I’m a very lucky guy: I love what I do for a living and I’m grateful that I get to do it at Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio. From a defensive-minded shooter’s perspective, one of the many great things about Black Wing Shooting Center is its large and ever-changing selection of rental firearms for use on the range. As an instructor, I like that this makes available a wide assortment of guns for our training classes. Every bit as important, however, is that it offers a shooter who is looking for that new (or next) gun an easy and convenient “try it before you buy it” option. And that brings us to why I’m writing this.
I recently became curious to see what (if anything) I could learn through the relatively brief exposure of a typical rental gun experience. For the purposes of this article, I deliberately complicated the issue by subjecting three pistols to the shortest, most informal and decidedly unscientific head-to-head comparison ever.
The three guns I chose are all sub-compact or pocket-sized 9mm self-defense pistols: the Kahr PM9, SIG Sauer P-290, and newly introduced Beretta Nano.
Although it goes against long-standing gun-review tradition, I will not describe the pistols in great physical detail – check out the photos. I did not disassemble and examine them, nor did I pull out a tape measure or an electronic scale to record specific data. I did not chronograph a variety of bullets at a variety of distances. In keeping with my attempt to replicate the common rental experience, I simply carried the guns, a couple of targets, and a small quantity of both ball and hollow-point ammunition out to a lane on the indoor pistol range.
Squat, Square and Skinny
Bearing in mind both the brevity and casual nature of my test drive, here is what I learned: All three pistols are undeniably awfully small. The word “squat” may better describe the SIG Sauer P-290, as it sat in my hand with a fat, heavy, solid feel. Only the fact that my shooting-hand pinky finger had nowhere to go suggested that I wasn’t holding a much bigger gun.
On first encounter, the Beretta Nano earned the nickname “square” for (in my hand) a vertical-feeling grip that climbed up to a tall slide profile. Not displeasing, mind you, just … square.
The Kahr PM9, which I will admit to having fired previously, was designated “skinny” as that was the first thing that stood out when I held it and compared it to the others.
In fairness, I’ve never been a fan of the drastically shortened grip frames so common on sub-compact pistols. Other than that, I didn’t notice anything to complain about with any of the test subjects.
All three guns featured very usable fixed sights — the SIG sporting tritium night-sights — and in shooting I discovered that all three pistols were capable of accuracy well beyond what they would likely need in a self-defense encounter. Both ball and hollow points fed and functioned perfectly. The major contributing factor to any accuracy problem was the shooter, although in my defense I will say that in addition to their stubby grips, all three pistols come equipped with that other great obstacle to tack-driving precision: long, or springy, or spongy trigger pulls. The SIG P-290, as the lone double-action-only pistol, added “heavy” to the list. Still, shooter error counted as much as anything else. Remember that in a brief rental gun session we aren’t going to imprint, or become accustomed to the gun, and this unfamiliarity will show.
Moving on, I set aside the bullseye target and began some defensive-type drills. Having experienced no problems of any kind to this point, I continued feeding a more-or-less random mix of ball and hollow-point ammunition with no ill effects. I posted one of Law Enforcement Targets’ well-regarded SEB training targets and executed rapid multiple-shot strings of close-range fire on the main “high center chest” areas. I incorporated quick transitions to single shots on the small numbered secondary targets. All three pistols performed well, without a single malfunction of any kind. However, all three demonstrated that good recoil management is dependent upon a good grip, and if the gun is a chopped-down little pocket rocket, that grip requires some practice.
Having experienced better-than-needed accuracy, perfect reliability, and acceptable handling from all my test pistols, what did I learn? Plenty. Having done a little reading and casual research, I came into this project with an expectation of what I would experience with each gun. My very short and informal encounter showed me that with each gun, I was dead wrong about at least one thing I had assumed would be true. It isn’t important what I was wrong about, as they were largely subjective traits and based on others’ experiences. After all, some of you will likely read my descriptions of what I felt and disagree entirely.
And that’s the point: going to the local gun club or range and putting a box or two of ammo through a rental pistol does not equate to a thorough scientific test and evaluation of that firearm. But it does have tremendous value in helping us experience firsthand how those details actually feel. We all understand how to use information in a comparison of one thing versus another. But as much as I may accept that Pistol X weighs 28.6 ounces, is 1.06 inches wide, and has a 76-degree grip angle, I have to physically shoot that gun in order to understand what those things mean to me. As advertising gurus have always reminded us, “Your results may vary.”
Did I find a favorite among the guns I tried? Yes. Would it do you any good if I told you which one it was? No. I’ll leave the “A plus” and “B minus” ratings to others. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t the one I initially figured it would be.
From a practical standpoint, renting a gun is as close to a gun magazine-style test as we users are going to get, so head out to the local range or gun club and try out something different. If you ever find yourself in central Ohio, come visit us at Black Wing Shooting Center. The good news is that wherever you go, a short spin with a test-drive gun is well worth the trip.