Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Hour with the Bren Ten

Living in "Gun Culture 2.0" is freakin' awesome.

I teach with some of the best instructors I've ever met, I compete with some of the best shooters in the country, and I have friends whose firearm collections occasionally put me within inches of history.

This weekend, I had the good fortune to get my hands on a unique, esoteric, and somewhat storied piece of gun lovers' history -- the (in)famous Bren Ten.  Following an hour-long photo shoot, I got to run a couple rounds of full-power 10mm through it and, for a moment, I could understand why Jeff Cooper made such a stand for the 10mm cartridge and could almost feel the influence in developing the Bren.

It would become the greatest combat handgun that never was...  In concept, it was very nearly perfect.  In execution, the Bren Ten was virtually doomed from the start.  Looking to call upon modern technology to replace the venerated 1911 platform, the Bren's designers combined ergonomics, modern design, and next-generation (in the 1980s) power which, even today, remains nearly unmatched in combat handguns.  Sadly, a perfect storm of circumstance kept the Bren from ever taking off and today, it's said fewer than 1,000 were ever produced.

Plagued by spotty quality control, international shipping issues killing magazine availability, and the eventual bankruptcy of the manufacturer, it never really got off the ground.  Modern attempts to resurrect the Bren Ten have largely fallen flat.  Today, it's understood that to own a Bren means you own a unique piece of firearm history.  Some guns have stood the test of time well, others became victims of their maker's shortcomings over the years.  Fortunately, the example I shot has held up well, looks amazing, and runs like a top.

The Bren Ten was never meant to become as rare as an old Colt nor was it designed to fill a goofy niche in the marketplace like a Wildey.  This was supposed to embrace the evolution of the combat handgun, designed by Jeff Cooper and made right here in America.  It should should have become a legend... instead it went straight into the history books, filed simply under "I could have, should have been great."

This particular gun was in phenomenal condition for a 30 year-old legend.  Having recently been inspected and worked over by the gunsmiths at Tall Guns in Colorado, the action was spot-on and it was quickly evident Cooper had an amazing idea and the company he paired with to manufacture it was onto something special.  Designed around the 10mm Auto cartridge from the ground-up with a classic double/single action similar to the Browning Hi-Power and borrowed heavily from the successful CZ 75 design, it's large without feeling like a caricature of itself (like a Desert Eagle or Automag).  It's heavy, which provides a counterbalance to the recoil of the 10mm rounds it launches downrange.  However, the double-action trigger shoots incredibly smooth while the single-action break is clean and light.

It would be understatement to say I never thought I would have the opportunity to hold, much less shoot the Bren Ten.  I could have never guessed I would be lucky enough to have the opportunity to photograph it for its owner.

This was indeed a good weekend...

In Defense of USPSA

There's been a fair bit of chatter of late across the gun blogosphere and the shooting TV universe about IDPA.  There's no denying that IDPA is "teh hawt" right now as it outwardly markets itself as being the shooting sport for the average fella (or gal).

In the world, I find myself oftentimes listening to screed X or scenario Y about how IDPA is so much better than USPSA and why IDPA is more welcoming to new shooters.  Hogwash, I say.  Here's why...

Argument - IDPA is better-suited to the new shooter as it's slower and less expensive than USPSA.
Response - Nope.
USPSA Production gives any shooter, new or experienced, the opportunity to join a "run what ya brung" division -- most stages can be completed by a person with a box-stock defensive handgun and just a couple extra magazines.  As with any sport, advancement to the higher levels (A and higher) require a significance investment in equipment as well as training and experience, but the same can be said about achieving Expert or Master classifications in IDPA.  For most beginning shooters, especially those on a budget, Production is the perfect place to start a long and rewarding experience in competitive shooting.

Argument - IDPA is designed to build real-world defensive shooting skills and offers a more slow and measured approach, being defensive-shooting-oriented.
Response - How?
What does forcing me to reload only behind cover, retain a magazine, or run a stuffed animal through a simulated bedroom do that I can't equally focus on in a "run and gun" USPSA match?  Defensive shooting situations out in the real world are typically over with in seconds and the victor is rarely the one who didn't let a mag hit the ground or safely got the toy penguin from the briefcase nobody carries anymore to the bedroom that magically appeared at a gun range.  In truth, USPSA focuses more on the skills that matter -- creative problem solving, rewarding speed WITH accuracy, and constantly moving to solve the course without getting stuck in one place.  Yeah, we're "gamers" but shooting matches are precisely that!  They are competitive games held by competitive people in a fun, safe, and constructive setting.  We don't wear silly vests out in the real world, so why bother when we're at a match designed to test my shooting ability, not my fashion sense?

Argument - USPSA is filled with very competitive, serious people.
Response - And that is precisely where I've grown and learned the most!
Nearly every skill or ability I've honed as a competitive shooter has made me into a more efficient and open-minded (with respect to situational awareness and threat recognition) Concealed Handgun License holder.  USPSA matches tend to draw the more serious competitor, and I see that as a positive! We have our share of recreational shooters at USPSA matches and we draw those whose skills are on another plane of existence entirely.  Most of my fellow shooters enjoy being around world-class shooters and competing against like-skilled friends alike.  I cut my teeth on local club-level matches where I regularly expect to place in the top 3 out of 30 shooters and find myself happy to make the top half of the pile in USPSA matches simply because it's where the skill level currently lives at the amateur ranks.

And, in conclusion, Mas sums up exactly how I feel about shooting competitions in his book Combat Shooting with Massad Ayoob:
"History tells us that the person with more experience in fast, accurate shooting under stress has an edge when the stress goes all the way up to life-or-death stakes on the table.
Which is why I keep saying that a shooting match isn't a gunfight but a gunfight damn sure IS a shooting match."

I would much rather strip down my competition experiences and focus on becoming both fast and accurate across a broad range of problems and situations, conditioning myself to think outside-the-box and not become hung up on rules and behavior which have little bearing on winning a competition or critical stress encounter.  Real life is "run and gun," and so is the competitive league I choose to shoot. 

Living with a Pocket Pistol FANTASTIC.

After choosing an LCR and spending about 500 rounds dialing in the fit, feel, and function of the tiny revolver, I've discovered the best part about owning a small snub-nose revolver -- it means I don't have to leave a gun at home anymore due to wardrobe, convenience, or comfort.

Being small enough to drop into the pocket of a pair of cargo shorts, my LCR (J-frame, or other knock-off) gives me an incredible amount of flexibility and opportunity to carry my smaller semi-autos couldn't.  A quick trip to the store or a walk around the block after dinner no longer requires me to "kit up" with holster, mag pouch, special belt, special pants and keep a heavy pistol on my belt if I don't want it to.

Fully loaded, my LCR comes in at a few grams shy of a pound and still packs a full-power punch.  It's light enough to accommodate nearly any wardrobe choice and gives me "something" where before I didn't really have a practical concealed carry option.  It fits into any number of my EDC bags, on a belt in a holster it's almost unnoticeable, and carried in the pocket of some loose-fitting cargo shorts I completely blend into the crowd.

I cycle between an LCR and an M&P 9c these days, and both offer great CCW options and both have their place in my everyday carry rotation.  I still haven't bought into the "pocket .380" or "pocket 9" hype and probably never will.  I have nothing really against guns like the LCP or Kahr's tiny nines but, for now, my needs are covered with what I've got and I couldn't be happier.