Monday, March 23, 2015

Palette's Monday Gunday Product Reviews: LaserMax Centerfire for Colt Mustang Pocketlite

As I mentioned last Monday, the Colt Mustang my father owns (and I shoot) had some issues with accuracy until I was able to add a laser to it. This is the review of that laser, the Centerfire by LaserMax ($139).

Installation and Fit
I am pleased to report that, unlike the Guide Rod Laser I reviewed in 2013, the Centerfire is a breeze to mount on the pistol: you just snap the pieces around the trigger guard and secure it with a single screwdriver. It fits snugly against the frame when installed.

The button to activate the laser sticks out a bit more than I expected it would -- 1/8th inch on both sides -- but it can depress at least half that before it turns on. I haven't had any problems with it catching on clothing, but there is the possibility that it might happen to someone else.

Other than that, there is nothing that might snag or catch when drawing the pistol.

I can easily reach the ambidextrous controls with my index finger. However, I have small hands and this is a small gun, so that's to be expected. I do not see how folks with larger hands might have difficulty with using it, other than the expected "Everything is small and my fingers are bumping into things unexpectedly." If that's a dealbreaker, then perhaps a pocket pistol is not for those folks, in the same way that large double-stack guns are not for folks with small hands.

This is where I began to have some minor problems with the product. Minor, yes, but this is a review and I'm nitpicky.

First, the laser is supposed to come "factory aligned at 10 yards," and in my experience it was off -- way, way off.  However, I had that exact same issue when I shot the Crimson Trace Laser Grip on my mom's Ruger LCR. I don't know if it's just my quirky luck or something else entirely, but every adjustable laser I have ever used has always needed to be adjusted, regardless of what distance they are supposed to be sighted in for.

Second, and tied inextricably to the first, is the fact that the laser is adjusted by set screws. What this means is that there is no immediate feedback regarding how much I have moved the point of aim; there is no "one click means one-quarter inch at X yards" like one has with scopes.

While this is understandable -- this is a small form factor we are dealing with, after all -- it does make sighting in the laser an exercise in patience and precision:
  1. Shoot gun.
  2. Observe that sight needs to be adjusted in X or Y direction. 
  3. Use tiny Allen wrench to adjust the laser the exact smidge needed to get it on target without going past. 
  4. Shoot gun again. 
  5. Readjust sights based upon new performance until it is sighted in or you say "that's good enough" and leave it. 

That said, even with the Centerfire's flaws, it gave me a huge improvement over iron sights at the same distance:
Still at 10 yards.
All shots  were made using a bench rest to eliminate variation due to shaky hands. 
Top: The holes in the middle of the picture are where the bullets hit before using the laser. Further holes in the top target are from me "walking in" the windage and elevation
Right: It was getting difficult to see where I was hitting, so I shifted here. You can see the groupings getting tighter as I tune things up. 
Left: This is where I go "Yes, that's good enough,"  as this pistol is meant for self-defense at close ranges and not for precision shooting. I then took it off the bench and shot a new target using my usual (unsupported) stance. 

This picture is my final target. Windage appears pretty much straight on (I figure anything an inch or less from zero is from poor technique on my part), but the elevation is still about three inches low, as you can see from the grouping below:
6" target at 10 yards. 

(The shots above the bullseye are from deliberately aiming higher. )

I decided this was good enough for two reasons:
  1. I'd already played the "up... up... dang, too high! Lower.... crud, I'm too low again!" game too many times and I was fed up with it. 
  2. If I'm going to be off in any direction in a self-defense scenario, low is the best direction to go. Too high, and I might shoot over my assailant's head; too far left or right, and I might miss. But if the sights say I'm aimed at his heart, and I actually hit him in the lungs or abdomen, I'll take that*. A non-fatal hit is better than a miss, and given the length of the human body I've got a nice big margin for error. 

Of Note
One thing to keep in mind is that the battery is a 1/3 N Lithium -- not exactly common, but neither is it nonstandard. This isn't an issue for me, so it doesn't affect my rating, but it might bother others.

My Rating: A
It does what says it does, and its ease of installation and use cancel out my nitpicks regarding having to sight it in. 

In my opinion, the LaserMax Centerfire redeems the Colt Mustang Pocketlite. 

* I think this the point where I'm supposed to use the term "acceptable combat accuracy".

Obligatory FTC disclaimer: LaserMax sent me this laser for review. They didn't ask for anything in return, not even a good review. Go away. 

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