A Collaboration Of Guilds …
With A Bit Of ‘Badlands’ Tossed In
Photos: Chuck Pittman, Inc.
Brownells has, for some years, teamed up with custom gun builders of all sorts to build what they call “Dream Guns” showcasing the work possible using parts available through Brownells — along with the talents of the craftsmen. I like to think of this being something like the various craft and art guilds of the Renaissance teaming up to build a special building or piece of art. In our case, this very special custom S&W M&P C.O.R.E. 9mm by Apex is one of those dream guns. And, I felt it was so compelling — and eye-catching — as to warrant a closer look.
The second gun, a S&W Shield, is along for the ride, more as eye candy than anything else. A sort of Yang to the big M&P’s Ying. But it too showcases what might be done with some imagination, and the wizard-like team at Apex Tactical Specialties and their friends.
Because They Can
Randy Lee — founder and co-owner of Apex Tactical Specialties — was an electronic engineering student at California Polytechnic State University. To make “side” money, Randy worked on guns for friends who were moving into law enforcement.
According to Paul Erhardt, the marketing guru for Apex, “Randy remembers his gunsmith work spiraling out of control and into a full-fledged business in 2000. Through 2007 Randy worked on a variety of guns, including 1911’s, Hi Powers and GLOCK’s.”
But in reality, Randy’s now almost legendary revolver work put Apex on the map. He was one of the original users of titanium cylinders in stainless revolver frames — and the first to break the magical 5-pound mark in trigger pull weight. According to Paul Erhardt, an Apex trigger can now go as low as 3.5 pounds! Apex rose to become one of the top revolver gunsmithing businesses around, and most smart revolver competitors made sure Apex did their work — and this work was done by Randy Lee. His experience and reputation built the foundation for Apex.
As might be expected the work load grew fast and soon Randy was faced with needing help. Approaching Scott Folk, an experienced gunsmith, Randy offered Scott a stake in the company rather than much money, since a stake in the company was pretty much all he had to offer.
In October of 2008, Scott joined Apex as co-owner, helping the small shop make the shift toward manufacturing. Folk brought a much-needed wealth of experience and industry knowledge about production work and machining. The two had an instant hard-hitting team and it lit a fire under Apex.
And, as success after success presented themselves because of the innovative, problem-solving attitude which developed as Apex grew, they adopted a new motto: “Because We Can.”
Enter The M&P
Apex flourished doing gunsmithing, but S&W’s introduction of their M&P polymer pistol soon had shooters demanding improvements in triggers and actions. And, having a reputation being problem-solvers, customers flocked to Apex crying out for help. If they could do triggers on revolvers, why not on the auto? “Well, can you?” they demanded.
Randy focused on a simple solution so they could cut down or eliminate the hassle of labor-intensive gunsmithing to manage a trigger job. The first of a soon-to-follow host of Apex custom-engineered parts was a drop-in sear, shortening over-travel and reset while ripping trigger pull from an ungainly seven pounds to a reliable but light four pounds.
Cue the crowds cheering.
But at a time when putting up the $900 to get those first parts made meant going without food or sleep, the guys tightened their bets two notches and spent the money. Symbolically leaping off the cliff, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did in the movie, plummeting, arms flailing into a raging river below a ragged rock face because they had nowhere else to go.
When the sear arrived (called the Fully Machined Sear), they put them for sale on-line in the late afternoon of December 23, 2009 and by 7:00 am the next day — they were sold out.
This continued, with more parts developed, listed and sold and almost suddenly — Apex was in the parts business.
Apex has continued to add parts to their line-card, with the Ultimate Striker Block (USB) introduced about seven months after the sear. Shooters snapped them up, and customers often bought the sear and the USB together, bumping-up sales. This was followed by a standard trigger weight set, well-received by concealed carry, self-defense shooters and especially by cops.
The list of custom, well-engineered parts continues to this day, enhanced by Apex’s ready-willingness to partner with others in the industry to innovate and grow the market. Today, Apex is proud to point at a growing line-up of patented parts, developed to meet the needs of shooters, usually at their customers’ urging.
Around 2011, Apex moved from their very modest 500-ft2 shop to a new 6,000-ft2 facility, buying their own CNC machine to bring manufacturing in-house. Apex reached out to big re-sellers like Brownells, Midway and others as their customer-direct business became almost too big to handle on their own. Apex has had good luck marketing their wares, and now a long list of internet/catalog houses, distributors like RSR and retailers like AIM Surplus, Dillon Precision, Dawson Precision, Speed Shooter Specialties and G&R Tactical, as well as traditional gun-store retailers, are proud to stock Apex brand parts.
The Apex team has grown too, with new members filling slots helping with shipping, gunsmithing, tech support, sales and more. A far cry from the dream Randy Lee and Scott Folk had all those years ago.
I felt it was important to set the stage, as it were here, to help understand how this dream gun came to be. The history of the company is as important as what they do, since one doesn’t survive without the other. In the case of The Dream Gun, it’s a clear case of Apex Tactical Specialties’ ability to form a team, often with outside artists/vendors, to take something to places others usually don’t dare to tread.
The magic behind this dream is a group of custom gun builders and accessory makers who worked together on another Dream Gun build for the Brownells Dream Guns Project series. Originally, our test gun was shown at the 2016 NRA show, in the Brownells booth, but we’re fortunate enough to have gotten our hands on it, and actually tested it. If ever there was a one-of-a-kind S&W C.O.R.E. you’re looking at it and we got to shoot it.
Starting with a basic C.O.R.E., Apex joined with Doug Presson of DP Custom Works, Mike Sigouin of Blown Deadline Custom and Damon Young of SSVI. These over-the-top gunsmith-artists are the brainiacs behind the edgy, gamer-based, high-performance, end-of-the-world look of the C.O.R.E.
As might be imagined, this gun is chock full of ground-breaking Apex parts. Included are the company’s patent-pending Apex Grade 5.00″ Gunsmith Fit Barrel, patented Flat-Faced Forward Set Sear and Trigger Kit — with the “Red Flatty” anodized trigger sold exclusively by Brownells — the Failure Resistant Extractor, patented Reset Assist Mechanism and Apex 10-8 Performance Polymer Base Pads.
Apex gunsmiths also fitted a Catalyst Extended Magazine Release from 21st Century Gunfighter and a slide-mounted Viper Reflex Sight from Vortex Optics. Weapon light manufacturer Inforce supplied one of their popular and Transformer-looking APL 200 lumen pistol lights.
XS Sights, justly famous on their own for their innovative sights, “imagineered” a set of high, suppressor-friendly, “Big Dot” tritium sights for this very special pistol, just for its appearance in Handgunner’s pages. It went from a “Hey, can you do sights for this?” by me at a trade show, to design, prototyping and final production in just weeks. Amazing work, and the sights are bold and fit the concept perfectly. Well done, and they are catalog items now!
From what Paul Erhardt told me, the over-all look of the Dream Gun mirrors a famous game called “Borderlands” — something younger people might be more savvy about than many of us older shooters. But these video/on-line games draw a huge crowd and many followers are both gun-savvy and demand authenticity on the screen.
DP Custom Works machined the slide — this lightened it — and added side and top scales. Then, drawing mightily from a Cerakote color chart, Blown Deadline Custom opted for NRA blue (since the gun was originally shown at the NRA show), a custom mixed blue, midnight bronze, graphite black, titanium and a custom yellow, creating a finish recognizable to fans of the popular game. There is a fictional weapons manufacturer in the game — Torgue — who might have made a gun looking like this, at least in the digital wild-lands.
The distinctive look of SSVI’s 360 degree texturing, hard-edge bordering, trigger guard texturing, undercutting, as well as forward reference point texturing, really ramps the game up. It may look a bit like a “game-gun” but I can attest this M&P performs as well as it looks.
When you add it up, the customizing and upgraded operating parts turned a modest-looking, stock S&W M&P C.O.R.E. into an eye-catching crowd-pleaser worth a bit over $3,000. And to me, I think it rocks every penny of the investment.
I wanted to balance the over-the-top looks of the Apex C.O.R.E. with something a Borderlands hero may keep stashed as a back-up. The custom S&W Shield might just be the ticket. The scale-like finish and custom parts and fitting have turned a simple Shield into a high-performing pocket rocket launcher.
Full Bore Firearms came up with the simple, yet distinctive red, six-sided scaling. It’s almost like the famous “Dazzle” cammo put on ships during the wars. It doesn’t exactly hide the ship, but it does make the eye hard to focus trying to find the outline of the ship on the horizon. Ditto for the Dazzle on the Shield. Is it a gun lying on the table or not? You decide.
Apex massaged the Shield with their Flat-Faced Action Enhancement Trigger and Duty/Carry Kit. XS sights rallied to the rescue again with a set of their XS Big Dot Night Sights and now, when you look over the slide, all you see is a huge white tritium dot resting solidly in the shallow “V” of the rear. They’re fast, sure and accurate. I used them on my duty SIG when I was a cop.
Back-up or primary carry? Either or both, I’d say. It’s handy when you’re in the Borderlands.
The M&P takes the platform to an entirely new level. We’ve all shot polymer guns and they tend to be, well … eh. Triggers flex, the break is more like a gritty thump when it lets go finally, and the guns run and feel like something mass-produced — which they are. Those wizards who laid hands on this Dream Gun really did perform magic. Those factory-gremlins haunting many stock polymer guns have been laid to rest, and everything which wasn’t a custom gun before — is now pretty much gone.
The result is a crisp trigger, updated ergonomics, fast slide operation, more accuracy, better “iron” sights, lights, a bullet-proof red-dot and looks to draw the eye regardless of your attempts to look away. It’s like those gun-camera images you see where the crosshairs in the gun sights sort of wander around then lock onto the target — “Dit, Dit, Dit, Dit … Ping.” That’s what your eyes do when they spot this gun. Ping — target lock. Followed by the immediate need to have one of your own.
The Dream Gun shot like, well … a dream, if you’ll forgive me. The Big Dot front lined up beautifully with the red dot, the trigger was crisp, reset with a soft click and the grip texture/profile was spot-on for me. I think it will be for anyone. All the cookie-cutter feelings of a production poly gun instantly disappear. It offers the sort of pleasure a genuine custom 1911 offers. Not only satisfaction of ownership, but actual increases in real-world performance — while looking good doing it.
I won’t bore you with group sizes and such. It fed whatever we fed it, and from a wrist-rest at 25 yards it shot boringly consistent 1.5″ groups, a bit smaller or bigger now and again, thanks to the wonderful trigger, but I honestly don’t think I shot up to the level the gun can shoot. But who really cares? It shoots well enough to accomplish any job you’d ever ask of it, from competition to defense and everything in-between. And there’s the style, of course, too.
The Shield was interesting. I’ve fired many stock Shields (this one is a 9mm too) and I’ll be the first to say the triggers usually are in need of help. The Apex action kit made it sharp, with a clean reset. It’s an eminently useable trigger and makes the small gun much easier to shoot accurately. It also ran fine, which sometimes doesn’t happen after custom work.
I think with the Apex brand being well-founded, roots deeply set in high-performance parts, customer service and service to the industry well-known, a partnership with them to help you create your own Dream Gun would be fun, and the result sure to please.
Also, Apex has announced a line of parts they’re calling their “Thin Blue Line” series. They will donate 25 percent of each sale of these parts to Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), benefitting the families of officers killed in the line of duty. This is community involvement, and care, and deserves to be supported. So don’t just dream on. Make your dream happen.
DP Custom Works LLC:
Blown Deadline Custom:
Full Bore Firearms:
Purchase A Password To Read The March/April 2017 Digital Edition
(Includes FREE Download of PDF version of your desktop or mobile device!)