The arguments will go on ad nauseam until someone actually invents a phaser pistol. Is the 9mm as good as the .45 or not? And to further muddy this increasingly opaque stream of consciousness, how exactly does the .40 S&W fit into the great scheme of things, anyway?
The bottom line is almost always the same, though. Put a .45 into someone's hand and they feel like, well...they feel like they're holding a serious fighting pistol.
And that's probably why Glock brought out the Model 21 in, you guessed it, .45 ACP. The Model 21 was introduced about 10 years ago, but sometimes, old news is still good news.
Science and street shootings have pretty much proven the 9mm, .40, and .45 are about equal when used with high-performance ammo, but this isn't about logic. This is about what feels right, and a .45 can feel pretty good when the channel gets changed and you're not in Kansas anymore.
Since taking the law enforcement community by storm in the early 1980s, Glock has continued to grace the holsters of cops of every rank and service. From their first steamroller sales efforts in the American market with the Models 19 and 17, to today's ultra-compact versions, Glocks have always been kind of different.
Plastic frames, squared-off slides and that "funny" trigger can take some getting used to. But when the dust settles, a Glock is still usually running just fine. You either love 'em or hate 'em and there are few "on the fence" types when you say Glock. Either duck, or hold your head high, as the case may be. In either case, a fair warning: If you love ivory grips and engraved blued-steel-look elsewhere.
Out of the Box
Our test gun was a brand new Glock 21. Right out of the surprisingly chintzy box (thin, flexible plastic), it functioned well, with all the controls working in the proper order. Magazines were a bit tough to load at first but all smoothed out in that department as the test evolved.
What can be said about Glocks that hasn't already been said before? They're black, they're plastic, they're authoritative, and, historically, they run as reliably as the 3:07 out of London's Victoria Station. When it comes to a duty semi-auto, all of these virtues make up the equation of the golden rule of gunfighting: It's gotta' work. Every time. Period.
Right off the bat, the girth of the slide was obvious. The 21 doesn't display the svelte lines of the 17 or the comfy carry options of the smaller 19. This is a brute of a handgun, and when you pick it up, you know you've got something serious in your hand. If you're petite or have munchkin-sized hands, stay away. The 21 is made for full-sized people. Having said that, however, we found smaller shooters could handle it, but most felt uncomfortable doing so and readily admitted it was simply too big for them to manage with a high level of confidence.
Of course, all that size pays dividends at times. The high grip and the fact the slide sits so low in a shooter's hand turns much of the 21's recoil impulse into a straight-back proposition with minimal muzzle flip. Combine these features with a slight frame-flex due to the polymer frame, and the broad back strap and suddenly the fearsome .45 is turned into a tame puppy. Recoil, even from stout 230 gr. .45 ACP loads, seemed soft and manageable.
Perhaps Glock reached the pinnacle of fit with the 17 because most models that followed often felt like compromises in fit in order to perform a certain function. That's not always bad, just reality. When you think of the Model 21, picture a Model 17-but pretend you "biggie-sized for an additional 79 cents."
Fit and finish are typical Glock. Black. The machined-steel slide is coated with a Glock "impervious to about everything" finish called "Tennifer" and most are then phosphate coated. The phosphate can, and usually does, wear off to leave a slight silvery-sheen to the slide. That's simply the natural color of the Tennifer and there is naught to worry about. If you simply can't live with it, Glock will refinish the slide and barrel for around $60.
There were one or two sharpish edges around the ejection port of the test gun, and the serrations on the rear of the slide were just a bit rough on the fingers. This is fairly typical of most Glocks and nothing that the judicious application of the corner of a stone or a Swiss file can't repair.[PAGEBREAK]
The action of the Model 21 is distinctly Glock. Gaston Glock's "safe-action" trigger is basically a pre-loaded striker. What that means is when the slide is cycled, it partially cocks the striker (basically an extra-long firing pin). When the trigger is pulled, the initial trigger lever safety cams out of the way, allowing the trigger to be fully pulled to the rear. During the trigger travel, a firing pin safety and sear plate is pulled away from the striker; the striker is cocked further to the rear, and then the sear trips, allowing the striker to snap forward, firing the round. There's lots going on but it works. At any time during the trigger pull, releasing the trigger returns the devices into position, rendering the pistol safe.
Much has been said about the unique Glock action. The lack of an external thumb safety and the "safety" on the trigger gives some gun enthusiasts the creeps. Whether you feel this way or not, extra caution is called for when transitioning to the Glock from other sidearms.
Having said all that, most Glock users are quite comfortable with the fact that if you don't deliberately pull the trigger, a Glock won't go off. Also, the addition of a New York-style trigger (of some 12 pounds let-off) may make good sense in a uniform duty pistol. Transition training to any semi-auto is important so if a move to a Glock, like the 21, is in the future, sufficient training is vital so that there are no unforeseen embarrassing moments.
Shooting the 21
Range conditions dictated a shorter test than anticipated. Rain, which kept us under the cover of the firing line awning and discouraged us from spending much time changing targets, seemed to be the order of the day. The shooters involved, having a great deal of experience with Glock models, were mostly looking to get the particulars about the Model 21.
Federal match ball (a 230-gr. FMJ load) was shot for accuracy since it's a known entity in most .45 autos and usually performs up to snuff. A mixed lot of various hollow point loads was also fed through the 21, just to test functioning.
Right out of the box (with a bit of lubricant added for good measure) the test gun went bang when we first pulled the trigger. But it promptly delivered a stovepipe jam. Being a brand-new semiauto, such things can be anticipated. Additionally, many Glocks like to have a firm grip and a stiff wrist when shot.
From then on the Model 21 ran like the proverbial Rolex. After a bit of breaking in, we tried deliberate limp-wristing, but couldn't induce another jam. The unanimous decision was the 21 had suffered from ASBS or "acute semi-auto break-in syndrome." An affliction we made up on the spot.
Accuracy was on par with other Glocks we've shot. The Federal 230-gr. ammo delivered groups in the two-inch range at 15 feet, which was pretty good for a bunch of cold, runny-nosed guys shooting over a rolled-up wet towel. Hollow points all seemed to feed with predictable tenacity and, while we didn't measure groups, all plunked satisfactorily into the center of the wet targets.
This gun was fun to shoot, but keep in mind the Glock 21 is reminiscent of the old Colt "horse pistols" like the Dragoons. It is big, burly, tough and serious, just like a .44 Walker at full cock in the hands of a galloping Texas Ranger. Say what you will about a nine or even a .40, when the .45 caliber Glock 21 comes out, everyone stops to listen. And that's a fact.
Cleaning and Care
Take down is unusual, as is most of the situation with the Glock. Pay close attention here. Take out the magazine and unload the chamber. Now the important part: You have to pull the trigger to take the load off the striker. So, it is extra critical and doubly important (sounds like we mean this, eh?) to make sure the chamber is empty.
After clearing and pulling the trigger, move the slide back a smidgen (which is more than a pinch and less than a tad) while pulling down on the slide lock buttons. They are located just under the slide rails on the frame, above the trigger guard. Then, work the slide off forward. Take the spring out and the barrel and you're done. Assembly means the reverse order and it's all easy and quick. A touch of good lubricant on all the right spots helps matters along nicely.
Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel LENGTH: 4.6 inches
MAGAZINE CAPACITY: 13 + 1 L/E version
WEIGHT: 26.28 ounces (empty)
TRIGGER PULL: 5.5 pounds (standard)
OVERALL LENGTH: 7.59 inches
HEIGHT: 5.47 inches
WIDTH: 1.27 inches
PRICE: About $700 (full retail)
Roy Huntington continues to idle away large segments of otherwise productive time by shooting a never-ending array of guns for POLICE Magazine. He's also the editor of American Handgunner Magazine and we remain skeptical whether either activity can properly be labeled as actual work.