Its a Small World

Single Stack Carry Pistols

Thin carry pistols are not exactly all the rage, although most people have one or have wanted to have one at one time or another along their shooting lifetime. Recently a slew of well made single stacks have caught a lot of attention and I have been doing quite a bit of shooting with each one of them so I thought I’d record my thoughts.

I have only been looking at the single stack 9mm pistols under $600. Yes I’m a “bigger is usually better” guy, but the way I figure it is I prefer to have a bigger capacity more than than a bigger bullet when youre talking under 10 rounds. Also, the 9s are just easier to control in the little packages and they keep the weight and physical dimensions trimmed down. They’re better for this application, they just are.

Now price is a variable in this list but more so how it feels and how it points in my hand is a bigger factor. Everyone has different sized hands so this is different for everybody. I wear a size large glove and can palm a basketball… barely.

Extreme non permissive environments are usually in the top five for “Reasons Why Wee Want a Single Stack,” although it doesn’t have to start or end there. Personally, I shoot a single stack better than the double stack subcompact Glock. Single stacks can fit peoples hands better, and admittedly, they’re fun to shoot.

Like everyone else in the world, I’m intimately familiar with Glocks. The subcompact was the highest performer when no one else made a subcompact. But it was still a double stack and consumers have been pleading for years for Glock to bring out a single stack 9mm variant. Rumors fly and I wouldn’t hold my breath. The thing is, a subcompact pistol that can accept full size magazines is very utilitarian. If you are a full size or compact owner, then you already have the mags, most holsters accept all sizes even if you are leaving some empty space at the bottom, you know the trigger, and well, you know the gun. So before I say buy this or buy that, It only makes sense for Glock guys to concede the thickness factor which is usually a non factor and just stay with the system.

380acp micro “mouse guns” are not the ticket for this niche either. Those are wholly defensive, last resort, stick it in a rapists or robbers ear and mash the trigger guns. Single stack 9s seem to me to be better suited for shooting accurately at across the bank lobby, church hallway or through the park type distances. A tool to use offensively to resolve an emergency.

Also coming to play in this arena are the snub nose revolvers of which I do not shoot well or even enjoy shooting. No matter what material the grip is made out of my hand seems to climb up the butt of the gun with each shot so I am readjusting my hold after two or three shots. If they have sights, they generally are so crude that they should have been left off anyway, and no common man can reload a revolver as fast as a magazine fed gun, crazy cowboy shooters notwithstanding. Ive also never been able to consistently hit a barn door with one.

If you do not so far completely disagree with this or like me, just want a single stack anyway, then read on.

Notable guns that I didn’t have a chance to play with are the Sig P290, Beretta Nano and Bersa in 9mm (the 380 Bersa is an excellent gun though). I also didnt let the KelTec’s come to play because, well I didnt. Leave it at that.

What did make a showing was the S&W Shield, the Springfield XDS and the Kahr CW9. The first two make up the majority of the market for single stack 9mms these days and Kahr is an American company and I like that. Their guns arent all the at bad either.

First is the M&P. “Shields are on sale; get a shield; contender for most notable gun of the year…” yeah yeah yeah. The Shield does not have interchangeable back straps like their bigger brothers do and it does have pretty decent iron sights; Civilians can find them on sale for $360 and Mil/LEO for $330. For me, it doesn’t fit my hand well and doesn’t point well. The trigger is better than that of a full size M&P, but it’s still, whats the right word… oh yeah: shitty. Its got a mushy take up, breaks clean, and has what feels like a two stage reset if that’s even possible. You’d have to shoot it a lot to get pretty familiar with its trigger and it isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to shoot, although I admit not many small guns are. The issue I see here is that if you are a brand specific guy and are staying within the M&P line, the triggers are so different that saying they are in the same lineup is barely accurate. There are more differences than similarities between the Shield and the other M&P pistols.

You can upgrade the trigger for another $100, and I demand night sights on my carry guns which increases the price yet again. I’d guess that 95% of people would never make those upgrades which is why I believe the initial price point is what drives sales on the Shield over fit, form and function.

The XDS is up next and it is more expensive, for a reason. At around $500 it comes from the factory with a good, clean and crisp trigger and a front fiber optic sight. Fiber optic is no night sight my friends. The thing is though, the XDS has such a nice feeling grip, checkered with an aggressive yet not biting pattern in all the right places, and like all XD’s for me, it points SOOOO well in the hand. Replace the sights with something radioactive and you are edging up above my under $600 budget. It does feel so good though.

Finally the Kahr CW9. It is not the most popular gun although I’m not entirely sure as to why. Well name brand is probably why, but you get my point. They are quite good guns. They are down around Shield territory in regards to pricing, usually being found around $350. It feels good in the hand and points well-enough, if not quite as automatic as the XDS. The first run of CWs had pinned sights which made replacing them with the proper tritium pretty well impractical, and their triggers… well they sucked too. The actual pull is fine. Its long with very little feeling of stacking and has a clear stop and clean break. Its the reset that is so horrible. You actually have to bring your finger all the way back, with what equates to bringing it all the way off the trigger to get it to reset. Quick follow ups do not happen with this thing, especially when you’re used to a trigger you can ride to the reset then break again for your next shot like a Glock. More than twice I actually had to visually examine the gun to make sure it hadn’t malfunctioned when a second shot would not click off. The cause: I hadn’t let the trigger come fully forward to reset. It sounds a bit fickle or amateurish, but it really is that bad. Thankfully though there is a $50 drop in fix that makes it not just a different trigger, but transforms it into a different gun.

I don’t like safeties on my carry guns. The Shield has an external that is small and protected enough that you could just leave it off and forget that its there, which is maybe not good because if for some reason it is on, its too small to flick off easily and naturally. The XDS has its palm safety which is fine, it works and I couldn’t imagine needing to shoot when my palm wasn’t engaged enough with the grip to disengage it, but it is there and again, I don’t like safeties on carry guns. Both the Shield and XDS have had recalls regarding their safeties. The Kahr has no external safety.

Aesthetically they are all pretty in their own right depending who you are. The M&P with its 80’s comic book, space age rounded design and the XDS that tries a bit too hard to look “tactical.” The two tone Kahr though bridges the gap between necessity and refinement in my eyes. It’s smooth, simple and classy. Its a church gun for professionals; the car business executives drive on Friday while wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Its a cheap yet respectable bottle of wine, a pawn shop engagement ring you aren’t embarrassed to show off at the reception.

None of these guns are just right out of the box. Few things are. For me, if I was buying a single stack based on carrying a little, shooting a little, and because I just like guns, the Kahr would lead the competition until I found something better.


2 thoughts on “Its a Small World

  1. Hunt around and find yourself a STAR BKS or BKM.
    You’ll be pleased. They handle much better than any of the plastic fantastics you listed, and shoot better too.

  2. Having some range time with all three of these pistols, I’d take the XDS hands-down. Bad experience seating the mag with the Kahr…gave it a palm bump and wound up with spilled ammo at my feet. And, like you, the XDS just felt sooooo good in my hands. The Shield…given that it’s S&W, I was disappointed all-around. Saving my pennies for my own XDS and renting one at the range to practice (and geez, do I need the practice) in the meantime.

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