When I first became aware that a polymer-frame pistol was being manufactured, I scoffed. How did anyone expect a plastic pistol to be a success? Who would buy one? What positive attributes could they possibly possess? As happens more frequently than I like to admit, my opinions were misguided. As we know, the polymer-framed semiautomatic pistol rocked the handgunning world and has proven itself as one of the most popular pistols in the world, and for good reason.
There was much skepticism at the onset of the polymer-pistol era, mostly from purists who, like me, couldn’t conceive a handgun that wasn’t made entirely of steel and wood. Fear of polymer not being able to withstand extensive shooting without excessive wear and fatigue or meltdown resulting from exposure to weather, solvents, and other substances was common.
Of course, we now know that these fears were unfounded. We know that pistols with polymer frames are extremely durable and resistant to wear and tear. The polymer can be shaped into any ergonomic design conceivable, making it simple to adjust to the shooting comforts and tastes to virtually any user. They are lightweight, tough, reliable, and easy to use. No wonder the majority of police forces around the globe are using polymer-framed pistols.
I was issued a polymer gun–a Glock, which I carried for a number of years as a federal investigator. I found the gun to be outstanding in virtually every way. No doubt, these pistols take some getting used to if you grew up shooting a revolver or 1911-style auto pistol, but after some practice, they prove to be a fine everyday carry gun.
I’ve been advised over the years by various handgun experts that a combat pistol, particularly a polymer-framed pistol, doesn’t need to be capable of pinpoint accuracy. The argument, of course, focuses on the point that the majority of handgun fights are conducted within 7 yards; therefore, if the pistol shoots a 4-inch group at 25 yards, its accuracy is acceptable at the shorter distance. Many of these experts are perfectly comfortable with a pistol that shoots no better than 4 inches at 25 yards, and some state that most modern, non-customized polymer guns aren’t capable of better accuracy. For the most part, I don’t go along with that premise.
The Accuracy Question
I’ve fired a few modern auto pistols that wouldn’t shoot much better than 4 inches at 25 yards, but that’s not the norm. After some experimentation with various polymer pistols, I believe good groups can be squeezed out of them without extensive customizing. It’s been my experience that many shooters who use polymer guns, particularly law enforcement folks, don’t always familiarize themselves with their pistols the way they should. Getting accuracy from a polymer gun requires much practice and repetition, but it’s always worth it in the long run.
I’ve been doing some shooting lately with the new Springfield Armory XD(M) 3.8 semiautomatic pistol. This is a short version of the company’s popular XD(M) pistol featuring a 3.8-inch barrel–which places it right between the standard-size XD(M) and the subcompact model. Compact, yet it still has a magazine capacity of 19 rounds. The pistol feels great in my hand, which is one of the key points to getting the most accuracy out of a polymer-framed pistol. If a handgun is uncomfortable for the shooter to grip, accuracy will suffer every time. The XD(M) 3.8 comes with three different grip inserts that can be quickly and easily changed out to fit the shooter’s hand–an outstanding concept. I found that the insert that was on the gun from the factory fit my hand quite comfortably.
Any shooter who plans to carry an autoloading pistol, whether a law enforcement officer or someone carrying for self-defense, should shoot the gun extensively prior to trusting their lives and/or the lives of others on it. I believe a pistol should have at least 300 rounds run through it prior to full-time carry in order to check for any potential mechanical problems that might exist with the gun. It’s much better to discover a problem at the range than in a bad situation. This practice also helps break in the gun and possibly smooth out any rough edges left over from the manufacturing process.
This break-in period is also very important since it allows the shooter to get acquainted with the gun. Extensive firing initially will assist the shooter in getting used to the grip, sight picture, and trigger pull, all essential elements of good accuracy.
Quite often, particularly when transitioning to a striker-fired, polymer pistol from a revolver or other type of auto, shooters have difficulty in getting used to the new trigger–I certainly did when I first started shooting my duty Glock. It is imperative to fire the new gun a great deal to familiarize yourself with the trigger. Begin at your range, preferably shooting at steel plates. Start slow and steady at first, firing several magazines at a short distance to get the feel of the gun. When you start hitting well, move back to 15 or 20 yards and continue firing at a slow pace. Only after getting completely comfortable with slow fire is rapid fire acceptable, and only then if you’re able to still concentrate on squeezing the trigger and hitting the plate every time.
After a considerable amount of offhand shooting, the pistol should be fired at a paper target from a bench using a sandbag or other suitable rest. I recommend shooting from 25 yards, though you can choose a distance longer or shorter. Three- to five-shot groups should be fired, using a variety of ammunition. Take deep breaths between shots and concentrate on trigger pull and sight picture. This exercise will not only indicate how accurate the pistol is, but it will also assist you in becoming even more familiar with the gun’s trigger pull.
I used the exact sequence described above in doing my initial tests with the Springfield XD(M) 3.8. After firing a considerable amount of ammo offhand at a steel plate, I thought I had the trigger pull down. When I moved to the benchrest, I found that the concentrated, slow squeeze felt completely different. It was necessary for me to fire a number of groups from the bench until I became used to the slow trigger squeeze. When that happened, my groups became smaller. When I initially started shooting the XD from the bench, my three-shot groups averaged 3 inches or so. After a good deal of practice, I fired a 1.5-inch group using Speer Gold Dot 124-grain hollowpoints. It took some time that afternoon and a lot of ammunition, but it paid off in the end.
Yet another important factor in getting the most accuracy out of your pistol are the sights. I find that certain popular sighting systems don’t work well for me, though they may be fine for others. The factory three-dot system on the Springfield XD(M) 3.8 is very popular, but the white dots are recessed in the sight blades, and I find them distracting in certain light.
With a pistol not fitted with night sights (all combat pistols should be), I prefer all black sights, serrated. If you have accuracy issues with your pistol and have gone through the previously described steps, ponder your sights. If you’re not comfortable with them, consider changing to a different system. Clearly, many police departments might not allow this modification, and if not, you had better just get used to the factory sights by shooting more.
There are many reasons certain pistols prefer certain ammunition. Some make good sense and some don’t. Without delving into them, let me just say that in order to maximize the accuracy of your polymer-framed auto, you’ll need to experiment with a number of different loads to determine which ones your gun prefers. You should test as many different brands and bullet weights as you can afford. I know ammo is pricey, but maximizing your pistol’s accuracy and reliability is essential, especially if lives are depending on it. Once you’ve determined the brand and bullet weights you like and the gun is 100-percent reliable with, fire from the bench at 25 yards on paper. I highly recommend shooting several three-shot groups with each load. You’ll quickly determine which load your pistol likes the best. If possible, stick with that load. Again, many law enforcement agencies have their own ideas about what load is mandatory to carry on duty. If so, determine how well that load shoots in your pistol, but keep practicing with the one it prefers if it’s not the issued stuff. Knowing that your pistol has accuracy potential will help build confidence, regardless of the load you’re shooting.
Indeed, wringing the best accuracy out of your polymer combat pistol without major modifications can be as easy as going back to the basics: grip, sight picture, trigger squeeze, and proper breathing techniques. Best yet, getting the most out of your combat pistol just might make you a better all-around shooter.