Once the pistol shooting bug bites you, or you recognize a specific need to own a pistol; you realize that there isn’t any one “do all” configuration for every scenario or application. Some are content with just a “stock” pistol for any chore the gun is needed for. Some have spent an amount of time and money in an attempt to put together the “perfect” setup to cover their needs. But regardless of the level of “blissful ignorance” one may possess, at one time or another, EVERYONE has thoughts of how certain aspects or details of their pistol could be better for one particular application, or another. The “backcountry gun” is a perfect case in point.
I grew up in a small town and was born into a logging family that was very outdoors-minded. So rifles and pistols have always been a part of my life. It really wasn’t until I started bowhunting in my early 20’s, that I found a consistent need to pack a pistol while in the woods. Experience quickly taught me that it’s not always so much the four-legged critters that you need to worry about…but the goofy two-legged ones have to be worried about as well. Besides close encounters with mountain lions, bears, wolves and sometimes an over-aggressive moose; discovering backcountry marijuana grow ops and hillbilly meth labs are a very real concern.
At some point I realized that I didn’t enjoy carrying my prized .44 Magnum over hill and dale, as much as I did certain lesser-powered automatics that were in my collection. And then I discovered the 10MM cartridge and the Glock 20. I figured that 15 rounds of a caliber that was very close to .41 Magnum in power factor and that was in a much lighter and easier to shoot package, just made sense. It wasn’t until after my employment with Lone Wolf Distributors (2009) that I realized that things could be even “better” and that there was a large, exciting world of upgrades within reach.
I started off by modifying the stock gun as much as my imagination and bank account would allow. But soon, Lone Wolf started producing full long slides designed around a 6″ barrel. This configuration has many benefits, including a longer sight radius and of course a longer barrel that generates more horsepower than the stock 4.60″ barrel does. Initially, the extra slide length intimidated me and seemed to create just too large of an overall package. I compromised and ended up running one of our “Tactical length” slides (designed around a 5.15″ barrel) and appreciated the increase in stability and “shootability” that the extra half-inch of slide length provided. Within about a month’s time; I decided that I needed the additional ballistics of a 6″ barrel, because I was starting to enjoy shooting at 100+ yard targets. Once reality set in that I might as well use the slide length that matched my barrel length…I was in deep with a full-length long slide and loving it.
Besides my experimentation with slide and barrel lengths; I quickly found that the quality of the trigger pull and sight system were the most crucial aspect of accuracy and for enhancing your shooting experience. The stock sights that came with my Glock 20SF were almost immediately identified as “garbage”, but with my wallet being on the light side…I wasn’t sure what to do about it. A knowledgeable friend of mine had suggested painting over the white “U” notch of the stock Glock rear sight, and then trying a bright-colored front sight. Since then, I’ve gravitated towards aftermarket sights that feature a plain-black rear sight, with a wider aperture and a front sight featuring either a fiber optic bead, or Tritium vial (my current favorite is Ameriglo’s Pro Glo front sight). This follows suit with the K.I.S.S. mantra and makes things easier when an instructor is shouting “FRONT SIGHT! FRONT SIGHT! FRONT SIGHT!” in your ear.
For the trigger; I’ve always used a 3.5# connector paired up with a 6# trigger spring. It creates almost a push-pull effect that seems to shorten the trigger reset and adds a noticeable crispness to the trigger cycle. Eventually, I found that by adding either a lightweight steel, or titanium firing pin into the mix, it seems to shave another pound off the felt trigger pull (I don’t get hung up on numbers on paper; but pay attention to what each trigger mod does for the feel of the trigger pull). Now with adjustable trigger shoes being available, like the Ultimate Adjustable Trigger; you can have your cake and eat it too, by shortening the pre-travel and tuning the over-travel in one fell swoop.
I’ve spent some time dabbling with threaded barrels and compensators over the years. While running a compensator is a good time on the range and does allow for faster follow-up shots; I’ve never entertained the prospect of ever using one while in the woods. I have found that by running a Tungsten guide rod and an ISMI 22# recoil spring (*if you have a GEN4 Glock, you’ll need to add a GEN4-GEN3 adaptor), it does a great job of slowing down the slide speed to reliably handle the heavier loads most commonly used for hunting, or backcountry defense. This also has a positive effect on the felt recoil and softens up the shot as an added bonus. But you’ll find that anyone who has ever been in a “pistol engagement”, whether it be a defensive shooting, or in a hunting situation, never comments on the recoil or muzzle rise. Once adrenaline kicks in, you fall into gross motor skills and any training that you’ve had takes over. That’s one of the reasons why I say that I’ve never considered running a compensator for backcountry use. And of course, above all else, shooting your pistol periodically, or at the very least, regular dry-fire practice, is so crucial for you and your pistol to perform when the chips are down.
We’ve just covered quite a bit of information regarding setting up a backcountry pistol. The fundamentals have been addressed…but there is so much more to consider! I’ll talk about my affinity for the use of Red Dot Sight systems, the outstanding Timberwolf Large frame and slide lengths to consider for a general backcountry defense/backpacking gun versus a dedicated hunting setup, in Part II. Until then…shoot straight and watch your back trail.