By Massad Ayoob, GUNS Magazine
Hard to shoot “snubbies” had a rep for being close-range guns. Modern subcompact pistols are changing this paradigm. Back in the day, the short-barrel handgun was seen as short in range as well. In the off-duty matches for snubnose .38s during the PPC matches, our hosts would generally set the targets no farther than 25 yards and sometimes no farther than 15, on the theory that if we shot them at 50 yards like we did the “big revolvers,” accuracy would be so poor we’d crossfire on each other’s targets.
We knew that in a machine rest, a J-frame with a 1-7/8″ barrel could group along with a 4″-barrel K-frame .38. Instead, it was the human factors inherent in the small grips and the short sight radius that made them hard to shoot.
Over the years, I only won a single match shooting snubbies against 4″ service revolvers: a New Hampshire Police Officers Association state shoot. I was using a 2.5″ Colt Python with an action superbly tuned by the great Reeves Jungkind. I’m not sure that counted.
The small autos of the time were in the same boat. The shorter you made a 1911 (the auto of the day), the more poorly it seemed to group. From the 1903 Colt .32 to the Walther PPK, the pocket autos were inherently accurate—but still hard to shoot with their tiny sights. As time has gone on and handgun tastes have changed, the paradigm has changed, too.
When the “baby Glocks” came out in the mid-1990s, shooters noticed that they were remarkably accurate for their size, indeed, often more accurate than their big brothers. My two came out of the first production run for a gun magazine article, and I liked them so much I bought them both when the test was over. My 9mm Glock 26 subcompact averaged around 2.5″ for five shots off the bench at 25 yards, a little better than my full size Glock 17 in the same caliber. My .40 S&W Glock 27 once gave me a 1.5″, 5-shot group with 155-grain Winchester Silvertips, distinctly tighter than any load ever did in my full-size .40 S&W Glock 22. It was theorized the double-captive recoil spring Glock put into these super-small pistols (and would much later install in all the Gen4 guns) was holding the barrel locked more uniformly before the bullet departed the muzzle.
A few years after the baby Glocks, the company came out with their subcompact .45 ACP, the Glock 30, which was more accurate yet. Mine twice gave me 5-shot groups that measured 7/8″ center-to-center, once from the bench and once from the barricade, and both at 25 yards. In addition to the double captive recoil spring, the Glock .45 barrels are built with more “flats” in their polygonal rifling than Glocks in the other calibers, and this seems to work very well with that size bullet.
I usually shot the bigger Glocks when I chose the brand in competition, just because I thought they’d be faster since they fit my hand better and had a longer sight radius. I began to question that when I won a couple of matches with the G30, a “police shoot” and an IDPA match shooting against full-size 1911 .45s in the Custom Defense Pistol division, and won an IDPA Stock Service Pistol division event with a Glock 26 that I shot just for the hell of it. And then I saw an interesting phenomenon in GSSF.
Danny Ryan runs the GSSF (Glock Sport Shooting Foundation) section at the popular forum GlockTalk.com. He noted in 2011 that several overall winner (“Glockmeister”) scores had been shot with baby Glock G26s, outgunning the full-size G17s even in the hands of the same shooters. These were Master shooters like Grady Whitelaw and Mike Ross. I decided to give it a try.
In late 2011 in Charlotte, N.C. and early 2012 in Clearwater, Fla., I shot the 9mm baby Glock in every category… and found I was scoring about the same as with my usual GSSF gun, a full-size Glock 17. In September 2012 I used the G26 at the Salt Lake City, Ut. GSSF match, and placed 2nd in the Subcompact match designed around that gun, 2nd in Master Stock against the service-size Glock 17, and 6th in Competition division against the longslide target Glocks. The shorter sight radius was coming back on target faster and the shape of this smallest Glock’s grip frame tucked into the hollow of my palm tighter than the bigger models. (Bryan Dover was the winner in all of those SLC divisions, and since I honestly don’t think I could have beaten him with the Magic Sword Excalibur, I was happy with the outcome.)
It’s not just the baby Glocks, either. This past year I witnessed petite pistol champ Gail Pepin using her out-of-the-box Springfield Armory XDM subcompact 9mm with 3.8″ barrel tie pistol champ Jon Hodaway, who was shooting a $3,000, 5″-barrel custom 1911 9mm. My colleague Steve Denney, an ex-SWAT cop, carries a Smith & Wesson M&P Compact with which I’ve seen him put five Winchester Ranger-T 125-grain .357 SIG rounds into 1.6″ at 25 yards.
Today’s modern subcompact autos ain’t your daddy’s or your granddaddy’s snubnose .38 revolvers. Not only inherently accurate, but their human engineering allows you to take advantage of that fact.
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