Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The Purchase: I was at a local gun store to buy 9mm and while looking at pistols, my wife announced that she wanted to get her carry permit and thus wanted to buy a handgun. I was floored because for the past few years, I've been trying to get her to do it. The next step was to find a gun she liked and was right for it's intended purpose - personal defense.

We were in luck, the store just received 88 firearms earlier that morning so there was a lot in stock. The thing I didn't want to do was be overly suggestive to any one gun. I wanted my wife to look at a variety of items then narrow it down to two or three then I would make suggestions to help her pin it down to 'the one'.

The sales manager, Bob, was very helpful. He held nothing back. He sat gun after fun on the counter. She got to handle things like a baby Glock (grip too thick), Walther PPS (ugly), Kahr PM9 (reviewed here) and CW9 (too hard to pull the slide), Ruger LCP .380 (too small), Smith & Wesson .38 Feather Weight (trigger too hard to pull), Taurus PT709 Slim (slide too hard to pull) and on and on we searched. She mentioned to Bob that she didn't like having to pull a slide back and was a little concerned about jams that semi-autos can have. I bit my tongue and kept quiet as Bob's eyes lit up. "Hey, I have something that just came in that you might like, I'll be right back."

Bob reappeared with a white box with RUGER written in red letters on it. He sat the box down and opened it. My heart skipped a beat when he pulled out an LCR (the polymer framed Light Compact Revolver). I had read about them but had never handled one. It was all I could do to not to grab it out of my wife's hands. Bob said, "Go head and pull the trigger."

She did and her eyes lit up. "It's light like the Smith but easy to pull the trigger."

I couldn't stay quiet. I piped up, "They built a new trigger mechanism from scratch. It's supposed to be really light." I held out my hand, "Can I try it?" She handed over the polymer gun. Oh, it felt so nice in the hand. It was so light and the Hogue grip was very comfortable (this won't matter in the long run as you'll soon see).

We all three weighed the pros and cons of semi-autos vs. revolvers. Semi-autos: more capacity/lighter triggers - but can jam. Revolvers: fewer rounds - but work every time you pull the trigger/don't need to be as meticulously clean to work. The choice seemed simple and even better, it was my wife's decision alone. She went for the LCR. Deep inside I was thrilled.

The Gun: The revolver is revolutionary. From the inside out, it's been designed from scratch. But just like when the Glock came out in the 80s (like 'it's a plastic gun that can go through airport security), there is some misinformation about the LCR. It's not an all polymer revolver. The back/bottom part of the frame is polymer (grip, trigger guard and back part of the frame) while the top frame around the cylinder and outer barrel are aluminum. The cylinder, trigger and inner barrel are steel. For some reason, I thought the whole frame was polymer with the key stress parts being steel (in 2010 Taurus is releasing an all polymer framed .38 Special).

There are two things that set it apart from other small framed, snub-nosed revolvers - the trigger and the distribution of weight. Immediately you notice that steel snubs are front heavy while some of the UL models are actually too light and can really punish the palm of your hand. The LCR feels perfectly balanced and weighted. Second, the trigger pull is like nothing you've ever felt in a small frame revolver. After 500+ rounds, my Taurus Model 85 has a really smooth trigger, but the LCR is smoother and lighter right out of the box (and after 150 rounds and about 150 dry fire cycles - with snap caps - it's like butter).

Shooting it: Once loaded with target rounds, the guns weight shifts back a bit but it's still light. As I pulled the trigger for the first time, I was expecting that Smith & Wesson Feather Weight palm slap. But interestingly, recoil felt lighter than my Taurus Model 85 UltraLite. One reason is that I use a hard plastic Crimson Trace grip. The hard plastic won't catch on clothing but it won't absorb recoil either. Make no mistake, the gun kicks but it's very manageable. The Hogue grip really helps and the finger slots make it easy to keep ahold of the gun as it fires.

The first time my wife pulled the trigger she flinched like crazy anticipating the recoil. After the first shot, she was amazed that it didn't hurt her hand and started gaining confidence with each shot. By the end of the day and 100 rounds, her hand was a little sore but geez, she shot 100 rounds!

The sights are VERY useable for a snub. The black sights provide lots of contrast and there's just enough light between the sides of the back and front sights to allow for pretty good aiming. My Model 85's sights are useless in anything but bright daylight. It's one reason I put a CT laser on it. I wrote earlier that the nice Hogue grips were not going to be an issue because we will be putting Crimsom Trace Laser Grips on the LCR too.

When push comes to shove, nothing beats the simplicity of laser sights. They allow you to keep your eye on the perp while aiming and shooting, they are great in low-light situations when a lot of crimes take place (black sights are useless at night unless they are illuminated by Tritium) and they increase the perceived threat level to the bad guy (for better or worse). The LCR will have them installed soon.

After some warm-up shots, we really tried to free hand some shots at a target 10 feet away. The results were acceptable for the distance, cadence of fire and newness to the firearm. See the accompanying picture (target rounds were used in the photo - 9 shots in the 8" ring, we never saw where the 10th hit).

We then switched to some +P Hornady Critical Defense rounds. I have to say, I really couldn't tell the difference in recoil. Next time, I'm going to have someone blind load the cylinder with both +P and target loads to see if I can tell which is which. Some say the polymer helps absorb the recoil, I don't know if its true, but the recoil is very tolerable for such a light weight gun.

I've shot many "exciting new guns" that were let downs in action. The Ruger LCR is not one of those. I was excited to shoot one and I hoped it lived up to the hype. It did. I was impressed with every aspect of the firearm. This is rare as guns are really an exercise in compromises.

If you need or want a conceal carry revolver, this is your gun. Skip the S&W Feather Weight, the trigger is way too heavy (especially for my wife and probably your wife/girlfriend too) and the thing kicks way too hard for the same wives. Ruger has built a perfect defense gun that will very likely change the future of revolvers. Just look at Taurus following suit (see photo to the left).

Start by finding one (good luck), then feel how nice it feels in your hand, then pull the trigger and feel the silky smooth action, then feel the money leaving your bank account as you walk out of the store with your new Ruger LCR...

UPDATE: We took the Ruger LCR back out for another workout. My wife shot 90 rounds through it again (I only got 10 this time). Her consistent accuracy was impressive. The trigger on the LCR continues to get smoother with every pull. Personally, I love shooting this revolver! The more rounds I put through it, the more you realize how nice it is. I think I'm going to try to sell my Taurus Model 85 and get one for myself.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Kahr Arms PM9

Saturday I went to a local gun store to buy some overpriced .45 ACP ammo and the parking lot was packed! Normally, there are a few cars there and on CCW class days there are about 10 cars, but yesterday there were easily 20. It was hard to find a place to park!

Whether they’re carrying on a daily basis or not, there’s no doubt that carry classes are overflowing. Gone are the days when a card carrying, permit holder was in a small fraternity. Now days everyone has one. Since so many people are getting licensed to carry, it stands to reason that small, easy to conceal pistols and revolvers are going to be more popular than ever. Well, they are and Kahr knows it.

Kahr Arms is an American pistol manufacturer that was founded by Kook Jin "Justin" Moon, son of Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon. For all of you familiar with “Moonies” this church will sound familiar to you.

I chuckled when I heard that but it’s true. The good news is that “Justin” loves guns, got a carry permit at 18 years of age and didn’t like the quality and selection of many of the small guns on the market. So in 1995, he started a company who’s goal was to build high quality, compact, semi-automatic pistols.

When my buddy Bruce told me over lunch that he was going to buy a PM9, I had to bite my lip to keep from yelling, “Hallelujah!” I shot a PM40 a few months ago and was impresses but didn’t get a lot of time with the gun.

You see, Bruce was looking for a Ruger LCP so he called our local Sportsman’s Warehouse and found out that it was going to be a while on an LCP but that a Kahr PM9 was on the truck coming in on Wednesday. I don’t know how things are in your part of the US, but out here guns are strangely scarce. So if you find something you want, buy it right then and there.

In my opinion, Bruce did a very smart thing. He burned a vacation day, showed up at Sportsman’s Warehouse at 10 am sharp (as they opened) and bought the beautiful, all black PM9, with Tritium night sites on the spot. He wasn’t taking any chances.

He took the gun out on Purchase Day and ran 100 rounds through it to make sure it was ready for testing. I spoke to him on the phone and anxiously asked how it shot. He replied very calmly, “Well personally, I think it shoots pretty nicely.”

The gun is a Kahr PM9094N, in black stainless (very cool) with night sites. It comes with two magazines, a standard 6-rounder and an extended 7-rounder with pinky extension.

Saturday at the range, we shot a variety of guns before getting to the Kahr. But once I picked it up, I knew it was something special. It was very well balanced, very light - but not too light, and very small- but not too small. It was pretty close to perfect. BUT it does have one very interesting flaw. For that, you’ll need to keep reading.

We took some pictures and video then loaded the magazine with 6 rounds. I knew this first mag was going to be a bit wild as I got used to the trigger so I asked Bruce to shoot some video.

The guns shoots well. Very well. Even though the gun had only 100 rounds through it, the DA only trigger was light and easy. Because it’s DA only, the trigger must be completely released before you feel the reset “click”. It’s like shooting a revolver with a super light, 5 pound trigger.

After two mags, I shook my head and wrote these words in my review journal, “Sweet. Light DA trigger, easy to shoot, recoil is very manageable. Very Sweet,”. For a small gun, the recoil is surprisingly light. The gun kicks way less than the Kel-Tec P-3AT we reviewed. I was yet again impressed. The DA only trigger is so easy to pull, it's hard to believe. It makes one wonder why all DA triggers can't be this smooth and easy and why it took so long for a company to figure it out.

As for accuracy? At 10/75 yards, my standard pistol test ranges, the gun was surprising. As you can see in the accompanying photo, there are four magazines that were shot into the target. They are clearly labeled. The first two were loaded with 6 rounds each, the last two were loaded with 5 rounds since I only had 10 left.

Target at 30 feet, standing, shooting two-handed.
Set 1: I still hadn’t figured out if the gun was a dot-on-the-10-ring or dot-below-the-10-ring pistol. I put the dot below the 10 ring and shot six holes in the neck. (The 5 shots in the black circle below were shot with my Taurus Model 85 .38 Special)

Set 2: With the front dot on the bull, I was all over the head but not too bad as this was my first outing with the gun (one lucky bull and five real shots).

Sets 3 and 4: Two mags of five, eight on target, two that were low and to the left. Likely my trigger finger, not the gun.

For an ultra-compact, short-barreled, DA only pistol, I was more than happy with the results. Ok, light DA trigger, accurate, small, easy to handle, shoots well, etc. What’s the flaw?

Notice in the photo that there’s a small gap between the pinky rest and the bottom of the pistol grip. Every time you pull the trigger with the extended magazine in place, that gap pinches the dog out of your pinky. Every time.

If that mag was the only option, I’d be pissed! Yes, it’s more comfortable, but dang it! All I can say is that Kahr really needs to find a solution to that problem. I’ve shot lots of extended mags and have never had this problem. They all fit snug without a finger-pinching gap.

Personally, I’d rarely shoot the extended mag anyway. I’d never carry it that way as the extra length kills the concealability (my spell check doesn’t recognize that word, hmm) and why practice with a mag you won’t use in real life?

Overall, that’s a small, but real problem. If you want a small, light weight conceal carry gun and don’t mind shelling out some extra money (Kahr’s are sold at a premium price) the Kahr PM9 is a real winner. You get a great shooting, sexy little pistol that you’ll be glad you bought.

Photo: Kimber Ultra Carry II, PM9 and XD9 size comparison.

Kahr PM9 Review