Monday, June 30, 2008

The "Best" Hi Power

A very common question amongst Hi Power aficionados is, "Which is the best model as well as, "Are old Hi Powers better than new ones?"

So, which is best?

In my opinion, it depends on what parameters you use to define "best."

If you are really into very nicely blued Hi Powers of the classic look, most agree that the T-Series sits at the pinnacle of fit and finish. These also had the traditional ring hammer associated with the Hi Power by purist. Commercial Hi Powers made in the '70's are also nicely finished, but came with spur hammers, something that some did not care for. Until the advent of the Mk II in the '80's, Hi Powers all had feed ramps that were "humped" and many were pretty picky about what JHP they would feed reliably…or at all!

In the '80's, the Mk II hit the stage and deviated from the classic fixed sight Hi Power in its higher visibility fixed sights as well as its extended, ambidextrous thumb safety levers. It also had a narrow full-length rib atop the slide. The frame was forged like the older Hi Powers, but the finish could have very well caused major heart palpitations for those preferring polished blue finishes. Gone were the checkered walnut grips and in their place sat black, checkered nylon ones with thumb rests! The earlier production runs did not have the internal firing pin safety common the practically all of the soon to come Mk III pistols sold in the US.

In the late '80's, FN produced the Mk III. Imported by Browning, this version of the Hi Power initially had a forged frame and the gun retained not only the stocks, but also the extended thumb safety levers. Both the Mk II and the Mk III came with the now common spur hammer. The Mk III did not retain the rib on the slide and the fixed sights were larger and both front and rear dovetailed into the slide. Every Mk III that I've seen sold in the US came with the internal firing pin safety. These pistols' slide and frames were finished in a baked epoxy finish that has varied from somewhat dull to downright shiny black. Regardless, Browning calls this a "matte" finish. The shape of the ejection port was also changed to a more square one very similar to that of the 1911. This was done to increase the metal present at the lower rear of the port to reduce the chances of the slide cracking under extremely heavy use with stout loads.

With the introduction of the forty-caliber Hi Power, a change was made from forged to quality cast frames. Some gasped in horror at this. It was reportedly done, as the frame was stronger than the forged. It has been reported that after about 2500 rounds of forty-caliber ammo, the forged frames would warp. The cast ones did not and soon both the forty and 9mm versions were available only with cast frames, probably a manufacturing cost-cutting measure. Contrary to what some have reported, the slides on Hi Powers have never been cast. They continue to be forged to this day. Because the frames are harder, current Hi Power slides are tougher as they are heat-treated to a higher level than was possible with the softer forged frames.

Using the Mk III "chassis," several cataloged versions of the Hi Power exist today and probably some with specific special modifications for certain military or intelligence services throughout the world. In this country, we see:

Mk III: Described above, this version is available in 9mm and .40 S&W.

Standard: This is a Mk III in all aspects except that it has a bright blue finish and the traditional checkered walnut stocks.

Practical: This is a basic Mk III but with a hard chromed frame. The slide stop and safety levers are hard chromed as well. I have seen one with a gold-plated trigger, but most are hard chromed. The front sight on the fixed sight version is more sloping than that of the Mk III and the gun comes with Pachmayr "Signature" grips. The gun is offered with fixed or adjustable sights as well.

Capitan: I have only seen these in blue finishes and with walnut stocks. Their main difference is in the tangent rear sight.

While some of these models are offered with adjustable sights, fixed are what's usually seen.

So which is best?

If you intend only to shoot standard pressure FMJ ammunition, take your pick. All will hold up to much more shooting than done by most users. If you want to shoot JHP ammo in your classic Hi Power, it will need to be of a rounded ogive, mimicking FMJ. I'd shoot a limited amount of +P in these guns, if any. To be reliable with a wide range of expanding ammunition, these guns will usually need their feed ramps "throated." Any of the models listed will handle ball ammo without fuss.

Should you want to shoot JHP ammunition with the gun out of the box, the best bet is to go with either a Mk II or Mk III, but if you cannot abide cast frames, you'll need to go with either a Mk II or early production Mk III. If you cannot stand the internal firing pin safety, you're back to either an early Mk II or a Mk III sold outside the US as some did not have the internal firing pin safety at the request of the purchasers. The only one I know of for sure is Israel. However, these had the small, single-side classic thumb safety at their request as well.

If you use hotter loads primarily, I'd suggest going with your choice in the cast frame Mk III or variants. Should you opt for the Practical, be advised that the factory ring hammer frequent bites the hand that shoots it and in my experience, more than the spur hammers.

While I've owned commercial Hi Powers from the '70's that had good trigger pulls, I've also owned some that were pretty lousy until a trigger job was performed. This has not gotten better in recent years and the lousy trigger on most Hi Powers is a common complaint. The magazine "safety" has unfortunately managed to be retained on each and every version of the Hi Power sold in the US. (FWIW, there is no "Mk I Browning Hi Power". They did sometimes have model names such as "Vigilant" or "Sport" but no "Mk I". I do seem to recall the Canadian Inglis Hi Power have a Mk I model.)

In most cases, a trigger job by a competent gunsmith is required to wring the most out of these pistols.

Finally, should you prefer the forty-caliber, your options are limited to versions of the Mk III and the gun will have a cast frame.

Look at these differences and similarities and decide which is best with regard to what you prefer.


Express Sights on Handguns

"What do you think of "express" sights for handguns, specifically the Browning Hi Power or CZ-75?"

Not, much! I don't like them at all on any handgun and see them being useful perhaps only for a person having some vision problems. The Hi Power, CZ-75, 1911, etc., are all capable of being shot quickly and accurately with standard configuration sights that offer some vertical "guidance" as to where the POA actually is. The very shallow "V" on the express sights does not do this and the "ball" front sight is not as tall as several of the fixed sights in terms of being "high visibility." At least this is how I see from using these sights. That said, I've seen some precise shooting done with these type sights at both close and long range, but then "regular" sights can do the same thing. I've seen some might fast shooting done using these sights but the same can be said for the older traditional sights as well.

Originally used for "dangerous game rifles" intended for use on large animals at very close range, the express setup has merit. The sight radius between the rear and front sights on a rifle is much larger than that of a pistol and the difference between the thin blade or small-width front rifle sight is more striking than with the usual 1/8" wide front pistol sight width.

The times I tried the express sights on a service size automatic, speed was not increased, but accuracy usually decreased for me. As I found no advantage in performance, I opted to stay with that which worked just as well at speed, while still retaining the ability to make a more precise shot if needed. I find the express pistol sights to be more difficult in this regard. While I've heard other shooters say the same thing, honesty compels me to say that some folks insist that the express type sights enhance their ability to shoot accurately at speed.

I've seen the argument that they offer a less cluttered sight picture such that you can see what the opponent's doing with his hands, etc. This doesn't make too much sense to me for the following reasons. With the pistol at a high ready and looking over the top of the gun, if the decision's made to shoot, the gun's raised and the focus is on the front sight at that point. The rear sight and the target will be slightly blurred.

Others may like them and if so, use 'em. Each of us should do what works best for our own unique abilities and preferences. For now, I'm sticking with the older type, more traditional sights on my handguns.

My suggestion is to do what you believe works best for you.


How Should I Store My Hi Power at Home?

"How should I store my loaded Hi Power at home? Cocked and locked? Condition 2 or 3? Should I keep it at half cock with the safety on?"
The answer depends upon your personal situation and if you intend it to be a self-protection weapon.

Frankly, I keep my Hi Powers and other single-action automatics in but two conditions.

If loaded and outside the safe, the pistol has the hammer fully cocked and the thumb safety engaged. If unloaded and in the safe, the hammer is all the way forward.

This Hi Power went for over a decade with the hammer at full-cock unless the gun was being fired! It used the standard 32-lb. mainspring from FN. This gun and others I've used in the same manner have never exhibited one iota's harm or spring-weakening from this practice.

I do not recommend lowering the hammer either fully or to half cock over a loaded round. The reasons are several, but the main reason is that over the long term, doing this will probably lead to an unintended discharge. We may be extremely careful, but we only have to make a mistake or let the hammer slip one time for this to happen. Usually, I find that folks asking this question are doing so out of concern that leaving their pistol cocked 24/7 will hurt it. It will not. The mainspring will not be weakened by leaving the Hi Power fully cocked and letting the hammer forward only when shooting or dry firing, etc. FN uses quality springs in the gun and the spring is fine compressed so long as it's not compressed more than it was engineered to be. I've personally left my old "duty Hi Power" cocked and locked for a period of several years except for when shooting, dry firing, or cleaning. It's fine to this day.

I can think of no compelling reason to store a Hi Power with the hammer forward or at half cock with the thumb safety engaged.

Some folks do opt to keep the gun in "Condition Three" when not being carried, but still being used as a home defense weapon. The reason I've been given is that if they wake from a deep sleep, they prefer to have to rack the slide and chamber a round before the pistol can be fired to insure that they don't do something unintentional while half asleep with a cocked and locked Hi Power.

You decide if that works in your personal situation.


Browning Hi Power or 1911 for Defense?

It's not unusual to find fans of the single-action automatic at this crossroad somewhere down the shooting trail. Folks who are wedded to one or the other of these classic designs wouldn't change …and that's fine. There are some for whom it presents a "dilemma". Note that I did not say a serious dilemma. That doesn't mean that it's not worthy of discussion.

I'll present some long-term observations on carrying and defensive use of these two pistols.

Reliability: Contrary to the experiences cited by some, the 1911 and Hi Power are both capable of extreme reliability. The designs are time-proven to be grand. Unfortunately, execution frequently is not. Every manufacturer will have a gun slip by quality control and results in a dissatisfied customer. Out of the box, it's been my observation that the Hi Power runs more reliably than the 1911. In other words, if we get 100 new Hi Power's and the same number of 1911 pistols, I believe a greater number of the Hi Powers will operate reliably.

That said, it often doesn't take much to turn a jamming 1911 into a paragon of virtue. Either pistol can run without stuttering when set up correctly. It is not true that hundreds of dollars are required to make the 1911 operate correctly. These guns often run fine right out of the box and when they don't the fix may cost nothing or but a few bucks. Fans often spend great amounts having their 1911's customized, but this is to obtain precisely what they want and not necessarily to make the gun "work."

If you have had reliability problems with either pistol and just cannot fully trust that design again, go with the one you trust. Faith in one's equipment is an overlooked quantity in my opinion.

Caliber: If you are absolutely convinced that 9mm is just not enough for self-defense, Hi Power options are limited to forty-caliber unless you opt for a .357 SIG conversion. Obviously you can with .40, 10mm, or .45 ACP in the 1911 pattern pistol. I purposely omitted .38 Super on the caliber discussion, as it offers no more than 9mm +P in most (but not all) factory loads. That's sad as it's capable of considerably more. (There is a detailed article on 9mm vs. 38 Super via this link:

for those interested.)

If you are confident in 9mm power levels and prefer the 1911 platform, the pistol can be had in either 9mm or .38 Super. (Ammunition for the latter will be considerably more expensive.)

Size: The Hi Power is smaller than the 5" 1911, being about the same as the Commander. Weight is less unless one goes with an aluminum alloy frame 1911 or one of the 3" compacts. I do not care for the compact versions of the 1911 that are smaller than the Commander. This is probably a minority opinion as the little guns are quite popular. Options for compact Hi Power's are extremely limited. FM offers the "Detective" and some gunsmiths will convert a full-size into one for a hefty fee. Frankly, I don't see the point as the butt on the standard Hi Power is not all that difficult to conceal and the gun's handle is usually the hard part to hide. Folks using the cut-down Hi Powers are well advised to replace the recoil springs every few hundred rounds. It seems that these things go through recoil springs far more quickly than the regular size Hi Powers.

Tangentially related to "size" is thickness. The Hi Power slide is thinner than the 1911, but the grip is thicker. Using an IWB holster for either gun, I find either easy to conceal under a loose fitting shirt, jacket or sports coat. I do find the 1911 more comfortable when pressed against my side. The Hi Power magazine floor plate is not flush and the rear corners are at 90 degrees and sharp. This may not be a problem for you, but it has been a minor one for me over the years. Using an OWB holster, no such inconvenience has been noticed. I find spare 1911 single-stack magazines more comfortable in concealed carry also.

Safety: Probably the two "safety" concerns most discussed in Hi Power/1911 comparisons is the lack of the grip safety and seemingly less positive thumb safety engagement on the Hi Power. The classic Hi Powers with the small thumb safety are not a concern, but on some people using some IWB holsters, it is possible to inadvertently wipe the larger thumb safeties into the "off" position. In a proper holster, the trigger is covered so the gun is almost certainly not going to be fired inadvertently but this can be disconcerting. I have not noticed it happening nearly so much in OWB holsters.

The Hi Power and 1911 thumb safeties are tensioned in exactly opposite ways:

A spring-loaded plunger on the 1911 fits into a detent on the 1911 safety with tension being applied from the frame-mounted plunger tube to the safety.

The Hi Power safety has a spring-loaded plunger within the safety itself. The frame has a dimple at both the "on" and "off" positions.

More positive thumb safety engagement can be had on the Hi Power. The frame detents can be made a tiny bit deeper and reshaped or one can use a safety from Cylinder & Slide. The spring-loaded plunger in the safety itself is more pointed than that on the factory version.

If you really prefer having the additional grip safety, the 1911 is the only choice between the two guns. There is no such conversion made for the Hi Power.

The thumb safety on the Hi Power contains the plunger and spring that tensions the safety either "on" or "off." In the frame "ledge" immediately in front of the thumb safety are the two detents in which the plunger rides. In most instances this is not as positive an arrangement as the 1911 thumb safety. Most report that disengaging the Hi Power safety is more "mushy" than with the 1911. The Hi Power safety blocks sear movement.

The 1911 incorporates two external safeties. The thumb safety blocks the sear while the grip safety blocks rearward movement of the trigger until depressed. The tension for the 1911 safety is via a spring within the plunger tube that is attached to the frame just above the grip and forward of the safety.

Depending on the particular version of either pistol, there may or may not be an internal firing pin safety present.

Accuracy: In the vast majority of instances, either design is capable of greater intrinsic accuracy than the shooter, particularly under the stress of a life-or-death deadly force scenario. Either pistol will usually be capable of dropping their shots at least into a 3" circle at 25 yards. For more on "Hi Power Accuracy", here is a link that might be of interest:

Either gun can be accurized, but in most cases, this is simply not necessary. Match barrels are available and can be fitted by competent hands for a tighter shooting gun. Done correctly, this does not reduce reliability.

More aftermarket match barrels and accuracy work is done on the 1911 than the Hi Power. Most agree that when taken to the extreme, the 1911 can be made more mechanically accurate than the Hi Power.

The 1911 pattern pistol has been refined over decades and is capable of extremely fine accuracy. It can have far more than we can use in a terror-filled life or death situation when adrenaline is flowing and we realize that we will be dead or injured in the next few seconds unless we prevail. Where the Hi Power has a non-removable barrel bushing, the 1911 often comes with a loose one. These can be replaced with fitted bushings. Used in conjunction with a fitted match barrel and a slide that is mated to the frame, the 1911 will almost always have greater mechanical accuracy than the Hi Power. How much can actually be used is another question.

If concerns about either gun's potential accuracy are a problem, dismiss it. Either is has more than enough.

Trigger Pull: Conventional wisdom has it that the defensive pistol's trigger pull should be no lighter than about 4.5 pounds. I agree and have no problem with slightly heavier trigger pulls for such purposes. Either design can be adjusted by a competent pistolsmith to clean-breaking pulls in this range.

There is one area in which the 1911 trigger is clearly superior to the Hi Power: reset. The Hi Power trigger simply cannot be made to reset in as short a distance, as can the 1911; it just ain't in the design geometry. In slow-fire one will never notice the difference. In rapid-fire where at least a "flash sight picture" is obtained (as in shooting "controlled pairs"), the same holds true. The problem shows up with really quick 1911 shooters doing "double taps" or "hammers". In this shooting, one sight picture is obtained and the second shot is fired from muscle memory. Practiced shooters can fire extremely fast this way and the good ones can get pretty darned good "practical accuracy." When these folks try it with a Hi Power, they frequently do not release the trigger quite far enough and don't fire the second shot. I've observed this numerous times but only with really fast 1911 fans. This is not saying that extremely fast and accurate shooting cannot be done with the Hi Power, only that the required reset is slightly longer.

Magazine Capacity: Here the 9mm wins when compared to the "normal" single-stack 1911 magazine. The Hi Power's double-stack magazine simply holds more ammunition and is compact compared to many of the "high capacity" 9mm pistols. Even the forty-caliber version holds ten shots compared to the 1911's 7 or 8 in .45 ACP. Extended 1911 magazines are available, but I've experienced varying levels of reliability with them and they're a bit hard to conceal for me if carried in the pistol. I prefer 7-round .45 1911 magazines as these work in all my 1911 pistols. The 8-round magazines work in many of them.

Frankly, I believe that under the vast majority of circumstances both guns hold sufficient ammo. It's been my observation that the first few shots are the most important ones and that we will run out of time before ammunition unless our "problem" is quickly "solved."

The 9mm Hi Power holds a total of 14 rounds with standard capacity13-shot magazines. Some are available holding 15, 17, or more shots.

Sights: A pretty fair crop of aftermarket fixed and adjustable sights exists for the Hi Power and the 1911. I see no advantage here. Sights intended for use primarily on 1911 pistols often work fine on the more petite Hi Power. There are plenty of choices available in plain black-on-black, or three-dot, and most are available with tritium inserts as night sights.

Customization: Both designs lend themselves to "personalization" if desired. There will be more gunsmiths specializing in the 1911 custom work than for the Hi Power, but owners should have little problem finding a competent 'smith to work over the pistol of their choice. For defensive arms I have found that "less is better". What I'm suggesting is that we go with only that we need:

· Reliability
· Sights that are useable at speed and set up so that POA = POI at a desired distance
· Clean trigger at 4 1/2 to 5 pounds
· Acceptable accuracy (Usually nothing need be done here.)
· A gun that is comfortable to use (This may mean new grips or a wide grip safety tang on the 1911, etc. Grip straps may be checkered or stippled, or skateboard tape can be used if desired.)

For most of us factory guns in near stock condition will serve about as well as high-dollar custom guns. I like to keep my carry guns (1911 or Hi Power) relatively close to factory trim, having every feature I think I need and none that I don't. Over the long term, these have been the ones I've kept.

Conclusion: The Hi Power and the 1911 are THE choices for single-action defensive handguns. Both have legions of fans, but in the US the 1911 is still most popular. Make your decision on which one you shoot better or trust most. Don't go with the Hi Power strictly for magazine capacity unless you have a specific need; go with it because it fits you better or you can get quick, accurate hits with it more easily than the 1911. Likewise, if carrying cocked-and-locked presents a problem without a grip safety, the 1911 is the obvious choice. If a shooter simply doesn't trust anything less than .45, the decision is made by default for the 1911 pattern gun.

This magazine holds "only" 7 shots. I suggest that for most of us this will be more than enough. We will be able to deal with our adversary effectively or be out of time before ammunition runs out. The 9mm Hi Power does hold more shots between reloads, but is this a marked advantage in the real world? Sometimes, yes, but a majority of the time I don't believe it really matters.

For strictly self-defense, I prefer the 1911 in .45 ACP…but only by a very slight margin to the 9mm Hi Power. In my situation the extra shots available from the Hi Power are nice but not a major factor. I like the feel of the Hi Power and the way it shoots for me. The 9mm Hi Power remains my favorite all around, general purpose automatic. The 1911 is ever so slightly easier for me to conceal. I believe that when using the best 9mm ammunition, difference in terminal effect will be very slight if any compared to the .45 using most loads. I also believe that in its best loads, .45 ACP is more potent than the best 9mm loads. I do not believe that there is much difference at all and that it's probably not going to make any real difference on the street.

I do not see using the 1911 or the Hi Power as an "either-or" situation. I use both and appreciate these fine handguns for their abilities to deliver quick and accurate shots. Each has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. Each of us places different priorities on these and thus, our decisions will differ as to which is best. If possible try both and make your decision on what works best for you.

Either gun is capable of serving very, very well as a defensive pistol.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What do You Know About the Hi Power & SFS System?

Not much, but I'll share what I believe to be true. I have shot one but not extensively and have no long-term experience. Bill Laughridge of Cylinder and Slide sells the parts to convert a conventional single-action Hi Power to the "Safety Fast System". For information check the following link:

(If the link is no longer valid, contact Mr. Bill Laughridge of Cylinder & Slide.)

It can be installed and used or removed and with the original parts back in place, the gun functions as it did before, i.e., single-action.

Hi Powers can also be purchased through the maker Fabrique Nationale (FN) in the SFS form. FN manufactures the Browning Hi Power. Browning Arms simply imports the gun, but Browning doesn't offer the pistol in the SFS configuration.

In a nutshell, here's how it works. A round is chambered and the pistol is cocked. The hammer is pushed forward with a thumb and the ambidextrous thumb safety engages. When the safety is disengaged, the hammer automatically springs into the cocked position for a single-action press of the trigger. There is no longer and heavier double-action shot to contend with. Trigger pull is consistent from first shot to last.

The most obvious way to recognize a Hi Power having the SFS system from the conventional is that the SFS Hi Power will have a very abbreviated hammer spur. The slide stop lever and thumb safeties will appear a bit differently shaped as well.

Downsides to the system is that the slide cannot be locked back for disassembly as it is with the standard Hi Power and it does add a greater number of parts to the pistol. More parts can mean greater potential for malfunction or breakage. Users are not reporting problems.

Do I intend to get one? Probably not but having said that I do not rather boorishly reply, "It's a solution to a non-existent problem" as have some others. I have no safety issues about Condition One Carry. Others do but would like to carry a Hi Power. The SFS system allows them to do that without the hammer actually being cocked. If the safety inadvertently wipes "off" on a single-action Hi Power, a press of the trigger is all that's required to fire the pistol. If this occurs with the SFS, the hammer is instantly cocked and it possible that this would alert the carrier to the mishap. Either pistol in a holster covering the trigger guard is still safe. If nothing can touch the trigger, a properly working Hi Power will not fire.

Other people are prohibited from carrying single-action automatics by policy. The SFS allows them to carry the Hi Power (or 1911) as it no longer to be a cocked-and-locked single-action. The hammer forward looks "safer" to administrators, city managers, and others not really competent to judge what is and is not safe.

For myself, the jury is still out on the SFS. I've not used one much at all (I've shot three) and I'd like to see how they function over time. Relatively few folks will use these guns compared to all those using Glock, SIG-Sauer, or HK handguns, so getting much long-term information/observations will probably take longer than with more popular handguns. I do think it may prove a viable and dependable system.


PS: Since this was published, an SFS owner/user contacted me wanting to make the article more accurate. Here is what he had to say:

"I read your article on SFS configured High Powers on your newer blog. You claimed no expertise on the subject, but did a good job of describing what it does -- except for one point. You stated that, with the SFS system installed, it was impossible to lock the slide back in order to remove the slide stop. This is a true statement, but it needed to be developed. One does not HAVE to lock the slide back in order to remove the slide stop. One simply cocks the hammer, push/pulls the slide stop out of the frame, and eases the slide off forward. I would add that it took about a dozen field strippings to free things up. My SFS-configured High Power is the easiest autoloader to field strip that I have ever dealt with. And at my age, this is a blessing.

For what it is worth, the Extended Slide Stop I had purchased from Brownell's a few years prior to getting C&S's SFS kit does exactly the same thing. In fact, it looks identical to the one in the SFS kit. Brownell's cost me $26 then, and slipped right in. It eliminated the need to lock the slide all the way back in order get the slide release out. I have no idea how it changed things, but it sure did.




Monday, June 23, 2008

Which Grip Safety for the 1911-Pattern Pistol?

"Which is the Best 1911 Grip Safety, GI or Beavertail?"

This is a question that is discussed repeatedly on various shooting forums and the answers usually fall into those listed below:

Answer 1: The standard GI grip safety is the best. If it weren't, John Browning wouldn't have put it on the gun in the first place.

Answer 2: The beavertail is best. It allows for a higher hold on the gun and more control in rapid fire.

Answer 3: The beavertail prevents hammer bite and I find it more comfortable.

Answer 4: People do it just for looks.

Usually these are the "standard" answers but are often followed with discussions concerning whether the beavertail grip safety is more appropriately called a duck tail safety due to the way that most turn up at the end.

The first answer is fairly common and one that turns a lot of people off, none more than myself.

The truth of the matter is that John Browning did change the grip safety from the near Commander-like design to what is now commonly called the "traditional" or "GI grip safety." With the greatest respect for John M. Browning, that does not necessarily have to mean that he had achieved perfection in this component of the 1911 pattern pistol. Answer 1's "pontification factor" not only doesn't help the person asking the question, but possibly keeps him from asking any others, and that's a pity in my view. I pretty much ignore folks giving this "high" caliber advice.

Answer 2 is true in that a slightly higher grip is allowed on the pistol. Others may very well be able to decrease split times and gain increased accurate rapid-fire ability with the gun, but I'm just not one of them. Sometimes I've been faster with the GI grip safety and other times, the wide grip safety. For me, the addition of a wide grip safety does not significantly or consistently allow me to accurately shoot any faster than the standard GI. Perhaps it would were I shooting extremely hot .45 ACP ammunition. On that possibility, I cannot say because I've not tried it, but with ball equivalent loads, no differences for me. I suspect that some people might think that it does; I did too until I saw the timer's results on more than one occasion. That there was no improvement in my particular case doesn't have to automatically translate into there being none for others. I do not have enough wisdom to speak for all people. I mention only what has been true in my case.

The third answer is true for me as well and is the reason that the bulk of my 1911 pattern pistols are fitted with wide grip safeties, usually from Ed Brown.

When a person answers similarly on the forums, he is usually told that he's "not holding the gun correctly". I guess that could be true enough in some instances, but after shooting for over thirty years and being a certified police firearm instructor, tactical team handgun trainer, CHL instructor, and taught in my earlier years by some champion shooters, I think I know pretty much how to grip a 1911 pistol. I strongly suspect that the majority of people holding the 1911 are probably doing so correctly…or very close.

I find the wide "duck tail" grip safety to be the most comfortable. That's why I spent the time to fit them to two Caspian 1911's "built" at home. For me, a gun that is comfortable to shoot in both long individual sessions as well as for the long term is highly desirable. The wide grip safety just "works" for me. Some are fortunate enough not to get bitten by the original GI hammer/grip safety combination. Good for them! That does not mean that the same is true for everyone else. It damned sure isn't for me!

Here is why I use the wide grip safety by choice: It keeps me from bleeding. It is that simple. I have fleshy hands and get nipped by the spur hammer that almost always accompanies the GI grip safety. Depending upon the specific grip safety's edges, it too can abrade the skin between my thumb and trigger finger. I have friends who do not suffer this problem and one who can shoot hundreds of rounds through his Commander with its original short GI grip safety with nary a problem. That's great for them, but to assume that since it works for some, it should work for all is simply incorrect. It definitely does not work for me.

For me, the wide grip safety is the best approach to a 1911-pattern pistol that I can shoot lots w/o my hand looking like it was gnawed on by a rabid pirahna.

I have found that by bobbing the hammer spur and rounding the bottom edges of the traditional grip safety, I can shoot roughly 200 to 250 full-power shots without problems, but not quite as comfortably as with the wide grip safety.

The spur hammer on this Springfield Armory Mil-Spec has been bobbed slightly and recontoured to help eliminate hammer bite. The grip safety's lower edges have been radiused to prevent hand abrasions as well. For me, this set up is good for 150 to about 200 full-power shots before my hand starts getting a hole chewed in it.

I do not know how true Answer 4 might or might not be. Some people very well could prefer the "look" of the wide grip safety. In this regard, I have no preference, but opine that if a person prefers the beavertail/duck tail "look" and has the money or talent to get one fitted to his gun, have at it. For me, that possible aspect is a non-issue with regard to functionality or "shootability" of the pistol.

Currently I have one 1911 set up with the GI grip safety and spur hammer and the pistol is shot frequently. It is a Springfield Mil-Spec. Trigger specialist, Teddy Jacobson, replaced and upgraded certain internals as well as the hammer for a better trigger pull and I changed the stocks, but otherwise, the gun is stock. I wanted one gun that was set up pretty much in the style of the "old timey" 1911 pistols. It is not as comfortable for me as one equipped with a wide grip safety, but it is comfortable enough that I can shoot it a couple of hundred rounds per session without problems. Were it my only 1911, it would have the wide grip safety.

It might be worth mentioning that some folks report success in eliminating abrasions from hammer bite and cutting from the grip safety by bobbing the hammer and then shortening the grip safety tang. In this configuration it is flush with the rear of the frame, sort of making the rear like that of the Browning Hi Power. I have not tried this approach and cannot speak to it from first-hand experience as I have only shot one such modified 1911. (It did work fine for me the one time I shot the gun, but I only fired a couple of magazines of ammunition so I do not know how it would be long term.)

If you are considering a 1911 or wondering if you "need" the wide grip safety, I submit that you already know the answer. If the gun's biting you each session and you're tired of it, then you do need the wide grip safety. You can try bobbing the hammer spur about 1/8" and reshaping the bottom of the spur as well as "melting" the edges of the safety itself and that might do the trick. If not, I think you'll enjoy your shooting more with a wide grip safety. I cannot speak for others but I bet most folks shoot better when their pistol doesn't mimic a piranha in a feeding frenzy on the web of the shooting hand.

Ask yourself this question when making a decision on grip safeties or other similar "basic" custom touches:

Who does this gun have to please?

If it is you, go with what works for you.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hi Power Accuracy

The term "accuracy" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing to all of us. To a competition match bullseye shooter, it means having the most intrinsically accurate pistol he can have. Malfunctions are a secondary issue in most cases, but he must have a competition pistol capable of putting one bullet hole right on top of another. To the IDPA shooter, the gun must be reliable and capable of dropping hits within a more generous scoring area that the bullseye target. If both of these fellows have pistols capable of meeting their requirements, they have accurate pistols in their respective frames of reference.

So where does the Browning Hi Power fit in with regard to accuracy?

This later production Hi Power should group under 3" @ 25-yards with most loads and perhaps in the 2 1/2" range with loads that the gun "likes". In an old issue of "The Handloader" magazine, I recall a shooter getting 1" groups using handloads with an unaltered factory Browning Hi Power. Bullets used were 115-gr. Sierra JHP's but I do not recall the load other than that the bullet moved in the 1100 to 1150 ft/sec range.

First, we have to remember that the Hi Power was originally designed to be a military service pistol. Emphasis was strong on reliability and accuracy parameters would not be so strict as those for our bullseye shooter previously mentioned. The gun was intended to fire under adverse conditions more than to provide the tightest possible groups. The Hi Power generally will not match the tight groups of pistols designed for competition target shooting including accurized versions of other service pistols such as the Gold Cup or 1911 pistols custom built to provide extreme mechanical accuracy.


This group was fired at 25-yards using Federal 124-gr. FMJ ammunition from a Hi Power sporting its original barrel. While this would win no matches at Camp Perry, it probably is accurate enough to meet most handgunner's needs, be they real or imagined. I know that such is the case for me.

Does that mean that it is inaccurate? The answer depends upon your definition and requirements. It's been my experience with many Hi Powers that almost all of them will drop most brands of ammunition into groups under 3" at 25 yards. Some will do better and most will do surprisingly better with a specific load that the gun "likes." I'm happy with loads that do in the 2 to 2.5" range at that distance as I cannot achieve such groups except from a rest and I'm not involved in Camp Perry competition. If the pistol is capable of dropping its shots onto a tennis ball size target at twenty-five yards (assuming I'm doing my part), the Hi Power is accurate, as least to me.

One of the endearing traits of the Hi Power is that it is usually consistent in accuracy, one gun to another. I've rarely seen one that wouldn't group in the ranges mentioned and the best-grouping is usually not that much better than the worst-grouping Hi Powers I've owned and/or shot. This speaks highly to FN's manufacturing consistency. (I do wish they'd place such an emphasis on trigger pulls!)

Every now and again, I hear from a shooter having trouble with his Hi Power throwing a wild shot without warning that is not the shooter's fault. Assuming that the ammunition is not at fault, it seems that pistols afflicted with this malady are suffering from the barrel not locking up the same way each time a shot is fired. Finding the specific location of improper fitting, be it in the slide or the barrel can be a tedious problem. If you are suffering from such a problem and happen to have a spare barrel, you might try a switch and see if this does it. The problem here is that such swaps can result in a different POI for the same POA. If this works, great, but if not I'd buy an oversize Bar-Sto match Hi Power barrel and have it fitted to the pistol. On two occasions, this has been the cure and is generally not much more expensive than having a qualified gunsmith weld the original barrel and refit it to the pistol.

At this point, it might be appropriate to compare Hi Power accuracy with a fitted Bar-Sto vs. a stock barrel. It has been my experience that perhaps a 10 to 20% tightening of groups with jacketed bullets will be seen, although the favorite load for the factory barrel might very well be different than that preferred by the match barrel. You will see a significant increase in grouping ability with the Bar-Sto if using either cast or plated bullets. I believe that this is due to the difference in pitch between the two barrels. The factory FN barrel has a 1:10 twist while the Bar-Sto is 1:16. It appears that the cast and plated bullets "like" the slower twist. In general, I've noticed about a 40 to 60 ft/sec decrease in velocity from the 1:10 to the 1:16 with most loads. I assume this is due to more complete combustion of the powder in trying to drive the bullet out the faster twist barrel without reaching the point where too much is used and velocity suffers. This has proven true with many loads I've tested, but not all and it can be different from barrel to barrel. The main thing is that if you're shooting a maximum load that's fine in the slower twist Bar-Sto, it might be too hot in the faster twist factory barrel. This is only a potential problem with loads pushing the maximum ballistic envelope for the cartridge and I'm aware of no factory loads, standard, +P, or +P+ in which it can be risky or dangerous.

This Hi Power has a fitted BarSto barrel. It groups about the same with jacketed ammunition using it as it does with the factory barrel but shows significantly tighter groups with either cast or plated ammunition in my observation. With jacketed ammunition, the BarSto will usually show a decrease in group size to the tune of 15 or 20% in my experience.

For most of us, the Browning Hi Power is more accurate than we can actually make use of as it comes from the manufacturer, but it is still essentially a service pistol and should not be expected to group with a target gun. Contrary to some statements I've seen, I've observed no difference overall between Hi Powers having fixed sights vs. those with adjustables with regard to inherent mechanical accuracy. Do not buy an adjustable sighted Hi Power under the false assumption that the pistol is fitted better or held to higher standards in terms of grouping ability. The basic gun is the same with only different sights. (This emphatically does not apply to the FN Competition Model. No longer producted, this longer barreled Hi Power had adjustable sights and a muzzle weight. Additionally an internal leaf spring in the slide tensioned the barrel into a most consistent and repeatable position shot to shot. These guns were capable of better groups than the "normal" Hi Powers bearing either FN or Browning markings.)

The FN Competition Model is almost always capable of better mechanical accuracy than the standard Hi Power, regardless of whether or not the latter has fixed or adjustable sights.

Though I believe that the standard Hi Power is accurate enough to meet the vast majority of shooters' perceived needs, the trigger pull can often inhibit their ability to utilize the gun's accuracy. Unfortunately, poor trigger pulls are not uncommon on the Hi Power pistol. The statement that " a trigger pull need not necessarily be light, but should be crisp" is true, but they do need to be lighter than those common on many Hi Powers. Fortunately, this can be addressed with a number of cures from removing the magazine disconnect to having a gunsmith do a trigger job. The latter will mean more money spent, but for many of us, the result is worth it.

While the Browning Hi Power remains a service pistol with service accuracy, I believe that it falls in the better range of this rating and with but a little help can be a very accurate pistol for all but the very best shots or those in formal competition.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Shooting an Old Classic: Walther PP .380 ACP

Hello. Despite many compact "pocket automatics" of more potent caliber like 9mm and .40 S&W, we continue to see pistols chambered in .380 ACP gracing dealer's shelves. Apparently they're selling, too! Most are pretty small and lightweight, a notable exception being the Beretta 84 family as well as the CZ-83. I thought it might be interesting to do a range report on the classic pistol that probably contributed at least as much to the longevity of the .380 as any and possibly the most.

The Pistol: I bought this .380 Walther PP NIB in June of '89. It is stock save for the checkered Sile stocks I added years ago. The gun has not been shot much and has probably had less than 400 rnds through it since I bought it. The PP has never been made in the US as has the PPK and PPK/S, its more petite bretheren. It has never been offered in stainless steel, but it sired this successful line of conventional DA/SA pocket autos. Originally brought out in .32 ACP, it rode with many of Europe's police forces for decades and was considered adequate for the task. I personally do not but do find the .32 version much more pleasent to shoot. This Walther PP is essentially new and is stock except for the wooden grips. It has a 3.86" barrel and the pistol's 6.7" long. All steel, it weighs 23.5 ounces, empty. Magazine capacity is 7 rounds in .380 for an 8-shot pistol if fully loaded.

This Walther PP represents handguns of a different era in my opinion. Though they may have fallen out of favor with some, they did serve handgunners well in decades gone by and their popularity possibly contributed to later, less-expensive versions of the pocket automatic.

The Bersa 380 is a less-expensive 380 that outwardly remembles Walther's PP series of pocket pistols. Like the Walther, it has a fixed barrel and like the Walther, it is capable of better mechanical accuracy than might originally be thought.

Ammunition: Several types of ammo were fired through the pistol. Included are two ball rounds, standard velocity and +P JHP's, 1 JSP load, and the Glaser 70-gr. +P (Silver) Safety Slug. Eleven loads were chronongraphed with average velocities listed being based on 10-shot strings. Each shot was fired approximately 10' from the chronograph screens. I used the two magazines that came standard with the pistol for all shooting. The pistol showed no preference for either magazine. Shooting: Today I fired groups at only 10 yards and did so in slow-fire, but started with a double-action first shot. The Walther was not picky as to which loads it would group...and group well.

Average Velocities:

Glaser 70-gr. Silver Safety Slug +P: 1369 ft/sec

Magtech 85-gr. Guardian Gold JHP +P: 1062

Remington 88-gr. JHP: 1056

Federal 90-gr. Classic JHP: 1038

Federal 90-gr. Hydrashok: 1048

Corbon 90-gr. JHP: 1118 (These are sometimes marked +P, but Corbon advised they're not.)

Winchester USA 95-gr. FMJ: 961

Winchester Ranger 95-gr. JHP: 966

Magtech 95-gr. FMJ: 945

Empresa Nacional Santa Barbara 95-gr. JSP: 1161

Remington 102-gr. Golden Saber: 953

Observations: First, there were no failures to feed or eject and the slide never failed to lock back after the last shot. It did not lock open prematurely with rounds still in the magazine. The highest velocity went to the load using the lightest bullet, the Glaser, but the most impressive load was the Santa Barbara 95-gr. JSP. It is not marked +P anywhere that I can find, but it must be and frankly, I will not shoot it in any aluminum-framed .380 from now on. I cannot prove it, but I think it's loaded too hot. This Walther performed fine, but still has the same trait each and every PP, PPK, or PPK/S in .380 has for me; it hits high. I suspect strongly that the sights for the .32 and those for the .380 are the same. An old Walther .32 PP I have hits dead-bang "on" for me. By being careful, I was able to avoid another nasty tendency I find when shooting Walther PP-series pistols: slide bite. The slide rides so llow that folks with fleshy hands sometimes get sliced when the slide moves rearward in firing. Others report no problems at all, but I'm not one of them. Finish was an impeccable bright blue on the complete pistol except for the breech area of the barrel which was left in the white. The trigger is grooved and the DA trigger-pull, heavy. In fact, on this pistol it is VERY heavy. The SA pull was light with just the least touch of creep. My .32 PP has a very nice DA trigger pull, both lighter and smoother than my .380. I don't know, but have wondered if this is done in conjunction with a slightly heavier recoil spring to lessen the slide's rearward velocity with the .380 having more momentum than the .32. Again, that's just supposition and could very easily be wrong. With the popularity of some of the newer pistols that clearly mimic the PP-series, an obvious question is how do they compare? Based solely on this one gun tested today, the Bersa, SIG-Sauer P230 both have much better double-action trigger pulls. So why pay more for a "German Walther" over the others? Well, it's up to the individual's preferences. Some simply like the old classics and admire the fit, finish, and the fact that there are zero MIM parts or castings. The gun's frame is forged, a strong point for many. Were I asked today if I'd fork over the $700 I spent back then for the gun, the answer would be "No". Nothing against the gun at all, but it's just not comfortable for me to shoot. This is why no rapid-fire work was done. The recoil is negligible; the slide bite is not. Also, I just do not shoot all that much .380! Since I already have the little thing, I'm going to keep it and admire it for what it is: a product of a time gone by and a classic that fathered a succession of guns still used today. It will be taken out and shot now and again, but mainly I just like the old thing. I have a like new Colt Agent that fills much the same role. Neither are my "users" and neither are my favorites in any catagory. I just like having them. I see nothing wrong with that.

For me, the Walther PP can still serve about as well as any similar sized 380 Auto, but might best represent this classic genre of handgun.


BHP Hammer Safety Problems

"If I pull the trigger with the safety engaged, I hear a "click". What is this?"

"Sometimes when I have the safety on and press the trigger, the hammer moves forward a very small distance. What' s wrong?"

"Sometimes when I disengage the thumb safety, the hammer falls? What's happening?"

The answers to all three of these questions is the same. The sear is being allowed to move when the safety is engaged. Let's look at this in more detail.

When the trigger is pressed rearward to fire the Hi Power, the lifter moves up and engages the front end (with respect to the muzzle) of the sear lever. As the lifter pushes the lever upward in front, it rotates on a roll pin in the slide and the rear end presses down on the front of the spring-loaded sear. The rear end of the sear that engages the hammer's full-cock notch moves upward and when it clears the notch, the hammer drops and the pistol fires.

When the safety is pushed upward to engage and make the firearm "safe," it blocks the downward movement of the front end of the sear should the trigger be pressed.

If the little nub on the thumb safety that butts up against the sear is just a little short, the sear is allowed to move downward by that amount. If this is miniscule, you will sometimes hear a faint "click." The hammer has moved, but is usually not enough to really be seen even if looking at it. This is usually the case, but not always. It depends on the hammer/sear interface as to whether or not any sound is heard.

If the hammer moves with the safety engaged and the trigger's being pressed, the very same thing's happening, just to a greater degree.

If the hammer falls (hopefully to half-cock), the sear is being allowed to move enough to allow the sear to completely disengage the full-cock notch when the safety no longer blocks the rest of the sear's downward movement. How much will allow this depends on a number of things including the angle of the sear face and how closely it mates up with the full-cock notch in the hammer.

The fix is simple and not expensive. A gunsmith can build up the short portion of the thumb safety that protrudes to block the sear movement. He will then dress it down for an exact fit where no movement is allowed should the trigger be pulled. Unfortunately, this fit must be exact or nearly exact to prevent this problem and the factory does seem to "miss" now and then. Cylinder & Slide sears come oversized and require fitting so that the fit can be done exactly right for the particular pistol.

It's normal to want to check your Hi Power for such safety issues. If you do this, be sure the Hi Power's not loaded and don't pull on the trigger as hard as you can or until you get white knuckles. Just give a firm pull. If there's a problem, you'll see it. If not and this action's repeated time and time again or done with as much force as can be mustered, it can create the very problem that was being checked. I have found the factory sears to be more prone to this than the C&S, but again, the fix is easy and usually long-lasting in my experience.


The Purpose of the Handgun

What is the purpose of the handgun?

It depends on whom you ask. Those who would gut the Second Amendment reply that it is to kill and maim and that it serves no "sporting" use and should be banned from private ownership. Many handgun aficionados primarily into self-defense concerns reply,"To save one from unexpected attack". They usually go on to say that the handgun is there because a more potent long gun often cannot be.

I submit that the purpose of the handgun is whatever you want it to be.

Unlike the fools (meant in the truest form of the word) who support "gun control", those with at least a basic grip on reality can differentiate between the unlawful taking of life to the regrettable, but justified use of lethal force in dire circumstances. I have no real complaint with the shooters who say that the handgun's purpose is to save its user from harm, but do vehemently oppose the thought that this is the only purpose.

Here are some examples of what I'm saying. Most here understand that John M. Browning's 1911 was originally conceived as a sidearm for the US military, the mounted horse soldier in particular. Does that mean that the gun's been limited to such? I think not. This is evidenced by its having been produced in target versions such as the National Match or Gold Cup. Other companies have offered target grade 1911 pistols as well. What might well be called a "battle pistol" in its original inventor's intent still serves in the self-defense arena but has also earned favor as a target and recreational piece. Not all owners of the grand 1911-pattern pistol necessarily see its purpose as being but one-in-the-same with everyone else's view.

This S&W Model 41 in .22lr was designed primarily as a competition target arm. This one has never competed in a single match and probably never will. It definitely has served to reinforce basic shooting fundamentals and has also taken more than a few head of small game for the table.

Looking at it from the other direction, Smith and Wesson introduced the Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver primarily as a hunter's handgun, but to a limited degree some law enforcement officers embraced it as the ultimate combat sidearm. While most might not be able to handle it in defensive shooting scenarios, for those who could, the gun served that purpose.

Some prefer the challenge of bow hunting to using the traditional rifle. Others prefer the handgun for the same reason. I am one of the latter. I do agree that the large magnum revolvers are probably the best choices for these purposes, but here in Texas whitetail deer are not as large as in other states, particularly up north. Despite the protestations of some, I've found hot 9mm's, .38 Super, and .45 ACP to work fine so long as ranges are kept short (under about 40 yards for me) and only good shots are taken. This is not illegal in Texas and I will keep doing this so long as I can continue getting one-shot kills that are quick and humane. I doubt that John Browning envisioned the "purpose" of his battle pistols to be hunting deer and lessor four-legged critters.

S&W's line of Airweight snubs are called "Saturday Night Specials" by the gun-grabbers while many within the shooting community see them primarily as defensive arms or backup guns. That they can also serve to apply a coup de grace in the hunting field is frequently overlooked. They can also just be plain fun plinking guns. You decide. Any firearm's "purpose" can be change with the immediate needs or desires of the shooter. The vast majority of handguns can serve more than one purpose.

What I'm suggesting strongly is that you decide the purpose of your handguns. None of us can live the other's life. Perhaps we should not decree our purposes as the only valid ones? Perhaps we should let the individual shooter make his own decisions on this topic? Perhaps we should treat others as we would like to be treated in this regard?

As I said earlier, "The purpose of the handgun is whatever you want it to be."


Snub 38 Special or 380 Automatic?

Despite there being more potent handguns available in similar size packages, these two calibers continue to take a significant portion of the defensive handgun market share. As both remain popular, we see debate on a regular basis concerning which is the "best."

Neither of these cartridges are without their detractors and while newer defense rounds have come along, these two remain popular, with new loads being made for each. It would appear that folks still like these two calibers.

Rightly or wrongly, both calibers seem to remain popular. Which is best between these two calibers?

The answer depends primarily on a couple of things:

1. Which caliber do you think is the more potent "stopper"?

2. Which type handgun do you prefer, revolver or automatic?

As I see it, the .380 might be a little short on penetration when JHP ammunition is used and it expands. It seems that the average penetration depth for most JHP's in this caliber is about 7 to 9 inches in ballistic gelatin. For a frontal, face-to-face shot, this might very well be sufficient, but for an angled shot or one passing through an arm first, it very well might not. It seems that there's just not enough bullet weight at .380 velocities to push the expanded slug deeply enough. While there certainly are felons who'll "stop" simply because they are shot, there are also those who will not unless they're physically unable to continue.

In conventional JHP, .380 bullets weigh from 85 to 102 grains.

The .380 ACP remains popular to this day. Even when compact 9mm and .40's exist that rival their small size, the round continues to sell. Shown are .380 ACP rounds as loaded by Corbon (left) with their 80-gr. DPX next to Remington's 102-gr. Golden Saber. Both of these rounds' bullets have expanded nicely for me when fired into water or super-saturated newsprint but neither penetrates deeply enough for me.

From a snub .38 Special, HP bullets weigh from about 95 to 158 grains. These can be had with gilding metal jackets or pure lead in some cases. Where the .380, depending upon barrel length, will throw 90-grain JHP's at about 950 to 1100 ft/sec, the .38 will hit similar velocity levels with 110 grain bullets and approximately 800 ft/sec + with the 158-gr +P loads. These do offer more penetration in 10% ballistic gelatin when they expand. Both are capable of through-and-through penetration in a human torso if they do not.

This Model 642 fired these three 38 +P rounds into super-saturated newsprint. All penetrated deeper than any of the expandning 380 loads. From left to right: Corbon 110-gr. DPX +P, Speer 135-gr. GDHP +P and Remington's 158-gr. LSWCHP +P.

Neither is a powerhouse ballistically and most opine that either is about as low on the ladder as one should go for a viable defensive handgun. I agree. Unless there's some compelling special reason, I personally will not go below either .380 or .38 Special for self-protection.

For those interested, more information might be found here:

Those favoring the automatic will cite that it holds more rounds and that today's pistols are reliable. Reloading via loaded magazines is also both easier and quicker with the automatic. The fact that the .38 will have more recoil is also mentioned. The revolver team cites round-to-round performance and the historical reliability of the revolver, particularly when compared to the small automatics.

If limited to the choice of the .38 vs.380, I prefer the snub revolver. This is simply because I believe the thirty-eight offers a little more ballistically than does the little automatic round. I do agree that with some pistols, the .380 is easier to shoot well and it is quicker to reload, but I try and make up for this in frequent practice, including reloads.

Neither is optimal and both might be considered at least adequate for self-protection, but either must be shot accurately to stop an aggressor.

If you're pondering this choice and simply cannot get the hits with the snub and cannot find the time for instruction and practice, you might find the .380 an easier pistol to shoot. (I'm not speaking of the really small ones, but those the size of the Walther, Bersa, or even CZ .380's.) If you go this route, I believe that you're at the absolute lower limit of "protection power."

Frankly, either is probably best as a back up gun, but like so many, my orbits are tame and I find the snub .38 my primary defensive handgun. If you opt for this too, I strongly suggest practice.

Either gun can serve, but I'll cast my lot with the .38 Special.


Hi Power Two-Piece Barrels

Hello. A fairly frequent Hi Power question concerns FN's use of the two-piece barrel for the Hi Power pistol. I'm aware of no one-piece barrels for the Hi Power that came from FN after the early '60's. So far as I know, they've all been two-piece, at least since the time in which the locking lug dimensions were changed. I do have a couple of early Bar-Sto match barrels that are one-piece, but later ones are two-piece. I've noticed no increase in accuracy of the one-piece barrels over the conventional two-piece barrels, nor have I noticed them coming apart or being less durable than the one-piece barrels.

Shown above are two BarSto Hi Power barrels. The bottom is an early one-piece bbl while the top is the more conventional two-piece, similar to the ones made by FN. A fine seam can be seen on the two-piece bbl. (The picture can also illustrate the difference between the "humped" feed ramp (top) vs. the "straight" or "throated" one (bottom). Classic Hi Powers normally have the humped while Hi Powers from the Mk II through current Mk III's have the straight ramp, which is much more "friendly" with JHP's.)

Some years ago, a gun magazine did a test on various 1911 barrels that ranged from GI surplus to the match barrels from some really good makers. They fired the barrels via a device that locked the barrel firmly in place. To cut to the conclusion, there was very, very little difference between any of the barrels in terms of their purely inherent accuracy. I believe this included a two-piece Springfield Armory barrel as well as some other factory barrels.

There are reports of Browning Hi Power barrels failing after a great number of shots, but I don't recall any of them separating. There very well may be some such incidents, but I'm betting that they're statistically rare. With as many Hi Powers in use around the world, if it was a real problem, it would have been addressed by now.

I don't think it matters.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Feeding the Snub 38

With their abbreviated barrels, usually about 2" in length, the little revolver's effectiveness is less than its counterparts having 3" tubes and certainly those with 4" or longer barrels. This is just one of life's compromises when going for a small revolver that is extremely easy to conceal…and therein lies the rub.

Between serious students of "stopping power," a debate rages right now concerning the "best" ammunition for carry, solid or expanding. In the past, there were few rounds that would actually expand out of the snub so proponents suggested hot loaded SWC's as the "best" load. Today, the main argument against using expanding ammunition results from most failing to expand when fired through four layers of denim. Some involved in this research have stated that the denim barrier is a "worst case scenario test" of how the ammo performs when passing through barriers. What seems to be forgotten is that the ammunition may work fine with one, two, or three layers of denim or when passing through a T-shirt or sports jacket. Some have stated that the "best" load for the snub is the lightly loaded target 148-grain wadcutter since the others don't work when fired through denim and the wadcutter has light recoil. Others may opt for this recommendation, but generally speaking, I disagree with it.

I'd estimate the velocity of most factory target .38 wadcutters to be between 650 and 700 ft/sec from the average snub-nose thirty-eight. One maker's chronographed substantially less than 600 ft/sec. Most are of soft, swaged lead, which means that "sharp" edges really aren't and they can round off as they pass through tissue. Hard cast bullets can have sharper edges, but these are not loaded by major factories as new, commercial ammunition and some forcefully suggest-that the civil aftermath can be negatively impacted by the use of handloaded ammunition. There was a jacketed wadcutter offered by Speer, but it's my understanding that it's no longer produced. On top of that, who can say that the sharper edged wadcutters would have any significant increased terminal effect?

The following shootings are not enough to be statistically meaningful in any study, but I am familiar with them and they do give me pause to reflect on this matter.

Several years ago, a young adult male athlete was shot outside a local bar during an argument. He was hit in the heart with a factory loaded .38 wadcutter fired from a snub .38 Special. I don't recall the make of the gun nor the brand ammunition, but the young man proceeded to cuss out the guy who shot him as he sat himself down on the curb. He was lucid several minutes but died in the ambulance enroute to the hospital.

An off-duty state officer lived a few blocks from me. While home, he became aware of screaming and yelling outside and when he looked into it, he found himself in the middle of a violent domestic dispute. He tried to calm things down, but was attacked by the male participant, who advanced on him with a knife. Refusing to stop, the officer shot him in the chest with his .357 magnum. On the second hit, the man dropped and died. The .357 magnum ammo was Remington 158-grain SWC and was fired from a 4" S&W Model 28. The second shot struck the man's heart.

A woman who'd been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic decided she needed to kill her husband…for reasons only she knows. While he was asleep, she shot him five times with an S&W Model 13 4" revolver. She did this while he was sleeping and the first four rounds stitched him from the pubic area upward into the center chest. After the forth shot, he sat up! She shot him through the eye (don't remember which) and he was down for the count! The ammunition was the same brand full-house .357 SWC used by the state officer.

Though not involved nor seeing anything "official" on the following, over the years I had occasion to speak with two police officers who had shot felons with snubs. Both were using lead semiwadcutter hollow points. I believe that one had his revolver loaded with Remington while the other used Winchester. Both shot their attackers at close range, center chest, and neither required a second shot. I can only assume that these felons were not wrapped in four layers of denim…and that's my point; why limit yourself to something that will not expand in any scenario when you can load it with ammunition that can expand in at least some? In those where it doesn't, you're at least as well off as if you'd loaded with non-expanding ammunition in the first place.

Remington's 158-gr. LSWCHP +P (called LHP by the company) is certainly an "old technology" bullet. Does that mean that it is no longer effective? I think not but that does not mean that there are not other good choices for the snub 38. Based on what I've read and what I've seen in my own informal "testing", Speer's 135-gr. Short Barrel .38 Special +P and Corbon's 110-gr. DPX +P are more modern designs using "new techology" projectiles. While being "new" does not necessarily have to mean "better", I believe that these two new ones will be very tough to beat.

Would any of the immediate terminal effects in the "failure" incidents have been changed? Possibly, but maybe not; I'd still roll the dice with expanding ammo if given a choice.

The main advantage I see for the target wadcutters in the snub is reduced recoil. Most of the expanding ammunition and certainly that loaded to +P levels will have more recoil. The now discontinued Federal 125-grain Nyclad hollow point was a nice compromise round. Recoil was not "bad," and it expanded well in gelatin … until required to penetrate the 4 layers of denim first. Some expressed concern that due to its weight and rapid expansion in bare gelatin, penetration would be lacking, but for frontal shots, I suspect it would be fine. Probably the most recommended expanding ammo for the snub today from folks opting for expansion is the LSWCHP +P as loaded by Winchester, Remington, or Federal. Its 158-grain weight is sufficient for decent penetration and it's made of pure, dead soft, lead. Based on 10-shot averages about 10' from the muzzle, it chronographs at 800 ft/sec from my S&W Model 642 and just a little faster from a Model 042. Recoil is there, but is not "bad"…at least for a few shots. It would be more difficult to control than the factory 148-grain wadcutters. I think this is one of the best loads for those willing to practice with their snubs. It should penetrate plenty deep even if passing through an arm first while in route to the torso and has more weight and velocity than the target wadcutter. Under most scenarios, it is capable of expansion, but even if it doesn't, it still impacts the target with more energy and momentum than the lighter wadcutter loads and I'm not convinced that the larger meplat on the wadcutter significantly adds to its effectiveness in the velocity range to which this ammo is loaded. (A hard cast or jacketed wadcutter at 900 or 1,000 ft/sec might be quite something different, but then over penetration becomes a concern, or at least the fear of it.)

The snub is a compromise; we accept less power and usually but 5 shots before having to reload in exchange for a handgun that's likely to be with us when unexpectedly needed or as a back up to more potent handguns. True for any defensive sidearm, placement remains the primary determinant in "stopping power," and this is especially true for the snub. Though I've cited a couple of cases in which a heart shot failed and multiple torso hits with solid 36 caliber ammo were required to get a "stop," you still stand the best chance of surviving a deadly encounter if you can hit where you need to…possibly more than once or twice!

Despite the call for snubs being loaded with target wadcutters, mine will be loaded with expanding ammunition, but more importantly, mine will be used in regular practice. IF I can hit where I should, I think I'm likely to do better with either wadcutter or expanding ammunition.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Browning Hi Power & CZ-75: Are They Related?

Hello. Not infrequent discussions on various firearm sites suggest that the Hi Power and the CZ-75 are relatives. Some opine that the latter is a descendent of the former. Let's take a look at these two pistols and see where they share common traits and where they don't in order to see just how true their being "family" is…or is not.

Both the Hi Power and the CZ-75 are popular 9mm (and .40) handguns. Both have their fans and detractors, but how much are they alike and where do their designs differ? (Shown is a Browning Mk III and a Pre-B CZ-75. (The right-side extended thumb safety lever has been removed on the Hi Power.)

As most readers here already know, the Hi Power was John M. Browning's last known pistol design and that he passed before it reached finalization. Building upon Browning's foundation design, Dieudonne J. Saive (also a talented gun designer at FN) refined the original striker-fired pistol into the external hammer, single-action, recoil-operated, locked-breech pistol now known for generations. It has undergone some changes along the way, such has ring to spur hammer, internal to external extractor, and sights, but it is for all practical purposes the same gun.

The Hi Power was born of two fathers, John M. Browning and Dieudonne J. Saive after first being "conceived" about 1926.

Likewise, the CZ-75's earliest versions hit the ground during 1975-76, fifty years after the Hi Power was a sparkle in the eye of John Browning, but it, too, had two fathers. They were the brothers, Josef and Frantisek Koucky. A parallel continues. A large firearm manufacturer also employed both of these men. Where Browning and Saive were at FN, the Koucky brothers were with CZ in Czechoslovakia.

So far, the story sort of sounds like the "parallel world" thing sometimes shown in science fiction stories doesn't it?

Other similarities between the Hi Power and the CZ-75:

Both are chambered for 9mm. (Later versions of both are also chambered in .40 S&W.)

Both were conceptualized for military use.

Both are similar in size & weight, with the CZ being slightly larger.

Both have a 1:10 twist.

Both utilize barrels with locking lugs, which is straight from John M. Browning.

Both are recoil operated.

Both have the mainspring below the barrel.

Neither uses a detachable barrel bushing.

Both pistols' grip panels are secured with one screw each.

Both have external hammers.

Both have thumb safeties.

Both are capable of cocked-and-locked carry.

Both use detachable double-stack magazines.

Both use external pivoting spring-loaded extractors, although the early Hi Powers used an internal one.

Both use pivoting triggers.

Both have a relatively few number of internal parts compared to some other designs.

Both guns have lightening cuts on the front of the slide. (Later versions of the CZ-75 do not.)

Both guns (CZ-75 Pre-B) use a slide stop retaining plate to secure the firing pin and spring.

Both guns use a push-button magazine release located at the rear of the trigger guard.

Both guns originally came with ring hammers. (The Hi Power and CZ-75 were produced with spur hammers for a number of years. CZ went back to an abbreviated ring hammer. The Hi Power used the old factory ring hammer in the Practical model.)

Both use a one-piece feed ramp.

Both have been copied and used outside of their respective nations of origin.

So far it would seem that the Hi Power and the CZ-75 are like peas in a pod, but let's take a look at differences.


The original Hi Power is single-action only. The hammer must be cocked before the first shot can be fired.

The original CZ-75's were selective double-action. In other words, only pressing the trigger could fire the first shot. If desired the shooter could manually cock the CZ's hammer and apply the thumb safety so that each shot, first to last, could be fired single-action. (Currently there are versions of the CZ that are DAO and one that is strictly single-action.)

The original (and subsequent) CZ-75 pistols have a magazine "brake" consisting of a leaf spring in the rear of the magazine well. The Hi Power does not although its sear spring is located there.

The CZ-75 does not have a magazine disconnect. The Hi Power does.

The bottom lug on the Hi Power barrel is open on one side and uses a cam, which is pressed into the frame.

The bottom lug on the CZ-75 is closed and cams on the slide release lever's shaft.

The recoil spring guide in the Hi Power is internally spring-loaded and holds the slide release in place.

The recoil spring guide in the original CZ-75's is short like the Hi Power but is not spring-loaded and does not hold the slide release in the gun.

The CZ-75 and Hi Power magazine release buttons are retained by different methods.

The thumb safety on the Hi Power has an internal spring-loaded detent to tension it.

The thumb safety on the CZ-75 does not. Pre-B versions use a separate piece beneath the safety to tension it.

The Hi Power slide rides outside the frame.

The CZ-75 slide rides inside the frame.

The internal parts on the Hi Power and CZ-75 do not interchange and are entirely different.

Parallels continue. Neither pistol originally had an internal firing pin block. Now, both do. This was first incorporated by FN on the Hi Power in the latter runs of the Mk II pistol and by CZ with the introduction of their "B-Series". (FN did produce Mk III pistols without the internal firing pin block, at least at one time for the Israelis, but all NIB Hi Powers sold in the US are actually the Mk IIIS version, the "S" standing for the firing pin block.)

But is one descended form the other? In my opinion, the Koucky brothers did not copy the Hi Power. They definitely appear to have used the advances made by Mr. Browning with regard to locking lugs and magazine release location. I am not convinced that the CZ-75's external appearance was intended to be similar to that of the Hi Power.

Most handgun makers were utilizing John Browning's method of locking the breech to the barrel for higher-pressure cartridges. It worked and was simple in design. We can look at semiautomatic handguns from Star, Llama, Smith & Wesson, SIG-Neuhausen and others and see the same thing and before thoughts of the CZ-75 entered its designers' brains.

Mr. Browning came up with the idea to be sure and it was so good that we can say that the world's pistol makers adopted it in droves. By the time that the Josef and Frantisek Koucky came along with their gun fifty years later, this was "old hat." To this day, Browning's system is retained by most major handgun manufacturers albeit with some modification in some cases. (Glock and SIG-Sauer come to mind immediately.)

If we want to say that the CZ-75 is descended from the Hi Power, the same must be said with regard to the SIG P-210. The CZ-75's slide rides inside the frame, as does the P-210's. It preceded the CZ-75 by decades. It may also be "descended" from the Star A, B, and P series of single-action handguns if we are looking at the way in which the thumb safeties are tensioned. All of these use a spring-tensioned piece below the safety to do it (and all are damned easy to lose during detail stripping!)

I think that the Koucky brothers were fine enough handgun designers to not have to copy the Hi Power or make a thinly veiled copy. Their gun stands on its own merits. (Perhaps this is another parallel for the Hi Power is still regarded highly by more than a few users.)

Instead of a double-action in which the hammer is pulled rearward and released, the CZ-75's trigger-bar arrangement essentially uses a pushing motion. This results in a pretty smooth trigger out of the box, particularly in some of the Pre-B versions. Because of its double-action capability, CZ-75 internals will necessarily be more complicated than the Hi Power's, but the system does seem to work and the design does not seem to require constant detail stripping to be reliable. It is more complicated to detail strip than the Hi Power.

The Browning Hi Power and the CZ-75 are similar in some ways, but not in others, but in my view the most important similarity they share is this:

Both are very popular firearms. Both have proven themselves more than adequately accurate for their originally intended purposes. Both have reputations for reliability and fans of either will say that they just have that "special feel."

The Browning Hi Power as well as most automatics that followed were definitely influenced by the genius of John M. Browning to be sure, but neither the Hi Power nor the CZ-75 were entirely spawned from his genius. In my opinion, Mr. Saive made some very fine changes to the Hi Power and the two Czech brothers are to be commended for their use of a proven system as well as their other CZ-75 design features.

I do not see the CZ-75 as "Son of Hi Power." (Perhaps a second or third cousin.)

Neither do I see this belief as a slam against the CZ. Both designs have proven themselves to be very fine pistols in their own, separate rights.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A New Hi Power: Immediately Customize or Not?

" I am thinking of buying a Hi Power. What changes should I make?"

This is a question I receive frequently via email or see at the Internet gun forums.

My answer is "none"…immediately.

The reason is fairly simple: Until the new Hi Power is shot, we don't know what changes may be needed if any! In recent days a fellow reports buying a new Mk III only to find that the frame had not been properly heat-treated. This was a major problem and one that would lead to catastrophic failure, but it showed up because he had shot the pistol. It didn't show up immediately, but after a hundred factory rounds or so. Suppose he'd bought the pistol, sent it to his favorite gunsmith with a list of things to change, waited for its return after paying the 'smith's fees and then found that he had this BIG problem? This is a rare problem with FN products, but does re-enforce the view that a person should make sure their gun works and is up to snuff before having it customized.

Holding off on customizing also lets you reassess if you really need or want the changes that you thought you did.

Hammer bite is common to many when using the Hi Power. After shooting, it might not be for you. Why change hammers or modify the existing one if it's not needed? If after shooting several hundred rounds through your pistol and it's never missed a stutter with ball or JHP ammo, is the "reliability package" offered by many really necessary? Shooting the gun allows the owner to determine if the sights provide for a POA that matches POI. If they do, great but if not, it's good to be able to provide the gunsmith with the information on where the gun does hit. This makes it more likely that new sights are properly regulated for your individual Hi Power. A person might even decide that the fixed sights on the Hi Power suit him or her as they are. I've had a couple of Hi Powers fitted with Novak fixed sights. I like them and think that they look great. I like the sight picture as well but I don't get hits any quicker or shoot tighter groups than with the fixed sights that came from the factory.

More than a few Hi Powers will probably need trigger work done. The US commercial market is a small percentage of FN sales. This is usually still to the military and police market throughout the world. Many specify a heavier trigger pull than most American shooters prefer. This also requires less time and work for FN as a heavier trigger is less likely to suffer the hammer falling to half-cock during firing than a lighter one that's slightly out of spec. In any event, it's a good idea to shoot the new Hi Power, as the trigger will smooth up a bit during about the first 300 rounds. Should there be problems with the sear and hammer hooks not mating properly, it will show up and the gunsmith can take care of this while the gun is in the shop. I do think a trigger job from a competent Hi Power 'smith is usually in order. A Hi Power with a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 pound trigger pull is much easier to achieve good hits with than one having a 9-lb. trigger pull.

Shooting will let you see if you actually want to pay for a fitted match barrel. In most cases the Hi Power is quite accurate with the factory barrel. Most shooters will not be able to see any differences between the two.

If the desire is for custom touches that really don't add functionality but just look good, I still recommend shooting the gun for a while before having the work done. Make sure that you have a properly working Hi Power before coughing up the dollars to personalize it.


.40 vs. 9mm Hi Power: Which is Best for Defense?

Is the forty-caliber Hi Power a better gun for protection than the 9mm Hi Power? Once again, much of that will depend upon the ability of the shooter to place the shots. The .40 S&W round is more potent than the 9mm on paper. How much this difference actually makes in real life is open to question, but I believe that it is more powerful. I do not believe that its power level will substitute for proper placement.

It seems than many users of the forty prefer the 180-gr JHP and these normally travel around 1000 ft/sec or so from a Hi Power. With the nine, the "heaviest" bullet is about 147-gr these days. With most loads, it averages about 950 to 1050 ft/sec. Velocities may be near equivalent, but the forty does have more weight and a bit larger diameter. It's almost certainly more "effective" in this weight than the 147-gr using the same or similar bullet design in 9mm.

Comparing the 9mm 147-gr to the approximately same weight Winchester 155-gr STHP, it appears that the forty "wins" again. Average chronographed velocity for this load from a Hi Power was 1164 ft/sec while Remington's 155-gr JHP averaged 1202 ft/sec. Corbon's now-discontinued 147-gr +P 9mm JHP was faster than the other 9mm rounds in this weight, but I've not tested it. The fastest I've personally seen has been the 147-gr Remington Golden Saber at 1033 ft/sec. Another company or two may be offering fast-for-9mm loads in this bullet weight but none seem to quite match velocities for slightly heavier bullets in 40-caliber.

With the 105-gr Glaser Safety Slug, the forty averages 1393 ft/sec while Corbon's 100-gr PowRball gets 1473 ft/sec in 9mm. In this instance, I believe that the 9mm is the more potent of these two specific loads.

The 9mm 80-gr Glaser Safety Slug averaged 1534 ft/sec or 141 ft/sec faster than the forty, but the bullet is also 25-gr lighter. I have not chronographed the forty-caliber PowRball.

I believe that the more defense-effective of the two Hi Powers will be the one that you shoot the most accurately at speed. If you can get accurate hits as quickly, or nearly so, with the larger caliber, that's the one to use. If not, I'd go with the 9mm.

A police officer I know was hit in the lower torso with a forty-caliber 180-gr JHP. The wound was very serious and he spent much time in the hospital. He was not immediately incapacitated. I saw the recovered bullet and it did expand.

Ballistics aside, I personally prefer the "feel" of the 9mm Hi Power. No doubt this is due to decades of using Hi Powers before the heavier 40-caliber version came along. Just because this is true for me does not mean that it must be so for everyone else. Other folks report perferring the handling qualities of the 40-Hi Power. You decide what is right for you.

Placement remains the key determinant in "stopping power." In other words, it is my opinion that the one you shoot best will be the more effective, be it 9mm or .40 S&W.


Buying a Used Hi Power? Some Things to Look for...

Hello. Some of the best deals I've gotten on Hi Powers have been from buying used ones at a good price.

I'd suggest to look for the following:

1. What's the overall appearance of the pistol? A worn finish does not always indicate heavy use or neglect, but it might so it's something to check. Frequently, it might be like some LEO's guns, carried lots but shot little. Are the grips screws buggered up or are the slots straight and not marred indicating that either the previous owner cared enough to use the right size screwdriver or not removed the grips at all?

2. Is the magazine disconnect in place or not? This is very good to know for obvious reasons? If it is gone, is the frame buggered or dinged up near the trigger pin and is the small pin in the lower rear of the trigger in good shape? Press the pointed end of the trigger pin to be sure it's tightly in place.

3. Check the barrel-to-slide fit, i.e.; does the barrel show movement when in battery? Tight is almost always better than loose in this regard. Slide to frame play should be checked as well. There will almost always be some, but it should not be excessive.

4. Look at the breech face? If the finish is completely gone, the pistol's been fired quite a bit. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you've been told that the gun's only been fired a very few times, it gives an idea of whether or not you're being told the truth.

5. Is the muzzle crown clean or is it dinged/dented? If it is, you'll probably have to have it recrowned.

6. Has the feed ramp been throated? Again, not necessarily "bad," but usually not needed on MkIII pistols. If it appears highly polished, check the bottom of the chamber to make sure it has adequate support.

7. Making sure the pistol's NOT loaded, cock the hammer and check the trigger pull. Is it heavy or light, gritty or clean? This might give an idea of whether or not a trigger job's going to be needed.

8. Also, with the pistol cocked, engage the safety and then press the trigger. Don't exert so much pressure your knuckles turn white, but just a firm press. The hammer should not move. Now, disengage the safety and see if the hammer stays cocked and note if the sear has moved up and out of engagement even a little with the full-cock notch in the hammer.

9. IF you can let the slide slam shut on an empty chamber, not repeatedly, but once or twice; does the hammer stay cocked? It should. Also see if the sear is staying down and in place.

10. If possible, field strip the pistol and check the locking lugs. The edges should be square and sharp, not rounded off. Is the bore clean, but if dirty, is the rifling in good shape and the bore not pitted?

11. Check the extractor's spring tension. Push down on the back end of it. It should be pretty hard to move as HP extractors are sprung pretty hard. Is the ejector claw as it should be or is it chipped?

12. The ejector should be straight and the end square.

Other things to check include cracks in the slide and/or frame. On the slide, check the area behind the ejection port. On the frame, check the area around the slide stop lever hole and if you can remove the slide, check the cam. This is the bar of steel that the barrel sits on. Look at the firing pin stop. If it's cracked, it will probably be at the 7 O' Clock position.

Well, I've probably forgotten something, but hope this helps.