In 2014, responding to the increasing popularity of mounting a reflex sight directly to the slide of a semi-automatic pistol, USPSA introduced Carry Optics (CO) as a provisional division.
It was originally envisioned as nothing more than a Production division handgun with a slide-mounted reflex sight. The chosen gun had to be on the approved Production Pistol list and the holster and magazine pouch requirements were the same. Regardless of the caliber chosen (9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, 10mm and .45 ACP were authorized), CO would be scored as Minor (125 PF). The only break from Production rules was that magazines of 141.25mm were allowed, but could only be loaded to the 10-round Production capacity limit.
As with all Provisional divisions, things are subject to change. For CO, the big change came in 2017 when USPSA allowed those 141.25mm magazines be fully-loaded. That gave the 9mm a 20-plus round capacity. The guns were still required to be Production-approved models, with all calibers allowed. But the new magazine capacity rule created―in effect―a altogether new 9mm division.
As with any new competition division (particularly with the magazine capacity change) many shooters are still sorting out their gear as they attempt to find what works best for them. That was amply-demonstrated at the 2018 USPSA National Championship among the 85 CO competitors (39 percent of whom were shooting in their first Nationals). There were some significant changes from the equipment used in 2017.
The most popular CO pistol manufacturer in 2018 was SIG at 30 percent (up from 10 percent in 2017). About two-thirds of SIG users opted for the P320 X5, with the remainder listed simply as “P320.”
CZ-USA came in next at 28 percent (up from 15 percent in 2017). The Shadow 2 held a slight edge over the Shadow, but they were close. Glock was next at 16 percent (down from 22 percent) with the G34 leading that group. Walther held its 10 percent position, with the PPQ Q5 the top choice. Smith & Wesson was next at 5 percent, while Springfield Armory came in at 4 percent.
It takes a sturdy reflex sight to survive the violent G-Forces created by a slide ride mount. Those violent starts and stops, as the slide cycles, tend to make short work of electrical connections and battery compartments. Some models are establishing a solid reputation.
The most popular sight was the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro at 36 percent (up from 21 percent in 2017). The SIG Romeo 1 followed that at 29 percent (up from 9 percent in 2017; and very likely due to the introduction of the 6 MOA Romeo 1 in early 2018). The Vortex Venom was next at 16 percent (up from 10 percent). C-More was next at 6 percent (down from 9 percent), followed by the Burris FastFire III at 6 percent and the Trijicon RMR at 5 percent (which was down from 14 percent in 2017).
Mounting a reflex sight to the slide can be accomplished by milling the slide or using a dovetail mount that replaces the rear sight. Of the 85 shooters, 59 percent chose the factory-milled, “optics ready” options (SIG, S&W, Glock, and Walther), while 34 percent had their slides milled for the sights. Only 7 percent were using a dovetail mount.
Given the 125 PF requirement and the increased capacity of the 141.25mm magazines, it’s not surprising that 100 percent of the competitors shot 9mm.
What might surprise some, especially those who feel that you have to handload your ammo to shoot action games, is that only 52 percent of the competitors rolled their own. The remaining 48 percent bought their loads over-the-counter. Federal was by far the most popular factory load with 23 percent of the competitors reporting that brand. One observer at the match noted that many of those were shooting the new Federal 150 Syntech load. SIG Sauer loads were at 8 percent, with T1 Ammunition at 6 percent, Blazer at 4 percent, with Atlanta Arms and Universal Ammo brands at 2 percent each.
The 9mm’s biggest advantage is the number of rounds that can be stuffed into a 141.25mm magazine, and for the most part that requires aftermarket base plates that extend the capacity of factory magazines. The most popular were by Taran Tactical Innovations (TTI) at 31 percent. Springer Precision was next at 23 percent, followed by Henning at 11 percent and Taylor Freelance at 10 percent.
Interestingly, 13 percent of the shooters choose factory magazine―likely the 21-round 141.25 magazines offered by SIG for the various P320 pistols.
The 2018 USPSA Carry Optics National Championship saw significant changes from previous years. As manufacturers continue to address this evolving division, it’s likely that the equipment choices will be refined.