PCC in competition
Competition will not get you kilt in the streetz, and competing with a PCC is no different. Getting practical experience moving with, reloading, transitioning, and just working with a duty or defensive rifle is difficult for many people due to the lack of proper facilities. Even many of the more practically-focused bays are limited to pistol calibers, and steel targets are generally frowned upon when the words 5.56 and close range are used together. Just like USPSA can get you reps drawing, reloading, and moving with your pistol under both time and peer pressure, going to a match with a PCC can provide similar advantages. There will always be the “why shoot a rifle at a pistol match” crowd, but even they can appreciate an LEO getting out and practicing skills that very well come into play on the job. In a similar vein, someone interested in using a rifle in a defensive role can gain that same confidence in shooting and handling skills navigating competitive stages, which also allow them to do things prohibited on many public ranges. I am absolutely an advocate of personal practice and attending classes, but matches will always be a part of my shooting, and many high-level shooters find participating to be valuable. (USPSA example)
So maybe you have read this far, and you are somewhat PCC curious now. When it comes to the variety of different options to buy, what is the right option for you? For a more detailed discussion about this, check out this link. For the tl;dr version, for myself I decided on the AR9 course, with upper components from Faxon Firearms and a Quarter Circle 10 lower. Although there are disadvantages, the fact I was getting in good reps with the closest clone of a regular 5.56 AR with the same controls, the cost was reasonable, and I could readily set the gun up exactly how I wanted due to the tremendous aftermarket support for the AR family, led me to my decision.
If you are going to the extra expense of purchasing a dedicated practice rifle, there should be some compelling reasons to justify this expense. First is the ability to use the more inexpensive 9mm practice ammo compared to the slightly higher-priced .223/5.56. Obviously prices fluctuate, but purchasing brass-cased 9mm ammunition instead of .223 will save you about $100 per case of 1,000 (I found $150 vs $250 as common). Just like reloading your own ammunition involves an initial cost that you can eventually recoup over time, saving $100 per case of practice ammo for many people means a fairly quick return on investment when it comes to purchasing a 9mm carbine.
Speaking of reloading, pistol ammunition is generally much faster and easier to load than bottlenecked rifle (like .223). Without turning this article into “reloading-talk,” unless you invest quite a bit of money, loading rifle rounds just takes time! Where my Dillon 650 can crank out 1000 rounds in just over an hour of work, rifle ammo is a whole different story. Also note that 9mm is cheaper to load than .223 period.
Part of my personal practice involves shooting at paper and steel. With a .223 rifle, I usually keep my distance when it comes to shots on steel, and rarely shoot inside of 50 yards, although I find myself creeping up into the 25-30 yard range on occasion. Where the high velocity inherent in a light, fast 5.56 can cause rapid wear and tear on expensive steel targets, a 9mm equivalent to your duty/defensive/competition rifle can put rounds on a quality steel target almost indefinitely with little effect.
Obviously there is no free lunch, and it would be unfair to leave out the disadvantages when it comes to using a PCC for practice/training. The first is the nature of a blowback vs. a DI system. A blowback AR will be harder on trigger/hammer springs, the disconnector, firing pins, ejectors, and perhaps some other springs and small parts. Design changes like ramped bolts help with some of the more serious wear and tear concerns, but you should maintain the small parts as needed. You will also find that some of the “high-speed” triggers do not play well with blowback guns. I personally have had good luck with standard GI triggers, and the ‘enhanced’ versions from ALG (the ACT), BCM (the PNT), etc. Many competition shooters, including ones in my area, have had great success with the Hyperfire triggers if you wanted something nicer than a stock GI trigger.
Another downside is the extra weight and different recoil characteristics of a blowback vs. a standard DI gun. You want enough weight in the buffer and bolt to safely keep the gun in battery when fired, and that means more weight than a standard DI BCG and buffer. The recoil also will feel different from your 5.56 DI gun, and not necessarily in a good way. You can tailor handloads for a PCC, and you can mess with springs and weight, but it will always be a bit different. I personally have found that despite these differences, I still get a great deal of utility practicing with the PCC, especially when it comes to practicing a variety of shooting positions, or movement with a long gun.
PCCs also use non-standard magazines. Most will use either a Glock magazine or the colt SMG magazine (essentially a modified uzi magazine, and what I personally use). This means different mag pouches and reloading that is not quite like the 5.56 gun (there are also less common PCC lowers which use other magazines like the Sig 320 or S&W M&P, should you be using those pistols and want to use the same magazines). Recently Mean Arms came out with a 9mm conversion for pmags which, while somewhat expensive, allows you to use your standard lower, mags, and pouches with a PCC upper. (*note, your unloading process with these is different than normal, but a bit outside of the discussion here). When it comes to practicing reloads, using the 5.56 gun, or even dry firing might be a better option here.
My own personal PCC built on a QC10 colt lower, Faxon Barrel, and ALG handguard has proven to be incredibly reliable over thousands and thousands of rounds. This summer I had the chance to compete in a couple PCC specific matches, and I had decided to stop doing any cleaning until I started having reliability problems. Well, I’m now past the 2,500 mark since I did anything to the gun, and it is still working just fine. In the first match, myself and 2 other shooters were using my gun (they wanted to try out a PCC match, but didn’t have a gun to use). Between the three of us in the match and the shoot-off afterwards, we put well over 1,000 rounds through it in one day. I think the bottom line on reliability of a blowback 9mm AR is, just like the DI guns, you buy quality and assemble them correctly and they will treat you well.
My second 16” 9mm gun is a complete Faxon upper, and has similarly proven quite reliable. In another close to 1000 round range day, it just worked and worked, and allowed us to get in some barricade and positional shooting work at a much cheaper price than using 5.56, with all the same repetitions. Shots out to 100 yards are no more difficult than with a 5.56 on steel targets, and I left feeling like I got a great deal of practice with a rifle for the money in ammo invested.
If you truly want to improve at shooting, it requires practice. As much as I believe in dry fire, range time is invaluable for improving skills, and the ability to practice at a lower cost with a more convenient range set-up is well worth, for me, the cost of a 9mm rifle.