Smith & Wesson VTACII

by Brian McCombie

At least 20 wild hogs popped out of the west Texas mesquite and began trotting across a field some 80 to 90 yards to my right. A grey sow led the way, followed by a line of smaller hogs (not more than a few months old) and a couple medium-sized pigs. Bringing up the rear was a dark boar with a stout, triangular head and blocky shoulders. The way he took his time, you just knew: This big guy didn’t rush anywhere, for anyone.

I swung my Smith & Wesson VTACII rifle along the rail of my tripod stand, lined up the crosshairs of my scope on the mid-shoulder area, and squeezed off a shot. I followed with a fast follow up, even as the slab-sided hog jerked in the scope and began to sprint.

I fired twice more as he ran, both misses, as the hog was moving too fast and my heart suddenly beating too hard. He crossed behind a couple of trees, clearing them, his legs churning. As I tried to line up my scope on him, the boar hit the ground, tried to rise up, fell back and died.

At 90 yards with a broadside shot, any decent AR-style rifle could’ve made that first shot. But I also received some big assists with my successful second shot from this Smith & Wesson rifle. Assist One: Unlike a lot of AR’s on the market, the VTACII employs a mid-length gas system, meaning the VTACII’s gas tube is approximately 2 inches longer than the tube on a standard AR carbine system. That longer gas tube helps lessen the felt recoil by reducing the bolt carrier velocity. Less recoil equals faster follow-up shots.

Reason Two: The Geissele Super V Trigger that comes standard on the VTACII, a single-stage trigger with a 4- to 4.5-pound pull weight, is just about the smoothest AR trigger I have ever used.

Sitting 15 feet up in a tripod stand, my first bullet took the boar mid-shoulder and plunged down and through his heart-lung area. The next bullet hit him about 6 inches further back, not a kill shot but a solid follow up to help anchor him, a 310-pound west Texas boar.

I spent a good part of the summer in the field and on the range with the VTACII, and it is accurate, easy and fun to shoot, and light and nifty afield. It’s great for shooting, even better for hunting.

While I don’t do 3-Gun competitions, the rifle clearly has that 3-Gun look to it, especially with the 13-inch long VTAC/Troy Extreme TRX Handguard that allows for quick target transitions. The new handguard also helps to reduce heat transfer, while the multiple accessory slots provide many options for mounting accessories.

The rifle’s 16-inch barrel is constructed of 4150 CMV steel, has a 1:8-inch twist rate, and a Melonite finish. The rifle features 5R rifling, with five rifling grooves designed with more angular lands than most rifling. The 5R approach is designed to reduce bullet jacket deformation versus common sharper-edged lands, to reduce powder fouling at the corner of the grooves to maintain better accuracy and reduce copper fouling and cleaning times.

The barrel’s tipped with S&W’s patent-pending “Enhanced Flash Hider,” designed to significantly reduce flash signature and to direct gases and sound forward and away from the shooter.

The rifle also has a VLTOR IMod 6-Position, collapsible stock. It provides an excellent cheek weld that puts the face right at the correct eye level for the scope. A standard Picatinny rail runs along the top of the receiver and the handguard. Gas key and bolt carrier are chromed.

It also comes with a VTAC light mount, which fits most lights with a .80- to 1-inch diameter, and two, 2-inch adjustable Picatinny-style rails that can be mounted in the slots along the handguard. Rounding out the package are a VTAC Wide, Padded 2-Point Tactical Sling, a LPSM Low Profile Sling Mount and a 30-Round PMAG magazine.
Why so many “V’s” in the names and descriptors? Because the rifle’s the result of a collaboration between Smith and Wesson and U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Kyle Lamb (retired), a veteran of Army special operations and owner of Viking Tactics. A highly sought after tactical trainer, Lamb’s also the driving force behind Viking’s tactical products and accessories, many of which adorn the VTACII.

I fitted the rifle with a Leupold Mark AR Mod1 3-9x40 mm scope, attaching it with Leupold’s Mark 2 Integral Mounting System. I used this scope and rifle combo for all my range sessions and hunting time afield.

One problem I have when trying out new AR’s is that I tend to pull off too many shots, too fast. That makes a barrel heat up pretty fast (though the Troy Handguard worked as advertised and kept my hand cool), and accuracy definitely starts to waver from a very hot barrel. So while I started with four- and five-shot groups for accuracy testing at 100 yards, I ended up relying on three-shot groups and trying to let the VTACII cool down a bit between ammunition switches. Three shots, I felt, presented a better and fairer test for both the rifle and the ammunition.

I tried out four different brands of .223 ammunition for accuracy testing. The best three-shot group was from Hornady’s Superformace Match shooting a 75-grain BTHP bullet.  That ammunition consistently placed my groupings at 1 MOA or better, with the best three-shot string coming in at .780 of an inch.

Other .223 ammunition used, and their best groupings include: ASYM Precision with 70-grain SDX bullet, 1.25 inches; Dynamic Research Technologies 79-grain hollow-point bullets, 1.40 inches; and Remington Premier Match 62-grain hollow point, 1.55 inches.

I killed the boar with Remington’s new Hog Hammer .223 ammunition, which propels a 62-grain Barnes TSX bullet out of the muzzle at 3,100 fps. Some Hog Hammer arrived just before I headed out for my hog hunt, so I was able to quickly reset my scope’s zero with this new ammo—it had been sighted in with the Remington Premier Match— but I never formally tested accuracy with it.

I also didn’t use any ammunition with bullets under 62 grains. I do a good deal of hunting with AR’s in .223. So I tend to use and practice with .223 ammunition featuring the heavier, longer bullets that are better able to bring down medium- to larger-sized game animals.

Actually, my first experience with the VTACII occurred in July 2012, on a Wyoming prairie dog shoot. For ammunition, I shot Hornady 55-grain Zombie Max with green tips. The rifle/Z-Max combo was dead on all day long, with never a jam or misfire in 400-plus rounds.

In my more recent time with the VTACII, I put another 200 rounds through it. So, all in all, 600-plus rounds were fired through two different VTACII’s without a single jam, despite some very dusty conditions and switching between various ammo brands.

The only real problem with the VTACII is a suggested retail price of nearly $2,000. Yet, I know two people who’ve actually paid $400 less for their VTACII’s in a store. If you take a $900 AR and refit it with a new trigger, better handguards and stock, plus a tactical sling and light mount, you are looking at $1500 and maybe a bit more. With the VTACII, you are all ready to go.

Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson;
Caliber: .223 Rem/5.56 NATO
Action: semi-auto, mid-length gas system
Receiver: 7075 T6 Aluminum
Barrel: 16”
Rifling: 1:8” 5R rifling
Magazine: 30-round PMAG
Sights: none
Trigger: 4 to 4.5 lbs.
Stock: polymer
Overall Length: 36.75 extended, 33.5” collapsed
Weight: 6.28 pounds
Accessories: VTAC wide padded, two-point sling;  low profile sling mount; VTAC light mount.
Suggested Retail Price: $1,949


Manipulating a Semi-Auto

by Tiger McKee

The primary concern when using firearms, regardless of application, is safety. In defensive purposes there should also be efficiency. To operate a semi-auto pistol, shooters must know how to load/unload, check its condition, reload an empty gun and clear malfunctions.

The key to operating a pistol properly is consistency. Correct technique ensures predictable results, such as safety and efficiency. Straying from proper technique opens the door for trouble. It’s the small details, such as always maintaining a proper grip on your handgun, that make big differences.

In all situations, the pistol should stay in the shooting hand. Be sure to use a proper grip and point the muzzle in a safe direction with your finger clear of the trigger guard. This allows you to operate the pistol’s controls, such as safety or de-cocking levers and magazine release. If for some reason you transfer the pistol to your support hand, you should still use the correct grip. Using an improper grip can lead to the muzzle pointing in an unsafe direction or a finger ending up on the trigger. Consistency ensures safety.

Manipulations are split into two categories—administrative and functional. Loading, unloading and checking the status of a pistol are administrative actions. Functional manipulations keep the pistol running, and include reloading and clearing malfunctions. During all manipulations the trigger finger is off the trigger and clear of the trigger guard.

A lot of people take loading, unloading or checking the pistol’s status for granted, but these are very important skills. These actions must to be performed safely, plus they are the foundation for all other manipulations. Once you learn to load and unload you have all the skills required to reload and perform malfunction clearances.

To load, extend the pistol out in front of you with the muzzle pointing downward in a “low-ready” position. The support hand acquires the magazine with the index finger aligned along the front with the tip touching the top round. With a finger on the top round you can physically confirm it is a loaded magazine and that the top round is in position. If the round is sticking partially out, which would prevent you from inserting and seating the magazine into the pistol, the finger either pushes it back in or flips it out of the way. The basepad of the magazine should be against the heel of the hand so you can aggressively seat it into the pistol’s magazine well. Then, bring the magazine up to the pistol and index the back of the magazine against the back of the pistol’s magazine well. This is a positive index that you can feel, and it’s far easier than trying to stick the magazine in straight. Once you hit the index, align the magazine and seat it into the pistol firmly with the heel of the hand. Finally, cycle the slide aggressively by grasping the slide between the fingertips and heel of the hand in a C-clamp grip, making sure not to cover or block the ejection port.

Step one of unloading is to remove the magazine. One way to hold the magazine is by placing it in the pinky finger of the primary hand. This frees up the support hand to cycle the slide, and provides instant access, which comes into play when clearing malfunctions in a lethal encounter. Cycle the slide aggressively three times. Three times is the magic number, and again comes into play for malfunctions. The final step is a press-check to confirm the chamber is clear.

Even with pistols that have a loaded chamber indicator I perform a “press-check” to ensure a round is chambered by pressing the slide slightly to the rear. I grab the slide, then slip my hand forward, putting the thumb on the rear serrations for extra grip, and crack it open to visually inspect the chamber. You can also bring the support hand under the pistol, pinching the slide between thumb and first finger, and press it rearward. After the press-check engage the safety or de-cock if required. Finally, especially for self-defense use, top off the magazine by replacing the round you just put into the chamber.

The sequence to load/unload or run a system-check always begins with the magazine—inserting, removing—and ends by checking the chamber. Maintaining this sequence reduces your chances of making a mistake. Remember, consistency is the key. Consistency is also critical to operating the pistol’s safety or de-cocking device.

With most pistols the slide will lock open when the last round is fired, letting you know it’s time to reload. Step one is to get your finger off the trigger and clear of the trigger guard. For defensive applications keep the pistol up and on target during functional manipulations. This allows you to maintain visual contact with the threat, see your handgun and cuts out wasted, unnecessary motion, which makes you more efficient. Press the mag release. On most pistols the magazine will drop free but with some it may be necessary for the support hand to strip the magazine out. For defensive applications that magazine is empty and useless so we drop it to the ground.

The support hand acquires and seats the fresh magazine. Once the magazine is seated, chamber a round by cycling the slide aggressively. Do not use the slide lock as a release unless your pistol specifically recommends this method. First, it’s a slide lock, not a release. Also, cycling the action brings it back that extra distance that ensures it slams into battery under full spring pressure. For defensive situations, when you’re under stress, that slide lock can be difficult to find. Also, some pistols don’t have an external lock, which means cycling the slide is the only way to chamber a round. I always manipulate the pistol in a manner that works with any handgun I may be shooting.

Malfunctions come in a variety of flavors. First though, keep in mind that a malfunction is something you can correct to get the pistol running again. A jam usually requires time and tools to clear.

The most common reason for pressing the trigger and not getting a bang is no round in the chamber due to an unseated magazine, which is the reason for the Tap & Rack drill. Tap the magazine to ensure it is seated. After seating the magazine, cycle the slide to chamber a fresh round. This sequence also clears Type II malfunctions, commonly called a “stove-pipe.” This approach is simple and consistent with all other manipulations.

If the Tap & Rack doesn’t fix the problem, you’re probably facing a Type III malfunction, commonly called a “double-feed.” You need to unload the pistol and then load it. Hit the magazine release and strip it out of the pistol. The magazine goes into the pinky finger of the strong hand, while the support hand cycles the slide three times. Once the slide goes into battery, use the magazine to load the pistol. Remember to position the magazine correctly in the support hand as you load it to ensure there is ammo in the magazine and the top round situated properly.

If cycling the slide three times doesn’t bring the gun back into battery, don’t keep trying. There may be a bullet in the bore and attempting to load the pistol over and over can force the bullet far enough down the barrel that eventually you will be able to chamber a round. Attempting to fire the pistol with a bullet lodged in the barrel will be ugly. When the pistol goes puff and there’s no recoil stop immediately and go to your backup. Chances are you have a squib load. The bullet had enough pressure to drive it part way down the barrel but not all the way out.

How much you practice manipulations, particularly the functional actions, depends on your intended application. For general range shooting sessions these are good skills to have. For competition, knowing how to perform a smooth reload will give you a better score. In a lethal encounter, the ability to clear a malfunction efficiently under stress in the dark while moving is mandatory. For those who carry a handgun, it’s critical to learn the manipulations to the point that they become a subconscious process you don’t have to think about. Regardless of why you own pistols, your task, as with any other tool, is to learn how to operate it properly.


August 31, 2014

Skot Giles' fiancee heard a disturbance in the living room of their home. when she went to investigate, she was surprised to find an armed intruder wearing a hooded sweatshirt and face paint. Giles found himself at gunpoint after responding to his fiancee's scream. The intruder demanded Giles' wallet and to open a safe in their bedroom. When Giles' fiancee realized that their children had awakened due to the disturbance, she took action in an effort to protect them. She grabbed a walking stick and swung it at the intruder giving Giles enough time to grab his own firearm. Giles fired, causing the intruder to flee. Although the suspect left a trail of blood, he is reportedly still at large. Giles said, "I wanted to save my family. That's what's precious to me." (, Bloomington, Ind., 2/22/14)

A 34-year-old man was seen going to the sixth floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel around 1 p.m. breaking lights in the hallway and knocking on hotel room doors. One witness opened their door and the man said he was "looking for someone to kill." The occupant slammed the door prompting the man to go to another hotel room door. John Neal, 43, waited until he thought the man was gone before opening the door and calling security. The man, however, was not gone and charged at Neal. Neal drew his pistol and fired once. The assailant died at the scene. No other injuries were reported. (San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio, Texas, 7/15/14)

From The Armed Citizen® Archives
October 1959: John Paul, who lives in a basement apartment below his St. Paul, Minn., furniture store, heard intruders' footsteps and got his cal. .38 revolver. In the dim glow of the street light, Paul saw two burglars and fired several shots at them. One dropped at the scene, critically wounded; the other smashed through the window but was later captured at his home. (The Minneapolis Star)


Past Articles

Mix Six: The S&W Governor
by Wiley Clapp

Smith & Wesson calls it the "Mix-Six-Shooter" because you can mix and match loads to suit your needs. Read More »

The Smith & Wesson Model 632 .327 Fed. Mag. Revolver
by NRA Staff

The S&W Model 632 is a good all-around gun that offers ammunition versatility and several features that allow for easy handling by both men and women. Read More »

S&W's New Bodyguards
by Wiley Clapp

S&W addresses America's interest in compact and concealable handguns. Read More »

Smith & Wesson's M&P Goes Long
by Michael Humphries

Smith & Wesson's M&P15 series combines old-fashioned quality with cutting-edge design, and the offerings continue to expand. Read More »

The Smith & Wesson SD40
by by Paul Rackley, Associate Online Shooting Editor

S&W performs polymer magic with its SD series.
Read More »

The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
by Joseph L. Kurtenbach, AR Assistant Editor

Unveiled at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in St. Louis, Mo., Smith & Wesson's newest product, the M&P Shield, is sure to turn heads. Read More »

Smith & Wesson VTACII
by Brian McCombie

With a mid-length gas tube, Geissele trigger and a multitude of Viking Tactics' gear... Read More »

Past Tips

Carrying in the Car
by Jim Wilson

Effectively carrying your firearm in a vehicle can prove to be a tricky task—here are some tips to help you prepare. Read More »

Defensive Handgun Maintenance Tips
by Jim Wilson

Regular care and maintenance keeps your carry gun ready for anything. Read More »

Concealed Carry: The Strong Side
by Paul Rackley, Associate Online Shooting Editor

Strong-side concealed carry keeps a gun close at hand. Read More »

Self-Defense Pistol 101
by Richard Mann

Using a handgun to defend your life requires more than just a familiarity with firearms. Read More »

Manipulating a Semi-Auto
by Tiger McKee

Pistol manipulation requires efficiency and consistency, especially under pressure, and the basics must be mastered. Read More »



The year that Smith & Wesson introduced the first stainless-steel gun—the Model 60.


The number of states that have passed Right-to-Carry laws.

94 Percent

The amount the firearm accident death rate has fallen since 1904.

74 Percent

Percentage of Americans who are skeptical of smart gun technology, according to a McKeon & Associates poll.