Choosing a Rimfire Race Gun
Random Nuclear Strikes raised an interesting topic in an email, and I decided to expand on it with a full post.
How do you go about choosing a rim fire race gun, or what do you have to do to build one, and where should you start?
The first point I would like to stress is that the gun itself is maybe 5% of the equation, and the shooter is perhaps 95%. A really good shooter can beat most anybody, shooting most any gun at hand. This, of course, assumes that the gun is in good condition, and functions reliably. If it doesn't go "BANG" every time you pull the trigger, you can't win with it, period!
A big mistake is to assume that your shooting will improve with a better gun. Shooting better comes from good technique, and a LOT of practice.
A while back I was visiting with a friend of mine who happened to be a professional musician. I remarked that I wished I could play guitar like Howard Roberts. My friend happened to know Howard Roberts, and replied "If you want to play as well as Howard Roberts, you need to practice as much as Howard Does. Howard practices as much as eight hours a day, and at least five days a week. " The same thing applies to shooting. Go take a look at JJ Racaza's video again, and notice how smoothly he draws and changes magazines. No wasted motion. He didn't get that fast by buying a faster race gun.
Where, then, does the gun itself start to make a difference on your results? Only when you have two otherwise identical shooters, similar eyesight, reflexes, and amount of practice. In that case the better gun gives you a slight advantage, but only a slight advantage.
After having said all of that, we still have to look a bit at the choices of handguns themselves, and how to set them up. I will avoid making broad generalizations like "Shoot a bunch, and pick the one you like!" as that isn't necessarily good advice. I had a 9mm. a while back that fit my hand like it was made for me. I just couldn't seem to hit anything with it. With my beat up old Taurus PT92 I could shoot far more accurately, even though it didn't have as good of a feel to it.
A good point to start is to take a look at what's winning in the matches you are interested in. For example, at Custer Sportsman's rimfire matches, the winners and top finishers are usually shooting S&W model 41's. Part of that is probably because that's the most common gun among the dedicated shooters, the ones who practice the most. The Model 41, along with the High Standard Supermatic Citations, are also some of the most expensive, and only the more serious shooters are willing to spend the money to buy one.
At CWSA matches, we see a much wider spectrum of handguns, with Ruger MK II's, 22/45's, Browning Buckmarks, a Beretta Neos, a S&W Model 41, a Sig Trailside, and a S&W 422 all finding their way into the final rounds. As I said, no single gun will give you a big advantage, maybe only a little edge, and then only sometimes.
The S&W Model 41 and the High Standard Supermatic Citations have a couple of things in common. First, both have solid steel frames. It would take a zillion rounds to wear out either one of them to the point of it getting sloppy due to wear. The second common feature is the ability to quickly change barrels. Although the Ruger's also have steel moving parts, barrel changes aren't what you'd call easy! Fortunately with the Rugers, they are inexpensive enough that you can almost buy two of them for the cost of a good used High Standard or a Model 41.
Grip size and angle are both important to consider. If you are more used to the 1911 grip angle, then the more highly slanted grip angle of the Ruger Mk II's and III's, the early High Standards, and The Beretta Neos may not be right for you. If you have large hands, the 1911 grip angle and larger grip and frame sizes may be the way to go. If you have very small hands, the Beretta Neos is a good fit, but it's almost too small for someone with large hands.
How about trigger pull? Just about everything out of the box sucks, with the exception of the High Standards and the Model 41's. All of the others however, after a trigger job, or a trigger kit as in the case of the Rugers, will be up to the task.
Barrel length? If you are shooting iron sights, the additional sight radius from a longer barrel can be a help, but too long of a barrel with iron sights and it takes too long to get sight alignment, slowing you down. My personal opinion is when speed is part of the equation, anything over seven or eight inches doesn't get you anything, and may actually slow you down.
Again, this is only my opinion, but if you are using an optical sight, like some sort of a red dot sight, even a 5.5" barrel is plenty, and the short barrels are easier to get the first shot off quickly. A compensator and/or a barrel weight can be of help to keep the muzzle down, getting you to the second shot more quickly.
A longer barrel does get you a little more velocity, which may make it shoot a little flatter, but that's probably a secondary consideration, since most rim fire race gunning is at fairly close range.
Why then, you ask, do I shoot a 12" barrel on my optical sight High Standard race gun? The short answer is that Volquartzen didn't build an 8" carbon fiber/stainless barrel. I also have developed a completely unconventional grip and stance when using the long barrel. I'm actually a little bit faster with my S&W 422, but I'm a little more accurate with the long barrel. I also like to experiment with technique, so I would still recommend more conventional shorter barrels for shooters using more conventional technique.
One last consideration - replacement parts. Parts availability isn't much of a problem, even for the newer High Standards. High Standard is still in business down in Texas, and parts for most all makes are available from the manufacturer, or from Brownell's.
Lastly, there are some intangible considerations in selecting a rim fire race gun. You need to have a gun that you truly believe you can win with.
If YOU don't think you can win with it, you probably can't, and won't...............