Thursday, August 26, 2021

Buckshot Flyers?

This is part II of a series of articles concerning buckshot loads for home defense (you can find part one here). This series resulted from a shotgun qualification I fired using the Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 buckshot load. For reference, a 00 buckshot pellet is .330 inches in diameter--almost the same size as a 9 mm bullet. 

In this qualification I noticed some erratic behavior in the form of “flyers” from the Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 buckshot load and its sister product the Speer 8-pellet LE 00 buckshot load (Federal manufacturers both). I define a flyer as one or more buckshot pellets that take a different trajectory than the one that the other pellets in the load follow. From a home defense perspective, when these flyers fall outside of an acceptable target area at a given distance they pose a danger to innocent people who may be nearby.

The typical buckshot load for military and police uses the traditional wad system and is normally loaded with nine 00 buckshot pellets when loaded in a 2 ¾ inch standard 12 gauge shell. This number allows three layers of three pellets per layer. Nationally known instructor Tom Givens and many others have noted a phenomenon of the “9th pellet flyer” with the standard 9-pellet load. For a given distance from the muzzle, typically eight pellets will be in the same general area with one pellet following a different trajectory.

Givens and others have expressed theories concerning this 9th pellet behavior. If you examine the way the nine pellet load is stacked within the shell you will notice a lot of pellet to pellet contact. This contact increases the likelihood of one or more pellets deforming and developing one or more flat spots somewhere on its surface when the shot load is fired. As the pellets exit the shotgun’s barrel, differential air pressure on the pellet’s deformed surface may cause the pellet to fly off at an unpredictable trajectory.

I say may cause the pellets to change trajectory. As I was researching this article I disassembled several Federal and Speer reduced recoil buckshot loads and noticed a flat spot on the pellets that likely resulted from Federal’s manufacturing process. The degree of deformation and the pellet’s hardness (plated or not for example) may make a difference.

In any event, shotgun shell manufacturers have added buffering material to cushion the buckshot pellets in an attempt to mitigate the flyer phenomenon with mixed results. Many shotshell manufacturers now load 8 pellet 00 buckshot loads to reduce recoil and change the way the pellets stack in the shell. Fewer pellets also allows the manufacturer to add more buffering material which equates to more cushion between pellets. In the picture below you can see a standard 9-pellet 00 buckshot load and a Federal 8-pellet 00 buckshot load. The 8-pellet load has room for significantly more buffering material.

The defender is responsible for every round fired in self-defense—with a buckshot load, you are responsible for every pellet. Even one pellet can kill as occurred in the example of Police Officer Gordon Silva on 20 January 1989 in San Jose, California during an exchange of gunfire between police and a suspect. After the firing ceased, police found Officer Silva approximately 60 yards from the shooting incident lying in the street. The coroner later determined that Officer Silva had been struck by a single shotgun pellet another officer had fired during the shootout with the subject. 

If you are using the shotgun to hunt deer or other game, this is not normally a serious problem. However, if you are using the load for self-defense, this 9th pellet flyer’s unpredictability can be a serious concern. 

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Family of Pistols

Have you considered the advantages of training, competing, and carrying pistols within the same family? I define a “family of pistols” as pistols that have similar grip angles, controls, sighting systems, etc. For example, Glock pistols, SIG P320’s and P365, 1911’s, and the Springfield XD series would all fall within the same family of pistols as would pistols from other manufacturers.

In late 2014, a friend of mine and I set a goal of shooting Master in every International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) Division. By the end of 2016 we achieved that goal within the divisions available at that time (six as of 2016—IDPA # A32998). Facing this challenge, we were generally practicing 1-3 times a week and firing an average of 200-300 rounds per practice session. We competed in the IDPA division that we were striving to master (no pun intended). As we achieved Master in each division, we moved on to the next. Through the course of our training, we developed a feel for the differences between the pistol types we were using in the different divisions and realized that staying within the same platform or family of pistols was extremely important for consistency.

For me this fact slammed home when I decided to experiment with a Glock 19 equipped with a Trijicon RMR while simultaneously training and competing with a Springfield XD 4-inch model with a match trigger and fiber optic sights. IDPA had no carry optic division at that time. Attempting to train with two different platforms set me back considerably as my brain tried to adjust to the differences between grip angle, sighting systems, slide and magazine release locations, etc. for the two different pistol families. Rather than progressing, my shooting actually began to suffer. I stopped using the Glock and concentrated on training with the XD.

We both routinely carried concealed and realized that our carry pistol and holster needed to match the IDPA Division we were working on or we were very likely to foul the draw if we had to present the pistol in a self-defense situation. We started carrying revolvers when we were working on the Revolver Division, Back Up Guns when training for that division—you get the idea.

After completing the IDPA master challenge and competing in the 2016 IDPA Nationals, I focused exclusively on improving self-defense skills and maintaining skill with my carry pistol for the next couple of years. I set up two essentially identical SIG P320 carry pistols with the same sighting system, holster, and trigger pulls. I trained and competed with one pistol and carried the other, rotating the pistols and carry ammunition every six months. I used the old carry ammunition to reconfirm the new carry pistol’s zero. I used my training pistol and my every day carry (EDC) holster in all of my practice, training, and competition.

The same concept applies to holster tilt, angle, positioning, and other characteristics. Ideally, the holster should be in the same place and approximately the same height on the belt for competition and carry. My EDC concealed carry holster rides higher on the belt and is not as fast as typical competition holsters which generally sit 1-2 inches lower. I once discovered that after a period of training for competition that I often missed my draw with my EDC holster when my hand automatically went to the lower location where the competition holster would have been on my belt. This poses a challenge to those who wish to use appendix or abdominal carry since many competitions do not permit appendix carry for liability reasons. Consistent and routine dry practice with your appendix carry rig is very important if you compete with a strong side holster.

Another option is to compete with and carry a holster that meets IDPA standards. For a number of years my EDC holster was the same IDPA-legal holster I used in competition. I eventually found this to be problematic because it protruded far enough out from my belt that I routinely bumped the pistol/holster into things. I stopped using the IDPA holster in favor of one that pulled the pistol closer to my body and solved this problem.

Choosing a pistol family and then sticking within that family for competition and carry will go a long way toward improving our shooting skills. I routinely see students and competitors practicing, training, and competing with multiple pistol families and holster positions. They will bring a SIG P320 X5 to a class, use a 1911-based fully tricked out race gun with optic in competition, and then carry a Smith and Wesson Shield in an inside the waistband holster. Several years ago I had a student attend multiple classes and he brought a different pistol family to every class. Needless to say, he never mastered any pistol and his shooting ability did not appreciably improve.

Regardless of your shooting goals and which method of carry you chose, consistent and regular dry practice with your ECD pistol family and holster will ensure that it is where you expect it to be if you must draw it in an emergency. 

If you enjoy reading these please subscribe. The link is on the upper right side of the page. All that will happen is that you will receive an e-mail when I post an article. Your information will never be distributed.