Recently, there have been several new pistol caliber carbines introduced to the market, and I’m predicting this is going to be one of the next big things. This swell of interest is the reason the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is offering a new Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC) class for USPSA.
While I’m certainly not a contender, I enjoy shooting practical matches, and I decided it would be fun to review some PCCs to find out which might work for competition. Since competition shadows defensive firearms use, the best gun for completion would probably make the best choice for the average Joe who wants a companion carbine for his pistol.
While one might think a 9mm carbine would have less recoil than a .223 of similar weight, this isn’t the case for competition-tuned carbines. A tuned competition .223 AR-15 is as stable as a .22 rimfire with almost zero bounce or barrel movement. This is accomplished by stabilizing the gun with a compensator, reducing bolt carrier weight and adjusting the gas to the piston. This isn’t possible with blowback-operated 9mm carbines because the mass of the reciprocating bolt carrier is too heavy and there’s not enough gas to stabilize the gun with a compensator.
I chose four different pistol-caliber carbines, with four marketing directions. JP Enterprise is known for its competition firearms. Palmetto State Armory (PSA) is known for selling AR-15 parts, upper and lower receivers, and completed guns. SIG Sauer is known for excellent and high-quality pistols for serious use. And you may not have heard of Just Right Carbines (JRC) because they’re relatively new and only produce one design, a pistol caliber carbine. Prices ranged from $650 to over $2,000.
Probably the most well thought out of the AR based 9mm carbines is the JP GMR-13. JP is known for producing match ready out-of-the-box rifles and the GMR-13 is obviously a premium product, in build quality and price bracket. At $1,500, it’s not the most expensive carbine in the test, but it’s not a gun for the casual plinker.
The GMR-13 was accurate and reliable with the added bonus of using popular Glock magazines. The trigger was a good single stage with a very manageable 4-pound break. While not as stable as a tuned .223, there was little recoil and 9mm carbines are remarkably quiet because pistol powder burns much faster than rifle powder. The GMR-13 was the second most accurate gun in the test, and with one load it averaged exactly 1 MOA at 50 yards. That’s better than many rifle caliber ARs in a similar price range. Controls are 100 percent AR-15-style with the exception of no bolt lock back on the last shot, but, in fairness, only one of the PCCs tested offered this function. The Glock magazines it uses are reliable and easy to find. Unfortunately, magazines didn’t drop of their own weight, in fact they required pushing up on the magazine while pushing the release. The magazine release was the weakest point of the GMR-13, but the new, GMR-13 and GMR-15 addresses this problem.
Palmetto State Armory PA-X9
The second rifle in the test was much more price oriented, but still based on the AR platform. Palmetto State Armory produces a wide gamut of firearms from 1911-style pistols to AKs to ARs in a myriad of configurations, as well as individual parts and parts kits. At the time of the test, they didn’t have any completed 9mm carbines in their inventory, but I was advised the MSRP was a very reasonable $950 and even less on the web. Also, the designated 9mm lower can be purchased for $199 on their website. I found one dealer on the net offering a Glock 17 with a Palmetto 9mm carbine for a remarkable $1,000 for the two firearms.
The PA-X9 felt distinctly rack grade and that’s reasonable for the price. The PA-X9’s trigger was a bit gritty and heavy and while it was the least accurate of the four carbines tested, accuracy was reasonable. With Zero 115-grain jacketed hollowpoints (JHP) it averaged just over an inch at 50 yards. Once again, operation was pure AR-style with the exception of bolt lock back on the last round. While the magazine release worked on the same principal of the JP, it worked better than the JP. Maybe the Palmetto isn’t a great competition carbine, but it is a reasonable defensive gun.
Just Right Carbines Takedown
The unknown entity in the four test guns was the JRC Takedown Model chambered in 9mm. Many readers might not recognize the name because pistol caliber carbines are the only firearm the company makes. Reportedly, the original design was sketched on a cocktail napkin, and it’s a study of simplicity with less than 50 individual parts, including screws. I first noticed the JRC 9 at SHOT (shooting, hunting, outdoor trade) Show 2017 and my first reaction was that it would make a great utility/camp gun. It turned out to be more than that.
In spite of the fact that it’s a takedown gun, the JRC Takedown was the most accurate carbine in the test. My best group of the test was shot with Zero 115-grain JHP at 50 yards and measured just .261 inch for five shots, barely over ½ MOA (minute of angle). I’ve tested precision bolt actions with chassis stocks that didn’t group this well. Of course, Zero Bullet Company ammunition has a reputation for accuracy. I shot three different loads and the JRC 9 did better with all three loads than other rifles.
The JRC Takedown is built with utility in mind and has a standard, gritty, rack-grade trigger. In spite of the trigger, I was able to get remarkable accuracy, though it’s been my experience trigger pull is more of an aggravation than a disadvantage when shooting off a lead sled. Like the other pistol-caliber carbines, the JRC Takedown was pleasant to shoot. It uses a standard, six-position buttstock, AR-15 trigger, grip, safety, and magazine release, but the magazine release is on the other side. This is a drawback for those who have a firm attachment to the AR-15/M4 manual of arms. Again, the Glock magazine tenon is the source of the problem, but the system works just fine once you get used to it. I’d suggest Just Right Carbines develop a similar arrangement to the AR-15 as an option or aftermarket part. Beyond being a takedown gun, the JRC Takedown Model has the added bonus of having the charging handle and ejection convertible for use on either side.
SIG Sauer MPX
SIG Sauer’s MPX is a ground up design that departs from the other pistol-caliber carbines because it’s gas operated. Adapted from the SIG Sauer MPX pistol, it uses a twin rod retracting stock and proprietary SIG magazines. The SIG MPX is the most tactical in nature, with flip up iron sights on a full-length rail. The collapsible twin rod stock looks cool, but even fully extended, it’s pretty short and wouldn’t work well for competition. For $238, shooters can purchase a longer adjustable telescoping stock from SIG. The magazines for the MPX are proprietary and will run you $67 apiece.
It has AR style controls that operate from both sides. Unlike the other rifles in the test, there is bolt lock back on the last round. It’s ultra-cool looking, and it was totally reliable and remarkably accurate. It was the easiest gun in the group for magazine changes and the magazines dropped free when the button was pressed. This could be an advantage of its proprietary magazines. It was also the most expensive. I tested a gun that belonged to a friend, and he shot PCC in a USPSA match with it and took second place, first time out.
On the Range
Testing was done from a Caldwell Lead Sled Solo at 50 yards with three popular loads. For accuracy testing, I installed a Nikon M-223 3-12x42mm scope. Not a practical choice for a 9mm carbine but great for accuracy testing. I suspect most shooters in these matches will use red dots or reflex sights, but I plan to use a lightweight 1-4X variable. All carbines were reasonably accurate and pleasant to shoot, and there wasn’t a single malfunction in the test. I included some light reloads and steel-cased ammo just to see what happened.
Besides testing for accuracy, Mike Byrd, a 3-Gun and USPSA competitor, spent a lot of time on paper targets doing double taps. Byrd has a GMR-13 and has done a bit of tuning with the buffer. His modified JP GMR-13 was better than any of the stock guns which exhibited about the same level of bounce with the exception of the SIG MPX. Its gas operated and has a much lighter bolt carrier, and was noticeably softer in the bounce department.
Proof is in the competition
Of course, the proof of tactical capability of this type of gun is in how it performs under pressure. I shot the JRC Takedown Model in a local 2-Gun match and my friend, Charles Linker, who owns the SIG MPX competed in the same match. Linker had taken second in a USPSA PCC match first time out with the MPX and is much faster and a better shot than me. He won the 2-Gun match handily, and I placed middle of the pack. At the time of the match, Charles had replaced the buttstock with the SIG telescoping AR style stock, and the trigger with a Hiperfire 3-Gun trigger. The difference in score was more affected by ability of the Indian than the quality of the arrow, Charles shoots 3 Gun, USPSA and similar matches almost every weekend, and I shoot about five or six of them a year. He’s also about 20 years younger than me, but we agree the MPX with modifications is the best competition carbine.
Because of its superior trigger and excellent accuracy, the JP GMR-13 was the best out of the box competition rifle, and this review barely missed the introduction of the new GMR-15 that remedies the magazine release and bolt lock back on the last round issue. The new version also has an improved charging system and better recoil management. The Palmetto PA-X9, though reliable and reasonably accurate, is more of a basic defensive carbine and needs some modification to be competitive.
The MPX is a very cool gun, but it’s also the most expensive of the roundup. If money is no object, an MPX with the folding telescoping AR style stock and a sack of 30 round magazines would be the clear winner. With those improvements, the MPX does everything one could expect from a pistol caliber carbine. Gas operation allows faster recovery with smoother recoil, magazine changes work just like an AR, and the locking bolt on the last round is a big advantage.
For the money, the JRC Takedown Model is a great gun. It’s the simplest and least expensive of the group; it’s the most accurate; and the takedown capability is a nice feature. Straight out of the box and considering price as a consideration: It’s my pick. However, if you want to go all out, the MPX, with the aforementioned modifications, is the winner.
To purchase a SIG Sauer MPX from GunsAmerica, click https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=Sig%20MPX.
To purchase a JP Enterprises firearm from GunsAmerica, click https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=JP%20Enterprises.
To purchase a Palmetto State Armory firearm from GunsAmerica, click https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=Palmetto%20State%20Armory.
To purchase a Just Right Carbine from GunsAmerica, click https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=Just%20Right%20Carbine.