Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Can the Browning Hi Power Still Make the Cut?

I read and responded to a firearm forum post in which a fellow was concerned about an upcoming IDPA match. It seems that he expected I to be more of a challenge than a previous one and he noted that he would probably be the only Hi Power shooter amongst folks using Glocks, XD’s, S&W’s and other handguns. At one point he wrote, “Hope I’m up to it”. He then expressed concern about the Hi Power being rated at No. 9 in the latest American Rifleman’s article, “Top Ten Handguns of All Time”, in which the 1911 got first billing, Gaston Glock’s creation claimed third place with the Browning/Saive Hi Power way back in 9th place.

At the time he posted, the match was still several days away and he sought advice on whether or not to trade his Hi Powers for some Glocks and practice with them before the match.

My response was, “The gun will do its part if you do yours, assuming that the Hi Power is in good working order. They've been in tight spots all over the globe for decades. If you think you'd prefer Glocks, get them, but I wouldn't make any decisions based on a magazine article.” I believe my answer, though short is true and to the point, but also thought I might elaborate on why I believe it to be so, even though the original poster later advised his post was “tongue-in-cheek” and that he had no intentions of trading his Hi Power for Glocks or any other pistols.

Here is a Norinco 1911 that was “home-tinkered” and has made comfortable and reliable shooter for not much additional money. The only things done by the gunsmith were to fit the fixed sights and reblue the slide. Though not “match accurate”, this one shoots 3” or so @ 25 yards with most loads. This one is toward the lower end of the 1911 “cost envelope” but provides loads of fun and has proven itself capable of self-protection duties if necessary. I do not expect to see the 1911 fade from the scene for decades.

The 1911 is the longest-serving military pistol to date unless I’m sorely mistaken. Though no longer our military’s standard -issue sidearm, it is still used by some military units having a choice. It has held top billing as a competition gun in both formal bullseye shooting as well as the more practical types of defense-oriented shooting sports. Fans are legion and ‘smiths with the skills of artisans can make this long-lived design a thing of true beauty capable of both extreme reliability and superb accuracy. Some police agencies do allow this design to be carried by both plainclothes and uniformed personnel, though those doing so are (sadly) a distinct minority. In my view, the fault is not the 1911’s; it is bureaucracies of the uninformed caving into baseless complaints based on perceptions of unsafe carry or looking “too aggressive” rather than facts based on decades of carry. Combine an unsafe officer’s handling and the resultant negligent discharge and the first move is usually to no longer allow the cocked-and-locked 1911 for that agency’s use. I believe that it is true that the 1911 doesn’t suffer foolish handling well but the ease with which it can be shot depends on both safeties being disengaged and someone’s finger on the trigger when it shouldn’t have been. (There are plenty of Glock mishaps as well but the Glock remains a very popular duty gun with many law enforcement agencies. It, too, isn’t all that tolerant of safety violations but it has no exposed, cocked hammer to frighten the masses.)

1911’s come in price ranges from but a few hundred bucks to as much as one can afford to spend. We can usually find one that fits our budget and have a myriad of parts from which to choose if personalizing our pistol. With 1911 manufacturers in fierce competition with this high-volume seller, some do get out that don’t run reliably. In my view, this is due primarily to subcontracted parts being out of spec as well as sometimes just missing a lemon due to the sheer numbers being produced as quickly as possible to meet market demand.

This Glock 34 is popular with both competitors and some police tactical teams. If a person favors this design over either the Hi Power or the 1911, I suggest that they learn its manual of arms and do their utmost to excel with it. Learn its strong points but never turn a blind eye to any design’s weaker points. Any handgun design excels in some areas but not in others. That includes them all in my view.

One of the Glock’s major strong points in my view is its reliability. Were I told that I had to use an untested autoloader straight from the box, I’d choose either a Glock or a Hi Power; I’ve had near 100% reliability with both, usually from the first shot on!

Mr. Glock’s line of pistols has proven the precursor to today’s glut of polymer-framed pistols. Lighter weight and lower manufacturing costs go hand-in-hand with the Glock’s design as well as the pistols it spawned. Add in its usual extreme reliability and at least adequate service accuracy, and we have the ingredients for an extremely popular and quick-selling handgun to be sure. The Glock’s appearance on the US police scene when most were transitioning to the “Wonder Nines” of the day couldn’t have been better for the Austrian firm and I am not convinced that the Glock didn’t help hasten it! Many law enforcement agencies as well as military users chose the Glock pistol and the “acceptance barriers” broken by the company paved the way for a myriad of “plastic pistols” to follow.

The Hi Power being either 9mm or .40 (but NOT a .45) simply has not got the following of the 1911 amongst more “traditional” shooters nor the light weight or quite as high of magazine-capacity as many of the newer designs with more “contemporary” pistoleros. Its usually less-than-stellar trigger-pull doesn’t endear it to the 1911 fans and its high price doesn’t attract folks comparing it to that of the Glock, XD, etc. Police administrators not happy with the 1911’s Condition One Carry are less enthralled with the Hi Power since it (“Gasp!”) has no grip safety!

That the Hi Power is usually not accurized to the same levels as some 1911’s does not mean that it is not already more than accurate enough for the vast majority of tasks it will be called upon to perform. Though the FN Competition Model as well as Hi Powers fitted with oversized match-grade barrels can certainly shrink group-size, the average 9mm Hi Power will usually shoot into about 3” or less at 25-yards with ammunition the gun “likes”. To me, this is quite acceptable for a pistol designed and intended as a service arm, not a formal bullseye pistol.

Claims of its being reliable only with ball are outdated to the tune of over two decades; the Mk II, which hit the scene in the ‘80’s, came from the factory without the old “humped” feed ramp that did cause some problems with the older Hi Powers. From the Mk II pistols right on through today’s Mk III Hi Powers, feeding is reliable in the extreme with FMJ and almost any and all JHP’s.

I submit that the Hi Power’s out-of-the-box trigger-pull remains the pistol’s major distraction, especially when considering today’s prices for a new Hi Power…when one can be found! For this kind of money, I think that the buyer should rightfully expect a lighter, crisper trigger-pull than we usually see on this design. For those enchanted with the Hi Power and willing to spend the money, Hi Power specialists can provide very useable triggers in the 4 to 5-lb. range with or without the magazine disconnect in place.

The Hi Power’s 13-round 9mm or 10-round .40 magazines do not hold as many cartridges as do some later autoloaders but for real world use, I hardly think that either is deficient! I continue to believe that if we cannot end the close-in and immediate threat with our first few shots, we will be beyond caring. In other words, I believe that we still run out of time before ammunition. The highest-capacity 9mm magazine for the Hi Power that is reliable and that I am aware of holds twenty rounds. This is over ten rounds shy of the Glock 18’s magazine sometimes used by Glock 17 and 19 fans. This really doesn’t concern me but if it does you, maybe the Glock would be the better choice. Each of us needs to go with what we believe we need and what we have faith in…at least to a degree.

The Hi Power is not going to be the favorite of the majority. At least I’ve not seen it in my near 4-decades of using them. The law enforcement agency I worked for allowed Hi Powers for duty use and as a police firearm instructor, I saw Hi Powers on the firing-lines next to Glocks, SIG-Sauer pistols, S&W’s, Berettas and others. The determining factor on who shot best, passed or failed was never determined by the particular pistol, but rather the shooter.

Can the Hi Power still tow the mark? I think so. It has for decades in both public and private bloodlettings all over the globe, in varied climates by “good” and “bad” guys alike.

This is my old “Duty Hi Power”. After retirement, I had it reblued as much had been worn away. It now sports Novak fixed sights and a C&S hammer and sear. The right-side thumb safety lever has been removed and the shaft rounded off. This pistol’s magazine disconnect has been removed. It has proven reliable in the extreme with both FMJ and expanding rounds. It is heavier than the Glock, but I shoot it better as well. It is the pistol I chose to protect my life should push come to very hard shove in police service. Other, more modern designs were available but I chose what I shot best and had faith in.

The Hi Power’s fans will probably remain with it, at least for the foreseeable future for to us, no other single-action auto has that “special feel” to it. They fit our hands as though extensions of our bodies and many of us find the things works of art. In short, we’re pretty well wed to the design.

But does that mean that everyone has to be?

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding, “No.” align="justify">

If the Hi Power just isn’t your “cup of tea” or you simply trust another design more and shoot it better, go with it, but do so for real reasons and not just what was read in a magazine article. That you just “want” to is good enough in my opinion…not that anyone’s decisions have to meet my OK. I only suggest that we make this decision based on other than what we read in a magazine article on pistol popularity.

Choosing a particular action-type, caliber or firearm make are choices all shooters have to make. None are usually cost-free! I suggest that we try and honestly evaluate what we want and why and be able to articulate it to ourselves. If we cannot be either honest with ourselves or put forth a convincing argument, we’re almost certain to suffer “buyer’s remorse”, a malady suffered by most of us…on a repeated basis!

I know that I’ve had a dose (or ten) of it and always for not thinking my decisions through.

I hope that you do better than I did.