My friends at the TargetBarn company – an online ammo and targets retailer – apparently thought that my previous review of Federal Syntech 130gr “PCC” 9mm ammo was not the worst thing in the world that they had ever read, and offered to sponsor another ammo review. We went back and forth for a bit, because it’s the ammo crisis, and I also didn’t really know what anyone would find interesting. Boring reviews don’t help them, and they don’t help you.
Poking around, I noted that they had some of the 145gr Wolf .300 AAC Blackout ammo. Despite my previous assertions that .300 AAC Blackout is a caliber with no real mission, I had built out a cheap-ish upper anyways because Wolf had (or would have) cheap steel-cased ammo, and I’m a sucker for such things. They agreed to provide some for review. Well, smash-cut to September 2021, and that cheap ammo is not looking so likely anymore. Now we have a different question: should you stock up on a bunch of this before it’s gone?
As I noted in my Green Ops shotgun class AAR, I am a HUGE fan of my SDS S4 shotgun. This is a Benelli M4 clone that, unlike the previous M2 and M3 clones, is damn near perfect in. Read on for some thoughts, and how I upgraded mine.
Sorry for the lack of recent posts! My job has been hectic, the SASP season has started, and I’ve been prioritizing reloading and shooting over posting. I have like half a dozen articles “almost ready” for posting that really just need pictures.
A few interesting developments to chew on:
Nailed my first division win in a match, and also beat every other pistol shooter. Yeah, it was an outlaw match, but it still counts if you beat 60 other people in the pistol divisions. 🙂
I swapped the optics my Sig MPXs to Holosun HE510C-GRs (from C-More Railways). I think the C-More Railway provides a slightly better sight picture, but the HE510-GR does literally every other thing better, including (crucially) battery life.
I sold all of my 5.45×39 stuff. AK-74-alike, upper, ammo, and so on. No point when I can load 223 limitlessly on my current setup.
I sold my Ruger Precision Rifle. Took up too much safe space for a gun I shoot like once a year at most. If I want to shoot precision in the future, I’ll use a 20″ 308 upper.
I bought a few new guns with the proceeds of the above:
IWI Galil ACE Gen2 5.56 rifle (because you can’t sell an AK without buying an AK!)
BUL Armory TAC SC (milled for a DPP – gonna use this for falling steel and 3gun open)
Ruger MkIV 22/45 Lite (for SASP)
MkIII LLV upper (for SASP… it was cheap)
Outfitted my backup 3gun rifle with a Razor Gen2E.
You’ll recall from my SHOT Show 2022 coverage that I spent a fair bit of time talking to the gents at Armanov. Armanov is a small business based out of Slovenia that makes a variety of useful reloading equipment, along with some miscellaneous magazine extensions and grips. It appears most of their products are CNC machined from aluminum, which is de rigeur these days.
I purchased the “Ammo Checker Bundle 3-in-1” in 9mm. This is a “hundo gauge”, as the cool kids say, which is a case gauge that lets you check 100 loaded cartridges of 9mm at a time. This may seem excessive to some people, but for the competition shooting crowd who are sometimes reloading 1000+ rounds a month, it’s a fast and easy way to check the quality of your reloads and ensure that they are at least nominally match ready (assuming your powder dropped, anyways).
The MEAN Arms roller-delayed upper is going to be a big deal for the competitive shooting community, because it will bring another non-direct-blowback option at a reasonable cost. The use of the MEAN magazine conversion will also allow shooters to use their same belt for PCC competition as 3gun competition, which is a nice bonus.
The Desert Tech Quattro 15 (which I didn’t cover) is something that’s gotten me really excited. Big magazines, fully ambi lower, and a surprisingly reasonable price ($300)? Sign me up. I could see converting to these for 3gun.
Didn’t see a lot that was genuinely new in the shotgun category. I think the influx of cheap and reliable Benelli M4 clones like the SDS S4 and Tac-12 was a real game changer in 2021, and I’m still waiting to see where that trend goes with the second round of those clones. SDS has already promised an improved stock in 2022, and I absolutely think there’s a market for a competition version with a hogged out loading port, larger buttons, short field stock, and so on.
In general, I expect Turkish shotguns to be massive sellers next year when the cheap Turkish lira drives prices down on high quality shotguns to crazy low levels. I can’t be the only one who’s thinking about a pair of VR80s for open shotgun if they drop to below $400.
I didn’t see anything jaw-dropping for pistols. 30 Super Carry was a bit of a meh release for me, and the focus on 5.7×28 continues to be inexplicable. Don’t even get me started on bringing back the Browning High Power… I don’t know what people think these pistols are, but they’re not as great as they think.
The Dasan / Alpha Foxtrot 1911 with the swappable frames was maybe my favorite of SHOT. At least this is a pistol that has a purpose in life, even if it’s niche. Hopefully the parts are not too dissimilar to standard 1911s and 2011s, and that maybe we could get an optics-cut version.
The Eotech 1-10x is the winner for me. It has every indication of looking a lot like a Razor Gen3 competitor at a substantially lower price. In fact, it may even be better at 1x if the brightness can keep up (which is a bit of an open question, even though it looked good on the floor).
A close second was the Blackhound Evolve 1-6x, if only because we’re finally starting to see fiber optic reticles migrate to lower price points. Once these get BDC and/or MRAD reticles, it’s going to driving some real innovation across the entire market space.
The Holosun SCS is another one I’m excited about. The MSRP on this is a bit high-ish, but it’s bringing some unique capabilities to the table in terms of being MOS direct mount, being solar-driven, better light sensing, etc.
The Maztech / Magpul X4 collaboration looked amazing. The world is ready for a new rifle-mounted LRF with a heads-up display, and the implementation looked a lot more flexible than others I’ve seen. It’s not cheap, that’s for sure, but it’s within the price range of someone who really wants one. If they implement some sort of support for linking to other LRFs (perhaps the Vortex or Sig?), it’s going to be amazing.
In one of my SHOT show posts, I brought up the Dillon DA3000 autodrive and expressed some disappointment to what was shown. To Dillon’s immense credit, a contact reached out to me with an offer to meet up and discuss the system in some depth, and try to answer some of the questions that I and others have.
First, the elephant in the room: sensors. One of the reasons that Mark7’s autodrive is so popular is the comprehensive sensor suite. The DA3000 launching without them was a disappointment to a lot of Dillon and RL1100 fans who were looking for a fully-competitive same-brand autodrive solution.
Sensors are on the roadmap. They’re being worked on, but were simply not ready for release. I heard swage is planned to be the first out the gate, but as we’ve seen in the past couple years, plans don’t always work out. No timeline was given, but I would not expect the sensors to be out tomorrow. The DA3000 includes the sensor interfaces, so your machine will be upgradable.
And, no, the Immortobot sensors won’t work, or so I was told. This wasn’t a deliberate decision by the Dillon team to destroy third party compatibility, it’s just how it worked out. They know as well as everyone else that third party sensors may become a thing again if people reverse engineer the interface, and they’ll handle that situation when they see what comes out. This is all a bit terra incognita to them.
The second question was “what took so long?” And the answer is pretty simple: the production line had to be moved, the production professionalized further, and the machine itself beefed up a bit. When you factor in extensive testing, it does make sense that there would be a substantial gap where this would not be available even without a lot of obvious changes. Dillon isn’t Ammobot; there are high expectations that come with being Dillon that their products need to meet.
Our discussion after that went in a few different directions. Suffice it to say that Dillon has had their own share of supply issues in the past year due to the huge run on reloading equipment, and is doing their best to keep up. They also have a lot of respect for their competitors and customers alike.
EDIT (1/24/2022): Dillon has informed me that the sensors will be released in 1-2 months (or such is the plan). They will require a separate control unit.
Well, I’ve completed my tour of duty at SHOT this year, and I’m happy to be done with it. If you want to see all of my SHOT Show 2022 coverage, use the “shotshow2022” tag. Here’s some overall thoughts about trends and other things:
There were a lot of attendees, but there were a lot of missing exhibitors: Sig, Beretta, Ruger, and so on pulling out was a pretty big hit to the show floor. But even outside of these entities, there were a lot of smaller exhibitors who didn’t make it. One or two tried the “we pulled out because of the mask mandate”, but this is simply farcical: the mask mandate was in full effect when they signed up, and they knew it. It was plastered all over the signup paperwork. Claiming that they were taking a stand when they agreed to comply with the requirement in the first place is somewhere between disingenuous and dishonest.
The reality is that the bigger companies had serious concerns about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, and they pulled out for various health and liability reasons, not because of any mandates. Masking was in evidence on the show floor, but it was uneven, and enforcement was somewhat lackadaisical – it wasn’t like they were pulling the badges of people they found without masks. If I had not recovered from Omicron a mere week before SHOT, I might have had some serious concerns myself. Maybe the masks will help with SHOT crud avoidance… that would be good.
AR-15++: There are more and more companies offering AR-15s and AR-9s with substantial internal operating system improvements, such as MEAN Arms roller-delayed system and the various bufferless systems floating around the show floor. I expect that within a decade, the “standard” AR-15 we have today will be relegated to more budget builds. This is not to imply I think “direct impingement” will be gone, though.
Bolt-guns are getting even more crowded: Aero’s getting in the game with a 700 action and a chassis. American Defense Manufacturing has a new chassis. Bushmaster has their AR-308-esque straight pull system. Remington will be producing the 700 again. It feels like everyone wants in on manual-action rifles. I don’t really see the increasingly-urbanized market going in on this, and I wonder if we’ll see a dramatic correction within the next couple years.
5.7×28 is the new hotness: I guess NATO standardization kicked off some kind of industry trend, because it sure seems like everyone wants in on that sweet, sweet 5.7×28 action. PSA’s got something, Kel-Tec’s doubling down, the AR-57 is back, CMMG’s got a rifle, FN was showing off the PS90, etc. I personally don’t get it, but people must be buying these guns… right? Didn’t the Internet decide years ago that 5.7 in non-AP format was kind of a pointless round that had inadequate terminal ballistics?
30 Super Carry is DOA: The thing that a lot of people do not understand about the firearms industry is how easy it is for the big companies to generate a hype wave by just throwing money in the pool. Fly out some gun journalists for demos in some nice spot, send out T&E guns and ammo, gin up a couple minor strategic alliances, and issue press releases like crazy. This happened with 224 Valkyrie (Federal’s brainchild) and now it’s happening 30 Super Carry (another Federal invention). I’m not saying 30 Super Carry is even bad, but this is a thing that no one asked for and I would suggest that no one really wanted. We’re going to see some products now and then zero follow-on when it turns out very few people buy them.
 If any vendors want to send me somewhere nice, I’d be happy to accept, and for the record your product is fantastic. 🙂
Turkey is making waves: The Turkish manufacturers were out in full force, and their arms industry seems to be churning out progressively better product at a lower cost. Unfortunately for them, this is because the lira basically collapsed and is now worth half as much as it used to be a year ago. But Sarsilmasz, MKE, Girsan, Derya, and others are shedding the “cheap bad imports” image and giving American shooters some top quality gear at fantastic prices. I’ve heard the PSA MP5 imports from MKE are hitting record low prices, and that’s great news for American shooters.
Glock in a Stock: There were at least half a dozen “Glock in a Stock” (or brace, or chassis) systems out at the show. Again: who is buying this stuff, and why? If you’ve got a Glock SBR already like I do, you at least have the excuse of trying to make the best of a questionable decision. But just making your Glock heavier and throwing a brace on… why? The ATF is going to ban that soon enough. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
The LPVO space is getting competitive again: A week ago, I could have listed off every LPVO worth buying at every price point. Now… I’m not so sure. The Eotech 1-10x came out the gate with a very aggressive price point plus what appears to be very solid FFP illumination, and Blackhound’s stunner of a 1-6x with a fiber optic reticle – made in China – threw all that on its head. I know what my preferences are, but it’s clear that the competition is increasing fast.
Las Vegas is fun – embrace it: When I was here in 2020, I didn’t do much other than cover SHOT and go out for a quiet dinner with relatives in the evening. This time, I brought my wife and got out a bit. We saw some shows, did some tours, and had a pretty good time. I’m not saying you need to be out all night partying and gambling, but enjoying yourself while you’re out here is sensible to keep sane.
SHOT can survive, but probably not continuing like this: SHOT was good (not great) this year, but so many major manufacturers pulling out of the show at the last minute definitely reduced the value to journalists, even terrible amateurs like myself. If I can’t talk to reps for the inside scoop and go hands-on with the hot new releases before they hit retail, what’s the point? The solution is certainly not moving it to Florida or Texas. Not only is that unrealistic (NSSF signed a contract with the Venetian through like 2027), but it’s not addressing the real reasons that caused Beretta, Sig, Ruger, SiCo, etc. to pull out of the show. If anything, it might have made the situation worse. A few more smaller guys coming because there’s no mask mandate isn’t going to be an overall improvement if another big group drops out, or if the international manufacturers drop for fear they won’t be able to travel home – that’s the cold truth regardless of how you personally feel about mask mandates.
If the pandemic isn’t functionally over by about October 2022, NSSF needs to sit down and really understand what they need to do to make all these big manufacturers feel comfortable enough to come. This trip costs most of us non-trivial money, and the value proposition this year was teetering on the edge of “not worth it” – and the fact that many of the drop-outs happened very close to SHOT prevented people from changing their minds about coming (and perhaps saving some money). I don’t want to accuse NSSF of acting in bad faith, but some of their social media posts leading up to the show seemed completely unwilling to engage with the reality of what was going on. I guess that’s the hallmark of a good industry PR organization, but it did rub people the wrong way.
Today is my last day at SHOT; too many personal and professional conflicts to justify trying to work it on Thursday as well. I tried to hit as many places of interest to me as I could in this final outing. This time, I was on the first floor of the expo hall – “the dungeon”. This is the cheap seats of SHOT, and while there’s many reputable vendors there… there’s some sketchier ones as well. There were a surprising number of no-shows down there; I would have imagined they’d be eager to get some eyeballs with some of the big names out of the way.
Ghost: It’s no secret that I shoot a lot of competition and training classes. What I’m maybe less vocal about is that most of the time, I’m using Ghost magazine pouches. Ghost USA imports very high quality pouches from Italy. When I asked them what the big release this year was, they pointed to their Hydra holster. The Hydra tries to split the difference between a race holster and a shell holster, and has a positive locking mechanism for between stages. They have models for all the popular competition guns, and a couple different attachment mechanisms. Unsure that I’m going to run out and buy one tomorrow, but it does look like a nice option for 3gun and the like.
Blackhound Optics: When I was talking to the rep at JOL, he told me that “you may want to talk to those Blackhound guys. They’ll have something of interest.” Well, I’m nothing if not a sucker for a reference, so I went on the hunt for Blackhound Optics down on the first floor. Luckily, I found them and was able to have a long discussion with them about their products.
They’re now selling three lines of products: 1. Emerge – made by JOL in Japan. High-end optics priced like high-end optics. 2. Evolve – made in China. This is higher quality Chinese stuff that just came out. 3. Genesis – made in China. This is Blackhound’s original line of products.
I took a look at the Emerge optics and… they look good! They had features like an elevation turret indicator, lever on the magnification ring, the MOA holdover + mil ranging reticle I talked about previously, and illumination. Glass seemed on point, too, but that’s hard to evaluate in the hall.
What really surprised me, though, was the Evolve 1-6x scope. I had asked where the Emerge LPVO was, and they kinda demurred on it, instead showing me their Genesis and Evolve LPVOs. The Genesis was… OK? Nothing special (sorry, Blackhound). The Evolve promptly blew my mind. Daylight bright fiber optic reticle! On a Chinese-made scope! When did this become a thing? I am very well acquainted with the different LPVO illumination mechanisms, and there was no doubt in my mind at what I was seeing. We can talk about whether the reticle would be improved with some holdovers (it would be!), but this is a real game changer and I’m curious to see where it goes. The Blackhound scopes in this line come with a mount and everything you need to get going, so they’re a packaged solution.
M+M Industries: There’s a new version of the M+M M10X with a shortened handguard and a lighter receiver. It weighs 7lbs. Despite goons on the Internet calling it a two piece AK, it is very, very similar to a Sig 55X on the inside, all the way through field stripping.
MEAN Arms: The guys at MEAN Arms were more than willing to talk about their roller-delayed 9mm AR – it’s apparently on the fifth generation, and it is in production. Expect to see uppers compatible with standard lower receivers, coming in at ~$1200. Given the cost of the JP5, which is exorbitant, this sounds like a real deal if it works as well as I was told it does. The bolt design is really quite clever, and is easily adjustable for different ammo energy.
Girsan: Girsan downstairs was much more amenable to me, and was showing off their new Regard Gen3 and Gen4 pistols, as well as the P35. The Regard Gen3 looks like a super slick Beretta 92 clone, and checks all the right boxes (frame safety, gas pedal takedown, optics cut, and a surprisingly reasonable trigger).
SDS: I wanted to talk to SDS about their fantastic SDS S4 clone of the Benelli M4. Well, if you liked it, but thought the stock was meh, you are not alone – SDS is working with the factory to improve the stock and make it much more like the factory Benelli M4 stock (hopefully shorter!). In less awesome news, the SDS Duo-Sys M3 clone is getting discontinued due to poor sales. Pick it up now while you have a chance, if you want one. The firearms on display were a bit sparse due to some shipping mishaps between Dallas and Las Vegas, but they were quite proud of their retro shotguns.
HasGrok: I’m a geek, and I took a real stab at writing a computer vision program that would be able to sort case headstamps. It kinda worked, but the mechanical part never quite came together. HasGrok has a solution that DOES work, and they told me that they’ve got an improvement coming that will also be able to sort on case profile – so that it can distinguish between 223 and 300 AAC with the same headstamp (ie, conversions) and even determine overall length of a cartridge to determine whether it needs trimming. Super clever!
They’re also working on getting their case feeder set up with WiFi so you can adjust the digital clutch from your phone. Sounds good to me.
Savior Equipment: Savior Equipment’s new 2022 products are some camo rifle bags. I own zero camo anything, so this was not of much interest to me. I still think they make some of the best rifle bags you can buy, however.
Panzer Arms / AR-Five Seven: I had a long, long chat with the rep at the Panzer Arms / AR-Five Seven booth. I’ll skip straight to the import part: the AR-57 upper is coming back. The previous version had some issues, and they took a few years to resolve. (I was also told ProMag P50 mags will never work right, and you should get FN ones.)
We also had a rather interesting conversation about Turkish shotguns. Panzer Arms owns the factory in Turkey. They know precisely what is going in, and they make most of it. They also have copious spare parts to fix things if they go wrong. Many other importers are not in such a favorable position. He was quite insistent that their guns work, and that they can fix whatever lemons accidentally find their way here.
THRiL: I have some THRiL MPX magazines. They work fantastically well. Alas, most people have never heard of them. The company is new (2018), and has some Lancer heritage engineers running the show. Besides having MPX and AR15 magazines, they are also the OEM for PSA’s Scorpion and AK (steel-lined, steel lugs, and steel feed lips) magazines. They’ve got some other OEM projects ongoing, and it sounds like they’re quite happy with the way their new Bantam compact stock came out. This is yet another small company that probably gets unfairly lumped in with a number of smaller companies with lesser products, and I hope they can break past that for the reputation they genuinely deserve.
Dasan / Alpha Foxtrot: Alpha Foxtrot is South Korean Dasan’s US arm, and they sell a variety of rather interesting guns, including metal framed Glocks and 1911s. The cool stuff this year was a compact 1911 that took Shield magazines, and a 2011-style gun that could switch frames between single-stack and double-stack. I know the latter sounds like a bit of an edge use case, but it’s potentially tremendously useful to competitive shooters who want to use the same gun for 3gun and single-stack USPSA/IDPA. It’s not going to be cheap, but I believe the target is still under $2000.
Recover Tactical: Right before SHOT Show, Recover Tactical announced the P-IX chassis for Glocks. According to Recover, this will accept nearly any Glock you can think of. The basic premise of it is to make your Glock into a bullpup – sort of like a Corner Shot, but without all that Corner Shot foldy stuff. The trigger pull was… spongy. Whatever linkage they’re using clearly has some play and/or flex. But the premise seems solid, and it will at least eliminate some of the dust cover flex problems that other chassis systems invoke. They’re selling the chassis for $200 sans a buffer tube / stock / brace – you can install your own to do whatever you want.
CHPWS: The big news at CHPWS is that they are moving to the v5 plate system. This will be thinner, with a redesigned T-nut to maintain appropriate plate strength.
Caldwell: I had one, and only one question for Caldwell: WHERE IS THE VELOCIRADAR? Answer: it’s still on the roadmap, it’s still being worked on, and supply chain problems have made getting the electronics for production a nightmare. It will be at SHOT 2023, but no firm word on release (whether before or after). But they know people want it… badly.