Shooting Compact Pistols at Gunsite Academy


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Marshal Halloway

March 10th, 2011


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A variety of small pistols and revolvers were available to shoot from Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Beretta, and SIG Sauer.



Author finally got to try out a SIG P290 9mm pistol, equipped with XS Sights' tritium Big Dot Express Sight.



Shooters on the firing line at Gunsite using compact 9mm pistols.



The night shooting session proved to all in attendance the superiority of good tritium night sights and Crimson Trace lasers.





I just returned from attending a special class at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona that covered the use of small semi-auto pistols and revolvers for defensive use. The class was sponsored by Sturm Ruger, XS Sights, Crimson Trace, Smith & Wesson, Surefire, Galco Gunleather, Woolrich Clothing, Remington Ammunition, Sig Sauer, Beretta, and Gunsite. In attendance were about eight media folks from print, television, and the internet. In addition, there were representatives from all of the sponsoring manufacturers, and three Gunsite instructors.

Our instructors for the week were Il Ling New, Lamonte Kintsel, and Charlie McNeese. All three were very knowledgeable and articulate, making sure that we did not put holes into anything that did not need ventilating. Our objectives for the class was to shoot pistols that are being carried daily by thousands of people for self defense. These small pistols and revolvers are the hottest segment of the firearms market, as more and more people choose to accept the responsibility for the safety of themselves and those whom they are obligated to protect. The police in this nation do a good job, but looking around me right now, I don’t see any. I walk out on my porch, and there are no police officers to be found. We have a few in this county, and they do a good job, but they are not here with me. Most of us do not have around-the-clock police protection, nor would we want to. We are each responsible for the defense of ourselves and our loved ones. There are predators in our society; sociopaths with no regard at all for your life or your property. They have an entitlement mentality like many in our society, but they take that attitude to the extreme, and are willing to take from you your life, your dignity, and your property, as well as anything of their desire from your children and your spouse. These predators know the system, and have neither fear nor respect for the law. They are willing to attack us at will, and will attack their chosen victim with speed and violence. All we can do is to be aware, and react without hesitation.

If I know that an attack is imminent and cannot be avoided, I want a rifle, shotgun, or Marine battalion with me. The small pistol is not my first choice, but like most of us, a small pistol is what I will most likely have available when an attack comes my way. Going about our daily lives, most of us cannot carry a shotgun or rifle at all times, so we do as citizens have done for decades; we carry a handgun that can always be with reach. Should a fight come our way, there will be no time for preparation. We must always be prepared as well as we can be, and still be able to work and function in our daily lives. When the fight comes, we can only react to the attack, and the reaction must be both swift and precise.

At Gunsite, they teach people to fight with a handgun. They also have rifle and shotgun classes, but teaching us how to effectively bring a pistol into a fight is their forte. Weapon handling is every bit as important as accuracy. We must be able to quickly and accurately bring our handgun, whichever handgun that we choose to carry, into the fight. Accurately placing our bullets is very important, but unless we can get that weapon out of the holster or pocket and on target quickly, we will never get the chance to pull the trigger. Gunsite teaches folks how to bring the weapon into the fight, under stress, and also in the dark.

Most gunfights take place at night, and that beautiful set of precisely machined Patridge sights on your prize pistol will be invisible at night. A good target sight will allow me to really show off my marksmanship skills deliberately firing upon a paper target at a well-lighted range, but as the sun sets and the predators come out to ply their trade, or when confronted in a dark parking garage, target sights are of little use. In such a situation, a good flashlight like any of the Surefire line is of great value for target identification and shot placement. We received very good instruction on a variety of flashlight techniques from the Gunsite instructors, and the Surefire lights worked without fail.

XS Sights brought some of their Big Dot Express sights to Gunsite. I have used these sights for many years, and in good light, that big white dot allows the shooter to get on target quickly. In low light, the center of the Big Dot has a tritium insert that is very visible and easy to get on target.

Another great aid to shooting at night is the Crimson Trace Lasergrip or Laserguard laser. As I have stated before, I will not carry a firearm for self defense that does not have a Crimson Trace Laser attached. I hear detractors of lasers offer excuses like “the batteries could go out on you”, and other such nonsense. Certainly, batteries do expend their energy over time, just as ammunition is worthless after it has been fired. I have a CT laser on my pocket handgun that has been on there for over three years, and I test the laser twice everyday; before it goes into my pocket in the morning, and again when it is put away at night. It always works. If the laser starts to go dim, which it likely will in another couple of years, I will spend two bucks for fresh batteries. However, while on that subject, Crimson Trace will send new replacement batteries at no charge, for as long as you own your CT Laser. Anyway, my point is, that the laser is less likely to cause a problem than a bad magazine, or a bad cartridge. The CT laser is a very reliable unit, and I trust them daily. At Gunsite, the value of the Crimson Trace Lasergrip was proven at night. While the lasers also worked very well in bright Arizona sun during the daytime, they owned the night. We were all using the excellent Surefire compact flashlights at night, but even so, the lasers still allowed those of us who were using them to outperform those who had no Crimson Trace units on their weapons. In fact, the instructors handicapped the laser users by making us go for headshots instead of body shots. The point was really driven home for me, that the Crimson Trace lasers helped me to shoot faster and with much greater accuracy than I could without. I was a believer going in, but left there after the night shoot not only a disciple, but a proselyte for the use of high quality laser sights for defensive use.

The Gunsite instructors also schooled us on the skill of bringing the weapon to bear from concealment, considering how each of us might carry the weapon upon our bodies. The Woolrich folks were kind enough to supply us with clothing that was both casual and tactical. Many folks train wearing clothing that might be better suited for an urban SWAT Team. That is perfectly fine, if that is the way you dress everyday. However, I am a believer that one should train wearing what he or she wears everyday. If your job requires you to wear a suit and tie everyday, then you should train wearing a suit and tie, to become accustomed to naturally bringing your weapon into the fight from that type of clothing. If you are a lady who wears a skirt everyday, you should train wearing a skirt. I wear Wranglers and a T-Shirt ninety-nine percent of the time, so that is what I wear while training. It just makes sense. The clothes that Woolrich provided could be worn by most of us without calling attention to the fact that we are going heeled. The pants did not have seventeen billowed pockets, but looked like casual, everyday pants. Same with the shirts. They had magnetic buttons in front and Velcro sides for quick access to the weapon, but looked just like an everyday printed shirt. That type of dress would work well for many of us. Not me, as I don’t dress that way, but the Woolrich clothing is great for the majority of folks, and draws no attention at all to the fact that you are packing.

Anyway, back to the reason that we were there. Small pistols and revolvers are what most of us carry daily, as they are lightweight, easy to conceal, and can always be within reach. There were concerns that the short barrels of these compact weapons would not provide the power to reliably do the job, so Dave Biggers of XS Sights and Biggers Consulting arranged to have some ballistic gelatin testing done. Even from the short barrels, the Remington Golden Saber ammunition achieved enough velocity for reliable expansion and penetration, even after the bullets first passed through clothing of various sorts, such as denim and down. From the 380 Auto, the 9x19mm, and the 38 Special, expansion in ballistic gelatin was perfect, as can be seen in the picture. Penetration was also ideal in the gelatin. However, while ballistic gelatin is good, it does not directly relate to how a bullet will behave in flesh, skin, and bone. It is only a comparison, and is one of the best media available which offers consistency. While the bullets behaved perfectly in the tests, always keep shooting until the threat is over.

The pistols that were available for shooting offered a good selection from the four manufacturers. I had fired samples of all of them before, except for the new Sig 290, and was glad to get the opportunity to fire that one for the first time. I also fired some pistols which were very familiar to me, such as the Ruger LC9 and SR9c, and the S&W M&P9c. These are all dandy pistols, and easy to conceal. Besides the 9mm pistols, Beretta brought out a 32 ACP Alley Cat, which is the Tomcat, but factory-equipped with the XS Big Dot tritium sight system. I asked Lain Harrison of Crimson Trace to attach one of his Laserguard lasers, and it made the little Alley Cat very easy to use on targets out to fifteen yards.

It was a fun and informative trip to Gunsite. I have been shooting for around forty years, but still pick up something useful to help my speed or accuracy every time I go to Gunsite. The instructors are well-qualified, and can offer good instruction, no matter what level shooter you are. It makes no sense to spend money for a quality firearm, if you do not know how to use it to the best of your ability. A week-long class at Gunsite is money well-spent.

Remember, the gun you will use to save your life is the one which you can reach, immediately.

Check out Gunsite Academy online at
For a closer look at the small pistols we put through the ringer at Gunsite, go to,,, and

For more information on the Remington Golden Saber handgun ammunition, go to

For more information on the XS Big Dot Express sights, go to

To order the superb Crimson Trace Lasergrip or Laserguard online, go to

Check out Galco's line of gun leather online at

To look at the extensive line of quality Woolrich clothing, go to

For more information on some of the best flashlights on the planet, go to

Jeff Quinn

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Gunsite's trademark Raven welcomes visitors to the facility.



Il Ling New instructing on the topic of weapon handling.



Rangemaster Charlie McNeese pulled the triggers for the ballistic gelatin penetration tests.



Alicia Lin of Surefire helped with the penetration depth measuring.



From the short barrels of the compact pistols, 9mm Remington Golden Saber exhibited perfect penetration and expansion through clothing and into ballistic gelatin.



Left to right: 380 ACP, 38 Special, and 9x19mm Remington Golden Saber hollowpoint ammo after firing through clothing into ballistic gelatin.