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.