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Is the Caracal dead in the water?

I've been a little hesitant to talk about the woes of the Caracal pistol, largely because it's a gun I really like. Why? Well, for starters it’s just a nice gun to shoot! That’s largely due to the incredibly low bore axis and well designed grip.

How low is that bore? I’ll put it this way: it's the only gun since the HK P7 which gives me what I call the "Monitor feeling", in reference to the Civil war ship that carried its bulk below the waterline and left only a short turret with a gun poking above the surface. It seems like the barrel itself is sitting on top of my fingers with just the sights peeking up out of my hand. That low bore axis makes for reduced muzzle flip and perceived recoil, enabling one to shoot faster at any given level of precision.

More importantly to me, the Caracal’s grip is small enough and the trigger reach short enough that it fits my hands like the proverbial glove. I can actually get my stubby mitts around the gun and reach the trigger, which is something I can’t do even on a Glock 19. That’s a major advantage for me!

Shooting the Caracal was one of the more pleasant experiences I've had in recent years and its handling alone was enough to make me like the pistol. What clinched the deal for me was the apparent reliability: the one I shot had over 10,000 rounds through it since last being cleaned, with not one reported malfunction. (This was a gun that Rob Pincus was using in his classes one last year's PDN Spring Training Tour so I know for a fact it hadn't been cleaned. You could tell by the gritty feeling as the slide reciprocated!)

Unfortunately time has not been good to the folks at Caracal. First they recalled the pistols because of a potential for not being drop safe. Caracal USA promised fast repair or replacement of the affected guns, and
according to Robert Farago over at The Truth About Guns they've had his for over 160 days. That's not what I'd call fast turnaround, and there’s no end in sight.

That was bad enough, but now comes the news that one of their guns suffered a catastrophic failure of the slide, one which they admit resulted in injuries to the shooter. They've issued a second recall for this issue even though they haven't finished the first. Who knows how long this will take? Will Caracal owners ever get their guns back?

It's too bad, but because of these issues I've crossed the Caracal off my personal purchase list. You see, I'm in the market for a new compact autoloading pistol and the Caracal seemed perfect for my small hands. My second favorite gun, the Steyr S9-A1, is out of the running simply because they don't make full capacity magazines for the things - 10 rounds is the limit, in a gun that's exactly the same size as a Glock 19 and whose magazines are actually slightly bigger than the Glock.

I've looked at the XD and the M&P and frankly just can't get all that excited about either. I'm now seriously considering just picking up another Glock 19 (my wife carries one, and that would give us magazine and spare parts commonality) and doing a grip reduction on it.

Not myself, of course; can anyone out there seriously imagine me working on a plastic gun?? I'll send it to
someone who knows how to do the job properly, like Lou Biondo.

The Caracal, as much as I like it, now garners a "not recommended" from me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Revolver malfunctions, Part Four.

Very often an autoloader fails to function as a result of design. The reciprocation of the slide is governed by a combination of spring pressure, cartridge power, and system friction. The parameters inside which that system operates are actually pretty narrow, and it's a testament to both design and care of manufacture that today's modern autoloading pistols work as well as they do - which is to say, generally very well. Short of a non-externally-caused catastrophic parts failure (which is quite rare for either autos or revolvers), today's autoloading pistols are fairly reliable. Still, design-induced failures will occasionally occur.

The revolver, being powered by the operator and a very mature technology to boot, doesn't usually suffer failures directly related to its design. It is a very fault tolerant system, and given a modicum of maintenance (including attention paid to screws) it will continue to operate under relatively harsh conditions.

The major exception is the S&W internal locking mechanism, which has been reported to self-engage in some cases. I've written about this on numerous occasions; some people opine that it isn't an issue, but I've collected many first-person accounts of inadvertent activation of the lock that renders the gun useless. It's sufficiently common that I recommend not using a revolver so equipped for self defense.

Ruger's revolvers do have a pronounced false reset in their trigger system, causing many users to short-stroke their triggers and momentarily tie up the gun. This is, as I've mentioned, more a training issue than a design flaw, but occurs more often with their guns than any other. Design flaw? You could make the case either way, so I'll mention it here.

The propensity for Colt revolvers to break firing pins might be considered a design flaw, and I'd probably agree with that assessment, but the problem is easily avoided by the use of snap-caps during dry fire.

Save for the aforementioned Colt firing pin issue, parts failures in revolvers are very rare. Other than things like hammer spurs being broken from impact or cylinders being blown apart by faulty handloads, broken parts are few and far between. The only major exception that occurs to me is the hammer block safety in very recent Smith & Wesson "J" frame revolvers (those with external hammers only - the shrouded hammer Centennial series does not have that part.) This part is relatively thin and S&W decided to make it with the MIM (metal injection molding) process.

I’ve written previously about my opinions of MIM parts (I'm OK with them), but this particular part was a very bad engineering choice. Long, thin objects are not good candidates for MIM production, and S&W engineers should have known that. They break with some frequency and can tie up the gun. Again, the Centennials don't have that part and as a result are preferred for a defensive arm.

That's it for my more-or-less comprehensive look at revolver malfunctions. Maintain your revolver properly, feed it reasonably decent ammunition, and it is quite unlikely to ever fail you!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Revolver malfunctions, Part Two.

In the first installment we looked at revolver malfunctions caused by ammunition. (I've edited that entry to consider dirty ammunition, which can also cause stoppages. I recommend that you go back and re-read it for that discussion.) It's important to note that ammunition failures are not the fault of the revolver and they're not unique to the revolver (they happen to autoloaders too.) They do, however, account for the majority of revolver failures and thus must be understood and dealt with.

The autoloader shooter who gleefully points at an ammunition-induced stoppage as "proof" that "revolvers break too" is not terribly discerning, for these are common malfunctions which can occur to any gun (including rifles and shotguns.) I used to try to educate such people, but now I just shake my head and go about my business. (Sometimes, in a fit of enlightened self-interest, I suggest that they buy my book. It may not help them, but it sure makes me feel good!)

Today we're going to consider the second most common cause of revolver malfunctions: user maintenance. I've often said that the revolver is quite tolerant of neglect compared to the autoloader, and it is; a revolver that sits in a nightstand for several decades will usually function enough to discharge the rounds in its cylinder, while an autoloader similarly treated usually will not. However, if the user performs maintenance poorly the revolver can suffer premature failures, ones that its fault-tolerant design would otherwise shrug off.

The major maintenance issue is simply making sure the gun stays reasonably clean. Far too many people spend inordinate amounts of time getting the last little speck of dirt out of the barrel - an objective which is both difficult to meet and of no importance. It's better instead to settle for "good enough" in terms of barrel cleanliness, and spend the freed time attending to other parts of the gun. (I should point out that if the barrel is leaded, time should be spent to remove all traces of the lead fouling. That is something which cannot be allowed to remain, as the lead will build up again when fired. If you do not shoot lead bullets, this will not be an issue.)

The cylinder window in the frame should be thoroughly cleaned, as should the underside of the extractor (star) and the recess into which it fits.

The lubricants used on the gun can have a dramatic affect on function when the gun is stored for any length of time. Never, EVER use WD-40 on any gun! The stuff dries to a sticky goo in short order, and can gum up any gun - even a revolver. I've lost count of the number of revolvers I've opened up that had the telltale WD-40 shellac, and there's no reason for it. DON'T USE WD-40 ON YOUR GUNS!

Finally, part of maintenance is checking the gun's physical and mechanical condition. Check all screws and firmly tighten any loose ones. On S&W and Colt revolvers, check that the ejector rod is tight; this is especially important for S&W guns, as even a slight loosening can bind the cylinder very tightly. On a Colt, it's usually more of a nuisance. If a S&W rod is found loose, it's best to drop into the local gunsmith and have him tighten it with the special tool made for the purpose; a pliers will simply mar the ejector rod and may even deform it enough to require replacement. While you're there, make sure he puts some thread locker on it (either LocTite #222 Low-Yield or Vibra-Tite VC-3; I strongly favor the latter.) That's also a good idea for the screws.

A timing problem that results in the gun being unshootable is, I believe, a user maintenance issue because it's both predictable and preventable. The revolver should be checked frequently for proper timing; if you don't know how to do so, there are many resources online that will give you instructions. (I keep promising myself that I'll make a video of the procedure, and someday I will, but in the interim I'll suggest that you let Google show you the way.) I've written many times that Colt revolvers are more sensitive to timing errors, and Colt owners need to be more vigilant and precise about this than owners of other revolvers. If there is a timing issue, get it fixed immediately instead of shooting it!

Next Monday we'll look at malfunctions initiated by the shooter while the gun is in use. There aren't many.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Revolver malfunctions, Part One.

I received an email last week, a sort of complaint that I don't write much about revolvers any longer. Well, I wrote an entire book - isn't that enough?? OK, OK, you win - let's talk about revolver malfunctions.

I've mentioned before, in more than one venue, that the revolver typically will have a longer mean time between failure than an autoloader (we're talking unique failures, which automatically discounts those due to ammunition problems - which can affect either platform equally.)

The usual response from the uninitiated is "well, I've seen revolvers fail too!" I've tackled this specific inanity before, but suffice it to say that there is a heapin' helpin' of confirmation bias at work in that type of statement. It's a grade school playground argument.

Still, there are failures that can happen to a revolver and it's important to understand what they are and how they can be prevented.

The possible failures can be classified in roughly decreasing order of frequency: 1) ammunition irregularities, 2) maintenance related problems, 3) user-initiated malfunctions, and 4) actual mechanical or design failures.

The last category, save for one specific case, is frankly quite rare with revolvers. Design and functional failures are more common with autoloaders, which is really my point: revolver malfunctions are avoidable to a greater degree than autoloader malfunctions.

Let's start at the top: ammunition failures usually boil down to high primers and squib loads, and both are almost always the result of handloaded ammunition. That isn't to say that they can't happen with factory ammo, only that I've personally never seen the case where they were. (I'm not going to talk about catastrophic over-pressure failures, those where the gun is destroyed, as they go well beyond “malfunction”!)

High primers can jam the cylinder rotation by taking up the small area between the case head and the breechface, and usually require a good "whack" to get the cylinder open. A high primer on an unfired round can be avoided by checking the ammunition before use (simply open the box and run your finger down the rows; a high primer can be easily felt.)

Those that occur after firing are usually the result of a too-light load. The primer is usually forced backwards out of the primer pocket by the pressure in the case, but normally the recoil of the cartridge against the breechface reseats the primer and allows it to pass. Light loads often will not generate enough recoil to do so.

Squib loads are the bane of revolvers and autos alike, as they can result in severe damage to the gun. A squib is a load with an insufficient (or non-existent) powder charge, which is insufficient to drive the bullet out of the barrel. Squib loads are always a possibility with any ammo, though I've never seen one that wasn't the result of handloading.

A squib which pushes the bullet into the bore but not clear of the muzzle is a danger if a full-power round is fired behind it. The least that will happen is a bulged (ruined) barrel; the worst is a catastrophic cylinder failure. Bullets lodged in the barrel occur most often with jacketed bullets and very light loads; jacketed slugs offer more frictional resistance than do plain lead, and need to be loaded to higher velocities to reliably clear the barrel. Jacketed bullets should never be used with light loads.

When the squib is the result of no powder at all the bullet often ends up stuck in the forcing cone with part of it still in the cylinder. This is actually the preferred squib, as the gun won't fire another round because the cylinder won't turn! This type of squib is easily rectified by tapping the slug back into the cylinder with a cleaning rod, then opening the cylinder and clearing the chamber.

Ammunition which does not burn completely, leaving powder flakes in the barrel and cylinder, can (and often will) cause a stoppage. The unburnt flakes can get under the extractor star, which keeps it from fully retracting. The effect is much like a high primer and is dealt with similarly. Unlike the high primer, this problem will recur immediately unless the extractor is cleaned, and repeatedly until the ammunition problem is sorted out.

If you’re a handloader, you should pay attention to your powder and be vigilant for unburned flakes. Sometimes this is a function of an insufficient crimp, so make sure that the rounds are firmly crimped. Some powders, however, just don’t work well in the low-density loads typically encountered with large revolver cases. The solution is to pick a powder that gives a higher load density or doesn’t mind low densities. This often means a slightly slower-burning powder, thought not always.

For instance, I’ve found that Hodgdon Universal Clays is a superb, clean-burning powder for the 9mm Luger cartridge (or any autoloading cartridge, actually) but will not burn completely in a standard-pressure .38 Special. (Don’t even bother with the .44 Special!) For that reason I switched to Alliant Red Dot for the Specials, which burns far more cleanly in the bigger cases. In fact, I’ve found all of the “Dot” powders to be very clean.

On Wednesday we'll look at user and maintenance failures.

-=[ Grant ]=-

One of my cardinal rules.

Years back I remember being taught never to shoot someone else's reloads. I violated that rule only once, when I bought some "factory reloads" from a vendor at a gun show. Luckily I didn't damage anything with the shoddy 9mm fodder, but I still have the remainder -- in a sealed ammo can labeled "Dangerous Ammo - Do Not Shoot!" -- somewhere in the garage.

That cemented my rule: no reloads that I didn't make, not even one round. Why?
Because you don't know if that one round came from this guy's reloading press.

Could I accidentally make a reload that achieves a similar level of destruction? Yes, but I know what my reloading precautions are; I take great pains to make sure that the ammo I reload is safe. No matter how well I might know the person proffering his handiwork, I have no idea if his attention to detail is similarly sufficient to keep me out of the emergency room.

I once knew a fellow who was a great guy. Well educated, important white collar job, meticulous in everything he did. One day he took some of his reloaded ammo to the range with two guns, a Glock and a Hi-Power. His first magazine blew up the gun, at which point he switched guns and proceeded to blow it up, too. No matter how bright people may be in the rest of their lives, sometimes they're just not cut out to make ammunition.

Neither you nor I want to be one of their "oopsies". If you didn't make it, or it didn't come from a well known factory, don't risk it in your gun.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Someone sent me
this link to a tale of a Ruger Redhawk whose barrel had parted company from the frame. It's an old story; not this particular occurrence, but the problem in general.


Seems that a certain Canadian manufacturer of simulated munitions now has some competition. I've always disliked the existing company's elitist insistence on only selling to police and military buyers, and Speer, the maker of the new product, looks to change that. Their new product,
Force On Force, will be sold not just to the public sector but to "professional instructors" as well. They've even got portable enclosed shoothouses available! Cool stuff from a solid, responsible AMERICAN company. (Thanks to Fear & Loading for the tip!)


DPMS was apparently the prime sponsor for a match called the "Tri-Gun Challenge", which was recently cancelled. What's interesting isn't the match, but rather
why it isn't going to happen this year. The range on which it was to be held was slapped with an order prohibiting the firing of handguns on the property. When the range/club was founded 30 years ago, they allowed all kinds of guns to be shot. In 1995 they were issued a conditional use permit for a trap and rifle range, and their neighbors apparently are alleging that the shooting of handguns violates that permit!

This is hardly unusual. My wife and I belonged to a gun club a few years back, a club which had been in existence since 1952. The conditional use permit under which we operated stated that no camping was allowed. Once a year, however, the Boy Scouts used the club facilities for a two day shooting party, with a sleepover the intervening night. The kids camped out in the classroom, but a couple of the den mothers brought camping trailers (for obvious reasons.) One particularly nosy neighbor, a recent transplant from another state, spotted the trailers and notified the county. We were hit with a similar order for violating the CUP.

People with an irrational fear of guns will always find a way to cause problems. Don't believe for an instant that because we won in the Supreme Court, the gun prohibitionists have been defeated.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ruger go 'boom'.

And not in a good way.

My morning perusal of The Firearm Blog's RSS feed uncovered
this entry about a Ruger LCR that suffered a catastrophic failure. I generally agree with the concept of a timing error, though of course there are other possibilities.

I lean toward the timing theory because of my own observations. I've not yet been able to take an LCR apart, but I have handled quite a few. In this admittedly small sample I've noticed that the gun's timing is later than normal, meaning that the cylinder locks up very close to the point that the sear releases. Since I've not been on the inside of the gun I can't tell whether it's a design or assembly error, but it stands in stark contrast to the way Rugers usually time.

In a typical SP101 or GP100, the cylinder reaches lockup considerably ahead of the sear release. Timing problems with Ruger revolvers are unusual compared to a S&W or a Colt, which makes those LCRs that I've seen definitely stand out. It would not be outside the realm of possibility to get one that is actually out of time, perhaps enough to cause this kind of a failure.

With such a radical new design it's always prudent to proceed cautiously. My recommendation to those considering an LCR is to buy it in person, and check the timing before completing the transaction.

-=[ Grant ]=-