Handgun Defense Against Bears

I have always been of the opinion that people thinking they were going to sledge down an attacking grizzly with their trusty .44 Magnum (or any other handgun) were living in a fantasy world. I may have to revise that opinion.

Having said that, I’ve also had a theory, which I have shared with very few people, for obvious reasons, that a 9mm autopistol would be as good a choice as anything else for bear defense. There’s the idea, to which some people subscribe, that a .357 Magnum is a better bear gun than a .44 Magnum, because penetration and accuracy are what counts, and a .357 gives you a similar level of penetration to a .44 but is easier to shoot accurately. Similarly, a 9mm with the right ammo is a deep diggin’ terror but hugely easier to fire accurately than either the .357 or .44 with anything approaching full-power loads.

As I said, I have mentioned this idea to very few people because so many folks “know” a 9mm’s not enough gun for a bear. Many people would think the idea of using a 9mm for bear defense was insane. But I have said to friends, “If I were in the woods, I’d just tote my normal 9mm carry gun, in my normal carry holster. I’d probably change the ammo to something more deeply penetrating versus my normal carry load, but that’s it. I’d rather bet my life, under stress, on the gun I’m more grooved-in on than anything else.” In any event, that’s been my theory. That’s what logic said to me. Of course, theory/logic and what happens in reality are frequently two different things. In this case, maybe not.


The Case for the Replacement Gun

“After people new to shooting, and carrying a gun for self-defense, settle on exactly what their carry gun will be, inevitably there comes the time they ask themselves what should be their next gun purchase… such people, when they ask me, ‘What gun should I buy next?’ are always amazed when I tell them, ‘If you’ve settled on Gun X as your carry gun, what you really need now is a second example of Gun X.’ I call this concept the Replacement Gun.”


Lessons From the Garland, Texas “Cop Vs. ISIS” Shooting

Shooting Tip: Acceptable Gun Colors

After this article was published in Dillon’s Blue Press, the editor received a couple of irate emails, in one case the reader demanding his subscription to The Blue Press be canceled because I had insulted his Flat Dark Earth Glock. I would have thought that, if not the overall tone of the article, then Paul Kirchner’s wonderful drawing of the Terminator-looking dude holding a purple Desert Eagle covered with hearts, peace symbols, and smiley faces would have been a subtle clue this article was not intended to be taken seriously.

I am forced to the conclusion there are a fair number of people in the world who have no sense of humor. I don’t mean they’re thin-skinned and can’t take a joke when it’s directed their way, I mean they can’t even RECOGNIZE humor when it occurs.

I am reminded of an article published years ago in Petersen’s Handguns, written by Garry James, called “The Guns of Sherlock Holmes.” The conceit in this article was that one of Dr. Watson’s descendants still owned both Holmes’ and Watson’s old carry guns, that they had used during their adventures. Garry picked a period authentic British military revolver as Watson’s gun, the idea being that Watson had held onto his old service revolver, and a smaller, concealment oriented but still big bore, also period authentic, revolver for Holmes.

The thing I found so ultimately COOL about this article – really, it’s one of the best gun articles I’ve ever read – was that there was, nowhere in this piece, any indication it wasn’t a straight article. I was surprised, shocked even, when editor Jan Libourel told me the magazine had received numerous, angry letters from readers complaining the magazine had been trying to deceive readers, you couldn’t fool them, THEY knew Holmes and Watson were fictional characters, and Garry was actually a bit upset over the implication he’d tried to do something underhanded. I said to Jan, “Well, you tell Garry from me, those people are fucking idiots. That piece was BRILLIANT, and the fact there’s nothing in there indicating it was anything but a straight gun magazine article was the best thing about it.”


The .40 Hi-Power

As requested by readers on Facebook, here is my review of the then-new .40 S&W chambered Browning Hi-Power, originally published in the May 1995 issue of Handguns magazine. I felt very, very lucky, when researching this article, to be able to interview the Browning firearms engineer who, working with an FN design team in Belgium, designed the .40 Hi-Power. This was analogous to getting the opportunity to interview Dieudonné Saive in 1935 on the design of the original Hi-Power, and allowed me to put an immense amount of technical data into the piece. If I had to point to one article I’ve written over the decades as the absolute best, it would be this one, for that reason. Be sure to read the notes after the article.


Aluminum Cased Blazer 9mm

Years ago I manged to talk Speer (this was back before the ATK acquisition, when it was still just  Speer, and before the era of Blazer Brass, when all Blazer ammo was still aluminum cased) into sending me 5,000 rounds apiece of 115-gr., 124-gr. and 147-gr. Blazer 9mm. Looking back on it, I have no idea how I did that, I must have been feeling especially eloquent that day. Certainly I had chutzpah that just wouldn’t quit. I poured all 15,000 rounds of that Blazer 9mm through my Glock, in practice, at matches, without a single malfunction. Whenever anyone wants to bitch to me about aluminum cased Blazer, what cheap, crappy ammo it is, my response is always, “You couldn’t prove it by me.” Just amazing stuff.

Back From The Range, 5/5/2017 & Back From The Match, 5/6/2017

Got the Wilson EDC X9 out to the range for another shooting session, it worked perfectly though another 653 rounds. One big question I had about this gun was, “Will the EDC X9, being built around a previously existent 9mm mag, unlike most 1911s feed TC ammo reliably?” You all probably know this by now, the EDC X9 uses Walther PPQ mags. This particular range session was my “test feed reliability and accuracy with a variety of loads” night. Of the 14 loads I put through the EDC X9, nine of them were TC. Of those 653 rounds I fired that night, with 100% feed reliability, 226 of them were hollowpoints or solids with a TC bullet shape.
To be honest, if there was one load with which I expected feed issues, it was the Super Vel 90-gr. JHP +P. TC bullet shape, short OAL, huge hollowpoint. But it fed like butter. The Super Vel 90-grainer was an absolute delight. I have to admit I was surprised at how light recoil was with this load, even though it chronoed for me at an average 1,468 fps out of the EDC X9’s 4” barrel. It’s loud, of course, and the recoil is a bit snappier than 9mm hardball, but because of the light bullet weight the overall recoil level is very comparable to standard pressure 9mm hardball. Just amazing.
I shot an ASI match yesterday, and before the match, during the shooter’s briefing, I told people, “If anyone would like to shoot the new Wilson EDC X9, and the new Super Vel 90-gr. JHP +P, you’re welcome to put some rounds through the gun.” Four people took me up on that. I told them before they shot the gun, “This load is really impressive. Even though it chronoed 1,468 feet per second for me, because of the light bullet weight it feels like you’re firing 9mm hardball.” Everyone was impressed with the EDC X9, everyone was impressed with the Super Vel 90-gr. JHP +P. Every single person had the same reaction to the SV 90-grainer, they fired the first round, then said, “Hey, that’s not bad at all.” Afterward I heard one of the guys who’d shot the gun, with that load, saying to another guy, “One thousand, four hundred and sixty-eight feet per second…and it feels like you’re firing 9mm hardball!”
By the time the match, and the post-match “drool over the EDC X9 and new Super Vel ammo” session, were both over, that was another 124 rounds of TC profile bullets down the tube, with perfect feed reliability. I would have no hesitation carrying the EDC X9 for self-defense, loaded with Super Vel 90-gr. JHP +P. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now.
I came in second at the match. When the scores were tabulated, the stats guy said, “Oh look, Sandy Wylie came in 1st, and Duane Thomas came in 2nd. Imagine that.” If vague memory serves, there has only been one match – thusfar – where that was reversed, and it was Duane Thomas came in 1st, Sandy Wylie came in 2nd. Fortunately that match happened to be an IDPA state championship. 

When To Replace Your Autopistol’s Recoil Spring

Many people recommend replacing the recoil spring in an autopistol after firing a certain, set number of rounds. The problem with that theory is that recoil springs wear at different rates, depending on the sort of gun, the power of the cartridge being fired, even how a particular gun is fitted. Replace a recoil spring after, say, 3,000 rounds, you might be throwing away a spring that still has a lot of good life left in it. Sure, springs don’t cost that much, but why be wasteful? On a different gun, if you waited that long, you might be battering the piece with every shot. I am a huge fan of the procedure to tell when your recoil spring needs replacement put forth by the late George Nonte. For those not familiar with the name, Nonte was an Army Ordnance Corps officer, a Major, actually, who retired from the service in 1964, and a prolific gunwriter who passed away in 1978. Nonte’s advice was to have a spare recoil spring you’ve never even had in the gun. Every time you clean the gun, compare the length of the old spring with the new. When the old spring has become compressed three coils compared to the new spring, toss it and replace it with the new unit. Counting coils ensures you’ll replace the recoil spring when it’s become compressed enough it’s coming up on the end of its useful service life, not before, not after.

Lee Jurras Passes On

Lee Jurras passed away Monday the 24th. A true pioneer has moved on. Lee didn’t invent the jacketed hollowpoint, but he certainly popularized it with his ammo company, Super Vel. At a time when most police and normal citizens were using round nosed bullets, or semi-wadcutters, and loading a 148-gr. wadcutter backwards was considered really gee-whiz, Lee theorized the way to make pistol bullets work better was to go to hollowpointed projectiles lighter than the traditional weight for a caliber, and drive them to higher velocities. The evidence of history has confirmed he was right. Since then hollowpoints have become the go-to ammo for self-defense, both for police and armed citizens. Who knows how many thousands of lives over the decades Lee saved, because a bad guy got shot with a hollowpoint and stopped doing evil, how many hollowpoint bullets did NOT overpenetrate, or ricochet, and therefore didn’t go on to kill innocents? Many, I’m sure. Lee Jurras, in his time on Earth, changed the world, in a very real, very positive way. How many of us can say that?

Low Light Shooting With All-Black Sights

I mentioned last month shooting this little local pistol league match, two stages on an indoor range, the stages were identical except one stage was shot with the lights turned on, the second with most of the lights turned off. Shot stage 2 last month using a flashlight with the “syringe” technique, which did not work out well. This month, i.e. just about an hour ago, I shot another match at the same range, same concept, my goal this time to see how well I could do the low light stage using just index and the plain black-on-black sights on my Glock 17 carry gun.

Won’t keep you in suspense, I won the match by over 34 seconds. Honestly, I feel a little guilty going in and beating up on the people at this little local outlaw match, but for me it’s a wonderful laboratory. For stage 2, BTW, the only person who came close to me had a laser on his gun. And he had obviously put some time into mastering that laser. I watched him shoot, and I was thinking, “Damn, that guy’s a good laser shooter. Fast, accurate, he knows how to use that piece of equipment.” When all was said and done, I beat the laser guy, using my all-black sights, on stage 2 by 1.01 seconds.

I was pretty happy about that.

ADDENDUM ONCE THE SCORES HAVE BEEN POSTED: There’s a guy at this match in charge of scoring who calculates (without a calculator) the scores, directly on the score sheets with a pen, before we even leave the range. So before I even left, I knew I’d won. However his rough calculations don’t always stand up once he gets to a pocket calculator, I think. Turns out I did not win by over 34 seconds; I won by almost 27 seconds. I am COMPLETELY humiliated.

My Favorite Knife


There were several photos submitted with this article but not used in the published version. Here they are, along with the captions.

Both scales were decorated by famous engraver John Muns.

The blade is almost completed serrated along the cutting edge, with a flat grind to the last half an inch of cutting surface; the overall shape of the tip is a strong diamond.

The author’s name has been engraved in cursive script into a lozenge on one scale, placed there for that purpose.

On the 9mm Revolver

Words of wisdom from John Farnam.

4 Apr 17

“Bullet-jump” with light-weight revolvers, particularly those chambered for 9mm:

Last weekend, during a Defensive Handgun Course, a student brought a Ruger five-shot revolver, chambered in 9mm.

During an exercise, shooting factory 115gr hardball from a well-known and reputable manufacturer, a bullet jumped forward far enough to protrude from the face of the cylinder and thus prevent the cylinder from rotating normally. In fact, the bullet jumped forward far enough to physically separate from the case. This not only precluded the revolver from continuing to fire, but it also made it impossible to swing-out the cylinder, so the revolver could now not be reloaded!

Tilting the revolver upward allowed the errant bullet to fall back far enough so that we could swing-out the cylinder. After thus fixing the problem, discarding the entire offending cartridge, and then reloading, the same thing happened a second time a few minutes later!

To be fair, this student fired a number of rounds normally before this started happening, but her faith in her revolver was still irreparably damaged.

Back in February of 2012, I did a Quip on this very issue:

“When the revolver fires, remaining cartridges in the cylinder (yet to be fired) are subjected to significant G-forces as the pistol recoils. Sometimes, it is enough to persuade a yet-unfired bullet to migrate forward far enough to protrude from the front of the cylinder, preventing the cylinder from rotating normally, and thus preventing the revolver from firing.

Ammunition manufacturers have been familiar with this issue for a long time, and thus typically put a heavy crimp into 38Spl and 357Mg cartridges as part of the manufacturing process. That crimp usually suffices to mitigate the bullet-jump issue, even in small revolvers.

However, with the advent of small, light revolvers chambered for 9mm, the problem is, once again, rearing its ugly head, as most 9mm ammunition necessarily does not come with any kind of bullet-holding crimp.

In fact, on many boxes of currently-produced, high-performance 9mm ammunition, manufacturers have printed the warning, “NOT FOR USE IN REVOLVERS,” because they calculate bullet-jump will be a problem in some guns.”

This is the reason revolvers chambered for 9mm, although otherwise well-made and perfectly functional, do not enjoy a place on my “Recommended List.” Some ammunition is better than others, but all 9mm rounds share this same issue, even expensive high-performance brands. The 9×19 cartridge was designed to function in autoloading pistols, not revolvers!

I’m still a fan of sunbby revolvers and own several, but my recommendation, when you share my enthusiasm for them, is to stick with 38Spl. The bullet-jump issue still exists, to be sure, but to a much lesser degree, particularly when you’re shooting high-performance ammunition, like Cor-Bon’s 110 gr DPX or Speer Gold-Dot. Manufacturers insure that these bullets are adequately crimped-in and are thus unlikely to migrate.


Reader Feedback

“Duane hands down writes the best, most thoughtful and thorough articles in the business, backed up by facts, experience and empirical testing and data. His articles on the 9mm and certain custom gunsmiths cannot be beat!”
-Jeffery Kupferberg from Facebook

Wow. If I ever need a publicity agent, I’m hiring this guy.

Back From the Range 4/3/2017

Back from the range; another 263 rounds of 9mm has gone downrange.

The range session was to give the Wilson ESP Classic a workout. The name “ESP” does not mean this gun has extra-sensory perception, or that if you shoot it, you will. It’s a version of Wilson’s well-established Classic Model in 9mm, intended to give shooters everything they need to compete in IDPA’s Enhanced Service Pistol division. Though the truth is, out-of-the-box (or the gray Wilson pistol rug, as it were), it had one glaring lack in that regard: no mag funnel. I installed and blended a blued steel Smith & Alexander arched and checkered combo mainspring housing/funnel myself, then had my friend, gunsmith Ron Soderquist, silver polymer it to match the ESP Classic’s stainless steel frame.

Those who know me might wince when they word associate “Duane” and “installed a mag funnel.” The first time I tried to do this, Mr. Dremel and I trashed the gun’s frame. Let’s just say I’m a fast learner, especially when the lesson is that painful. This time my goal was that all dremeling go into the funnel, none on the frame. Not saying this mag funnel installation is flawless, but y’know, it’s pretty darn good. And only about, oh, 10,000 times better than my first attempt.

I think of this gun as the WESP (pronounced “wesp”). As we all know, the downfall of the 9mm 1911 over the decades has been a lack of feed reliability. This can be traced to the design of the typical 9mm 1911 magazine. Fairly recently I tested the stainless steel 9mm 10-round 1911 mags from Chip McCormick Corporation (in the WESP, actually) and all six of my sample magazines fed perfectly, and locked the slide to the rear when they were empty. I was amazed. The closest thing I had to a malfunction was that two of the six mags wouldn’t fall free when I punched the magazine release button, but I just blamed that on the fact that dimensions in 1911 mag wells are notoriously variable, and it’s not at all unknown for magazines that will fall free in one gun to not in another.

As I was readying the gun for this range session, I thought, “SURELY the problem can’t have been that the ends of the grip screws were protruding into the mag well.” So I installed a set of short grips screws. Suddenly all six CMC 10-rounders started falling free. Reinstalled the original grip screws. Suddenly not all of the mags were falling free. Put the short screws back in. Everything began working again as it should. So I feel safe in saying this “one flaw” to the CMC mags was no flaw at all.

The WESP features Wilson’s adjustable rear sight, which comes complete with a rear notch a bit tight and shallow for my tastes. I had on hand a rear blade on which the kind folks at Wilson Combat had both widened and deepened the rear notch considerably; also the sharp edges of the rear sight blade were rounded for concealed carry. One great charm of the Wilson rear sight system, I have always felt, is how easy it is to replace the blade. I removed the original blade, plopped in the new blade, just eyeballed the windage as I was cranking in the screw, and figured I’d dial it in for both windage and elevation when I got to the range.

Got to the range, sat down to bench the gun, realized I’d forgotten my bag of tools, including my Brownells Magna-Tip Super Set Plus with all its flat-tip screwdriver bits. Decided, what the hell, bench the gun anyway. Wouldn’t you know it, the gun shot spot-on for windage and only about 1/2” high for elevation. Well, THAT could have gone worse. Fired a nice 0.9” group with this gun and the 4.4-gr. Universal load (more about which shortly) right off the bat. This is the same ammo that was shooting inside 2” but not much better out of my Glock 17. There IS something to be said for 1911 trigger pulls and the accuracy of a fitted match barrel. When I get this gun home, I will be cranking down one click on the rear sight with my Magna-Tip screwdriver. I would not be at all surprised to find the WESP printing nice, tight, perfectly centered groups on my next range session.

I had brought two loads with me, both with the Rainier 124-gr. RN, one with 4.4-gr. Universal, the other with 4.2. I knew that both these loads worked in my Glock. I decided to start with the 4.4-gr. load since, in my experience, the heavy slide on a full-sized 5” 1911 needs a vigorous load in 9mm to cycle reliably. And cycle it did, flawlessly through the 163 rounds of this load I’d brought with me.

After benching, it was into my standard “six A-hits from 50 feet freestyle” workout. RIDICULOUSLY easy with this gun. Then I moved into the descending par time draws at 10 yards that have been the focus of my practice sessions lately. 5 seconds, 4, 3, 2, 1.50, 1.40… Took me awhile to get my performance where I wanted it, consistent A-hits, at circa 1.4 but eventually it happened, the truth is most of my times were in the 1.3s, I was REALLY looking forward to dropping the time down to 1.30 and maybe even 1.20. By this time I was through the 4.4-gr. load and had just started into the 100 rounds of 4.2 I’d brought, so I knew I had enough ammo. At which point my timer said to me, Low Battery Shutting Down. And then it stopped working. I was just looking at the thing, thinking, “Seriously? How about a little bit of warning before you do that?”

So there I was, 100 rounds still left to test for reliability in this gun, looking forward to getting my draw and fire A-hits at 10 yards down consistently into the 1.2s, and suddenly I had no timer. In a way, this was a blessing in disguise, because instead of burning through the rest of my ammo doing draws at 10 yards, that gave me an opportunity to test things on this gun I really should have been testing, anyway. For instance: firing it from the retention position. In my experience, even some guns that work flawlessly when you’re firing them freestyle, two hands on the gun, or even right hand only/left hand only, will begin malfunctioning when you fire them with one hand and a bent elbow, the gun tucked in tight to the body. Remember, by this time I was into the 4.2-gr. load which generated a bit less recoil, so I figured if the WESP was going to start malfing on me, this was its chance. It didn’t. It burned through multiple magazines from the retention position without a single bobble.

Then it was some right hand only work. Then left hand only. Then speedloads and slidelock reloads. The gun worked flawlessly, a tribute both to the folks at Wilson Combat but mostly the Chip McCormick magazines, in my humble but inarguably correct opinion.

Y’know, I’m liking this gun, with these magazines.

So, the question is: am I ready to sock away my Glock 17 and start carrying, and competing with, the Wilson ESP Classic? Not yet. I have always competed with my carry gun, and I will need to put many more rounds through this gun before its reliability level is well enough established for me to trust it with my life. Also I would need to find a good carry load featuring a hollowpoint with a rounded, hardball-like ogive, since in my experience even reliable 1911s don’t like truncated cone shaped bullets, and test the gun with that, as well. But if the gun continues to perform to this level…I will seriously consider it.

I’ve never wanted to be be one of those guns who fires a match with a 1911 then puts on a Glock to head home. And I’m not. But I will say that tonight I did have a pretty darn cool practice session with a fairly awesome 1911, then put on my Glock 17 to head home.

Winchester Brass = Two Thumbs Down

Recently I blew a casing in my Glock at a match, during a stage. Now, “blew a casing” sounds a lot more dramatic than it really was. A tiny, rectangular area of the casing, right above the web, peeled back. Blew the magazine out of the gun, didn’t damage me or anything on the gun, not even the magazine. Stuffed another mag in the gun (I could see by the target I was shooting on at the time that the bullet had exited the barrel and hit the target), cycled the slide and drove on to finish the stage.

Another shooter actually picked up that shell casing and handed it to me as I was walking off the stage. Out of idle curiosity I checked the headstamp: Winchester. A local Master class shooter, Tom Kettels, who hadn’t seen the casing, said to me, “I’ll bet that’s a Winchester casing.” I said, “Yeah, it is, actually.” Tom: “I have seen that so many times. It’s always a Glock, it’s always the stock barrel, it’s always a Minor load, and it’s always a Winchester casing. It’s cheap brass, you load it a few times and it blows out in the unsupported area over the feed ramp. That never happens with a Major load because guns set up to fire Major all have fully supported chambers. It’s always a Glock, always the stock barrel, always a Minor load, and always a Winchester casing.”

My solution to this problem was threefold: (1) I dropped my load a bit. Probably didn’t need to do that, I was already .4 grains under book max, it just made me feel better. (2) I installed a Stormlake stainless steel match barrel with fully supported chamber. (3) I went through my brass supply and pulled out every single Winchester casing. This took awhile since I am not exactly the most brass-poor individual in the world, but eventually the process was complete. I have run into the attitude, from one person I know, that pulling all the Winchester casings was overkill, there was no need to do that, the idea that Winchester brass is substandard was just silly.

A few days ago, I was talking to my friend and fellow shooter Joseph Dorage, and he told me, “I had a case blowout at a match. I was shooting factory reloads. It blew the magazine out of the gun but it didn’t damage the gun, or me.” I said, “I’ll bet it was just a little rectangle of brass that peeled back.” Joseph: “Yes, it was.” Me: “And I’ll bet it was a Winchester casing.” Joseph: “Yes, it was.” I said, “Wow, looks like that Duane Thomas guy knew what he was talking about, huh?”

The truly sad thing here is that, even if Winchester eventually gets their act together, their brass supply has been corrupted for handloaders forever. How could we ever know if any particular casing was the new, decent stuff or the old crap? The only solution is to avoid Winchester brass forever.

What Is the Best Combat Shooting Stance?

Another addition to the Free Articles page, this one being a topic near and dear to all our hearts: “What Is the Best Combat Shooting Stance?” from the September 1993 Handguns. Thanks extended to my friend Jon Stein who scanned this article out of a gun magazine that, shockingly, I could not find in my own collection. I had two feature articles in this issue, the other, a review of Colt’s Special Combat Government Model, has also been put up on the site.