[FIREARM REVIEW] Oldies But Goodies: The Browning Hi-Power
The Browning Hi-Power has a special appeal for me. The slim, sculpted slide and gracefully curved backstrap look simply great. The grip seems to fit my hand perfectly. The Hi-Power points just where I want it to. The gun has been around since 1935, has served in the armed forces of over 50 countries, and is still commercially available. In a time when polymer framed pistols (Glock, H&K, Springfield XD, S&W, etc.) are all the rage, this all-steel veteran still has what it takes to get the job done on the battlefield or on the city streets. Like the 1911, the Browning Hi-Power is a “classic” design.
Shortly following WWI, the French Army announced a tender for a new service pistol. The pistol was to have a capacity of 10 rounds, weigh no more than one kilo (2.2 lb.), be easy to disassemble and reassemble, and be able to kill a man at a range of 50 meters. This was interpreted to mean a caliber no less than 9 mm, a bullet weight of 8 grams (∼124 grains) with a muzzle velocity of 350 m/sec (∼1124 fps). Fabrique National de Armes de Guerre (FN) in Belgium turned to the legendary John M. Browning to design the new gun. Browning died in 1926 before completing the design. The project was perfected by Dieudonné Saive, the same inventor who later designed the iconic FN-FAL battle rifle, known to many as “the Right Arm of the Free World.” The pistol was first produced in 1934 and adopted as the P35 by the Belgian army in 1935. When the Germans captured the FN factory during WWII, they obtained blueprints and tooling for the P35, and equipped some of their own troops with it. Thus, the Hi-Power served on both sides in WWII.
The Hi-Power was subsequently adopted by over 50 countries. It is still in service with the armies of Canada, Argentina, India and Singapore, and may be found all over Europe, South America, and the Middle East. It has also served with distinction in law enforcement and special forces units, including the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the British SAS, and the US OSS. The Israeli police still carry the Hi Power. This is a weapon that an armed citizen can carry with confidence.
Specifications and Characteristics:
The current Browning catalog lists two models, the Mk III and the Standard. The Standard specs are:
Caliber: 9 mm Parabellum (9×19)
Magazine Capacity: 13
Overall Length: 7-3/4 in.
Sight Radius: 6-1/2 in.
Barrel Length: 4-5/8 in.
Weight: 32 oz.
Construction: All steel, checkered walnut grips.
Sights: Option of fixed or adjustable.
MSRP: $ 1199.00
The Mk III has also been produced in .40 S&W. All Browning commercial Hi-Powers are made in Belgium and assembled in Portugal.
The Hi-Power is a single-action auto-loader which functions like the 1911. There is an exposed hammer and a thumb safety. The holstered pistol should be carried in condition one, with a round in the chamber, hammer at full cock, and the thumb safety engaged. There is no grip safety. As required in the original French Army tender, the Hi-Power has a magazine disconnect safety, which renders the pistol unable to fire if the magazine is removed. The mainspring is very strong, which means that the hammer requires a bit of effort to thumb cock. This is because the gun is designed to function with all types of 9 mm ammo, some of which has very hard primers. Light firing pin hits are never a problem.
The trigger pull tends to be on the heavy side. Different specimens have been measured at anywhere from five to eleven pounds, with the commercial models near the lower end. A competent gunsmith can produce an excellent trigger action, but an ultra-light pull is not in the cards.
Handling is positive and very fast. The pistol balances and points well. Although the grip is wide enough to accommodate a double-stack magazine, the grip angle and trigger reach are conducive to confident handling. The slim, tapered slide allows for a smooth draw and positive reholstering. Carry is comfortable because the pistol is thin and flat. There is a magazine release button on the left side at the rear of the trigger guard and magazines fall free when ejected. Recoil is pretty mild, even with +P ammunition. Recovery for follow-up shots is fast.
The only negative aspect of the design is that some shooters suffer a pinching of the web of their firing hand between the hammer spur and the top of the backstrap. To prevent this, some models of the Hi-Power have a distinctive “ring” hammer. This has an abbreviated spur with a round hole through it.
A Step Forward
The Hi-Power was an advanced design for its time, incorporating many features found in today’s Glocks, SIGs, and other recent designs. The double-column, high-capacity magazine is the most obvious. With a full 13 rounds, it outclassed the 7 or 8 rounds of the 1911, Luger and “broom-handle” Mauser which saw service in WWI. The swinging link locking system of the 1911 was replaced by a cam surface on the full feed ramp which is integral with the barrel. Although the original design shared the internal extractor of the 1911, later versions switched to an external pivoting extractor powered by a small coil spring. The barrel bushing is integral with the front of the slide, as in more modern designs.
Commercial models are extremely reliable with all types of ammunition. The slightly tapered 9 mm round feeds flawlessly over the full feed ramp. If the recoil spring is in good condition, slide return and feeding are snappy and solid. In an older military gun with many rounds through it, replacement of the recoil spring will restore the original excellent performance. Good magazines are essential to reliable functioning with any auto-loading firearm. I recommend the excellent magazines made by MecGar of Italy as equal to the Browning factory magazines. I would not hesitate to use +P ammunition in a modern commercial gun, although some older models made by licensees of Browning may be made of lesser steel. If in doubt, stick to standard pressure ammo.
At one time, the Browning catalog listed several variations of the basic pistol. The “Practical Model” was two-tone, with a matte stainless frame and blued slide. The gun featured an ambidextrous thumb safety and “no-bite” ring hammer. The “Renaissance Grade” featured full coverage scroll engraving. Available in a variety of finishes, there was even a gold plated model. There are also several gunsmiths who will take the basic gun and refine it into a performance product worthy of any professional operator or discriminating civilian. Wayne Novak and Jim Garthwaite are particularly known for their excellent work. The photo below depicts my personal Hi-Power. This gun has a match-grade barrel, improved trigger, beavertail, extended thumb safety, tritium-illuminated fixed sights, hand-matted front and backstraps, and Craig Spegel cocobolo grips. It is a pleasure to carry, very accurate, and has never had a malfunction.
The Browning Hi-Power was a truly innovative design; the first auto-loading pistol with a double-stack, high-capacity magazine. It is an ideal size and weight for the 9 mm cartridge. Although there are newer designs available with features desired by some, none have surpassed the performance of this classic.