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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.

Magazine

With a cartridge capacity of 18+1 9mm rounds, the Caracal F’s magazine fits squarely between the 17+1 rounds of the Glock 17’s magazine and the 19+1 of the XDM from Springfield Armory. It seemed to work fine. It’s easy enough on the fingers when you load it all the way up, and it locks cleanly and easily into the magazine well even when the Caracal’s slide is forward—something you don’t see with some other autopistol magazines when fully charged.

The magazine has an odd-looking little lip on its front face, to engage the magazine lock. It’s there to facilitate the ambidextrous magazine release, with a buwtton on each side of the gun. I’ve heard some speculation on the Internet that the tab might break off and render the gun useless. I’m not buying that right now. First, while the Caracal is new to the U.S., it has been thoroughly tested overseas for a few years now, and I’ve seen no reports of magazine breakage of any type. We found no hang-ups from that little tab when inserting or ejecting magazines from the pistol, nor did we even feel any friction drag on it when inserting or withdrawing them from magazine pouches by BlackHawk and Glock.

When reloading, most of us who’ve been at it a while hold our index finger along the front of the magazine, the fingertip under the nose of the topmost cartridge, to help guide the magazine to the pistol by feel. This puts the index finger right along that little tab. If you rub your finger vigorously over the tab, I suppose your skin might get irritated, but that’s not how a magazine is handled in real life. Speaking for myself, I found that when reloading the Caracal, the finger touching that little tab simply told me that I was holding the magazine correctly.

Shooting Impressions

I for one appreciated the Caracal’s excellent “pointability,” but of course this is a subjective factor. I like the way it lets you get a lot of finger in on the trigger for maximum leverage for fast shooting, and folks with stubby fingers will appreciate the short trigger reach on this pistol, also.

With the high thumbs grasp that is popular today, I found that my right thumb overrode the Caracal’s slide stop and kept the pistol from locking open when it was empty. This, of course, slows down a reload, and can leave the user thinking he still has at least one shot left when he actually doesn’t.

The sheet metal slide stop has sharp edges, palpable at the top and particularly the bottom. Judging by Internet commentary on the Caracal all these problems are solved, of course, by simply curling the thumb down and keeping it away from that part. Some of us have come back to that “old school” grasp anyway, because it allows the primary hand to apply more strength to stabilizing the pistol, and is a stronger “start position” for the user if a struggle for the drawn gun occurs on the street.

One thing that gives the Caracal its wonderfully small muzzle jump is the low bore axis, but that comes partly from a low-profile slide, which in turn doesn’t leave a lot of slide grooving for the hand to catch when activating the slide. We occasionally saw a little bit of hand slippage because of this.

In a market glutted with high-quality striker-fired pistols with polymer frames, the ones that have earned a field repu-tation for high durability and reliability have an obvious advantage in the marketplace. The newcomer from Abu
Dhabi obviously hasn’t had the oppor-tunity to build that reputation yet. Word from overseas seems to be “so far, so good” on this side of things.

Despite the nits I’ve picked above, I’m liking what I see, apart from the Caracal triggers running light for this shooter’s taste in street guns. No polymer 9mm service pistol this size is a hard kicker, but this one seems to be particularly controllable in terms of muzzle rise, which of course aids in speed of accurate fire. Much of that is due to the low bore axis that has become a Willi Bubits design trademark, but part of it is also the angle at which the pistol forces the wrist when you’re holding it on target.

There is talk of the Caracal being made available in .40 S&W and even .357 SIG and .45 ACP. With these more powerful rounds, the controllability factors that Bubits designed into this pistol will become all the more apparent, as will its ability to control recoil.

Final Notes

The short (8mm) trigger pull and the overall ease of control made friends for the Caracal out of all on our test team who shot it. So did its total mechanical reliability, due in large part to straight line feed from Willi Bubits and a well-polished feed ramp from its manufacturer. None of the test team members, however, have yet replaced Glocks, Springfields, or S&W M&Ps with this new polymer pistol from the UAE.

Price has been reported elsewhere as high as the $700 range, but at this writing one distributor lists its suggested retail price at $499.

That said, this pistol has a great feel to it, and subjective as it is, feel means everything to many shooters. One lady on my range ran a few magazines through the Caracal. She set it down unloaded on the bench, took off her ear muffs and said, “You know, I really like this gun.” For more information, call 205-655-7078 or visit caracal-usa.com.

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