So here I sit, holding a piece of late 20th century history in one hand, and an example of the latest 21st
century technology in the other.
In my right hand is a Colt DS-II, the last and arguably most refined iteration of the Colt Detective Special, the gun that defined the “snub-nose .38 Special” as a pocket size defense revolver in 1926. This one was produced in the late 1990s. It holds six rounds of .38 Special ammunition, and weighs 23.5 ounces unloaded. Its cylinder is almost 1.4 inches thick.
In my left is a Springfield Armory XDS semi-automatic pistol. It weighs only 21.5 ounces unloaded, thanks to its lightweight polymer frame, and is distinctly shorter overall in both length and height than that classic-lined revolver. The pistol comes with two five-round flush bottom “concealment magazines” and a seven-round extended magazine with a spacer is available for purchase. And it measures only one bare inch thick at its widest point.
The old revolver can be reloaded with six more .38 rounds reasonably fast with a speedloader, which is a bit bulky to carry and conceal. The new auto can be reloaded with seven more rounds of .45 ACP more quickly than the revolver can be recharged, and its magazines will be flatter and easier to comfortably conceal than speedloaders. The revolver,
if necessary, can be pressed hard against a close would-be murderer’s body and fired. With this particular autopistol,
though not many others, the same is true.
Which is better? I think back to years ago, when I learned to only carry a little .38 in places where I couldn’t hide a big .45, and my younger self yells back at me, “Is this a trick question?”
Meet the Springfield Armory XDS, which took the concealed carry world by storm when it was introduced in January 2012. Most of the features we’ve come to expect from XD pistols are there. One is the handy loaded-chamber indicator that rises like a shark fin on the top of the slide when there’s a torpedo in the launch tube. It’s an easy and reassuring thing to feel in the dark. The grip safety is present, too. This has some advantages that a lot of folks miss. There have been cases of people shooting themselves when they holstered their gun, because a too-narrow safety strap or the drawstring of a warm-up jacket got caught inside the triggerguard, and pressed the trigger to the rear when the gun was pushed in. But if your pistol has a grip safety like any of the XD guns, it can’t fire so long as you holster as I’ve taught since the 1970s, with your thumb on the back of the slide, or on the hammer of a hammer-fired pistol.
It should be noted that the shooter will hopefully feel something wrong as the gun meets resistance going into the holster. That’s because even with the thumb off during holstering and the grip safety safely extruded, the next time the shooter goes to draw, the web of the hand will depress that grip safety and if the strap or other impediment is still holding the trigger back, there’s going to be a nasty, muffled “boom.” That’s how grip safeties work in general, whether on a 1911 pistol or an XD. But, clearly, it’s an example of where a grip safety can be “A Good Thing,” and not the sop to liability-conscious lawyers that some folks seem to think it is.
The ambidextrous magazine release of the bigger XD guns remains on this one. Its spring is firm enough that you don’t see it ejecting the mag unintentionally when the outside button bumps into something. However, it allows any shooter irrespective of hand dominance to dump an empty magazine by bringing the trigger finger back and pressing the button, which most find faster than using their thumb.
One feature that we’ve come to expect with XD variations that’s not on this one is the cocking indicator, usually present in the form of a blunt, protruding pin on the back of the slide. I’m used to it on my other XD pistols, but it’s not present on most guns, and I can certainly live without it. There doesn’t seem to be a cacophony of complaint rising from XD fans over its absence.
The sights are interesting. Fiber optic front, generously notched fixed rear with a couple of white dots. A red unit was installed in the front sight, with spare red and green inside the box along with the usual array of XD Gear: holster and mag pouch. Yes, the fiber optic rods will eventually break if history is any guide. But you’ll still have the front post to aim with, so it’s not anything to stay up nights worrying about. We found that in any sort of half-decent light, the “red dot” of the fiber optic facing the shooter just jumped right out, making sight alignment very fast.
The pistol comes with both five-round flush bottom “concealment magazine,” and seven-round extended magazines with a spacer are optional. The spacer fills the hand like a full size pistol grip, and also keeps the longer magazine from overtraveling and locking up the gun when it’s slammed in hard during an emergency reload. Be careful that the spacer doesn’t pinch the heel of your hand when you slap it in quickly, which can happen with any of the short-butt subcompact autopistols.
There is a light rail in the dustcover, allowing the shooter to attach one of the new generation gun-mounted mini-lights. The slide stop is the traditional XD “left-side-only” style. The frame is molded to shield it from upward thumb pressure, to prevent “shooter error” from accidentally locking the slide open at the worst pos-sible time midway through a magazine. This works as intended on the bigger XD models, and the same is true on this one. None of us on the test team accidentally locked the slide open at any time.
The trigger on the XDS had more “drag” to it on the first stage of its pull than what I generally feel on XD series pistols. That smoothed up by the time the finger encountered resistance and you were squeezing the shot off for real. Even that drag at the first, light part of the press seemed to smooth up with more and more shooting.
Pull weight on this pivoting trigger averaged 7.68 pounds when taken at the bottom tip, or toe, of the trigger. When weighed from the center, pull weight averaged only a little more, 7.37 pounds. I couldn’t quite get my trigger finger all the way to the joint for more leverage, but it honestly didn’t feel heavy when shooting, particularly at speed.
Once bullets started going downrange from the XDS, to the universal joy of everyone on the test team, the gun shot to the sights! Why the italics and the exclamation point, you ask? Aren’t guns supposed to shoot where they’re aimed?
Well, yes, they are…but when you test a lot of them, you find that they often don’t. The XD pistols are in what might be called the “popular price range,” and to see it come out of the box already sighted in was a pleasing thing.
That is true for two reasons. One is that when your new gun is already sighted in by the people who made it, it sends you the reassuring message that they care about you, the end user. The other reason is that if you’ve ever tried to change or drift the sights on an XD, you know it’s not the easiest pistol
in the world upon which to perform those operations.
I selected three loads for accuracy testing from the bench with this little .45. The distance was 25 yards. Yes, I know that it has come into vogue to test pocket-size handguns like this one at shorter distances. However, until someone can confirm for me that the world’s criminals have signed a treaty promising to stand really close to the good people they force to shoot them, I’ll keep testing at what has become pretty much the standard maximum qualification distance for American police, and that’s still 25 yards. Speer’s Short Barrel version of their 230-grain Gold Dot seemed a perfect fit for the XDS with its stubby 3.3-inch tube.
Five shots from a Matrix rest resulted in a group that spanned 3.75 inches, measuring center to center between the farthest shots. While I didn’t “call” the one shot that stretched the group that far, it just didn’t “feel right” when I broke the shot, and I feel compelled to take responsibility for it. Factoring that shot out, the other four created a 1.95-inch group, and the best three were in exactly 1.50 inches. Not too shabby for a “pocket gun.”
The next load up was Remington’s mid-line quality load, the Express series, in 185-grain jacketed hollow point configuration. If one goes by the old Sears & Roebuck standard of “good, better, best” product lines, the green and white box Remington-UMC would be the economy priced “good” load, the premium Golden Saber would be their “best,” and this Express load in the yellow and green box would be the middle of the road “better.” It’s one of the oldest .45 JHP loads out there, and was the first to reliably feed in autopistols back around the early 1970s. It wasn’t famous for its dynamic expansion then, but Remington has tweaked the bullet design, and over the years I’ve seen enough fully mushroomed 185-grain Remington hollow points that went to optimum depth and quickly stopped the bad guy on the receiving end, that I trust this round. Out of the little XDS, the Remington 185-grains produced a 2.65-inch five-shot cluster at 25 yards. Four of those five were in 2.25 inches, and the best three were in a 1.35-inch triangle. This has always been one of our more accurate .45 ACP “street loads.”
Those who don’t handload for practice often go for whatever’s the most inexpensive generic 230-grain GI ball round, which is generally Winchester’s USA line, also known as WWB for Winchester white box. This stuff gave us a 3.45-inch group for all five shots, with the best four in 2.65 inches and the best three in 1.30 inches.
Given the old saw that “four inches for five shots at 25 yards is adequate service pistol accuracy,” I have to say that the XDS performed brilliantly in the accuracy department, being a little hideout pistol.
In the hand, the grip-frame is about as thin and flat as the slide, which means no hand-fitting palm swells. This in turn means that when you grasp the XDS, the hollow your palm feels, well, hollow.
Hand-to-pistol fit is an extremely subjective topic. Some folks find that with this situation, the lack of flesh pressing against the grip in primary hand grasp allows a powerful pistol to twist in their hand, which in turn slows down the degree of accurate rapid fire they can deliver and requires them to re-grip in mid-firing string. Some others find that while it doesn’t feel as comforting, they can shoot it just fine. I personally fit into the latter category. Our test team were all experienced shooters, and while several of them mentioned that it felt as if something was missing in the grip shape, none of them had to re-grip, no matter how fast they were pumping .45 slugs out of the XDS.
As noted above, the point of aim/point of impact coordinates were all we could have asked for from such a small, light .45. The same was true of the groups. Testing for another magazine, my friend and colleague Steve Denney got a 25 yard group measuring 3.06 inches for five shots with Winchester Ranger-T 230 grain jacketed hollow point, one of the most effective premium .45 ACP loads out there. His five-shot group was only 3.31 inches with Hornady FTX 185-grain Critical Defense ammunition for the same gun at the same 75-foot distance. Needless to say, Steve is happy with the accuracy of the XDS, too.
When you look at a little .45 ACP that only weighs 21.5 ounces, the first thought that goes through your mind is …
“Kick” is a subjective topic. “Muzzle jump,” upward versus rearward movement, is a little easier to measure objectively. A lot of it has to do with the shooter’s experience, habituation, stance, and grip strength.
We all tried a magazine of this or that +P load in the gun. We all found it significantly increased muzzle jump and torque in recoil. Personally, when I’m qualifying with my de-partment issue .45 and shooting up the Federal HST +P duty loads along with training hardball, I can’t really feel the dif-ference in recoil when the shooting gets fast and furious. But that’s with a full size service pistol. In the little XDS, the upsurge in jump with a +P .45 load is definitely both palpable and noticeable.
For comparison, we were still getting back on target with center hits faster with the XDS .45 ACP than our collective experience taught us we would have with +P .38 out of little snubby revolvers. While none of us would have elected to take the XDS to a thousand rounds a day Universal Shooting Academy course with Frank Garcia there would be lots of guns in the Springfield Armory catalog that would be easier on your hands and wrists than the XDS with that high a volume of .45 shooting.
Here, we hit a snag. Early on, we experienced several failures for the slide to go fully into battery. Sometimes, the rounds here into the chamber far enough to allow the striker to come forward, but they hit off center and resulted in mis-fires. Most of these occurred in the first 50 rounds of the “break in period.” By the time we hit a hundred rounds, the malfunctions had cleared themselves up.
I had occasion to talk with Dave Williams, who is Springfield Armory’s top liaison with the factory that makes the XD pistols in Croatia, and also heads the company’s Custom Shop. By thenI had run across a long thread on this little .45 at xdtalk.com, on which some of the members had run across similar problems with their own XDS pistols.
Dave had this to say:
“It was a challenge to build it in .45,” Williams began. “I can tell you that we’ve had some come back, not going completely in battery for whatever reason. We clean ’em, lube ’em, and shoot ’em, and we’ve never duplicated the problem in the building. When the XDS is brand, spanking new it will benefit from being well lubricated, and it needs a firm grip because the recoil spring is necessarily heavy, in the 26-pound range,” he concluded.
The .45 ACP is a relatively long pistol cartridge by today’s standards, and we’ve known for decades that the more we shorten a pistol of any design in this caliber, the more finicky it’s going to be about feeding. In the early days of the 4.25-inch Colt Commander, some found it slightly less reliable than the 5-inch Government Model. Colt and later other makers squared that away. You need a stronger hold with more attention to the gun when you go to even shorter barrels. The XDS, we have to remember, has a 3.3-inch barrel, and that impacts slide stroke and cycling.
I wore the XDS as a carry gun for a while once we got the reliability issue sorted out. Holster choice was the neat little Remora, a rubbery thing tacky enough to stay in-side the waistband securely without clips. Just be sure to stabilize it or put it in a pocket (it makes a great pocket holster) when you have to drop your drawers, because without belt tension it won’t be se-cured as soon as you un-fasten the pants. To learn more, visit remoraholsters.com or call 239-434-7200.
Flat and edge-free, the XDS proved very, very comfortable for inside the waistband carry. No sharp edges to dig into the body. Very low profile. It’s as comfortable and concealable as it looks.
More people who own the XDS seem to like it than not. Our test team found that with break-in and lubrication, it quickly gets to where it should be for reliability. Like so many auto pistols, it wants to be regularly lubricated and held in a very sure hand.
One feature you find in this and most other XD pistols that can be a “deal-maker” is that due to the prognathous nature of its full-length guide rod, if it is pressed against a firmly resisting surface at the muzzle end and the trigger is pulled, it will remain in battery and fire. There are more autoloading pistols for which that is not true, than will survive that situation (and, therefore, help you survive). I’m continually amazed that Springfield Armory does not emphasize this important feature in its advertising.
Priced competitively with the Glock 36 and the Kahr PM45 in the polymer-framed subcompact, lightweight .45 ACP market, the Springfield Armory XDS is clearly worth all the attention it’s getting from those who find a need for very small and flat .45 ACPs that will still deliver the hits when needed, despite their short sight radius and their diminutive size. To find out more, visit xdspistol.com or call 800-680-6866.