Gun sales in the United States are strong this year, with defensive handguns continuing to be a popular purchase. Within this segment of the market, the polymer-frame, striker-fired semi-autos chambered in defensive calibers are selling well. Based in the United Arab Emirates, Caracal International is striving to carve a place in the U.S. market with its Caracal F (Full Size) and Caracal C (Compact) pistols chambered in 9 mm. With so many striker-type pistols available, it's easy to believe that there’s nothing new under the sun. But Caracal balanced the standard features desired by most shooters against several design choices to make its products stand out from the crowd.
The duty-size Caracal F made a good first impression right out of the box with its sleek lines, fit and finish and its spotlessly clean freedom from the usual factory grime and tailings. The slide has a low, rounded profile and rear slide serrations. The reduction of the slide height provides a lowered bore axis intended to reduce felt recoil. Caracal pistols are available with two sighting options. Customers can choose between the standard three-dot sights, or the company's proprietary Quick Acquisition Sight System, which was tested for this review.
The front sight is a dovetailed steel blade with a white dot. The rear sights are milled into the slide in front of the ejection port. The theory behind placing the rear sights farther forward on the slide is that a defensive sight picture can be formed more quickly. Where the rear sight is usually located there is a textured steel block that stands slightly higher than the rest of the slide. It’s drilled with a witness hole to allow the shooter to verify if the striker is cocked or decocked.
The frame is black polymer with internal steel supports at key friction points. This pistol accepts an 18-round, lightweight metallic magazine. The frame has a molded-in tactical rail for light and laser modules and a rounded trigger guard. The trigger contains a safety lever like other striker-fired pistols, which is the only external safety. The low-profile magazine release is ambidextrous and comfortable to operate with either hand.
Field stripping the Caracal F is quickly accomplished by first removing the magazine and verifying the pistol is completely unloaded. With the pistol pointed in a safe direction, pull the trigger to de-cock the striker. Then, pull back on the slide while pressing down on the takedown lever and pull the slide assembly forward off of the frame. A look inside the pistol reveals a polymer guide rod with a captured flat recoil spring. The 4.09-inch barrel contains standard rifling with a notch cut into the top of the chamber to act as a loaded chamber indicator.
A distinctive difference inside the Caracal's slide is the absence of a firing pin safety plunger. Many striker-fired pistols have this Glock-inspired component. While the part works successfully in preventing accidental discharges, it does create drag on the trigger mechanism making the trigger pull feel heavier. Instead of this up-and-down plunger, the Caracal has a flat-spring mounted device that swings to the side when the trigger is pulled. This feature is likely one of the reasons the Caracal's smooth trigger tipped the digital trigger gauge at just 4.15 pounds of pull, which is lighter than the advertised 4.85 pounds of pull. Most pistols in this category arrive from the factory with triggers that hover around the 5.5- to 6-pound range, or even heavier.
Carrying a full-size pistol concealed requires a solid holstering system. Being so new to the American market, not many holster options are available for the Caracal F. Luckily, Galco Gunleather offers a solution with its Jak Slide belt holster. Supported by one of Galco's 1 3/4-inch, hand-made holster belts, the Jak rides between the belt and pants to help smooth and hide the gun's shape under concealment clothing. The 26.5-ounce pistol rode comfortably in this holster during all-day carry, which can be used with a variety of semi-auto pistols.
At the shooting range, the Caracal's top-notch ergonomics came into play. The grip has a high and deep indentation, placing the shooting grip up tight against the bore axis of the low-riding slide and barrel. The trigger has a .25-inch stroke with no creep. The grip is rounded and comfortable, even for smaller hands, and the slide was smooth to cycle. All of these features add up to a low level of felt recoil when compared to the same ammunition fired out of similar pistols. It's not just a reduction in recoil that improves the feel, but also a reduction of the amount of shock transmitted into the palm of the shooting and support hands by the flexing and movement of the polymer frame. Usually, it takes a heavier, steel-frame semi-auto to tame the recoil of the 9 mm to the same level of the Caracal F.
The Quick Acquisition Sight System was interesting to work with, but not necessarily revolutionary. It does have some points in its favor worth mentioning. The rear sights do not blur out as much when focusing on the front sight. The front sight is less likely to be obscured by a portion of the rear sight when lining up the sight picture, and the sights are unlikely to snag on clothes or gear when the pistol is drawn. This configuration did not harm accuracy, but using a proper from-the-holster pistol presentation, they did not seem any easier to acquire than the typical three-dot system. The milled-in rear sights also eliminate an adjustable or night-sight option. Overall, it's a good system to work with, but it seems to be right on par with traditional sighting options.
The Caracal F provided an ideal platform for testing the Viridian CTL rail-mounted tactical light. The light arrives with three sets of rails, making it easy to mount on most full-size and compact handguns. The light is fully programmable, including brightness settings for the 100 lumen steady-on light and the pulse rate of the 140 lumen strobe. It was easy to activate the CTL using the ambidextrous power switch. The CTL is equipped with the Enhanced Combat Readiness system, making it compatible for use with Viridian’s Tacloc holster systems.
The Caracal F fed, fired and ejected a wide variety of ball and hollow-point ammunition without any malfunctions. It's safe to fire +P rated 9 mm ammunition in this pistol if the ammunition’s pressure levels fall within SAAMI limits. As with most handguns, a regular diet of hot loads will speed up wear and tear. This pistol produced excellent accuracy results for an off-the-shelf polymer pistol. Testing was conducted from a bench rest with targets set at 25 yards using five, five-shot groups. The best single group of 2 inches, and the best group average of 2.4 inches, were produced using Asym Precision's 124-grain bonded +P hollow points. Winchester 147-grain PDX-1 hollow points yielded a 2.5-inch average, followed by Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FTX at 2.7 inches.
The Caracal F 9 mm pistol proved to be a reliable, soft-shooting, accurate 9 mm pistol. As time goes by, the extra bits and parts that folks like for their defensive pistols, like fitted holsters and night sights, will surely become available. Sometimes new pistols show signs of being released too soon, with problems that still need to be hammered out. This is not the case with the Caracal. Instead, it behaves and performs like a well tuned, refined, and ready-to-work defensive handgun right out of the box. Caracal is selling a product that's going to give the competition a run for their money.