One of the best parts about being a gunwriter is the ability to see and shoot guns before they are available to the general public. For me, it’s always a thrill to see what’s new in firearms. I had the opportunity to do just that at the Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous. The venue offers shots a distances ranging from 15 yards to more than a mile. And we get to test the newest guns to hit the market. After thousands of round downrange, here’s my take on the best concealed carry pistols tested at Rendezvous.
Best Concealed Carry Pistols Tested at Rendezvous
Smith & Wesson M&P EZ Shield
Smith & Wesson continues to enjoy success from their M&P EZ Shields. Similar in appearance, Smith & Wesson redesigned the EZ line since the originals. The upgrades improve the internal hammer to enable manually racking the slide with up to 30-percent less resistance. This makes the line extremely appealing to those who might have diminished hand strength. S&W has even chambered an EZ Shield for the brand new Federal .30 Super Carry cartridge. The defensive round produces 9mm-like ballistics but with a smaller diameter bullet. That means more rounds fit in the magazine.
I spoke with Vince Perreault, S&W’s Director of Marketing, about the new Shield Plus chambered for the cartridge. The Super Carry holds 16 rounds of ammo compared to 13 in the same gun in 9mm. That’s three additional rounds without increasing the size of the gun. This gun is also optics-ready, and that adds a degree of versatility for CCW use.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Metal
The decision makers at S&W also realize that many people don’t necessarily want a polymer-framed pistol. 2022 marked the introduction of the S&W M&P9 M2.0 Metal. Identical in almost every way to the original M&P polymer-framed gun, it now comes with a machined aluminum frame. There’s just something reassuring about the gun’s 18-percent weight increase. It obviously helps control felt recoil much more. It’s also no slouch in the accuracy department either producing groups under 1.3 inches at 25 yards! (smith-wesson.com)
Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro
Springfield Armory continues to impress me with their Hellcat line. New in 2022, the Hellcat Pro adds length and height to the gun. Boasting a 15+1 capacity with its flush-fit magazine, the Hellcat Pro provides shooters with a more controllable defense pistol. The longer slide and its mass help take a bite out of the muzzle flip. Combined with the longer grip frame, it makes shooting hotter defensive loads more manageable. It also gives the user a longer sight radius for better accuracy and proves easier to manually cycle the slide.
The gun possesses a more natural balance, while the extended grip still measures just 1-inch in width. It also offers an option for an optics-ready slide. Possessing a tremendously crip striker-fired trigger, the Hellcat Pro may deliver the perfect carry gun for those not wanting a micro-compact.
Springfield Armory Ronin EMP
I talked to Springfield Armory’s Steve Kramer, VP of Marketing, about the new Ronin EMP. “EMP stands for Enhanced Micro Pistol, and instead of taking a 1911 gun and chambering it for 9mm, we sized the gun down to the cartridge and it is proprietary to Springfield Armory,” Kramer said. “We’ve had the EMP in our line-up for some time, but the new Ronin EMP shares styling from the 1911 full-size line with its blued slide and stainless frame.” Springfield offers these little 1911s with both 3- and 4-inch barrels, and prices start around $849. If you’re a fan of the 1911 but find it just too big for concealed carry, the new Ronin EMP may meet your needs! (springfield-armory.com)
Mossberg’s director of media relations, Linda Powell, attended this year’s Rendezvous. An industry veteran, she has been my go-to contact at Mossberg for longer than either of us care to remember. This year Linda brought along some samples of the MC2c, a compact size, polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm. Since its introduction, Mossberg has made some subtle changes to the MC2 platform to better suit consumer needs. The slide cut follows the Shield RMS footprint for adding a micro-red dot. The cut’s depth allows co-witnessing with the MC2c’s iron sights.
According to Powell, the MC2c comes with two magazines: a flush fit 14-round mag and an extended 16-round magazine. Mossberg machines both the slide and barrel from stainless steel then applies a DLC coating for a tough, resistant finish. The gun has a comfortable 1911 grip angle and a flat-faced trigger and reversible magazine catch for southpaws. With a retail price around $600, the Mossberg MC2c offers shooter plenty of value for the money! (mossberg.com)
Walther showed their brand-new PDP-F Series gun to us at Rendezvous. Designed specifically for those with smaller hands, the PDP-F will find favor with women and me! Marketed to women, I found the grip the most comfortable of any of the Walther guns; it also shot very, very well. Guys, don’t let Walther’s marketing scare you from trying the gun. Chris Long, Walther’s communications and content manager, walked me through the new gun. “The new PDP-F model comes in a 4-inch and 3.5-inch barrel lengths and it is optics-ready.
“This model also has the Performance Duty Trigger in it, replaceable backstraps and duty sights,” Long said. “We wanted to do everything possible to make it easier for women to shoot, so we reduced the grip diameter and set the trigger back to reduce reach, and we’ve made it easier to rack the slide.” The gun boasts a magazine capacity of 15+1 and has a suggested retail price of just $699, without the red dot. (waltherarms.com)
Canik USA continues to rack up win after win providing American shooters with affordable, Turkish-manufactured guns that are capable of winning the highest echelons of competition–like Nils Jonasson did this past year with a Canik Rival to best over 400 other shooters at the USPSA Carry Optics Nationals. Using the Rival, a polymer-framed, striker-fired gun, chambered in 9mm with an optics mounting plate, Canik USA’s team captain, Jonasson, proves you don’t need a gun costing several thousand dollars to win a championship! New for 2023 is the Rival-S, basically the same gun with a frame machined from a steel forging supplying the shooter with a gun 30-percent heavier. Each one of those additional ounces soaks up felt recoil.
With a suggested retail price under $900, extras include a hard case, three magazines, backstraps, optic plates to handle nearly every popular micro red dot as well as cleaning tools and a holster! Wow! While it may be a little too big for everyday concealed carry, I am certain there are those who will enjoy the accuracy and reliability of a full-size service gun. I, however, am not one of them. That’s why the next gun Canik USA’s Adam Ruonala showed me may just become my newest and most favorite carry piece!
Canik METE MC9
“This is our newest Canik,” said Ruonala, holding the tiny METE MC9 between his thumb and forefinger. “It has just a 1-inch width, about 4 inches in overall length and a capacity of 12 rounds using the flush fit magazine and 15+1 with the extended magazine designed to give the shooter a full firing grip on the gun. You can see that the extended magazine’s base plate is textured to match the front strap. The slide has been cut for a Shield RMS footprint, and that gives the user many micro red dots to choose from. We also fit the gun with high sights so the user can co-witness through their micro red dot.
The magazine release is reversible, and the gun is fitted with bi-lateral slide releases, so the MC9 is southpaw friendly. Like all the other Caniks, it possesses a very crisp trigger with a firm reset. The gun comes with the two magazines already mentioned and three backstraps to individualize the gun to the shooter’s hand. Also included is a holster that can be used for IWB and OWB carry! Here’s the best part, retail will be under $400! (canikusa.com)
Wilson Combat SFT9
There’s a certain segment of our society that has more disposable income than the rest of us blue-collared Patriots, and I begrudge them nothing! Because at some point in time they gambled everything they had, including money and hard work, to provide better for their family. God bless them! For these folks Wilson Combat’s SFT9 may be the best suited pick for CCW carry. I got to know this particular gun while putting together the Ballistic Best feature on 1911s. I found the gun to be incredibly accurate, unfailingly reliable, and my test gun possessed the nicest trigger of any 1911 I have ever pressed. At Rendezvous I had the opportunity to speak with my old friend Guy Joubert, a longtime Wilson Combat employee who actually uses the SFT9 for Custom Carry Pistol (CCP) IDPA competition.
“We have TRAK pattern texturing on the front and rear straps of the gun that provide the shooter with a no-slip grip,” Joubert said. “We use a traditional round top slide with an internal extractor and dovetail the sights. The aluminum frame is machined with no grip panels necessary, and this helps reduce the gun’s girth. Thumb safety, slide stop and magazine release are all in the original 1911 positions. One departure is that we’ve eliminated the grip safety. We still have a beavertail style tang to protect the shooters hand, and there is no worry about a thumb high grip not disengaging the safety. We serrate the top of the slide and rear of the slide and give the slide’s dust cover ball cuts; we also cut cocking serrations very deep so the shooter can get a good grip when manually racking it.
Joubert continued: “We use a 4.25-inch top end–most people call it a Commander length. We outfit the gun with a supported, match-grade, stainless-steel barrel and bushing. Wilson flutes the exterior of the chamber to give it more surface area, allowing it to cool more quickly. It also gives dirt and grime a place to go that might otherwise tie up the gun. We also counter sink the slide stop because we think it looks nice, but also gives the user the ability to push it out of the frame from the right side.”
I had an SFT9 for full evaluation prior to our Rendezvous. With six different 9mm ammunitions, my aggregate group size at 25 yards was just 1.15 inches! Price for the Wilson Combat SFT9 starts at $3,100 and can go up depending on options. While it is presently out of my budget, it is a gun so nice that every 1911 fan should aspire to own one! It will be money well-spent! (wilsoncombat.com)
Taurus’s Caleb Giddings introduced me to their new GX4XL. The GX4 was launched last year, and the gun’s immediate popularity inspired Taurus to introduce the XL model this year. “It uses the same size frame and grip, but we use a longer slide on it,” Giddings said. “The longer slide and barrel give the shooter more sight radius if they’re shooting iron sights and gives them more recoil control. This gun comes with a flush-fit 11-round magazine and a 13-round mag with an extended baseplate that matches the frontstrap to give the shooter a full firing grip on the gun.” With an optics mounting plate, the Taurus GX4XL has a suggested retail price of just $469.99, and that is a heck of a deal! (taurususa.com)
SAR-USA brought out their popular SAR9 C Turkish-manufactured ,striker-fired, polymer-framed guns. The SAR reps claim the gun is already in use with Turkish military and police and that the gun has been tested exhaustively. Each pistol ships with three backstraps to individualize the gun to its shooter. Its 20-degree grip angle also makes the SAR9 a natural pointer and makes it easy to control recoil. Boasting a forged steel slide and barrel, the gun also has railed dust cover and manual safety, as well as a trigger blade safety. Retailing for less than $500, the SAR9 deserves a strong look from anyone looking for a polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm! (sarusa.com)
ZEV Technologies OZ9 Compact
Matt Hancock from ZEV Technologies introduced me to their new OZ9 Compact pistol. “This gun features a shorter top end and our full-size X grip in Flat Dark Earth color and our Pro Magwell. It comes with our curved trigger though most of our firing modules and features a flat-faced trigger. Really just a matter of personal preference. The OZ9 has exclusive slide sculpting with deep slide serrations fore and aft.
“There is an optics plate that when removed allows the shooter to direct mount any micro red dot, with an RMR footprint, to the gun’s slide,” Hancock said. “And the slide is PVD coated in FDE color. Barrels feature a ‘machine gun chamber’ and a DLC coating to ensure a long life of hard use. The polymer frame has a slightly longer tang to prevent slide bite.” I had a chance to fire several magazines of ammo through the OZ9 Compact and found it to be the best balanced polymer gun on the range! Of course, the modularity of the ZEV design begs for customization–whether it is a threaded barrel for suppressor use or custom color theme. Suggested retail for this super slick carry gun is right around $1,800! (zevtech.com)
These guns were the highlights of my trip to the Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous and my picks for best concealed carry pistols! We continue to strive to bring our readers the latest news from the firearms industry!