Browning's Classic Hi-Power 9mm Pistol

Anyone who has read my reviews for more than a few weeks probably knows that I'm a fan of the 1911 Government Model .45ACP pistol. What I've never discussed before is that I'm also a fan of another of John Browning's single-action designs: the Hi-Power. While similarities between the two lead some to believe that one was designed as an improvement upon the other (with a debate on which came first), research shows that the development of each was independent of the other. The Hi-Power was designed by John Browning and patented in 1922. He died in 1926 and full production hadn't yet begun. After Browning's death, a man named Dieudonne Saive, working for FN, fully developed and brought the Hi-Power to production. In fact, Browning had to work around his own patents on the 1911 pistol, because Colt had purchased them. It wasn't until those patents expired in 1928 that Saive was able to incorporate some of the design features into the Hi-Power.

Once all design modifications, changes, upgrades, etc had been complete, the Browning-Saive Grand Rendement ("High Yield" in French--France originally commissioned it) was adopted in 1935 by Belgium's military. Ever since, the Hi-Power has also been known as the P-35 or "Model of 1935." In 1962, the design was modified to include an external extractor--an increase in reliability.

The Browning Hi-Power was the first design to successfully incorporate a double-stack magazine design. This was created by Browning to meet the French requirement for a magazine that held 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition. Although Browning fell short by two rounds (the mags hold 13 rounds), he generated a big step in magazine technology by creating the double stack or staggered column magazine. Contemporary magazines do hold 15 rounds of 9mm and are available commercially on the internet.

One of the things that I don't particularly care for in this pistol design was also put in as one of the original requirements from the French: a magazine disconnect safety. The Browning Hi-Power, without a magazine in place, won't function through pulling the trigger. Not only do I think this is a bad idea in any combat handgun, but by including this design feature the trigger pull was destined to be much harder and rougher than it should have been--especially for a single-action pistol.

The Browning Hi-Power pistols have been used by a wide variety of military and law enforcement units internationally. During WWII, both the Allies and the Axis powers used these pistols. To date over fifty of the world's armies have issued or authorized use of this weapon. Probably one of the best known special operations groups, the British Special Air Service (SAS), have used the Hi-Power. Law enforcement teams that have used it include the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). No less than eight armies of the world still use this pistol, or some version of it, as their issued sidearm today.

So, all that's well and good, but how well does it function and shoot? THAT is the question…

My sample is a couple of decades old, with a blue finish and wood grips. The rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. The magazines I have hold 13 rounds each. The first thing I noticed, after having stripped, inspected and cleaned the gun, was that the magazines DO NOT fall free when you push the mag release button. They fall about 3/8" and then stop, no matter how hard or far you push the mag release button. Of course, being primarily designed for use in Europe, this isn't surprising. Many European armies and law enforcement agencies still train to pull out spent or partially-spent magazines, rather than letting them drop. With partially spent magazines I understand doing that. With a spent magazine, I'm in favor of letting it hit the ground. If it's empty, it's trash in combat situations unless I'm carrying boxes of ammo to reload it with.

Another item of note is that the grip frame is significantly wider-feeling than some other double-stack 9mms. Of course, I AM spoiled for my polymer frame pistols, but an 1/8" could be cut from the width of the Hi-Power with different grips.

A couple of things that I noticed that worried me, but proved of no concern:

  • The feed ramp is NARROW. I didn't think jacketed hollow point ammo would reliably feed. The pistol proved me wrong, though. It fed Federal Hydra-Shok 124g JHP +P+ and Speer Gold Dot JHPs with no issues.
  • The front strap and rounded back strap are both smooth (with the exception of the serial number stamped into the front strap). I thought that once my hands were wet or sweaty I might have some trouble getting a secure grip on the wide-feeling grip. The diamond checkering on the grip panels provided sufficient friction to keep moisture from causing slippage.

One thing I will be changing on the gun...well, two things actually:

  1. I anticipate changing the hammer. While I don't have overlarge or fat hands, I still felt the hammer on every shot. I am going to be seeking out a burr (Commander style) hammer to replace the stock hammer with.
  2. While a fully adjustable rear sight is cool, my usual shooting doesn't require that level of precision; and my usual carry/handle of the weapon has proven to abuse the back sight anyway. I'll be replacing the sights with a set of XS Sights 24/7 Standard Dot sights.

I had no issues with the weapon feeding the UMC ball ammo I had at the range, nor with the Winchester factory ball. As mentioned above, the Federal and Speer JHP ammo I had on hand functioned with no issues. Accuracy was good, with the best group of the day being a 5-shot 1.3-inch group fired from 45 feet--that from the Federal Hydra-Shok ammo.

Unsure of what holsters might be available for the weapon, I had checked in with a gentleman that I consider something of a holster guru. He advised me that most holsters that would fit a Government Model 1911 would fit the Hi-Power. I hadn't known that. Sure enough, the leather pancake holster I have for my 1911 fits the Hi-Power reasonably well. The pistol also fit well in my BlackHawk SERPA Tactical holster, BUT...the end of the retaining pin--an integral part of the slide stop--sticks out far enough to get stuck in the holster. I have examined this issue and am of the opinion that a significant portion of the end of that pin can be milled off. I will be checking with a respected gunsmith and advise further on that.

All in all, I'm quite happy with the pistol. For a weapon designed in the early 1900s, I was surprised to see that the Mark III model has a finger-pin block in addition to the half-cock notch, thumb safety and magazine safety. Like most other pistols today, it also has a disconnect safety--meaning it won't fire unless it's fully in battery (or close to it)--but Browning doesn't advertise that any more than other manufacturers do.

If you get a chance to check one of these weapons out, I highly recommend it. It was pleasant to shoot and sufficiently accurate to be fun.