First Gear | Christmas Countdown: Desperation Sets In

posted on December 17, 2017

With only a week left before Christmas, it’s possible that desperation is setting in. The gun guy or lady on your list is likely of—shall we say, discriminating taste (as opposed to the truth; just plain picky)—and you need some help in a big hurry. Seven days left, seven possibilities; good luck, and Merry Christmas.     


The full rundown on HybridLight appeared back in September, and we’re no less enamored of them now. Three months of additional knocking around have revealed no weaknesses, and they have the advantage—in some models—of being stocking-stuffer sized and priced.

There’s a flashlight nut in every bunch (ours especially) to be pleased, but the HybridLights also add USB-based charging of other devices to their own solar “re-arming,” making them sure winners.  A nice touch, from good folks.

Visit HybridLight at; HybridLights are priced from $19 and up.

Gen 5 Glock

Lots happening there in Smyrna, Ga., most of it centering on the August release of the Gen 5 G17 and G19. We’ve shot them a bunch (a 10,000 round re-visit will be available from our slightly abused paws shortly), but summing up is easy: We really like ’em.

Gen 5 Glocks. Photo by A1F Staff

If someone on your list is looking for a standard (G17) or compact-sized (G19) pistol, a Gen 5 is remarkably unlikely to produce anything but smiles. Be crafty and test the waters with our full review, here.

Visit Glock US at; available starting around $500.

Spartan Pistol Caliber Carbine Upper

There’s a bunch of DIYing going on in the pistol caliber carbine arena at present, and we dabbled for ourselves with gusto on your behalf. The modern incarnations of pistol-cartridges-in-rifles has a long American pedigree, and with good reason: Pistol cartridges are (generally) much less expensive, get a good performance upgrade (in terms of power), and are less punishing—in many senses of that word—than their centerfire rifle brethren.

Spartan side-charging upper. Photo by A1F Staff

Building one to your own specs adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole business, with all the benefits that implies. One of the best of those benefits is side-charging. One of our favorite ways to get that, is the “Spartan” side charging upper. We’ve had about six barrels—literally—on and off ours with nary a hiccup in about 20,000 rounds. (Well, OK, there was that shockingly dirty episode, but that’s hardly the fault of the part.)

Anyhow, if someone on your “good” list is angling for a PCC—or if you’d like them to on your behalf—the Spartan will put Glock-magazine feeding, last round hold-open and side charging on nearly any Glock-cut lower.

That’s way better than any number of lords-a-leaping …

Find Spartan uppers at JoeBob Outfitters; $225.

JPoint Red Dot

Red dots are the rage, and with good reason. They’re a fast, thoroughly modern sighting technology that is rugged enough to go on—and stay on—modern caliber handguns.

They also solve certain vision issues that relate to shooting as we get older. Certain demographics—for whom clear sights may be but a memory—are finding red dots can put considerable fun and precision back into handgunning.

We’ve had mighty good luck with the JPoint. Brought to you by JP Rifles, it’s a 5000G shockproof gem that we’ve had on an experimental “Open” division gun for several thousand rounds, and have nothing but good things to say.

If a clear aiming cue and target prick up the ears on your shooter, these deserve a look.

Visit JP Rifles at; 3 MOA, 8 MOA and 65 MOA “dot and circle” versions are available; $299.

American Precision Target Systems

It’s tough to improve on steel targets for raw shooting fun. The “bang and clang” pairing can turn even the worst Grinch into a primer-denting fool. We grant there’s a lot to be learned from other systems that don’t react, but the fun-quotient? Like we said: Tough.

There are downsides. Weight is an obvious first, but “cube” is the second. They aren’t just heavy, but stiff, as it were: You won’t easily fold and stack your steel in a convenient nook or cranny … unless you got it from APTS. Their 2/3 size silhouette-style is long on tote- and storability, but breaks down or sets up in just over a minute. Seriously.

But fair warning: Don’t plan on wrapping it up for under the tree. We doubt there’s seasonal paper that could hold up to wrapping.

Visit American Precision Target Systems at; Center-of-Mass/Hostage Silhouette is $376.50.

HenningShop Base Pads & Parts

We first gave you a look at USPSA Grand Master shooter Henning Wallgren’s base pads in 2016, and a reprise is certainly due.

Colors aren’t just for fun—excellent caliber differentiation, or you name it. Photo by A1F Staff

Firstly, because we’ve had these on multiple magazines for several different firearms, and they’ve been disappointing in the sense that there’s nothing to be disappointed about. They run, and run, and run. Reviewers want to gripe, and they’ve defeated us altogether.

Secondly, there’s a bunch of new stuff. Since we introduced the original goodies (Glock, CZ/Tanfoglio, S&W, Sig P320), it looks to us like a rough doubling has occurred to include Springfield, H&K, Baby Eagle and more. Those are just in the base pad department, too.

The point is, look with confidence at Henning Shop parts: Not only are the parts, materials and methods “top-shelf” in our own experience, but Mr. Wallgren himself is the, er, caliber of shooter that makes most of us look like we’re swimming in wet concrete. You can bet if he’s offering it, it’s ready by his world-class standards, and will make your shooter smile.

Visit HenningShop LLC at

MecGar 9mm 1911 Magazines

You see a lot of 9mm 1911s these days. Service/duty-sized guns are popular, but so are increasing numbers of smaller, shorter, lighter and thinner guns that are once again making the platform a viable carry choice. With proper training, they can be a fine fit. We still think they’re best in John Browning's original dimensions, but 9 mm caliber is mighty appealing for two reasons—rounds 10 and 11.

Mec-Gar mags. Courtesy of Mec-Gar

No knock on the original .45 ACP mind you, but modern bullet technology has considerably closed the gap on defensive performance of the rounds, while favoring the Georg Luger calibration because it makes for such a soft-shooting 1911. (But no, our .45s are not for sale.)

What hasn’t kept pace are  9mm magazines. We won’t mention any names, but nearly all “factory” 9 mm mags have been somewhere between merely disappointing and heinous junk.

These aren’t. To date, we’ve run them in two different guns, and with a large variety of both factory and handloaded ammo. The only stumble was with a super-shorty 100-grain bullet, and by “super-shorty,” we mean an OAL under one inch (0.985, precisely).

The only thing we don’t know about yet is longevity. On the other hand, not quite 10 years ago, we shot handgun competition (USPSA and the like) with almost nothing but .45 ACP (in a Kimber) for dozens of matches, and used nine of these. We still have them all, and they run juuuuuuust fine. We can’t say that of any others we’ve owned. Ever.

Draw your own conclusions.

Visit MecGar at

Frank Winn has been studying arms and their relationship to tyranny, meaningful liberty and personal security all his adult life. He has been a firearms safety/shooting instructor for more than 20 years, and earned state, regional and national titles in several competitive disciplines.


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