Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Makarov! A Gem Worth the Money!

This is not a "range report" on the Makarov. I have a couple of those out there on http://www.pistolsmith.com/ and http://www.1911forum.com/ as well as other sites if interested. This concerns my observations of the little jewel after fair use over a bit several years now.

With other than the 115 and 120-grain JHP loads, these pistols are normally dead-bang reliable and I was truly surprised at the pistol's mechanical or intrinsic accuracy, especially when using the cheap surplus ammo we all buy. Prices are now usually above the $150 - $200 of years past, but you still get one heck of a good pistol. Even with the two loads mentioned above, but a minute's careful attention to the bevel at the lower end of the feed ramp solves their reliability problem, at least in my guns.

I place high regard for things that work and the Makarovs work! For a defensive arm, I'm not as partial to 9x18mm Makarov as other calibers, but I'd much rather have a Makarov that I could count on than a larger caliber handgun that usually was dependable.

For those who may not be familiar with the Mak, what you get is a conventional DA/SA single-stack automatic in the ". 380 +" power range. Its magazine release is at the butt rather than behind the trigger guard and the fixed sights are miniscule. I find them hard to pick up at speed. The magazine holds 8 rounds for a total payload of 9 shots before having to reload. The DA trigger pull on my Bulgarian is smooth, but heavier than on my E. German. Both are very usable "as they come", but could be made better with some work at home if you're into such things or by a gunsmith if you're not. I highly recommend dropping by http://www.makarov.com/ if you're a fan of these little gems or think you might be. One thing I do like about them is that even though they have the slide-mounted, single-side thumb safety, down is for fire and up is for safe, just the opposite of most autos having the safety on the slide. Because the pistol is not large, it is easily manipulated with the thumb for those wanting to carry the pistol with the safety engaged. The thumb safety also acts as a decocker. The pistol weighs 1.7 lbs. and has a barrel length just under 4".

This is an E. German Makarov that is stock. It has not been altered in the least, but does have one of the "CCW magazines" from http://www.makarov.com/ in it. They work great and are inexpensive with high quality. It is shown here with the .380 Bersa Thunder (bottom).

Here's some chronograph data on the 9x18mm fired from the Makarov. The figures listed are based on ten-shot averages about 10' from the chronograph.

9x18mm Makarov Ammunition Average Velocity (ft/sec)

LVE 115-grain JHP 1025
Sellier & Bellot 95-grain FMJ 924
Barnaul 95-grain FMJ 1058
Fiocchi 95-grain FMJ 1020
Corbon 95-grain JHP 1100
Hornady 95-grain XTP 984

Not in the same league as the 1911 with regard to aftermarket parts, they do exist and the Makarov lends itself quite nicely to some upgrades, but I find that some folks simply will not do this even if it's financially feasible for them!

I believe that the pistol is plenty good enough to sink the cost of the gun in upgrades! Let me explain why.

At my age, I have trouble seeing small, military-type fixed sights and the Mak certainly has those. While the plastic grips that come standard on the pistol are fine for concealed carry, I personally like the Pearce rubber ones better as I have large hands. Many will add the grips, but just "get along" with the sights, which while fine in slow, deliberate fire are hard to pick up at speed or see in less than good lighting…at least for me! Some have problems with the DA pull, but rationalize it with something like, "It's OK for the money."

Really? I don't think so. IF the pistol is to be used for self-defense, there's a good chance that the thing will have to be fired double-action for the first shot and with its lesser ballistic payload, placement becomes even more critical than with say a .357 SIG. While I would not have any springs lightened or bent for this effect, I would get as smooth a DA pull on my protection Makarov as I could. While my Bulgarian Makarov has a pretty good DA pull, it's not as smooth as my E. German, but were either just too rough or heavy, I'd gladly invest in my own chances for survival in a lethal force scenario. While it was not necessary on my pistols, better sights were and I went ahead and bought a Wolff conventional 19-lb. recoil spring as I have shot and intend to keep shooting the pistol quite a bit. (These can be found at http://www.gunsprings.com/ and work fine with all the ammo I've tried.)

Shortly after I bought my new Bulgarian, I noticed an ad for what was called the "Beast Conversion Slide" over at the Makarov site mentioned previously. For $150, I'd get a new Bulgarian slide that was fitted with Novak high-visibility fixed sights with the familiar 3-dot arrangement. Even though this cost as much as the pistol, I feel it was well worth it. The pistol has very close POA vs. POI and the slide is nicely finished in a black matte of some sort. While the conversion is no longer available, one can send their slide to the good folks at http://www.makarov.com/ (You CAN trust them) to have the Novak sights added for about the same price. Assuming a fellow did this and then had a gunsmith do a trigger job and perhaps added Pearce grips, I'd reckon, he'd cough up about $250 to $275, well over what he paid for the

This is my Bulgarian Makarov fitted with the Novak sights via the no-longer-available "Beast Slide". It makes sight acquisition at speed much easier.

"I would never be able to get my money back out of the gun with that kind of money in it."

So what? If you're not planning on selling the pistol, you won't anyway, but consider this: With Makarovs getting harder and harder to find, prices continue to rise. Who can say that in a few
years, another shooter might not be willing to pay your price if you decided to sell? A collector wouldn't, but a shooter just might.

I personally would do it even if I knew I could never get my money back out of it as I do not intend to part with my Makarovs. They're built like tanks and should last through many thousands of rounds and you can afford to feed them with the inexpensive ammo we can now get. In centerfires, 9x19mm and 9x18mm Makarov are probably the least expensive calibers available in many loadings. In a gun that I intend to shoot lots, I want it to suit me and the Mak is worth shooting in my opinion.

"For that kind of money, I could get a CZ-83 and a couple of spare magazines and maybe some .380 ammo."

That's true and you'd be getting a very fine pistol and one that's capable of cocked and locked carry, if desired. It would have the magazine release behind the trigger guard and would have at least a 10-round magazine, but it is a larger pistol and .380 ACP costs more on average than 9x18mm Mak. Either is a fine choice in the larger pistols for these calibers and you might just be able to find one of the CZ's in 9x18mm Mak, but if you really like the feel of the Makarov pistol and it won't be too hard financially, I'd get it fixed up to suit me and allow more effective use of the gun. Spare parts and extra magazines will be much less costly than for any other centerfire pistol…including the CZ.

The fact that the Makarov is initially inexpensive does not mean that it doesn't make a fine "base gun" upon which to do some specific refining. It's a good gun as it comes, but can be a great gun with a minor investment in money and time.

These things beg to be shot, so why not have yours where you can really squeeze out its potential and maybe enjoy it even more? It might also be very good in the event that you are in "the dark place" and need to be able to get the hits.