In the civilian self-defense community, we’ve seen a huge surge in popularity of sub-compact self-loading pistols. In part, at least, the phenomenon may be due to the increase in the number of states now offering CCW permits; but one thing is certain, sub-compact pistols are fast becoming the status quo as a concealed carry weapon.
I can see why, too. For essentially my entire adult life, I’ve carried a handgun and sympathize entirely with the fact that carrying a full-sized gun can get old in a hurry! It’s more inconvenient to lug around on a daily basis because of its weight and size, thus causing more fatigue and alteration of one’s lifestyle.
On the other hand, the larger, heavier gun does have some advantages. For one, its heavier weight and size, as well as its longer sight radius, makes it easier to shoot well under stress, thus it’s a more suitable general-purpose weapon. For this reason, except as a backup gun, few police officers carry the smaller gun, unless it’s on an off-duty basis.
Civilian self-defense situations, though, tend to be less diverse than those encountered by either plainclothes or uniformed police officers, so a smaller, less versatile gun isn’t nearly as important. In comparison to its larger counterpart, to the average civilian with a CCW permit who carries his gun concealed, the more limited capabilities of the compact or sub-compact are, thus, less important. Once he actually carries a gun for a while, he discovers that there is no truly comfortable way to carry a gun, only less uncomfortable ways! Since his needs are more specialized than those of a police offer and well within the capabilities of the smaller gun, his preference towards the smaller, lighter firearm is quite understandable.
Of the many pistols currently available, none is more famous than the M1911. Having been around for almost a century now, it has more than proven itself and continues to be popular. Given that it first mutated into a compact version (the Colt LW Commander) in the late 1940s and into a sub-compact model (the Colt LW Officer’s Model) in the late 1980s, it should be no surprise that many manufacturers now offer their own examples of both configurations.
Ultra Carry II
Since then, however, the gun world has evolved, and there is little doubt that today, Kimber is the most prolific and diverse builder of M1911-type guns. It is therefore no surprise that they offer a neat little sub-compact as well: the Kimber Ultra Carry II .45ACP.
Remembering that the specialized, meaning limited, mission of the concealed carry pistol is within the capabilities of the sub-compact handgun, its short barrel/sight radius and lighter weight aren’t considered to be a decisive disadvantage, especially in comparison to the fact that they are far more comfortable to conceal. In addition, the fact that guns like the Ultra Carry II are chambered for the legendary .45ACP cartridge means that even at the low muzzle velocities achieved from its short barrel, achieving stopping power isn’t a problem.
Or is it? Whether civilians, military personnel or police officers, many self-defense-minded shooters harbor the mistaken belief that they need to use the hottest (+P) JHP load they can find. They do this because they think that such loads will increase velocities to the point where bullet expansion will occur. Unfortunately, this assumption isn’t true and in humans, at least, little or no expansion can be realistically expected from the vast majority of commercial loads.
However, inasmuch as the .45ACP bullet is already huge in the first place, a lack of bullet expansion is hardly worth serious concern. After all, the legend of the .45ACP was based upon the old standby, the 230-grain FMJ hardball of military fame.
Though some claim it to be over-penetrative, I’ve found such claims to be more of an assumption than a fact, based upon the well-documented tendency of FMJ 9mms and even the .38 Specials toward excessive penetration of human targets.
In fact, the .45ACP FMJ isn’t at all over-penetrative. When used on humans, it will either remain inside the target or exit to fall to the ground behind it, fully spent. And in addition to its more than acceptable stopping power, it exhibits not only flawless feeding and function in the widest variety of guns, but is highly accurate, completely controllable in the fast shooting sequences typical of tactical encounters, and shoots to point of aim in nearly any type of gun. How much better does it get than that?
In my Ultra Carry II, every single 230-grain FMJ load shot to point of aim at 25 meters and printed 3-shot Ransom Rest groups averaging 1.5 inches, functioned perfectly and posed no controllability problems. This, in conjunction with its proven stopping power and minimal penetration, makes them an entirely suitable self-defense load.
Still, what if there were a .45ACP JHP that expanded significantly from the Ultra Carry II’s short barrel? I said earlier that the .45ACP was already large in the first place and has a deserved reputation for excellent stopping power without excessive penetration. If we had a JHP that actually did expand, wouldn’t its stopping power be even better? Simple logic dictates that it would and penetration would be even further reduced.
From the Kimber Ultra Carry II .45ACP, only factory loads utilizing a conventional JHP expanded, Winchester’s Personal Protection SXT 230-grain JHP, and it expanded very well indeed. It shot to point of aim, functioned and fed without mishap, too.
Regardless of bullet weight or whether it was a standard or +P load, none of the other conventional JHPs expanded to any significant degree. All the 230-grain JHPs, however, did shoot to point of aim, as did both the Remington Golden Saber and Hornady XTP 185-grain JHPs. In addition, all fed and functioned perfectly.
Two loads were of the 200-grain +P JHP variety: Hornady’s XTP and Speer’s Gold Dot. Unfortunately, though, I experienced no functioning or feeding problems with either one, but both were noticeably tougher to control in fast shooting drills such as multiple targets, close quarters encounters, small targets at close range, etc. As well, neither one shot sufficiently close to point of aim with the Kimber Ultra Carry II; both printed four inches high in my gun at 25 meters to satisfy my needs.
I’ve always felt that +P loads in any .45 ACP pistol are a less than optimum choice, simply because they cannot deliver the velocities needed to expect significant JHP expansion and generate so much additional recoil that controllability is seriously reduced. Especially from the short barrel of a sub-compact gun like the Ultra Carry II, velocities rarely exceed 950 feet per second (fps) and are usually considerably less, pretty much removing bullet expansion from consideration.
However, to me this issue isn’t the biggest drawback; it’s the reduced controllability of the gun I’m concerned most about. Though it’s too often overlooked, even by professional instructors and writers who should know better, weapon controllability is fully as critical as the more easily defined subjects of stopping power, accuracy, functional reliability and penetration. If you can’t deliver hits to the target because you’re fighting to control the weapon, your chances of winning the fight are greatly reduced. To even try wastes time you simply don’t have to spare in a gunfight.
There were two unconventional loads tested: CorBon’s 160-grain DPX JHP and 165-grain Pow’RBall. Even from the Kimber Ultra Carry II’s short tube, both expanded very nicely, but only CorBon’s 160-grain DPX JHP shot to point of aim. Both were also quite accurate, easy to control and functioned normally.
Considering all the criteria, once again I found CorBon’s 160-grain DPX JHP to be the big winner. It proved to be totally controllable, among the most accurate of the loads tested, functioned without difficulty, shot to point of aim in the test gun, expanded exceptionally well in both water and game animals. As such, it offers a combination of positive characteristics that are tough to equal, much less exceed. So, for this reason, it’s my choice for use in the Kimber Ultra Carry II sub-compact or, for that matter, any other .45ACP pistol.
In the civilian self-defense community, we’ve seen a huge surge in popularity of sub-compact…
by Tactical Life / May 11, 2009