Thursday, November 20, 2014

TRUGLO MicroTac Green Laser Review

TRUGLO MicroTac Lasers

The TRUGLO MicroTac is available with red or green laser diode.
TRUGLO MicroTac Specs:
 Next Generation, high-efficiency superconductor laser diode
 Ultra-compact lightweight CNC-machined aluminum
 Weights less than 1oz.
 Universal Fit - Fits any weapon with a Picatinny or Weaver-style rail
 Powerful 520nm green laser (TG7630G)
 Powerful 650nm red laser (TG7630R)
 Windage and elevation adjustments
 Easy ambidextrous push-button activation
 Recessed on/off buttons eliminate accidental activation
 Two Laser Modes:  Constant and Pulse
 Automatically shuts down after 5 minutes
 Operating temperature:  14 F (-10C) to 122 F (50C)
 2 year limited warranty
 2 sets of batteries included (LR626)
 Matte black finish
 MSRP - $149.99

The small laser in the big package.  Look for this package at your local retailer.
The laser includes two allen wrenches to mount and adjust the laser, instruction manual,
and spare batteries.  The green dot above the TRUGLO logo is the actual laser output.
TRUGLO offers a wide assortment of optics for firearms and bows.  For over 22 years TRUGLO has been an innovator in fiber optic sights and continues to introduce new products to the shooting community.

One of their newest products is the MicroTac Tactical Micro Laser designed to fit the shorter rails found on concealed carry handguns.  Designated as a universal fit laser it will also work on any standard Weaver or Picatinny rail.  TRUGLO provided a green MicroTac for this review.

I use lasers frequently in my ammunition testing and review work.  They are exceptionally valuable when you are trying to evenly space 5 ammunition test shots into a gel block measuring 7 inches tall and 7 inches wide.  I also try to conduct handgun accuracy testing with a laser to remove my less than perfect vision from the testing.  I own several of these universal fit lasers and move them from firearm to firearm as needed.

TRUGLO lasers, and green lasers, were both new to me.  In addition to reviewing the MicroTac laser, I wanted to see if a green laser was more visible than a red laser.

The laser weighs significantly less than 1 ounce.
I'll cover green vs. red lasers first.  According to my afternoon of research on Wikipedia, it is true that the human eye can see green more easily than it can see the color red.  Humans have more receptors available for green than we do for red.  When comparing red and green laser outputs in high sun and near dark, I could see both lasers equally well.  I'm not refuting claims that green lasers are more visible than red, I just couldn't set up the right conditions to prove this to myself or demonstrate it for you.

The laser housing is very small and almost disappears under a US Quarter.
For the evaluation, I mounted the MicroTac on a Springfield XDs 4.0 in 45 ACP.  As you can see in the lead photo, the laser fit easily on the short accessory rail with plenty of room to spare ahead of the trigger guard.

Mounting the laser was simple.  Using the included 2.5mm allen wrench, you loosen the mounting screw to allow the laser rails to slip over the base you are mounting the laser on.  Once positioned on the base, you tighten the mounting screw to secure the laser.  TRUGLO cautions against over-tightening.

For perspective, the MicroTac weighs a bit more than 3 quarters, and less than a 200 grain
45 Auto cartridge.
Twin laser activation buttons are located on the left and right side of the laser housing at the rear of the laser.  The buttons are small, but I had no problem activating them easily with trigger finger or support hand thumb.  The activation buttons require a light press and provide tactile feedback that the button has been activated.  Protective ears, positioned at the rear edge of the laser housing behind the activation buttons, serve two purposes.  The ears protect the buttons from accidental activation and also provide an index point for positioning the finger before laser activation.

The laser lens is centered with the bore.  To the right of the laser lens is the battery access
According to the manual, the laser activation module will automatically turn off the laser after 5 minutes.  What I discovered with my laser was that after 5 minutes the laser will start slow pulsing for an additional minute before shutting off.

Holding down either laser activation button for three seconds switches the laser between constant beam and pulse beam.  The laser "remembers" the last beam setting and will start up in that mode the next time the laser is activated.

Per the included manual, the laser operates on LR626 button cell lithium batteries.  The red laser requires 4 batteries and the green laser requires 6 due to higher energy demands of the green laser.  Battery life is approximately 60 minutes of constant beam time.  Using pulse mode extends battery life.  The batteries included with the laser were stamped SR626SW.  The good news is that these batteries are common silver oxide watch batteries available from many sources for 40 to 70 cents each.  Battery changes won't break the bank.  The battery access door is located to the side of the recessed laser lens.  Battery changes can be done without removing the laser from the firearm.

Playing around with the laser in my dimly lit basement, I was very impressed with the quality of the laser output.  With other lasers I often find the projected laser dot will be smudged or elongated when projected out 7 yards.  The MicroTac laser dot remained round with minimal starburst, or scatter, around the projected dot.

On the range, I tested the laser in full sun.  At 7 and 10 yards I had no problems seeing the dot on the black and white target.  It took me a bit longer to get the laser zeroed in with the iron sights than it should have.  Following the manual, adjusting the elevation adjustment screw clockwise moves the POI (point of impact) down.  I assumed this meant bullet point of impact.  What the manual meant was laser dot point of impact on the target.  I found myself adjusting the laser in the wrong direction for a few minutes before figuring out the problem.  I think the manual could be a bit more clear on the zeroing process.

Once I had the laser adjusted to same point of impact as the iron sights I ran a box of 230 grain FMJ target loads and a box of 230 grain full-power defensive loads through the XDs.  Shooting from a rested position on the bench, and also from standing positions, the laser maintained zero through all 100 rounds.

The only improvement I would like to see with the MicroTac is a more appropriately sized mounting screw.  The mounting screw extends beyond the laser width on both sides of the laser.  I understand the need for additional length on the threaded end to accommodate variances in rail width and for ease in mounting the laser.  Perfectionists can shorten the threaded end easily for permanent installation on a specific firearm.  The attachment screw head seems to large for the recessed area in the side plate.  A flush fitting attachment screw head would be a welcome improvement.  

The TRUGLO MicroTac Laser has quite a bit going for it.  It's very small, light-weight, throws a quality beam, and seems to be suitably robust to stand up to large caliber handgun recoil.  TRUGLO offers the lasers on their website for $95 (red) and $178 (green).  Savvy shoppers can find the MicroTac available on-line from reputable retailers for $70 (red) and $110-$125 (green) with free shipping included.  The very reasonable price, demonstrated performance, and two year limited warranty make the MicroTac Laser an incredible value for anyone looking for a universal fit laser for their firearm.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ruger LCR 9mm Review - The Pocket 9mm for Revolver Fans

See All Ruger LCR Revolvers Here

For those that follow the blog, you know that many of my gun reviews include a personal backstory.  Ruger's newest LCR, in 9mm Luger, happens to be one of those handguns.  Back in April 2010, I purchased a Ruger LCR .38 Special +P with factory installed Crimson Trace Lasergrips.  As I practiced with the revolver over the first few months of ownership, I really started to enjoy shooting and carrying the LCR.  I loved the smooth double action trigger and found it carried easily in my right front pocket.  Over the years it's become the primary .38 Special revolver used for ammunition testing and even ended up in the photo for the blog header.

What some folks may not know is that the LCR 9mm isn't the first double action 9mm revolver from Ruger.  For a brief period of time it was possible to get the Ruger SP101 revolver chambered in 9mm.  Prior to that, the Speed Six was also offered in 9mm. I was familiar with the 9mm SP101, so by October 2010 I was posting on various Ruger related message boards that I really hoped the next LCR variant would be a 9mm model.  Unfortunately for me, the next model was chambered in .357 Magnum.  The rimfire LCRs in .22 WMR and .22 LR followed next.  As we wound down 2014, I had generally given up on the idea of getting my 9mm LCR.

One thing you can always count on with Ruger is that they are a new product driven company so you should always expect the unexpected.  I subscribe to the Ruger product/promotion announcement emails.  On September 22, 2014 you can imagine my surprise when I opened the latest email from Ruger to find the LCR 9mm new product announcement.  I immediately sent through a request for a review sample of the LCR I had been waiting for.

The .38 Special LCR on the left and 9mm on the right are of
similar size.  The 9mm is noticeably heavier due to the steel
Since its arrival in 2010, the LCR has been very popular and reviewed by many.  Rather than rehash the work of others, this review will focus on the unique aspects of the LCR 9mm and also improvements that Ruger has implemented over the last 4 years of LCR production.
As you can see from the detailed specifications above, the LCR 9mm has the same physical dimensions as all the other LCR revolvers.  Due to the high pressures generated by the 9mm +P cartridge, Ruger used the steel frame from the LCR .357 Magnum instead of the aluminum frame used on the .38 Special LCR.  This makes the LCR 9mm the heaviest LCR revolver in the series.

The trigger system is the same as all other LCR revolvers with an ultra smooth double action trigger pull and a pull weight between 8 and 9 pounds.  I have always found the LCR trigger to feel lighter than the actual pull weight because it is so smooth and consistent throughout the entire trigger pull.  This leads to confidence boosting accuracy improvement the longer I practice with the LCR. 

9mm +P ammunition generates higher pressures than the .357
New features include Ionbond Diamondblack finish on the cylinder.  I think the black cylinder looks better than the previous Target Gray finish, but that's my personal preference.

The integral U notch rear sight remains unchanged, but the pinned ramp front sight has been updated with a contrasting white stripe.  I wasn't a fan of the all black front sight on my original LCR .38 Special so I replaced it with the XS Sight Systems 24/7 Big Dot front sight for more contrast between the front and rear sights.  The new ramp sight, with contrasting white stripe, on the new LCR 9mm worked very well for fast target acquisition and precision shooting.

The total loaded weight of the LCR 9mm is 19.3 ounces.  For comparison purposes, this is a faction of an ounce less than a fully loaded polymer framed Kahr PM9 or aluminum framed Kimber Solo.

The smooth pull of the LCR trigger makes it feel lighter than it is.
One other change I noticed with the LCR 9mm was the absence of the internal locking device.  A proper Ruger branded locking device is included with the revolver, but the frame mounted internal lock found on my 4 year old 38 Special LCR was absent.

Ruger also includes a branded soft padded case and three moon clip loading devices with the LCR 9mm.

The U notch rear sight and contrasting white bar ramped front sight
worked well for fast target acquisition and precision shooting.
Fully loaded weight is similar to a metal-framed pocket 9mm
semi-auto pistol.

Don't Fear The Moon Clip

The much maligned and misunderstood moon clip speeds loading and unloading of the rimless 9mm cartridges.
The cylinder is machined to accept the moon clip.
The biggest difference between the LCR 9mm, and all the other LCR models, is the moon clip.  The moon clip is simply a piece of spring steel that has been machined to accept and hold rounds of 9mm ammunition.  Since the 9mm Luger is a rim-less cartridge, the star extractor of the revolver can't lift the brass cases from the cylinder as it can with .357 Magnum and .38 Special.  The extractor can lift the 9mm rounds from the cylinder if they are attached to a moon clip.

Moon clips are nothing new.  World Champion revolver shooter Jerry Miculek has used moon clips to good effect for decades in his .45 ACP revolvers.  Here's a real mind blower.  Did you know that competitive revolver shooters will send their .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolver cylinders to custom gunsmiths so they can be machined to accept moon clips?  It's true.  Moon clips are the fastest way to reload a revolver.

Pushing up on the ejector rod lifts the moon clip and cartridges.
Having used speed loaders for .38 Special revolvers and moon clips, I've identified some additional advantages that moon clips have over traditional speed loaders.
-  Moon clips take up less pocket space.
-  They cost less.
-  Moon clips require less clearance and are less likely to become stuck against the grip while reloading.
-  Moon clips drop right into the cylinder and do not require that you twist a knob or push a button to release the cartridges from the loader.

Moon clips do have one disadvantage that should be covered.  Moon clips can be bent to the extent that they could cause the revolver cylinder to bind.  I've used moon clips since the 1990's in 45 ACP, 380 ACP, and now 9mm revolvers and have never experienced a clip so bent it wouldn't work properly so I'm not overly concerned with this disadvantage. 

Carrying a spare moon clip takes up less pocket space than a .38
speed loader.  The PMC from Del Fatti Leather keeps the moon
clip stable with less chance of accidental bumps bending the moon
clip while carried in your pocket. 

One last point on moon clips and the LCR 9mm is that you really don't need a moon clip to use the revolver.  Part of the video review below includes a demonstration of single loading rounds into the chambers of the LCR cylinder and firing all five rounds without issue.  Without a moon clip in place, you will need to manually poke each spent brass case from the cylinder much like you do with a single action revolver.        

The LCR 9mm At The Range

Range review work is best done on video, so you are welcome to view that directly below.  There will be a bit of overlap with the written review, but I hope the written review and range video will compliment each other.

Coming off the range after that first trip, I was really impressed with the new LCR.  I tried more than 10 different ammunition loads with 100% reliability.  I even shot some of the imported Czech Sellier and Bellot 9mm that is notorious for hard primers.  It didn't matter if I was shooting with a moon clip or without.  Everything went bang as it should.

Recoil wasn't bad at all with the Hogue Tamer grip installed.  Full power defensive 124 grain +P recoil felt no worse than shooting .38 Special +P 158 grain lead semi wadcutter hollow points from the .38 Special LCR.  I have to believe the additional weight of the steel frame and recoil absorbing grip made a big difference in shooting comfort.

The original front sight was too tall and 7 yard groups were 4 to
5 inches below point of aim.
As noted in the video, I had an issue with the LCR shooting low at 7 yards.  It wasn't a little low, it was a full 4 to 5 inches low with 115 and 124 grain ammunition.  I ran enough rounds down range to determine it was indeed the front sight that was causing the problem and not a problem with my shooting technique.  A call to Ruger Customer Service describing the problem was all that was required for approval to send the LCR back for problem resolution.

I had the LCR 9mm back in my hands within a week and a half.  The Service Invoice that came back with the revolver stated that the front sight was replaced and the revolver was test fired from a rest a 7 yards with 124 grain ammunition.  The included test target gave me a big confidence boost because the test shots were all near the center of the target.  I was back out on the range the next day.

After Ruger installed the correct front sight, off-hand 10 shot groups
at 7 yards hit right on point of aim with 124 grain ammunition.

Using some of the same ammunition that shot below point of aim on my first trip, I shot more targets with very satisfying results.  The new front sight raised the point of impact by 4 to 5 inches and bullets were impacting the target where I expected they should.  At 7 yards the revolver is certainly accurate enough for defensive duty.

I made a third trip to the range with the LCR 9mm so I could try some draw from pocket and fire drills with the Hogue Bantam/Boot grip installed.  For front pocket carry, the smaller and slicker grip made the draw much easier without having a significant impact on revolver control or accuracy.

9mm Pocket Pistol Shootout

A head to head shoot-off was conducted with two popular 9mm pocket pistols and a variety of 9mm defense ammunition.

The LCR 9mm cylinder is significantly longer than the cartridge.
With the knowledge that I had a reliable and accurate revolver, I wanted to see how much terminal performance I would lose by switching from pocket semi-auto with a 3 inch barrel to the LCR with a 1.875 inch barrel.  The only way to know for sure was to run some head to head tests over the chronograph and see what the data looked like.  The chart below summarizes the results and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the data.  The top line finding was that 9mm defensive ammunition achieved as good, or better, velocity from the revolver as it did from the semi-autos.

The barrel length plus the cylinder ahead of the cartridge case measures
2.75 inches.
Intrigued by this, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to investigate a bit deeper to see what was behind this anomaly.  I discovered the LCR cylinder has quite a bit of open space between the cartridges and the barrel forcing cone.  Reloaders call this gap, between the bullet and the start of barrel rifling, freebore so I'll use that term here in the hopes that it is the correct term to use.   Adding the freebore to the 1.875 inch barrel length brought the total to 2.75 inches.  I measured the barrel length ahead of the chamber for a typical semi-auto with a 3 inch barrel and found the length is only about 2.25 inches.  The simple explanation is that the revolver has a longer confined space allowing the gas pressure to build and generate more velocity.  Mystery solved!

From my own 9mm terminal ballistics testing, and ShootingtheBull410's 9mm short barrel ballistics testing, we know there are several defensive 9mm ammunition choices available that perform well when fired from short barrels, through heavy clothing barriers, and into ballistics testing media (gel).  From my .38 Special +P ammunition tests, I have found very few loads will perform similarly when fired from a revolver with a barrel length of 2 inches or less.  For me, that's the real selling point of the 9mm revolver.  Increased terminal performance over .38 Special +P, without all the blast, noise, and flash of the .357 Magnum.

I think the Ruger LCR 9mm is a great little revolver that has proven to be as accurate, reliable, and controllable as any other snubnose revolver I've ever owned.  It might not be as light-weight as the LCR .38 Special, but I'm willing to carry a little extra weight if it means I can confidently carry a revolver loaded with ammunition that performs well regardless of light or heavy clothing barriers.  I'll gloss over the pocket revolver vs. pocket semi-auto debate because there isn't a winning answer.  A person is either a revolver person, or they're not.  If revolvers float your boat, you should really check out the LCR 9mm.  I'm keeping this one so you can expect to see it used in future ammunition tests.

The Ruger LCR 9mm is a keeper.  I prefer the Hogue Bantam/Boot Grip over the Tamer for front pocket carry and snag-free draw from a Remora size 8R-CH pocket holster.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Springfield XD Redesign Update

Last week I mentioned that Springfield Armory started a teaser campaign for their revamped XD line of pistols.  Photos have been trickling in via email updates and after a week I think it's time for some big bold predictions.

From the pictures, the most telling changes are the changes to the sights, slide profile, and grip frame.

The new sight system appears to a hybrid set up with the fiber optic front from the XDs Series and the serrated square corner rear from the XDm Series.

We can see the slide profile has lost the squared corners and looks more XDm in profile.  Slide serrations are still vintage XD, but the rear set has lost the lower serrations.

We know very little about the changes to the grip frame, but the lead photo gives me some hope that a new grip texture is coming.  If you look just above the thumb in the first picture you can see a swoosh that extends into the beavertail.  That is a totally unique feature not found on the XD, XDm, or XDs series of pistols.

Finally, we can see the new slide carries a ".2" stamping on the slide.  To me this indicates a significant series of changes and possibly a name change to XD.2 for this new series.

I'm still hoping for a redesigned Picatinny standard rail and a Tactical 5" model in .357 Sig  available at launch time.  If those wishes come true, you can bet I'll be down at my local shop filling out my transfer paperwork. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Springfield Armory Revamps the XD Line of Handguns?

I'll admit to being a fan of the original XD line of pistols.  Particularly the Tactical 5" models in 45 ACP and 40 S&W.  I'm quite intrigued by the email from Springfield that arrived in my in-box a few minutes ago.  Let the speculation begin.

I'm thinking the XD line could be heading down the path of the Gen 4 Glock with new grip textures and possibly interchangeable backstraps as found on the XDm and XDs lines.  Regardless, the update to the line appears to be quite significant.

For me the most telling hint so far came from the webpage title when you sign up for future email updates.  The page title currently displays XDMOD2.  Feel free to add your guesses on the new XD Model 2 in the comments below.

Will we have to wait for SHOT 2015 to find out more?