By design and general nature, rifles are easy to run. We have multiple points of contact on the gun, a longer sight radius or optics, and the additional weight soaks up recoil. The only thing that makes them more enjoyable is when we chamber them in a pistol caliber. This batch of Ballistic‘s Best Pistol Caliber Carbines brought us joy and lots of pew-pew!
Ballistic’s Best Pistol Caliber Carbines
The advent and growth in the PCC market has been one of the most enjoyable and popular developments in the firearms world in a long time. Running essentially an AR-style platform or another rifle platform in 9mm, for example, is simply a blast. There is minimal recoil, and the guns are fast and accurate. Because of this growing sector of our beloved gun world, we thought it appropriate to look at a few new PCCs and run them head-to-head. Our goal was to run them through specific testing criteria, score them and ultimately crown one of our PCCs as Ballistic’s Best. So, we gathered guns from around the country, ammo secured and range time organized. Once all of the massive organizational components were in place, it was time for us to hit the range.
We performed our testing on a warm October day in central Arizona. The crew for the day had a combined almost a half-century of experience. The team included long-time Athlon Outdoors magazine photographer, videographer, writer and shooter Alex Landeen. Alex has been in the industry for well over a decade and has spent as much time training as he does working.
Our second evaluator brought special pride to me this year. My son Ranon Mastison joined the team and shared his 16 years of intense training insights for the project. He has been my protégé since he was a young boy. Being the son of a firearms instructor and gun writer has some benefits. He has assisted me in at least 30 classes and is a content creator for Athon Outdoors as well. As the team leader, I was able to bring my 35 years of training, teaching and evaluating to the table.
The testing parameters are provided to us by the Ballistic editorial staff and are straightforward. Each category covered something that people in the PCC market look for. The scale–set at 0 to 5–opened at 3. That means every gun came in as a 3 and gained or lost points as the evaluation went on. The only major score drop was in the category of sights. A gun arriving without any backup sights automatically took a deduction in score to zero in that category. The rest of the categories, including value, are self-explanatory. For more information, please check out the “Final Scores” chart at the end of the article.
Before jumping in, we need to send a heartfelt thank you to both Hornady and Federal for supplying ammunition for this project. It is no minor thing to send cases of ammo for a project like this, and both of these companies are simply the best kind of people. So, without further delay, let’s look at this year’s contenders in alphabetical order.
After years of refinement of the PMX for military and law enforcement agencies around the globe, Beretta translated the PMX into a semi-automatic pistol variant for civilian and modern sporting applications. The PMXs is a highly reliable and proven direct blow-back design, coupled with modern polymer components to enhance durability and save weight. Packed with versatile features such as fully ambidextrous control for user adaptability, multiple attachment points such as QD and sling mounts, and a ½”-28 tpi threaded barrel for accepting 9mm muzzle devices, it sports a nice 30-round magazine and has a very “sub-gun” feel to it. It is everything we would expect from the good folks at Beretta. (beretta.com)
The Homesteader is a classic rifle design from Henry. It is available in three different models to cater to your 9mm magazine preferences right out of the box thanks to its interchangeable magazine well, providing compatibility for Glock, Sig Sauer and Smith & Wesson M&P magazines. An adjustable, full aperture rear sight and screw-on front post sight help achieve intuitive, quick target acquisition.
For those who prefer illuminated or magnified optics, the drilled and tapped receiver accepts a Weaver 63B base. In close quarters, the Homesteader is highly maneuverable, weighing just 6.6 pounds and under 36 inches in overall length. A reciprocating mass inside the forearm counteracts perceived recoil, enabling faster follow-up on target, inspiring confidence for the recoil sensitive. For even greater control, leather-like texturing on the genuine American walnut stocks and a soft rubber recoil pad provide non-slip contact points. (henryusa.com)
Jacob Grey JG9
Jacob Grey has yet to become a household name, but with guns like the JG9 they are on their way. This blowback AR9 9mm pistol comes with a smooth pistol-length buffer tube and buffer/recoil spring combination tuned to reliably cycle a wide variety of ammunition. The heavy 9mm bolt also helps to increase dwell time and reduce bolt bounce ensuring a safe and smooth feeling action. Jacob Grey’s uniquely designed 9mm checkering not only adds eye-catching appeal, but the reliability and smooth functioning of the billet machined upper makes firing this 9mm pistol a pleasure. What stood out on this gun with all testers was the great trigger. To say it is fast is an understatement. Combined with great fit and finish, the gun is a pleasure to run. (jacobgreyfirearms.com)
Ruger LC Carbine
Ruger was kind enough to provide us with our next contestant, the LC Carbine chambered in 5.7x28mm. This unique PCC features a threaded barrel, ambidextrous manual safety and a reversible magazine release. Based on the Ruger LC Carbine and utilizing the same magazines and controls as the Ruger-5.7 pistol, the LC Carbine combines the best of both platforms.
The 5.7x28mm is a low-recoiling cartridge available in an exciting array of options for target shooting, small game hunting and personal defense. The gun features an M-Lok aluminum free-float handguard with an adjustable hand stop, multiple QD attachment points for slings and a full-length Picatinny rail for optics. The PCC utilizes Ruger’s safe, reliable and proven Secure Action fire-control mechanism that combines a protected internal hammer with a bladed safety trigger that has a short, smooth pull, clean break and positive reset. The nitride-coated alloy steel barrel ½”-28 thread pattern accepts the attachment of standard muzzle accessories. (ruger.com)
Smith & Wesson M&P FPC
The M&P FPC (Folding Pistol Carbine) is a new line inside the M&P family. S&W has taken a different path and has engineered the gun to fold at the base of the barrel. It is a unique design, to say the least. The horizontal folding design doesn’t interfere with top-mounted optics. The lock mechanism for the folding barrel is robust and easy to manipulate. The carbine features a recoil and buffer system integrated into the gun. The stock incorporates built-in magazine storage with a quick-release tab system. The grip position of the gun is pure M&P. In fact, at first glance, it looks like an M&P pistol merged with a rifle.
The FPC has a flat-face trigger with a decent pull on it. To help the FPC be easier to use for both right- and left-handed shooters, it has a reversible magazine catch. Moving up the gun, it has an M-Lok handguard with a Picatinny rail covering the 16.5-inch barrel. The end of the barrel is threaded at ½”-28 to support a suppressor or muzzle device of your choice. The merging of rifle and pistol comes with a dual-sided charging handle that doubles as a retaining device for the barrel when the FPC is folded. (smith-wesson.com)
Springfield Saint Victor 9mm
The SAINT Victor 9mm Carbine is designed to deliver a PCC with all the performance and capabilities you have come to expect from the SAINT Victor line. From its full-length free-floated handguard with ample M-Lok real estate for accessories to its forged upper and lower receivers designed around pistol-caliber cartridges, this 9mm carbine is built to deliver. Featuring a rugged direct blowback system of operation that ensures rock-solid reliability, the SAINT Victor 9mm Carbine feeds from durable steel 32-round Colt- pattern magazines. The quick-handling package is rounded out with a B5 Systems Grip and five-position adjustable stock. This is a seamless evolution in the Saint Victor lineup and the gun is an absolute pleasure to shoot. The gun has great ergonomics, and the inclusion of the hearty metal Colt pattern mag gives it a very serious feel. It was a pleasure to run. (springfieldarmory.com)
When the last round had been fired and we looked at the ocean of brass on the ground, we knew we had been thorough in our testing. Once we packed up, we sat down and began reading extensive notes and computing scores. The competition between the PCCs was incredibly tight with less than half a point between them in many categories. When we crunched the numbers, the scores revealed just who was going to be Ballistic’s Best for 2023. Both in score and in mutual agreement, the winner was the JG9 from Jacob Grey.
This was only the second time I had run a gun from this up-and-coming company and I was impressed. The gun had an exceptional fit and finish. There was a great fit between the upper and lower, and as I mentioned earlier, the trigger was fantastic. The gun would be a hit not only as a personal defense gun but as a competition rifle as well. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other guns that we all thought were exceptional. First was the Ruger LC Carbine. This enjoyable 5.7 gun was fun to shoot. The low recoil and good ergos made it one of our favorites. Lastly, we all really enjoyed the Springfield Saint Victor 9mm. It is everything you would expect from Springfield.
The logistics of running a project like this are complicated beyond measure. However, the honor of being asked to do it trumps any stress and extra work. We sincerely appreciate all the companies that took the time to participate. While we ultimately have only one winner, I would personally be proud to own any of these guns.