FN SLP MK1 Full Review

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The shotgun, the shotty, the gauge, the classic “big bore” gun in nearly every man’s (or woman’s) collection. Must of us own at least one and most of them are chambered for 12 gauge, 2-3/4″ shells if we’ve ever used them to bring home dinner or planned to use them for the more serious purpose of putting an end to unlawful violence. They can be had in bolt-action, pump-action, over-under, side-by-side, full and semi-auto configurations. It’s the latter of all of these that I find myself using most of the time. And that is what I have recently acquired in the form of FN’s Self Loading Police (SLP) MK1 shotgun with plans to use it in 3-gun matches in the near future.

The FN SLP shotgun has been on the market for a couple years now and there have been several revisions and variants introduced in that time. It is kissing cousins with Winchester’s SX3 shotgun as well as Browning’s Silver line. Mind you, they aren’t absolutely identical but, they are close. Really close. All three use the “Active Valve” piston system with the Browning version supporting the lightest loads (1oz) of the three. All that said, the different brands are marketed toward different shooters with the FN SLP aimed specifically toward the 3 gun, defense, and law enforcement markets where as the Winchester and Browning offerings focused on hunting and trap/skeet crowds.

img_0001_02As it ships, the SLP MK1’s aluminum receiver and gas operated action come attached to a 22-inch, 12 gauge barrel with a 3″ chamber. The barrel features a hard chromed bore, rifle sights (flip-up rear) with a fiber-optic element up front and a weaver pattern, cantilever rail overhanging the receiver. The barrel uses Standard Invector standard chokes, also common to Browning and some Winchester shotguns. Mine shipped with a “modified” choke installed and included a second, improved cylinder choke. Slung under the barrel is the piston and magazine tube offering an extended capacity of 8+1, 2-3/4″ shells or 7+1, 3″ shells rather than 6+1 or 5+1 as seen in the original, 18″ SLP. The furniture is all black synthetic and all metal surfaces are matte finished as is common with all things “tactical” these days but, if you want to spend some extra coin on the “Competition” version, the gun can be had with nifty “blue” anodized surfaces. It feels big. It is big. Overall length is 43″ with overall weight stated as 8.2lbs.

Something of note is the owner’s manual clearly states that two gas pistons ship with the MK1. The first, a red-rimmed “light” piston is noted as having been installed at the factory and is intended for lighter loads, 1-1/2oz or less. A second, black-rimmed piston, to be installed by the owner, is meant for heavier loads, over under 1-1/2oz. The manual states, “They are not designed to shoot the lightest factory 7/8oz and 1oz target loads…” But I quickly noted my box had no second piston laying around in it. When I disassembled my shotgun for inspection, cleaning, and lubrication, I found an odd “gold-rimmed” piston. According to FN, this improved piston was added back in 2013 as a “universal” piston to services all loads, 1-1/4oz or heavier. None of that common, cheap, 1-1/8oz bunny fart stuff will do. Only expensive, big baller loads need apply. The FN SLP MK1 is no cheap date.

So how does it shoot? Well, the first tests were underwhelming. Each weekend between December 27, 2014 and January 17, 2015, I struggled with getting the gun to run reliably each weekend. Having read all sorts of hype about how reliable the SLP is supposed to be, I experienced little of the versatility and “war ready” reliability that so many members of the gun media claimed to have experienced with guns sent directly to them by FN. We only managed to fire 16 rounds without a stoppage in the first session. Thinking I might have missed something in the initial cleaning, I tore the gun down a second time and found a spot of heavy lacquer caked to the underside of the top half of the two piece bolt that may have contributed to those early hiccups. But even after that thorough second cleaning, the gun didn’t run when lubricated as directed. The manual clearly states that one completes cleaning of the gas system, “by applying a very light film of oil to all parts for protection and lubrication.” Conventional wisdom says this area should have minimal lubrication if any and there are posts in the Brian Enos Forum and other places indicating that the piston needed to be bone dry to run reliably. With my copy of the FN SLP, thin film or dry, neither seemed to work for more than 15 or 20 rounds before the gun would fail to cycle. Even with a steady diet of 00-buck, the gun would quickly build up enough fouling in the gas system that the piston stroke would become truncated and fail to cycle the bolt. Failures to eject would come first. Eventually, becoming failures to extract and finally, the gun became a hand-operated, single-shot affair.

After three weekends of frustration/failure, I decided to try something different after reading at least one account of a shooter finding his SLP worked better when the piston was wet. So after one more cleaning, I liberally applied M-Pro 7 Gun Oil LPX to every moving surface of the gun, including the magazine tube and piston. The gun was practically dripping wet with oil when I met friends at a local range to shoot trap. On the way to the range, I also made it a point to find a minimum 1-1/4oz load suitable for clay birds at my local Academy sporting goods store. That load ended up being Remington Express Extra Long Range, 2-3/4 inch, 1-1/4oz, #6 shot. I also picked up Federal’s 2-3/4 inch, 1-1/8oz, #7-1/2 shot ammo for testing of a lighter load.

img_0001Once we got started, I was pleasantly surprised to see the gun ultimately ran through 100 rounds of this ammunition without a single hiccup. For once, the gun seemed to be living up to its reputation. Round after round, the hammer fell, pellets flew, and clay birds were turned into powder. Finally, it seemed like the gremlins were gone and it seemed that the combination of an appropriately heavy load and liberal lubrication of the SLPs gas-system was making the difference. Curious to know if it was just a question of lubrication and not just the gun’s inherent sensitivity to lighter ammo, I decided to switch to the lighter Federal load. The gun instantly became a single-shot, bolt-action as the lighter Federal load wouldn’t cycle the bolt enough to extract, let alone eject, a fired shell. Another test session after the trap outing showed the gun happily digested a mixed bag of ammo from #6 shot to 4-buck, 00-buck, and slugs. But as mentioned earlier, bunny fart loads simply will not do. Nothing under 1-1/4oz will cycle the bolt. That’s just a fact of life with the SLP MK1 and it’s “improved” piston. If you’re interested in running light target loads, the Winchester SX3 or Browning Silver might be the better option. The nearly identical gas-systems of those models are better tuned for lighter loads with the Browning boasting the ability to cycle 1oz loads.

Gas and lubrication issues aside, I liked the gun once I got it running. The Weaver rail mount of the 22-inch barrel is almost a funnel for the eye, leading to the bright, fiber-optic, red front sight. There is also a separate, flip-up, rear-sight with give you a full set of rifle sights for use with slugs. The SLP’s recoil, even with heavy 3-inch magnums, softer than any other 12 gauge I’ve shot in recent memory. While shooting trap, I had the chance to compare the SLP to a Benelli M2 and it’s Franchi Affinity sibling. With the same #6 shot loads, the SLP is softer recoiling. Recoil with the 11-87 Police that I also had on hand was comparable to the SLP but, the SLP is quieter by comparison. You can physically hear the Remington’s action shucking every round while its mounted where as the SLP is solid and silent by comparison. While its proportions make for a big gun, it mounts/points naturally, and the furniture provides an aggressive, yet comfortable grip. Tandem-loading (two shells at a time) is relatively easy to do with the gun in stock trim but, some 3gunners say one must weld-up or replace the carrier as well as enlarge the loading port to make this process smoother/easier. I will spend a bit more time with the gun before electing to make such a change. At the moment, I find the SLP in stock trim to be significantly better than the stock port and carrier arrangement of Remington 1100/11-87 models to which I am accustomed. 1100/11-87 loading ports typically come pre-sharpened from the factory and neither their stock carrier nor the release button facilitates quick charging of the tube.

Overall, I will say that if you have an SLP that runs the way you want, keep it. If you’re considering one for your next auto-loading shotgun, take note of the issues I’ve had with my copy but, realize that I’m happy enough now that I’m not jumping on the pizza gun bandwagon just yet. Also take note that the Winchester SX3 and Browning Silver are nearly identical but, they apparently can cycle lighter loads while also accepting 3-1/2 inch shells. I will not claim the gun is the best shotgun ever but, so long as its fed appropriate ammunition and sufficiently lubricated, it runs as designed and is enjoyable to shoot.

Walther PPX review


During our last show, I mentioned I’d had the chance to spend some quality time with the Walther PPX. The PPX is Walther’s “budget” or “entry-level,” full-size pistol. Unlike it’s more expensive Walther stable mates, it is slide-cocking and hammer-fired, with a short double-action-only trigger stroke reminiscent of HK’s Law Enforcement Modification (LEM) except that it lacks double-strike capability normally associated with DA/DAO triggers. The PPX is a full-size, clunky-looking pistol that might remind you of a Hi-Point. In fact, Joe Grine, of The Truth About Guns, went so far as to say he thought it was a “freakin’ Hi-Point,” at first glance. I can’t say I blame him.

When you see it next to a Glock 17, the PPX’s bulk is quite noticeable. The slide is very tall, giving the gun a very high bore-axis. A high bore-axis contributes to more felt recoil and longer recovery times between shots if all other variables are equal. In addition to resembling a large metallic brick, the PPX’s slide construction is reminiscent of early SigSauer P-series pistols. It has a breech-block containing the extractor, firing-pin, and firing-pin safety plunger that is secured to the slide via transverse roll-pin. The PPX manual makes no mention of servicing these components beyond the external application of a drop of lubricating oil. Walther apparently does not plan for PPX owners to do much in the way of shooting, let alone maintenance on their guns.

 

 

 

 

The grip, in spite of appearances to the contrary, fits the hand well and houses a 16-round magazine. The “hump” actually fills your palm and the texture provides good traction without being rough. Unlike the P99 and PPQ, the PPX does not offer anything in the way of adjustments of the grip size/circumference for individual users. Its grip is one size fits most in no small part because this gun is built to meet a price point below its stable mates at Walther. Specifically, the P99 and PPQ. One adjustable feature the PPX does offer is a user reversible magazine catch. The slide stop lever is easy to reach with the dominant thumb for right handed shooters and South-paws, with a little effort, could manipulate it with their index finger. The take-down lever works in a manner similar to Sigs, M&Ps, and other pistols in that one must lock the slide to the rear, turn the take-down lever clock wise, and then release the slide to remove it from the gun.

As mentioned earlier, the PPX is hammer fired with a DAO trigger. There is no decocker or manual safety. It functions similarly to Hechler & Koch’s “Law Enforcement Modification” (LEM) with a two-piece hammer but, it’s not a true DA/DAO trigger. After the hammer falls, the trigger cannot cock the hammer or trip the sear. The hammer must be cocked by the slide and the trigger bar itself serves as the disconnector for semi-automatic operation. Those oddities aside, the benefit of this system for the shooter is a consistent trigger stroke from the first shot to the last. The trigger moves smoothly to the rear with minimal effort though the pre-travel stage where you meet a stated 6.5lbs of resistance necessary to engage the sear. Trigger movement through sear engagement to hammer release represents less than an 1/16th-inch of travel with over-travel being another 1/8th inch or so after the break. To reset the trigger, you need only allow your finger to move forward 3/8ths-inch but, you can clearly feel the trigger catch the link to back on the sear and fire again quickly.

Another oddity I noticed with this pistol is the barrel assembly. I specifically call it an assembly because unlike most pistol barrels machined from a single forging, it’s a three piece unit. Yes, three separate pieces. The largest is bore itself that does seem to be turned from a forged barrel blank. The second piece appears to be a metal injection molded, or possibly cast, shroud around the chamber area that makes up the barrel hood as well as upper/lower lugs. And finally, there’s a feed ramp that may be a stamping, fitted to the lip of the aforementioned shroud. How these pieces are affixed to each other isn’t really clear. They may be press fit and/or soldered but, I honestly can’t tell. TTAG, Joe Grine, asked Walther about this and they indicated that they employed this design because one-piece barrels tend to deform. The implication, it would seem, is that the one piece barrels that nearly everyone else uses are somehow inferior. I don’t know that I buy their argument as they don’t seem to apply it to the more expensive P99 or PPQ.

The copy of the PPX I’ve worked with has less than 2000 rounds through it. In that time, firing, extraction, and ejection have been reliable. Feeding it became a problem that I’ll expand on shortly. Accuracy good enough to hit a golf ball at 30 yards and ding a steel IPSC target out to 200 yards. Sights are crisp and easy to see. Being a 9mm, recoil isn’t significant but, the high bore-axis means it doesn’t shoot as flat a Glock 17, Smith M&P, or even a Springfield XD. Overall, the shooting experience is not a bad one. However, overall construction of the gun does not contribute to it’s longevity and that brings us to the feeding issue. With the magazine seated, the gun has thus far fed reliably. The problem we ran into on our most recent outing with the gun however, was that seating the magazine\ became a problem. What we found was that back wall of the magazine well is not a solid wall. It has three voids in it that are bisected by a ridge running down the center, forming a spine of sorts. This ridge developed a burr that imp20140509_231727eded the removal of a spent magazine and insertion of a new one. In an attempt to finish our workout for the day, we tried using a knife to scrape away this burr but, each new magazine threatened to raise another burr.

 

At the end of the day, the PPX is very much a “full-size” pistol. It is built to be cheap and it shows. Not quite as cheap as a Hi Point but, corners were obviously cut to meet a price point and the material of the magazine well is a corner cut in the wrong place. Walther didn’t build the PPX to be maintained beyond basic field stripping by the owner. And if you like the white dots in the factory sights, do not allow Gun Scrubber or any common gun solvent to touch the sights. Simply put, I don’t expect to see this gun “getting wood” in a major IDPA match or otherwise surviving a high volume class in which the owner might put over 1000 rounds through the gun in a weekend. This is a gun meant to be purchased, shot a few times for the sake of familiarity, and then put into storage with a hope it will never have to be used in anger. But at $450 retail, it’s still not all that cheap and to me, better options can be had for the same price or less on the used gun market.

-GM

Gear Review: Tuffy F-150 Under Rear Seat Lockbox

Gary checking in. I imagine there are at least a few of our listeners who may be driving 2009+ Ford F-150s…This is Texas, after all. Tuffy Security Products now makes a locking storage container specific to the 2009+ F-150 in SuperCab or SuperCrew trim. Tuffy built a name making secure containers for the various incarnations of the ubiquitous “Jeep” from the old CJ to the modern JK which are notorious targets for vehicular burglary in open-top or rag-top trim. If you’re looking to secure items in your vehicle, their products are well worth consideration. I recently installed one of their units in my own F-150.

The unit installs with simple tools in 30 minutes or less. There’s an optional security bolt that makes the installation semi permanent (recommended) but, it’s designed for tool-less removal inless than a minute.  So long as it’s locked, no one is getting in or pulling it out of the truck without a pry-bar, torch, or cutting wheel. Nothing is theft-proof but, you certainly can make getting at your stuff difficult enough that a thief may decide there is easier access to items to be had in another vehicle. Of course, if they take the whole truck, all bets are off.

As mentioned earlier, I installed the “short” version of this unit in my own F-150 (with factory subwoofer) in less than 30 minutes.  I found that it is still long enough to fit some serious kit, including a rifle or shotgun and ancillary items.  If you’re driving a 2009+ F-150, check out their under seat security lockbox for the F-150 or checkout some of their many other products for Jeeps and other vehicles. Everything they make is reasonably priced and most are designed to be installed without drilling/cutting your vehicle so you can always return it to stock or transfer it to another vehicle if room exists. Check their site at tuffyproducts.com.

-GM

TrackingPoint Hands-On Review

TrackingPoint XS1 .338 Lapua Magnum Precision Guided Firearm
(image courtesy of TrackingPoint)

Twenty-seven thousand, five hundred dollars.  I had to type that out just to see how it might look on a check. Why? Because that’s the price one pays to take delivery of the TrackingPoint XS1. At $27,500, the XS1 is TrackingPoint’s flagship Precision Guided Firearm (PGF) and before I shouldered one last month, there was absolutely no way you’d have convinced me a rifle, any rifle, was worth anywhere near that amount of money.  But, I came away from the experience with a very different point of view. It has taken me until now to gather my thoughts and put it all together. I am simply in the wrong tax bracket to afford this rifle. That’s the truth. But, I’m also in the wrong tax bracket to afford a Ferrari 458. Ferrari still sells every 458 they make and the guys who own them would argue they are worth every penny. And if I had the scratch to write the check for the Ferrari, I’d also gladly cut one for this rifle.

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

Contrary to what some (who obviously have never seen it in person) say, TrackingPoint is not just a scope. TrackingPoint is in fact, an applied technologies firm offering a fully integrated, precision guided firearm system to well-healed, big-game hunters but, there are obvious law enforcement and military applications. Having said all this, the heart of the system is indeed a scope, described by TrackingPoint as a Networked Tracking Scope. But again, it is so much more than just a scope. Yes, it has an integrated ballistic calculator like some other scopes but, the scope also houses a microphone, camera, compass, wifi server, laser rangefinder, as well as accelerometers, gyros, and sensors for barometric pressure and temperature. The only environmental factor a shooter has to provide is the wind value, entered in half-mile-per-hour increments via a toggle switch on the top of the scope.

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

But wait, there’s more! The XS1 system offers 6-35X, parallax-free magnification and presents that data to the user as a sort of heads up display with infinite eye-relief. The heads up display presented to the shooter is “Call of Duty” meets “Deer Hunter” with a little “Ghost Recon” mixed in for good measure. The display provides the shooter with readouts for cant, compass heading, incline, temperature, barometric pressure, distance to target and finally, wind speed and direction. As mentioned earlier, wind speed and direction data are provided by the shooter. The shooter manually provides this data via a toggle switch on top of the scope. So for those of you thinking this is cheating, here is a key point…The shooter still has to accurately read the wind at the target. Long range rifle shooters know that learning to read and correctly call the wind is critical to long range shooting. That skill is still necessary to get the most out of this system. The difference is you’re not having to hold for that correction for it as that part is automated based on the values you’ve entered.

This brings us to what TrackingPoint calls the Tag Track Xact (TTX) shot sequence.  It begins with turning the scope “on” via a button located at the rear of the scope.  At this moment, the scope can emulates a traditional glass optic with first plane, mil-dot reticle and a fully manual trigger. But after 15 seconds, you can enable the TTX sequence by pressing the MODE button on the top of the scope to put the system into “advanced” mode which provides you with all the incredible telemetry mentioned earlier as well as activating the rifle’s tagging, tracking, and automated firing capabilities.

Tag...image courtesy of TrackingPoint

Tag…image courtesy of TrackingPoint

The “Tag” stage begins with the shooter looking through scope where he will find a white dot in the middle of his display. The shooter places this white dot on his intended target, then presses and holds the red “Tag Button” at the front of the rifle’s trigger bow until he has aligned the dot with his intended point of impact (e.g. heart/lung area of his intended animal). This process “paints” the target and laser rangefinding system measures the distance to target. The shooter then releases the Tag Button and the system is now “locked on” with the intended point of aim and calculates a firing solution based on the previously discussed telemetry measured by the scope’s on board systems and your wind data. This tag is persistent. The rifle is now “tracking” your target and the intended point of impact in that target.

Track...image courtesy of Tracking Point

Track…image courtesy of Tracking Point

At the “Track” stage of the process, the ballistic computer in the “Networked Tracking Scope” accounts for all the environmental variables and calculates a firing solution for the previously tagged point of impact. The system now continually adjusts even if the animal moves or you move the rifle. The system can calculate lead on a target moving as fast as 10 miles-per-hour. But we still need to launch a bullet and this is where things get interesting.

Xact...image courtesy of TrackingPoint

Xact…image courtesy of TrackingPoint

The shooter now commits to the shot by bringing his crosshairs back to the intended point of impact and pressing the trigger. Here is where the “Xact” phase begins. While the shooter has “satisfied” the trigger at this stage, rifle doesn’t necessarily fire immediately. This is the result of the marriage between the Networked Tracking Scope and what TrackingPoint calls the “Guided Trigger.” There is a hardwired connection between scope and trigger. Pressing the trigger merely arms the system. The bullet is not released until the rifle is in e”Xact” alignment with the calculated firing solution. TrackingPoint is cautions against confusing this feature with Remington’s failed “etronix” experiment that required special, electronically primed ammunition. The trigger is actually a conventional Jewell-type trigger with the addition of what amounts to an electric solenoid that is controlled by the scope while operating in “advanced” mode. Conversely, at the moment the scope is turned on, the rifle is in “basic” mode and the trigger operates conventionally, firing the rifle whether it’s aligned with a target or not. The “guided” features mentioned above are only enabled in the advanced mode of the scope.

Now in addition to all this precision guided fun, what we didn’t cover is the ability to share what you’re seeing through the scope with another person.  The scope’s built-in WiFi server.is specifically meant to allow the transmission of video to your Android device, iPhone, or iPad. So in real time, your guide can confirm that you are looking at the right animal and be sure that your intended point of impact will be an ethical shot that minimizes suffering for the animal. You also have the ability to record video of the shot or miss, the system isn’t fool proof. Still, one can look at it as a way of providing ultimate proof of the shots you’ve made. In fact, TrackingPoint even setup a website specifically for those wanting to show off what they’ve been able to do with their TrackingPoint rifles at shotmade.com.  No more telling tall tales of shots on trophy sized animals that don’t exist. As I see it, there’s no more claiming you made a shot on an animal at 500 yards with only a photo of the dead carcass to prove it. Now you’ve got the ability to record video and share it with your friends/family if you choose. I still remember the moment I shot my first deer. I honestly wish I had video of it because it was a beautiful shot in which I picked a buck out of a crowd as if snatching a needle from a hay stack.  While I enjoy telling the story, I’d love to be able to show the video.

Image by G. Montgomery

Image by G. Montgomery

While the scope is certainly the highlight of the system, the best guidance system in the world is only as good as the rifle to which it is mounted. And Surgeon Rifles clearly deserves a great deal of credit for the results achieved with the TrackingPoint XS1, XS2, and XS3 because each TrackingPoint rifle begins as a complete rifle built to TrackingPoint’s specifications by Surgeon Rifles. The XS1 and XS2 models look largely identical because they are with the exception of the fact the XS1 is chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum while the XS2 is chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum.  The XS3 is also chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum but, features a more conventional McMillan A5 stock. Unlike the XS1’s phenomenal 1,200 yard effective range, the lighter XS2 and XS3 are limited to “only” 850 yards.

In the case of the XS1, I have to say that this was the softest shooting .338 Lapua Magnum I have ever shouldered. By comparison, my current Remington 700 SPS Varmint in .308 Winchester has more felt recoil than the XS1.  One might argue the XS1 should be the softest .338 Lapua I’ve ever shot because the XS1 tips the scales at seventeen pounds and is equipped with Advanced Armament Corp’s Blackout 90T muzzle brake, one the most efficient muzzle brakes available. Why so heavy and what’s a muzzle brake? The weight brings stability and a reduction in felt recoil. The muzzle brake further reduces recoil by redirecting the gasses exiting the muzzle behind the bullet to counteract the reward motion of the rifle.  My Remington with ammo and scope only weighs about half of what the XS1 does and with no muzzle brake, has more felt recoil than the XS1 despite shooting a lighter cartridge.

As mentioned earlier, all of the TrackingPoint rifles began life as Surgeon rifles built specifically for TrackingPoint. So, if you’re willing to wait a little over 2 years, you could buy the rifle upon which the XS1 is based, sans the TrackingPoint guidance system. The XS1 specifically is based on the Surgeon Remedy XL rifle that began with a Surgeon XL action weighing in at almost 4lbs, mated to 7lbs and 27-inches of Kreiger MTU barrel goodness sitting in an Accuracy Interrnational AX AICS chassis that brings another 5.6lbs to the party. As mentioned, the sheer mass is actually a benefit, resulting in rifle that is honestly comfortable to shoot all day. I’ve shouldered several .338 Lapua rifles over the years and came away from every one of them with a little soreness the next day. Not so with the XS1. The only discomfort I had resulting from my time with the XS1 was trying to figure out what organs I’d have to sell to own one.  For now, I’m just hoping August Crocker and his crew at TrackingPoint will give me a call and tell me I could come shoot it again.

So is it worth it? Believe it or not, I’m offering a qualified “yes.” I know, a bunch of guys are going to say that’s nuts but, hear me out. This isn’t a rifle for the average long-range shooter. This is a rifle for the high end hunter who typically goes on guided hunts in which he’s spending as much as $40,000 on a single animal. That’s the honest truth. So the typical buyer isn’t a guy who has or wants to spend his free time getting a gun up and running. It’s hard to do apples to apples comparisons because what TrackingPoint has done is actually rather unique. They’ve built a turn-key system that an executive can buy and expect to use to hit a moving target at up to 1,200 yards with less than ten minutes of training.

In all seriousness, to build a roughly equivalent rifle, you can count on easily spending $5,500 for Surgeon Remedy XL rifle on which the XS1 is based. Toss in another $3,500 or so for Schmidt&Bender glass that will hold up to the shock and allow you to exploit the .338 Lapua’s capabilities.  By the time the glass is mounted up, you’re a little over $9k.between the rifle, glass, rings, and base. Now lets buy a top notch set of rangefinder binoculars ($3,300) because we know this guy isn’t going to scrape by with cheap gear.  So now we’re over $12,000 into the project. Toss in another $1,000 for the ammo.  So we’re into this ride for at least $13,000. The gun isn’t up and running yet because we haven’t actually mounted the glass, broken the rifle in, worked up a load, zeroed the rifle, or put together dope cards. Oh wait, we haven’t learned to shoot yet so there’s that whole issue and let’s not forget that time is money. What I’m getting at is that if you’re the kind of guy who can spend five-digits just to get started on this project, dropping $27,500 on a turnkey solution that, out of the box, with less than ten minutes of training, allows you to deliver hits on targets up to 1,200 yards out with sub-MOA accuracy simply isn’t that big a deal. In fact, it could be argued it’s a steal.

If you’d like to learn more about the TrackingPoint rifle, check out their website at Tracking-Point.com. Demand has been high.. You’re looking at a six to nine month delivery window but, TrackingPoint is in the process of expanding their production capacity to shorten that delivery time. The rifle is delivered as a turnkey system with the scope in stalled and the rifle already broken in, trued, and zeroed. In addition to the Integrated Networked Tracking Scope, Guided Trigger, and Tag Button, you get a Kestrel wind meter, 200 rounds of 300 gr. Sierra Open-Tipped Match XactShot ammunition by Barnes®, Harris bipod with Larue quick-detach mount, 3 batteries and chargers, a cleaning kit, owner’s manual, as well as an Apple iPad Mini preloaded with TrackingPoint applications and content. All of this comes in a custom Pelican 3300 hard case with TrackingPoint logo.

Carrying the Shield

A review of Comp-Tac’s Minotaur M-TAC holster and concealment magazine pouch

 

As summer approaches and temperatures reach new highs, many of us will transition to smaller/lighter guns for summer carry.  This is Texas. We won’t be able to get away with jackets, sweaters, or light, unbloused shirts to carry full-size guns or even mid-size guns like the venerable Glock 19.  Nope, soon we’ll be trying to get as close to naked as we can comfortably (and legally) be in an attempt to beat the heat.

To match our gun to our summer wardrobe, many of us will switch to smaller guns like the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield or some other pocket-sized gun carried in, well, a pocket.  Pocket carry; for what may be the only gun you have on you, isn’t optimal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact the gun and magazine are typically relocated to positions inconsistent with any other time you might carry a gun.  That’s not saying I don’t carry in my pocket but, I’ve long wanted to be able to continue carrying a gun on my strong-side at the 3/4-o-clock position with at least one spare magazine on the support side at the 8/9-o-clock position while still wearing a tucked shirt.  The reason boils down to keeping the gun and ammo in as consistent a location as possible, regardless of how I dress.  We can’t all dress like contractors in Afghanistan.  Many of us have to live and work in business casual setting or aren’t willing to suffer the summer heat in anything more than cargo shorts and a golf shirt or t-shirt. So I talked to the folks at Comp-Tac about a solution to these kinds of issues. The Minotaur M-TAC holster and concealment magazine pouch came to mind.

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The Minotaur M-TAC is one of Comp-Tac’s most popular holsters and aptly named in that the construction is a hybrid of leather and Kydex. It represents an evolution of the concept behind the earlier Comp-Tac C-TAC. But rather than pressing a hard, unyielding plastic shell against your body, the Minotaur offers a leather surface that conforms to your body. The outside of the holster retains a hard plastic “body” or shell to provide positive retention of the pistol but at the same time, the shell facilitates re-holstering with one-hand by preventing the holster from collapsing the moment you draw the gun.  It’s the best of both worlds..The comfort of leather with the security and utility of Kydex.

20130511_IMG_2212The M-TAC is almost a Swiss-Army knife among IWB holsters. You can have it left or right-side carry, tucked or not.  It can be ordered to fit handguns from more than twenty major manufacturers.  The most common models from Beretta, Glock, HK, Kahr, S&W, Sig, Springfield, and common flavors of 1911 are all covered.  But, it isn’t necessary to buy 100 holsters for 100 guns. You can swap the “body” for different guns so that one holster covers them all.  The cant or angle of carry and ride height of the holster are both adjustable through a combination of mounting holes on each of the two standard ,1.5-inch belt clips that come with the holster. You can also change the standard belt clips for “V-clips” designed to fasten via Velcro to the back of an appropriately lined belt.  This effectively hides the clips for those seeking a more discreet carry option. It should be noted however that, the standard clips are available in an array of colors to match your belt and are themselves, almost unnoticeable to the casual observer.  Your friends or better half who know you carry will surely spot the clips but, few people who don’t know you and aren’t specifically looking for a man with a gun will.

20130505_IMG_2205Gregg Garrett, founder of Comp-Tac, has always stressed quality in his products.  This latest M-TAC shows the firm remains committed to maintaining the utmost quality in a holster while also constantly improving their product.  Aside from the very high quality fit and finish of this new holster, it also features a significantly improved molding process that, like their “International” holster, now includes embossing of the model name of the gun for which that holster is intended. For those of us who own several Comp-Tac holsters for several different guns, it means knowing at a glance what gun a holster fits rather than discovering the hard way that you’ve grabbed a holster for your Glock 34 when you thought you were grabbing a holster for a 1911. The new molds are more accurate with respect to the fit of the gun and providing positive retention than those Comp-Tac has used in the past.  Translation; I haven’t found a need to adjust the tension on this holster at all…It’s just right.

While we’re talking about use, I’ve only had one day on the range with the M-TAC and Shield together.  I’m not going to blow smoke up your butt and tell you I managed a 0.7-sec draw with a solid hit at 10 yards with this rig. It’s not that kind of rig and I’m above average but, I’m not that kind of shooter either. That said, I was hoping to maintain my normal draw from concealment of about 1.5 seconds with an “0-down” hit on a standard IDPA target at ten yards.  Well, I didn’t…I failed to meet that average but, that’s not unexpected because tucking your shirt in over your gun adds a step to the draw. You can certainly work to economize the motion but, no matter how you slice it, you’re adding movement and therefore, adding time. How much time added varies by the user and how much time and effort you devote to perfecting the draw.  In my case, the added step of un-tucking my shirt, with limited practice adds a full-half second to my draw. Now ask me if I care…Nope. If I need to tuck my shirt over the gun to hide it, the speed of the draw is taking a backseat to concealment. So, I’m willing to sacrifice a little time in this application.  As I said earlier, this isn’t speed rig.

20130511_IMG_2215So what’s it like to wear the M-TAC? Well, I’ve worn it for a little more than two weeks for up to sixteen hours at a time. I like it. I like it a lot. It has gotten better with each passing day.  I will likely beg to keep it but, let’s face it, if you’re carrying a gun on your body all day, you notice it.  This is not a typical between the ads, manufacturer paid review in which I claim the gun disappears and that I forgot I had it on. If you’re looking for a gun and holster that you can forget you’re wearing, go buy one of those little miniature pistols attached to a key-chain. Real guns are full of lead, copper, and steel. You’re going to notice that you’ve shoehorned a piece of dead animal hide, Kydex, and a gun into your pants along with the rest of you.  All that said, the M-TAC is quite livable and comfortable for all day carry. While the holster adds about a quarter inch to the overall width of the gun, it rides much thinner than the bulk of the material would suggest.  I find the holster works well for me configured as shipped which is mid-height with an FBI cant/angle.  Some people will prefer that the gun ride higher or lower with a different angle and as mentioned earlier, the holster allows a wide range of adjustment in that regard. While this review has been specific to the newest iteration in combination with the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, this holster is worthy of consideration for any inside the waistband application, especially with full-size handguns like the 1911 or Glock 17.

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By now, you’re probably wondering about the concealment mag pouch.  In terms of construction and overall quality, everything I’ve said about the M-TAC applies here as well.  Professional gunmen and many of us who carry concealed have been asking for this solution for years. Many manufacturers have tried and failed to make the concept work. Comp-Tac is no exception but, they went back to the drawing board several times and I have to say I’m very happy with the result. This thing rocks!

You can mount the magazine carrier at three different heights, almost anywhere you like along the belt line. Like the M-TAC, you can tuck your shirt over the top of this carrier and the result is a very well concealed magazine.  It can be hand in a variety of sizes to fit a variety of magazines but, I’d say it works best with single-stack magazines such as those of the 1911 or in this case, the Shield. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for double-stack magazines like the Glock or full-size M&P.  I also doubt many people will want to carry more than one such carrier in their pants at a time.

20130505_IMG_2170-2If I ding this design for anything it is what amounts to extra material in the “sweat shield” at the top that tends to fold over the top of shorter magazines like that of the Shield. Actually, it may not be fair to ding the design as the the pattern is meant to fit a wide variety of magazines that are similar but, vary wildly in overall length. That said, if you find that the pouch has too much material above your particular magazine, you could simply trim off the extra leather so that it cannot wrap over the top of your magazine. And as much as I like this solution; I’m not above warning you that carrying a magazine inside the waistband isn’t for everyone, even if you stick to a single-stack magazine.

“Shut up and take my money!” The M-TAC retails for $90 but, a cheaper version called the Spartan is available for $74 and offers all the same function and utility, it simply isn’t as “pretty.” The concealment mag pouch sells for $40. The company stands behind their work and they offer a wide variety of holsters and accessories to fit a wide variety of needs. If the M-TAC and concealment magazine pouch aren’t quite your speed, give Comp-Tac (comp-tac.com) a call at 281-209-3040 or toll free at 866-441-9157 to discuss their many options to help you find the right holster and accessories for your gun.