Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blinding You With Science!

The Setup

If I have any regular readers, they know I think the shotgun is pretty much the best self-defense option for ranges of 100 yards or less, and really shines within 50 yards. The 12 gauge shotgun is a modern day battle axe. What it lacks in subtlety and finesse, it makes up for with raw power, ease of use, and availability to the masses. Here in the Midwest, you can go to any sporting goods store or even some Wal-Marts and walk out with a handy home defense/sporting piece for under $350, certainly under $400 anyway (provided you aren't a felon or currently facing any criminal or civil court actions). Add an extended magazine tube for $45-$60 and for under $400, you have a formidable tool with which to defend yourself. But the shotgun, powerful as it is, is limited by range and accuracy. But how far is too far? Well, James and I decided to find out. The following test does not take into account terminal ballistics. We just wanted to know what the pattern looks like at 10, 25, and 50 yards. For a twist, we decided to include our 9x19mm pistols. I read in this month's issue of SWAT Magazine (which I encourage you to go read--better than average this month!) an author opining that though some police officers might be tempted to transition back to a handgun for shots of 40 yards or more because of precision, that if circumstances allow, you're still better off using the shotgun--even if you aren't carrying slugs. Forty yards is a very long way to ask a handgun to bring the pain, especially under stress. But there was no stress today, just blue skies, 73 degrees, low humidity, a light southerly breeze, and lots of ammo to burn.

The Tools (No, not James and I)

James used his recently acquired Remington 870 Express with a 20" slug barrel (improved cylinder bore), and I used my orphan-soul-possessed Benelli Nova slug gun with 18.5" cylinder bore and Tac Star +2 magazine extension (for a total of 6+1 3" shells or 7+1 2 3/4" shells). James will be adding a Tac Star +3 tube to his Remington for a total of 7+1 3" shells or 8+1 (!) 2 3/4" shells. For all intents and purposes, these shotguns are pretty similar. The handguns we used were my M&P9 Compact (what I'd be carrying concealed if they ever held the class...), James' M&P9 service model (4" barrel), and his Steyr M9A1. So to re-cap, we used two 12 ga shotguns-- the Benelli Nova and Remington 870-- and three handguns, all in 9x19mm-- M&P9C, M&P9, and M9A1, respectively.

The Ammo

We tested Centurion Multi-Defense, Nobel Sport 12 pellet 00 buckshot, Estate 9 pellet 00 buckshot, Sellier & Bellot 9 pellet 00 buckshot, Federal Magnum 15 pellet 00 buckshot, Winchester HP slugs, Federal "Power Shock" slugs, and Brenekke K.O. slugs. All the slugs were 1 ounce loads in the standard velocity range. Oh, and they were all cheap. In fact, everything but the Multi-Defense is pretty cheap, comparatively. The 9x19mm fodder was either Blazer Brass 115gr FMJ, or Winchester White Box 115gr FMJ (also the cheap stuff).

The Results

Well, as you can see, a 12 gauge from 10 yards makes one big hole, with just enough pattern to make sure and destroy or damage everything in a 7" circle. The Multi-Defense made a very nice tight pattern. This is one truly nasty little round, and is worth the $1.10 per shot. If I was fighting for my life, I think I'd rather have this than anything else.

Nobel Sport left a shard of its plastic cap in the cardboard deep enough to scar the wood underneath, and all 12 pellets filled the 8" dinner plate. Lead, it's what's for dinner. Here we see Nobel Sport from 10 yards (Not 25 as noted).

From 25 yards, things got a little spread out. Multi-Defense did very well from this distance and made one horrifying spread from both shotguns that included a very accurate hit with the .65" ball and a roughly 12" spread of the six buckshot pellets. At .33" each, that makes for a lot of fairly large wounds.

On average, Multi-Defense would have resulted in several center of mass hits. I don't believe in "knockdown power", but three or four pellets of 00 buckshot and a .65" slug would probably convince me to stop if they went crashing through my ribcage. But maybe that's just me.

At 25 yards, buckshot was very viable. Estate and Nobel Sport both made decent groups that would have put devastating fire on target. Both groups were from 25 yards, not 50 as noted.

At 50 yards, things got very sketchy for buckshot of all flavors, but they did manage to at least put some holes in the target. Not much made it on the whole patterning board at all. At 50 yards, you may want to hold your fire and move or switch to slugs.

On that note, slugs had no trouble at all making pretty good groups at 50 yards. In the SWAT article I referenced earlier, the author mentioned that some police departments don't allow their officers to carry slugs (which is dumb). If you can't, for whatever reason, Multi-Defense was more effective than buckshot, but the non-rifled spherical lead slug is not as accurate as a rifled slug, though you can still aim it fairly well. Since I can't resist being snarky, I have to say that there is no good reason at all to pay the huge price of specialty slugs made of the next big magic alloy, or with special expansion flux capacitors or whatever. The 12ga slug measures .72" across. If that isn' t a big enough hole to bring down what you're hunting, then go buy a bazooka. The cheap stuff is every bit as accurate as the stuff with the huge price tag. Don't waste your money, unless you really want to. A $9 15-pack of Remington Sluggers will shoot just as straight as an $18 5-pack of slugs made from Unobtainium or Hypetainium or with ninjas on the box. Really, they will.

Then it was time for the handguns to step up. I used my truck and Dakota ruck as an improvised rest and fired five rounds from my M&P9C, taking about two seconds between shots to breathe and aim carefully. James did pretty much the same thing with his M&P9 and M9A1. I managed to hit the 8" target twice, and drop the other three rounds within about a 2" or 3" radius of the plate, so call the whole group 11". From 50 yards, that isn't bad. Not great, but not bad. Some shootists (and I mean REAL shootists) fire their handguns at 100 yards or more. I'm not there yet, but I will be one day. James made about an 8" group centered above the plate with the M&P9, and did decidedly worse with the M9A1, though all five rounds were on the board.

So What?

I think we can agree that the author in SWAT was right to say that, if circumstances allow, stay with the shotgun at 40 or 50 yards, even if you're shooting buckshot. I would add that 12 pellet buck would give the best compromise of number of projectiles launched and magazine capacity. At the end of the day, the guy with the most bullets to launch has a better chance to live. The slug is the obvious answer to the 50yd question. James and I have both fired slugs out to about 100 yards and can still hold a 6"-8" group from kneeling or standing supported. Better shooters might be able to squeeze that down even more. Furthermore, handguns--even short barreled concealed carry pieces--are not out of the question at 50 yards. They are on the ragged edge of their usefulness, in my hands anyway, but they still would have delivered hits. They all proved to be more accurate than buckshot at 50 yards, but consider that in combat, you don't always have time or opportunity to aim carefully enough to achieve that accuracy.

All in all, stick with the long gun either way. Switching to slugs gives you all the range in the world (for most self-defense situations), so do that if you can. Also, don't count the handguns out if you should run out of shotgun ammo, or for some other reason need to take a long shot with a short gun.


Anonymous said...

Nice ammo test report. I wasn't familiar with the Centurion rounds until I saw them on your site. Definitely grabbing a few boxes.

What's going on with your AR-24? Did any of that measurement stuff I left you help?

DC Houghton, esq. said...

The AR24 is still acting up. Apparently my five year old computer (which survived living with my sister and her then two year old son)must have hiccup'd and never sent an Email to Armalite...or they're ignoring me. I shot the AR last night and it went through 49 rounds without a malfunction, and then choked on the very last round. Aggravating!! I'm going to fix it up and trade it or sell it and get an M&P9L. I don't need another project gun.

Centurion Multi-Defense is expensive as hell, but I don't think it could hurt to have a box or two on hand just in case.

Anonymous said...

Your E-mail vs. Armalite... I spoke with a sales guy on the phone a couple of months back about the 15rnd AR-24 mags I _still_ have on back order. The ArmaFolks are slammed, just like everybody else, so, I think they are keeping communication with their adoring public to a minimum.

I also think there is more going on:

I had a watch repair (Rolex) taking forever because of a lack of parts. The lack of parts was due to Rolex not wanting to send anything to the US because (at the time) the Swiss Franc was getting hammered vs. the USD. This little nugget of clarity came from the repair guy, who had a bunch of jobs 80-90 percent finished.

I know what you mean about not needing another project gun, and at the risk of sounding like a vulture, if you have any magazines (I remember you mentioned some EAA Witness mags you bought) you want to sell, let me know.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, left out a bit of connective tissue: The point of the Rolex story was that since the AR-24s are being made in Turkey...

DC Houghton, esq. said...

I've got an offer from a friend for the gun and all the kit. Thanks for offering me your money though.

I hope your AR-24 continues to work better than mine.

I think the replacement for mine will be a Tantal AK74. You can never have too many semi auto rifles.

DC Houghton, esq. said...

16rd Mecgar Witness mags. IN STOCK! Great success!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on lining up the buy, and thanks for the link to the EAA mags.

A Tantal instead of an M&P 9L? That's moving from one end of the lot to the other. I'd go for the handgun over the rifle, but I have some built-in bias: More of a handgun need living in a city; left-handed, our ship's armory had M-14s. So, when it comes to auto-rifles, I got kinda spoiled during my 'formative years'...

Thanks again for the link.

DC Houghton, esq. said...

Hey, no problem! Glad to help when I can.

As much as I want an M&P9L, I'll probably get more use out of my 9C. I can shoot the heck out of it at up to 50 yards. My Tokarev can handle some long range stuff too. I still want the 9L, I just have lots of guns already that will do the same thing.

The Tantals are getting more affordable by the day. J&G sales has them for $529 (down from $699 earlier this year). I probably won't get mine until mid-October. Living in the rural midwest, it's just as easy for me to carry a short rifle as it is to carry a handgun. The side folding stock brings it down to 29" OAL and can be fired while the stock is folded.

First though, my wife has given me the green light to buy a Polish P64, as they're going for the stupidly low price of $160 (J&G's again). I may order mine within the week.