Thursday, February 19, 2009

In With The New - Out With The Old - Goodbye Old Friend

It was a sunny crisp February day two days ago when I drove up to the NYPD range at Rodman’s Neck for my agency’s quarterly qualifications on Tuesday. I was up that way early enough though to make a stop to fortify myself with a hearty breakfast (brunch for you yuppies), so I stopped at the City Island Diner first for a nice helping of bacon and eggs, home fries, toast and coffee. With that all inside of the old furnace I was able to better withstand the cool air at the range over the next several hours. The thing about the range is that even when a day is sunny and has little humidity, it is kind of damp because it is on the water front; and it is virtually always windy or breezy at the least.

As for the business at hand that day, I had to turn in my issue Glock 19. I suppose it was ceremonious on my part, but on Monday night I gave it a good cleaning. It had already been cleaned recently, but certainly not as thoroughly as I did on Monday night. I got into every nook and cranny in my search for fouling, and although there was not much to be found I did come up with a somewhat dirty patch and q-tip or two. Then I packed away the Glock 19 into its original box, with its original set of instructions and warranty paperwork, and with the cleaning rod and feeding device that had come with it. Out of the few folks who had not yet converted to the new issue SIG 229 DAKs, I was the only one who had his Glock in its original box. It really didn’t matter, the head primary firearms instructor took the old pistol, made sure it was unloaded and literally tossed it into a large cardboard box with a bunch of other ones. Then I was handed another gun box, this one containing a supposedly brand new SIG 229 DAK (in .40 S&W), with four 12 round magazines, a gun lock and an instruction manual.

I sat down and took a look inside the box as instructed. Everything was there; but when I checked on the pistol I saw it has a ding on the slide, and further inspection showed it to have an awful lot of fouling and unburned powder residue inside of it. I noted this to the PFI who just told me maybe it was a test gun. I have to wonder if it had been issued and returned for some reason, but will admit that as I shot it that day I could not figure out any such reason so I imagine he may have been right about it being used as a test gun. We got a lecture on the workings of the SIG 229 DAK a double action only pistol. I had heard that scores overall had dropped some when switching to this pistol. I will not name the source but he has been a reliable one and definitely is in the position to know about all of the range scores in my office. During the lecture we were told that was all BS and that scores had improved with this pistol. I found t hard to believe at that moment that scores with a long travel DAO trigger pull would improve over those achieved with a Glock, but time would tell.

After the lecture inside the fairly warm classroom, it was off to the outdoors chill of the range. The temp had already dropped a bit or so it seemed to have done and it was only about 3PM. Once at Frank Range we got to the business of cleaning the new pistols, and especially the mags which had a light coat of something akin to Cosmoline on them. Then we picked up 6 boxes of .40S&W ammo and loaded for some introductory familiarization drills. Even if someone already had been issued one of the SIGs over the past quarter or two, they had to repeat the familiarization drills and that is probably a good idea since the triggers on these things will sure take some getting used to, especially for those of us who had been issued Glocks before. I can say without a doubt that I dreaded the prospect of the long trigger travel necessary to shoot these pistols, and now that I have fired them I dread ever having to use one in a bad situation simply because of the split second longer it seemingly takes to fire each shot as compared to firing a Glock. One thing that we were notified of was that in order for the trigger to reset, it only had to travel about halfway forward, and once a click was heard and sort of felt, the shooter could activate the trigger from that halfway mark and refire the pistol. Of course that would be a good feature in any DAO pistol but then again you would either have to be able to feel or hear that click reliably each time you fired to know when the trigger had rest. What with the added recoil of the 40S&W cartridge, I had a hard time knowing when the trigger was actually reset, and it traveled fully forward at least 75 percent of the time before I realized it had reset. I do not like the amount of trigger travel required from the fully forward trigger position without knowing when the trigger first reset, and I still do not like the amount of trigger travel required even from about the midway point once it has actually reset. In short I do not like the amount of trigger travel required for this pistol.

Other than the amount of trigger travel required, I did not find any fault with this pistol on my first try of it but I must point out that 300 rounds through it is not enough to satisfy me of anything as to this pistols reliability. I much prefer to shot at least 500 rounds through any pistol on its first outing. I had asked for more ammo so I could practice on my own, but we all got the news that ammo is in short supply and that the PFI expects a shipment of about ¾ of a million rounds to come in soon. Once it arrives we will supposedly be issued ammo for practice; and I hope that is correct as I’d like to put it through some of my own testing. As for my day at the range, I will admit I got used to the trigger pull, if not to the recoil, very quickly. Now mind you, I am not a wimp as to recoil, it is simply that firing this will take some getting used to after having fired primarily a 9mm for the past 15 to 20 years or so with the Glock. Man has it been that long, I suppose so, maybe even longer! But I digress, so back to the SIG.

Mine functioned flawlessly. The guy next to me had some problems. He kept getting failures to eject leading to double feeds. I think that was shooter induced, in fact I hope it was, because no pistol costing as much as a SIG should have problems like that. As to cost, how much did they go for? I don’t know, but if you go to
this link,
 there is an article about the DHS contract with SIG. The price shown for the pistols in a sidebar is over $900 apiece. I cannot believe that is the government price and will have to read the article more than I have already done to see if it mentions the contract price. Yet, even if that is retail, that is darned expensive as compared to something like a Glock which would probably sell at government contract for about half of that by my guess. Again I digress, so let me get back to the shooting of this rather large pistol. Did I say large, funny how the uniformed inspectors at CBP reportedly got smaller versions, and we who work in plain clothes and conceal our pistols got larger ones. Go figure but that is the gooberment for ya.

Like I said, while shooting it, it worked flawlessly, at least mine did. Luckily I had no problems with inadvertently dropping the mags while shooting. What is that about you wonder! Well the PFI explained in the classroom that these have a large overly sensitive magazine release button. As it turns out I had to make a concentrated effort to keep the thumb of my right hand off of it while shooting. In fact we were even told not to take a normal grip of this pistol to avoid hitting the mag release. That is fine at the range, but how many will remember to take that extra step if under fire in a shootout? Leave it to the gooberment to order something that is broken before it ever gets touched! I do not know if anyone on Tuesday dropped any mags because of the design, but to me that seems a design flaw that needs to be addressed immediately, in fact that should have been addressed before the pistol every went into production and if discovered only after production then it should have been remedied before they were ever issued. The other thing I see as a design flaw is the slide stop since it reportedly, again according to our PFI, can be activated by the thumb of the left hand when shooting from a two hand hold unless you hold this pistol differently than I have ever held any other pistol I have fired. I had no problem with that, and I held it a few different ways just to see if I would have the problem. I cannot attest to whether or not anyone else had problems, at the first shoot, but I can tell you there sure seemed to be an awful lot of alibi shots fired, more so than on previous range days when everyone was shooting pistols other than these SIGs.

As for hitting the target, I did well. We shot three qualification courses. Since I also have a Glock 26 as a secondary firearm, I shot twice for qualification with the SIG and once with the Glock. I scored 247 and 249 respectively with the SIG (out of a possible 250). I scored 249 with the Glock. A friend of mine of many years shot 3 perfect scores with the SIG. Some others did well, but it seemed a bunch did not shoot as well, and at least three shooters had to requalify, one at least two extra times before he achieved a passing score. There will be some teething issues with the changeover for some shooters for sure. As for my shooting, since it was getting markedly colder by the time we got around to the quals, I put on leather gloves for the 2nd qual with the SIG. With the gloves on it made the trigger travel seem much less on follow-up shots. The gloves fit well into the trigger guard of the SIG, nowhere near as tight as they went into the Glock trigger guard. I did note that after having fired a good number of rounds through the SIG and then firing the Glock, some of my shots with the Glock were going several inches higher than usual. I attributed this both to wearing gloves and to having been somewhat effected by the long trigger pull of the SIG. What I mean is that once the Glock had fired, as I followed through and came back toward a firing position, I had already tightened my trigger finger somewhat on the trigger (I suppose due to muscle memory of the longer trigger pull on the SIG, and due to the fact that I had on gloves which already had pressure on the trigger a bit with the Glock and its smaller trigger guard area). So I wound up firing when on target but before fully following through on recoil – thus a bit high for some shots. Thus when switching from the SIG to the Glock in the future I will have to make a conscious effort to remember the qualities of the trigger pull on each. Although I don’t think would have happened without my having on gloves, it did happen nonetheless. Things likes this are one reason that I strongly recommend carry a backup pistol that is essentially the same as your primary handgun in almost all respects; that way there is no adjustment that you need to make between firing one or the other. As to other operation of the Glock as compared to the SIG, everything else is similar enough to not require any drastic change in how to operate one from the other when shooting.

Taking the gun down for cleaning is a breeze, and I much prefer the method used to disassemble the SIG as compared to that of the Glock. Yes it is also very easy to disassemble a Glock, but the Glock requires that you activate the trigger to be able to field strip it. This is not good in my estimation and can lead, and probably has led, to unintentional discharges of Glocks. With the SIG, you take out the source of ammo (the magazine), then empty any round out of the chamber that might be in it, then lock the slide to the rear. Once the slide is locked back you can operate the disassembly lever on the left side of the frame and then pull the slide off of the frame. Remove the recoil spring and guide rod, then take the barrel from the slide, then clean it. Reassembly is also a snap. Where as the Glocks did not like it wet, the SIG reportedly likes it wet so a good application of oil was recommended to all metal parts that move against one another.

I have noted one thing about the SIG that is of some concern to me, and just noticed that this morning. While it is a DAO pistol, and the hammer is bobbed so you can not manually cock it with your thumb, and the interior section of the hammer apparently has no full cock notch, the SIG can be set at what amounts to half cock by partial activation of the trigger. That in itself is of little concern to me as it seems the amount of trigger travel required to fire the pistol from half cock is the same as if it were fired from an uncocked position. What is of concern is that if someone inadvertently places enough pressure on the trigger to have the hammer go into what seems to amount to the half cock position, there is no way to decock the pistol from that position without activating the trigger to its full extent. That is at first glance. I have to check the manual on that, but I did not see any decocking or safety lever on the SIG, and we were not given any instruction about that at the range or in the classroom. Of course, I plan to point this out to the firearms instructors as soon as feasible. I imagine the biggest risk with the pistol being at half cock would be if it was dropped and could fire from that position. Our instructors told us that these pistols have been drop tested repeatedly and have not fired, but I wonder if they were first set in the half cock position and dropped in that condition, or were just drop tested with the hammer fully down! The other problem I see with the pistol being able to go into half cock, is that some shooter not as familiar with guns as another, might see the pistol in that condition and then try to remedy it or get it back to hammer down position and may wind up pulling the trigger on a live round having been distracted by the problem of how to drop the hammer. Yes that would be an idiot, but they are out there, a few even working for government law enforcement agencies. I need to make a phone call on that pronto, so my article ends here.

Edited on 02/21/09 to add: Okay, so it did not end there where I just said it ended the reason being that I have some info on the half cock thing. It is a normal feature for this pistol, albeit a very confusing one at least for me. One of the range officers told me it is normal, and they forgot to mention it in the classroom the day I was there. He was happy I brought it back to mind because they want to make sure everyone knows it a normal feature of these pistols. The thing that confuses me is there is no reason I can see for having the pistol go into half cock when you pull the slide back and then let it slingshot forward. I guess it could be looked at as an indicator that you just loaded the pistol if you had a mag in it when you pulled back and slingshotted the slide, but why bother? Now you are left with a half cocked pistol, with no way of lowering the hammer except to unload the gun and squeeze the trigger. Yep, that is right, there is no decocking mechanism. Now mind you, the hammer being partially back does not indicate there is a round in the chamber, you can do the same thing without any ammo in the gun - so again I say why bother. All I see the half cocked hammer as being is a place into which lint and other debris can gather to screw up the works. It seem ridiculous to me to have this gun go into half cock each time you activate the slide. Of course maybe SIG has a good reason for this, but if they do I have to wonder why it is not mentioned in the manual.

Edited on 01/25/2011 to add: After a good long while of shooting the SIG 226 DAK, there are some issues with it that I would like to point out or reiterate. Quite a few of the other agents, with whom I qualified, inadvertently hit the magazine release while shooting it (and a few did so while holstering or drawing it) causing the magazine to fall out our at least pop out part way. This was a problem for several shooters and happened again and again. Another problem was with the slide stop being activated while shooting. It happened over and over again throughout several qualifications for some of the shooters and took a long while for them to adjust their grip to avoid doing so. Then there are the grip screws and the frame material. The screws are steel and the screw holes are in an aluminum alloy frame. They were easy to over tighten and thus to ruin the threads in the frame. In addition, the screws became easily rusted in normal use of the pistol, much more easily than in any other pistol I have owned .(I am guessing because of the quality of the steel or the finish or both as I am talking rust while being worn in the holster without a lot of sweat getting on them.) As I think I said earlier, I also do not like the trigger pull, too much travel and too heavy. I got used to it but much preferred the trigger on my previously issued Glock 19 and personal Glock 26.

Later for you.

All the best,