What’s In Your Pocket? Training with Sub-Compacts

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The author and Massad Ayoob scoring at the MAG 40 class.

A number of years ago, a group of trainers and writers were gathered when the question was asked: What gun you are carrying right now? Virtually everyone in attendance answered that they were carrying a small-frame, snub-nose revolver.

I think the times they are a changing. At a recent MAG 40 class ( a four day immersoin course taught by Massad Ayoob in Hot Springs, Arkansas), three of the five top scores all came from sub-compact autos.

If you have been to many handgun classes, you will know that many students bring full-sized handguns in outside the waistband holsters. The MAG 40 class is different. Massad Ayoob advocates that you bring and shoot your carry gun. The range portion of the training culminates in a police-style qualification where you shoot both dominant and non-dominant single-handed positions, perform speed reload drills, shoot from cover, and learn 2-handed shooting stances (Weaver, Chapman, and Isosceles), all while under time constraints and at from distances of 4 to 15 yards.

Over the last 15 years, I have seen almost every kind of gun used in this class (including two single-action revolvers from a cowboy action rig), and it has been my observation that students mostly fall into 3 groups: the ones who bring the gun they shoot the best (but carry another gun on a daily basis), the new shooter who purchased their first gun and are trying to figure it out, and the real-world guys (and girls) who bring and run what they carry every day. Keeping in mind the final course of fire is 60 rounds (the class is 500 rounds in total), the guns that came to this class were the following brands and models:

GunScoreCaliberBarrel Length
Glock 433009mm3.39
Walther PPS2989mm3.2
Glock 172959mm4.5
STI Trojan2959mm5
Springfield XDs2909mm3.3
Walther PPQ (M1)2879mm4
Walther P992879mm4
Glock 192839mm4
Springfield R.O. Compact282.45 ACP4
HK USP2819mm3.5
HK P302779mm3.9
SAR Arms2759mm4
Glock 192729mm4
Walther PPQ (M2)2669mm4
Springfield XD Mod 22659mm3
Beretta 92FS2609mm5
S&W 649247.38 Special2.2
GUns

The guns used in the MAG 40 class have changed. While revolvers used to be the norm, the pocket pistols have gotten functional enough to hold their own with full-sized pistols. And revolvers are now rare.

The GLOCK 43, a Springfield-Armory XD-S, and a Walther.

The GLOCK 43, a Springfield-Armory XD-S, and a Walther PPS.

Let’s do the sub-compact math

On the final exam, each of the shots is worth 5 points, for a possible score of 300. To pass, each student is required to score 75%, or 225 out of 300 points.

The order of finish was a win with a 100% from the little Glock 43. The gun in the second-place position was the equally small Walther PPS with 99.3%. Show was claimed with a full-sized Glock 17 and an STI Trojan, both with 98.3%. The honor for 4th place was garnered with the sub-compact Springfield XDs with 96.6%.

What is the take away?

The new generation of sub-compact autos will perform with the big-boy autos! There are some advantages to the sub-compact autos that you don’t find with snub-nose revolvers.

1. Generally, the new sub-compact autos have better sights than the notch formed into the rear of the top strap and the small front sight found on most small revolvers, a notable exception being the Smith &Wesson M&P 340 series.

2. The choice of magazine capacity helps you to tailor the gun to the choice of carry with 6, 7, or 8-round magazines.

3. A third finger perch is afforded by the molded sleeve on the exposed portion of the magazine.

Do the new sub-compact autos have the 100% reliability of the small revolver? Typically, no, however these current samples don’t seem to be giving up any reliability, while delivering better sights, concealability, and adequate firepower.

Side-by-side the Pocket Hammerless and the Vest Pocket.

Side-by-side the Pocket Hammerless and the Vest Pocket.

The age of the pocket auto has arrived; or to be more correct, what was old is now new again. Around about the turn of the last century, the pocket auto was all the rage for the same relative reasons listed above. I’m referring specifically to the Colt 1903, the 1908 Hammerless, and the 1908 Vest Pocket models. These guns were designed by John M. Browning and produced by Colt, however, these guns had a drawback in the choice of ammunition available. The new generation of small autos will easily fire Plus P 9mm defensive loads that are capable even out of the shorter barrels. I confess a preference to a 9mm pistol as a minimum caliber for self-defense. There have been a slew of .380 auto guns that fit the bill for pocket carry, but I have noted less-than-stellar performance from the 9mm short round. The generation of effective, reliable, and powerful pocket autos has arrived.

I would urge all gun owners to attend Massad Ayoob’s MAG 40 course on the judicious use of deadly force. Details can be found here ( http://massadayoobgroup.com/ ).

Mas and I will be teaching again October 8-11, 2015, in Northwest Arkansas. You can register here. http://nighthawkcustomtraining.com/

The pocket auto's popularity is due, in no small part, to its narrow width.

The pocket auto’s popularity is due, in no small part, to its narrow width.

How small is small enough? The competition is fierce. GLOCK on the left, Walther on the right.

How small is small enough? The competition is fierce. GLOCK on the left, Walther on the right.

Length is less of a consideration, though the standard hovers around the 3" mark for major calibers.

Length is less of a consideration, though the standard hovers around the 3″ mark for major calibers.

And if your sub compact shoots like this, why not brag about it?

And if your sub compact shoots like this, why not brag about it?

The MAG 40 class poses real world challenges. Fast mag changes on a single-stack are harder to nail.

The MAG 40 class poses real world challenges. Fast mag changes on a single-stack are harder to nail.

A humble GLOCK? Hardly. The 43 took the day.

A humble GLOCK? Hardly. The 43 took the day.

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Jack July 15, 2016, 6:39 am

    every day carry Beretta 92fs Compact 9mm, with 15+1 round extended mag my backup carry Seecamp 380 6+1 (This pocket rocket is so nasty to fire that it would be the very last resort go to, as well it should be. find me on twitter #stravage

  • Greg December 12, 2015, 11:22 am

    I was disappointed in not seeing the Glock Model 38, .45 GAP subcompact pistol in your list. As this model is clearly in this Class and probably would have out performed most in the list, at least in the top ten percentile.
    I would like to see your comparison updated reflecting the performance of the Model 38,.45GAP.

  • Tom May 18, 2015, 12:04 am

    Do people even read the article before complaining about this-or-that gun not being mentioned? THE LIST REPRESENTS WHAT STUDENTS BROUGHT TO THE MAG40 CLASS.

    *smh*

  • ??? May 17, 2015, 10:12 pm

    Where are the CZ RAMI, ParaOrdnance Warthawg and SlimHawg and the Springfield Armory Ultra Compact?

  • ken May 14, 2015, 5:25 pm

    Any conversation about sub compacts that does not include a Sig 938 is ridiculous – its the gold standard

  • Ron May 14, 2015, 6:42 am

    After buying, shooting, carring, my Beretta PX4 Storm Sub Compact, I was ready to throw my XD Sub Compact in the trash. (.40 cal)

  • Terry Nielsen May 13, 2015, 12:16 am

    I drive my Kahr CM9 every day. Has been utterly reliable and accurate.

  • Terry Nielsen May 13, 2015, 12:15 am

    I drive my Kahr CM9 every day. Has been utterly reliable and accurate.

  • Jon Hodoway May 12, 2015, 8:41 pm

    The guns were what the students brought to class.I only shot the Walther PPS that is one of my backup guns. I think a lot of great guns were not reresentated.

    Jon

  • John Mohr May 12, 2015, 11:14 am

    Great study but haven’t you missed a whole other class of CC pistols? I just purchased a Beretta Pico which I class as a true pocket pistol. Also in this class is the Smith&Wesson 389, Colt Mustang, Kahr 380, Sig Sauer small 380, and Kimber small 380. I mean literally stick them in your pants pocket (really nice for cargo pants) and they are virtually invisible. In shooting my Beretta 380, I realized the same top performance. I also have a S&W XDS 45 ACP I love but you need a holster and they are a little more combersom to conceal.

    Thanks

  • Daniel Bevarly May 11, 2015, 9:33 pm

    Hello! Where’s the CZ RAMI (in 9mm or 40 cal)? That was a real slight.

  • Art Smejkal May 11, 2015, 9:22 pm

    I use a sccy cpx-1, 9mm 10 round double stack barrel length 3.1″ hight 4″ length 5.7″width 1″ weight 15 oz empty.
    I find this gun very reliable and pretty accurate at 7 yards, a very comfortable pocket pistol. Just wondered if you tried it? Thanks, Art.

  • Steve May 11, 2015, 8:10 pm

    No G30s?

  • Bill Hill May 11, 2015, 5:40 pm

    Licensed civilian carrying every day has a lot to do with being able to carry totally concealed, which most of the above weapons will not achieve. I was surprised not to see Ruger LC9s in the class, maybe as new. The striker fired LC9s is so much improved compared to my hammer fired LC9 even with Galloway trigger job. I was also surprised no .40sw weapons were in the class, such as Glock 27. My Glock 27 is so accurate it isn’t any fun to take to the range, similar to the LC9s. I agree about .380s but my LCP with Crimson Trace makes up with better speed and accuracy, especially for total concealment in summer dress cloths.

  • JR May 11, 2015, 5:11 pm

    Wasn’t it Elmer Keith who stated that the only difference in accuracy between a pistol with a 2 inch barrel and a pistol with a 6 inch barrel was the person who was firing the pistol? (Or words yo that effect.)

  • JR May 11, 2015, 5:10 pm

    Wasn’t it Elmet Kieth who stated that the only difference in accuracy between a pistol with a 2 inch barrel and a pistol with a 6 inch barrel was the person who was firing the pistol? (Or words yo that effect.)

  • Alan May 11, 2015, 4:59 pm

    No S@W mp 9 shield ? Ruger,etc. Real world 9 s.That a lot of people carry.

    • Justin Bennett January 26, 2016, 11:32 am

      I agree. Where is the M&P Shield 9mm? I thought this is the most popular conceal carry 9mm on the planet.

    • jay fallo January 6, 2017, 8:16 am

      RIGHT YOU ARE!!!

  • Mike K May 11, 2015, 2:59 pm

    To answer the above question, .380 is a sub standard self defense cartridge and as a police firearms instructor I always discouraged its use. And, why use a .380 when they are making full 9mms the same size now?

    But, my real issue is, why no Kimber Solo? I’m a 1911 guy but since retiring to Florida I carry this little piece with Hornady Critical Duty ammo and feel pretty confident. It is very well made and beautifully finished, totally reliable even using light weight ammo that they don’t recommend, has great sights, is quite accurate and has a fantastic “out of the box” trigger. I rarely see or hear about one and find more accessories for other guns that just came out yesterday? Is it just the price that keeps it in the dark?

    • David May 11, 2015, 3:42 pm

      You don’t hear about the solo because it’s expensive, single action with a manual safety, and isn’t reliable with target loads. Three things that are unacceptable to most people in a pocket gun.

      It’s a nice shooting pistol and very well finished. But I’d rather have my Kahr PM9 in my pocket.

  • Proud Knight May 11, 2015, 12:38 pm

    Your elimination out-of-hand of all .380s is extremely short-sighted. Or are you of a “size matters” mindset?

  • John May 11, 2015, 11:12 am

    What kept the Sig 938 off that list? Help me out on that one.

    • Joshua May 11, 2015, 12:08 pm

      That wasn’t a best gun list that was the GUNS in the class that day.

    • William F. Creighton May 11, 2015, 1:02 pm

      I totally agree, a great pistol.

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