A late entry—Glock’s Model 22—races by the Smith & Wesson 4013TSW Tactical, Sig Sauer P229, and Ruger P94DC.
More and more states are passing “shall issue” concealed-carry permit laws and are finally allowing their citizens to exercise their Constitutional right to self defense. There is even a concerted effort to pass a national concealed-carry permit law that will recognize any state permit throughout the country, not unlike automobile registrations. Due a great deal to this trend, there has been a lot of movement in design and development of “carry” guns in recent times, and among gun-savvy permit holders, the .40 Smith & Wesson has emerged as a leading cartridge of choice.
Because of this we decided to take a look at three popular carry guns. Two are top-of-the-line, high-dollar pistols on the smaller end of the size spectrum. The third is slightly larger, but priced at about two-thirds the cost of the other guns. The first two, the Smith & Wesson 4013TSW Tactical and the Sig Sauer P229, carry suggested retail prices of $788 and 795, respectively. We pitted these top-of-the-line guns against the Ruger P94DC, which has a suggested retail of $520. We chose these different price points to see if the higher-end guns offered performance enhancements above and beyond what the more moderately priced Ruger delivered.
Our judgments: Overall, we thought the Ruger was a best buy. The other two guns were very good, but both had significant flaws, which we note below. However, a fourth gun that we inadvertently introduced during team testing won raves for its in-hand performance, and though we did not include full results for it here (because the particular gun we shot is several years old), we do cover the performance points that make Gun Number 4 a top pick.
How We Tested
We tested the products for accuracy, ergonomics, and reliability with different ammo brands and bullets. The guns were cleaned before testing began, but were not cleaned or given any other maintenance again until the test was complete. This was primarily to test for functional reliability. We are happy to report that all the guns came through this with high marks.
Even though we fired hundreds of rounds through each of the handguns, we encountered only one failure. The Ruger failed to feed a round of Hornady Vector ammo, jamming the gun with a stovepipe. We were unable to determine the cause of the failure, nor were we able to duplicate the failure. We consider it statistically and functionally irrelevant.
We tested the guns for accuracy with the use of a Ransom Rest mounted on a large plywood base. The base was supported with 1-inch by 4-inch struts underneath. This was clamped to a shooting bench mounted on telephone pole-butts sunk 2 feet in the ground. Using the appropriate grip insert, each gun was locked into the Ransom Rest, settled with several shots and then fired at a 25-yard target with three five-shot groups of each ammo selection.
Groups were measured center to center of the greatest spread. There was some inconsistency with all the guns. Some groups were small while others were large, even while using the same ammo. Fliers of several inches were not uncommon with any gun or ammo. It should be noted that the number-one priority in any defensive gun is reliability. These guns are not designed for target use or for hunting. While target shooting may allow an alibi round, when shooting for your life this is not an option. Therefore a self-defense gun must be functionally reliable. Slightly larger tolerances with all moving parts will ensure more reliability, but at a cost of precision. As a result, accuracy will suffer. Any self-defense action is likely to occur at very close range, particularly when civilians rather than law enforcement officers are involved, so target accuracy is not a prerequisite.
This tolerance of lesser accuracy has its reasonable limits. Obviously, a shooter must be able to keep all his shots within the established kill-zone of an attacker. Any gun that sprays bullets all around the target is as dangerous for a defense choice as one that fails to function. Many feel that an accuracy standard of 5 inches at 25 yards is acceptable for defense handguns, but we believe that an average of 3 inches at 25 yards is more acceptable for this shooting use.
Also, we assembled a team to test the guns for ergonomics, speed, and reliability. The team consisted of shooters with a wide spectrum of size, strength, shooting experience, and hand size. The first test was a head-to-head speed drill where shooters pitted themselves against one another. Targets consisted of one steel chicken used for big bore–handgun metallic-silhouette shooting and one 6-inch-square steel plate per shooter. These were set at eighteen yards, and all firing was started with the gun in the down position. The hammers were down and safety levers off so that the first shot would be double action. On the command of fire the shooters would first be required to knock over the chicken and then the plate. After completing this another single chicken that is centrally placed would be fired upon. The first shooter to dump both his targets and the single chicken would win the round. After each drill the shooters would rotate guns so no shooter used the same gun twice in a row.
It was at this portion of the test that we introduced a fourth gun to allow the shooters to reset and reload in pairs. Because we had four shooters and only three test guns, we introduced one of the participants’ personal carry guns, a Glock 22. Adding this fourth product caused some interesting problems, as we related below.
These drills were followed with point-shooting speed drills. The shooters were positioned five yards from a B-29 target with five rounds in the gun. The guns had the hammer down and safety levers off for a double-action start. On command the shooter fired all shots as fast as possible. The shooters were instructed to focus their eyes on the target rather than the gun’s sights. This test was to evaluate the natural pointing ability of the guns as well as the guns’ controllability for rapid-fire shooting. It also allowed evaluation of recoil control, grip angle and design, as well as trigger control—all the elements that affect the ergonomics of speed.
The Smith & Wesson 4013TSW Tactical, says Smith & Wesson’s Ken Jorgensen, resulted from work first done in Smith & Wesson’s custom shop. The company’s “Shorty Forty” handgun led to the development of the 4013TSW Tactical as a production carry gun. The relatively small Tactical handgun has all the features needed for a high-performance carry gun, but at a price considerably lower than the custom shop’s offering.
The double-action/single-action alloy-framed gun weighs in at 1 pound 12 ounces. The matte-gray pistol is 5 inches high, and with a 3.5-inch barrel is 6.9 inches long overall. The double-action trigger pull is stiff at 9 pounds, with 0.5 inch of travel measured at the center of the trigger. It pulls smoothly through the entire cycle with no catches or hesitation, but with a lot of stacking through the progression. Actually the stacking is an aid in double-action shooting, allowing most shooters to better gauge when the trigger will break. The single-action trigger travels 0.2 inch in the first stage, and with 3 pounds of pull, it then breaks cleanly at 7 pounds. (With the first 3 pounds used to take up the first-stage slack.)
The slide is stainless steel. The trigger, hammer, and sights are blued steel. The slide release, magazine release and decocker/safety are all stainless steel. The grips are hard plastic and wrap around the back strap. They are checkered, as is the front grip frame and the magazine release. The magazine has a forward-protruding lip that serves as part of the grip, supporting the little finger of the shooting hand. There is a lip that protrudes rearward at the top of the grip to hold the web of the shooting hand in position. These two lips work in conjunction with each other to ensure a consistent grip on the gun. The top also provides a safety stop to protect the hand from the slide.
The gun is obviously designed for double-action shooting for the first shot, and the hammer does not have a spur, but is instead flush with the rear of the frame. This allows for smooth drawing with a lessened chance of the hammer catching on your clothing or holster. If single action is desired for the first shot, the shooter can pull the trigger slightly to start the hammer out of the frame, then catch the hammer on its front face with a thumb and pull it back into the cocked position. This requires some concentration and dexterity to do safely and is not something that should be done in a high-stress situation.
There is an ambidextrous decocking lever that will lower the hammer safely from the cocked position. This lever can be set to the fire position with the hammer down, allowing a true double-action first shot or set at the safe position, requiring it be pushed forward and up before firing. The gun will switch to single-action (hammer cocked) after the first shot and will remain in that mode until the hammer is manually decocked. While the decocker/safety lever is ambidextrous, the slide release and magazine release are not. However, left-handed shooters will have little trouble working them with the index finger of the shooting hand. The slide release is stiff and requires a fair amount of hand strength to release.
This gun has a full capacity of 10 rounds, nine in the magazine and one in the barrel, one less than current law allows. However, this one-shot penalty allows the gun to have a smaller grip frame and better concealability.
The sights are the common three-dot system, with two dots on the rear sight and one on the front blade. The rear sight is a square notch, while the front is a square blade. The rear sight is adjustable for windage by loosening a set screw and sliding the sight in a dovetail slot.
The Sig Sauer P229 comes from a company with a reputation for quality handguns, and the P229 certainly has lived up to that billing.
The empty double-action/single-action alloy framed gun weighs in at 2 pounds exactly. It is 5.25 inches high and with a 3.75-inch barrel is 7 inches long overall. The double-action trigger pull is 10.5 pounds, with 0.6 inch of travel measured at the center of the trigger. It is a little “catchy” throughout the cycle and shows a little stacking near the end. The single-action trigger travels 0.2 inch in the first stage and with 2 pounds of pull, then breaks at 4.25 pounds. (The first 2 pounds are used to take up the first-stage slack.) The single-action trigger is slightly sluggish, but it breaks fairly cleanly.
The frame is aluminum alloy, while the slide is blued stainless steel. The entire gun is black. The trigger, hammer, sights slide release, magazine release, and decocker/safety are all blued stainless steel. The grips are hard plastic and wrap around the back strap. They are rough texture with a “dimpling” on all grip surfaces. The front grip frame has a series of parallel lines cut in for aid in gripping as do the decocker, slide release, and the magazine release. The magazine has a slight forward-protruding lip that serves as part of the grip, supporting the little finger of the shooting hand with a bit more room than the Smith & Wesson has. There is a lip that protrudes rearward at the top of the grip to hold the web of the shooting hand in position. These two lips again work in conjunction with each other to ensure a consistent grip on the gun, while working better with larger hands. The top also provides a safety stop to protect the hand from the slide.
The hammer has a spur, allowing easy thumb-cocking. There is a spring-loaded right-hand-only (left side of the gun) decocking lever that will lower the hammer safely from the cocked position. This allows double-action only for the first shot with no ability for an additional safe position, requiring that it be released before firing. The gun will switch to single-action (hammer cocked) after the first shot and will remain in that mode until the hammer is manually decocked. While the gun is not traditionally ambidextrous, left-handed shooters will have little trouble working the controls with the index finger of their shooting hand. As with all the guns, the slide release is stiff and requires a fair amount of hand strength to release.
This gun has a full capacity of 11 rounds, ten in the magazine and one in the barrel. The rear sight is a square notch with a white line under the center. The front is a square blade with a white dot. The rear sight is adjustable for windage by drifting in a dovetail slot.
The Ruger P94DC was unabashedly included as a budget choice to go up against the higher-priced nameplates. Ruger has always provided rugged and reliable guns at a reasonable price, and the $520 P94DC does not change the tradition.
The empty double-action/single-action alloy framed gun weighs 2 pounds 2 ounces. It is 5.6 inches high and with a 4-inch barrel is 7.5 inches long. The double-action trigger pull is 8.5 pounds with 0.75 inch of travel measured at the center of the trigger. In spite of the long travel, the trigger pull is smooth and stacks just a little at the end. The single-action trigger travels 0.3 inch in the first stage and with 2.25 pounds of pull, then breaks at 5.5 pounds. (With the first 2.25 pounds used to take up the first-stage slack.) The single-action pull is mushy and travels a little, we thought.
The frame is aluminum alloy; the slide is stainless steel. The frame is matte gray; the slide is polished gray. The trigger, hammer, sights, slide release, magazine release, and decocker/safety are all stainless steel. The grips are hard-plastic panels with a large checkering pattern. Neither the front or rear grip frame has any extra grip enhancement of any kind beyond the bead-blasted finish. The decocker, slide release and the magazine release all have parallel lines cut in them to aid in grip. The magazine has a very slight forward protruding lip that serves as part of the grip, supporting the little finger of the shooting hand, but only slightly. There is a lip that protrudes rearward at the top of the grip to hold the web of the shooting hand in position. The top also provides a safety stop to protect the hand from the slide.
The hammer does have a spur allowing easy thumb-cocking. There is a spring-loaded ambidextrous decocking lever that will lower the hammer safely from the cocked position. This allows double-action only for the first shot with no ability for an additional safe position requiring that it be released before firing. The gun will switch to single-action (hammer cocked) after the first shot and will remain in that mode until the hammer is manually decocked. The gun is completely ambidextrous, a plus for left-handed shooters. As with all the guns, the slide release is stiff and requires a fair amount of hand strength to release, but less than the Sig and much less than the Smith & Wesson.
This gun has a full capacity of 11 rounds, ten in the magazine and one in the barrel. The rear sight is a square notch with white dots bracketed the notch. The front is a square blade with a white dot. The rear sight is adjustable for windage by loosening a set screw and moving it in a dovetail slot.
Testing and Evaluation
As we noted earlier, the most important performance aspect—reliability—was a wash. We encountered no significant mishaps with any of the guns.
Thus, we began looking at other areas of performance in order to choose a winner. Detailed accuracy results can be found in the accompanying table, but overall, the Sig Sauer had the best average accuracy (2.65-inch groups), followed by the Smith & Wesson (2.82-inch groups) and the Ruger (3.12-inch groups). In our view, all three guns feature acceptable accuracy for defensive carry.
As expected with its longer barrel, the Ruger has the highest overall velocity average. However, the Sig Sauer only gives up 27 fps and the Smith & Wesson 77 fps. The shooters with large hands particularly liked the way the Ruger fit in the hand because of its larger size. Accordingly, these shooters did not like the Smith & Wesson because of its smaller grip. However, our testers liked the Smith & Wesson best for fast and/or point shooting because of the grip flares, which offered a lot of control. Only one shooter gave the Sig Sauer a first-place rating on point shooting, but it seemed to offer the best grip control for the most shooters.
Every shooter complained about the long trigger stroke of the Ruger when shooting double-action. Surprisingly, there were few complaints about the hard trigger pull on the Smith & Wesson. Our testers agreed the trigger pull on the Sig allowed better shot control than either of the other guns, however.
The shooters were almost universal in their dislike of the sights on the Sig Sauer when compared to the other guns. No one liked the white line on the rear sight as well as the twin dots of the other guns. Our shooters particularly liked the Ruger’s sights.
The Smith & Wesson got the nod for easiest reloading in terms of magazine insertion, and being the smallest and lightest gun, it was the top choice for carry.
Performance Shooter Recommends
So which gun would we buy based on our head-to-head testing?
Well, we have to fudge our answer because our shooters preferred the Glock 22, on which we didn’t run full tests. If you’ll recall, we added the Glock so that we could race four shooters with four guns. It wasn’t our intention to include it as part of our test. Nonetheless, every member of our test team picked it as his first choice as a defensive carry gun, even though it was not tested for accuracy and velocity. We will attempt to run our battery of tests on a fresh Glock—just as soon as we can get one. We’ll update you on its full performance characteristics ASAP. Among the three guns we actually performed full tests on, we came to these conclusions:
The Ruger P94DC is a best buy. It retails for at least $200 less than the others, and though it has some faults—its long double-action trigger stroke and larger dimensions to name two—it was reliable, shot accurately enough, had good sights, provided the best velocities, and felt good in the hand.
With price out of the equation, it was almost a toss-up between the Sig Sauer P229 and the Smith & Wesson 4013TSW Tactical, with a slight nod going to the Smith & Wesson because of its size, weight, and inherent shoot ability. But neither gun escaped criticism. Three of our four shooters would change the sights on the Sig Sauer, and all agreed that the Smith & Wesson needed trigger work. Also, most shooters didn’t like the Smith’s decocker/safety arrangement—too many things to think about when problems are happening fast, giving points to the Sig Sauer. Beyond those points, it mostly it came down to hand size and shape as well as personal preference.
Though we recognize the Sig and S&W; are good products, we can’t unconditionally recommend them because of our experience with the Glock. Our shooters universally preferred the Glock Model 22’s size, function, trigger response, and handfit. Notably, all our shooters liked the unique Glock trigger better than the double-action/single-action triggers on the other three guns. The switch from double-action to single-action after the first shot caused some concentration problems, and first-shot misses during the speed drills were common. That was not the case with the Glock, in which the trigger response remained the same for all shots. Also, the grip-frame angle got high marks for comfort and point-shooting handling.
Thus, we recommend that at least for now, you hold off on purchasing either a Sig Sauer P229 or Smith & Wesson 4013TSW Tactical. In many crucial areas where we ran the guns head to head, the used Glock kicked them both in the pants, and for a suggested retail price of only $617. Unless further testing shows a fatal flaw we didn’t see in our range drills, the Glock 22 in 40 S&W; looks like a winner.