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A RECOIL Grudge Match Inspired by the Military’s MHS Selection

Photos by Iain Harrison, Kenda Lenseigne, and Rob Curtis

Do you trust the government to make good decisions? Trust and government in the same sentence is definitely oxymoronic, but the sky is blue, and water is also wet. It’s frightening to think that major decisions depend on people who can’t determine what the meaning of the word “is” is. Which brings us to the government’s XM17 Modular Handgun System contract competition, or MHS for short. The M9, based on the Beretta 92FS, is at the end of its military service life, and the winner of the MHS (designated the M17 is to be its replacement). The story should end there, but there’s controversy, and the contract decision won’t go quietly into that good night.

It’s hard to see anything through the fog of bureaucracy, and there are very few facts about the MHS contracting process out in the public record at this point. The controversy began when Glock USA issued a press release alleging the Army failed to perform the testing outlined in the government’s own request for proposal, or RFP in contracting parlance. Instead of focusing on which pistol performs best in testing, the claim is made that the Army simply went for the one that is cheapest.

According to the 351-page solicitation, the XM17 had to adhere to a multitude of requirements. An integrated rail for accessories, external safeties, and adjustable ergonomics were among the main characteristics for candidates. The contenders were reportedly subjected to 12,500 rounds of testing with most (if not all) done on a mechanical rest.

In the civilian market, marketing sells more guns than any testing ever could. The company that wins the contract can expect an influx of buyers who want the gun that’s good enough for our boys overseas. The problem is, thanks to concerns raised by the MHS contract runner up, we may not know if it’s the best performer.

Since you and I can’t buy the actual MHS submission guns, we decided to pit the closest options on the market (at press time) to the .mil guns against each other with a few tests and drills to see how they stack up. We also threw in a Beretta 92 to see how it fared against the new kids on the block.

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The Test
Look. We aren’t the government. We didn’t honcho a huge test and run a multi-year procurement program. No, we just took some pistols out to the range to satisfy our curiosity.

The actual MHS pistols are still under wraps, but we know there were functional changes made in each of the platforms to meet the Army’s requirements. We’re as excited to get our hands on the actual MHS submissions as anyone; this article only gives us an idea how the civy models of these manufacturers’ submissions fare when facing off in a set of shooter-defined scenarios.

Our testing parameters and procedures are simpler than the military ones. We don't have the facilities to perform no-kidding, Mil-spec environmental testing. We also don't have the budget to buy 100,000 rounds of ammunition in an effort to simulate a government reliability or durability test. So, we’re cutting to the core and looking at the pure shooting performance of these pistols.

When testing basic shooting technique the same old drills always come up. The Bill Drill and the El Presidente are two drills that go a long way in testing a gun’s shootability. The bill drill shows how the gun reacts in recoil. The El Prez has been so popular for so long that there are probably some cave drawings in Africa diagramming the first time it was tried. It goes a few steps further, adding target transitions, manipulation, and a reload. These really are exceptional drills as they’re not only tests of skill, but also fun and easy to set up. Consistency is the main concern with testing, and short simple drills work well for this. For consistency’s sake, we used only one kind of ammunition for all shooting.

Keeping with the theme of simplicity, our scoring is based on the hit factor system used in scoring practical shooting competition. The hit factor shows how many points per second are scored. The higher the hit factor, the higher you are on the podium. Groups were shot off a bench at 20 yards to test the gun’s accuracy. It’s surprising how shooting a group is the simplest form of marksmanship, yet is so difficult to master. Any inconsistency with trigger control results in a target that looks like Swiss cheese rather than one ragged hole.

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