So here I sit, holding a piece of late 20th century history in one hand, and an example of the latest 21st
century technology in the other.

In my right hand is a Colt DS-II, the last and arguably most refined iteration of the Colt Detective Special, the gun that defined the “snub-nose .38 Special” as a pocket size defense revolver in 1926. This one was produced in the late 1990s. It holds six rounds of .38 Special ammunition, and weighs 23.5 ounces unloaded. Its cylinder is almost 1.4 inches thick.

In my left is a Springfield Armory XDS semi-automatic pistol. It weighs only 21.5 ounces unloaded, thanks to its lightweight polymer frame, and is distinctly shorter overall in both length and height than that classic-lined revolver. The pistol comes with two five-round flush bottom “concealment magazines” and a seven-round extended magazine with a spacer is available for purchase. And it measures only one bare inch thick at its widest point.

The old revolver can be reloaded with six more .38 rounds reasonably fast with a speedloader, which is a bit bulky to carry and conceal. The new auto can be reloaded with seven more rounds of .45 ACP more quickly than the revolver can be recharged, and its magazines will be flatter and easier to comfortably conceal than speedloaders. The revolver,
if necessary, can be pressed hard against a close would-be murderer’s body and fired. With this particular autopistol,
though not many others, the same is true.

Which is better? I think back to years ago, when I learned to only carry a little .38 in places where I couldn’t hide a big .45, and my younger self yells back at me, “Is this a trick question?”

Gun Details

Meet the Springfield Armory XDS, which took the concealed carry world by storm when it was introduced in January 2012. Most of the features we’ve come to expect from XD pistols are there. One is the handy loaded-chamber indicator that rises like a shark fin on the top of the slide when there’s a torpedo in the launch tube. It’s an easy and reassuring thing to feel in the dark. The grip safety is present, too. This has some advantages that a lot of folks miss. There have been cases of people shooting themselves when they holstered their gun, because a too-narrow safety strap or the drawstring of a warm-up jacket got caught inside the triggerguard, and pressed the trigger to the rear when the gun was pushed in. But if your pistol has a grip safety like any of the XD guns, it can’t fire so long as you holster as I’ve taught since the 1970s, with your thumb on the back of the slide, or on the hammer of a hammer-fired pistol.

It should be noted that the shooter will hopefully feel something wrong as the gun meets resistance going into the holster. That’s because even with the thumb off during holstering and the grip safety safely extruded, the next time the shooter goes to draw, the web of the hand will depress that grip safety and if the strap or other impediment is still holding the trigger back, there’s going to be a nasty, muffled “boom.” That’s how grip safeties work in general, whether on a 1911 pistol or an XD. But, clearly, it’s an example of where a grip safety can be “A Good Thing,” and not the sop to liability-conscious lawyers that some folks seem to think it is.

The ambidextrous magazine release of the bigger XD guns remains on this one. Its spring is firm enough that you don’t see it ejecting the mag unintentionally when the outside button bumps into something. However, it allows any shooter irrespective of hand dominance to dump an empty magazine by bringing the trigger finger back and pressing the button, which most find faster than using their thumb.

One feature that we’ve come to expect with XD variations that’s not on this one is the cocking indicator, usually present in the form of a blunt, protruding pin on the back of the slide. I’m used to it on my other XD pistols, but it’s not present on most guns, and I can certainly live without it. There doesn’t seem to be a cacophony of complaint rising from XD fans over its absence.

The sights are interesting. Fiber optic front, generously notched fixed rear with a couple of white dots. A red unit was installed in the front sight, with spare red and green inside the box along with the usual array of XD Gear: holster and mag pouch. Yes, the fiber optic rods will eventually break if history is any guide. But you’ll still have the front post to aim with, so it’s not anything to stay up nights worrying about. We found that in any sort of half-decent light, the “red dot” of the fiber optic facing the shooter just jumped right out, making sight alignment very fast.

The pistol comes with both five-round flush bottom “concealment magazine,” and seven-round extended magazines with a spacer are optional. The spacer fills the hand like a full size pistol grip, and also keeps the longer magazine from overtraveling and locking up the gun when it’s slammed in hard during an emergency reload. Be careful that the spacer doesn’t pinch the heel of your hand when you slap it in quickly, which can happen with any of the short-butt subcompact autopistols.

There is a light rail in the dustcover, allowing the shooter to attach one of the new generation gun-mounted mini-lights. The slide stop is the traditional XD “left-side-only” style. The frame is molded to shield it from upward thumb pressure, to prevent “shooter error” from accidentally locking the slide open at the worst pos-sible time midway through a magazine. This works as intended on the bigger XD models, and the same is true on this one. None of us on the test team accidentally locked the slide open at any time.

The trigger on the XDS had more “drag” to it on the first stage of its pull than what I generally feel on XD series pistols. That smoothed up by the time the finger encountered resistance and you were squeezing the shot off for real. Even that drag at the first, light part of the press seemed to smooth up with more and more shooting.

Pull weight on this pivoting trigger averaged 7.68 pounds when taken at the bottom tip, or toe, of the trigger. When weighed from the center, pull weight averaged only a little more, 7.37 pounds. I couldn’t quite get my trigger finger all the way to the joint for more leverage, but it honestly didn’t feel heavy when shooting, particularly at speed.

Range Time

Once bullets started going downrange from the XDS, to the universal joy of everyone on the test team, the gun shot to the sights! Why the italics and the exclamation point, you ask? Aren’t guns supposed to shoot where they’re aimed?

Well, yes, they are…but when you test a lot of them, you find that they often don’t. The XD pistols are in what might be called the “popular price range,” and to see it come out of the box already sighted in was a pleasing thing.

That is true for two reasons. One is that when your new gun is already sighted in by the people who made it, it sends you the reassuring message that they care about you, the end user. The other reason is that if you’ve ever tried to change or drift the sights on an XD, you know it’s not the easiest pistol
in the world upon which to perform those operations.

I selected three loads for accuracy testing from the bench with this little .45. The distance was 25 yards. Yes, I know that it has come into vogue to test pocket-size handguns like this one at shorter distances. However, until someone can confirm for me that the world’s criminals have signed a treaty promising to stand really close to the good people they force to shoot them, I’ll keep testing at what has become pretty much the standard maximum qualification distance for American police, and that’s still 25 yards. Speer’s Short Barrel version of their 230-grain Gold Dot seemed a perfect fit for the XDS with its stubby 3.3-inch tube.

Five shots from a Matrix rest resulted in a group that spanned 3.75 inches, measuring center to center between the farthest shots. While I didn’t “call” the one shot that stretched the group that far, it just didn’t “feel right” when I broke the shot, and I feel compelled to take responsibility for it. Factoring that shot out, the other four created a 1.95-inch group, and the best three were in exactly 1.50 inches. Not too shabby for a “pocket gun.”

The next load up was Remington’s mid-line quality load, the Express series, in 185-grain jacketed hollow point configuration. If one goes by the old Sears & Roebuck standard of “good, better, best” product lines, the green and white box Remington-UMC would be the economy priced “good” load, the premium Golden Saber would be their “best,” and this Express load in the yellow and green box would be the middle of the road “better.” It’s one of the oldest .45 JHP loads out there, and was the first to reliably feed in autopistols back around the early 1970s. It wasn’t famous for its dynamic expansion then, but Remington has tweaked the bullet design, and over the years I’ve seen enough fully mushroomed 185-grain Remington hollow points that went to optimum depth and quickly stopped the bad guy on the receiving end, that I trust this round. Out of the little XDS, the Remington 185-grains produced a 2.65-inch five-shot cluster at 25 yards. Four of those five were in 2.25 inches, and the best three were in a 1.35-inch triangle. This has always been one of our more accurate .45 ACP “street loads.”

Those who don’t handload for practice often go for whatever’s the most inexpensive generic 230-grain GI ball round, which is generally Winchester’s USA line, also known as WWB for Winchester white box. This stuff gave us a 3.45-inch group for all five shots, with the best four in 2.65 inches and the best three in 1.30 inches.

Given the old saw that “four inches for five shots at 25 yards is adequate service pistol accuracy,” I have to say that the XDS performed brilliantly in the accuracy department, being a little hideout pistol.

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