I just returned from a writer’s junket, visiting the Walther and Umarex factories in Germany. While I had a good time, and it was very interesting, as usual for these kinds of trips we had a lot of down time. We got to talking, and gunwriters being gunwriters, the topics were usually guns.
Caleb Giddings (from GunUp and the first season of Top Shot) was there, and he and I both shoot USPSA and 3-Gun. Somehow the conversation turned to the accuracy of handguns. Personally I think accuracy is overrated in defensive handguns; they need to be accurate enough to put all their shots in a head-sized target at 25 yards, and anything better than that is gravy. Caleb is the exact opposite of me—he stated he won’t carry a pistol that won’t shoot a 2” group or better at 25 yards.
“What do you carry?” I asked him, envisioning some sort of custom 1911 from Ed Brown or Wilson Combat.
“A 2” J-frame,” he told me.
After a long pause, I said, “Ahhhh.” And then we launched into another long discussion about inherent versus what I’ll call “practical” accuracy.
Revolvers, with their fixed barrels (and the sights directly affixed to them) are inherently more accurate than semi-autos. Even J-frames with their short stubby barrels, if you lock them into a vise/Ransom Rest, can usually 2” groups at 25 yards. However, shooting them offhand, they are hard as hell to shoot fast and/or accurately at ANY distance.
Shooting a J-frame up to its accuracy potential is darn near impossible for most people, for several reasons. First, the sights are usually basic at best. Second, the distance between the front and rear sight (what is referred to as the ‘sight radius’ even though it’s not a radius) is very short. This short distance makes it not only harder to aim, but harder to keep on target while you pull the trigger. Last of all, you’ve got the trigger pull. In a defensive situation you’re not going to be cocking the hammer with each shot (if you even can, many snubbies are DAO). Long and/or heavy trigger pulls make it harder to shoot any gun accurately.
What I’m calling “practical accuracy” of a handgun, on the other hand, is a mostly subjective evaluation of how easy is it to shoot that gun accurately under real world or field conditions, i.e. offhand. Most people, myself included, can shoot a rattle-trap Glock 19 much more accurately than they can a snubnose revolver, even though the latter is inherently more accurate.
Even if, when locked into a ransom rest they display the same accuracy, big guns with light triggers and highly visible sights are easier to shoot more accurately offhand than small guns with heavy trigger pulls.
This is why I always test guns for accuracy using a sandbag as a rest, my own trigger finger, and my eyes. That way I can, to some degree, evaluate both the inherent and practical accuracy of the gun, including the trigger pull and quality/utility of the sights.