Custom XD with Insight XML tactical light.

I have carried a firearm professionally for 33 years—both as a United Sates Marine and an FBI agent. Most of the time, these have been full-sized service short and long guns. Both medium and large frame four-inch barreled revolvers were no problem for larger stature personnel, but as dress belts and belt loops became narrower and the FBI’s height requirement was abolished, issue sidearms also saw reductions in profile because of concealment concerns.

The last thing J. Edgar wanted was for the accidental or gratuitous display of agent firepower in public. Like a Ghurkha’s curved Kukri, an agent’s handgun was only to be deployed when the use of deadly force was highly likely. Bluffing or intimidation at gunpoint was discouraged.

XD secreted in handcrafted Tracker Leather IWB scabbard with Benchmade’s AFO II auto standing by.


As I matured in the law enforcement business and moved up in the organization, I looked for alternatives between going naked and going heavy and often opted for going light. At the time, limited capacity wheel guns and smaller caliber semi-autos were available as options for deeper concealment. But the latter pocket pistols were a moot point, because our 7.65mm Walther PPKs were authorized for undercover work only. For awhile, I slipped an S&W M49 Bodyguard into a JP holster, but felt very under-gunned and eventually packed an issue round-butt three-inch bull-barreled S&W M13 .357 Magnum. Over my law enforcement career, I married and divorced S&W 459s, SIG P-226s, S&W 1076s and Springfield Armory 1911 A1s.

Factory XD Sub Compact before customization, embraced by Blackhawk’s leather combo holster and Crucible II folder.


That was then, but this is now and I still carry concealed under HR 218’s authorization for retired law enforcement officers in good standing. Over the years, there has been an explosion of fist-sized guns that are not only lightweight and exceptionally discreet, but have also surrendered little in the way of capacity. With ammunition improvements, short barreled snub guns are quite effective within normal handgun engagement envelopes and will generally outshoot the shooter.

With this in mind, I decided to have the ultimate sub-compact pistol created to help me cope with the projected doom and gloom that many believe is on tap for all—and especially Second Amendment advocates—during the next four to eight years.

Springfield Armory’s sub-compact was been previously honored as both the NRA and Shooting Industry’s of the year. As of this writing, the sub-compacts have not been upgraded to M series status. Factory reports advise that the XD(M) is in short supply because of the buying surge prompted by fears that the new Presidential administration will be rabidly anti-gun. Subsequently, the sub-compacts will retain their familiar boxy profile until at least, perhaps, the 2010 SHOT Show. People have demonstrated their rabid desire for these guns, and this buying frenzy will probably continue until the President unveils his take on private gun ownership.

For this fortifying project, I turned to the country’s pre-eminent polymer pistol practitioner, competitor and craftsman, Oregon’s Scott Springer of Springer Precision. On a previous occasion, Scott had provided me with a highly customized Tactical XD .45 ACP pistol. I was so impressed with his work and the gun’s exceptional performance that I petitioned him without hesitation for this project. Equally enthusiastic, Scott produced the “Don’t Tread on Me Special” before, as stipulated, the 2009 Presidential Inauguration.

Group fired from close combat position. Anatomic target strip designed by author.


In 1775, some companies of newly authorized Marines carried “yellow painted drums emblazoned with a fierce rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike, with 13 rattles and carrying the motto Don’t Tread on Me.” It was rumored that upon seeing the drums and symbol, Benjamin Franklin anonymously wrote in a public journal about the rattlesnake’s attributes and the possibility of it being the national symbol of unity and fearless defense.

Christopher Gadsden was a leader of the Sons of Liberty in South Carolina and was later made a colonel in the Continental Army. He was in Philadelphia representing his state in the Continental Congress and was on the Marine Committee that selected the commodore of the fledgling Navy. Esek Hopkins was chosen, and Gadsden presented him with the rattlesnake coiled on a yellow banner. Hopkins flew it as his personal standard on his man of war, the Alfred, and it is likely that the Hopkins Flag (as it was also known) was run up the gaff by John Paul Jones, his courageous lieutenant. The rattlesnake theme was adapted to several other colonial battle standards.


To emphasize the pistol’s primary purpose—to facilitate the owner’s pursuit of life, liberty and happiness—the Colonial theme of the Hopkins Flag, “Don’t Tread on Me,” was laser engraved on the left side of the XD Sub Compact’s slide. In addition, just aft of the loaded chamber indicator, a coiled rattlesnake was cleanly etched into the slide’s new proprietary Diamond Black Ion Bond (DBIB) finish. In addition, the extended and ambidextrous magazine release and grip safety also share the dull silver-grey coating.

In keeping with the flag’s serpent motif, the grip and extended 12-round magazine sleeve were painstakingly embellished one scale at a time with Springer Precision’s unique Snakeskin grip surface. Not as sharp as 20-30 LPI checkering in steel, it does, however, feel dry even when wet and will not fray the lining of a coat when carried concealed. The skin is so carefully executed that it almost looks like it was applied as a decal and is a visual portent of the quality of workmanship that resides throughout the pistol.

Author’s choice for either sustained casual or dress wear is Desantis’ 11 New York Undercover shoulder rig.


Before I sent the gun off to Scott, I preformed an abbreviated “before” evaluation in anticipation of an “after,” which is the crux of this article. My sample’s stock trigger broke at a comfortable 5.5 pounds and I had no difficulty keeping a magazine of familiarization rounds in a playing card sized target at 25 yards. XD pistols in any dimension possess superior ergonomics and are carefully sighted in at the factory. Reliability is a foregone conclusion and, although not recommended without a 200-round break-in period, XDs can generally be placed into service right out of the box.


The factory sights were replaced with dove-tailed Dawson Precision three-dot tritium fore and aft sights and as a result, the sight radius was increased to 5.25 inches. The front sight at .012 inch in thickness has got to be one of the thinnest tritium blades in existence on a pistol. I like thin front sights, and the steel versions on my 1911s are usually no wider than .010 inch. The steel rear sight ends flush with the slide’s rear and has a smooth, sloped surface, making it hand friendly for vigorous tap and rack drills, but not for belt hooking or other one-handed function techniques.

Internally, Springer Precision’s more robust XD Trigger Kit replaced the factory parts. The kit, with a one piece, milled stainless steel trigger bar, polished sear and springs, reduces pre- and post-trigger travel by 50 percent and also reduced the pull weight. Reduced power and plus power striker springs—as well as other components—are also available.

Agent puts pre-customized XD through close combat drill. Note expended brass and round being chambered.


Initial shots from a rest and standing offhand were surprise breaks. Scott’s trigger kit was deceptive, because I was somewhat used to the original stock trigger and expected a tardier ignition. The pistol digested all the bullet weights and designs it was fed without protest, with recoil and muzzle rise typical of a light and stunted handgun. Two-handed Isosceles combat accuracy at 25 yards was superb.

While I was hoping for tighter bench rest clusters overall, .88 inches with Extreme Shock’s 100-grain AFR (Air Freedom Round), which was developed for close combat aboard aircraft, was the most impressive. While other loads that exited in excess of 1,000 feet-per-second (fps) stung a bit, the AFR was very pleasant to shoot. Previously, I had been able to extract 1,391 fps from the same round fired from a five-inch XD(M). Quite impressively, the XD’s snubbed barrel only sacrificed 70 fps with this cartridge when compared to its full-sized sibling. Extreme Shock’s Nytrillium ammo is quite effective, and earlier this year I harvested a 300-pound wild boar with their .40 S&W 150-grain EPR (Extreme Penetration Round).

As expected, for speed shooting, the sub compact requires an aggressive grip. Fast controlled pairs at seven yards will park themselves in the “A” zone of a USPA/IPSC target, but will be several inches apart. For the average concealed carry permit holder, save the warp-speed stuff for 15 feet and in. Beyond that, watch the front sight and let its return to index be your accelerator and govern your trigger speed. Be careful on the reloads with the 12-round mag’s sleeve in place. Meaty hands and the short grip are a recipe for pinched skin and nasty blood blisters when the sleeved magazine is slammed home during a speed reload. Although a real shooting aid, I would remove the sleeve entirely for this reason.

All things considered, the XD sub compact—in what has become America’s preferred police caliber—is a delight to shoot as well as carry for long periods of time.

Left side of customized XD Sub Compact, showing Snakeskin grip surface on grip and mag extension. Photo: Barry N. Sisson


For deep concealment, Scott included a beautifully handcrafted Tracker Leather IWB leather holster. This molded scabbard has that special tanned leather smell and embraces the XD like a new war bride hugs her departing soldier for the last time until he returns from the war. I needed a little time and patience to break it in. To keep it from sliding down your pants leg—a la NFL star Plaxico Burris—it has two substantial snap straps that loop over either dress or garrison belts. Thoughtfully, the good people at Tracker Leather have included a reinforced tab to protect shirts from gun lube stains.

For speed and security, you can’t beat Blackhawk’s CQC carbon fiber/modified nylon SERPA trigger lock holster. Fully adjustable, this very intuitive holster comes with both belt and paddle platforms to guarantee comfortable and efficient CCW.

However, my choice for either sustained casual or dress wear is Gene Desantis’ 11 New York Undercover shoulder rig. The unlined cowhide system is closely molded to the pistol’s profile for friction fit and, along with its very positive thumb break, an adjustable tension device also retains the gun while in its horizontal carry mode. It is accompanied by a dual magazine pouch with adjustable straps for long and short sticks, but best of all, observers tell me that it doesn’t print through the back of my suit coat.

Top of XD’s slide with etched coiled rattlesnake. Photo: Barry N. Sisson


If you are looking for a lightweight and concealable handgun that has authority both in caliber and capacity, look no further than the XD Sub-Compact in .40 S&W. It provides a nice balance between the two requirements and, in keeping with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” axiom, the little pistol with the big bite has remained virtually unchanged since its American debut several years ago.

My only request would be for Springfield Armory to come out with .22-caliber conversion kits for the XD family, so that practice could continue unabated in spite of the current high cost and scarcity of ammo.


Springer Precision, LLC
Dept. S.W.A.T.
2071 Egypt Drive
Bend, OR 97701
(551) 480-5546

Springfield Armory
Dept. S.W.A.T.
420 West Main St.
Geneseo, IL 61254
(800) 617-6866

Dept. S.W.A.T.
6160 Commander Pkwy
Norfolk, VA 23502
(800) 694-5263

Dawson Precision
Dept. S.W.A.T.
3300 CR 233
Florence, TX 76527
(866) 300-1911

Desantis Holster & Leather Goods
Dept S.W.A.T.
431 Bayview Ave.
Amityville, NY 11701
(800) 424-1236

Extreme Shock Ammunition
Dept. S.W.A.T.
Rt 1 Box 304 – N
Clintwood, VA 24228
(877) 377-6772

Tracker Leather
Dept. S.W.A.T.
Sisters, OR
(541) 549-1705

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