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SPRINGFIELD EMP4

Designed originally as a Micro-Pistol, the EMP has been extended at front and butt…and the results seem to be good.

At a writer’s conference in San Diego in 2004, Springfield Armory introduced their prototype of their EMP, or Enhanced Micro Pistol, originally chambered for the just-introduced .45 GAP (Glock Auto Pistol) cartridge. Dave Williams, head of Springfield Armory’s Pro Shop, had essentially scaled down a 1911 to accommodate cartridges of 9X19 length, including the .40 S&W and then then-new .45 GAP.

Production guns were out within a year. By then, SA had decided .45 GAP might not be the wave of the future, and the EMP hit the market as a 9+1 round 9mm, followed shortly by an 8+1 shot .40.  In the decade since, the EMP has become a huge hit, and is one of the company’s consistent best-sellers despite its four-figure MSRP, with the 9mm far more popular than the .40 both then and now. It’s among the most reliable of a historically unreliable breed, the 9mm 1911, the reason being that the parts are properly scaled for the shorter 9X19 cartridge. This affords reduced grip girth and shorter trigger reach. More finger on the trigger equals more leverage and thus more control for many shooters. An EMP in an ordinary size hand makes the shooter feel like someone John Wayne’s size holding a standard size 1911.

I remember that day in San Diego begging Williams to make one of these with a longer barrel for more sight radius, and a longer grip-frame so it could hold the full 10+1 allowed in IDPA Enhanced Service Pistol class.  In February 2016, Dave chuckled when he told me, “You may have been the first to ask for that, but you sure weren’t the only one. We’ve just had so many irons in the fire and so many new projects that it took us this long to get to it.”

In January 2016 at the SHOT Show, SA debuted the gun I had asked for so long ago, the EMP4.  It’s the same fine pistol in roughly “Commander length” with 4” barrel, longer butt, and ten-round magazine.

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New EMP4, left with original EMP, right.

 

Compared to my early EMP, I noticed the EMP4 had scalloping on the front strap of the grip-frame for a more secure hold, a fiber optic front sight instead of night sights (“It’s what the market seems to want these days,” Dave tells me), and a differently configured relief cut on the bull barrel. The longer slide stroke of the EMP4 allows a simpler, single flat wire recoil spring instead of the dual round recoil springs of the original, 3” barrel EMP, which of course remains in the catalog.

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EMP4 derives its designation from its 4” barrel.

 

 

Trigger Pull

Out of the box, the trigger felt a little “gritty” with a bit of “creep” (tiny, but palpable “stops and starts” in the course of a slow trigger stroke) but that seemed to disappear at around 200-250 rounds as the parts wore in.  Even from the beginning, it was not noticeable in flat-out rapid fire.

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A grip-frame shortened front to back for 9X19 compatibility gives shorter trigger reach, allowing average size adult male trigger finger to contact trigger at distal joint for greater leverage.

On the Lyman digital trigger pull gauge (I got mine from Brownell’s and if you get one too, you’ll be glad you did: they are very handy for the serious shooter to have on hand) measurement from the center of the trigger averaged 5 pounds 9.8 ounces.  This is well into the “you shouldn’t have to worry about courtroom liability” range for a 1911, and feels lighter due to the greater leverage this pistol’s short trigger reach affords the shooter.

“Shootability”

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1 casing flies past nose, another has cleared the slide, but EMP4 is already back on target during rapid fire sequence.

High speed automatic photography, what we used to call “motor drive” on 35mm cameras before digital, showed that there was indeed some muzzle rise, but the pistol came back on target so fast it seemed to all of the four test shooters as if the front sight was recoiling straight back and forth between shots in rapid fire. Those testers were all state and regional IDPA champions, and one has held a national title in NRA Hunter Pistol, and all were impressed with the mild recoil and speed of recovery of the EMP4.

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Here shooting right to left, EMP4 proved fast and sure on falling plates from Action Target.
EMP4 controllability is seen in the hands of five-foot-tall Gail Pepin. Spent case from Shot #1 is in mid-air as Shot #2 flares at the muzzle, which is still on target.
EMP4 controllability is seen in the hands of five-foot-tall Gail Pepin. Spent case from Shot #1 is in mid-air as Shot #2 flares at the muzzle, which is still on target.

 

Reliability

In hundreds and hundreds of rounds fired by several testers – male and female, strong hand and weak hand, even deliberately limp-wristing, we could not get the EMP4 to jam. There was one misfire that turned out to be a dud round: that’s on the ammo, not the gun. Short answer: 100% reliability throughout the test.

Carry Factors

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Author found EMP4 to conceal discreetly and comfortably in this Mitch Rosen ARG holster.

This writer carried the EMP4 concealed for several days, from getting dressed in the morning to getting undressed for bed. The holster was a Mitch Rosen ARG inside the waistband scabbard, with enough forward tilt to keep the longer butt from “printing.” This included a day with the gun against bare skin, concealed by a one-size-large un-tucked polo shirt. I had feared at first that the relatively large thumb safety lever would dig into the body, but while I was aware of it occasionally, I was never bothered by it.  In open carry at home – outside the shirt, but with the gun unshielded from forearm contact by an outer concealment in routine walking around and driving and such – the outer ambidextrous safety lever of the cocked and locked, chamber-loaded EMP4 was never unintentionally wiped down into the “fire” position.

3”, 4”, 5” 9mm Ballistics?

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Relative sizes of Springfield 1911 9mms. From left: 5” 1911-A1, 4” EMP4, standard 3” EMP.

Just how much more punch will this 4” version of the EMP deliver compared to its 3” barrel progenitor? John Strayer and I went to the range with an Oehler chronograph to find out. A standard size 5” Springfield Armory 1911 9mm was included for perspective.

For a 147 grain subsonic load we chose Winchester WinClean. The 4” EMP delivered an average of 943 feet per second (fps).  The old 3” EMP averaged 902 fps with the same ammo, and from the 5” Government Model size pistol, 952. The EMP4 hadn’t given away much at all to the full-size gun, and was a little over 40 foot-seconds faster than the 3” EMP.

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John Strayer tests the EMP4 over an Oehler chronograph.

My favorite 9mm carry load, Winchester 127 grain +P+, was next. The four-inch tube of our test EMP4 drove this street-proven bullet to an average 1238 feet per second. The 3” barrel of the original EMP averaged 1205 fps, while the 5” gun averaged 1267, which is actually above Winchester’s spec of 1250 foot-seconds.

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115 grain Federal 9BPLE, a hollowpoint +P+ load rated by its maker for 1300 feet per second, averaged 1273 foot-seconds from the EMP4.  The one-inch-longer barrel barrel of the full size Springfield spat this load at 1341 foot-seconds. A blown primer from a bad round tied up the 3” gun when we were too short of time to fix everything, and kept us from chronographing it with this load.

Accuracy

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Mas found it easy to shoot a perfect 300 on 60-rd. qual course with EMP4.

From the bench at 25 yards, we covered the waterfront with standard pressure to +P+, and 115 to 147 grain projectiles. Federal 115 grain +P+ put all five shots in 3.10”, but four of those were in 1.65” and the best three, in 0.75”. Nosler 124 grain Match hollow point plunked a quintet of holes in 3.80”, the best three under an inch, to wit 0.95”. 147 grain Winchester subsonic training ammo did 3.50” for all five shots, with four in 2.80” and the best three in 1.65”.  The best five-shot group came with the hot Winchester Ranger 127 grain +P+, 2.30”  with the best three in 1.05”. Note that with a 4” barrel, lightweight concealed carry pistol, everything was well inside the widely accepted standard of a 4” group at 25 yards constituting acceptable service pistol accuracy, and half of the “best three clusters were under an inch and one, just over that.

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Tightest 5-shot group from EMP4  was this one with Winchester 127 grain +P+ JHP. Rear sight has shifted left, and so has group.

The groups were measured from center to center, farthest to farthest bullet hole, to the nearest 0.05 inch. Being hand-held off a Matrix rest, the “all five” measurement gives a good idea of what an experienced shooter can do with the given gun/ammo combo from a solid, braced absent stress, while the “best three” measurement has proven consistent with what the same combination will do for all five from a machine rest.

All in all, I was pleased with the EMP4’s accuracy in the grouping sense. In the shooting to the sights sense, all loads went high and required a six o’clock hold, while the 127 went high left, even though it gave the tightest five-shot group of the test.  Which brings us to the next point…

Perks and Quirks

Several hundred problem-free rounds into the test, the last of the accuracy portion was shot with the 127 grain Winchester Ranger, and a pistol that had been shooting dead on for windage but high enough to require a six-o’clock hold out of the box was suddenly shooting high and markedly left.  I handed it to a match-winning Master IDPA shooter, Steve Sager, and offhand he shot a splendid group on the far left of the target. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?  A quick examination showed something that hadn’t been present before: a rear sight sitting far to the left in its dovetailed notch.  Yet manipulation showed it didn’t seem loose. What caused that still leaves me stumped, more a matter for X-Files than Ayoob Files, I guess.

With the old EMP, full nine-round magazines locked in cleanly with the slide forward during administrative loading or tactical reloading. With the EMP4, I found a full ten-round mag needed to be pounded in unless the slide was locked back. I found myself carrying the two spare mags one round down for this reason, giving me only one round more capacity in the fully loaded pistol than I’d had with the smaller, older EMP.

Still, I thought the perks outweighed the quirks. Mild recoil, proven reliability, easy and comfortable carrying, and above all a sense of better control with more hand around the pistol and more finger on the trigger still make the EMP4 a winner in my book.  The extra ballistic oomph from the inch-longer barrel certainly doesn’t hurt, either.  Of all the new handguns at this year’s SHOT Show, the EMP4 was the one I liked most.  Whether you choose the original EMP or the EMP4, it’s unlikely that you’ll be sorry.


 

About Massad Ayoob

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Massad Ayoob is an internationally known firearms and self-defense instructor. He has taught police techniques and civilian self-defense to both law enforcement officers and private citizens in numerous venues since 1974. He was the director of the Lethal Force Institute (LFI) from 1981 to 2009, and now directs the Massad Ayoob Group (MAG). Ayoob has appeared as an expert witness  in several trials. He has served as a part-time police officer in New Hampshire since 1972 and holds the rank of Captain in a small municipal police department in Northern New England.


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