Target shooting accuracy, plastic vs steel


March 7, 2010, 01:04 PM
I am interested in getting a 9mm pistol that I would use for target shooting enjoyment. No competition, just personal best.

I have a SIG 239 9mm and a .45ACP 1911. I am good with both, but really good with the 1911 (as are many, I believe).

A 9mm 1911 is what I would like to have most, but they are difficult to find and not at all inexpensive. I have found a candidate one for under $700, though the one I want most (Springfield) is $850 (outside my budget).

I was wondering, however, can a plastic pistol be as good and accurate a target pistol as a steel one??

The S&W M&P 9mm seems interesting. Can get a 5 inch barrel, I think. Reports seem good, though 25yrd accuracy does not seem on par with most 1911's, it is not bad. Same might be said for some Glocks (though not a fan of these).

Does anyone use any plastic (I know, polymer) pistol for bullseye or other competition?

Appreciate all thoughts and opinions.



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March 7, 2010, 01:27 PM
I have seen plenty polymer-framed pistols used in both IDPA and IPSC matches.

I have never seen a polymer-framed pistol used in a Conventional Pistol (aka "Bullseye") match.

Now, IAMNAG, but I have always assumed there must be a reason why this is so.

My thought's are polymer has its place. Polymer will take one unholy beating after another and turn and laugh at you. Repeatedly. Translation: Polymer is TOUGH. Polymer can be molded/machined to tolerances that will make it suitable for 90% of the jobs a handgun is called upon to perform. It is my understanding that polymer also has certain elastic qualites to it that steel does not. This elasticity is not a "bad" thing, as I understand it but rather a good thing in that it contributes to polymer being so damn tough. Conventional Pistol, though, is about repeatable and absolute pinpoint-accuracy for hundreds of rounds and something tells me that job requires steel and nothing else.

Notice I said "nothing else", not "nothing less". Polymer has it's place (see the aforementioned 90% comment) but I have a hunch Coventional Pistol is probably 8% of the remaining 10% where polymer pistols simply need not apply.

March 7, 2010, 01:28 PM
There are some really good books out there about accuracy in semiautomatic handguns.

From what I've read, and with human ability aside, it all boils down to the ability of the barrel and sight alignment to remain consistent. Since there's a lot of movement going on with the barrel unlocking and the slide slamming back and forth, this is quite a feat of engineering.

Now, plug in human factor. I've noticed that there are certain pistols I cannot shoot worth a darn beyond about 15 yards, no matter how wonderful all the gun rags and forum afficionados tout them as "the best.....". I am a terrible shooter with a large frame polymer pistol. I just am.

I much more prefer my 1911s and my all metal CZ. But, that's just me.

March 7, 2010, 05:23 PM
I found I shoot steel pistols (CZ & 1911) better than plastic (XD40 & M&P 9mm). I never could figure out why.

I have a 9mm STI Trojan with over 6,000 rounds through it and it's a tack driver. But, kinda pricey. My CZ75 was a Compact and was very accurate. I sold it due to a grip/finger interface problem that bugged me. (IOW, 1911's were a better fit for me.) CZ's are lower priced than offerings of 1911's and CZ does make a full size single action only 9mm that might be of interest to you. I can't help but think a full size CZ with proper sights would be even more accurate than my Compact.

The Lone Haranguer
March 7, 2010, 05:28 PM
I know of no inherent property of the polymer itself that would make a gun less accurate. But the current polymer service pistols are not made to the accuracy standard of a true target competition pistol.

March 7, 2010, 05:34 PM
My springfield 9mm 1911 is not what I would call "bullseye" accurate. My SV is the most accurate semiauto pistol that I have, those are 50 yd groups the 45 barrel is a little more accurate than the 9mm barrel but you could have 3 springfields and a bunch of ammo for the same price.

March 7, 2010, 07:15 PM
If you're looking for a nice target pistol that won't break the bank, take a look at the Witness Elite Match. It has a very nice single action only trigger.

March 7, 2010, 07:25 PM
Thank you for the great replies, please keep them coming. I am trying to understand if there is some inherent issue with a polymer pistol that will reduce it accuracy.

I really would like a 1911, but money is an issue. Still...I want to make a good choice.

Read a couple good articles on the S&W M&P 5 inch 9mm. Seems to be a good pistol and quite accurate (still not sure it approaches a steel framed 1911). I can get one new for just over $500. It has a rail, which would be interesting and give me the option to add sighting instruments (laser, perhaps a scope). That might add some fun.

As someone wrote above, the M&P is not designed or manufactured for target shooting or accuracy. Trigger is over 6 lbs (can be lightened up), geometry of the trigger may not be compared with a 1911...but not horrible. Some people have achieved good results.

I think the big question is the slide to frame fit and function of a polymer pistol such as the M&P. I realize this fit and function is fine for combat shooting. Is the frame to slide fit on a polymer pistol able to deliver the accuracy of steel on steel? Is it an issue?

March 7, 2010, 07:36 PM
I know you stated you don't plan to shoot competition with the gun, but your question is pretty much answered in the statement above about what competitors DO shoot. In 'combat accuracy' competitions, plastic guns can and do run with the big boys. But when you get to the more precise games like NRA or even the Bianchi cup, plastic guns disappear. I won't pretend to be enough of a gunsmith to know why this is, but there it is all the same.

If you get an M&P or similar polymer gun when what you want is something to really wring accuracy out of, you're going to get frustrated.

March 7, 2010, 07:49 PM
Here I am answering a question with a question, 2nd time today. It annoys me when folks to that and here I am doing it myself.

I am good with both, but really good with the 1911
A 9mm 1911 is what I would like to have most, but they are difficult to find and not at all inexpensive.

There are plenty of nice steel-frame 9mms out there that can be purchased on the cheap, the excellent Bersa Thunder being one of them (circa $300 NIB from SOG).
However... have you considered a 1911 in .38 Super? They might cost less than a 1911 in 9mm and are similar in ballistics (perhaps a bit hotter). If you reload, these can be real fun as you can load to best fit your needs.

You can find 1911s in .38 Super manufactured by both RIA and Taurus on Auction sites such as and from time to time (such as now). Just another option you might decide to toss around, especially if you reload (as ammunition costs a bit more than 9x19).
Edited to add: Sarco is offering new RIA 1911s chambered in .38 Super for $365.

Stainless Taurus .38 Super found here (

A less expensive blued Taurus .38 Super found here (

Here's a Rock Island Arms .38 super found here (

March 7, 2010, 08:00 PM
Frame to Slide fit is not particularly important for actual (using the sights) accuracy. Once the guns are put in a ransom rest, polymer has a problem. It's squishy and hard to hold on to, so it slides around in the rest. I've found that I can generally shoot polymer frame guns better from a sandbag than from a Ransom Rest.

The issue is that the standard for bullseye type accuracy testing is shooting from a Ransom Rest. In this case, the tight fit between the frame and slide is important, because the sights aren't being aligned each time, the frame is being aligned to the target. With this method, making a poly gun shoot as well as a steel gun will be difficult.

For target shooting enjoyment what type of shooting are you planning on doing? If you are trying to shoot the smallest possible groups, I can't think of a striker fired poly pistol that really has an appropriate trigger for that. I'd look to the hammer fired guns like the HKs and FNP series

In general, 9mm pistols aren't used for bullseye, except for the EIC matches that require as-issue service pistols.

March 7, 2010, 09:00 PM
From what you are saying have you considered a Browning Hi Power 9mm. They are single action only. From what I read and so forth the Hi Powers are some of the most accurate semi-autos out there. My only experience with semi-autos is with double action only. I do have a single action 9mm but its not a high dollar. I use my 9mm as a fun gun and ammo is cheap. My DAO is a SW40VE Sigma. I consider this pistol as a combat type pistol. Not a target pistol. I consider good accurately on the Sigma is 15 to 20 yards max. I am still getting used to the pistol at 7 to 10 yards. Most target guns like your thinking of are in the $800 to $1000 range.

Good luck with your search,

March 7, 2010, 09:40 PM
not sure when they will be shipping, but the STI SPartan is now available in 9mm. price should be ~$650

March 7, 2010, 10:05 PM
You inquired about polymer vs steel/metal.
Most of the modern 'service' pistols, both steel and polymer can be pretty darn accurate.
IMHO a polymer 'could' be made to very high accuracy standards; but I believe 'most' shooters will be 'more' accurate with a steal/heavier gun; because it's easier to shoot accurately. In other words the shooter is the variable.

The increased weight decreases percieved recoil and trigger error affects. Most shooters spend a lot of time practicing, using dry fire/snap-caps, to prevent flinching in anticipation of recoil and perfecting trigger pull.

The heavier guns make it easier and faster to learn/prevent. Less 'flip' and target transitions are easier and faster to learn also.

Just my opinion. YMMV

I really like my CZ 75

March 7, 2010, 10:07 PM
CZ, 75 series, all steel, good "range gun" comfortable, accurate. The new sp-01s are around 600-700, they have good triggers and will last forever. If you handel a new one just know that the triggers will smooth out with break in, CZs are tight guns and need to be "shot in".

March 7, 2010, 10:58 PM
If you want a steel 9mm target pistol for less then $850 get a CZ 75B SA for rougly $500, if you got extra money you can buy it from the custom shop with a custom hammer, trigger job and with the firing pin block removed (which wont matter if its just a range gun) and the custom trigger for a trigger that very close to a tuned 1911 pistol, without the tuned 1911 pistol price.

Alternatively if you want a polymer target pistol I would get the M&p pro, target sights, tuned trigger, 5 inch barrel from teh factory

March 8, 2010, 07:18 PM
Another solution to your quandary occurred to me today.

You're looking for maximum accuracy potential in a handgun with restricted cash outlay? Get a mid-sized revolver in .38 (or .357). Abundant, relatively inexpensive, and--if you get a simple quality gun like a S&W K or L frame--shooting as well as the gun is capable of shooting will become a true challenge.

March 8, 2010, 08:20 PM
What a great thread this is. This has been some excellent information.

I think the discussion on plastic vs steel is worthwhile. I checked out a S&W M&P today and while it looks like a very good side arm, the plastic slide grooves do not appear very sharp or exact and the slide to frame fit is not what it is on my modest RIA 1911 .45. And after the triggers on my 1911 and the SIG, I have grown pretty finicky about such things.

Thanks to the poster who put up all the pics and links to the sites for nicely priced 38 supers. That was very helpful. It does seem pretty easy to order an inexpensive 38 super and then get a $200 9mm replacement barrel.

And to the poster who mentioned the STI Spartan.

$400 for an inexpensive 38 super with another $200 for a 9mm barrel w/ bushing then puts that gun in the range of a 9mm STI Spartan. The Spartan has some very good additions to it, including the STI trigger and fiber optic front sight. Something to think about.

The only other less expensive alternative might be a CZ. Either the CZ-75 or the SP-01. Have looked at one at a gun show, was not wild about it...but was rushed at the time. I think the SP-01 had a plastic (and very flimsy) guide rod, that did not impress.

Still thinking about it but have more .....ammunition now. I think an M&P would be nice to have, but as one poster put it....I too think it would be dissapointing as a target gun in the long run.

March 8, 2010, 09:19 PM

I terms of designated "target pistols", I have a Glock 34 (9mm), and a Colt Trophy Gold Cup (45 ACP). Oddly enough, my G19C (9mm) with 2.5 Lb quick reset trigger actually outshoots the G34 with 3.5 Lb trigger. :banghead: My Colt Series 70 Reissue (45 ACP) actually outshoots my Trophy Gold Cup. :banghead: I know it sounds odd and near impossible that my less expensive pistols would outclass my "target" pistols, right. It's all in the fit for me. The two pistols I shoot best are 1911A1s and Glocks. Even more strange, I sold the first-ever Glock 17 that I owned because the angle of the grip was horrid. Then I learned how to grip a Glock. I would suggest at the minimum renting or borrowing a Glock 34 and trying it out. I have used all four of these pistols in Tactical Shooting and in Advanced Tactical Shooting courses.

Link to Glock:

Link to Colts 38 Supers:


March 9, 2010, 09:00 AM
Hi Geno

Thank you for mentioning Glocks. I have only had the opportunity to try one, a 9mm, do not remember which model it was.

Honestly, I just could not get into it. I felt the geometry and trigger were just not for me.

I will be trying another one this Thursday. A family member has a .40 Glock ( not remember which model...they all look the same :eek: ). It is his carry piece and so, probably not a good target one, but he likes it and says he shoots it well. We shall see.

I have shot a number of side arms, including Beretta's, SIG's, S&W, Taurus, auto and revolver....and the 1911 just does it for me. No matter which one I pick up, I am far better with it than anything else. The 1911 9mm that I want is $850, the one I would really love to have would be well over $1000, the one I might get is $650. So.....since I am in no hurry and would like to expand my experience base, I am thinking about trying other models...but only if it makes sense.

Have not shot a CZ yet. Curious about CZ sp-01 vs a 1911. Will see if the range I go to has a 4-5 in barrel Glock 9mm to try.



March 9, 2010, 10:44 AM

Be pre-warned, that the Glocks in .40 S&W have considerably more snap than the 9mms. :o The target version .40 is a G35, and few LEOs carry is. I am more inclined to think it will be either the G22 or G23. Wear your seatbelt and helmet when you fire it. :D Oh yeah, it may well have the 12 pound "trigger" if it's for duty carry. Here is me bein' typical me:

I'm da only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, who carries a Glock 40. I'm the only... <<BANG!!!>>


Guess he needed a 100 pound trigger.


March 9, 2010, 11:02 AM
I would favor a metal pistol for accuracy. That is merely my opinion however.

Especially if I am talking about 400+ rounds in a session, which are normal for me. There is some high speed video on youtube that shows the polymer flexing.

Accuracy is more about you than the pistol until the pistol becomes "loose" then perhaps you can blame the piece. The polymers are fine pistols but I have seen the evidence above that shows a trait I can't live with. To me its about accuracy after one round fired and after 1000 rounds fired.

In the end if you can hit precisely what you are aiming at that is all that matters.

March 9, 2010, 11:36 AM
My most accurate polymer is not as accurate as my least accurate steel gun. May just be me. Most polymers are striker fired and are relatively light, neither of which is an aid to accuracy.

Steel guns typically have hammer hooks and sears and can be tuned to match the intended usage. The added weight of steel is a plus and I feel this limits potential movement of the pistol at the moment the firing pin is sent to the primer.

I would agree with some other posters that recommend the CZ-75. You can make it do nearly anything you want it to, and it is inherently accurate right out of the box. With good handloads, my 9mm CZ SP-01 can cluster rounds right at or just under 2" at 25 yards from a sandbag rest.

March 9, 2010, 11:44 AM
My most accurate polymer is not as accurate as my least accurate steel gun. May just be me. Most polymers are striker fired and are relatively light, neither of which is an aid to accuracy.Can I get a witness?

My 92FS, which was DA with a seriously sloppy trigger, gave me better results than I get get with the wifes m&p. She likes it cuz she can just point and shoot and start the paperwork. Where I have to drop the safety squeeze the handle aim, squeeze, yada yada.

March 9, 2010, 08:37 PM
One pistol that is as easy to shoot as a heavier steel gun is the Glock17L longslide. One inch groups are common at 5oft. for me from a rest. This is as good as I can do with my Kimber Custom2 1911 in 45acp. The extra sight radius and 4.5 lb trigger help the Glock also.

March 9, 2010, 08:51 PM
The CZ 75 B SA is the most accurate pistol that I have even shot. I even shoot it better than my custom S&W revolvers. Check out Angus' website. If you want an accurate pistol I do not think that you go wrong with a CZ, and I have not seen anyone that can consistently beat his prices.

March 9, 2010, 09:57 PM
As to accuracy, yes, a polymer gun can shoot. If it's designed for it. Big if. But my Hammerli 280 is quite accurate.

Now, if I were in your case, I'd put a 9mm out of my mind and get a good .22. You get a lot more shooting for your dollar. If you like the 1911 platform, try a Marvel conversion upper.

John Wayne
March 9, 2010, 10:35 PM
IMO, it's not a question of polymer vs. steel, but one of what the gun was originally designed for. Both posess the same inherent accuracy potential, but most polymer guns are in the under $600 range, and designed for concealed carry. They are every bit as accurate as guns of similar design, tolerances, and price made of steel.

You can't say a custom match grade $2,000 SAO auto pistol that weighs 3.5 pounds is better than a Glock 17 on the basis that it's made of steel.

March 10, 2010, 07:20 AM
The FNP-9 is extremely accurate and the SA trigger pull is light and smooth. I got mine a couple months ago from CDNN for $465 shipped, don't know if they still have any but you can still find them for $500-$525, or wait a month or two and get the new version, the FNX-9.

March 10, 2010, 08:42 AM
Great replies, this is very good information.

I am planning to go to the range tomorrow with my cousin and her husband. He has a Glock 27 .40, which should be interesting :) [Geno...will definately let you know how this goes]

He also just picked up a S&W M&P .45acp, 5 inch barrel (I think that is what he said). SO.....I should get a chance to shoot it along with my RIA .45 1911. We may have a basis for comparison, perhaps. It should be fun and educational.

The 1911 has been the best shooting platform for me. I do not think I will pick up a polymer gun for target shooting, at this point. It will likely come down to a 1911 in 9mm or the CZ SP-01. I will be looking locally, because I will probably have to trade my SIG 239 for it (sadly, the SIG is terrific and I will miss it).

I am easily in 1-1.5 inch groups (5-10 rounds) at 7yrds, free hand, with my RIA .45 1911. 4.5 inch groups at 50ft, free hand. Not great, but consistant and I am working to improve. So, at least I might be able to give you a good range report.

So, tomorrow (Thurs) I may be able to let you know how it went with these:

RIA 1911 .45,
S&W M&P .45
Glock 27 .40
SIG P239 9mm.

Thank you, everyone, who has given such great advice and information.



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