Named for a desert wildcat with distinctive long ears, the Caracal pistol (pronounced with the K-like hard “c” in each syllable) comes to us from the United Arab Emirates, a part of the world not known for innovative small arms design. The design itself, however, has strong European bloodlines. The lead designer of the Caracal was reportedly Willi Bubits, who spent time at Glock in that company’s early days and designed the neat Steyr M-series pistols. Not surprisingly, the Caracal distinctly resembles the Steyr, which has earned high praise for its handling
and reliability from many shooters.

First Look

The polymer framed, striker-fired Caracal has a radical grip-to-barrel angle of something like 111 degrees. If you’re habituated to the 1911, it may point high for you. Being comfortable with the Glock, it points fine for me. Natural point is, of course, a subjective thing.

I had the privilege of being the first gun writer in the U.S. to interview Willi Bubits when Steyr debuted the M9 series. He impressed heck out of me then, and I’ve seen nothing since to change my mind on that score. Willi brings a deep understanding of ergonomics to his designs.

One of his design signatures is a very low bore axis, which gives the shooter more leverage and reduces muzzle rise. It worked great on the Steyr, and it works great on the Caracal. I don’t like that hackneyed old phrase, “It kicks like a .22,” but in this case, that comes pretty close.

The top rear of the frame is deeply niched for the web of the hand, another signature of Willi Bubits’ style. This lets the shooter get “more finger on the trigger,” which is generally a good thing, in this reviewer’s judgment. Another, earlier reviewer (by internet blogger Robert Farago, if memory serves me right) noted that this feature should also be helpful in keeping new shooters from putting the thumb of their support hand behind the slide. Makes sense to me. While “thumb behind slide” tends to be a very quickly self-correcting mistake, like most mistakes it is still best avoided or prevented.

Trigger

Another thing that most reviewers like about the Caracal is its easy trigger pull. On a Lyman digital trigger gauge, the test Caracal F averaged 3.92 pounds at the bottom edge, or toe, of the pivoting trigger. Weighed from the center of the trigger, where most human fingers hit it and where of course there’s less leverage, pull weight went up to 5.35 pounds.

It felt lighter to my particular trigger finger than what it registered; without the gauge, I would have guessed it at 3.5 pounds. It felt lighter than what I want in a carry pistol. That comes from many years as an expert witness in court cases, some of which alleged negligent and unintentional discharge (ND). Some of those indeed were unintentional, but some were totally justified intentional shots, falsely painted by accusing lawyers as having been fired through unjustified negligence. Those lawyers used light trigger pull weights on the death weapons to back up their false allegations. Not willing to give ammunition to people who might want to destroy me in one way or another, that has left me unwilling to use light match-type triggers in hard use self-defense guns.

Some, a definite minority, have criticized the Caracal’s trigger as being mushy. This one wasn’t. It was tested for this article by two IDPA Five-Gun Masters, both of whom thought the trigger pull was excellent for competition shooting. One of those was the gun’s owner, John Strayer, a winner of state and regional championships whose usual match gun these days is a Springfield Armory XDM with a competition trigger job from its manufacturer’s Custom Shop. Before lending it to me for testing here, John commented, “The trigger is nice.” For match shooting, I have to concur. The test Caracal F’s trigger broke cleanly for me, and re-set quickly.

Iain Harrison, an ace competitive shooter and winner of the first “Top Shot” contest on The History Channel, has commented that he considers the Caracal to have been the best of the handguns newly offered in the U.S. during 2012. He wrote in a review, “The important differences are in its ergonomics and trigger, as the bore axis is the lowest I’ve ever seen on a locked breech pistol and the factory trigger is set at 2.8 pounds with a clean break and a short tactile reset. It is, by far the best factory trigger I’ve ever shot in a polymer gun…” Harrison also said that the Caracal was in the hands of some very good European IPSC competitors, and predicted that the same would soon be true stateside. The trigger on the one he tested was apparently lighter than on the test sample wrung out for this article.

The Caracal has something radical in the area of sights, too. One Caracal option, not tested for this article, is the “Quick-Sight,” in which both front and rear sights are set forward of the ejection port on the slide. Without having tested those, I can’t offer any meaningful comment.

The test gun was a Caracal F (full-size), which came with fixed sights in the Heinie Straight 8 pattern, in which the front dot sits above a rear dot located in the center below the rear notch. What’s unique about the rear sight on this standard model Caracal is that it is integral with the slide’s backplate. This means that there is no apparent way to drift it or otherwise adjust it.

The sights came quickly to the eye, and thanks to the almost non-existent muzzle jump, were easy to “track” between shots even when firing at each shooter’s maximum speed. They should lend themselves to a “Straight 8” set of tritium night sight inserts as well.

Range Time

As per my usual protocol with a 9mm service-type pistol, I checked this one with loads representing each of the three most popular bullet weights for the cartridge in question. A rule of thumb in the firearms press seems to be that five-shot groups that stay within 4 inches at 25 yards constitute “acceptable service pistol accuracy.” That standard is, if anything, a generous one.

The round that made the cut was Black Hills’ standard pressure red box (virgin ammunition) 124-grain jacketed hollow point. So accurate I’ve seen military teams use it in their Berettas in the precision-demanding Distinguished Match and resident’s Hundred event at the National Championships at Camp Perry, this Black Hills round delivered a five-shot group from a Matrix rest on a concrete bench that measured 3.85 inches center-to-center. The first shot had gone way low, with the next four creating a group of exactly 2.5 inches. The best three, however, showed some potential for inherent accuracy with a spread of only 1.40 inches, with each measurement being taken to the nearest 0.05 inches.

For a 115-grain bullet I chose Federal’s 9BPLE +P+. With a nominal velocity of 1300 feet per second (fps), this round is justly famous as perhaps the most accurate of all the 9mm “hot loads,” not to mention its stellar track record as a “manstopper” with many large law enforcement agencies. From the Caracal F, it put its quintet of bullet holes 4.20 inches apart. This was because the first shot went errant—high this time. The other four bullets created a much more pleasing 1.80-inch cluster, and the best three were in a 1.15-inch group.

The 147-grain subsonic 9mm round was developed by Winchester in the 1980s, originally dubbed the OSM for Olin Super Match. It has lived up to that sobriquet ever since, whether in hollow point or full metal jacket configuration. This iteration was Winchester’s own 147-grain jacketed truncated cone Unleaded, the most consistently accurate of the “green” practice rounds I’ve seen, and accurate enough that I’ve seen it win many matches in many hands.

This time, the first hand-chambered round went way high, creating a 6.15-inch spread. Another round went north of the main group for a 3.75-inch measurement. The best three, however, preserved hope for inherent accuracy, with a nice 1.10-inch cluster.

This was due in significant part to what fellow gun writer Wiley Clapp defined as “four plus one syndrome.” Occurring in semi-automatic rifles as well as semi-automatic pistols, this means that the first hand-chambered round sends its bullet to a slightly different point of aim than the automatically cycled ones which follow, even though the point of aim is the same for all the shots. The theory is that when cycled by the force of the previous shot, the working parts end up in a subtly different “battery” or relationship to one another.

I’m not the guy to tell the engineers how to get the “4+1 syndrome” out of this pistol, but those “best three” clusters do show that Willi Bubits designed some potential for serious accuracy into the Caracal.

What bothered me more was that this particular gun shot well to the right of point of aim. The 115-grain +P+ centered its group 2 to 3 inches to starboard. The 124-grain JHP went 4 to 5 inches in the same direction. And the 147-grain subsonic full metal jacket placed its long vertical string of shots 4 to 5 inches right of point of aim.

Shooters are used to clicking a sight adjustment knob, or drifting a rear sight in its dovetail, to dial in an autopistol
that shoots “off.” Can’t do either with a Caracal the way they’re built right now. Turns out, though, that you can pound the front sight sideways in its dovetail (ain’t too many sight adjustment tools for drifting front sights, though). In fact, close examination of the test pistol showed that the reason it shot to the right was that it had left the factory with the front sight all the way to the left,
well off center, in its dovetail.

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Show Comments
  • KhanZ

    don’t handle caracal C its a grenade

  • KhanZ

    you can google about Caracal C Blasted Slides

  • Looks interesting but I’ll wait until they work the bugs out of them before I try one.