Bob Campbell is the author of Gun Digest ‘The Accurate Handgun.’ Here are his thoughts on this topic. READ MORE
Over the decades I have researched handguns and used the terms practical accuracy, intrinsic accuracy, and absolute accuracy. Firing from the benchrest is important and always interesting. But absolute accuracy isnt as important as the practical accuracy we may coax from a handgun. I think handgunners don’t take accuracy as serious as riflemen. Perhaps most cannot shoot well enough to take advantage of the accuracy in a superbly accurate handgun and don’t bother. Competition seems to place a premium on speed rather than accuracy. In personal defense the balance of speed and accuracy is important. If you don’t think accuracy isnt important in personal defense we have been to a different church. Shot placement is accuracy. The standard of measuring accuracy has come to be a five shot group at 25 yards, This is fired from a solid braced position from a bench. I use the Bullshooters pistol rest to remove as many human factors as possible. There is some compromise with shorter barrel or lightweight handguns and they are tested at 15 yards.
The quality of the handgun, the fitting of the slide, the quality of the rifling, the sights, whether fine for target shooting or broad for fast results at combat range, are very important. The quality of the trigger press is important. The shooter is the most important part of the equation. There are those that may state that such testing of handguns is irrelevant as personal defense use almost always demands firing at less than ten yards. There is much validity to this argument. Not that combat shooting, drawing and firing and making a center hit, are not difficult. It may be reasonable to test an 8 3/8 inch barreled Magnum at even one hundred yards but a personal defense handgun with few exceptions will never be used past ten yards. Just the same those of us that test handguns like to take them to the Nth degree and test firearms accuracy. It is an interesting pursuit that is rewarding although there is some frustration in the beginning.
Service pistols, high end pistols and revolvers have different levels of accuracy. A revolver with five, six, seven or eight chambers that rotate to line up with the barrel for each shot is more accurate than it should be. As an example the Colt Official Police .38 and the Smith and Wesson K 38 are each capable of putting five shots into 2.2 to 2.5 inches at 25 yards with Federal Match ammunition. This is excellent target accuracy. When cops qualified with revolvers at 50 yards these handguns were up to the task. The Colt Python is easily the most accurate revolver I have tested and perhaps the most accurate handgun of any type. At a long 25 yards I fired a 15/16 inch group with the Federal 148 grain MATCH in .38 Special. This involved tremendous concentration and frankly it was exhausting. I have fired a similar group with the SIG P220, but this was unusual. The SIG will usually do 1.25 inch with the Federal 230 grain MATCH loading. The Python will group very nearly as well with full power Magnum loads. The Federal 180 grain JHP .357 Magnum is good for an inch at 25 yards, as an example. A much less expensive revolver is superbly accurate and nearly as accurate as the Python. The four inch barrel Ruger GP100 is good for groups about ninety per cent as good as the Python. It is also more rugged. As I have seen with 1911 handguns you pay a lot for the last degree of accuracy.
In self loaders the Les Baer Concept VI is a solid three inch gun at 50 yards. The SIG P220 I mentioned may not run a combat course as quickly as a 1911 handgun but it will prove more accurate than all but the finest custom guns. The Nighthawk Falcon is a well made and reliable handgun worth its price. I am surprised when it fires a group larger than 2.0 inches at 25 yards with quality ammunition. The Guncrafter Commander with No Name is among the most accurate 1911 handguns of any type I have tested. So far the single most accurate loading has been the Fiocchi 200 grain XTP with a 25 yard 1.4 inch group. This takes a great deal of concentration to achieve. However- this pistol is among the most accurate of handguns in offhand fire as well. Firing off hand at known and unknown ranges the pistol is surprisingly accurate.
When it comes to modern handguns it is interesting that there seems to be a race in both directions, to the top and to the bottom. Makers are attempting to manufacture the least expensive handgun possible that works. Someone buys it, and some of the handguns like the Ruger LC9/EDC types are reliable and useful defensive handguns. The same is true of revolvers. Even the inexpensive Taurus 450 .45 caliber revolver I often carry hiking will place five shots into less than two inches at 15 yards, reasonable for a revolver with a ported two inch barrel. I am unimpressed with the accuracy of many of the polymer framed striker fired handguns. I think that they are accurate enough and no more, but the trigger and sights are probably the limiting factory. Almost all fire five shots of service grade ammunition into 2.5 to 3.0 inches at 25 yards. High end handguns such as the Dan Wesson Heritage and Springfield Operator are more accurate than the majority of factory handguns of a generation ago. As an example thirty nine years ago I convinced the lead instructor and range master to allow some of us to carry to the 1911 .45. I barely managed to qualify with the Colt Commander Series 70 as qualification included barricade fire at 50 yards. With factory ammunition of the day the pistol would not group into ten inches at 50 yards, the military standard for 1911 handguns. Using a 200 grain SWC handload the pistol grouped into eight inches at 50 yards and I barely made the cut. The sights were small, the trigger heavy, and the grip tang cut my hand after fifty rounds. But the pistol was reliable, fast into action, and it was a Colt 1911. Later I added a Bar Sto barrel and enjoyed much better accuracy. Today a SIG 1911 Fastback Carry will group five rounds into 2.5 inches on demand at 25 yards and sometimes much less, and it is a factory pistol.
Other handguns are more accurate than most give them credit for. While the SIG P series is regarded as a very accurate handgun the CZ75B will give the SIG a run for the money. The CZ 75B is easily handled in off hand fire and very accurate. The Beretta 92 is also an accurate handgun as I discovered in instructors school when a veteran qualified with the Beretta 92. As a rule .40 caliber versions of the 9mm are not as accurate as the 9mm version but there are exceptions. The SIG P229 in .40 is an accurate and reliable handgun that makes an excellent go anywhere do anything handgun. My example will place five rounds of the Fiocchi 180 grain XTP load into 2.0 inches at 25 yards on demand. Accuracy is interesting. There are other considerations such as how quickly the pistol may be drawn and placed on target, and control in rapid fire is important. Reliability is far more important. But accurate handguns are interesting.