Pistol-Caliber Crazed

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posted on April 29, 2016
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Darren Parker

This feature appears in the May ’16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.

Superbly sound basics put only a tiny selection of tasks out of reach for the AR-pattern rifle. Caliber diversity and setup versatility are second to none, and we find them busily succeeding across a huge spectrum. With a clever twist on this tried-and-true form, Lone Wolf Distributers has delivered their own fine variant.

Considerable cleverness is going on in Priest River, Idaho, and we’ve got the proof. Lone Wolf Distributors—already well known for its multitude of aftermarket, enhanced and replacement Glock parts—has another very good thing going: a series of AR-pattern uppers and lowers that match their Glock pistol know-how with unmodified Glock magazines and create some of the best shooting fun around.

The result is a pistol caliber carbine (PCC) that looks and acts just like a Stoner-pattern rifle but offers several advantageous twists. The biggest is probably those occasions when you’d want more than a pistol, but not want (and perhaps could not even safely use) a rifle cartridge’s power. We contend that a Lone Wolf G9 carbine in 9 mm or .40 S&W is just about perfect in those circumstances.

Lone Wolf offers its carbines in several configurations by caliber and barrel length, but the operating principles are the same in each. Unlike the original AR, they do not cycle the action by venting propellant gas through a port in the barrel behind the departing bullet. Such a direct impingement system isn’t necessary for the operating pressures generated by pistol ammunition, and makes the carbine simpler in many respects: There is no need for a locking bolt, nor the port and gas tube to transfer drive gas back to the action.

One thing you can’t easily swap out is the mag release, but we never wanted to: A massive target, it functions perfectly. [Photo credit: Darren Parker]

Like the vast bulk of rimfire arms (and smaller center-fire handguns under 9 mm caliber), the G9s are instead a “blowback” semi-automatic action. This means bolt mass and spring tension replace a mechanical “lock” of some form, keeping the action closed until pressures fall, ejecting the spent case and loading a subsequent round.

Another major (and darn clever) departure from both rifle-caliber ARs and some previous AR-based PCCs is the use of Glock pistol magazines. The tale of other feeding methods is long and somewhat checkered in terms of reliability, but this goes out the window with Lone Wolf’s dedicated lowers. Any staggered-stack mag that will run in a Glock pistol will work fine in a G9 of matching caliber.

Using the rest of the AR system, however, adds back in some wonderfully versatile advantages. A huge array of stocks, triggers, sights and other accessories fit a Lone Wolf PCC just as they would any other caliber of AR. We’re not saying your G9 carbine isn’t ready to go as you receive it—and delightfully so—just that most of the features that make the MSR America’s most popular rifle can figure into a pistol caliber carbine, too.

Though we’ve shot the G9 extensively in 9 mm, our range work this time focused on a sample in .40 S&W. We encountered some interesting differences. Our earlier 9 mm was an omnivore: After a brief wear-in period, it shot and cycled virtually anything, and we tested bullets of every profile we could get our hands on, varying in weight from 88 to 158 grains.

Our .40 S&W version was much the same, though a slight hiccup persisted. We found the same fussiness we see in many handguns for some truncated cone bullets. These are an obsession we just don’t follow in .40-caliber factory loadings, and the geometry that trips them up in handguns applied, on occasion, to our g9. The first round in a magazine occasionally misfeeds against the upper edge of the chamber, resulting in a bullet set well back into the case. (Even if the cartridge will subsequently feed, remember such a round should not be fired—bullet setback can drive pressure up dramatically and unsafely.) The good news is that this can be prevented with an expedient of long standing in self-loading firearms; simply load the magazine one round short. We’d take a different tack in terms of projectile shape if this were our carbine; with so many choices available these days, the problem can be avoided altogether with discriminating ammunition selection. If you handload of course, this concern too is right out the window.

Dedicated mag well and ultra-durable, reliable Glock mags. A perfect match. [Photo credit: Darren Parker]

Outside of this, the G9/.40 very much impressed us. Like the 9 mm version, handsome velocity improvements and sterling accuracy came from the longer barrel. At the extreme, our reference .40 handgun produced 437 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy with a 135-grain JHP bullet at 1,208 feet per second. The same non “+p” load came in at a sizzling 629 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy (velocity of 1,449 f.p.s.) from the PCC, an increase of 43 percent.

While it’s easy to be enthusiastic about the generous—and essentially “free”—energy boosts a PCC can provide to handgun ammunition, we were more impressed by the accuracy. There are a host of technical reasons you can’t expect pistol ammunition to perform like rifle ammunition out of similar barrel lengths, but we were nevertheless able to produce several groups with the above cartridges that were under 1 inch at 50 yards (.846 and .905 for five shots), and considerably better clusters that indict only our less-than-perfect use of the trigger. We had several groups of four shots at just over half an inch, and several more of three shots at half that (in the .260 to .300 range).

There’s also no doubt that our optic helped generate these fine results. The Vortex 1-4x24 “Viper PST” is a short/intermediate range mainstay for us, and the TMCQ reticle framed every aim point in typically impressive fashion. Dialed back to 1x and with both eyes open, plate rack runs to 40 yards were a rapid piece of cake.

We’d note in closing that while PCCs like the Lone Wolf G9, which are based on the AR plan, are a newish trend, the practice of “rifling up” a pistol cartridge has long been popular with American shooters. One need only point to the grand success of numerous lever-action predecessors from the 19th and 20th centuries to establish bona fides.

We predict much the same for the very fine G9.

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