Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Range Report vz.52, 9x19mm

The last two Saturdays, I've attempted (with varying degrees of success) to hammer away at a panoply of steel targets, in full view of people who have invested more into their gun than I have into my entire firearms collection and reloading setup. I'm fully convinced that my setup's cost is approximately 2/5 of the next most expensive firearm on the range, namely my range buddy's SIGPro SP2340. The weapon I've been running with is the cult-classic CZ vz.52 handgun, equipped with a drop-in Czech 9x19mm barrel and resting in a the criminally ghetto military-style full-flap holster that came with it.

The barrel in question comes with a few disclaimers, mostly pertaining to feeding and ejection reliability. For those not in the know, a vz.52 in passable condition is a *flawless* performer with the native 7.62x25mm caliber. Due to the near-identical case heads, the only thing required to shoot 9x19mm is a barrel change. This is all well and good, except that due to the OAL being a good 5mm shorter, the rounds don't exactly get along with the magazines. Every third round or so pops up a good 75 degrees, jamming the slide 2/3ds back and being a pain in the ass to clear. This is in addition to the fact that the bottlenecked Tokarev cartridge has a nice conical quality to it, which slides into the chamber quite nicely, whereas the Parabellum is a stubby cylinder nowhere near as aerodynamic or elegant. Given the length disparity, those 9x23mm Largo barrels that were up on Makarov.com suddenly make a lot of sense. Whoops, only a few years too late. So the feeding problem's a fixture if I want to run 9mm; if I'm shooting plates and IPSC-style stuff, I'm stuck; they don't much like me shooting semi-armor-piercing FMJs at 1500+fps at their nice targets for some reason.

See, the magazines I got with the CZ have a problem. They go "sproing" when loaded and held by anyone that isn't me. More specifically, the floorplate wiggles its way loose and the magazine spring bounces gaily into an inaccessible corner, right after I have told the person then holding the gun that it's really sweet once it gets running. After an awful experience with Triple-K magazines (the follower actually jumps the slide catch, which requires the user to remove the left grip and poke at the lockwork with a paperclip for a while to actually get the magazine out of the gun) I got some original Czech magazines from J&G. These look identical to the original magazines, but don't go "sproing."

The icing on the cake is this: they solve the feeding problem. It turns out that the feed lips on the original mags, after thousands upon thousands of rounds, have been nicely radiused; the corners on the lips are instead graceful curves. This is bad. The new magazines have rail-straight feed lips that fully restrain a 9x19mm cartridge. This is most definitely good. They also don't jam in the slide catch, because the follower isn't a bent piece of 10-gauge sheet steel.


So now I have a 98% steel-shooting gun. 98%, because it does still jam from time to time, but with 8-round mags, everyone probably just figures I'm executing a tactical reload for some reason.

The nice thing about re-barrelling a handgun like this is that it retains the same operating mechanism; namely, a form of roller-retarded blowback. It's not techincally roller-delayed blowback like on an H&K, but it's got rollers, and I can say it's got the same mechanism as an MG42, so whatever. Anyway, it's got the advantages: it's smooth, accurate, and controllable. The bore axis is a bit on the high side, but with a small caliber like 9mm combined with Hogue hand-alls, recoil's a non-issue; accuracy is extremely good at least in part because the barrel movement is minmal (3mm straight back) and never changes angle; and the slide movement is not at all violent. So it's great for repeatable hits on small targets. Guess what a plate rack is.

There is, of course, the matter of the grip angle, and the other, possibly related issue of the sights.

The CZ52 has a fairly straight grip angle, at least compared to, say, a 1911. To it points funky until you get used to it. An incorrect grip can be a bit too easy to get, especially if it's not your preferred gun; with a slightly low strong-hand grip and a high, competition-style weak-hand grip with high thumb, it points quite nicely. This takes practice (some would say too much practice).

Once you've nailed down the grip, the sight picture comes into play. People gevetch about military-style sights, and not necessarily without merit. They're small, they're hard to focus on in the right conditions, they don't have any bells or whistles like micrometer click adjustment or tritium night sights. But in this case, they work. The parkerizing has a great deal to do with it, actually. A 60% gray target picture is more receptive to value differences in the target. Let's put it this way. A click-adjustable Bo-Mar style target sight is fantastic if you want an adjustable aimpoint, a wide, clear sight picture, and good relief between the front and rear sights. However, they come in black. 99% of bullseyes are black. Trying to focuse on a black front sight against a black target in anything but blistering midday sunlight is, to put it mildly, difficult. One might prefer 'downright impossible' if one has computer eyes. After a while, a can of day-glo spray paint is a vital addition to your range bag if you want groups and not patterns. Three-dot sights, on the other hand, solve the focusing problem beautifully. There is a nice white dot floating in front of you that your eye focuses on to the exclusion of everything else in the current scene. However, the dot is not necessarily the aimpoint, or covers up the point of aim. For combat shooting, this is fine - the human head is rather larger than the 3" difference or so. In plate shooting, this is the difference between hitting the plate, hitting the hinge, and hitting the railroad tie the hinge is bolted to. So the CZ52's 60% gray parkerized sights are a surprisingly good compromise. It helps that the point of impact is perfectly zeroed to the sight in both calibers, probably another result of the lack of barrel movement.

The sights are very usable until the guy at the front of the range hits the wrong switch and powers down the halogen target floods, which (of course) take a good 5 minutes to spool back up from off. When the guy next to you is a cop with a Springfield XD and nice tritium three-dots, the results are kind of embarassing.

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