[This post is a recounting of the events surrounding my attempt to test-fire the USFA ZiP pistol as I perceived and understand them, and is based off my own experience with the firearm as well as conversations with knowledgeable friends, gunsmiths, and ammunition manufacturers.]
What follows is not a review of the United States Firearms ZiP pistol I received for test and evaluation recently; I have concluded that I will be passing on reviewing it, and will be returning it to its manufacturer. What follows is me recounting the facts of my experience with the ZiP pistol as accurately as I can remember them, and as objectively as I can write them (with some very considerate help from Jay G. and Better Half to keep it as objective as I can).
On 20MAR13, Dennis from Dragon Leatherworks gave me a call and informed me that the ZiP pistol had arrived from USFA, and I picked it up that day after work. Once I got home, I read through the impressively comprehensive instruction manual, and then stripped the firearm down to its “basic disassembly” level in order to get a better feel for how the pieces all fit and worked together. I reassembled the firearm per the instructions and function checked it.
On 21MAR13, I packed up the ZiP pistol and as wide a variety of .22 high velocity ammunition as I could find in my closet and headed off to Coal Creek Armory after work to put some rounds downrange. All shots were fired from a standard 10-shot Ruger 10/22 magazine; the ZiP patently refused to feed from a BX25, which is a known issue with the platform. My round and failure count follows:
Winchester 333 Rounds – 30 rounds fired. 4 stovepipes.
CCI MiniMag – 50 rounds fired. 2 instances where a new round was chambered but striker did not reset. In those cases, the “Restrike” operation rod of the ZiP was employed to charge the striker.
CCI Stinger – 50 rounds fired. 2 stovepipes, 2 failures to feed (the round nosed into the breech face).
Federal Lightning – 25 rounds fired. No issues.
A photograph of the stovepipe failure the Winchester ammunition experienced is to the left; the right picture documents the CCI Stinger’s stovepipe. In all stovepipes, the expended casing jammed with the new round being inserted, and the failure had to be cleared by pulling out the magazine, holding the ZiP’s bolt back (it cannot be locked back), and manually extracting both the expended and the new round.
Additionally, there were incidents that I unfortunately did not record wherein the first round from a magazine did not seat itself entirely in the firing chamber. In those cases, I was watching the round on its way in, and employed the “Restrike” rod to pull the bolt back and slam the round home. I checked the barrel before taking the firearm to the range, and it was clear of obstructions and a little dirty, but I would not have called it “fouled”; at the time, I attributed the feeding problems to me possibly riding the operation rod forward.*
I then shot 26 rounds of Remington Golden Bullet** through the ZiP, and encountered another four stovepipes and one case failure. Photos of the case failure are below:
I took the ruptured case out to the front desk people at CCA, and they concurred with my off-the-cuff assessment that the ZiP suffered what appeared to be an out-of-battery discharge. After checking the firearm’s operation and ensuring the barrel was clear, I decided to continue shooting.***
Immediately on pulling the trigger on the 27th Golden Bullet round, I was confronted with a bright, actinic purple flash from the ejection port and magazine well of the ZiP, the magazine was forcibly ejected from the firearm, my hand and face were peppered with some manner of debris, and my right hand felt like it caught a baseball bat mid-swing. I basically threw the firearm on the range bench and backed away quickly.
Once I was fairly sure I was not bleeding, did not have any new holes, and was otherwise undamaged, I approached the gun, verified that it was functionally disabled (I did not clear and safe it, for obvious reasons), and took the first two of the following pictures (the latter three were taken at home):
Neither the firearm nor the magazine that was in it appeared damaged in any way, but I concluded my range time at this point and took these additional pictures (please ignore the glove and wrap – those are due to pre-existing conditions with my hand):
That strange discoloration on my right ring finger where it wrapped under the ZiP’s magazine well (I cannot decide if it is bruising or where shrapnel was forcibly injected into the skin) and a functionally insignificant (and unphotographable) scratch on my left wrist were the only real damage I appeared to suffer. Some of the blackening – specifically on the middle finger – on my compression glove has not come out even after approximately 15 hand washings since then; it is either permanent, or charring. That area of my middle finger was directly adjacent to the front bottom of the magazine well.
Once I got home, I took the following pictures of the final ruptured case (I still have it on hand, though I did not keep the first ruptured case):
After taking those pictures, I emailed Douglas Donnelly, the President, CEO, and Founder of United States Firearms, the inventor of the ZiP pistol, and my contact at USFA, and asked him to call me when he got the chance.
On 22MAR13, in the evening, Mr. Donnelly called me, and we discussed my range time with the ZiP.
His first question regarding the case ruptures / out-of-battery events was, “What kind of ammunition was it?” I proceeded to tell him, and he seemed to basically blame the entire event on the ammunition itself. His claim was that 90% of firearm problems resulted from the ammunition, given that the ammo is the “engine” that “drives” the firearm. He clarified that they had never tested Remington Golden Bullets in the ZiP on account of its substandard performance and shoddy quality control, and I commented that given current prices and availability, I decided I was going to shoot whatever I could find, especially since the list of ammunition provided in the ZiP manual (pages 24 and 25) is inclusive, not exclusive. He explained all the ways cheap bulk packs were substandard ammunition – thin case walls, uneven powder loadings, uneven bullet weights, etc. – and seemed to treat the whole matter of the ZiP spontaneously disassembling itself as either a non-event, or the kind of thing one should expect when using “that kind” of ammunition. Mr. Donnelly even mentioned I might not have had the magazine seated properly, which could explain the spontaneous ejection, despite the detonation transpiring towards the end of the magazine.
I have put more rounds of Golden Bullets than I care to count through .22LR AR uppers and 10/22s (I bought numerous boxes of it before I knew of its QC issues), and while I have suffered the predictable numbers of duds and shoddy accuracy, I have never had a Golden Bullet rupture its case or discharge out of battery.
While discussing the possibility of an out-of-battery discharge, Mr. Donnelly informed me that there was absolutely no physical way for a rimfire firearm to actually have an out-of-battery event, on account of the primer rim needing to be supported by something for the firing pin / striker to pinch it and set it off. Everyone I have talked to since my conversation with him has disagreed, with the specifics ranging from, “I have seen it happen,” to “Depends on the velocity of the strike verses the relative resistance of the 22 shell. If the velocity of the strike is enough to overcome the modulus of elasticity of the brass and dimple the rim enough to fire then yes. If the velocity of the strike is not enough to overcome the modulus of elasticity then no, the entire shell would simply be shoved forward.”
Likewise, I told Mr. Donnelly that, as an experiment, I cycled the bolt back as if it had just been fired, inserted my fingertip into the space between the bolt face and the breech face, and closed the assembly on my finger. I then pulled the trigger and the striker released and impacted my finger (quite forcefully, at that – my fingernail shows the mark). Mr. Donnelly indicated that was supposed to happen. I am unable to replicate similar results with the same experiment on any other semi-automatic firearm I own.
A video of the ZiP’s striker being released while the bolt is out of battery is below. I first ensured the firearm was unloaded and cleared, and then released the striker with the bolt closed – the striker is visible as the silver metal bar with the right-sloping point directly beneath the bolt in the beginning of the video. I used the “Load” operating rod on the ZiP to simulate that its bolt had just blown back from a successful round discharge and reset the striker, and then used the operating rod to hold the bolt open, simulating that the next round failed to be fully inserted into the chamber. As you can see, the striker releases. I then repeated this demonstration a few more times.
Mr. Donnelly seemed to initially think I was referring to a base blowout in our conversations, but once I described to him the above pictures, with the sidewall of the case being blown out above the rim, he hypothesized that due to the unlocked, blow-back nature of the ZiP’s action, the Golden Bullets forced the expended case out of the firing chamber before the pressures had reached “safe” levels, resulting in that pressure finding the case to be the shortest path of release.
When I told Mr. Donnelly about the other failures I had experienced, he asked if I still had the “target” springs installed in the pistol; the instruction manual – screen captured to the right – states the ZiP ships with “high velocity” recoil springs installed, and “target” springs as an option, depending on the type of ammunition you are shooting. I asked for clarification, and he stated that due to ammunition shortages, he and the factory decided to start shipping the ZiPs, and specifically the “media units”, with “target” springs installed. He said there was supposed to be a hand-written note in the box informing me of this; there was no note. I indicated that they needed to update their manual accordingly, and he told me there was no need.
Much of the conversation was Mr. Donnelly telling me why the ZiP was revolutionary / original / superior / advanced / fun / etc.
The conversation closed with Mr. Donnelly telling me to install the “high velocity” springs, go shoot it some more, and let him know how it goes. No real mention mention was made of correcting the situation that resulted in a firearm almost exploding in my hands aside from what seemed to be the implication not to use Golden Bullets any more, and the further seeming implication that I should have known not to use them to begin with. I came away from the conversation feeling like he was more interested in blaming the ammunition than discovering if my specific pistol, or the design as a whole, may have a defect.
As previously stated, I am declining to review this firearm, and will be returning it to USFA with no further testing; I leave it to my readers to draw their own conclusions.
[Update] Please see this follow-up for the rest of the story. [/Update]
(* – This is not an objective observation, but hindsight being 20/20, I should have taken this as an indication of the future.
** – I dump my bulk .22LR ammunition in washed-out coffee cans for easier storage. Unfortunately, I do not retain the boxes, so I am unsure of lot number, bullet weight, or advertised muzzle velocity for this specific batch of Golden Bullets.
*** – Likewise not an objective comment, but I should have stopped shooting here. If a firearm suffers a failure of that nature, you need to take some serious looks at it, or have a gunsmith do so, before continuing to shoot it. )