Saturday, April 05, 2014

Guns: FN SLP review (Standard model) - The Belgian Bruiser


I've owned half a dozen pump shotguns in my lifetime (including an old 870 and a new 500), but until the FN SLP came along, I had never owned an autoloader.  I suppose the only reason for that was my prejudices, built up from years of gun magazines and firearms forums.  After all, semiautomatic shotguns were more expensive, sensitive to different loads, and not practically faster to operate than a pump, right?

Well, it's always dangerous to go through life with no hard evidence. When a very lightly used FN SLP came on sale at RRPSI Firearms for $800, I decided to put my prejudices to the test...

First Impressions

The SLP standard is smaller and lighter than I expected it to be. Lengthwise, it's extremely close to an 18" barreled pump action Remington 870/ Mossberg 500 (38.75" vs. 38.5"), and it's only about a pound heavier. Most of the additional weight is in the receiver, too, so the gun balances fairly well.

FN has a pretty good reputation in the gun community, and the SLP is obviously well made and well fitted. You can tell that the gun was made to take a beating. The all-black finish is tough, and the bore is hard chromed.

Sights and Controls

The standard SLP comes equipped with robust fixed ghost ring sights, adjustable for both windage and elevation. The front post is attached to the barrel and protected by M16-like wings, while the rear is clamped onto the receiver-mounted Picatinny rail (which can also be used for a red dot).

The trigger is a fairly standard single-stage, with a crossbolt push-button safety. The bolt release latch is also a push-button, located forward of the ejection port near the charging handle. I have small hands, and both the bolt release and charging handle are too small even for me. I'm also not a fan of the layout - the position of the release makes it possible for someone to interfere with the bolt going forward, if they're not careful with their hand placement.

Operation, Disassembly, Accessories

The FN SLP is gas-operated, introducing an additional layer of complexity not present in a pump. Oh, the gun is easy enough to disassemble, with a fairly logical spring system and two different pistons (light and heavy), but the added components are just another thing to wear down and break.

A word of warning: I recommend staying with the "light" piston unless you're exclusively shooting 3" shells. The "heavy" piston doesn't give the system enough gas with typical 12 gauge loads. For instance, the Winchester buckshot pictured below cycled fine with the light piston, but did not cycle at all with the heavy one.


The SLP comes in four flavors: the "Standard," the "Tactical" (pistol grip stock and tube-mounted accessory rail), the "Mk1" (22" barrel, 8-shell capacity, cantilever optics mount with folding sight), and the "Mk1 Tactical" (a Mk1 with the Tactical accessories).

For self-defense, the Standard and Tactical 18" barreled models are my pick, as they're shorter, handier, and still hold 6 shells in the tube.  If you're planning on shooting in competition, though, go with either of the Mk1 versions - the extra barrel length and capacity are essential, and the cantilever mount allows you to keep an optic mated with the barrel it's zeroed for.

Range Report

I patterned the gun with various 00 buckshot loads at 15 yards, using the improved cylinder choke tube. As you can see below, basically all the patterns came in at about ~15" in diameter. I wish the patterns were tighter (every missed pellet is a liability), but they're about par for an 18" barrel factory 12 gauge, and they're not big enough to be worrisome.

Remington Express 00 buckshot:

5 shells' worth of Remington Express, fired as rapidly as I could (my point of aim drifted up a little). I didn't have a timer, but it was obvious that the SLP was much faster with repeated shots on a single target than a pump, at least in my hands (I can rack a pump fast enough to hit doubles in skeet, but I'm still faster with the SLP than I am with my 870 ). I can't imagine any real-world scenario where I'd have to empty this much lead into one place, but you never know:

Winchester military buckshot:

Estate buckshot (hole in the upper left is not part of the pattern):

Rio Royal buckshot (these shells are slightly longer than spec, so it was hard to load them into the tube, and the gun would only hold 5 of them):

Spartan buckshot (overall, the best value for the money - great load to stock up on):

Winchester commercial buckshot:

Slug accuracy was good, though I didn't have enough loads on hand to do a comprehensive test. Here's five Remington "Slugger" shells at 25 yards, offhand:


Final Thoughts

Notwithstanding my preference for pumps, I found my FN SLP to be tough, reliable (with the light piston), and easy to shoot. There's also a good amount of accessories and aftermarket parts available for the gun, thanks to its popularity in practical shooting competitions. While I wasn't fond of the controls, they didn't really hamper my shooting, and I could easily get the hits I needed to with the SLP, weird bolt release placement and all.  So, if you're in the market for a 12 gauge autoloader, it's hard to go wrong with the FN SLP.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Food: Subculture Coffee review

I was a bit dismayed when Habatat Coffee Company, my favorite coffee joint in West Palm Beach, closed down last year. The disappointment was only temporary, though, because Habatat owner Sean Scott was teaming up with local restauranteur Rodney Mayo to form something even better: Subculture Coffee.

Nestled on Clematis Street near another of Mayo's establishments, Longboard's, Subculture Coffee is part of the latest generation of craft coffeehouses and microroasters. The centerpiece of the place is the imposing Diedrich roaster, for roasting microbatches of coffee beans.

Next to that is a small kitchen, where sandwiches and salads are made by hand:

The coffee here is exceptional. It's made from specially sourced beans, roasted no more than 25 pounds at a time, and brewed by people who know what they are doing. Sean's been serving coffee for years now, so it's no surprise that Subculture Coffee's offerings are rich and complex. Pair that artisan coffee with an assortment of treats, wine, beer, and wi-fi, and you have pretty much the best coffeehouse in South Florida.
4/4 stars

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Books: Lines of Departure

"Lines of Departure" is the sequel to Marko Kloos's first novel, "Terms of Enlistment," and it's a pretty good read for any fan of military science fiction. The book, like its predecessor, follows Andrew Grayson and humanity's battle with the "Lankies," giant aliens so advanced that they consider our species as pests, not threats. Aside from a brief sojourn on an overpopulated Earth, Grayson flits from deployment to deployment, waging war against both Lankies and (depressingly) other humans.

I liked "Lines of Departure" a lot, though there are still some things that could be improved. As with the first book, Grayson is essentially the perfect soldier, hyper-competent and loyal to his comrades, without ever really being afraid or outfoxed. Likewise, the Lankies make for an imposing, inscrutable enemy, but the eventual weapon used against them seems a little too convenient (and obvious), so much so that Marko had to explain it on his blog (SPOILER ALERT).

All that said, this is good sci-fi that had me turning pages well into the night, and it's well worth a look.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Movies: Nebraska

Every year, when the Oscar nominees are announced, there's always a few oddball gems nestled in among the big budget blockbusters and Weinstein-approved awards-bait.  This year, the little picture that could is "Nebraska":

In the movie, a crotchety old man heads to Nebraska in order to claim a $1 million prize. Unfortunately, the "prize" is a Publishers Clearing House-style marketing gimmick, and the old man's put-upon son has to chaperone him the whole way. What follows is a sometimes poignant, somtimes uproariously funny odyssey about life, family, and the father-son relationship.

The film's a sharp departure from the last Alexander Payne movie I saw, "The Descendants." Though both films are dramedies about family life, Payne trades in the lush vistas of Hawaii for the desolate plains of the Midwest, which suits his directing style a lot better (Payne is from Omaha). The decision to shoot the movie in black-and-white only heightens the effect, and the naturalistic tone is completed with a pitch-perfect performance from veteran Bruce Dern and funny turns from June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk ("...better call Saul").

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Music: Yuletide Zeppelin

If you like Led Zeppelin or Christmas music, you'll probably like this mashup video of Led Zeppelin songs and Christmas music.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Guns: S&W M&P Shield review - The Plus-Size Subcompact


The M&P Shield had a pretty splashy debut back in 2012. Early Smith & Wesson ad copy touted it as the ultimate CCW gun - as tough as the larger Military & Police semiautos, and yet small enough to go jogging with:

At first, I thought the Shield might be the answer to my carry gun needs. Once the actual specs of the gun were released, though, it became clear the Shield wasn't really in the same class as the Kahr CM/PM series or the Kel-Tec PF9. While the Shield's width came in at under an inch (thanks to a single-stack magazine and narrower slide), its length, height, and weight were all bigger than I expected or wanted in a small 9mm.

Despite my disappointment, the Shield remains a fairly compact pistol, and earlier this year I picked one up. Is it good enough to replace my current carry gun, the M&P Compact?

Fit & Finish

Out of the box, the Shield makes a good impression. Most slim 9mm pistols feel pretty flimsy, but the Shield uses the same tough-as-nails Melonite stainless steel slide and barrel used in the main line of M&Ps. The steel 3-dot sights are dovetailed into the slide, the included 7 and 8 round magazines are solid, and it's pretty obvious that the gun was built to withstand a lot of shooting.

Trigger & Controls

The S&W Shield trigger is heavier than my M&P Compact, with a crisper reset. The hard pull makes the Shield more difficult to shoot accurately, but it's a compromise that almost every compact gun makes because of the number of people who carry without a holster. I much prefer the lighter, spongier feel of the larger guns.

Aside from the trigger, the M&P Shield feels a lot like its bigger brothers, with a similar mag release, slide lock, and takedown lever. One addition that I could take or leave is the manual safety; though it clicks on and off positively, it's a little too small and low-profile to hit under stress. The pistol is perfectly "safe" without it, and its presence here seems mostly a way to comply with some states' gun laws.

Size Comparisons

As I mentioned before, the M&P Shield isn't really a pocket gun, unless we're talking big jacket pockets. It's about three or four ounces too heavy (i.e., as heavy as a GLOCK 26) and a half-inch too tall.

Even when compared against my go-to carry gun, the M&P Compact, the Shield isn't a clear winner. The Shield is shorter and thinner, yes, but it's also taller, and only 3 ounces lighter (19 oz. vs. 22 oz) despite holding a lot less ammo and being harder to shoot. Side by side, the size difference is noticeable but not overwhelming:

At the Range

The Shield proved to be nearly as reliable as its double-stack M&P brethren. I can recall perhaps a single failure to eject in about a thousand rounds of various types of ball and hollowpoint ammo, which is very good-to-excellent for a single stack 9mm.

Here's some sample shooting results. I'm sure the Shield is more accurate than this, of course, but even with my crappy pistol skills, the Shield still held sub-3" five-shot groups at ten yards with garden-variety range ammo. Good enough for me:

To answer the question posed at the beginning of the review, the Shield hasn't replaced my M&P Compact, and it rarely gets carried in its place. The Shield's harder and less comfortable to shoot, a bit less reliable, and not small enough to not require a good belt and holster. Still, the gun is a tank, and at $450 new, is a decent buy if you want to split the difference between a pocket 9mm and a compact inside-the-waistband carry.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guns: Sayonara, Starbucks

Like the Founding Fathers intended, American gun owners represent the population at large. In such a giant, varied group, you're always going to have disagreements - is open carry protest counterproductive? Are we giving money and support to the right RKBA organizations? Should we focus on getting the laws changed in gun-unfriendly states like California, or shore up gains in pro-gun places? To an outsider, it must look easy to divide and conquer.

Simple truth, though - there's nothing that unites gunnies better than a good old fashioned boycott:

Who's up for never spending money at Starbucks again, raise your hands? To borrow a phrase from Howard Schultz, "Onward!"

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Music: Undertow

Ooof, posting has been light lately. Busy at work, busy at play..."Undertow," by the band Ivy, pretty much captures how I feel:

Taking one step back.
Trying to pull yourself together.
No matter what you say nothing you do
Can hold back the forces on you forever.

You can't fight the undertow.
Not when you're all alone.
You can't fight the undertow.
How long 'til you let go?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

TV: Attack on Titan

"Attack on Titan" is an interesting new anime series that I've started following. Based on a manga written by Hajime Isayama, the show is a bleak fantasy tale where humanity has been forced to the edge of extinction by the appearance of homicidal giants. What's left of mankind retreats to a series of enormous concentric walls for protection, with only sporadic (and disastrous) expeditions to the Titan-controlled territory beyond. After a century passes in relative peace, life outside becomes a memory - until the Titans return...

The anime is directed by Tetsurō Araki ("Death Note"), and the first season has been a blast so far. The show feels a lot like "Battlestar Galactica" - a ragtag group of soldiers facing off against an implacable enemy, where anyone can die at any time. I also got a kick out of the "3D Maneuvering Devices," which the characters use to scale the Titans; they're a cross between "Spider-Man" and "Shadow of the Colossus," and provide some visually thrilling sequences. If you enjoy dark fantasy, and don't mind some (at times extreme) violence, you should check out "Attack on Titan."

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Miscellany: Leatherman Brewzer review

It seems like every time I go through courthouse security, I end up getting a keychain multitool confiscated, even the ones that don't have any knives on them.

Sometimes I sidestep this problem by carrying something so benign that it doesn't even look like a tool, something like the Leatherman Brewzer:

The Brewzer (formerly manufactured by PocketToolX until Leatherman acquired them) is a small mini prybar/bottle opener, smaller than most keys. The flat end terminates in a small hooked section that's handy for removing staples or ripping open packages:

The bottle opener works okay, too, though the location of the opener doesn't give you much leverage:
If I could carry any pocket multitool I wanted, I'd carry something like a Victorinox Rambler. Until the day when security doesn't freak out about a blade smaller than a toothpick, or a pair of scissors that couldn't cut a matchbox in half, though, the Brewzer is about the best I can do.

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