By Scott Smith
One of the biggest complaints of modern polymer pistols is that they do not fit/feel like steel or aluminum framed pistols. In the early days when Glock was really the only polymer pistol on the market that was true. Today pistols from H&K, Springfield Armory, CZ, Ruger, Sig Sauer, Smith&Wesson and even Glock have begun offering pistols with interchangeable back straps, more aggressive stippling or complete frames to achieve a personalized fit. We are going to look at three of the latest models to see what the designers have done to make their pistols fit a broad spectrum of shooters.
Springfield Armory’s XD series of pistols is the second generation of polymer pistols after Glocks. This pistol was originally imported as the HS2000, but never took off because of the Clinton Magazine Ban which killed the availability of spare magazines. Fortunately Springfield had the foresight to strike a deal with the manufacturer in Croatia and took over importation and distribution. An often overlooked change by Springfield was changing the name to XD. This was a genius marketing move.
What set the XD apart from other polymer pistols at this time was the size and angle of the grip. The grip fit everyone and had an eleven degree grip angle like a 1911. This made the pistol a natural choice for those of us who cut our teeth on the ubiquitous Government Model. Like the 1911 the XD has a grip safety but it locks the slide when not gripped. Other controls are an ambidextrous magazine release, weak side take down lever and slide release.
Springfield had great success with the XD except for shooters with real small or large hands. The XD just didn’t fit them right, so the XDm was born. The interchangeable grips of the XDm were not substantially larger or smaller, but they changed the fit and feel enough that the XDm quickly developed a huge following. One pistol in the XD line that suffered because of the XDm 5.25 was the XD Tactical; a 5” XD. While it was all XD the longer barrel/slide made it feel different, not perfect like the 4” Service XD.
Not to rest on their laurels, Springfield expanded the XD family to the XDs mini single stack pistol for concealed carry. The Mod2 Grip Zone was also introduced to improve the purchase a shooter has on the pistol. This year at the SHOT Show the XD Tactical with Grip Zone was introduced. The XD Tactical is a 5” pistol that has been in the XD line for many years but was just there.
Springfield not only added Grip Zone to the Tactical but it improved the sights with a “Novak-like” rear and a fiber optic front sight. What is not noticed when you first look at this pistol is that the Grip Zone undercut trigger guard. This gives you a better grip while improving the balance of the pistol. Originally the Tactical felt front heavy, now it does not; it balances like a 1911.
At the range the Tactical with Grip Zone was boring; it just shot everything I fed it. The pistol showed no preference to bullet weight, design, or manufacture. It consistently fired four inch eleven shot groups at twenty five yards, from a rest I managed sub three inch five shot groups; which is about as good as this fifty-five year-old can shoot. Many of the groups had three shots touching so this pistol is capable of shooting match quality accuracy. This pistol has a full retail of $608 but if you look online it can be found for $470ish plus shipping to your FFL holder.
The newest entry into the world of polymer pistols is the Ruger American Pistol. What really sets this pistol out in the Ruger line is that it is a full sized, striker fired pistol; something Ruger has not had before. This pistol also ships with three sizes of grips and uses true Novak dovetails to allow you to have numerous sight options. Prior to the hard launch, Ruger also released test pistols to the holster companies ensuring there would be holsters for the American Pistol.
When I first handled the American Pistol in 9mm, what struck was that it just felt right. The molded checkering was aggressive without being overly sharp. The design of the grip panels allowed even the small panel to fit my big hands. While the medium fit, it changed the grip angle in my hand enough the pistol printed high. With the large grip installed the American fit like a 1911 and the pistol was one hundred percent reliable with everything I fired through it.
Ruger is offering the American Pistol in 9mm and 45ACP. The “45” holds 10 rounds in 8” length pistol with a 4.5” barrel while the “9” is 7.5” with a 4.2” barrel and packs 17 rounds. I found both pistols felt good in the hand, but with the slight size difference the medium grip felt better on the 45ACP. With their slight size differences the pistols cannot share holsters and have them fit properly. Perusing Ruger’s online store you will find loads of holsters for each.
Ruger ships the American Pistol with standard three dot Novak sights. While these are more than adequate, I prefer fiber optic front sights for general use pistols; especially when it will get used for competition. To get the sight picture I wanted I contacted Brownells and ordered a set of Warren Tactical Sights for $86.99. Unfortunately the rear sight set a wee bit higher than the factory Novak and the point of aim/impact was high. After reinstalling the factory rear sight, the pistol was back to being dead on.
After a few hundred rounds and a few drops of ZMax Lube/Conditioner the trigger was much smoother with very little creep. Trigger reset is long like a revolver, approximately 3/16” and like a revolver the trigger has take-up before the sear engages. To those used to a crisp 1911 or tuned M&P trigger, they may grouse about it, but I am sure it will improve with time. I found the trigger allowed me to prep the trigger like I do a traditional double action pistol. Once I was used to the feel, my splits were comparable to any of the pistols in my vault.
A unique feature of this pistol is the magazine opening. Most if not all factory pistols have flush magazine wells. This reduces machining costs and gives the pistol neat lines, but the flush well does not aid in loading/reloading the pistol. The American has an extension that is a magazine well which does not affect concealability of the pistol. Ruger’s nickel-Teflon coated magazines are beveled at the rear to nearly seamlessly fit this extension.
The American Pistol has no real frills, just what it needs to be a serious tool. The cocking serrations look like raised diamonds and give you a good purchase in cold wet conditions or when wearing gloves. The slide and magazine releases are ambidextrous, and the take down lever is on the weak side. You will find an accessory rail in front of the glove friendly trigger guard and no sharp edges on the black nitride coated stainless steel slide.
At the range the American Pistol with the Warren Tactical fiber optic front sight shot well. When fired freestyle, 11 round groups at 25 yards were all 4” or better, off a rest 5 shot groups came in at 2.76” average. Before getting up in arms saying this is not “match grade” bear in mind; the author is well over fifty, most of the testing was done in the winter in Southwestern PA. What this pistol did that many “match grade” pistols will not is shoot everything I fed it. For a duty, competition, self-defense firearm this is a major consideration. Additionally this pistol has a full MSRP of $579, which means you can purchase lots ammunition and practice. I have faith enough in the Ruger American Pistol that I would carry it daily or run in any action shooting event.
To some of the readers our last pistol may not be that well known, it is the traditional double action P09 from CZ. If you are as old as I am CZ pistols have a mystique, because they were built behind the Iron Curtain and glimpses of a real CZ75 in the 80s was like sightings big foot. For those that wonder why we refer to the company as CZ, its formal name is Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod, CZ is just so much easier.
CZ is known for manufacturing durable pistols that can handle countless rounds being fired through them. This is in no small part due to the all steel construction. If you were weaned on 1911 the weight is not an issue. Those of the digital age prefer light weight pistols, so enter the polymer framed CZ P09. Fear not the CZ P09 will endure the hard use just like its all steel sibling.
Unlike many polymer pistols on the market, the P09 is hammer fired and is equipped with an ambidextrous decocking lever that can be converted to a safety if you prefer. When decocked the hammer does not rest on the firing pin but on a block so it is virtually impossible for the pistol to discharge if the hammer is struck. Like most modern firearms the firing pin is only free to travel when the trigger is stroked, releasing the plunger which prevents the firing pins forward action. This is why it is imperative to use the decocking lever to lower the hammer and not the trigger and thumb to ride the hammer to a rest position; the pistol will not be safe.
CZ is known for building pistols that just “fit” well. The ergonomics of their pistols is possibly the best in the industry. Having interchangeable grip sizes further enhances that. I have passed the P09 around at my club and it fits the most petite shooters and those who could play lineman in the NFL. What is even more amazing is CZ gives you this fit and packs 19 rounds of 9mm into this frame.
A feature some folks overlook of CZs across the board is the reverse rails of the slide/frame. CZ’s slide rides inside the frame of the pistol unlike the vast majority of pistols where the slide rides over the frame. What this does is lower the bore access, mitigating felt recoil because the mass is lower in your hand. This means shot to shot recovery is quicker and the pistol points more naturally.
Like other modern pistols the P09 frame is railed to accept lasers or lights. Unlike many pistols, the trigger guard is undercut to give the shooter a higher grip which means better recoil control. When shooting the P09 even with the hottest loads recoil felt like you were shooting a metal framed pistol.
I changed two items on the P09, the sights and springs with parts from Cajun Gunworks to make the pistol more competition friendly. Cajun Gunworks specializes in enhancing CZ pistols either in their shop or with many DIY offerings. Their fiber optic sight kit is is easy to install and was dead on and for $82 is worth the price. To reduce the double action trigger pull I installed springs from their four spring kit. While this spring kit improved the double action pull it made the single action pull almost sinfully sweet. This kit is $28 and greatly improves CZ’s already good trigger pull. What I found with these additions was the five shot group size shrank on average of a ¼”. While this might not sound like much at 25 yards, this can mean the difference between a faster hit, a miss or a solid pair of As. With the P09’s $530 MSRP adding these parts will still have your new pistol costing less than just a pistol from most manufactures and you will be race ready.
One other addition I made to the P09 was a set of Talon Grips. These are a peel and stick grip that seem to last forever and can be changed from a rubber to a granulate grip if you prefer a lot of texture. Since the P09 is only going to be a running and gunning pistol I chose the granulate version for $17.99. These grips fit like the factory put them on and have not peeled in rain, snow or frigid temps.
Many of you will point out that I did not give any “accuracy tables” – no I did not. Most of us rarely shoot a pistol from a bench rest and if the same protocols are not followed for every pistol there are huge variances in accuracy. All of the pistols were fired at 25 yards both supported (front of frame on a rest) and freestyle offhand, five shot groups. With all the ammunition every pistol with your humble correspondent pulling the trigger averaged 3” or better groups supported and under 4” freestyle. This kind of accuracy will keep all rounds in an upper A/B zone of an IDPA/USPSA target. Winter weather most likely affected these groups because it is hard to be rock solid when temperatures are in the twenties and the wind is blowing.
All three pistols were tested using; Atlanta Arm’s Elite 115 grain hollow point, Black Hills 124 grain hollow point (one of the most accurate 9mms on the market), Freedom Munitions HUSH 147 grain hollow point, Hornady’s 135 grain Critical Duty, JJR Ammo’s 147 grain full metal jacket, Remington’s 124 grain Ultimate Defense and Ruger’s 80 grain ARX round. This is fair mix of competition and self-defense ammunition, representative of what we find at a match or in many duty weapons. I have found these companies to produce ammunition that performs well in all venues and trust my life or scores to it.
One of the things I found testing these three pistols would all fit Safariland’s latest GLS Pro Fit Holster, the 578 Wide Fit. Thanks to the patented trigger guard lock/adjustment this one holster fits and fits well numerous handguns. This holster also is a level two security holster thanks to the GLS lock.
Having used level II and level III holsters for duty, I can tell you many are a royal pain and are far from the smooth fast holsters the companies portray. This is not the case of the GLS. Try as I might I could not fail to disengage the lock. You just have to release the locking system when you grip the pistol. If you are a big guy like me this can be an all purpose holster. This holster is very fast and because of the Safariland “three hole” mount, you can change the carry method from paddle to clip to ALS/ELS for duty and competition. I suspect this holster will become popular with three gun competitors because of the lock which will prevent losing your handgun during physical stages. With what this holster offers at $55 it is a steal.
During my testing I used targets from Birchwood Casey; Sharpshooter Stands and White/Brown USPSA targets, Dirty Bird Bad Guy IPSC and Shoot n C Handgun Trainers. The Dirty Bird and Shoot N C targets give you instant easily visible feedback out to 50 yards, even in a show squall while the Sharpshooter Stand and IPSC Target allow you to set targets up as a mini USPSA/IDPA stage. Unlike official USPSA/ISPC cardboard targets, Sharpshooter IPSC target stand up well to snow and rain, because they are plastic.
There you have it a few modern pistols that offer shooters options to enhance the way they fit. The better the pistol fits, the better the accuracy and your enjoyment shooting it. Hopefully this will give you a few options to explore. Get out to the range; shoot straight, shoot sage and have fun.
Springfield Armory’s 5” Tactical Mod2, this pistol fits and feels like the venerable 1911; it just weighs less.
You can see the undercut trigger guard and various textures Springfield molds into the Mod2
Close up of the factory fiber optic front sight on the Mod2
Ruger’s American Pistol, offering the shooter an All-American made pistol fit for CCW, competition, duty.
Warren Tactical fiber optic front sight from Brownells installed on the American Pistol.
CZ’s P09 a 9mm pistol that packs 20 rounds in a package to fit most shooter’s hands.
Close-up of Talon Grips installed on the P09, showing all the controls on the pistol.
Cajun Gunworks rear sight installed on the P09, gives a fast accurate sight picture with their fiber optic front sight.
All the test ammunition that was used to T&E these three pistols gives shooters quality ammunition for all applications.
Birchwood Casey’s Sharpshooter Target Stand, USPSA Target, Dirty Bird Bad Guy/IPSC Target and Shoot N C Handgun Trainer Targets, make shooting fun and easy.
Safariland’s 578 GLS holsters with paddle, clip and belt loop attachments; it is one of the most versatile holsters on the market today.
Known for automotive lubricants, ZMax introduced their line of firearms lubricants/cleaners: Bolt Lube and Bore Cleaner/Conditioner will handle the worst of shooting conditions.
Three pistols that will make you’re shooting more fun and fit you well; Springfield Armory XD Tactical Mod2, Ruger’s American Pistol and CZ’s P09.
Scott Smith is a Disabled Veteran serving in the Army and USAF Reserve. He has been a federal police officer, is a charter member of IDPA and is actively involved with USPSA and various three gun competitions.