Friday, June 13, 2008

The Hi Power and the Glock 17

It is no secret that my favorite 9mm pistol has been the Browning Hi Power and that either it or a 1911 pattern pistol is my most often used pistols at the range. Before retirement as a police officer my duty sidearm was either a Hi Power 9mm or a 1911 in .45 ACP. These guns are the ones I "teethed" on when I started shooting seriously circa 1969-1970. I've never been without at least one of each example since.

So the question is raised: If you have nirvana with the Hi Power, why look at anything else, especially a "plastic pistol?"

For me the Hi Power has been the 9mm for over 3 decades, but something gnawed at me to really try and give the Glock an honest try. The reason is simply that I enjoy shooting handguns. Though the bulk of my personal handguns are either DA/SA revolvers or single-action autos, I do have a few conventional DA/SA semiautomatics as well as some that offer cocked-and-locked capabilities if desired. It is also my observation that the Glock is as popular with many of this generation's 9mm shooters as the Hi Power was with mine.

With the immense popularity of this handgun, I thought it might be of interest to honestly compare these pistols straight up and down the line, being as objective as possible. Obviously there will be some subjective comments, but I will identify them as such.

Taking a look at the Glock 17 compared to the Hi Power hit me shortly after I completed A Critical Look at the Glock 17, which is located here for those who might be interested:

The simple fact of the matter was that I could not really do this until I practiced more with the Glock. Decades of using the Browning-inspired Hi Power (and 1911) had taught my hand and wired my brain to accept only those pistols' very similar grip angles as "correct." Invariably I would find my sights way high when trying to draw and shoot the Glock at speed. I was also not able to get quite as tight of groups at distances beyond about 25 yards and those shot at 25 yards and under required more "work" to achieve. Since I had purchased the Glock 17 primarily to be a "loaner gun" for concealed handgun students, I'd shot it a bit now and then, but never really got "serious" with it.

It hardly seemed "fair" to try and compare a seldom used "loaner pistol" to one I'd used extensively for decades. Conclusions might be drawn from faulty input. To try and correct this, I spent more than a few range sessions with the Glock 17 exclusively and some shooting it and either a 9mm Hi Power or a .45 1911. Checking back on my notes this involved roughly 1100 rounds through the G17, some handloaded "hotties" and some factory-loaded FMJ bought at good prices.

This was my "Duty Hi Power", a 9mm fitted with Novak sights along with Spegel checkered delrin stocks and the C&S abbreviated spur hammer. The gun has no magazine disconnect and had a matte blue finish. (It was reblued when I retired from police service.)

Whether it was because I shot them occasionally at the same sessions as the G17 or just from decades of previous use, I did not have any problem staying "on" with either the Hi Power or the 1911. For me, shooting the G17 heavily did not "ruin" me for the other two. I cannot say that this will hold true for others, but such was my experience. (I did find myself wiping off an imaginary thumb safety when drawing and shooting the Glock quickly now and then, but didn't find the reverse to be true; in no instance did I "forget" to disengage the thumb safety at speed with either the Hi Power or 1911. Will this hold true for everyone? I flat don't know. If you use the Glock predominantly and over a lengthy time-span but carry one of the more traditional single-action autos now and then, it might be a good thing to check just to be sure. If it happens to you, shoot the single-action until it doesn't or make a hard decision and go exclusively with one or the other.)

To me the Glock 17 and the Hi Power fill the same niche in service style sidearms and each has its strong and weak points. I believe that this is probably true with anything conceived and created by man. With the advent of the Mk II Hi Powers and the factory-throated barrels, the old saw that Hi Powers are picky about ammunition simply has not proven true for me over several years with more than a few Mk II and Mk III pistols. Glocks are renowned for their reliability in most cases. If we put one up against the other, I don't know which might require cleaning to continue flawless operation. For whatever reasons, I just almost always break down and clean my autos after 700 to 800 shots when trying to check this out. If the Glock will shoot more rounds than the Hi Power before crud induces malfunctions or vice-versa, I really couldn't care less for I always clean my pistols after any shooting sessions. Before I purchased the Glock, I frequently loaned a Mk III for concealed handgun students who needed an automatic to qualify with. Neither gun jammed or malfunctioned for any of the "loanees" despite my having seen some who could make an anvil malfunction!

Empty, the Glock weighs nearly half a pound less than the all-steel Hi Power. While this difference shrinks a tad if both guns are loaded to full capacity, it is only decreased by the additional weight of four 9mm cartridges if both guns are loaded with the same ammunition. This assumes that conventional magazines are used since the G17 will hold eighteen shots compared to the P35's fourteen. I definitely find the Glock magazines easier on the skin when carried in either an OWB or IWB magazine carrier. The Hi Power magazine floor plate is of steel and has pointed corners on the rear. The Glock magazine floor plate is plastic, thicker, and has rounded edges. The Hi Power magazine "problem" can be fixed by adding either a bumper pad or carefully rounding the sharp edges…or both. (If you opt to dress down the Hi Power magazine floor plate edges, go slow and when you knock off the sharp edges, quit. The stamped floor plate is thin and folded to go over a lip on the magazine body. Nothing is gained if we file or sand too much since we just expose the lip.)

With a loose-fitting shirt or jacket, I have not found the Glock to be difficult to conceal with even a Fobus paddle holster. That said, the Hi Power is not "heavy" but I do like the Glock's reduced weight and rounded edges when carried close to the body.

I absolutely detest the Glock factory sights…fixed or adjustable. For me, the front sight is just too wide and I've seen the front sights on a couple of Glocks worn down when carried in a holster that contacted them! For me they simply had to go and will on any future Glocks I might own. I replaced my Glock 17 sights with fixed ones from AeroTek and have been quite pleased. (I also have them on a G26.)

Most opine that the finish on the Glock is one of the most durable and corrosion-resistant in the firearms market. At the same time, it should be noted that the matte finish on the Mk III is rustproof, as it is a baked-on epoxy. It is not as durable as Glock's tennifer finish. With considerable holster use, the Hi Power's matte finish can wear. I do not consider this a major problem as I clean my handguns regardless of their finish. While the entire exterior of the Glock is protected against corrosion, only the slide and frame are on the Mk III Hi Power. The trigger, hammer, grip screws, thumb safety, slide release and magazine button are blued and the barrel is left in the white. In my case, this is of little importance, but the Glock does have superior protection against rust or corrosion.

I noticed no advantage one pistol to the other in speed of reloading. My Glock magazines are of the "drop free" variety and the Hi Power has had its magazine disconnect removed. Magazines fall freely from either pistol. I found neither to be quicker or easier to insert a fresh magazine in than the other. I do find the Hi Power easier to drop the slide on if using the slide release lever than the tiny one on the Glock. It is my understanding that Glock doesn't recommend routinely dropping the slide by depressing what they call the "hold open" lever and I've heard folks complain of them wearing pretty quickly if this is done over time due to wear. For that reason I "slingshot" the Glock and wound up doing it with the Hi Powers and 1911pistols when shooting them in the same sessions.

Felt recoil was equivalent for me with the 9mm Hi Power and the Glock 17. In other words, either pistol was quite easy to handle in accurate rapid-fire drills.

In slow deliberate bullseye shooting I still shoot tighter groups with the Hi Power and 1911 pistols. Whether this is due to greater mechanical accuracy or just my ability to shoot them I cannot say. (I was somewhat surprised at this because some of the tightest groups I've ever fired at 50 yards were done shooting a revolver double-action.) At distances of 50 yards and beyond either of these pistols outperform the Glock…in my hands. Glock devotees may find that just the opposite is true. I don't have a definitive answer, as I've never seen a Glock fired from a machine rest to determine its built-in accuracy potential. If this is an important aspect of handgun shooting and you really prefer the Glock, I believe that aftermarket fitted barrels can be had.

The lack of chamber support in the Glock pistol has been mentioned on several gun sites, but in 9mm I have not found this to be a real concern. All of the Glocks in 9mm that I've seen, handled or shot had plenty of case support. This has never been a concern for the 9mm Hi Power. The only instances of inadequate support that I have personally seen were from improper "throating" of the pistol. Too much steel was removed when trying to rework the ramp on Pre-Mk II pistols.

Mentioned earlier was reliability. Either the Mk III or the Glock 17 is capable of it in the extreme. I have noticed that with some foreign military surplus ammunition, the hammer-driven firing pin of the Hi Power would fire rounds that the striker-fired Glock simply would not. If memory serves, there was some Greek surplus ball imported a few years ago and almost immediately some Glock folks began experiencing failures to fire. Within a short time the importer of this ammunition advised that it was not recommended for Glock handguns. Having said that, I have never experienced a single failure to fire using any ammunition from Remington, Federal, Winchester, CCI/Speer, Fiocchi, Hirtenberger or Corbon. With ammo not having unusually hard primers I don't think there is an issue at all.

I do not routinely carry a cocked-and-locked Hi Power just stuck in my waistband sans holster, however I'd feel safer doing that with the Hi Power than the Glock. At least there is a manual safety other than on the trigger that would have to be disengaged before the trigger could move the sear from the hammer's full-cock notch, possibly firing it. It is my opinion that the "point and pull" operation of the

Glock offers more potential for disaster in this regard than the traditional single-action autopistol. The "safe action" safety tab on the trigger is certainly better than nothing for a short double-action pull but in my opinion is only adequate if: The pistol is carried in a holster that covers the trigger and is designed not to allow any safety strap or other part to get inside the trigger guard when the Glock is being reholstered, and the Glock carrier always practices safe gun handling, particularly not putting one's finger on the trigger until ready to shoot. (Without question this should be done when using any handgun, but like a cocked-and-unlocked single-action auto, the very short "DA" trigger pull of the Glock simply doesn't suffer foolish handling well.)

Subjectively, I find the Hi Power a more comfortable pistol and more pleasing to the eye. The latter attribute carries more weight with some folks than others to be sure and probably is of no real importance if interested only in form following function. At the same time, I see nothing wrong with using a gun that can not only perform but look good too. From a purely defensive standpoint, the latter point has little merit but for folks who simply "like" handguns, it is often more a factor in what they like than might be expected.

I have so many years using this pistol and find its design so pleasing that it will almost certainly remain more of a favorite with me than the Glock. That does not mean that anyone else has to share the same opinion or make the same choice.

Both pistols have few internal parts compared to several other popular semiautomatics, something I consider a plus simply because there is less to potential go wrong. Each is quite easy to either field or detail strip when necessary.

Though neither pistol seems to lend itself to as extensive customization as the 1911,either can be customized to meet the individual user's personal needs…be they real or imagined. In my observation, there are enough such options available for the Hi Power and Glock handguns, that 99.99% of real needs can be met.

Out of the box, I have to bob the Hi Power hammer spur or fit a C&S Type I ring hammer and sear to avoid hammer bite. The Glock is good to go in that regard as it comes from the factory. Neither usually has what I'd call a stellar trigger pull without work, but I admit that tuned 1911 triggers tend to spoil. Some Hi Power users like the magazine disconnect while others such as myself routinely remove them. The Glock comes with no such device. Mercifully, neither comes with forward slide serrations but either can have them via custom gunsmith work if desired.

Though the grip angle on the Glock is not to my liking compared to the Hi Power, it certainly offers good purchase with the front and rear grip strap checkering molded in as well as the finger grooves. The polymer frame's textured surface is also superior for use with wet or sweaty hands than the slick blue, hard chrome, or matte finish on the Hi Power. This is often remedied with stippling, (fine) checkering, or a simple piece of skateboard tape.

Some complain about the Glock being wider than the Hi Power. While true, I have not found it to constitute a real world problem in concealment. The main problem I've found is that if trying to tote a pistol in an IWB holster in pants that just are not big enough in the waist, the problem is amplified with the thicker Glock. Get pant sizes commensurate with a Glock and an IWB holster and there's no problem I can find.

The Hi Power has a conventionally rifled barrel. The Glock's is polygonal and said to boost bullet velocity and there may be some truth to this. The table below shows some common loads that were fired from both a Hi Power with its 4.66" barrel and the Glock 17, which has a 4.49" tube. The average velocity is based on 10 shots fired 10' from the chronograph screens.

9mm Average Velocities from Glock 17 & Mk III Hi Power
Hi Power Ave. Velocity (ft/sec):
Glock 17 Ave. Velocity (ft/sec):

Aguila 65-gr HP

Glaser Silver 80-gr. +P

Corbon 100-gr. Powerball +P

Hirtenberger 100-gr. JSP

Corbon 115-gr. DPX +P

Corbon 115-gr. JHP +P

Corbon 125-gr. JHP +P

Winchester 127-gr. +P+

Remington 147-gr. Golden Saber

Only twice did the Hi Power's longer conventionally rifled barrel outperform the shorter polygonal rifling of the Glock and then only by a very few feet per second. In no instance was there a significant difference in bullet speeds, most being well within the shot to shot variations of a given round. Still, the Glock is using a shorter barrel and running neck and neck with the Hi Power so I am pretty sure that at least with jacketed bullets, the polygonal rifling is playing a positive role.

When it comes to using lead bullets, the common wisdom is not to shoot them in Glock handguns. I have done so, but only in limited numbers (under 200 per session and only with hard cast bullets) and rigorously cleaning of the Glock barrel always followed. The idea is that the polygonal rifling "smears" the lead until it coats the interior of the barrel and kicks pressures dangerously high or prevents subsequent cartridges from fully seating due to the leading build-up near the chamber engaging the bullet too soon. (Aftermarket match barrels with conventional rifling are available for Glockers wishing to use cast bullets.) For most, it is a non-issue with jacketed 9mm ammunition being plentiful and relatively inexpensive.

It is true that the Glock can be fired with the slide not fully forward. I have not personally seen it happen when using any ammunition but IF you opt to do cast bullet shooting with the factory barrel, I'd keep an eye open for it just to be on the safe side. Likewise, if reloading, make sure that your homebrewed 9mm rounds are properly sized and seat easily in the Glock's chamber. (This is a good thing to do with any reloaded rounds to be used in any automatic.)

The Glock is touted as being super tough while some say never to use +P in the Hi Power. When asked if +P can be used in their pistol, Glock says, "Go right ahead." Browning does not recommend the use of +P in their pistols. I have given my observations on the use of hotter than standard ammo in the Hi Power and for those interested, they can be found here:

It strikes me that proponents for either pistol tend to look only at their choice's strong points and compare those to the weaker ones of the other. I've tried specifically not to do that here. Both put their best foot forward in some areas but not in all. It falls to the individual user to decide which of these areas or concern are most important to them. I still find reliability to be the most essential element in a defense gun and either the current Hi Powers or Glocks will provide this. (There can certainly be lemons from any maker, but overall, either is usually noted for dependability.)

Neither gun is represented as a match grade target pistol and neither is…but both are capable of better accuracy than are most of their owners. That I find the Hi Power easier to shoot small groups with than the Glock does not mean that such is the case for others. I have never said that the Glock 17 (or any Glock) is not capable of more than sufficient accuracy for most terror-filled, high-adrenaline deadly force encounters that are usually measured in feet, often still in the single digits!

If being able to provide maintenance to your handgun is just not in the cards due to climate or battlefield conditions, the Glock might be the better choice. Having said that I would also ask the reader to recall that for much of the last century the Hi Power was present in military and covert actions all over the globe.

If weight is a major consideration, the Glock is lighter and for some that might be the deciding point while the difference is meaningless to folks not in the same situation(s).

Some shooters report not being able to remember to wipe off the safety when firing at speed or under even a small amount of stress. Assuming that they are not willing to practice enough for this to become second nature or it just really bothers them that they might fail to do so in a fight, go with the point-and-pull Glock.

The other side of that coin might be people who simply prefer a pistol not having the safety on the trigger. Jeff Cooper once likened it to having the combination to the safe written on the door. For those, the Hi Power might win out. Some prefer a weapon that requires deliberate safety disengagement should their handgun be wrested from their grip. The idea is that their opponent might not be able to fire the pistol long enough for them to escape. We each have to make our own decisions here.

I've worked pretty hard with the Glock 17 and while it certainly will not replace my Hi Powers, it has proven itself worthy of respect as a "serious gun" in my opinion. Compared to many Glockers my round count is not high and the things seem to just work and work and work without major parts failures. Now and again a trigger spring will break. While a police firearm instructor, I saw more than a few Glocks come through training sessions and qualifications. Most worked quite well. Now and again one would break a spring and I did see one defective slide break on a new Glock 19, but such were the exceptions rather than the rule. (I've also seen several other brand name pistols go down for various reasons.)

I don't see the question as "either-or" but as which best meets my needs. I have no major problems with either and intend to own both. Would this be the right decision for you? Only you can answer that.

It is my intention to keep shooting and learning the Glock. Will it ever find a warm spot in my traditionalist mind? It already has… but it won't replace my Hi Power or 1911.