Test Driving New Equipment

In addition to introducing you to the new machine, let’s chat a bit about evaluating new equipment. This subject has come up in recent conversations – seems to be a theme.

First, the new “toy”!! Back in late 2006, shortly before the Open Nationals, the range where I practiced was shut down, leaving me without a venue to hone skills for the impending match. I was bummed pretty seriously. A couple of folks came to the rescue – Karl Rehn at KR Training and Bob Londrigan at Brazos Custom Gunworks. Bob and I ended up squadded together at the following Florida Open, and he invited me up again to practice whenever I was able.

Long story short, we eventually had a discussion about equipment, and I lamented that, while I felt I had an accurate, reliable gun to shoot, I felt that in absolute terms, it wasn’t as flat as it could be, and that was hindering my ability to excel in long range splits. Most of the time, this is a shooter issue, not a gun issue, sure. The current gun was built for “old” major, though, and using the current power factor is not as efficient as the modern racegun can be in this regard. Bob offered to let me try a few things, and if something worked for me, he offered to sponsor my shooting in the next year. We did find something – more on the evaluation, and how it applies to you, too, after the jump. He did sponsor me ;) And here it is – a Brazos Custom Gunworks Pro Series 5″….

I know, I know, it sounds so romantic, dramatic, and glamorous. The new gun, getting to try a lot of things out, and all that. I’m here to tell you, I’m a regular Joe, just like you – having a sponsoring gunsmith doesn’t change that. It certainly doesn’t change the need to evaluate equipment intelligently before purchasing – if anything, it just increases the need, as my performance represents (to some extent) the quality of my sponsors product. More importantly, it can either help or hinder my game – and that’s exactly how you should approach choosing a new gun, too!

I usually advise shooters to try out everything they can before making a purchase decision, and don’t go into the trial with a preconceived notion of which brand or configuration you think you need. Go in with an eye towards results, and what works best for you. That’s exactly what we did here…

I showed up at Bob’s place, and we took 4 different Brazos guns plus my current racegun to the range for some trials. I ran various drills with each gun, all with the same load so that the deltas between them would be apparent. Now, we know that a particular gun may run best with a different load, and tuning a load for each one and then comparing would give the best impression of each gun – but in this case, it would simply be impractical. We did chrono the loads in each, though, to understand what we were dealing with, as two of the guns were 4.5″ barrel Pro Sx models, 1 was a 5″ SC series, and the last a 5.5″ Pro series gun. The longer guns, of course, showed a higher power factor than the shorter guns – something to keep in mind – but not ridiculously different.

The drills I ran? Burkett’s timing drills to get a feel for the movement of each, Bill Drills at 7, 15, and 25 yards, Vice Presidente (half an El Pres – no reload, as these were production guns and we didn’t want to mar up the mag wells, etc). We then set up a small field course that emphasized shoot on the move, tight shots, and target transitions and shot that several times with each gun. Finally, I ran two Steel Challenge stages several times with each gun – Roundabout and 5 To Go. As you can see, I pretty much tested each gun across a broad spectrum of skills, and evaluated each one against the others. I compared how the guns felt, as well – how they moved in recoil, how much effort they required to drive, how they felt when I indexed between targets, when I drew to targets at different distances, etc.

Very quickly, it became apparent that one model was pulling ahead of the others, and it was not the gun I was most familiar with. This was especially true on the test stage that involved shooting on the move. The 5″ SC gun had the right balance, and afforded me the best balance between recoil control, speed, and gun management. While it weight an ounce or so more than my current gun, it was less nose heavy, so I did have a tendency to over index it at first – this is the sort of thing that training with the gun will correct very quickly. The Pro Sx guns index extremely quickly, as well – this showed up clearly while shooting the Steel Challenge stages. I routinely shot those best with the standard Pro Sx (the 2nd model was a prototype with a heavier dustcover). In fact, I shot my personal best Roundabout with that Pro Sx – a 2.12.

You can do this same thing, even if you can’t get the guns together for a “round up”. Simply decide on some drills to do, and keep track of the results on paper. Try to have one gun that you shoot consistently each time (say, maybe a current gun) so that you can use that one as a “control” in the experiment – if you’re really hot one day and shooting well, and not so hot the next day, you can use the control to see that.

So, now, here’s the rub. We did something on the order of 1200 rounds through 5 different guns (yes, my arms were toast!), and I had two potential contenders that were interesting. How to choose? For starters, USPSA/IPSC practical shooting competitions are my bread and butter. While I shoot some Steel Challenge format matches, they’re not my primary game. So, my choice had to be biased towards my main focus. At the same time, I could not ignore the results with the Pro Sx on steel, and what that implies for target transitions – we index the gun all over the place in USPSA matches.

This is an important point – I won’t argue that you will be more (superficially) confident with a gun you like the looks of, and that you trust the reputation of more than one you find ugly. There’s something to that ego-driven “I want” impulse. What you need to do with that is respect it, but temper it with these real world results you’re collecting. The gun is a tool, and it must provide the results you need, regardless of how it looks. Be open to the fact the gun you think you “want” may not be the gun you “need” – or that you may need to do a small amount of customization to the one that works the best for you out of the group you’re testing in order to get the best out of it! The gun is not a static thing (even in Production division, there are things you can change) – if it can work better for you, change it! If you need to, change platforms entirely!

After some discussion, we decided to go with what you see here – a 5″ Pro Series gun. I’m still experimenting with final weight distribution and spring weights, but Bob was able to more closely match the weight of my current gun by building the gun with a custom TruBor barrel, among a couple of other small things. The final result is a gun that’s easy to manage recoil (read that as: it shoots flat without having to grip the hell out of it), shoots great on the move (read: low overal recoil impulse), and indexes great, too (read: its light, especially up front). When I picked the gun up from Bob, it felt extremely natural in my hands, and the drills and stages we ran that day proved that to be the case, as well.

In fact, if you’re interested in this configuration, in addition to the Pro Series gun I’m shooting, this gun is also very similar to the 5″ SC Series gun that Bob builds – and the gun that I shot in my test trials.

At this point, I’ve only got about 1000 rounds on the gun, and I’m still getting used to it. Dry fire, of course, helps shorten that curve a bunch. The old gun already feels pretty foreign. This year is going to be exciting, driving a new machine to greater heights!

Let me add one other note… Through that day of testing, and now with the new pistol, I’ve encountered nary a jam. All 6 guns have run completely flawlessly. If, in the course of your testing – which will usually be a relatively small amount of ammo – one of the guns has an issue… walk away from it. I don’t care how good it feels, I don’t care how much it costs. WALK AWAY. If its a used gun, I don’t care what the current owner has to say about it – whatever excuses they make (“this isn’t the right ammo…”, “its never done that before, must be a fluke…”, “you must be doing something wrong…”, “its cold out, and I have the wrong lube on it…”). None of that matters. Life is too short, and the game is too unforgiving to spend your time and hard earned money on a gun that’s already shown you an issue before you even own it (in just a couple of hundred rounds!). Can I put that strongly enough? Walk away from it. There’s plenty of great guns and gunsmiths on the market, like those built by Bob – go find one of those instead.

About the author


USPSA Grand Master, NRA Instructor, http://re-gun.com/about/

Permanent link to this article: http://re-gun.com/2008/01/test-driving-new-equipment/

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