By Chris Dumm
Hold the presses! There’s a new polymer-framed, striker-fired double-stack 9mm with a revolutionary design that will take the handgun market by storm!
I know what you’re thinking: “How can I live without another plastic wondernine? I’ll be sure to rush out and buy it, as soon as I finish handloading a few thousand rounds of .25 ACP and vacuuming the garage.” After spending some major trigger time with the Caracal and its funky Quick Sights, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss it as a gimmick.
Farago and I were
intrigued fascinated by this sleek Arab/German pistol and its funky sights when we got to shoot it at the SHOT Show, and we resorted to desperate measures to line up a test sample. Our ‘Amber Alert’ stunt (okay, that’s what it was) quickly bore fruit, thanks to the quick reflexes of Scott O’Brien of Caracal USA. After doing the FFL paperwork shuffle, your correspondent was soon pouring lead downrange with one of the quickest-handling 9mms he’s ever fired.
Even if you haven’t been keeping up with our previews, amber alerts, and video updates since January, you’ll instantly notice that the Caracal looks a whole lot like the Steyr M9 series. This is a no-brainer, since both were designed by Austrian engineer Wilhelm Bubitz.
In a nutshell, Herr Bubitz took a standard Glock design and chopped it like a custom ’49 Mercury. He moved the bore axis about as low as it can go, with the goal of directing the gun’s recoil impulse straight backward instead of upward. He also moved the grip forward and the slide rearward, which minimized the pistol’s dimensions and improves balance.
In the following photos, I’ll compare the geometry and dimensions of the compact Caracal 9c to the SIG/Sauer P250 Subcompact, mostly because that’s the only other smallish 9mm I’ve got kicking around my gun safe at the moment.
Here’s a comparison of their bore heights. Just how low can the Caracal do the Wilhelm Bubitz limbo? That’s the Caracal is on the left, and the SIG on the right. These equal-scale photos illustrate that the Caracal’s bore is almost a half-inch closer to the web of your thumb.
This pic compares their overall length of the two different guns. Herr Bubitz moved the grip forward under the Caracal’s slide, with a deep beavertail rear that eliminates any possibility of slide bite. As a bonus, this shape also dissuades new (or poorly-instructed) shooters from trying to cross their thumbs behind the slide.
The Caracal’s design features represent the cutting edge of semi-automatic pistol design. The low bore axis keeps muzzle flip to a minimum, and the rearward position of the slide over the grip gives the gun exceptionally fine balance. Think of it as the handgun equivalent of a mid-engined car: it puts the center of control (the grip and trigger) much closer to the center of mass of the pistol, and the end result is some exceptionally quick handling.
These design features also make the Caracal C very compact for its barrel length and magazine capacity: the 15+1 round Caracal C is only 0.1 inches taller than the 12+1 round P250 Subcompact, but it’s also 0.1 inches shorter in length and 0.1 ounces lighter. I’ve probably made the point by now that this is a really compact gun. Now what about the other details of the design?
The polymer grips are aggressively styled and textured, but don’t be put off if they look a bit like the sole of a Nike basketball shoe. All five of our shooters gave the Caracal high marks for comfort and natural pointing. The grips are only 1.2 inches thick, so even my little sister had no trouble getting a secure, comfortable shooting hold.
The carbon steel slide is blued with a very smooth satin finish, and our tester showed the scratches and apparent holster wear of being well used. One of the design’s few ‘issues’ is that the slide is very slick and the cocking serrations are a little too small to provide a really confident gripping surface.
Exactly how much of an ‘issue’ is this? Not too much; it’s easier to rack a Caracal than a Browning Buckmark, but not as easy as the blocky, rougher-finished slide of a Glock, Springfield or M&P. You’ll find yourself using those rather petite cocking serrations to release the slide, since the Caracal’s slide release was extremely difficult to use.
As this picture shows, the slide release is fairly prominent and well-placed, but our tester’s button was so stiff that it generally required the full attention and best efforts of both of my thumbs at the same time to press it down.
The Caracal went to slide lock with 100% reliability when the magazine ran empty, so this lever seems to function perfectly as a slide stop. As a slide release, not so much. I found myself using the trendy ‘slingshot’ method, which I’m too lazy to employ when I’ve got a functional slide release handy.
The Caracal features ambidextrous magazine release buttons. They’re grooved along their front surfaces and well dehorned to avoid snagging, and they were easy to engage with the thumb of the shooting hand.
The Caracal 9c’s 15-round magazines do their job perfectly: they fit tightly and drop free from the pistol, and more importantly they feed cartridges into the chamber with monotonous reliability. They have one odd feature worth noting, however: a sharp-edged square tab on their front surface.
The square tab (pictured above, stuck against the lip of the De Santis mag carrier) doesn’t present a danger of slicing your fingers, since no normal reloading drill involves gripping the upper part of the magazine. It does present a challenge, though, when it comes to selecting a magazine carrier accessory, since the Caracal’s mag won’t fit inside most ‘standard’ double-stack magazine carriers.
The tab also presents a possible weakness in the magazine’s design, because it engages the pistol’s magazine catch. It’s small and exposed to damage, and while I didn’t test this theory by mangling it, I’m pretty sure that the magazine will be ruined if the tab is bent or broken.
All of the Caracal’s other parts simply ooze quality and careful manufacture, but its polymer recoil spring guide rod doesn’t seem to be long for this world. It’s the only part that seems to be almost worn out, as opposed to merely broken in, on our well-used tester.
The Caracal tears down with the same insanely simple procedure that its cousin the Steyr M9 uses. After you drop the magazine and clear the chamber, you point the gun in a safe direction (can’t be too careful) and pull the trigger. After you pull down on the takedown lever (inside the trigger guard) the slide just pulls forward off the frame. Pull the recoil spring and barrel, and you’re ready to get cleaning.
Reassembly is even easier: Put the slide assembly on the frame and rack it. That’s it; you’re done.
The Caracal’s Glock-style safety trigger looks great on paper, with a short 4.0 pound pull and a short, crisp reset. We were disappointed when it didn’t quite live up to the slick, sleek handling the rest of the gun displayed. The pull is slightly vague and creepy, and we were surprised that it took a distant second-place to the excellent trigger on Joe Grine’s Steyr M9.
I’m really picky when it comes to triggers, and our Caracal’s bangswitch just didn’t impress me. It isn’t bad, but it doesn’t do the Caracal any favors in the accuracy department and it doesn’t live up to the refinement that the rest of the pistol generally shows. All in all it felt like a lighter Gen1 or Gen2 Glock trigger, and those triggers were a major reason I never really liked Glocks that much.
Other reviewers (including Larry Vickers) have praised the Caracal’s trigger, so it’s possible that our tester doesn’t represent the breed in this regard. I can only review what I can shoot, however, and our Caracal’s trigger is a bit disappointing.
The Caracal has no decocker, manual safety or external hammer, so it’s ridiculously simple to operate. Our tester didn’t come with an owner’s manual, but the manual of arms could be printed in 20-point type on one side of a business card:
- Insert loaded magazine.
- Rack the slide.
- Aim and fire.
- Repeat as desired/necessary.
Just as engineer Bubitz hoped, the low bore axis does indeed keep muzzle flip to an absolute minimum. Combined with the 4.0-pound safety trigger, the Caracal C’s rate of reasonably aimed fire can be amazing even in the hands of a non-professional shooter.
In this obligatory mag dump video, I was aiming at a small (and barely visible) roller target about 30 yards off, and I ended up shooting a little high. At more practical-sized targets at defensive ranges, the Caracal puts lead on target like a machine pistol.
…Now About Those Sights
Everything else about the Caracal 9c is all well and good (well, really good) but it was the unique ‘Quick Sighting System’ (shown above) which fascinated us from the get-go, and made us want this gun bad.
The Quick Sight system enlarges the rear sight notch and moves it forward to just ahead of the ejection port. While it looks almost freakish at first, this system demonstrated two major advantages for us in testing, and one possible drawback.
On the plus side, these sights are really fast to line up on target, and it’s easy for older eyes like mine to keep both the front and rear in focus while aiming. ‘Minute of bad guy’ accuracy was instant and instinctive.
I know, another ‘Chris Dumm Hat-Cam’ video doesn’t prove anything quantitatively, but trust us: these sights are fast, and very easy to use.
Which brings me to the Quick Sight’s drawback: a very short sighting radius. 1.8 inches isn’t a whole lot of sighting length; even the most babyish Baby Browning or snubbiest snubnose J-Frame will double that and then some. How does that affect accuracy? I was just getting to that…
The Caracal was dynamite when it came to snap-shooting. But slowing down for carefully aimed shooting didn’t produce particularly impressive results on paper.
This 2-inch group was something of an aberration: it was by far the best group the Caracal gave us. It was shot with Remington Green Box 115-grain FMJs, but other Green Box groups were horrendously bad, and we didn’t notice clear changes in accuracy when we tested the Caracal with different loads. Unlike the closely-related Steyr M9 (which simply won’t function with many types of ammo) the Caracal isn’t sensitive to ammo variations.
This group, shot with Wolf/Tulammo 115 grain, was more typical of the Caracal’s performance. Even from the same shooter, groups didn’t consistently pattern in the same area of the target, and vertical stringing was common.
The Caracal’s accuracy was particularly unimpressive when compared to the Steyr M9, whose excellent trigger and precise (but not exceptionally fast) trapezoidal sights produced excellent groups if you fed it the right ammo.
The Caracal doesn’t care what you feed it or how often you clean it. It just keeps running. I fed it a mixed diet of handloads, steel-cased Tulammo, Remington Green Box and some Fiocchi hollowpoints and it never even burped.
Several different shooters of varying skill levels (myself, Joe Grine, a former competitive shooter, a teenage boy with no 9mm experience beyond Call Of Duty, and a woman who’d never handled a pistol in her life) each fired at least 50 rounds through it, and it didn’t give up even a single limp-wrist jam.
I cleaned it once after 150 rounds, and through a course of over 700 rounds the Caracal experienced exactly one failure: one round of steel-cased Tulammo that proved to be an inert dud. The Caracal did its duty and gave the primer a solid dent, but nothing (even five runs through a double-action SIG) could set the damned thing off.
(Oddly, this is the only bad round of Tulammo I’ve ever encountered out of nearly 2,000 rounds in various calibers. But that’s another review for another day.)
If our test gun is any indication, the Caracal 9c is a supremely dependable pistol.
This pistol sets a new benchmark for balance and controllability, while maintaining perfect reliability and acceptable (if unimpressive) accuracy. This is an amazing accomplishment for a relatively new design, and I’m not exaggerating that I think it could be a real game-changer in the automatic pistol world. The Quick Sight system appears to trade off some accuracy in favor of outstanding speed, but the end result is still as accurate as many comparably-priced 9mms.
Specifications: Caracal 9c 9mm Pistol
Caliber: 9x19mm (9mm Parabellum)
Type: Magazine-fed, locked breech short recoil semiautomatic
Magazine Capacity: 15+1
Trigger: Striker-action safety trigger; no second-strike capability
Sights: fixed Quick Sights
Weight: 25 oz. empty, with magazine
Trigger: 4.0 lbs. pull weight, 0.4″ trigger pull, 0.3″ trigger reset
Width: 1.1″ (slide), 1.2″ (grip), 1.24″ (slide release)
Height: 4.75″ from magazine floorplate to top of slide
Length: 7.2″ overall
Ratings (Out Of Five Stars)
Accuracy * * *
Not the best of breed among compact 9mms, but accurate enough.
Reliability * * * * *
One dud round away from a perfect game.
Ergonomics * * * *
Comfortable grips and controls, quick handling and nearasdammit zero muzzle flip.
Customize This * *
You can hang anything within reason from the rail, but holster and gear options are limited.
Overall Rating * * * *
A slightly better trigger, a working slide release, and slightly better accuracy will put you in 9mm heaven. Keep an eye out for the Caracal in the near future, and test one for yourself if you can.