1,000 Round Review: Taurus TCP .380 ACP

Every once in a long while I come across a tool that I absolutely have a dislike for. As a qualifier for this; when we buy mass produced guns we need to be aware that all firearms have their quirks. I can buy the same model that you will buy and they can be drastically different. Everything from what ammo the gun prefers to how functional it is can have night and day changes. Most gun enthusiasts are also aware that Taurus has a somewhat spotty quality control history. I have now owned 3 different Taurus models and have been somewhat lucky until now. This gun has reinforced several things for me that I needed to be aware of. One, the most important, is that you must train with what you carry. Anything from tasers to guns to knives, get training and use it! Otherwise you will not be ready when it is needed. This will also allow you to find any of the tools shortcomings or flaws in order to address them accordingly.

I purchased this Taurus TCP .380 ACP pocket pistol on a deal with my roommate (we both bought one on Black Friday) and I took it out to the range. Typically I like to put 200-500 rounds through a gun before I put it into my every day carry. My goal with this gun was to have a backup for my main firearm when needed. I was able to get through about 250 rounds before making a holster and starting daily carry with it in an ankle holster. I had several minor malfunctions that I attributed to bad ammo (my first .380 pistol so it was receiving the benefit of the doubt) and due to to it being a backup I figured the malfunctions were few and far between enough for me not to worry. Upon doing about 25 hours of dry fire training I started to notice several of the shortcomings of this firearm. One is sights, the front and rear sights are actually milled out of the slide itself. Not adjustable, no dot to speak of and also in no way replaceable. Also if you have seen my other reviews you will notice a trend, I love to modify and tinker. There is not much, if any, aftermarket support for this pistol. Granted I know that a great portion of the 2a community doesn’t want modifications to their firearms, however it is nice to have options. So after using some high-visibility paint to the front sight blade, I decided to keep with the dry-fire and live-fire training to see if I was just being especially picky without reason. The trigger seems gritty and has several stages that make it difficult to get through the 10+ lb pull consistently.

I encountered issues after an additional week of dry-fire training, finishing the training I reloaded my magazines and carried it for a couple days. During this time I had been looking at the S&W Bodyguard due to it having a lot of the replaceable features and aftermarket support the TCP lacks. My sister recently had turned 21 and was looking for something small so I decided that a new gun for me and giving her my Taurus would work out fine. I took her to the range, loaded up a magazine and with some training unloaded first I then allowed her to try it live. She pulled the trigger, no bang. Bless her, she immediately stopped, set the gun down in a safe direction and asked for help. I picked it up; tap, rack & no bang. Pulled both cartridges off the ground and noticed that there was no primer mark. End of the day I ended up giving my sister one of my old reliable favorites, a CZ 70 that has seen better days from holster wear but has never failed me in 10 years.

I sent the TCP back to Taurus and waited several weeks. I will say this, Taurus was very efficient and pleasant to deal with during the repair process. The firing pin had broken during the previous dry-fire training (I was using Snap-Caps aka dummy rounds) and it appeared to have just sheared off about 2-3 mm of the tip, making the firearm no longer functional. I got it back and took it out to the range, 200 more rounds and the lugs on the barrel sheared off. Sent it back again, and got it back. Obviously at this point let’s just address the elephant in the room and acknowledge it is highly likely I received a lemon. I was in no way going to trust this gun with my life but that is based out of my own experiences, I have spoken to several owners of the same gun that had zero issues with theirs. Finally I was informed that they were replacing the pistol entirely free of charge. The new gun has about 1,000+ rounds through it and ended up being traded for another firearm. As far as I have been made aware it is still ticking along, however this has made me far more conscious of my gear and how I test what I rely on every single day. I will in no way say that all Taurus are bad, just take this lesson and be aware of my failings so that we can keep moving forward in the future.

5,000 Round Review- S&W Shield 9mm

Working on finding the right concealed carry gun is a difficult process. I have owned about 6 guns dedicated to an every-day carry roll and have learned a great deal about what I want/need for a tool I can use and comfortably carry daily without it getting left in the safe. After all, the only good gun is a gun you carry, if it is unwieldy or uncomfortable to shoot you are likely not to carry it as needed. Enter the Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm.

 

 

MP Shield 9mm Stock Photo.jpg

(Photo Credit- Buds Gun Shop; also where I purchased mine)

Model: M&P 9 SHIELD, Caliber: 9mm, Capacity: 7+1, 8+1, Barrel Length: 3.1″ (7.9 cm), Overall Length: 6.1″, Sights: White Dot, Front & Rear, Weight: 20.8 oz (589.7g), Slide & Barrel: Stainless Steel, Frame: Polymer, Finish: Armornite®

This gun was a great choice due to having several things going for it that were ideal for my uses. Size for one, also being chambered in 9mm, as well as being a great option for future modification by yours truly. I own a Springfield XDs as well, however that is chambered in 45 ACP which can be a lot more of a handful with recoil, making follow-up shots difficult for anyone not an high-level shooter. For myself, 9mm is about the smallest acceptable size for a primary firearm while still being potent enough with modern ammunition loading to stop a threat. The magazines are an odd hybrid double/single stack; bottom being a double stack that tapers about 2″ from the feed lips into a single stack. Capacity is very reasonable for the size; 7 round flush-fit magazines with additional 8 round mags available. One is even included with most models. I immediately purchased 2 extra mags for training and carry. I tend to keep the 7 round mag in the gun with two larger capacity in reserve. One thing I would fix if possible, is to have a longer slide/barrel length, due to that being the easiest part for me to conceal on my person.

I decided when purchasing to go with the model without a thumb safety, due to my training and comfortable manual of arms not having included switch-type safeties. Other safeties are included, like all striker fired guns in current manufacture. This has a firing pin block drop safety as well as a trigger safety. The trigger safety is somewhat bizarre and for myself, difficult to get used to. The trigger itself breaks very noticeably and I found I was jerking my shots even with a slow & steady pull. After about 6 months of dry-fire training I decided an upgrade was in order. After some research I settled on an Apex Tactical flat trigger, with a upgraded connector and spring kit. This trigger has a much more normal trigger safety and the pull weight was reduced to about 4.5 lbs. The pull is much cleaner and extremely smooth. This modification alone has made this pistol a dream to shoot. The lighter pull weight is not too much for me to be concerned about negligent discharges however it is much easier to shoot. I did order it in a nice blue with a black trigger safety as pictured below.

 

S&W Shield 9mm w.Crimson Trace Light & Laser Green -Left Side (2).jpg

As you can see I added a LaserMax light/laser combo to the gun. This model is the 100 lumen mint green light with green laser. The laser on it is spectacular, being about a 50 MOA dot that is extremely easy to see. I love this combination for my carry gun as it has no button, it has what they are calling “Grip Sense” which allows you to just put your hand in a regular firing grip, thus activating the unit (however you set the settings) instinctively. I have only had two issues with this. One is that the original unit sent had a manufacturing defect that the laser didn’t function, they sent me a new one within 2 weeks and it worked great. The other issue is that even with removing the batteries on dry fire training and most live fire sessions, the batteries die quickly. Taking this to a defensive pistol course for example I would recommend 2 extra sets of batteries for a 2 day class, just in case.

As seen in the pictures, I also stippled the grip personally. You can see my rather amateur work but it works fantastic for me without being too much like sandpaper on my hands or clothes. There are other modifications in the works right now, Samsung Manufacturing is sending me an enhanced & beveled magazine well in blue as well as their modified Shield model 9mm compensator. I am looking to purchase a True Precision Match-Grade threaded barrel next chance I get so that I can ring out some extra accuracy from this rig. I have also added a pinky extension to the flush-fit magazine in order to have a better firing grip. I went back and forth on this. In one viewpoint, a lot of trainers say to keep the flush fit as it is, due to wanting maximum concealment as the grip is the hardest part to hide. The other school of thought is to add the extension so that you have a better firing grip to control the pistol under recoil. I tend to agree with trainers under the first persuasion, only I now keep a spare flush-fit magazine with no extension for when I really need deep concealment.

On accuracy, I am able to put 23 rounds within a 2″ circle at 15 feet. Not bad for myself, guaranteed that a better shooter could have a better group. This is sufficient for the work I have set this tool up for.

To be honest, this gun has held up amazing to this round count. There is some wear on the barrel hood edges as well as about a half inch from the muzzle of the barrel. This is fairly normal for a pistol with this high of a round count. The frame is in great shape, the rails are still pristine and functional. I have had some magazine related issues, most seemed to be the odd design of the magazine spring getting bound up in the magazine body, thus not allowing me to load to full capacity. Disassembly and reassembly seemed to solve this each time. Other than that, there was a shockingly low amount of standard malfunctions. No failure to feeds, extract, or to fire. This gun takes anything from high-pressure Buffalo Bore +P rounds to standard junk range ammo to every kind of hollow-point and odd bullet shape imaginable. No matter what I fed it the gun keeps on firing.  Most of my modifications on this gun are more from a personal choice standpoint, not actual major design improvements. I highly recommend and will post a follow-up when it gets above 10,000 rounds.

S&W Shield 9mm w.Crimson Trace Light & Laser Green -Deleted Serial

10,000+ Round Review: S&W M&P 15-22

S&W M&P 15-22 .22 LR-Left Side Black Serial.jpgI purchased the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 about 5 years ago. It was my actual first rim-fire rifle and has been a delightful choice that I have never regretted purchasing. Nowadays, you can even get them in totally different colors, styles, and better handguards, (more on the handguards later) all available for usually less than $500 street price. This rifle is fantastic for training; either for setting up a training match to your duty rifle in a center-fire caliber & shooting cheaper or for teaching someone new to guns with a firearm that is extremely low recoil & noise as well as being very easy to use. With the cost of 22 long rifle ammunition I can get away with a range trip spending only $15-25 a box of 300+ rounds and easily shoot 1-2 hours with someone new to guns or wanting more in-depth training.

The ergonomics of this rifle are extremely similar to an AR-15, or modern sporting rifle (MSR) usually chambered in .224/5.56 (there is a massively larger caliber selection in a standard MSR than I could possibly list here). However when you pull it next to a center-fire MSR the differences are minor but completely incompatible. As far as my research suggests, they made the design changes so that they could keep with an inexpensive polymer receiver design that can handle the pressures from a rim-fire round but would not stand up to center-fire pressures. The 2 pins that hold a typical MSR upper and lower receiver are smaller and have a different geometry to them so you cannot mistakenly put the parts on a standard MSR. The charging handle is shortened, and lacking the tab/hole end that would normally interact with the gas key on a center-fire bolt carrier group (BCG). This firearm is blow-back operated compared to the MSR which is gas operated. The BCG is a fairly solid design, with the entire recoil spring included in the BCG so that there is no need for a recoil spring/buffer going all the way into the stock (more on that later as well). Other differences include a specialty barrel nut and system to hold on the handguard.

Those differences aside, this rifle can take a great deal of standard MSR parts. Everything from triggers, sights, stocks, grips, and muzzle devices will work as long as they are compatible with a common MSR in .223/5.56 (muzzle threading for example is 1/2×28, typical of any 22 caliber barrel). I picked this rifle especially for that reason and for the fact that the manual of arms being exactly the same as a standard MSR. This makes it extremely easy to teach someone to use the more powerful rifle without shelling out a ton of money for training ammunition. Typically I can get 22 long rifle for $0.06 a round (Federal Auto Match, great ammo) compared to $0.39 a round (Federal Match 5.56 in bulk). Doesn’t seem like much but when you shoot as much as I do it starts to add up really quickly.

I have tried out several different optics on this rifle before settling on the CV Life© red dot. (Pardon the slight blurriness)S&W M&P 15-22 .22 LR-CVLIFE Red DotIt is fairly inexpensive at $29; has both red & green dot settings,  4 different reticles (dot, dot w/cross-hairs, circle, circle w/dot center) and includes several different brightness settings as well as auto-shutoff. For the use most common to my family, mainly plinking, this is quite sufficient for the task. It’s not like this rifle is going to battle any time soon. I switched out the grip for a smaller Magpul MOE© grip that my wife finds more comfortable. I switched out the standard Magpul stock for a Mission First Tactical (MFT) Minimalist Stock© to decrease weight as well as making the handling a lot easier for me. Also added a hand stop to give a defined point of contact each time in order to help with muscle memory. The most expensive addition to this rifle is the Franklin Arms Binary Trigger©. I love this trigger, will be posting a separate review in the future. Basically it adds a safety selector in 3 positions; safe, fire, and binary. In binary mode the trigger fires both when you pull the trigger and when you release the trigger. You can easily change the selector back to fire when the trigger is held back in order to not fire on the release. This trigger is an awesome range toy, making 2 shot strings a joy as well as showing you handling mistakes when the bullets impact paper. S&W M&P 15-22 .22 LR-Black Serial

The handguard and extractor are the only points on this rifle I dislike. The handguard is from the late 90’s style called a quad-rail. Basically it has picatinny rails on 4 axis so you can mount any picatinny accessory anywhere possible down the length of the fore-end. Problem with this is that it is the equivalent of a cheese-grater for your hand. Even though the rails are polymer, not aluminum, it can still be painful & bulky in the hand with lots of sharp edges. I purchased rubber rail covers which solve the issue but add to the overall weight. Unfortunately it requires a specialty tool to remove the handguard, as soon as I get one and a new rail I will update the review. Nowadays, you can get this rifle stock with an M-Lok handguard so you aren’t stuck with all the extra bulk and pain. For the extractor, I didn’t start having problems until a little over 1,000 rounds. The bolt attempts to go to battery with the spent case still stuck in the chamber and the new round jammed against the stuck case. I did some research and found that Volquartsen© makes a special extractor so I ordered one. Extremely easy to install, only one pin and you are set to go. I believe due to that replacement I didn’t have the typical problems these rifles have at 5,000+ rounds with the extractor sheering off completely. Volquartsen also makes a carbon-fiber match grade barrel that I will be switching to soon, due to the high round count I want to extend this rifle’s service life. As far as I am aware, this is the only upgraded barrel option for this rifle.

Malfunctions are few and far between. Almost all are ammo related. For those unaware of 22 lr ammunition loading, the case is fairly thin at the rim which allows the firing pin to dent the case itself instead of a dedicated & replaceable primer in a center-fire. The actual primer is typically a circular cake that gets dropped in the case first, then the gunpowder, ending with the bullet being seated and/or crimped in place. Problem with this is that with lots of bouncing and movement that primer cake can tilt, thus not being set-off when the firing pin strikes. On most occasions the rifle will not fire when the trigger is pulled so all you have to do is pull the charging handle back and release, ejecting the bad round while cycling a fresh one. The magazines are awesome, rarely have I had any malfunctions with them and usually it is due to user error not associated with the magazine itself. Truly when I bring out this rifle and set it to binary mode, I spend more time loading magazines due to everyone loving to shoot it. I did find a loading tool that works with all different types of 22 rim-fire rifle and pistol magazines (as long as you have the right adapter) by the name of the McFadden Lightning Grip Loader©. This makes reloading a delight and also allows you to have less lead contact.

Cleaning of the rifle is very similar to a standard MSR. I am typically a little heavier on the solvent soaking in order to get the lead deposits out of the barrel. About once every 3-5 months I clean out the fire control group as well, otherwise I worry about the works getting gummed up. Removing the BCG is standard and quite easy, cleaning is actually simpler for me than an MSR bolt carrier group. Only issue is when it gets really caked on there, unless you or a friend have a ultra-sonic cleaner. Otherwise a lot of nylon and brass bristle brushes with some elbow work and it cleans up just fine.

One item I have been looking into is modifying the buffer tube/receiver extension to turn it into a folding stock. With the BCG & recoil spring being self-contained, what would be a buffer tube is just a piece of plastic. I will likely be buying another rifle to take apart and cut that receiver extension off so that I can try to adapt a hinge mechanism and make a folding stock. Smith & Wesson used to make a pistol version of this that would have been much easier to do this with. I may still keep looking for a used on to tinker with (let me know if you got one for sale!) Overall, this rifle earned it’s place over the years at the top of my favorite guns list. Not all of my favorite guns have to be battle ready or SHTF firearms, sometimes the best are something you can enjoy with your family in a way that educates others and helps train the new generation of shooters. I highly recommend picking one up and trying it or, if you are in my area, bring a box of ammo and I will buy the range time!S&W M&P 15-22 .22 LR-Right Side

NcStar Advance Dual Optic Review- 1,000 Rounds

NcSTAR Advance Dual Optic 3-9×42 Rifle-scope w/ Flip Up Red Dot

@ 1,000 Rounds Later:

I received this item for review about 2 months ago, very excited upon arrival due to it being a budget cost optic a lot easier for most to afford. NcStar has been moving up in the optic world offering budget level red dots and variable scopes, they have been truly coming up with some very innovative designs. Part of that is the flip-up red dot mounted to the top of the scope body. I believed that this would be a nice option for open division in 3-gun this year.

Opening the box, I was very impressed with the packaging and materials included. It comes in a cardboard box, inside of that it has a heavy-duty stiff zippered container that is well padded. Has easy to read and understand instructions, a lens cleaning cloth and all the tools needed for adjustments. This scope feels great in the hand, not too heavy but fairly rugged and the buttons seem durable. This optic comes with a quick-release mount for any standard 1913 picatinny rail! (Fairly rare at this price point) For the variable optic which is 3-9x zoom the adjustments are 1/2 MOA per click. Clicks are audible and tactile, which I like.  The flip-up red dot is certainly unique, and was the part I was most excited to see.  On the left side is a button you can push to set activate the lens and pop it up. The red dot is automatically turned on when you flip it into working position. This is nice due to not worrying about it draining the battery when not in use.

So how durable/accurate is it? Well, through the course of a little over a 1,000 rounds I had zero point of aim/point of impact shift. I did a drop test at 4′ on several points of the optic with rifle attached (unloaded!) and then took it back out to the range. The variable optic shrugged off the hits and kept very accurate. One caveat to that, and the only gripe I have, is that the red dot adjustment no longer functions. No matter how I attempt to use the windage and elevation screws, it is set at where I first zeroed the red dot. This is disappointing. It isn’t the end of the world but it is a point of concern. I will be contacting NcStar to see if they can repair or replace the red dot in order to fix this issue.

The variable optic part is the best part of this setup to me. It is a standard mil marked reticle and has been extremely serviceable at the range getting ready for competition. Adjustment of the zoom is quick and easy, it is tight in the movement but extremely smooth to manipulate. I recommend getting a scope throw lever however to make it that much faster on adjustments.

Overall Score: 5 out of 10. (I took off a lot of points for the red dot adjustment breaking, if the company resolves this quickly and the new one doesn’t have this issue I will adjust the score accordingly)

Should you buy one? Well if you want a great range toy that is innovative and easy to use buy one. The MSRP is about $160 so it is a great budget option. I would not recommend it as a field condition ready optic, however it is nice to see more innovation in such a unique new package.

 

2,500 Round Review: Kel-tec RDB

I was sent the Kel-tec RDB Rifle (5.56 NATO caliber Rear Downward Eject Bullpup) for initial review in February of 2018. They were fully aware that I was in no way promising a positive review, however they also gave me the option to purchase instead of sending it back (for a discounted rate). I say this so that everyone has full disclosure getting this in for review.

Ergonomics: It’s a bull-pup. For those that haven’t handled one of these, you really should try it. This design of rifle is extremely well balanced, also allowing you to have a 16″+ barrel length with still being under 30″ overall length (27.3″ or 693 mm overall). If you wanted an AR-15 or AK-47 in this overall length you give up about 4-10″ of barrel and if a stock is desired then you are in legal SBR territory. That being said, this rifle is a bit heavy… 6.7 lb or 3 kg unloaded. Loaded it has some weight, about 2 lb more than my competition AR-15.

This is completely ambidextrous, charging handle can be swapped with no tools except a bullet and the safety selector is on both sides. Safety selector is easy to reach and very positive to manipulate. Mag release is a push paddle behind the grip. Only issues with the magazine release is that one person had it ejecting mags when they flexed back their hand, and with winter gloves I would sometimes hit it as well. I found for myself that a change in grip fixed the issue. The downward ejection is awesome for right-handed and left-handed use. Only one problem I have found, for women well-endowed, is that the brass can bounce back up into the receiver. I haven’t found any easy fix for this one…

So Ergonomics: 8 out of 10 (took points away for difficulty in clearing malfunctions and the amount of polymer built up in areas that don’t serve an actual function)

Rounds So Far: 2,520. Have only had 2 failures. One was ammunition related and the other was of a design issue that was resolved as soon as I reread the manual. The ammo issue that came up was a round that was out of spec. I stopped when I heard a click, attempted to pull back charging handle. No go. Charging handle literally would not go back further than 2″. Unloaded rifle, attempted to mortar the rifle. No effect. Disassembly occurred and I took the rifle home (very carefully, still a live round in chamber!) and then placed it on the ground in a safe area. I put 3 armor plates stacked 6″ from the barrel with the plates angled away from me, also had eye and ear protection on. Using my nylon hammer, I swung one solid hit on the charging handle to open the action. Disabled the live round and measured it, found the brass to be several millimeters out of spec.

Other issue is a lot more complicated, it would seem that the charging handle stops rearward when the bolt-hold open activates on an empty magazine. There is a button that will allow the bolt to easily release, once there is another loaded magazine or the rifle is completely empty. Without using this button, if feels like the action is jammed and difficult to work the charging handle.

I am very impressed with this rifle. The stock trigger is the best of any bull-pup that I have ever used without upgrade. The way that they designed the hammer to allow the brass to eject rearward is ingenious. All brass ejected down into a neat pile that the reloader in me was very happy with. My only gripe that I truly have is the amount of polymer in the build, especially in the front hand-guard. There is a company that makes a 7075 aluminum one with M-Lok that I want to get to smooth out the fore-end and reduce it’s bulk.

Overall, I am extremely impressed with this rifle. I have opted to purchase and am looking forward to doing modifications to the trigger, charging handle and hand-guard to make it suit me better in the future. Will keep everyone updated.

The optic is the new NcSTAR Advance Dual Optic 3-9×42 Riflescope w/ Flip Up Red Dot that I will be posting the review on later.

Kel-Tec RDB 5.56-Right Side