Thursday, March 30, 2017

Guns: Beretta 950B Jetfire review - Blowback Backup


As a gun blogger, I sometimes experiment with old firearms to see how well they hold up in modern times. Today's subject is the Beretta 950B Jetfire, specifically a nice pre-1968 example made in Italy with no external safety lever. These pocket pistols were wildly popular back in the day (the 950 was in production for fifty years), so let's determine whether you might still be able to carry one effectively in 2017.

Form Factor  - "Nice and light... in a lady's handbag."* 

The main thing the Jetfire has going for it is size. Even though it predates the polymer-framed .380s by many decades, its svelte aluminum frame and diminutive barrel give it about the same carry weight as a Ruger LCP II. And, since it shoots (ruinously expensive) .25 ACP, you can stuff eight rounds into the magazine, which is a lot of shots for such a tiny gun.

*I realize these Dr. No quotes refer to an M1934.

The 950 has other advantages. Like the Beretta Bobcat I reviewed previously, the blowback, extractor-less tip-up barrel design allows for loading and unloading the chamber without manipulating the slide. This is a big boon for people with limited hand strength:

As far as ergonomics go, the button mag release is sensibly placed near the heel of the gun, and is well protected by the plastic grips. The gun is single-action only, which gives the little devil a surprisingly good trigger pull. Finally, the sights, though tiny, are actually useful for making precise hits. One major caveat - the 950B versions of this gun are only safe to carry in half-cock, meaning that you have to manually cock the hammer in order to shoot the first round.

Range Report

I tested the Jetfire with a variety of ammunition, including decades-old Remington FMJ cartridges and new-production Remington UMC.

Accuracy was astounding, at least for a pocket pistol. The Jetfire can empty two entire magazines' worth of garden-variety range ammo into a group smaller than a soda can at 7 yards.

10 yards is where things start to get dicey. The tiny little backup gun, which is older than I am, simply can't make surgical hits at that distance. Here's some Remington and Aguila groups to demonstrate:

"It jammed on you last job, and you spent six months in hospital in consequence."*

The obvious downside of being a little blowback .25 is that the Beretta is not terribly reliable. I experienced fail-to-feeds from all brands of ammo in my testing, and 95% of the time it was on the next to last round in the magazine. Being predictably unreliable is better than being randomly unreliable, I guess, but I still wouldn't ever carry this one.


Despite being flawed as a weapon, the Jetfire is still a fun gun. There's a weird novelty in shooting so many rounds out of a pocket pistol, and the recoil and muzzle blast are negligible thanks to the anemic caliber. If you manage to pick one up for a good price, you're getting a tiny little Italian time machine - a carry gun of yesteryear.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sports: The day I watched Roger Federer play live

David Foster Wallace famously wrote an extended paean that likened watching Roger Federer's play to a religious experience, so I was pretty pumped to see Federer's second round tennis match at the 2017 Miami Open.

What follows is my experience...not quite religious, but fun anyway:

Getting to the Open is a chore. The tournament is held on Key Biscayne, and the only way in or out is a causeway that fills up with traffic, especially when a big draw like Federer is in town. Between driving down to Miami, waiting to get into the parking lot, and riding a parking shuttle, it takes a solid two hours from my front door to the entrance pictured above. You can understand why there have been rumblings to move the tournament further inland.

There aren't many interesting matches going on when we arrive, so we file onto a practice court where Rafa Nadal, Federer's old rival, is hitting. This is the closest the average tennis fan will ever get to a megastar like Nadal, and it's an impressive display. Rafa looked incredibly fit and noticeably bulked up from seasons past, and his lefty forehands sent balls hissing and whizzing by the crowd. Aside from Nadal's trademark grunts, I heard awed whispers and camera clicks the whole time.

Finally it was time for Fed's match. The main impression I had was that Roger Federer makes an extremely difficult sport look stupidly easy. His skill is so great, and his (apparent) effort on-court is so low, that just by watching him, you'd never know how hard it is to play tennis at a professional level. The pinpoint serves, rifled groundstrokes, and slick volleys flowed from Federer's racquet in a manner that can only be called...routine. Why doesn't everyone just hit serves into the corners at 120 mph?, you catch yourself wondering.

The whole thing is even more astounding when you consider that Federer is 35 years old, and that most of his contemporaries (Hewitt, Safin, Roddick, etc.) are retired. After several lightspeed service games, you could feel the pressure being put on the opponent, rising American Frances Tiafoe, as if he was fighting something abstract, like geometry or time. Federer won in straights, 7-6, 6-3.

If Roger Federer isn't the greatest tennis player ever, he's got to be darned close.

Watching other people play tennis afterwards was always going to be an anticlimax, so maybe it was for the best that afternoon showers cut the day short. It was still a great day, the day I watched Roger Federer play live.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Guns: Cumberland Tactics Carbine I review and report - Three Days of Fundamentals with Randy Cain

Last month, I took a three-day carbine course at Cumberland Tactics with Randy Cain, a former Gunsite instructor. I thought it was a great class, and a pretty good bargain at $550 considering the amount of material covered and the skill of the instructor.

Below are my impressions of the course - sort of a photo syllabus of what to expect if you train with Mr. Cain. However, this is not a complete or correct outline; I didn't want to plagiarize, and I also think you would be better served to drop the money to get the real thing.

Safety Briefing

Like all reputable classes, we start off with the Four Rules, as written by Jeff Cooper. They are literally set in stone at our host range, Southern Exposure Training Facility. We cover the how and why of each rule, and their application to gunfighting in the real world:

Equipment Notes

Everyone in our class used an optic on their carbine (mostly Aimpoints and clones), and there was only one non-AR in the whole bunch. I learned a very important lesson - EOTechs will go down when it is most inconvenient for them to do so.

I took the course using my tried-and-true six-year-old Daniel Defense DDM4 V3, lightly modified. This is my housegun, and while it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the newer DD carbines, it is incredibly reliable, lightweight, and bombproof. It didn't give me any problems whatsoever during the course, and shot fairly accurately to boot.

Tactical Movement

One of the major draws of a course like this is the ability to practice shooting on the move, something I almost never get to do. It's extremely valuable to see how accurate you can be at a given speed and in inclement conditions, like the spitting rain we experienced on the afternoon of the first day.

Traditional Shooting Positions

While there is some "up close, fast and furious gunfighting stuff" in the class (as Randy would put it), most of the course was shot at 50 to 200 yards. We go through prone (military, Olympic, monopod), sitting, squatting, kneeling, and offhand, both in slow-fire and in hasty assumption drills.

Two steel plates are provided for impromptu shooting competitions.


Randy hates teaching malfunctions, but includes them because this is, after all, an entry-level course. We go through the typical Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 drills, but not advanced malfunctions, like a bolt override.

The Scrambler

My favorite timed drill of the day was one where you started off at about 75 yards prone, then moved forward toward the target, shooting in positions of decreasing stability - sitting, squatting, kneeling, and offhand. Only first-round hits count, which teaches you to prioritize getting a good shot rather than rushing.

Night Shoot

Another thing I've never done is shoot outside at night. Southern Exposure is in a rural area, so it gets pretty dark pretty quickly, as Randy demonstrated in a drill.

For weaponlight fighting, I learned the priceless mnemonic - Up, ON, BANG, OFF, Down.


These were taught on the last day, and never with a loaded carbine. Even then, it's another skill that most ranges will not let you practice.


The final drill was shooting behind a barricade, using a variety of unconventional shooting positions (rollover prone, SBU, etc.). You had to "duck walk" behind the cover forward and back, which is almost ridiculously difficult on your quads. This one made my pretty sore for a few days.


I had a fine experience with the guys at Southern Exposure and Cumberland Tactics, and I'd recommend them to anyone in Florida looking for some firearms training. I will definitely try to be back for a handgun or shotgun course.