Saturday, September 27, 2008
For over three decades I've been shooting 9mm Hi Powers quite a bit. Parts breakage has been limited but can occur to be sure. Based on what I've seen break, here is what I suggest having spares of the following:
Firing Pin Retaining Plates: (If these crack, it is usually at the 7 o' clock position when looking at the plate from the rear.)
Extractors and extractor springs: (The Hi Power requires a strong extractor spring. Usually when I've seen one with extraction problems, simply replacing the spring has solved the problem. I prefer the extra-strength extractor springs from Wolff.)
Firing Pins: (I've not had these break but do have a couple on hand should that occur.)
Recoil Springs: Changing these out is essential in Hi Powers that are shot very much. I change mine about every 2K to 2500 shots. The Hi Powers I've seen that had damaged, rounded lugs always had extremely weak recoil springs.
Ejector: (I have not seen any of these break, but if one should, it would be nice to have a spare.)
Grip Screws: These can be lost or damaged.
Spare Roll Pins: for extractor and sear lever (If you have a Hi Power having the factory extended ambidextrous thumb safety, you might want a spare roll pin or two for it, too.)
In my opinion, one cannot have too many magazines and springs as well. I try and have plenty for any semiautomatic I own. I consider 5 or 6 the barest of minimums. Having said that, I suggest strongly obtaining only quality magazines. My first choice remains Mec-Gar 13-shot 9mm magazines, be they marked "Browning" or their real maker's name.
Though breakage has been pretty darned rare, these are the parts I'd have on hand. Once these are acquired, it doesn't hurt a thing to pick up other parts just in case of the very rare possibility that something not stressed gives up the ghost, so to speak.
Here we go...
The Mk III and the Practical share many basic features. I sort of consider the Mk III to be the "base gun" for this newest version of the Hi Power.
The majority of Mk III pistols have the internal firing pin safety. I am not aware of any Practicals that do not. The Practical and the Mk III use the same factory barrels and both have the magazine disconnect. Both have been manufactured in 9x19mm and .40 S&W but I have not seen the Mk III offered with adjustable sights. The Practical has been.
The Mk III usually comes with black, checkered nylon grips having thumb rests. The Practical's I've seen and shot came with checkered, rubber Pachmayr wrap-around grips and backstraps. Most of the Mk III pistols I've seen had the traditional FN ring hammer but not all; I've seen a couple with spur hammers like the Mk III. I have not yet seen a ring hammer on either a Mk III or the Standard from the factory. (The Standard is a Mk III sporting a bright blue finish and checkered walnut stocks. I have seen this model in both fixed and ajustable sight versions.)
Neither model has proven itself more accurate model nor can one be expected to always have a better trigger pull, at least not in my experiences with these guns. In other words, I do not see more handfitting, accurizing, etc. in one over the other. Both have the straight feed ramp and almost always handle about any JHP the shooter might use. Such could not always be said for the Pre-Mk II "classic" style Hi Power.
This shooter's Hi Power came with the ring hammer and everything but the slide, barrel and extractor have been hard chromed. It has the internal firing pin safety along with the magazine disconnect. Though not visible, this one sports the usual Pachmayr grips. Obviously, the hard chromed frame is the most visible difference between the Practical and the Mk III. This one is factory stock with no changes.The fixed sight version of the Practical has a more sloping non-serrated, ramp front sight than does the Mk III with its semi-post front. Fixed rear sights are the same on either.
Some runs of Mk III 9mm pistols have been with lanyard rings. I have not seen any Practicals with them.
Both the Mk III and the Practical have the "matte finish" on the slide. (This is a baked-on, black epoxy over parkerized steel.) The Practical has a hard chromed frame. The Mk III's frame has the previously described matte finish. I have seen some Practicals having the usual ambidextrous thumb safety levers hard chromed while they are not on other runs. Ditto, the triggers and slide releases.
I do not see either as having an advantage over the other in terms of reliability or mechanical accuracy. I think that the primary determinant for most shooters is which he finds more appealing be that due to looks or hammer style. The ring hammer is more visually appealing to many it seems, but it can also be more prone to bite a shooter's hand than the spur version, though both certainly can.
Checking around at both FN and Browning's sites, I do not see the Practical listed and have heard that this version is no longer being produced. I do not know if that's true or not. If it is true, I have no idea if it is permanent or not.
This 9mm Mk III has been lightly modified. Sights remain unaltered. Note the gun's semi-post front sight compared to the more sloping one on the Practical. I bobbed and recontoured the spur hammer on this one and had the gun blued and also removed the right-side thumb safety lever as they get in my way. It is wearing Spegel checkered delrin grips. Though slightly altered, one can see the differences between this lightly-modified Mk III and the Practical.
Speaking only for myself, my preference remains the Mk III. The reason is that the ring hammer definitely bites me more. I prefer the semi-post front sight on this version of the gun and can find it for less money. Other folks may feel just the opposite.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Initially, most are probably happy with their decision…until they get to the range!
After the initial first full-power shot, many think "God Almighty! Did it explode?"and gone is the rationale of the "inherently reliable revolver" or compactness combined with a relatively potent round being a good thing.
Let's take a closer look at some mid-power loads offered in the .357 Magnum, see what they offer and what they do not, and understand why they came to exist. Let's take a look at what they are actually meant to do.
The first .357 Magnum revolvers were from S&W. The "357 Magnum" N-frame became the Model 27, a "Cadillac" of the company's line. Later, plainer versions of the revolver were made for law enforcement or citizens wanting the power of the magnum round but in a less costly handgun. Shown is a Model 28 "Highway Patrolman". These served the Texas Department of Public Safety and others well for decades. Like the Model 27, the Model 28 is built on the S&W large & heavy N-frame. Back in the 1930's, some of the old literature actually says that gloves are necessary to protect from the heavy recoil! Full-power loads from the N-frames, particularly in years past, were noticeable but not unmanageable. In today's super compact and lightweight revolvers, those same loads might seem like holding an exploding hand grenade with regard to felt recoil.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and we find the .357 Magnum being chambered in the medium-size S&W K-frame such as this Model 19 Combat Magnum. Recoil goes up as the weight and size of the revolver goes down, but the gun was much easier to carry and became immensely popular among lawmen of the era. These revolvers are still very popular with shooters today. Before long, the Model 19 was offered in the common 2 1/2" bbl for concealed carry by detectives and others wanting a more compact magnum revolver.
Much more recently, S&W has come to offer revolvers chambered for this magnum cartridge in their small J-frame revolvers. Once the province of the .32, .38 S&W and others, and the .38 Special, the J-frame in .357 Magnum has become a most popular choice among serious concealed carry revolver toters. Improvement in metallurgy and alloy combinations have allowed the gun to be made in relatively heavy for size steel guns as well as very, very light ones.
Ruger (and others) also began offering compact .357 Magnum revolvers. Shown is Ruger's 3 1/16" bbl SP101 stainless steel revolver. This compact but relatively heavy revolver is also offered in a 2 1/4" bbl. For a small belt gun, the use of a good belt and holster negate its weight "disadvantage" to me and I appreciate its recoil dampening when shooting the little thing. There was only one thing wrong with the small three-fifty-sevens: the ammo. One could either shoot the full-power magnums suffering the consequences of stout recoil, extreme muzzle blast and flash, or go to the .38 Special, usually in +P form. This seems particularly true with the really lightweight magnum revolvers.
Finally, the ammunition makers came to the rescue. They began offering ammunition specifically intended for the compact guns.
There is only one problem…
None of these are full-power loads so these magnum rounds are "magnums" in name only.
But, is that necessarily bad?
Let's take a close look at this aspect of defensive .357 Magnum ammunition. Will it do the job? What does it offer and what does it take off the table for the defensive shooter?
Thirty years ago the clarion call was for ammunition that actually expanded. The "adequate penetration" concern was mentioned now and again, but my recollection was not so often as today. Foot-pounds of kinetic energy was almost always discussed while today it is considered moot by many of the serious researchers and a round's KE is discussed less frequently…if at all.
The gun scribes usually touted King of the Hill in 357 as any maker's "125-grain jacketed hollow point". Usually the Remington 125-gr. SJHP or Federal's 125-gr. JHP was recommended as potent medicine for bad guys. Incidents I'm personally aware of as well as others I've only read about indicated that this full-power load usually had what it took to deck a felonious opponent.
At that time, these loads were normally rated at about 1450 ft/sec. When shooting an N-frame, you knew that you'd fired a gun, but I never found full-power 357 loads punishing at all in the large frame magnum. In the medium K-frame, recoil was still manageable but sharper. The L-frame 357's I've shot feel about like the N-frames to me…but felt recoil is subjective.
Put any of these full-power loads in a J-frame S&W, small-frame Taurus, or Ruger SP101 and most of will agree that felt recoil is more substantial than in the larger frame revolvers. This is hardly surprising but should a fellow suffer the harder-kicking rounds and slower recovery times or go all the way "down" to the hotter loads in 38 Special?
Currently, Remington, Corbon and Speer offer newer technology bullets loaded to lower velocities than the true magnums. I've seen some refer to it as "357 Minimum" but think a better term might be "357 Medium". To counter these loads' lower velocities, the bullets are engineered for optimum performance at these speeds.
In decades past, ammo makers used the same traditional JHP bullets in both their .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads. That usually meant that if a bullet expanded and held together in the 357 version, it would probably offer marginal expansion at 38 velocities. Likewise, a bullet that expanded rapidly in .38 Special might very well offer very little bullet integrity at higher magnum speeds.
While Corbon uses not only different DPX bullet designs in their 38 and 357 loads, the bullet weights differ as well. The 38 weighs in at 110-grains while the 357 DPX weighs 15 grains more. Remington's 125-gr. Golden Saber bullet appears to be used in both the 357 and its parent cartridge. Ditto Speer's excellent 135-gr. Gold Dot.
The difference is that the bullet's operating envelope has been tailored for maximum performance at lower than throttle-to-the-firewall velocities. They work at both mid-range magnum speeds as well as those for the .38 Special. These newer bullet designs usually penetrate deeper than older conventional JHP's in the same weight.
Expanding bullets have an operating velocity envelope; below it expansion doesn't occur but get too much above it and expansion characteristics can be quite different than expected. The homogeneous copper alloy DPX bullet is tough to get to fragment and a higher impact velocity usually means more penetration. The same thing is true of the Gold Dot. Its jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core and separation is very rare with this round. I have seen expanded bullets cranked up in handloads that resulted in the bullet nearly turning inside out, but the jacket remained with the core and their was very little weight loss. The Golden Saber's harder gilding metal jacket can separate from the lead core, but I've seen this more with expansion testing in water than on animals I've shot with the Golden Saber in various calibers. It has happened but in the few cases I've seen it, the jacket was within a couple of inches of the expanded lead bullet. I don't consider it a major issue though I'll concede that others definitely do.
In my opinion, the mid-power magnums serve a useful purpose in the small revolvers. For those limited to the use of one-hand or who are very sensitive to recoil, they might very well be a good choice in larger guns as well. For the shooter concerned with split times using full-power loads, these might be just the cat's meow. They are going to be loud inside a structure but so is any handgun cartridge. To my subjective ear, the mid-power magnums are similar to 9mm's on the range and definitely not so loud as the full-power magnums.
The three mid-power loads mentioned all use flash-retardant powders, something that is considered de rigor for modern defense loads and they use excellent bullets. Powders are optimized for substantial velocity in shorter barrels. Bullets are designed to penetrate at least 12" of 10% ballistic gelatin when firing from the compact revolvers. In the past a man wanting maximum performance from the 357 usually went with the longest barrel compatible to his needs. Today, some express concerns over using Speer's 135-gr. 38 +P and 357 in other than shorter barrels! (This is something I intend to look into further.)
The ammunition manufacturers have done yeoman's service with the R&D performed to come up with the mid-range magnum.
But are they "as good" as the full-power .357 Magnum? Are they as "powerful"?
I have generally found them to be plenty accurate, sometimes surprisingly so. I have not yet found these to be shallow penetrators. I have found them to expand reliably in "soft targets" and considerably easier to shoot in the small 357 revolver. To me, all of these things are "good". Penetration is deep enough that most defense-oriented shooters would find it acceptable.
But, I do not believe that they are as "powerful" as full-velocity .357's.
For example, from a 3 1/16" Ruger SP101, Remington's 125-gr. Golden Saber averages 1189 ft/sec while Corbon's 125-gr. DPX gets 1176 ft/sec. The full-power Winchester 145-gr. Silvertip averaged 1207 ft/sec but with 20-gr. more bullet weight (albeit an "old technology" slug). The velocities of these three are in the same ballistic ballpark, but to me "felt recoil" was significantly greater with the Silvertip. When I used a timer to measure split times (time between shots), I was as much as a half-second slower with the full-power STHP than either of the other two. This means little if hunting critters but could mean lots if facing multiple attackers or even a single determined one in a fight. The full-power Remington 125-gr. SJHP usually touted at 1450 ft/sec averaged 1293 ft/sec from the SP101, but to me its recoil is very sharp. Federal 125-gr. JHP got an average velocity of 1301 ft/sec and the trade off for it was sharp felt recoil as with the Remington and Winchester loads.
Shown is a 15-yard group from an S&W 2 1/2" Model 19. It was fired with Corbon's 125-gr. 357 DPX load and is certainly plenty accurate for most purposes. Likewise, I have found the Remington Golden Saber and Speer Gold Dot capable of tight groups as well. (The expanded bullet was fired into water from the Model 19 snub.)
The mid-power loads offer very good expansion that seems reliable. They offer penetration in line with the much touted FBI ballistic protocols and dependable accuracy in my experience.
Speaking only for myself, I believe that the mid-power magnums are the rounds of choice in the small or light 357 revolver.
Technology and hard work from the ammo designers has provided us with some loads that perform as close to perfect as anything in this power range. They have tried to give us maximum performance for considerably less recoil, but there's only so much that can be done. Newton's laws of physics are still valid and for more powerful loads, there is a price to be paid: recoil. Part of this is also due to the heavier powder charges required for these. This adds to felt recoil as well but is seldom mentioned.
The mid-power loads offer adequate penetration and expansion for self-protection in my view. It is unlikely that they offer as large a temporary cavity as full-load magnums but many researchers consider this a non-issue, a non-contributor to "stopping power." For me, the jury is still out on that one but I do believe that it contributes something. I just don't know how much and neither does anyone else from what I can find.
I believe that the mid-range magnums serve a very useful role. At the same time I do not believe that they are as potent as full-power loads like Winchester's 145-gr. STHP, but in my mind there is something more to a "good defense load" than just power. I am sure those most have read the advice to "Choose the most powerful caliber that you can handle." This is not bad information and many can handle the .357 Magnum…in the larger revolvers, but may not handle it so well in the little ones. Some say that this doesn't really matter at "self-defense ranges", the assumption being that we're speaking of distances of but a few feet or even arm's length. True enough I guess if the first shot does the trick and there is but one assailant, but maybe not if facing a dude on PCP or a couple of armed hyped-up freaks assaulting you. I believe this to be even more possible if we're being forced to fire with but one hand.
Mid-power 357 loads may offer less power than full-throttle loads but more "shootability" for many shooters while still delivering respectable incapacitation capability. Less recoil might translate into more accuracy and I still believe that placement is power. With the first round from the small revolver, be it a hard-kicking full-power 357 or less-recoiling mid-range magnum, the shooter may very well "stop" his target but he gains little if a second aggressor receives a less accurate hit requiring longer to deliver.
Though not as important as surviving a deadly encounter, there is another reason that I like the mid-power magnums from any of the three companies previously mentioned. They're not as hard on the guns as are the full-charge loads. The K-frame S&W Model 19 is a most favored revolver amongst many wheelgun fanciers, but new replacement barrels from the company are no longer available. Though I find them easy enough to use with full-power loads, I find myself shooting them with reduced power handloads or the mid-range factory loads if other than range work or hunting is the goal. Admittedly, it is not likely that a fellow will damage his K-frame with full-power 357's. I've only seen a couple of cracked forcing cones in heavily-shot K-frame 357's in three decades, but wouldn't it be the pits if it happened to your gun?
In the larger L and N-frames, cracked forcing cones are not an issue with any sane loads. The same is holding true for Ruger's line of GP revolvers. In my opinion, full-power loads can be nicely handled in these guns and I will not argue one wit with folks opting to use them for defense. At the same time, I'll wager that they can do quicker accurate shooting with the mid-power loads in these heavy steel revolvers.
Here are three of the contenders for 357 mid-power carry loads. Left to right: Speer 135-gr. Gold Dot "Short Barrel", Corbon 125-gr. DPX, and Remington 125-gr. Golden Saber. In the short-barreled 357, the mid-power load offers very good bullet performance and controllability. While these loads may not be the most "powerful" for caliber, their performance is optimized by design for use in these guns.
If a person is determined that the best 357 snub load for them remains a full-power one, I'll not argue too loudly. The choice of "best" self-protection ammunition will always remain that of the individual, at least to me. I have found that while I do appreciate all the power that can be had in this round, my performance against the clock is better with the mid-power loads.
With the smaller 357 revolvers I find that for me, less can indeed be more in terms of overall performance.
If you carry a smaller .357 Magnum revolver for self-protection, the mid-range loads might very well be worth a look.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Introduced in 1982, the Mk II was offered in but one caliber that I'm aware of, 9mm. It sported ambidextrous, extended thumb safeties and the classic Hi Power's checkered Walnut stocks were replaced with black, checkered nylon stocks with thumb rests. The magazine safety came along unchanged. The gun had a spur hammer and some were offered with lanyard rings. Frames were forged and at least in early runs of the gun, there was no internal firing pin safety. Some of the Mk II Hi Powers eventually did get the device as I've seen and shot Mk II's so equipped. The mainspring was the same 32-lbs that it is in current Mk III pistols and the recoil spring remained at 17-lbs, the factory standard. There is a small hole in the front of the slide, under the barrel and about where the center of the end of the recoil spring would be. Presumably this is to allow water to drain from a previously submerged pistol, something not uncommon to military handguns. The non-removable bushing extends out slightly more than on Mk III pistols. Classic Hi Powers made from the mid-70's until the Mk II was introduced did as well.
Perhaps the most noticeable change was the full-length rib on top of the slide. It is narrow and integral to the slide. The front sight is part of the rib and not removable. The rear sight is dovetailed in place and has a relatively wide notch for sight pictures in less than ideal light. These sights are usable at speed and most opine that they're an improvement over the classic Hi Power's fixed sights.
Until the introduction of the Mk II Hi Powers, the gun had been known to be picky in feeding some JHP rounds. The humped feed ramp was gone and replaced with a "throated" one similarly to what gunsmiths were doing here in the US to make Hi Powers feed reliable with other than ball. It's been my experience with several Mk II Hi Powers that they'll feed about any JHP of standard overall length or even close to it.
I am aware of no adjustable sighted versions of the Mk II nor any caliber other than 9x19mm.
FN manufactured the Mk II through 1987 are sometime near that. FN's records are more like "suggestions" rather than being as "exact" as other makers. It is possible that some variations of the Mk II exist, as its maker has been known to offer non-cataloged items to buyers having the interest and buying volume.
The Mk III Hi Power made its debut in 1988. It retained the extended, ambidextrous thumb safeties seen on the Mk II, but the barrel bushing was nearly flush with the front of the slide. Though it makes no practical difference, I like the looks of that better than the extended one. Gone was the full-length rib on the slide and both the front and rear sights are dovetailed to the slide. The hammer was the same spur type as on the '70's vintage Hi Powers as well as the Mk II. Oh, yes, we got to keep the damned magazine "safety" as well. Stocks were identical to the Mk II's. Mainsprings and recoil springs remained unchanged, but the hole in the front of the slide was not there on the Mk III. The lower rear of the ejection port is beefed up while the entire port is somewhat more "squared off" and similar to that of the 1911. Personally, I like not only the increased strength at the rear of the ejection port, but also think the Mk III pistol's ejection port change makes the gun look better.
Some Mk III pistols come with the lanyard ring, but most that I've seen do not. Finish will be either bright, polished blue covering the entire gun and is referred to as the "Standard." It costs more than the most often seen "Matte" finish, which is a baked-on epoxy finish over parkerizing and is corrosion proof. However, only the slide, sights, and frame have this finish. All other external parts do not.
Early production Mk III Hi Power's were produced with the traditional forged frame. It's my understanding that when FN tested the forty-caliber version of the Mk III the frame rails would warp or break at around 2500 rounds. For this reason, FN began manufacturing quality cast frames, which are harder. This solved the problem and allowed for the forged slides to be heat-treated a bit harder as well. The frames on the 9mm and .40 Hi Power's are the same and soon all Hi Powers were produced with the cast frame, probably to reduce manufacturing costs.
For those interested, how to easily spot a cast or forged frame pistol is here:
Though not commonly seen in the US, some Mk III pistols do not have the internal firing pin safety. However, the odds are that if you see or buy one, it will. While I don't think the device is necessary, I've encountered no problems because of it. There have been some reports of the slide cracking between the cutout in the slide for the firing pin safety's "paddle" to go through and block the pin, but this appears to be extremely isolated. Never the less, I'd prefer it if this device were not in the pistol.
More information on the internal firing pin safety and how to tell if your pistol has it, is here:
The Mk III is available in 9mm and .40 S&W. The frames are the same but the slide is slightly thicker on the forty-caliber version and it uses a 20-lb recoil spring rather than the 9mm's 17-lb. The mainsprings are the same. Mk III pistols in either caliber come with spur hammers.
There are other versions of the Mk III pistol beside the Standard. They are the Practical and the tangent-sighted Capitan.
It's my observation that the biggest controversy over the Mk III is the cast frame. Some detractors refer to this as "pot metal" or "cast iron" and roll their eyes while wringing shaking hands while saying that "quality" is gone from the Hi Power.
I shoot the Hi Power quite a lot and have done so long-term, as in 3 decades. I do believe that the earlier forged frame pistols had a "look" that is not matched, but I also believe that the cast frame pistols do hold up better for those shooting large amounts of hot-loaded 9mm in either handloaded form or +P. There is no choice for those choosing the forty-caliber. The forged frame pistols I own have not proven fragile by any means and I continue to shoot them, but prefer to pretty much stick with standard pressure loads.