Much is written about handgun cartridge stopping power. It seems that gun magazines are quick to feature each month the "newest and hottest" combat loads (complete with photos of ballistic jello penetration and exploding watermelons) touted as having the greatest stopping power. Although these articles are interesting to read, they are not practical and lead the majority of the readers (see previous page under UI) to assume that one shot stops can be accomplished if you shoot the latest, hottest, jacketed hollow point, titanium core, wonderound.
The truth is that any handgun cartridge is capable of providing a one shot stop with proper shot placement and any handgun cartridge will be woefully ineffective with poor shot placement. Although not at all practical as a defense weapon, the .22 calibre rimfire will drop a 250 pound madman if you shoot him through the eye into the brain vault. The same man would not even flinch when shot through the arm by a .44 Magnum. Therefore, shot placement is most crucial when considering the factors involved in the immediate termination of a hostile threat. From a practical sense, shot placement should initially be center of mass.
Another misconception spawned by "one shot stopping power" magazine articles is that one should expect or strive for a one shot stop when using a handgun against an armed adversary. This erroneous thinking will get one killed! Even the most powerful combat handgun cartridge shot at close range will not guarantee an instantaneous kill. The handgun cartridge is severely under powered when compared to a rifle cartridge or buckshot. The standard response with a handgun is two shots delivered as quickly as possible. Shoot twice at center of mass, then rapidly assess the situation to determine if the threat still exists. If the threat is not terminated, repeat the process or move up to the head and carefully deliver one round to the brain vault. By training to shoot twice every time one engages a target, a reflexive standard response develops that triggers the quick and accurate delivery of two center of mass hits when shooting for blood.
When choosing a cartridge, volumes have been written comparing calibres, projectile characteristics, weights, velocities, etc. Again, these articles provide for good discussion at the gun club, but fail to point out that the extra 300 feet per second or increased bullet weight is the least appreciable factor in deciding the outcome of a gunfight. Those who know will tell you that it wasn't the cartridge that did their killing. From a practical standpoint choose a cartridge that has as large a cross sectional bullet diameter and bullet weight as possible, loaded as hot as you can effectively control it. The cross sectional diameter of the bullet (calibre) affects the amount of tissue displacement. The weight and velocity of the bullet affects penetration. Therefore, the larger the calibre, heavier the bullet, and faster the velocity — the greater the tissue damage.
There are those who feel that fully loaded, large calibre, pistol cartridges — such as the .45 ACP are too difficult to control. Lack of recoil control when shooting a handgun chambered for the .45 ACP is due to poor gun handling — not due to cartridge power. A proper grip and stable Weaver stance will allow even the frail to effectively control the muzzle. If you doubt it, spend a weekend with us at Front Sight and your doubts will vanish as your gun handling improves.
So the next time you read about the latest and greatest handgun cartridges, remember the practical rule of thumb — shoot the heaviest bullet in the largest calibre that is loaded as hot as you can effectively control it to deliver two well placed shots in the quickest possible time.
Also remember — it is the man and not the gun (or cartridge) that does the killing. A UC with a .22 rimfire is a great deal deadlier than a UI with a .44 Magnum.
Any Gun Will Do …
As Front Sight’s motto indicates, your handgun is just a tool. However, some tools are better than others and it is comforting to have good equipment. For several reasons related to gunhandling speed, cartridge power, accuracy, and safety, the Colt 1911 .45 ACP is the handgun of choice of many a pistolero. I am often asked by the prospective student if any modifications should be made to the 1911 to enhance its function. I am quick to point out that in terms of modification, less is better. A practical (as in one carries the gun on the street) handgun does not need a compensator, ambidextrous safety, or all the extra hardware that adorns the IPSC competition guns.
The following list of modifications are all one needs on an out-of-the-box 1911 to enhance functional reliability and ease of use.
I caution against allowing anyone other than an experienced, competent gunsmith to work on a gun one carries for blood. There is no room for error in an instrument for which one stakes his life.
- Fixed sights set at 25 yards. Sights should be large and black for rapid alignment.
- Aluminum trigger tuned (no creep) to 3½ lbs. Use a short trigger if your hands are small.
- Barrel throated and polished to allow chambering of all .45 ACP ammunition varieties.
- Feed ramp contoured and polished for ease of ammunition feeding.
- Extractor tuned and polished for positive extraction and spring tension.
- Extended thumb safety for ease of operation and proper thumb placement with firing grip.
- Solid barrel bushing for added strength.
- Hammer bobbed to prevent snagging on clothes when carrying concealed and to prevent pinching or irritation of flesh when shooting or practicing gun handling techniques.
- Firing pin stop press fitted for added protection against failure.
- Heavy recoil spring kit to prevent excessive frame and slide wear when shooting full loads.
- Thin stocks to reduce grip size.
- Entire gun, including sights, dehorned (all sharp edges smoothed) to prevent snagging on clothes when carrying concealed and to prevent blisters and cuts on hands when shooting or practicing gunhandling techniques.
- Two eight shot magazines. The magazine carried in the gun does not require a bumper on the base as it adds unnecessary bulk to the gun. The spare magazine should have a bumper for ease in proper seating of the magazine when speed loading.
- Considered an option, tritium (glow in the dark) night sights for low light shooting conditions.
- Considered an option, (only attempted by a competent, experienced gunsmith) slimming and thinning of the frame to create a smaller grip for those shooters with extremely small hands.
- For left handed shooters only, ambidextrous thumb safety.
Choosing the finish on a handgun is much like choosing the color on a sports car. The choice is up to the owner, but some standards do apply. Just as one would not paint a Ferrari, lime green with purple pinstripes, one would not finish a practical handgun in bright polished stainless steel, nickel, or gold. Unless of course, one’s occupation is peddling flesh on the street corner. In which case, a lime green Ferrari and gold plated .45 are the accessories of choice for the upwardly mobile pimp!
Whatever finish you choose, make sure it is a matte finish, as even blued steel if highly polished, will reflect light, creating undesirable attention and target indication.
Upon completion of the modifications listed above by a competent gunsmith you will have the exactly what is needed in a combat sidearm.
Another option is to just buy a Glock chambered in .40SW. It’s good to go right out of the box. That’s what I carry.
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For more information about Front Sight please email us. Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, P. O. Box 2619, Aptos, CA 95001. Phone: 1.800.987.7719 Fax: 408.684.2137
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