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It seems like everyone besides 7/11 has come to market recently with a micro-sized carry gun, and in some places (like Baltimore) even they might have their own line. At least they have a rep in the parking lot. I have been licensed to carry for over 10 years, and like many other CCW holders, I have bought my share of NEXT BIG THINGs. I have the footlocker full of holsters to prove it. I started on a full-sized steel 1911. I had a 9mm with sights so small they might as well have not existed. I had the elusive Scandium frame .38 Special revolver. And I think I have finally found my unicorn- Enter the XD-S 4.0.
The XD-S first came to my attention a few years ago when I was still in the Army, teaching some SOF ninjas concealed carry for a semi-permissive environment. One of my students mentioned that his unit was fielding the XD-S. I was intrigued. Military weapons system procurement is such a cluster it is much like watching Congress try and make sausage during an election year, with the sausage donor still on the hoof. We are in the 10th year and 3rd iteration of the “ Joint Combat Pistol” in the military, and at the present rate we should have a new one picked just in time to fight the bug people on Jupiter. Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) weapons procurement does happen, but it is exceedingly rare. I had to know what made this gun so good his unit would go through the pain it must have been to field them.
I went to the local gun shop shortly after to get my hands on one. If you have already burned your gun budget for the year, I strongly encourage you to stay home. I was in love at first touch, so strong that I broke my vow to be done buying carry guns which I had made two years prior. (That is a long streak for me, show some sympathy). What separates the XD-S from the pack? I’m glad you asked, straw man. Allow me to educate you on a pistol that would have Wyatt Earp seething with jealousy.
CCW guns are, by definition, small and concealable. That’s kind of the point. If I know I’m going to a gunfight, I bring a rifle. And if for some reason the clouds parted and ordained that I HAD to go to a firefight with just a pistol, it would be a double stack 10mm with lights, lasers, and extended mags. My CCW gun’s job is to get my smiling face to the grocery store and back.
The problem with most carry guns is that they are too small. I am not exactly a giant of a man, but I am over six feet tall, with mitts to match. Most carry guns are easier to shoot one-handed, which isn’t exactly great for recoil management or trigger control. The XD-S fits. It is a small gun, but there is enough of it for me to get both paws on. I also feel like I have a grown up gun when I am shooting. I should mention here, I always carry the extended magazines in my XD-S.
Springfield also managed to fit real sights on the XD-S. They are big enough to see and use, but small enough to be snag resistant. This seems to be a novel concept in the CCW gun category, and a big selling point for me. The conventional wisdom might be “FBI/CIA/NSA/ Podunk County, AL after-action statistics say a citizen’s average gun fight distance is 3 feet, so who needs sights?” I do. I need sights.
Often when I travel, the gun I carry concealed is the only one I have. Ever had someone at your hotel room door, convinced they were at the right room? I have, and not cool. Veteran’s retirement and a GunsAmerica paycheck mean I often stay at less than 4-star hotels. For anyone not familiar with the seedier roadside motel life, some pretty nefarious characters inhabit them. If the local meth dealers decide to come through my door with sawed-off shotguns and bad dental work, I would like that fight to be from at least across the room.
It is also worth pointing out that the rules have changed in the last few years. You don’t carry a gun just to protect you; you carry it to protect everyone in some cases. Mass shootings have taught us that retreat may not be an option. If I had to face something like Aurora or Nidal Hassan at Ft. Hood, I’d much rather try with a gun I can shoot to 20 yards.
Springfield batted one out of the park with this. The magazine and slide release both feel like nothing was compromised in their design. Big enough to actually use, but neither snags or digs into your skin during carry. A work of art.
The XD-S comes with what I feel is the best trigger for a carry gun I have ever had. This is not a race gun; it’s built for work. The trigger has about a quarter inch of take up, then a reasonably crisp break. The weight is heavy enough that it isn’t going to surprise you, but not so heavy as to be difficult to shoot.
Finally, the fun part! I must confess, I cheated a little in this review. When the 4.0 came up for review, I jumped on it. But my carry gun for a year prior to this had already been the XD-S 3.3. Both guns are in .45 ACP for an apples to apples comparison. 230-grain hardball is sporty out of a small gun–that’s just physics.
The XD-S handles it surprisingly well, though. The grenade checkering on the frame helps you keep your grip, and the dual recoil spring system absorbs a lot of the energy. You will know you are shooting, but it is a very controllable package, all things considered. I shot 300 rounds for this review in one day, and my hands felt fine at the end.
3.3 vs 4.0
The 4 inch XD-S is, predictably, slightly easier to shoot due to its slightly longer sight radius. I said easier, not more accurate. All the things I did with the 4″, I could repeat with my 3.3″. The sight radius is just a wee bit more forgiving. The weight difference, 3 ounces, also gives the 4″ a slight edge for shooting. That is roughly the same as adding a tungsten guide rod to a full-size gun, with the weight exactly where you want it, up front.
Having both guns and holsters made by the same manufacturer (Jackson Leather Works) helps. You do feel that extra ¾ inside the waistband, but it’s not much different. Both are great guns. Either is a win. Given my frame size, if I had it to do over again, I would buy the 4.0. I lose almost nothing in concealability, and gain a bit more slide. But the difference is not enough for me to trade in my 3.3.
Lastly, I had two very similar guns for a limited time, and I was at the Mad Max range known as TDSA (Texas Defensive Shooting Academy). Did I resist the temptation to waste 16 rounds of ammo going pistols akimbo like this was Play station land? Not a chance!
About the author (in his own words): I served in two branches of service, the USMC and the Army. In Mother Corps, I was in the infantry, a Scout/ Sniper, and a Recon Marine. I spent my last year on the all-expenses-paid-cruise-ship USS Nassau, culminating with the invasion of Iraq.
In the Army, I was a Green Beret, with most of my career spent in 3rd Special Forces Group. I was an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) Communications SGT, Intelligence SGT, and finally Team SGT. I was in a Direct Action unit, and I spent time on both the assault and sniper sides of the house. My last assignment I taught Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat and Low Visibility Operator for 3 years. I retired in 2013.
In addition to blasting peoples’ faces off, I have shot a lot of paper/steel as a competitor. I have shot most of the major 3 gun matches on the circuit, and currently hold a Master Rating in USPSA production. I don’t shoot IDPA because they don’t make a fishing vest in Barrel Chested Freedom Fighter size. When I’m not writing for GunsAmerica, I teach gunfighting through my company Off The Reservation, and occasionally run my mouth via Facebook.