Finally! High Cap Pocket Pistols!
|This is a brief video of my tests with the Beretta Px4 Storm Subcompact above and below is the Springfield Armory XD-9 Subcompact. If you don’t see these videos in IE8/Windows 7, view the Px4 here and the XD-9 here on YouTube in a new window.|
I try to think about “the gunfight” when it comes to concealed carry pistols and revolvers. At the end of day, we all may feel like we carry guns for peace of mind, or generic “self defense,” but we really just want to be prepared in case the need to start, or finish, a gunfight comes up.
That means that when we pick a concealed carry gun, we need to make sure we will a) actually carry the gun we choose, b) be able to accurately fire the gun we choose, and c) be able to depend on the gun we choose. d) Oh, and you really need to have enough firepower to be able to finish the fight, whether you started it or not.
Feeling safer in a hostile world isn’t enough. In order to actually be safer, and to be able to protect those around us, we need to achieve these four goals.
The first point, actually carrying the gun, leads me to suggest more often than not the option of the “pocket pistol” which is more commonly a pocket revolver, the Smith & Wesson J-Frame being the most popular, in .38 Special or .357 Magnum. I usually suggest a model with a bobbed or internal hammer, and that the best way to carry it is in a pocket holster, usually available at the local gun dealer.
There are arguments for carrying a gun in a holster on the waist, either in the pants or out, and many people do. So I will assume for arguments sake (and arguments do spring up when you mention pocket pistol) that if a pistol or revolver is pocketable, it is most likely also concealable on the belt more easily than a larger gun, and how you choose to carry should be a product of your willingness to carry it in that manner every day, in every situation.
If you don’t like to wear your shirt untucked, you don’t like sweaters, and you don’t want to wear a jacket or vest every day, or carry a purse for that matter, a pocket pistol is your only option if you want to be able to draw the gun quickly and fire. A pocket pistol is very convenient to carry and is easily drawn and fired. For me a pocket pistol is the only viable alternative.
The Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver is the standard by which all others are measured. Whether you carry .38 Special or .357 Magnum is a product of how much recoil and muzzle flash you can tolerate, as well as the composition of the gun. They come in solid steel weighing in a pound and a half or so, aluminum alloy at around a pound, down to titanium at a fraction of that. In a light revolver the .357 Magnum is extremely sharp with recoil. I have seen ex-marines shoot two rounds of five and say “that’s enough for now.” If you expect shot to shot recovery and accuracy, either a steel gun in .357 magnum or a light alloy gun in .38 Special are realistic.
As for b) and c), being able to shoot the gun and have it work reliably, the Smith & Wesson comes in as the best choice as well. I would add the new Ruger LCR to that list, which is a polymer “J-Frame” style revolver in .357 Magnum. They are easy to shoot, with no safety you have to remember to drop, and reliability is unquestionable. For these reasons I have always suggested these guns for concealed carry, until now.
The issue is point d) on our list, firepower. I used to feel like my Smith & Wesson Airweight was fine. Most gunfights are 3 rounds or less, so statistically, five rounds of .38 Special +P should be enough.
|There is no comparison between the guns here and a 5 shot revolver.|
But then I lived through the Y2K scare, Katrina, Wilma (the lesser known but devastating hurricane in South Florida right after Katrina), and of course, 9/11. Combined these events made me realize that for one, catastrophic events happen, even in rich fat America, and that when they do, there is no pause button to run home and get your full gear battle rifle or combat shotgun. My concealed carry gun is all I have out there alone in the world, and I want more bullets (!!), and the more bad ass those bullets, the better! …as long as i can manage the recoil for shot to shot accuracy.
For years I dreamed about a pistol that had all four of my points, the hardest one being the first, that the gun would be practical to carry every day, in every situation. Small autos have come and come into the market but they were for the most part either .380 ACP, which I do not consider a caliber that gets the job done, or 9mm with few if any more rounds than my little revolvers. The Kel-Tek, LCP, Kahr and other reliable guns may be viable choices for some people, and they aren’t carried by hundreds of thousands of Americans, they aren’t for me. For years I have carried the .45ACP stainless steel AMT Backup which is no longer made, but even it is only 5 rounds in the mag.
The one pistol that could have been an exception is the Glock 26 in 9mm. It is tiny, smaller than the two pistols I am covering here, but it has what I consider a deal killer for a pocket pistol as part of its design. There is neither an external drop safety nor a mechanical safety as a backup to the trigger safety. If you are someone who never drops the keys into your gun pocket by mistake, and never has kids climbing on you when you walk in the door, it isn’t a deal killer. In a pocket holster to protect the trigger the Glock 26 is a great high capacity pocket pistol. But if you do worry about the occasional absent-minded keys, or you have kids climbing on you with hands and feet everywhere, I can’t recommend it, and I personally would never carry it in such a way. I have both of those issues.
Enter what I consider the new breed of pocket pistol, though I am not sure a lot of people are calling them that.
The Beretta Px4 Subcompact and the Springfield Armory XD9 Subcompact both come in just under two pounds fully loaded with (count em) 14 rounds of 9mm. They represent what I feel is the next generation of pocket pistol. Both are manageable weight for front pocket carry if you wear a belt, and with a pocket holster they both draw smoothly, with no snags.
The Beretta Px4 Storm Subcompact
I’ll start with the little Beretta. It comes out of my pocket as fast as any J-Frame I have every carried, and points as well as any pistol I have ever owned. It made me finally retire my AMT Backup, and plan to carry it exclusively. This subcompact is the baby brother of the full size line of Beretta Px4 pistols. It utilizes a tilt barrel system instead of a rotating barrel like the full size Px4s, but all the other features in the full size guns are also standard in the subcompact. The gun comes with three interchangeable back straps for different size hands and an extra 13 round magazine, as well as a magazine loader. My gun didn’t come with the patented “SnapGrip(tm)” magazine extender, which extends down from the front of the magazine to fit a third finger. It could be they ran out because of the run on high capacity pistols we have been dealing with since November (so make sure you get one).
|The Beretta Px4 Storm Subcompact|
Right now the Px4 Subcompact is available in 9mm, with a 10 round .40 cal version coming sometime early this year. The gun is fully ambidextrous and the magazine release is reversible. The finish on the gun is a non glare that is exclusive to Beretta, called Bruniton. It is meant to be carried close to the body and the barrel is stainless steel. The sights are a three dot Superluminova (R) system coated with a photosensitive luminous material. They charge up in light and can last 30 minutes in darkness. It is 6.2 inches long, 4.8 inches high, and 1.2 inches thick, not counting the de-cocker ears that stick out another .2 inches.
The action of my test pistol is a “double/single,” which means that the way you would carry the gun, your first shot would be double action, with a heavy trigger pull that both cocks and fires the hammer. The recoil from the first round then will re-cock the hammer, and bring the next round into battery, and the subsequent trigger pulls are short, single action, just dropping the hammer to fire the gun.
|Not much larger if at all than a J-Frame|
If you don’t want to fire subsequent rounds, the Px4 has a de-cocker, which lets you bring the hammer to rest and bring the trigger back to a double action pull without having to manually let down the hammer with your thumb while squeezing the trigger. The Px4’s de-cocker also has a safety, so you can load you first round from the magazine by pulling the slide back and letting it go without the gun every being in firing condition. Once you load the round, you can then take the de-cocker off of safe to carry the gun in the same safe condition as you would a revolver, with no external safety and a heavy double action pull as your first shot.
What I like about the de-cocker with the safety, to bring it back to the discussion of the Glock 26, is if you feel you are about to enter a situation where the trigger of your pistol could be pulled accidentally, you can reach into your pocket and flip the de-cocker to safe, rendering the trigger completely inactive. Even a double action revolver doesn’t have that, and I find it to be a useful feature.
It is also an extra safety step for someone who hasn’t carried a gun before who may need that step to feel more comfortable. I don’t feel that the de-cocker on the Px4 Subcompact can be taken off safe easily enough for a quick draw and fire, but if you aren’t ready to carry a gun that can be pulled and fired, it is better than leaving the pipe empty. During that initial period that I carried a gun (it was a Bersa .380 when I turned 21), I had daydream nightmares about the gun spontaneously firing. The additional safety is a welcome addition for those who would prefer it. Beretta offers other action types on the full size Px4s, but I haven’t seen them in the subcompact yet. There is an addition safety feature in the top of the slide. It is a visible firing pin block. Unless the trigger is pulled all the way back there is a post blocking the firing pin, in case the gun is dropped.
My test gun has one of the smoothest double action pulls I have felt in a true double action pistol. No matter where I put my finger on the trigger, it doesn’t “stack up,” which is a difficult thing to explain, but you know when you feel it. It’s like the gun is working against you when you try to pull the trigger, and it is especially difficult for those with small, weaker hands. I have trained women with my stainless Smith & Wesson J-Frame and had them claim that they can’t pull the trigger, no matter how hard they pull. I tell them to just move their finger around a little to find the leverage spot, and then they can snap snap snap it easily.
|The Px4 Subcompact has replaceable backstraps for different sized hands.|
I could not replicate this “stacking” behavior with even my pinky on the Px4 Subcompact, at every angle I could think of on the trigger. There are gunsmiths that specialize in making a Smith & Wesson revolver shoot as smoothly in double action as one that has fired 10,000 rounds. I feel that the Px4 Subcompact shoots as easily as most “slicked up” revolvers I have felt, right out of the box.
Muzzle flip is considerable on the Px4 Subcompact, but that is to be expected on a light polymer framed gun. I found it manageable, and not unlike the flip on my full sized polymer pistols. It is rated for +P ammunition, but I didn’t try it. Expect the muzzle flip and blast to be considerably larger. Beretta advertises the Px4 Subcompact as the most accurate subcompact on the market, and the evidence of my shooting supported that conclusion. I am not a competitive shooter, and except for one flyer that I knew I pulled off, my first magazine on the gun printed into about 4 inches at 25 feet. This is similar to what I would do with my full size Para P-14. I would say it is a very accurate gun.
Field stripping the Px4 Subcompact is extremely easy and performed with the slide locked back. You don’t have to wrangle the slide to the right position while you remove the pin like with many auto pistols. With the slide locked back the pin simply spins and is easily pulled to field strip position. It stays in the gun. Then you just take the slide forward and remove the barrel. Reassembly is equally as simple.
The other features on the gun are a Picatinny rail, for small lights and lasers, and a finger hold depression above the trigger guard to remind you to keep that finger off the trigger when you don’t intend to fire. I love the overall feel of the gun, and I also feel it is the sexiest piece of steel I’ve seen for a long, long time. If the WOW factor at all matters to you, check out the Beretta Px4 Storm Subcompact. It is a solid pistol that may be unmatched in its class.
The Springfield Armory XD-9 Subcompact
At this point there is almost no introduction required for any Springfield Armory XD pistol. The original XD-9 is the pistol that revolutionized the ergonomics of polymer pistols, period. Their original concept of a pistol that was an extension of the hand made me a believer the first time I picked one up, and I have purchased several XDs in three calibers since.
|The Springfield Armory XD-9 Subcompact|
This XD-9 is what is called a “striker fired” pistol. There is no hammer. Instead the XD has a spring loaded firing pin. The Glocks also work like this, and also like the Glock, all XDs have a lever safety built into the trigger, so that you finger must be on the trigger to fire the gun. The trigger pull is long and steady, and fairly light, and there is no drop safety on the gun at all, though Springfield Armory does make some of their .45ACP models in full frame with one.
What made me almost an instant convert to the original XD pistol when I first encountered it was its implementation of a grip safety, similar to that found on the 1911 series of pistols. On a 1911, the grip safety is there to make sure your hand is on the gun when the trigger is pulled, in case the safety is dropped inadvertently and something wanders onto the trigger. For a full size service pistol in a law enforcement situation this could be the finger of an assailant that an officer is wrestling with, and it would be much the same in a concealed carry situation using a belt rig. In the pocket, you never know what can land in your pocket with the gun in it and I feel it is a genuine, decision altering concern for pocket pistols. I find the grip safety comforting, and I feel that it makes the XD subcompact practical for the pocket, whereas the Glock 26 to me is not.
For size, the XD-9 Subcompact is 6.25″ long and 4.75″ high with the regular 13 round magazine. It also comes with an extended three finger magazine that holds 16 rounds. It weighs 26 ounces empty and is just over an inch thick. The barrel is a 3″ Melonite, for superior corrosion resistance, and the frame is of course black polymer.
The original XD was one of the first auto pistols to come with an integrated Picatinny rail, and the subcompact is no different. The smaller variety of lights and lasers will fit the front, though I wouldn’t recommend it for the pocket.
Accuracy on the gun was what I expect now from all XDs, exceptional for an out of the box gun. I shot about the same with this gun as with the Px4 on the first magazine. I am eager to try the XDm version when it comes out, if just to see if I can shoot better than I do now. Even 4″ at 25 feet is respectable, and I am sure the pistol is more accurate than I am.
|Thickness is comparable and less than many revolvers.|
Take Your Pick?
Many people tire of gun reviews that are glowing, but it is difficult to say anything negative about either of these pistols. In the photos you will see the size difference between them, almost imperceptible, and also their size as compared to a standard 5 shot Smith & Wesson in two different styles. I feel that both of these autos are great carry pistols regardless, and particularly good for pocket carry. The choice is up to you. If you prefer a long double action pull for your first shot, like a revolver, it’s the Px4 Subcompact. If you prefer the feel of a full frame XD with its trigger pull that is the same every shot, the XD subcompact will not disappoint. The next generation of pocket pistols is still in its infancy. Ruger just released a subcompact of their popular SR9, and several other companies have offerings in the works or on the drawing board. Understanding the differences is what helps me make my choices, and I hope this overview has helped you make yours.
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