I acquired my first tax stamp in 2005. It was for a 9mm Colt Sporter pistol-caliber carbine that was later converted into an SBR. Back then, wait times were maybe 30 days, but it still seemed like an absolute eternity. If you have gone through the NFA process, then you know exactly what it’s like. But, although the wait was grueling, I knew it was well worth it in the end. Words couldn’t describe the excitement and joy I felt when I finally topped that Colt lower with a short-barreled upper.
Dark Storm DS-9 Pistol Caliber Carbine
Pistol-caliber carbines have a draw like few other firearms. Maybe it’s because of the HK MP5 and Uzi from many years ago. Although, it could be the shoulder-firing capability without the excessive recoil and concussion that you get with rifle-caliber carbines—and that’s before you put a suppressor on them. Suppressed pistol-caliber carbines are sweet, and 9mms are by far the most popular.
There are several challengers in the pistol-caliber carbine field: Brügger & Thomet, CZ, Heckler & Koch and even Sig Sauer with its MPX. Each company offers a distinctly different platform with its own advantages and disadvantages depending on your point of view. And now many of these weapons are available as so-called “pistols.” While I still grapple with this designation, especially when they are so physically large, pistol stabilizing braces have made them perfectly legal and acceptable SBR-ish weapons ready to stow in backpacks and other not-so-obvious containers.
With said pistols taking over the world, it was refreshing to have a real NFA-registered SBR on hand from Dark Storm Industries. I don’t love the tax stamp process involved with acquiring one, but owning a true SBR is something special—a rite of passage, if you will, into a world beyond the regular guns that just about any shmoe can walk out of the gun shop with. SBRs are pure, and unlike pistols made out of carbines, you don’t have to consult some BATFE letter on how you can or can’t shoot it, nor how it will be perceived if it is operated a certain way. Owning an SBR says, “You’ve made it.” The process to own one is involved but far from difficult. And once you do it, you’re pretty much hooked.
All Hail The DS-9 Pistol Caliber Carbine
The DS-9 Hailstorm brings good looks to a not-so-new package. As cool as some of the other 9mm carbine packages out there are, the allure of a 9mm AR cannot be denied. Until recently, 9mm ARs were just as rare as other 9mm carbines because few dedicated 9mm lowers were in production. However, this is no longer the case and there is no longer the need to use a mag-well conversion block to create a pistol-caliber AR.
One of the great things about the DS-9 Hailstorm is that it shares controls with its popular big brother, the AR-15. This translates to a shorter learning curve for a new operator. Of the other 9mm SBRs available, only the Sig MPX comes as close with the B&T APC9 being not too far behind. Although this control familiarity isn’t a must, it’s definitely advantageous depending on how often you train. Being familiar with a wide range of firearms is never a bad thing.
Dark Storm Industries has taken a relatively straightforward approach with the DS-9 Hailstorm, but in this simple approach, the company has created a truly solid package. The upper and lower receivers are both crafted from a billet of 7075-T6 aluminum. They’re beefy to say the least, and they incorporate just enough styling cuts to reduce weight and improve what would otherwise be a mundane appearance. The ambidextrous safety selector is also a winning feature for southpaw long-gunners like myself. I would have appreciated an ambidextrous magazine release incorporated into the design as well. Beyond that, the controls are pretty standard AR.
Unlike my old-school Colt, the DS-9 accepts Glock magazines. The Colt took Colt-specific magazines that were (and still are) a pain to load. Not only are Glock magazines easy to load, but high-capacity versions are both plentiful and affordable. The DS-9 also comes with an included 17-round magazine.
As for furniture, the Hailstorm includes a comfy Hogue pistol grip and a Magpul CTR stock, which may be my first point of contention. The Hailstorm is sleek, especially with the low-profile M-LOK handguard that surrounds the barrel. I wanted to keep it as “low pro” as possible, so I added Nikon’s new P-Tactical Spur reflex sight. It’s equally as sleek and minimalist, which I love in certain applications. With this sight, the 3-MOA dot can be adjusted to 10 different brightness levels via two side buttons. But all together, with all of the Hailstorm’s sleekness, the Magpul CTR stock almost looks like a boat anchor attached to the rear of the gun.
Finally, the DS-9 Hailstorm SBR sports a nitrite-treated, 7.5-inch barrel with a 1-in-10-inch twist rate. Although probably not necessary, the blast deflector looks good tucked under the handguard, topping it off. The carbine operates via blowback, and at the range, its functioning was smooth and free of drama. It had been a while since I shot a 9mm AR, and I was quickly reminded of how nice and docile they are. No wonder we love pistol-caliber carbines so much.
My range time consisted of running the DS-9 Hailstorm with a few different types of ammo in the included 17-rounder and a 31-round ETS magazine. And I’m happy to report that there were no malfunctions after rapidly emptying two magazines’ worth of ammo. I can’t recall if the old guns would run defensive ammo or not, but the DS-9 Hailstorm ran both FMJs from Winchester and hollow points from Federal and Sig Sauer with ease.
I measured the DS-9’s accuracy at 25 yards. Based on the chambering, most of us are likely to use the gun within such ranges. Using the attached Nikon optic and a couple of sandbags, I shot several five-shot groups—the DS-9 Hailstorm didn’t disappoint. After so much time behind precision guns, I forget that other guns can be very accurate when used within their intended range. Having tested other 9mm carbines, I don’t recall any memorable accuracy results, but this wasn’t the case with the DS-9.
The Hailstorm can easily shoot 0.5-inch groups at 25 yards with quality ammunition. All three test loads printed extremely well, proving that you can thread the needle with this gun if necessary. My best group, produced with Sig Sauer’s 124-grain V-Crown JHPs, measured 0.45 inches. This was done using the Nikon optic and no magnification. Federal’s 124-grain HSTs managed a 0.52-inch group with an included flyer. Four Winchester 115-grain FMJ training rounds clustered into 0.3 inches before the last round landed high, opening the group up to 0.89 inches. Even bargain-basement Geco 124-grain FMJs created a group tighter than an inch at 25 yards.
I ran a few speed drills to see how the Hailstorm felt while moving, and of course the gun handled and tracked well. Its balance is good, and the Nikon optic added no weight at all. It was almost too easy. Triples to the head region of an IPSC target weren’t a bit challenging. And the DS-9 ran like a champ the whole time. Of course, if I had to quibble, it’d be with the trigger, which left a lot to be desired. It broke consistently at just over 5 pounds on my scale, making rapid shots more challenging. A better trigger would make this thing sing.
A Cut Above
There is a healthy selection of 9mm carbines out there. The quality between the brands varies, but the DS-9 seems to be well put together. It looks good enough and is extremely accurate and fun to shoot. It also makes me wonder why I don’t pick one up for myself.
With all the choices available, be sure to do your research. That said, the Dark Storm Industries DS-9 Hailstorm should be at the top of your list. And if you don’t want to man up and do the paperwork for an SBR, a pistol variant is also available. For more information, visit dark-storm.com.
Dark Storm Industries DS-9 Specs
- Caliber: 9mm
- Barrel: 7.5 inches
- Overall Length: 25.5-28.75 inches
- Overall Weight: 6.4 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Magpul CTR
- Action: Blowback-operated semi-auto
- Sights: None
- Finish: Matte black
- Capacity: 17+1
- MSRP: $1,095
- Federal 124 HST: Velocity 1,305, Accuracy 0.52
- Sig Sauer 124 V-Crown JHP: Velocity 1,416, Accuracy 0.45
- Winchester 115 FMJ: Velocity 1,271, Accuracy 0.89
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 25 yards.
This article is from Ballistic magazine, Fall 2018 issue. Subscriptions are available at OutdoorGroupStore.com.