In this article, I’ve tried to round up some of the best shooting gear that I’ve worked with in the previous year. If there are nits to pick in the reviews that follow here, I’ll pick ’em—heck, nothing’s perfect, including me—but I’ve selected these products because I consider them among the best of the current crop in their field.
5 Star Firearms Speedloaders
The speedloaders from 5 Star Firearms are catching on. These sturdy, all-metal loaders feature turning knobs like those used in popular HKS speedloaders, though the 5 Star knob turns in the opposite direction to release the cartridges. The loader’s fluted shape helps guide the fingers into position to slide the loader into the revolver if you’re in the dark or your eyes are on the threat in front of you instead of on the revolver you’re reloading. 5 Star Firearms makes them for a variety of wheelguns that other loader manufacturers don’t service, notably the Ruger LCR, which isn’t as compatible with a J-Frame speedloader as it looks.
The 5 Star folks also offer an ingenious metal loading plate that holds an array of cartridges in clusters of five, allowing you to just put the empty loader down on top of them and turn the knob to recharge. It’s very handy for practice, a match or a qualification day. The same plate has a rod that holds the revolver by the barrel, upright in a position from which you can quickly draw the gun from under a store counter or other storage spot. (5starfirearms.com; 847-731-7898)
Blade-Tech Holsters & Magazine Pouches
Synthetic holsters continue to push traditional leather out of the way, and Kydex rules in this field. Blade-Tech makes some of the best Kydex holsters and gear. The company was the first to come out with a security holster for the Ruger American Pistol, and a cop who came to my class with his department’s newly adopted American .45 ACP and this holster proved quite adept with them both. Blade-Tech also provided the scabbards for us gun writers to use at a Ruger seminar at the wonderful FTW Ranch in Texas with the new Ruger American Compact 9mm. I never heard a single complaint. I found the holster extremely fast and “just right” in terms of comfort over several days.
I particularly liked the double Blade-Tech mag pouch that came with the holsters we used. The tension was perfect right out of the package: The magazines stayed secure through all manner of movement, but when I wanted a magazine, it was there, coming swiftly from pouch to gun.
The cut of these Blade-Tech pouches is such that they conceal very well. One neat thing about the way the company shapes each pouch is that the mags will fit equally well with bullet noses forward or backward. I strongly prefer bullet noses forward, but over the years I found one good use for a pouch that can go either way—tactical reloads—where a partial magazine is saved after a full one is quickly swapped into the gun. Old doctrine said to stuff the partially depleted magazine into a pocket, but that’s not always possible when you’re kneeling or crouching behind cover and your pants fabric is drawn too tight to allow anything to go into your pocket.
I trained myself years ago to do a speed reload from the forward cell of a double magazine pouch since that’s the first one the hand comes to, and a lower-priority tactical reload from the rear cell. Now that rear pouch is open to receive the partial magazine, which I stow backwards. This can be accomplished from almost any posture, and since the rear magazine is usually the last one the hand finds, it’s a logical place to stow the last-ditch partial magazine. (blade-tech.com; 877-331-5793)
Buffer Technologies Jetloaders
Not too long ago, my old friend Michael DeBethencourt, who specializes in teaching shooters to use snub-nose revolvers when he’s not teaching self-defense with a knife, turned me on to the fact that Buffer Technologies make its super-fast Jetloader speedloaders for five-shot J-Frame .38s and .357s. These products aren’t new—but they were to me, and I thought I’d pass the word along to those who, like me, missed them before.
The long handle of the Jetloader at first seems incongruous with carrying a deep-concealment gun like a snub-nose revolver. However, I found that the Jetloader fit perfectly in the cell phone pocket of the cargo pants I usually wear on days when I don’t need to wear a suit. The Jetloader is simply the fastest way I’ve found to recharge a five-shot snub-nose’s depleted cylinder.
Remember the pioneering research in the 1970s of master instructor John Farnam, who determined that the average person can fire a double-action revolver at a pace of about four shots per second when going flat out, and an autopistol with a short-reset trigger at five shots per second. With a five-shooter, if things do indeed go flat out, that gives you 1.25 seconds in the fight before you run out of ammo. The ability to reload swiftly makes sense here.
I shot a Back-Up Gun (BUG) match at a local IDPA club and managed to win the revolver class using my well-worn S&W M&P340 with Jetloaders. I didn’t beat the “baby Glocks” in terms of reloading speed, but I managed to be the top revolver shooter. (brownells.com; 800-741-0015)
Crimson Trace LG-350G Lasergrips
Crimson Trace’s latest set of Lasergrips for S&W J-Frame revolvers, the LG-350G, combines comfortable grip panels with a green laser sight. The $399 price might raise an eyebrow, but these Lasergrips are certainly worth it. This is a green laser and, true to the breed, has a much stronger beam with a longer range than traditional red lasers. Generously cushioned along the backstrap, the Lasergrips absorb recoil wonderfully in .38 +P and even .357 Magnum qualification shoots with lightweight guns. My test sample has found a permanent home on my favorite backup gun, Smith & Wesson’s M&P340. This Crimson Trace unit also has the longest battery life of any green laser I’ve tested yet. (crimsontrace.com; 800-442-2406)
Green Force Tactical Holsters
Green Force Tactical is a young company that I and a lot of the shooters I run with have acquired holsters from in the last couple of years. There are a couple of five-gun IDPA Masters on Green Force’s advisory board, and the guys who make these products listen—to them and to their individual customers, including you. They’ll make your holster the way you want it. Rounder edges? Done. No sweat shield because it gets in the way of your grip at the beginning of the draw? Done. You want a particular cant? Done. The quality is top notch. Green Force Tactical even made me a transparent scabbard to show off a fancy engraved 1911. (greenforcetactical.com)
JOX Loader Pouches
I prefer to use JOX Loader Pouches for the day or two a year when a five-shot snubbie is all I’m carrying. Made of Kydex, these pouches hold speedloaders above the belt and tucked tightly into the body, providing good concealment and swift access. You need to rock them forward to clear the Kydex ledge that keeps the loaders from getting knocked out onto the ground inadvertently—an ingenious blend of security and speed. (joxloaderpouches.com; 215-873-1102)
Moon Clip Server
If you rely on revolvers for competition or self-defense, reloading speed can be a liability—until now. The Moon Clip Server is a spring-loaded belt carrier with a small bulkhead on each end that can be set up for left- or right-handed access. Instead of trying to find your next moon clip on your belt for each reload, the spring on the Moon Clip Server automatically slides another full clip of cartridges to the exact spot where you extracted the last one. Thus your hand only has to reach to one particular spot every single time to reload. The price sounds hefty at $150, but if you are seriously vying for awards in ICORE or USPSA matches, I suspect you’ll find that the accumulated time it saves you in multiple fumble-free reloads will make it worth every penny. (moonclipserver.com; 253-549-6093)
Niebling Cleaning Sets
Niebling, a German firm, offers some very handy, compact cleaning kits. Most of us keep ample cleaning gear at home, but when you’re on the road for training or competition, luggage space is at a premium. Compact enough to snap onto your belt, these kits includes Niebling’s Bore Blitz, a European analog to the popular BoreSnake. I found it very effective. The police department I serve has multiple Niebling kits now, and everyone there seems happy with their performance. Kits are available for a variety of chamberings. (shop.niebling-waffenpflege.de)
Safety Solutions Plan B
The Plan B from gun expert Paul Carlson is an accessory for the super-popular S&W M&P Shield. Over 1 million Shields have been sold in the relatively short time since their introduction, some in .40 S&W but most in 9mm. Carlson is a fan of these pistols, but he noticed that the eight-round extended magazine that comes along with the flush-fit, seven-round magazine created some issues in training. One was that the heel of the shooter’s hand put pressure on the back of the eight-round magazine’s extended basepad, preventing it from dropping free. Paul solved that by coming up with his Plan B, a replacement floorplate that is currently available only for 9mm Shields. Sure enough, the Plan B helped the empty eight-round magazine drop cleanly from my M&P9 Shield during speed reloads.
Paul also feels that the new com-ponent is less likely to pinch a shooter’s finger between the magazine well and baseplate when slamming the magazine into gun, and he says his product’s design stops the extension sleeve from slipping, as can happen with factory magazines. (safetysolutionsacademy.com; 440-678-8551)
Walker’s Razor Ear Muffs
If you’re going to get really good with a handgun, you’re going to have to shoot a lot. This means ear protection is one of the last places where you’ll want to skimp. Take it from someone who teaches people how to use firearms for a living and will hear 10,000 to 20,000 or more gunshots discharged in a typical week on the range.
Walker’s Razor ear muffs have earned a definite thumbs-up from me. They’re not as directional as I’d want in tactical muffs, and are more sensitive to wind than I’d like, but they soften the sound of gunfire while still allowing you to hear small, critical sounds. I also find them comfortable for all-day wear.
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About that “small, critical sounds” thing. I was at a high-speed, low-drag training course in 2016 where the targets were multiple pneumatically operated steel disks that rose and presented themselves for very brief periods of time—as little as half a second. We were told that we could go for our holstered guns as soon as we perceived the targets rising. With the ear muffs I brought, I had to wait until I could see the targets, but with the Walker’s Razor muffs on, I could hear the hiss of a disk beginning to rise, and that gave me a definite edge. It helped me to meet my goal, which was to earn “Advanced” shooter honors on a very tough course of fire.
My significant other, a champion shooter, has adopted the Walker’s Razors as her favorite muffs on the range. I can understand why. Like I said, I give them a big thumbs-up. (gsmoutdoors.com; 877-269-8490)
YetiTac is another Kydex holster brand I’ve been quite happy with. The company made me an inside-the-waistband (IWB) rig for my micro-sized Glock 43 that was fast, secure and so comfortable I could barely tell I was carrying a gun. The company sent me my holster very quickly. (yetitac.com)
This article was originally published in ‘The Complete Book of Handguns’ 2017. For information on how to subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com