Glock Model 21 .45 ACP Pistol

By David Tong

Glock Model 21 as reviewed
Glock Model 21 as reviewed. Photo by Dave Tong.

Unless one has had one’s head buried in the sand, the story of Gaston Glock’s polymer framed pistols is one of the late 20th Century’s major successes. What I will try to do is to evaluate the G21 handgun, chambered for my favorite caliber in a social pistol, .45 ACP, in as balanced a perspective as I can muster.

The Glock design favors reliability over any other attribute. It does so via 1) simplicity and the fewest number of parts of any full size service pistol; 2) one mode of “safety” and fire control; 3) ease of field maintenance; 4) an ability to function without lubrication; 5) continuing performance under severe conditions, including mud, rust, sand and temperature extremes; and 6) large magazine capacity. There is a reason that Glocks have been described by your author as “the AK of handguns.”

Against that are 1) an intolerance for overpressure ammunition due to an unsupported lower chamber; 2) combat grade (rather than target grade) accuracy; 3) pronounced balance changes as the ammo load is fired; and 4) larger than normal grip frames (due to the double stack magazine) preclude best shooting efficiency for smaller-handed personnel.

Regular readers no doubt know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool 1911 shooter and I have owned a slew of 1911 style pistols. I’ve owned several versions of the Heckler & Koch USP series as well, because of their familiar ergonomics and manual of arms compared to my 1911.

What the Glock offers to me primarily is lighter weight. It weighs only 26 ounces empty, compared to the 39 ounce empty weight of my Colt Government Model 1911. It is over ¾ pound lighter and at the end of a day that amount isn’t trifling, even for someone who has carried a GM daily for nearly five years.

It is also simple to use. The Glock “safe-action” system allows a short, relatively clean if somewhat heavy (5.5 pound) trigger break with a very fast reset, making shooting a Glock easy for me. It is not tough to shoot controlled pairs, nor would I suspect “hammers” (one aimed shot and second shot sent without a second sight picture) would be any more difficult.

There have been reports of the high-pressure .40S&W Glocks and the occasional G21 that have failed due to over-pressure ammunition. While such occurrences are clearly the fault of the ammunition rather than the pistol, in my view this is exacerbated because of the unsupported chamber area that is provided to enhance feed reliability. The area between 4 o'clock and 8 o’clock on a Glock has a larger feed ramp incursion into the chamber area than most pistols. If an imperfectly crimped, maximum pressure round has been administratively chambered from the magazine a great many times, there is a chance that the bullet could get pushed into the case, causing a loss of case volume and an increase in chamber pressure. (The biggest sources of over pressure ammunition are reloads that are intentionally loaded over pressure in an attempt to achieve higher velocity, or accidentally double charged. -Ed.)

If the resulting pressure increase is high enough it can cause the destruction of the pistol, including the frame, magazine and barrel. This would usually result in lacerations to the hand of the shooter. The polymer frame of the Glock, so nice and light to carry, does not offer the same level of protection to its user as a steel framed pistol. While such instances are rare, especially considering that 70% of American law enforcement agencies are now wearing Glocks, they have occurred and it behooves anyone carrying one to carefully inspect their ammunition for cartridge overall length if it has been "dry cycled" many times.

The G21 is easy to shoot, if not particularly accurate by my standards. My usual drill with any new handgun I’m testing is to fire a full magazine into a 3” group at 25 yards, hand held, roughly the vital zone of an IPSC silhouette head. I was able to place 10 of 13 shots into one during my limited testing and since I am used to the crisp, under 4 pound trigger of my 1911, the 5.5 pound, slightly creepy pull on the G21 had to be overcome. More familiarity with the Glock trigger pull would help and, of course, the Glock magazine holds six more rounds than my Government Model pistol. However, I know that I could outshoot this particular Glock if I was still relatively fresh.

This may be a “stunt,” as using this pistol in the manner intended generally means center of mass shooting. However, I do believe that the mechanical accuracy of a pistol eliminates doubt, in at least my mind, as to its ultimate capability. The more accurate the better, as long as reliability is not compromised.

A word about reliability--two rounds in just under a hundred fired actually failed to feed and they were both American Eagle 230 grain RN full metal jacket. This may be due to inferior ammunition, a sagged magazine spring or worn magazine feed lips, but it does illustrate the old adage that if a semi-auto is going to fail, it will probably be because of a bad magazine or bad ammo. I plan to test some fresh magazines soon (the test pistol was acquired used).

My test specimen has 10 year old Trijicon self-illuminating night sights installed, which are still nice and bright. It also came with a Glock rail mounted flashlight that works either in "momentary on" mode with finger pressure, or will click detent to a "constant on" mode, as desired. Satisfyingly, the center of the adjustable beam sits square in the middle of the sight picture . . . kudos, Glock.

The newest model G21 is called the “SF” model. For you armchair commandos out there, this does not mean “Special Forces,” but “short frame.” What was done was a slight grip reduction across the backstrap to shorten the reach to the trigger by some 3mm. In addition, the proprietary Glock dust cover rail has been replaced with a Picatinny-spec rail to enhance its ability to use other than factory accessories.

My understanding is that Glock was one of the manufacturers involved in the recently cancelled Joint Service Pistol request for proposal. Our troops overseas have been asking for the replacement of the 9x19mm Beretta M9 due to a lack of stopping power and Glock supposedly had also equipped prototypes with thumb safeties a la 1911, but these are not currently available commercially.

With the plethora of new polymer framed service .45s from Glock, Taurus, H&K, Springfield and Smith & Wesson (among others), it is a good time for the .45 lover. (If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Gaston Glock should be well flattered. -Ed) The G21 has been available in its current form since 1997 and I admire the pistol enough that I might just keep it.

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Copyright 2008 by David Tong. All rights reserved.