First, I would like to thank the Oak Ridge Sportsmen’s Association (ORSA), Caracal USA, Blade Tech, 5.11, the Oak Ridge Young Marines, and Mark Levy for putting together an outstanding event and giving us the chance to try out the not-yet-released Caracal pistol.
Second, I want to make something explicitly clear before we go any farther – this webpage does not tolerate bigotry in any way, shape, or form, nor does it tolerate racism. If you do not want to purchase a firearm manufactured in the United Arab Emirates, fine, but if you leave a comment making this about race, I will delete it… among, possibly, other things.
On to the show!
ORSA is a private 850-acre shooting complex in Oak Ridge, TN (you might know the town for the Manhattan Project) including an action pistol range, skeet and trap ranges, a 1000-yard range, a plinking range, an indoor range, a competition range, a bench rest range, and a field archery range, and hosting High Power, IDPA, SASS, USPSA, 3-Gun, Steel Challenge, and SSC events. The Caracal shindig was hosted in the action pistol area, and we made use of all seven bays, which were all ringed by at least 20-foot earthen walls (which allowed for simultaneous, 180-degree use of all bays), and included “period” structures for the Single-Action events. About the only gripe I have with the facilities is that unless you are a member or have househunted in the area, you would never know about the east entrance, which, of course, was the one used for the Caracal event – thankfully I remembered it before the kick-off, but a sign on the front gate might have been nice.
If you are interested in membership, this will get you started.
The basic premise was five stages – three steel challenge and two USPSA/IPSC – with the fastest times determining the winners, along with a “side match” run by the local Young Marines. Apart from a hiccup first thing in the morning (despite a confirmation email indicating I was in a morning group, I arrived to find out that the paperwork had me in an afternoon group… thankfully, this was corrected in short order), things proceeded about as smoothly as one might expect for trying to shuffle somewhere over 170 people through a shooting event. Unfortunately, the stages were not easy to photograph, and we did not receive diagrams, but I will describe them as best I can.
The steel stages were all pretty much identical, with the only variation being the specific targets and their ranges; but, in short, you had five targets (either 2’x2.5’ steel rectangles, or 9” diameter steel plates (all sizes estimates)) arrayed in front of you, with the only instruction being you have to hit all of them once, and you have to shoot the middle one last. We started with the Caracal at “low-ready” pointing at a spot about 10 feet in front of us, and we could take as many shots as we wanted (though we were only provided one 10-round magazine for these stages), but any target you did not hit yielded a three-second penalty (including any target hit after you nailed the middle one). The worst stage had a 9” steel plate as the end target… about 15 yards away on the back berm. We shot these stages four times, with our worst time thrown out – the best cumulative time I saw for a single stage was somewhere in the 7.5-second range.
The USPSA/IPSC stages were a little more complicated with combinations of the standard “torso” paper targets and falling steel targets, along with the need to either engage multiple targets from multiple angles through building windows, or the need to "run and gun". For these, we had to do reloads, we lost .5 seconds for each “point down” on the paper targets, and the “run and gun” stage allowed us to make use of the Caracal C (all other stages used the Caracal F).
The side match was nothing more than five falling targets, with $5 buying you a string, and the fastest time winning a Caracal. Once the times got down under 2.5 seconds, I did not even try…
On the one hand, I do wish there were more USPSA/IPSC-style stages – the opportunities to perform double-taps and gauge the firearm’s accuracy for both the initial shot and the follow-up were valuable in examining how well its lowered bore axis improved its overall recoil and controllability. On the other hand, these stages were definitive bottlenecks, and shooting squads frequently had to wait for the previous one to finish before they could proceed.
All said, I can definitely see the attraction of steel shooting (in short, “instantaneous feedback”), and I was again reminded of the fun of competitive shooting, even if you do not stand a chance of competing for anything.
And now for the part you all probably read through all of the above for – my thoughts on the actual Caracal pistols themselves.
Thanks to the infamous and entirely arbitrary importation "points" requirements imposed by the BATFE, we were only able to shoot the C and F variants, though Caracal USA is currently sourcing fabricators for in-country production of the SC. Likewise, due to its popularity amongst firearm reviewers, the quick-sight system was only available at the demonstration range, and not during any of the competitive stages – more on that later.
Regarding the F, it resembles pretty much every other polymer-framed full-size pistol out there, measuring in at about 7 inches on the slide and sporting a 4 inch barrel, with a double-stack, 18-round standard magazine (do note that we only loaded the magazines to 10 and 15 rounds, however). I attempted to do an overlay of a Glock 17 on top of a Caracal F, but I could not get the dimensions and transparencies to work anywhere near “right” in my mind; however, I do have to wonder about Caracal’s claims to a “lower profile between the barrel centerline to the grip” – it all really depends on what you categorize as the “grip”. If you are looking at the trigger area, based on my rough estimates, the Glock’s and Caracal’s chassis seem to be within millimeters of each other, but if you look at the not-really-beavertail polymer firearms have, the Caracal’s is perceptibly higher.
Without having the firearms side-by-side to do a direct comparison, and with the caveat that I have no trigger time on a 17, I will say that the Caracal’s perceived recoil felt significantly lower than that of any other full-sized 9mm I have fired in the past (my Baby Eagle, a Beretta M9, and a few others). Given how much Caracal pushes this particular feature of these firearms, I imagine many pixels will be slaughtered by reviewers documenting the how and the why, but, suffice to say, for me and most of the people I asked, it simply worked.
This held true for the C variant as well, which measured in at just a little over half an inch shorter in every dimension except width than its big brother. Its grip was more than sufficient for a full-handed grasp of the firearm (no dangly pinky fingers), while the double-stack magazine still managed to cram 15 rounds into the firearm (the one stage that used a C did load it to capacity). Obviously the sight radius was reduced on the shortened slide, but that did not seem to present a problem for most people, and even I managed to run that particular stage with no “points down” (which, for me, is quite the feat). However, that brings me to another point…
The sights on all but the quick-sight firearm were Heinie-style “straight eight” arrangements, with no apparent means of adjustment (in fact, the rear sights looked to be more or less part of the back panel of the slide). For folks who mostly had experience with three-in-a-row or black-rear-dot-front sights, this seemed to present a problem for at least the first few stages, if only to figure out how to align everything. The range officers manning the stages indicated that we should treat the sights exactly like in the above link, but doing so automatically while being timed is, of course, another matter entirely. Likewise, either the back sights were narrow or the front sight was fat, but in either case, not a lot of light snuck around the front sight when it was on-target and aligned, which some people complain about when it comes to iron sights. I forgot to ask if the rear sights were going to be replaceable, but just for the sake of being easily adopted, I hope so (the fronts apparently are, as will be explained in a bit).
All that said, the Caracals pointed exceptionally well, at least for me (and that is entirely a point of personal preference and individual biomechanics) – even on the stages where we had to pick up the pistol from a table, as soon as I had it in my hand, I knew more or less where it was going to be pointed and the sights were only needed for fine detail adjustment. I know people go ‘round and ‘round about Glock vs. 1911 grip angle, and while I understand they are different, neither has ever been noticeably better for me; well, I am here to say that the Caracal’s angle, whatever it is, works for my mitts. Your mileage will, of course, vary.
And speaking of the grip, it is noticeably different from every other Glock or XD or plastic-fantastic pistol I have picked up. The back end of it is not squared off, but neither is it strictly curved… rather, it kind of feels like holding the back half of a rounded-off octagon, in that it is flat on the sides, then angles to a taper, then angles to a flat. Bit hard to describe, and of course, I took no pictures of it, but it is something else to keep in mind – as they always say, one should do one’s best to try out a firearm before purchasing it.
Before we get into the performance of the firearm, I have to touch on the quick-sights… in this comprehensive review, Walt Rauch took a really good picture of the overall concept (shamelessly yoinked to the right), but the basic concept is that the “rear” sights are actually forward of the ejection port on the slide. This obviously reduces your sight radius, which will reduce your overall accuracy at longer ranges, but from testing out the arrangement at their demonstration bay, it does seem like sight and target acquisition is significantly faster… it probably has something to do with indexing off the back part of the slide, much like skeet shooters index off their shotgun’s dorsal rail.
So how did the firearms perform? Well, accuracy is hard to gauge without having take-home targets, but, personally, I generally got the feeling that the firearm was hitting more-or-less where I wanted it to, and I did not hear any overwhelming complaints about “off” sights from anyone else. Reliability-wise, each bay had only two firearms for use, and about 80ish people shot somewhere around 15-40 rounds apiece, so you do the math – rough averaging comes out to about a thousand rounds per pistol by the time the morning squad had finished, with some definitely being higher. In that time, I only observed two types of malfunctions, each occurring four or five times.
First, folks occasionally had a hard time getting the magazines seated properly while simultaneously getting them stuck in the firearm enough that they did not fall out, so, when they went to fire their first shot, a lot of nothing happened. Thankfully, these incidents counted as a “do over”, but I personally attribute the problem to a complete lack of feedback when inserting the magazines – the box simply slides into the grip and stops, with no real “catch” or “snag” to be overcome on its way in, and thus no positive indicator of successful insertion short of “you cannot push any farther”. My experience with handguns is, of course, limited, but it did feel somewhat strange to me, and was apparently the source of a few people’s problems.
Second, for unknown reasons, the slide sometimes would not go completely home when being released on full magazines. I am not sure if people were using the magazine release button or pulling back on the slide, I am not sure how they were holding the firearm, and I am not sure if the fault lies with the magazine or the firearm. In any case, the slide had to be bumped to send it the rest of the way home, which seems like a reason for a simple spring replacement to my decidedly not-gunsmith-trained brain.
Aside from those two issues (which did happen multiple times to multiple people), there were no double-feeds, stovepipes, failures to fire, or anything else of the sort. Once the folks at Caracal work out why the slide was not fully seating after being released, it should fully live up to the “NATO D14 standard, TA Police Standard and the federal Armed Forces Technical Purchasing requirements” it apparently meets at the moment.
The guns, however, did get very hot, which, given that it was about 85 out, very sunny, and they were going through magazines like water, is kind of not surprising. What was surprising, however, was how some range officers decided to cool down their firearms, as is captured to the right:
At the moment, the Caracals are only being produced in 9mm Luger, but plans are in the works for .40 S&W and .357 Sig. Additionally, they are apparently being considered by a wide variety of various nations’ military and police forces for adoption as their official sidearm, though specifics are not available so far as I know.
MSRP is projected to be around $625 for the F, with dealer pricing being somewhere around $550.
So all that said, what are my gripes with the Caracal pistols? Well, aside from the straight-eight sights taking a bit of getting used-to, the lack of positive feedback when locking in a new magazine, and the occasional inability of the slide to slam home, I have to admit – that slide release switch is about as uncomfortable as they could make it. Said release button is small, angular, and metal, which all basically boils down to “sharp” – if you were training people to simply pull back on the slide to release it, that is all well and good, but for regular use, I could see the switch presenting a painful problem. If they fix those points of contention though, and if this thing passes the reliability requirements of some reviewers here stateside, I could definitely see myself purchasing one in the future, though, especially with those quick-sights…
And speaking of, though, I know this is a long-shot, but if the good folks at Caracal USA would be interested in a humble weblogger’s review of their firearm after he has had the chance to thoroughly examine it, shoot it, and photograph it in a slightly more-controlled environment… well, they know where to find me.
And now for what you really sat through all of this blathering for… the photos!
And speaking of the pistols, off to the right we have the Caracal F, the Caracal C with the quick-sights, and the normal Caracal C. As you can see, there is a noticeable difference in their slide lengths and grip height, but, aside from that, you can pretty easily interchange from one to the other and not have to completely reshape your paradigm. I have no idea how many of the internal parts are interchangeable, but the innards are designed to be more-or-less entirely modular with the removal of two pins, so spare parts should not be hard to come by.
And here is my own personal take on the quick-sight system… not the best shot, I will grant, but all of these pictures here are taken with my phone, so I absolve myself of any responsibility. As you can see, they use a fiber optic front post (which really helps in acquisition), and then the strange, in-front-of-the-ejection-port “rear” sights. The word is that these sights will be available on all of the sizes, but time will tell whether or not that holds true.
To the left, we have a very gracious hand model holding one of the variants (honestly, I do not remember which), and to the right, we have the full size broken down to its field-stripped condition. The Caracal representative indicated that disassembly was more-or-less identical to Glocks, in that you push the entire slide rearward a slight amount, pull down on the lever visible at the top of the trigger guard, and everything just falls off.
Also in the picture to the right, you can see the long slide guides Caracal mentions – cannot say as though we got to shoot the firearms long enough for any discernable affect from those to be noticed, but the entire firearm definitely felt snug and was blissfully devoid of any rattles, shakes, or wiggles.
And below are some folks shooting the Caracal at the various stages, grouped together by shooter. If you are viewing this post on my actual webpage, Lightbox should make a shiny slideshow of them all if you like. I think I will refrain from any undue commentary, and just let the images speak for themselves – if you have any questions (or want larger versions, or are in them and want them taken down), feel free to sound off in the comments or drop me a note.
On the other hand, if you are looking for some moving pictures, check out this earlier post.
Note to my future self: when photographing firearms in action, use the absolute fastest shutter speed you can get away with. Still, not too shabby, especially once you start playing “find the brass”.