just another black gun,” and more specific, it wasn’t “just another plastic black gun.” Although it’s small, the all-steel construction makes it feel substantial. As I studied the CSX’s design, I couldn’t help but think, “A watchmaker must have made this gun.” The individual parts, such as the sights, slide lock, magazine release and safety are all small but appear to be very strong, and they function perfectly for the role they play. Even with my somewhat chubby hands, especially my fingers, they snap into and out of place precisely and with no looseness.

The CSX is easy to hold and easy to shoot.
Although small, the overall design makes the CSX easy to hold and easy to shoot.

There was a good bit of thought in the CSX’s design to make it easy to shoot in spite of its size. The slide serrations, both front and back, are small to go with the small height of the slide yet are deep cut enough to provide a secure grip. And to go with them are cocking handles at the rear of the slide. There are anti-glare serrations on top of the slide. An opening at the rear of the ejection port serves as a loaded chamber indicator. The sights are dovetail mounted, drift adjustable and have a bright single dot up front and two dots in the rear. The slide lock and frame safety are ambidextrous, and the magazine release is reversible. While not quite as easy to rack as the EZ Rack Shield, the slide on this gun is not unpleasant to rack at all. The trigger has a blade safety which when depressed makes a nice flat trigger face. The single-action only trigger breaks at just a little over 5 lbs. The only take-up is essentially that which is required to depress the blade safety.

Take-down for cleaning is almost pure 1911 except the notch for the slide lock removal is in a different place, and because it’s an ambidextrous slide lock it breaks down into two parts for removal. This requires a punch. Once the slide lock is removed, the rest of the take-down is pure 1911.

Take-down for cleaning is almost like the 1911, fast and easy, eliminating any barriers to cleaning and lubrication.

The CSX is like a miniature 1911. Although it doesn’t have a grip safety, it is still designed to be carried cocked and locked. This is safe because the thumb safety is precise and secure and there’s a trigger safety. I have to admit I wasn’t sure I would be comfortable with this at first, but after several shooting sessions and a thorough understanding of how the action and safeties work, I’m completely comfortable with it.

CSX in Bianchi 101 Belt Slide holster.
Carrying the CSX is about as easy as it comes. David uses a Bianchi 101 Belt Slide holster, OWB, but normally covered by a Propper brand polo shirt.

I don’t carry a gun unless I’ve shot it a bunch with defensive ammo and have determined I can shoot it well and it is not prone to any type of failure. For the CSX, it took several range trips. I think it was due to the size of the gun. There were a few times I pulled the trigger and nothing happened. It was because I was inadvertently pushing the trigger sideways instead of straight back. I’m an experienced shooter, and it took me a while to adjust to the size of this gun. That should serve as notice to readers who do not have a lot of handgun experience. The smaller guns are more challenging to hold correctly, aim correctly, get a good trigger squeeze and hold sights on target until the desired outcome has been achieved. Spending the time to become comfortable with the CSX will reward you with a gun that’s easy to carry, nice to shoot and accurate at defensive ranges. I spent most of my time with the CSX shooting at five, seven and ten yards. By the end of my fourth range session, I was producing targets such as the one shown here shot at seven yards. Plenty accurate for defensive purposes.

After that fourth range session, I loaded the CSX up with Norma 65 grain NXD rounds and placed it in my Bianchi Model 101 Foldaway Belt Slide Holster and considered myself armed. As I write this, I’m at the end of my second full week carrying the CSX as my EDC pistol. Am I happy with it? Yes, it’s comfortable, capable and I’m full of confidence that it will be up to the task should I need to employ it. I’ve joined the ranks of the many who feel the CSX is a pistol that is right for the mission and right for the times.

CSX with 10-yard target
This is a typical offhand 10-yard target. The CSX has performed flawlessly for David through several hundred rounds of both defensive and practice ammo.

Colt’s M45 Marine Close Quarters Combat Pistol

Added 02/15/2022

In July 2012, the United States Marine Corps System Command announced that Colt Defense LLC of Hartford, Connecticut, was the winner of the new CQBP pistol contract. This announcement no doubt delighted the tried-and-true 1911 supporters in the military. Under the new contract, Colt was to deliver 4,000 samples initially and up to 12,000 samples in following years. The contract was said to be worth $22.5M to Colt. The Marine Colt pistol was designated the M45A1.

Colt M45A1 Civilian Model is from the Same Assembly Line as the Marine Model

Three versions of M45A1 were made. The first version is one that went to the military, stamped USMC on the slide and delivered in a cardboard box with two Wilson 7-round magazines. An identical version coming off the same assembly line was sold to the civilian market. The only difference between this one and the one sold to the Marines was the USMC roll mark which did not exist on the civilian model which was delivered in a blue plastic Colt case. The third version was the Colt Custom Shop edition, also known as the “Civilian” version. It is hand fit, hand tooled and came with a snazzy green Pelican case and cleaning kit. All three versions have serial numbers ending in the “EGA” serial suffix (for the Corps’ iconic eagle, globe and anchor insignia), the “U.S.” markings, and the small set of numbers and “CQBP” denoting the official description of “Close Quarters Battle Pistol.”

The Civilian Model M45A1 Ships in a Colt Blue Plastic Box

Originally the Colt Custom Shop pistols had the Marine USMC roll marks on the slide, but the United States Marine Corps filed a cease & desist letter with Colt Manufacturing regarding the use of USMC on pistols not actually going to the Marines. About that time, the Custom Shop was downsized and no more of the Custom Shop M45A1s were made.

The Decommissioned Pistols

Some of the early Marine pistols began showing excess wear and 1,000 of these pistols (470 used and 530 unissued) were traded by the Marine Corps under warranty back to Colt in exchange for newer Ionbond finished replacements. Colt released these original Marine Corps pistols to the public. These pistols are the first U.S.G.I. pistols to be offered on the civilian market since the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) stopped handgun sales over 50 years ago. The included factory letter affirms that this is a genuine U.S.M.C. purchased pistol for combat use by its Special Operations units, including Force Recon. The letter also confirms the features including Desert Tan Cerakote finish, under barrel accessory rail, National Match grade barrel, forward and rear cocking serrations on the slide, long solid aluminum trigger, extended ambidextrous thumb safety, extended beavertail grip safety, flat serrated mainspring housing with a lanyard loop, Novak 3-dot night sights, and desert camouflage G10 composite grips. The slide is correctly roll marked with the “USMC” marking that has been factory stuck with an “X” to signify it as being decommissioned from the U.S.M.C.

Decommissioned Pistol with USMC X’d Out

The End of an Era

Just four short years after the M45A1s were initially issued to the Marines, on September 30th, 2016, the USMC announced that all 1911 type pistols still used by its special operation units would be replaced by the Glock 19. How about that? That short resurrection of the M45A1 as the primary sidearm for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Marine Raiders and the Corps’ Force Reconnaissance Marines resulted in some fine hardware becoming available to those of us who appreciate fine shooting gear and others who have the resources and desire to collect unusual and limited issue guns.

What’s it Like?

The M45A1 has a dual recoil spring assembly which seems to dampen recoil somewhat. Colt added this spring assembly to the M45A1 and some of its commercial models with the intent to decrease the battering the pistol takes on recoil. This is important in a gun meant to endure nearly as many rounds in the weeks-long Marine Raider training regimen as the original M1911 was intended to see throughout its entire service life.

The M45 features 3-Dot Trijicon Night Sights and Ambidextrous Thumb Safety

The coarse checkering on the multi-colored G10 panels assists in anchoring the handgun, as does an undercut trigger guard which allows a high hand hold. The Colt incorporates a slightly beveled magazine well to facilitate reloads. The thumb safeties are ambidextrous and slightly larger than the original 1911 thumb safeties. The M45A1 has the traditional military lanyard loop in the flat, serrated mainspring housing. In addition to the desert tan color, the forward slide serrations and the section of M1913 Picatinny accessory rail immediately stand out and separate the pistol from the typical service M1911.

One thing that makes this particular pistol so much more than a normal Colt Rail Gun or similarly railed 1911 is the absence of MIM (or Metal Injection Molding) parts anywhere in the gun. In an effort to make guns that are traditionally built with steel more affordable, gun manufacturers have created a process to mold low impact gun parts rather than forge or mill each one. Builders of 1911s like Rock Island, Springfield, Kimber and Colt use MIM parts extensively in order to produce a competitively priced product. Springfield and Colt have done a great job in making these MIM parts extremely strong, thus increasing the durability and reliability of MIM-equipped firearms. Glocks uses MIM parts and a polymer frame yet are widely considered to be among the most reliable and durable firearms ever created. MIM parts are widely accepted as the standard in the industry. The Marine Corps is aware of this yet opted for steel, so consequently the CQBP does not use any MIM parts. Every piece of steel in the M45A1 is machined to specific tolerances and tested to the specifications put forth by the United States Marine Corps. This makes for an incredibly well-constructed pistol.

The M45A1 feels heavy compared to other full-size 1911s. That’s because at 40 oz., it is heavy. The Picatinny rail on the bottom of the frame is a full-size Mil Standard 1913 rail which holds accessories nice and tight as compared to its competitors with smaller lower rails. This full-size lower rail adds some of the noticeable heft to the gun, but that heft seems to balance out the pistol so that the gun doesn’t feel nose heavy. The front slide serrations are perfectly placed and have a noticeably deep depth and width, so much so that you can easily feel them while wearing gloves.

The finish on the pistol is a brown Decobond™ designed to hold up through hard use. The early finish problems encountered by the Marines were all fixed by the time the first 1,000 units had been issued. The finish is a bit slick which is offset by the rather deep cocking serrations both front and rear on the slide. This pistol utilizes the Series 80 fire control system which means it has an internal firing pin safety. Colt decided to employ a National Match barrel in the M45A1 instead of their normal barrel option. The quality and engineering on the National Match barrels is exceptional. The ejection port was modified by widening it and flaring it out. The feed ramp on the M45A1 is polished and coated to make the surface extremely smooth. The dual springs have a noticeable slap-back during firing, and the flared and lowered ejection port help to eject spent shells out and to the right of the pistol and not back into your face.

 Shooting the M45A1 feels different than shooting other 1911s. First, there is the additional weight already mentioned. This added weight, in addition to the dual spring “slap back,” provide for noticeably less recoil. The trigger is smooth even by series 80 standards and breaks cleanly at 5 lbs. It would be hard to improve on this trigger with any kind of upgrade. My M45A1 has had hundreds of rounds put through it, both ball and JHP, and has not experienced any type of failure. The only thing I would change about it would be to checker the front strap. I have other Colt 1911s with smooth front straps, so I guess it’s just not something that’s in Colt’s playbook for their stock pistols. The Custom Shop price list indicates they’ll checker the front strap at either 20 or 25 lpi for $260. I’m thinking having that done would make my pistol less valuable as a collector item, plus it’s not a gun I’ll shoot very often so my front strap will remain smooth.

The M45A1 Shoots Well and is Accurate

My pistol is the commercial, non-custom shop version and I wouldn’t own it had I not been a gun shop owner who could buy wholesale when these became available. When I sat down to write this story, I did my best to research the quantities of each type of pistol made and to get an idea of what might be available. Colt has not published the quantities of the EGA suffix pistols that were issued, at least not in any list I’ve been able to find. The decommissioned pistols and the custom shop pistols all appear to be in the hands of collectors. At any given time, one or two may show up on with prices that would only appeal to collectors. The civilian M45A1 is not currently in the Colt catalog, but there’s a good chance it will be offered again as Colt tends to rotate model numbers in and out of production from time to time. Should you buy one? If you’re interested in a unique, firearm with a military history at around $1600, go for it. I suspect it will only be worth more as time marches on.

A Special Veterans Day

Posted 11/11/20121

I’ve now lived through 51 Veteran’s Days as a veteran. Most have been just another day, some with a free meal, one Veteran’s Day I got fired from a job, another I got ridiculed by my boss for wanting to take Veteran’s Day off. Today was the best I can remember.

Two of my grandchildren are students at Boyd High School in Boyd, Texas. Boyd High School’s FCCLA organization invited veterans in the community, especially those who have relatives in the school, to a breakfast at the school. When my grandson Josh invited me via a text message I decided to go.

We were served breakfast in the school library. Somewhere I heard the number 29 veterans in attendance. Most were accompanied by family members. I sat at a table with a 95 year old veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He seemed in better health than me and was sharp and clear of mind. The other two veterans at my table had not served during war time, but had been stationed in Europe at various times. One was an air traffic controller who had worked LA (Lower Alabama) where I went to flight school.

The school librarian welcomed us and said we’d have a prayer before eating. When she asked for a volunteer to pray, the Superintendent of Schools responded and prayed like she knew the one she was praying to on a personal level. Imagine — prayer in school! We were served a breakfast of pancakes and sausage with coffee and plates of cinnamon rolls. But breakfast wasn’t it, folks. We were next escorted down a hall with full height posters on the wall. Our destination was the gymnasium.

As we entered the gym, the entire student body of approximately 400 students was seated in the stands and began applauding as the veterans entered. They kept up the applause and shouts of “Thank You!” until all of the veterans and their families had entered the gym and taken seats in the folding chairs that were set out on the floor. A ceremony followed in which the school band played the national anthem, then a parade of students entered in groups of two, with each group holding a banner for a branch of service. As the groups walked in one at a time, the theme song for the branch of service represented by the banner they held played over the speaker system.

Several individuals gave short speeches. One of them was a teacher who is an Air Force Veteran, another was a graduate of the school who was a veteran and six were students who had written short essays. While in the library, we each had been given a booklet of essays and poems written by students at the high school in honor of veterans. These speeches were additional essays by the students.

The ceremony was quite moving, but that wasn’t all. I’m overcome with emotion as I write this, just remembering. As we left the school we were told the students from the other Boyd Schools — kindergarten, elementary, intermediate and middle school — all wanted to show their appreciation to us as well. We were directed into a parade of 20 or so cars, led by a two police cars with flashing lights. As we drove down Knox Street in Boyd, students from the Kindergarten waved at us from behind their fence, but students from the intermediate and middle school were lined up on both sides of the street, holding patriotic artwork they had done, waving to us and calling out (“Thank you!”) as we drove by. We continued to follow the police cars across one of the main drags, into and through the parking lot of the elementary school where all of the students from that school were lined up, holding up their artwork and calling out to us, “Thank You!” as they waved. The entire parade consisted of smiles, waves and cheers from the students.

Thank you, Boyd High School and all the other Boyd Schools for honoring your veterans in a way that most of us will never foget.