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Recoil Management: Springfield's 9 mm Luger XD-S

Recoil Management: Springfield's 9 mm Luger XD-S

The first gun in Springfield’s XD series with a single-stack magazine-and chambered in .45 ACP-the Springfield XD-S notched the 2013 American Rifleman Golden Bullseye Award for Handgun of the Year. The editors felt the gun’s .45 ACP chambering set the XD-S .45 apart from its contemporaries among the past year’s bumper crop of new striker-fired, polymer-frame, short, thin pistols designed for discreet carry. The size and width of the gun were similar to others, but the XD-S delivered the punch of the .45 ACP cartridge. In his article “Small Wonder: Springfield’s XD-S,” Senior Executive Editor Brian C. Sheetz hinted that “those who find its other attributes enough to recommend it will be pleased to know that Springfield has plans to produce the pistol ‘in other popular calibers.’”

We knew demand was high and were prepared to wait awhile for the next gun in the line to emerge. So imagine my surprise when Springfield Armory’s competitive shooter, Rob Leatham, handed me an XD-S in 9 mm Luger as the first gun I fired at a very chilly range day in January. Welcome to “other popular calibers.” Not only does it look identical-you’ll need to put your reading glasses on to see the subdued inscription on the slide’s left or the chambering stamped on the barrel’s rear-but its size and weight are pretty much the same.

Leatham explained “With the 9 mm, every dimension’s the same. The barrel length, the slide length, the width, the heights of everything, and the barrel’s outer diameter is the same. Of course the hole in the 9 mm is smaller, so there’s more metal in the barrel’s wall. The nine actually weighs fractionally more that the .45 does, until you load them.”

Height for the XD-S in 9 mm Luger is 4.41 inches, the frame is 0.975-inches across-with the widest point being 1.09 inches at the takedown lever-and the gun is 6.34-inches long with its 3.3-inch barrel. Even the opening for the barrel in the side’s front is within a thousandth. Outer barrel diameter is 0.862 inches for both guns, but because the bore diameter barrel thickness is 0.31 inches vs. 0.14 inches. Comparing weights of the two guns, unloaded, the .45 comes in at 21.6 ounces, while the 9 mm is 22.5 ounces-a difference of 0.9 ounces. When loaded with five 230-grain, .45 ACP cartridges, the .45 weighs 25.4 ounces, and the 9 mm with seven 124-grain cartridges weighed 25.6 ounces.

To go over the XD-S’s basic operation, it is a polymer-frame, recoil-operated, striker-fired semi-automatic pistol in which the striker is pre-cocked for most of its travel when the slide is cycled. Much of the trigger pull weight results from clearing the multiple safeties built into the design. There is no manual safety, but there is a grip safety in the backstrap that must be depressed. There is also an articulated blade safety in the front face of the trigger that must be depressed in order for the trigger to move fully rearward. There is no cocking indicator, but there is a loaded-chamber indicator to the rear of the barrel on the slide’s top; if it protrudes at its front, a round is present.

Sights are dovetailed into the front and rear of the slide, and the front is a red fiber-optic pipe, while the rear has two white dots. The front of the rear sight base is proud, allowing it to be used to retract the slide against a hard surface in an emergency.

Positioned on the frame at the rear of the trigger guard, the magazine release is bilateral. Its face angles forward slightly and is cross-hatched. Because of differences in cartridge dimensions, there are obvious dimensional differences in the magazines. The .45 ACP is 1.260-inches deep by 0.56-inches wide, while the 9 mm is 1.375-inches deep and 0.56-inches wide. If they are built on the same frame, how is it that the 9 mm magazine doesn't wobble? Springfield molded in two tapered lugs to the inside rear face of the magazine well, spacers if you will, that take up 0.261 inches but leave plenty of room for debris to pass by them. Magazine height is the same, but the 9 mm accepts seven rounds, as opposed to five with the .45 ACP. The stainless steel magazine body has the Springfield logo on its front and witness holes on either side marked from “2” to “7” for the seven-rounder. Each gun comes with two seven-round magazines, and extended nine-round-capacity magazines are available. The latter has a collar that mates with the contour of the grip frame and, when installed, takes the gun’s overall height from 4.4 inches to 5.31 inches. Magazines are ejected with authority, although molded into the bottom of the frame and the top of the collar are recesses on both sides that give the shooter enough purchase to rip one free if necessary. In my more than 400 rounds through the gun, it wasn’t.

If you have the top-selling, award-winning .45 ACP hideout gun, why mess with success? And why a 9 mm? In a word, recoil. The recoil energy is substantially less from the 9 mm cartridge than for a 45 ACP. “The .45 [XD-S] is the most compact, shootable, micro-compact .45 that we’ve ever had,” said Leatham. “But, it’s not for everybody. Because a 21-ounce .45-no matter how controllable it is-still has a lot of recoil, and some people want a few more rounds. So the elements that play into that is the 9 mm one has cheaper ammo, and it kicks a lot less and it holds two more shots.”

Doing the numbers on free recoil energy with fully loaded guns (remember, the more you shoot, the lighter a gun gets and the more recoil it produces) the 9 mm XD-S with a 124-grain 9 mm Luger at 1050 f.p.s. produces a recoil impulse of 0.58 pound-seconds and free recoil energy of 3.36 feet-pounds, while a 230-grain .45 ACP at 850 f.p.s. delivers a recoil impulse of 0.87 pound-seconds and free recoil energy of 7.53 feet-pounds. That is a substantial reduction out of what is essentially the same platform. The cost? The 9 mm load generates 303 feet-pounds of energy at the muzzle, while the .45 ACP comes in at 369 feet-pounds. I do not want to become embroiled in the 9 mm vs. .45 debate, but this is merely to demonstrate that those less willing to tolerate or effectively use a .45 may find the recoil reduction an attractive option.

As I commented to Leatham, I’ve shot the .45 quite a lot, and compared to the .45, the 9 mm version is much more shooter-friendly. Function firing and accuracy testing on the range-during which there were no malfunctions-backed that up. The sample gun’s trigger averaged 6 pounds, 11 ounces for 10 pulls, and best results were achieved with a deliberate, smooth draw. Trying to stage the trigger is difficult as it is carrying out three separate mechanical operations.

Pairs come quickly, and the time back onto target for follow up shots was demonstrably less than with the .45. “That’s the biggest thing, if you have somebody that just doesn’t like the all the recoil of the .45, there it is,” said Leatham. “It’s the same small package, holds a couple more rounds and doesn’t kick.” That, succinctly, sums up the 9 mm Luger version of Springfield’s XD-S.

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