September 24, 2010
By Patrick Sweeney
We can thank the U.S. Army for the interest in, and production of, medium-capacity .45 ACP pistols with all the latest features. We can also thank the U.S. Army for not having enough on the ball to actually get out and buy them. Had it done so, we would find ourselves having to wait for guns instead of being able to go out and get the goodies right now--goodies like the new PX4 Storm in .45 ACP.
Like the previous Storms, which are chambered in 9mm and .40 S&W, Beretta's latest employs a rotating barrel lockup system. It's a design that, while not widely used, has a long history.
The Savage models 1910, 15 and 17 pistols in .32 and .380 used rotating barrels. The later French MAB-15 barrel also rotated. For being chambered only in .32 or .380, the little Savage pistols were kind of sharp in recoil. The MAB-15, despite being perhaps the heaviest 9mm handgun ever made, is downright rude in recoil. The new Beretta PX4 Storm .45 ACP uses a rotating barrel but to better effect and lesser recoil for its caliber than those earlier pistols.
Why a rotating barrel? The attraction of rotation to designers is that it gives them a way to make a pistol not so tall. If you start by selecting the .45 ACP as the cartridge to be used, you then have to make a locking mechanism, slide, frame and magazines to accommodate the portly little pills. The 1911 is the clear winner in this regard, with the lowest bore-line-to-hand relationship of any handgun. However, the very compactness of that relationship precludes a double-action trigger mechanism in the 1911, and double action is the trigger design that modern purchasers (especially police and military) desire.
Another attraction to rotating-barrel designs is the barrel itself. In a production line you can assign ultra-precise CNC lathes to produce barrels very quickly and to tight tolerances. Without protruding locking lugs, cams, barrel feet or hoods, the process goes much faster.
Had Beretta tried to scale up the drop-block locking system of the M92 to accept the .45 ACP cartridge, it probably would have ended up with something bigger than the HK Mk 23, a crew-served handgun. So Beretta's engineers wisely decided not to go that route and selected instead the Storm with its rotating barrel as the starting point for a .45 ACP service pistol.
My first impression of the .45 ACP Storm was that it was light. When I first picked it up off the table, I almost tossed it into the air. I was expecting something along the lines of the aforementioned 1911, which in a steel Government model runs more than two pounds to as heavy as 36 or 38 ounces.
The .45 ACP Storm registers at 28.5 ounces on my postal meter scale with an empty nine-shot magazine. Not a lot different, as you look at the numbers, but enough that it feels light in the hands. Again, using a 1911 as a comparison, a lightweight Commander is hard-pressed to go much under 28 ounces.
It has the current-fashion exchangeable backstraps. The grip, for being a medium-capacity .45 ACP, is quite trim. I can just about get the tip of my right thumb to the first joint of my second finger when holding the PX4 Storm in a firing grip. I don't feel like I'm trying to grasp a 2x4-shaped bullet hose, sacrificing grip stability for extra shots.
It comes with two types of magazines: a flush-base nine-shot and an extended-base 10-shot. The 10-shot adds half an inch, and neither is oversized. I would not be at all uncomfortable packing even longer magazines in web gear in order to get a dozen or 14 shots in a longer magazine. I'd much rather do that than have shorter, fatter magazines for added capacity.
One aspect of the Beretta I find I like better than other high-caps or medium-capacity pistols is the shape of the tang area. Many of the others are blocky there, and in recoil I can feel the corners of the tang of those pistols hammering the web of my hand.
I first noticed such a design phenomenon when firing a Nazi-proofed Mauser HSc 30 years ago. As sexy as it looks and as puny as the recoil of the .32 ACP is, a few magazines of shooting that pistol and I had tears in my eyes.
The Storm is nicely rounded in the tang, and I don't feel that the recoil forces are being focused into any particular part of my hand. How comfortable? As is my wont, I shot so much I think our hosts were keeping a stash of ammo under the counter just so others would get a chance to shoot the .45 Storm.
However, there is a price to be paid for everything. The Storm's bore axis is a bit higher than the 1911. That and the lighter weight mean the m
uzzle jumps around more than you'd expect. Not that the recoil is anything to complain about--just that the muzzle is going to move. Fear not; it isn't going anywhere and will be right back where you want it in short order.
Brian Enos, the stellar competition shooter of the 1980s and 1990s, remarks in his book Practical Shooting: "I don't care if the front sight rises up into the sky and signs my name with a flourish. As long as it comes back down into the rear sight, recoil is not a problem."
The Storm front sight comes back down into the rear sight for me. I do not have to squirm behind the grip to keep the front sight under control. The recoil isn't harsh or oppressive--the muzzle just comes up some is all, and I can live with that. The size of the grip and the nonslip grip texture keep it solidly in my hand under recoil.
As for velocity and accuracy, it is what you'd expect--at least in velocity. With a barrel length of four inches, it delivers about what you'd figure a lightweight Commander would deliver: 50 fps less than a full-size gun. With the .45 ACP, which does its work with mass and cross-sectional area and not velocity, giving up 50 fps is no big deal.
What I found fascinating was its apparent ammo preferences. Now, this particular pistol is one of a handful of prototypes here in the U.S. The "production" of them was more like gunsmiths hand-fitting parts from short CNC runs off the computer-driven milling machines. So the accuracy and the acceptance of ammo of this particular pistol should not be taken as the norm for the ones you'll get.
This one does not like hardball--a situation I'm certain Beretta will correct, as that is mostly what the regular guns will get fed. Give this gun 230-grain full metal jacket ammo and you'll get groups four inches or larger at 25 yards. With some brands I tried, groups were a lot worse.
At first I thought it was me, and I checked myself by switching to a high-end 9mm target gun I had along on the same range trip: five shots into just over an inch at the same distance. So back to the PX4 Storm in .45 ACP I went: a five-inch group. Ouch. Out of equal parts frustration and desperation, I tried some high-speed hollowpoints. Wow. Five shots of Black Hills 185-grain JHPs went into three inches on the first group, and once I'd gotten accustomed to the brisker recoil, I could do better than that all the time.
Why the difference? I can only speculate. Rotating-barrel designs use barrel rotation counter to the torque created by the bullet engaging the rifling. (Barrel rotates left, torque pushes right, or vice-versa.) If the bullet is slow, the barrel may have time to rotate enough to change the fit of the barrel muzzle to the slide opening. Or not.
The PX4 Storm uses frame rails of steel, cast in place in the injection-molded frame. The cam block which controls barrel rotation is a separate steel block that's machined to fit the barrel and frame and rests in place in the frame. When I stripped the PX4, the barrel feels snug in its front-to-back fit in the slide, but I could feel a small amount of movement in the barrel-to-slide muzzle fit. When I rotate the barrel to its unlocked position, the muzzle fit gets a bit looser.
As a gunsmith, I can't help but wonder what re-fitting the muzzle end of the barrel would do for accuracy. An hour with a lathe to fit an oversize sleeve and then custom-fitting it to the slide could turn this or any PX4 Storm into a real tack-driver. Or not. Only experimenting will tell.
For all of my grumbling about accuracy, I was able to slam down the falling plates as fast with the .45 ACP Storm as I was with the 9mm or .40 Storms. Part of that was the certainty of the .45 in action: hit a plate, and you know it is going over. An edge hit with a .45 does as well as a center hit. With the .40, not so much, and with the 9mm you really have to follow-through to be certain of a center hit and a falling plate. Which is the same kind of attraction in defensive uses that the .45 has: It works better.
I found no problems in feeding or reliability with any ammo. The .45 ACP Storm didn't care what it was, as long as it wasn't some wretched reload from your brother-in-law. But not all parts of the Beretta were so accommodating.
At one point I practiced malfunction drills and found a problem right away: the decocking levers. The ambi levers let you decock the hammer safely and allow you to get the Storm back to hammer-down position for holstering. The levers are sculpted for good looks and ease of use. They are also sharp on the front edges. So if you grab the slide to rack it (say, if you had a dud primer) you'll find the edges are like hooks.
I tried it a couple of times, found I couldn't grab the slide without feeling like the Storm was trying to bite me, and quit. I went back to the Beretta folks and complained (politely, of course). Vincent DeNiro, the Beretta vice president in charge of dealing with gun writers, immediately knew what I was getting on about.
"The designers went for looks, and I've already talked to them about it," he told me. "They're changing it right now."
So the future PX4 Storm .45 ACP pistols won't be like manic little puppies looking to chew your hands. As those were the only sharp edges I could find, I'm expecting the production guns to be marvelous indeed. After all, a medium-capacity .45 ACP pistol that is slim in the hands, light in weight, easy in recoil and simple to use can't be all bad, right?
I'm sure Beretta will solve that little accuracy glitch I encountered and take those sharp edges off. Add in the light rail, a finish that's impervious to all known solvents, Beretta reliability and sturdy magazines, and the complete package is quite attractive.
Now if the U.S. Army would just get over its squeamishness concerning handguns and get us back to the .45 ACP cartridge, we could have a Beretta service pistol able to carry us into the 21st century. Hmm, M45 anyone? Get yours before the Army gets smart.
BERETTA PX4 STORM .45
|MANUFACTURER: ||Beretta USA, 800-237-3882 |
|TYPE: ||Rotating-barrel semiauto |
|CALIBERS: ||.45 ACP |
|MAGAZINE CAPACITY: ||9 and 10 |
|BARREL LENGTH: ||4 inches |
|OVERALL LENGTH: ||7.625 inches |
|HEIGHT: ||5.5 inches |
|WEIGHT: ||28.5 ounces |
|PRICE: ||$625 |