When circumstances demand that a smaller handgun be deployed, we must make an appraisal of not only our own skills, but the type of handgun we choose.
All handguns are a compromise. Compared to a .223 or a 12 gauge, the “weak .38” and the “strong .45” are more alike than different. Just the same, we do not wish to gain a few ounces of convenience at the expense of our life. When choosing a lightweight handgun for concealed carry, compromise is inherent. But there are things that cannot be compromised.
The concealed-carry or off-duty handgun must be as reliable as a full-size handgun, should be as powerful and nearly as accurate as the full-size service pistol—although it may not be as controllable in rapid fire.
For example, the J frame .38 snub nose that was once universal for off-duty carry was as reliable as any revolver and chambered the same .38 Special cartridge as the four-inch barrel service revolver. Trade-offs were a stiffer trigger pull, increased recoil, and greater difficulty in hitting the target.
But an accomplished shooter—and this is simply a practiced shooter— could manage to make hits on a mansized target well past 25 yards. Hits demanded concentration and follow-up shots were not as rapid as with the service gun.
The same relationship should exist today between a service pistol and the off-duty firearm. Practical reliability should be the same, and the cartridge should be suitable for personal defense. The pistol’s accuracy may be limited by a shorter sight radius, but a marksman should be able to connect at common combat distances and if need be at longer range.
An advantage of modern compact self-loading pistols is that they may use the same trigger action as the service pistol. Another benefit is modern polymer construction. It is possible to mold a polymer grip frame that fits most hands well, but offers a flat profile suited to concealed carry.
An improvement granted us by modern technology is superior recoil spring technology. The modern dual recoil spring limits slide velocity and makes for greater reliability. To an extent, the combination of a polymer frame and this dual recoil spring technology also mitigates the effects of recoil. With these advantages, a compact pistol should offer accuracy, handling and reliability comparable to anything we had a generation ago.
ON THE HUNT
A valid criticism of many small pistols is the quality of the sights. I fail to see the logic in simply placing a bump on the slide or a groove that demands it be ignored in speed drills. Compact pistols need larger sights if anything because one is more likely to misalign on a compact pistol due to the short sight radius.
Another problem often encountered is that the girth on some compact pistols is very large. While it is a convenience to have two pistols that take the same magazine, it really isn’t a tactical necessity for a compact pistol.
With these truths thoroughly understood, I began to look for the “ideal” compact pistol for personal use. A limiting factor was weight. Twenty-five ounces or less would be ideal. Since this handgun would be intended for maximum concealment, it must be thin and light. The 9mm Luger cartridge is a realistic minimum.
I will not insult your intelligence by claiming modern .380 ACP loads equal 9mm defense loads. They do not, but the 9mm offers a reasonable choice for personal defense as long as the balance of penetration and expansion is respected.
TAURUS PT 111 MILLENNIUM G2
The pistol I have settled on that best suits my criteria is the Taurus PT 111 Millennium G2. An advantage—but not a deal breaker—is economy. The pistol retails for about $350 and is seldom seen at scalper prices. The pistol exhibits excellent fit and finish and seems tight in lock-up.
The first impression is that the slide has a futuristic look achieved by scalloping the muzzle end. This lightens the piece and complements the chamfered muzzle surfaces. Because the slide first caught my eye, I also looked over the sights. The front sight is bold enough, while the rear sight features an adjustable component. The rear sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation.
Since a number of shooters have complained that the sights of the original PT 111 were not always well regulated for factory loads, this is a good addition. The moveable component of the rear sight is plastic, but it seems a low wear item.
The chamber is cut in the popular fashion to allow a visual check for a loaded chamber. There is also an indicator that is levered up when the chamber is loaded, allowing tactile loaded chamber checks. The rear of the slide features an easily reached cocking serration that offers good purchase. The slide rides on steel inserts. The barrel is partially belled at the muzzle for a tight lock-up.
The Taurus uses the proven SIG type lock-up, with the barrel hood butting into the frame. The locked breech design unlocks by using angled camming surfaces. The pistol features a positive firing pin block or drop safety, in this case a striker block since the pistol is striker fired. An important feature is a dual coil recoil spring that helps capture the enthusiastic recoil of the 9mm cartridge. The pistol features an action block for storage. The owner may use or ignore this.
Moving to the frame, the most noticeable feature is stippled surfaces in strategic locations. This allows the hand to move quickly if need be to adjust the grip, but also gives excellent adhesion. I may be a blue steel and walnut man, but I do not miss slippery front straps. The frame features a scalloped section on each side that seems to help guide the fingers to the proper grip. The trigger reach is ideal for me. The slide lock and magazine latch are easily reached with the firing hand.
The Taurus PT 111 Millennium G2 has a manual safety. I prefer a manual safety and in this case you may use or ignore the safety. However, the trigger action of the Taurus demands the pistol be carried on safe, in my opinion. But the feel of the trigger can be deceiving. As an example, the standard Glock trigger action breaks at 5.5 pounds. The Taurus trigger action breaks at 5.75 pounds, according to my RCBS trigger pull gauge. Yet the break feels much lighter.
Taurus has done a great job of mastering leverage and producing an action that feels much lighter than its actual compression. Once you have acclimated to the trigger, excellent shooting may be accomplished.
The frame features a rail for mounting a light or laser. Few compact pistols have this feature. While the Taurus PT 111 Millennium G2 is not a cut-down service pistol but a purpose-designed compact pistol, it has retained many of the good features of a service pistol, including the accessory rail, good sights, and service pistol action. The confluence of ideas is a good one.
The Generation Two pistol features a twelve-round magazine. Despite the double column staggered magazine, the grip frame is quite small, thinner than any other “high-capacity” pistol I am aware of, and barely larger than many slim-line 9mm pistols.
I was a bit skeptical that the magazine would feed well from full compression to almost no compression with the full load of cartridges. Considering its relatively short base housing, there seemed to be little room for the magazine spring, but I was proven wrong. Function was never a problem.
The magazine was loaded with 12 rounds and tapped against the boot to ensure all rounds were properly seated. The slide locked to the rear, the magazine inserted, and the slide dropped. The magazine was not topped off.
TO THE RANGE
I proceeded to the ammunition test with a range bag of mixed ammunition. It is tempting to test a favored load in a new gun, but the pistol should function with any quality commercial loading. From inexpensive ball ammo to +P loads and 147-grain heavyweights, the handgun must function properly. Handloads were no problem, including lead bullet handloads.
Most of the testing was accomplished with inexpensive ball ammunition. The Taurus was broken in with Black Hills Blue Box remanufactured ammunition and has also fired a good quantity of Winchester USA and Wolf (WPA) ball ammunition. All are accurate enough for meaningful practice.
It is more useful to fire at small targets at known and unknown ranges to build marksmanship and acclimate to the trigger action than it is to fire at paper. Intrinsic accuracy is good, and the sights and trigger action make practical accuracy respectable. You will not fire a combat course as quickly as you would with a full-size 9mm, but the pistol is clearly accurate enough for any reasonable defensive chore.
All who fired the pistol commented on low felt recoil. The grip design and the dual wound spring contributed to the pistol’s accuracy.
To test absolute accuracy, groups were fired at 15 yards from a solid rest. Like all quality handguns, the pistol preferred one load to the other, but all ammo tested proved accurate enough for personal defense. The single most accurate loading tested was the Hornady Flex Lock 135-grain Critical Duty loading. Poorest results were with ball ammo.
For personal defense, a loading with the best balance of expansion and penetration should be chosen. Those living in a four-season climate should plan for a worst-case scenario and consider the need for greater penetration. With both reliability and accuracy standards met, choosing the loading that best suits the user is next. Ballistics are not as important as reliability and shot placement.
I have tested several good-quality holsters and in the end, the Side Guard IWB holster gets the nod for daily carry. It features two wings that extend from the holster body, each with a spring steel J clip that takes a good bite out of the belt. This is a holster with a high degree of speed and retention and which does not twist and chafe during daily movement.
After a few weeks of evaluation and almost 500 rounds of ammunition, the Taurus PT 111 Millennium G2 gets a clean bill of health.
The pistol is compact but has superior features including a good reserve of ammunition, good sights, a light rail, and a trigger action that allows good combat and practical accuracy. Ergonomics are outstanding and the piece is affordable.
I cannot ask for anything more.