Can the T97 Work For 3-Gun?

I have a Generation 1 Norinco T97 with a T97.CA Lower Handguard with a carry handle mounted Bushnell TRS-25 (everything else is stock).  For the 2015-2016 seasons, I ran two other the T97’s but stopped in 2017, owing to reliability issues I have since attributed to magazines.

In the Spring of 2017, I put a pre-order for an Alberta Tactical Rifle Supply Modern Varmint Factory (MVF).  Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready in time, so I shot 2017 with Dominion Arms M4gery with a Vortex PST 1-4x scope, a bargain bin NEA compensator, and a trigger spring that that was so worn in that it’s weight was reduced from about 5 lbs to 4 lbs.  It shot pretty well and was very reliable.

In October 2017, ATRS completed my MVF and I’ve been working on it all winter.  I mounted the same NEA compensator (I bought 2 from The Shooting Edge when I found it on clearance) and a Trijicon Accupoint 1-4×24 I bought back in 2010 (I love that scope).

My MVF was having some of the same reliability issues as the T97, which prompted me to mothball the ASC LAR-15 mags which worked perfectly with my Norinco / Dominion Arms AR-15’s, but were terrible with either my MVF or T97’s.  Instead, I picked up a cache of CPD LAR-15 mags instead, which ran perfectly through the MVF.

Fast forward to Easter 2018.

I took my family on a road trip in the province. As I always do (and every PAL holder should), I decided to pack a non-restricted rifle just in case I decided to stop by a local shooting range or go canoeing.

With it’s 20″ barrel and $4000 sticker price, I didn’t feel like the Modern Varmint Factory was suitable for the task.  Instead I packed one of my $1500 T97’s  – in full accordance with federal transport and storage laws, obviously.

Coming home from the road trip, I was curious to see if the T97 reliability issues I encountered two years prior (that was the impetus to me mothballing them and buying the MVF) was fixed by the CPD LAR mags.  Much to my surprise, it was.

Previously, my T97’s had a 4-5% failure rate with the ASC mags – which for 3-Gun is unacceptable.  1 failure per 20-25 rounds almost guarantees a stoppage on a stage, which is a total no-go.

Runing 60 rounds with CPD LAR mags through my T97, I had zero stoppages.

Even though the T97, as configured, would be a Limited division rifle (and the MVF, Tactical division), I put the two rifles head to head and after analyzing the data, was pleasantly surprised.

Being a bullpup, the T97 is very back heavy.

With it’s short overall length, this makes it’s very easy to handle.  Between the T97 and MVF (which handles almost exactly like an AR with a 20″ pencil barrel), target acquisition was MUCH easier with the T97.

The MVF actually felt a bit sluggish from low ready.  The weight distribution of the MVF (like an AR) is far more equally distributed along the length of the rifle.

Imagine airgunning with a short piece of 2×4 verses a sledgehammer (with the hammer to your shoulder).  The MVF felt like the 2×4.  The T97 felt like the backwards sledge hammer.

Watching replays, especially my Controlled Pair Drills, it was evident the splits for the MVF were much faster.  It has a beautiful 3 lbs. match trigger with VERY little travel compared to the T97’s hideously long, but relatively light (compared to a stock AR) 4lbs trigger.

I believe this was offset by the fact that the split between the timer going off and my first round was slightly faster with the T97 versus the MVF.

For controlled pairs, my Hit Factor for the T97 was 97.40% of the MVF across 10 reps each.  I was not expecting that, especially since the T97 has a birdcage style flash suppressor, whereas the MVF has a compensator, and there is visibly much more recoil with the T97.

One possible explanation is the short first round acquisition of the T97 offset the very big differential of the split between the second round.  It may also be because it was running a red dot vs a scope (at 1x).

The point remains – just on engaging a target and making controlled pairs, the T97 could hold it’s own against the MVF!

What was also interesting was that the coupled mag reloads (my staple for rifles) was also quite comparable.

Across 15 coupled reloads each, the Hit Factor for the T97 was 88.91% that of the MVF.  That’s not a total blowout as I was expecting.

I do a strong hand reload with the T97 which is VERY different from a support hand reload most right handed AR shooters are accustom to. It is different, but it makes sense from am economy of motion perspective (even compared to doing a support hand reload).

Airgun taking your support hand from an AR hand guard, to the Magwell and and back to the hand guard again. That is a coupled mag, AR reload.

Now airgun taking your strong hand from the pistol grip of a T97, back 4 inches, then back to the pistol grip again. That is a coupled mag, T97 reload.

Depending on your grip, there is much less hand movement with the T97 than the AR. (The overhand C-clamp grip especially has a huge amount of movement – the trade off you make to reduce you’re muzzle rise).

This problem is similarly exacerbated with the belt reload, for which I previously configured my T97 belt with a mag pouch on the right, just in front of my pistol holster at about a 2 O’Clock position.

Airgun your support hand from the hand guard of your rifle to your belt 8-11 O’Clock, then to your magwell, now back to your hand guard. That’s the AR belt reload.

Now airgun your strong hand from the pistol grip, back 4 inches, down to your belt 2 O’Clock, straight up, and forward 4 inches. That’s a T97 belt reload.

With practice, I think the T97 closed bolt reload can compete with the MVF.

The Bolt Hold Open reload (or as I call it, a “Obama” reload) I didn’t even bother with, because I know for a fact it can’t compete (without an enormous amount of practice).

With the MVF or AR, the left hand bolt release, or a B.A.D. Lever make an Obama reload a small finger movement. That’s maybe a few tenths of a second.  (On the MVF, there is a right hand, bolt release button that can be depressed with a right handed shooter’s trigger finger, similar to a B.A.D. Lever).

Having to pull the charging handle on a T97 requires large hand movements that may take up to a half second.

If you were to compete with a T97, one Obama reload and you are very far behind.

Of course, that could be mitigated by practice and strategy.   Either get the Obama reload down very fast or perform speed reloads in between strings on the move to avoid doing them.

The only other consideration with the T97 is the factory fire-selector/safety switch.  It is too difficult and too poorly positioned to function properly if it needs to be enabled prior to being abandoned or disabled after picking up.  The LHG, however, has a secondary safety similar to a right handed AR-15, which WOULD work well (if allowed).

In closing, I have around 5k rounds fired through the T97 but only about 500 rounds fired through the MVF.  I am rusty, but still confident enough to run the T97.  I still think I will be able to outshoot it with the MVF, although it would not be as big of a blowout as I was expecting.

I think the conclusion to draw from this is, with enough practice the T97 COULD be a viable 3-Gun rifle, but it would have to have the LHG upgrade to do so.

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