Range Report: 6.8 SPC, and the PPQ and XDM go head-to-head

Got back out to the range today, and took a Stag Arms gas piston upper receiver in 6.8 SPC out for a drive, along with a head-to-head matchup on the Springfield XDM and Walther PPQ M2.

The Rifle

This is the first time any rounds have been put through this, at least by me. The setup is the upper receiver mated with a 3-12x UTG optic. The gas piston system should be easier to clean.
How did it go? 

My observations:

  • The UTG 3-12x scope is billed as “compact.” Hogwash. 
  • The quick-detach rings I bought so I could take the thing on and off don’t really detach quickly
  • I forgot my laser boresighter at home, so I couldn’t properly zero at the 46-yd max range at the indoor bay
  • The scope is what it is, an inexpensive, decent-but-not-great tool. I’ll eventually upgrade to a better one

As for the rifle itself

  • It was comfortable to shoot. The 6.8 isn’t a punishing cartridge
  • The gas piston system was, in fact, easy to clean
  • Not once did the piston chamber a new round. Not. Once. I think I need to adjust the gas pressure or something, but I really expected it to work out of the box. 
  • Edit: it very well could be a spring and buffer issue as well, as I note below
Accuracy was OK, and compromised by my shooting position for a bit. It really matters how tall your stool is, where you rest your elbows, that sort of thing. I eventually at least managed moderate accuracy, but nothing approaching anything good. The picture to the left shows my best 10-round string, with one flier (I flinched) and the rest with a reasonable cluster, but again, that’s probably 4-6 MoA shooting (3″ at 50yds).
A guy who was there said that when he built his own ARs, he found that it would take a few times out, cleaning and lubing the system heavily. 
Overall, I was a bit disappointed. The Stag piston upper is not a cheap bit of kit, and having to pull the charging handle 80 times left its mark. But by the end, at least there were some shots that went where they were supposed to go. The advice given by Hans-Christian was good, though: don’t put a crappy to mediocre optic on a good rifle. You will be disappointed.

Edit: I remember that this is also the first time I used the collapsing MagPul stock that you see, instead of the fixed stock. This means I have to check my buffer weight and buffer spring to make sure I have the right ones. An overly-stiff buffer spring or too-high weight, I think, would cause the short-stroke problem.

GURPS Me, Rifle Style
In GURPS terms, with a 10x optic giving me +3 to hit, I managed to put 9 shots into . . . let’s call it a 2.5″ circle. I could claim the +3 for precisely knowing the range, +3 for the no-risk factors, and I’ll say +2 for the quality of the range, which frankly isn’t that good. I was shooting from a rest, so I could claim “braced” for +1 on my AoA(Determined). The rifle is most likely Acc 5. Range was basically 50 yds, which is -8. Finally, the 2.5″-3″ circle itself is something like a -8. Total bonuses of +18, penalties of -16, which means that I was probably operating at Guns (Rifle Sport) of about 10-12, most likely 11-12.
That actually makes me feel a little better. I did not impress myself with my shooting today.

In my GURPS Alien Menace game, I issued all my guys 6.8x43mm weapons, mostly because the average damage is 6d and you retain good ammunition capacity (25 rounds per standard magazine). It’s also a longer range cartridge and accepts shorter barrels very well due to the higher cartridge volume. Really I’d need to put a reflex sight on the weapon to see how it does on the fly.

The XDM and PPQ Go Head-to-Head

PPQ on the left; XDM on the right 5 yards
As promised a while ago, I took the PPQ M2 and the XDM, both in .40, to compare and contrast. These pistols are indistinguishable in GURPS terms, but they shoot very, very differently.
The first decision I made, which probably impacted the results, was to shoot alternating strings with each pistol. 10 rounds through the PPQ, then 10 through the XDM. Repeat, repeat.
This meant that I was continually re-adjusting to a pair of guns that have profoundly different trigger pulls. The PPQ takes up very easily, then breaks sharply, with a tiny reset – they claim 0.1″. The XDM is a much heavier squeeze, and you must deliberately drive the trigger back almost to the rear of the trigger-guard to fire the weapon.
This makes the XDM, at least for me, much more suitable for deliberate, accurate aimed fire. Switching from the XDM to the PPQ was an exercise in frustration, in a way. The PPQ’s sights are more precise (the front blade is much narrower), and the trigger is remarkably crisp. But without the benefit of extensive practice and muscle memory, the Walter seemed a bit “jumpy.” Still, as you can see by the picture at 7 yards to the right, if there’s a difference between them, it’s hard to find. The PPQ shot high to me; the XDM was “on center,” but for precision, they’re about the same.
Repeating the drill, so to speak, with another string at 7 yards produced about the same results. The PPQ tended a bit high, and was prone to a flier or so due to me anticipating the crisp trigger break. I was more centered with the XDM, and perhaps a touch more precise – but I “grew up” shooting a Glock 23, which has closer to the same feel on the trigger that the XDM does. 
No other trigger really feels like the Walther.
Now, for every Um, there is a Yang, and the Walther shines in double-tap mode. For quick point shooting and rapid re-engagement of targets, I’d go with the Walther hands-down. Once you know where you’re going to shoot, the gun returns there very naturally, and is ergonomically probably the superior fit, at least for my hands.
The last thing I tried was a few passes through the “alternate” magazine. The PPQ has a notionally 13-round extended mag that really only fits 12 well (compared to a standard 11-rounder that actually fits 11 OK, but shines with 10). The XDM’s primary mag is an extended grip setup that’s a real monster, but if you don’t need to carry it around all day, you get 15-16 rounds of .40 on tap. The smaller magazine is an 11-rounder, I think, which makes even my little finger dangle off the grip. I was curious if this would impact accuracy at all, in either way. Would the extended grip of the PPQ help? Would the shorter “carry mag” on the XDM hurt? 
Turns out the answers were “maybe” and “no” respectively. The PPQ did seem, maybe, to benefit from the longer mag. The XDM wasn’t hurt by it, which surprised me.
In the end, I came back to the 15′ distance and tried a few careful strings, and once again both guns did not disappoint. I wasn’t able to manage one ragged hole, but by that point I’d been shooting for something like 2-2.5 hours, so maybe I was tired. 
Both guns are quality pieces, and to choose between them, you’ll need to try them out, ideally both of them. 

But don’t do what I did, and alternate. They behave so differently that you might find that you can’t get into a groove with either one. That seems to be what happened with me, as I never settled into a good “aim here, squeeze just like so, and that gets you where you want to be.

Parting Shot

Overall, I need to head back out and put a few more rounds through the rifle and see if it tightens up. Plus a strongly-worded note to Stag about gas pressure but that will certainly come back to me with a “your recoil spring is too strong,” or “adjustments are part of the process” or something.
For the handguns, you really can’t go wrong. I would say that you’re going to want to pick one, though. If ammo capacity is your thing, and you don’t have to worry as much about all-day carry, the XDM with the extended grip is your ticket. For super-fast and crisp trigger engagement on something you’re going to hit twice – and let’s face it, if it’s worth shooting at all, it’s worth shooting twice – the PPQ will be ideal.
I also feel that there are a few ergonomic advantages to the PPQ. The slide release is extended and easy to reach with one thumb. The loaded chamber indicator is on the right side (meh), but has a red coloring to it (good), but really only visible from the top (meh). The mag release is suitable for a thumb release for a right-handed shooter, but they didn’t go with the under-the-guard ambi release of the P99.
The XDM’s chamber indicator is on the top (good), but is black on black (meh). The gun just feels beefier to me, especially with the extended magazine. But it has a traditionally-placed but ambidextrous magazine release. Even with 15 rounds in it, it leaps free (16 it’s tight). 
Back to the rifle, eventually I’ll put a reflex sight on it and try it more dynamically, but not at the range I went to today, since you can only shoot seated. I will also try out and invest in a higher quality optic. One where the quick-detach actually quickly detaches . . . and I’ll also try and see if there’s a place I can go to sight in the thing at 200yds instead of 50. And again . . . gotta get it so that it actually chambers the next round, like a semi-automatic ought to.

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