The Defensive Makarov Revisited...

Renown Browning Hi Power Expert - Stephen A. Camp

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The Defensive Makarov Revisited...

Postby Stephen A. Camp » Wed Aug 13, 2008 12:41 pm

Hello. A good while back I penned out a thing called "A Case FOR the Defensive Makarov" and after receiving several queries concerning how "appropriate" the 9x18mm Makarov is as a defensive arm, I decided that a follow-up piece might be of service.

My perception of why the Makarov remains so popular with many shooters is that the little things have a second-to-none reputation for reliability and didn't cost the proverbial "arm and a leg", yet one got a quality firearm for this lesser tariff. When the rest of the shooting community (finally) learned that these little shooters could also actually group nicely and with many of the then inexpensive foreign ammo, the rush was on. (Sadly, I fall into the latter group, foolishly waiting until about the end of the rush to get my Makarovs.)

In my initial shooting of the little guns, I found the claims on reliability, quality-vs.-cost, and built-in mechanical accuracy to be true.

Still, like the .380 ACP, I never could really get all that enthusiastic about the 9x18mm Makarov cartridge as a self-protection round; maybe it was just too many years of .45's, hot-loaded 9x19's, .357's and other more powerful rounds. Yet, I found myself not willing to sell any Makarov and just enjoying the fire out of shooting them.

For me, they remain as addictive as homemade sin, but as "fun guns" primarily; any sort of "serious" theme remains secondary. At the same time, I believe that "placement is power" and have said so on more than a few ocassions. Thus, it appears to me that IF you feel comfortable with the 9mm Mak's ballistics coupled with a willingness to shoot if necessary and accurately at speed, the gun might very well make a viable "carry gun" for self-defense.

Rather than sit here and try to pontificate on any handgun caliber's "worthiness" in the self-defense arena, I thought that I'd run a few tests, present my findings and let the reader make his or her decision. I will interject my own observations here and there but will try and be as objective as possible on what seems for many to be a most subjective and emotional topic.

Firearms: Today I used a Bulgarian Makarov for most shooting drills. It was used with its factory slide and fixed sights as well as with the now discontinued "Beast" slide, which is a new Bulgarian slide nicely fitted with Novak fixed sights.

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This Bulgarian Makarov was used for most of the shooting today. In the past I've shot it usually with the very comfortable Pearce grips. Today, I used thin factory plastic grips as most folks buy their Makarovs wearing them and I could compare to the Pearce grips being worn by the Russian-made gun. (To me, the Pearce grips are more comfortable but a tad harder to conceal due to their extra thickness. Some folks complain of "stickiness" with rubber grips to outer garments like shirts. I suspect this will depend upon both the maker of the grip and the particular shirt material, but do not know this for a fact.)

Some shooting was done with the Beast slide conversion on a commecial Russian frame wearing Pearce grips.

Shooting: Distances in these tests were 5, 15 and 25 yards. The "quick-and-dirty" practical-type drills were done starting from a low-ready position and timed with a Pact Club Timer III. A two-hand hold was used and each drill began with the pistol in the double-action mode as this is how it is meant to be carried. I did not have the safety engaged. The shots fired for group were done at 15 and 25 yards from a seated position and in slow-fire; no effort was made at speed. They were fired single-action only with my wrists braced.

Ammunition:

Barnaul 95-gr. JHP
Wolf 100-gr. FMJ
Silver Bear 115-gr. JHP
Brown Bear 115-gr. JHP

15 Yards:

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This was admittedly the best 5-shot group of the day at this distance, but in my two guns, the Barnaul consistently grouped better than the Wolf ammunition. This group is probably as much luck as any skill.

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This was the best group I could get with Wolff 100-gr. FMJ at 15 yards. Like the group in the previous picture, this one was done using the Russian frame/bbl and Beast slide. POA in both was the center of the bullseye.

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Using the Bulgarian, this group was fired with the heavy-for-caliber 115-gr. JHP as loaded in Silver Bear ammunition.

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Brown Bear's 115-gr. JHP grouped equivalently to the Silver in my opinion. POA using the Bulgarian and this ammunition was 6 O' Clock on the bullseye.

25 Yards:

Though many don't shoot their Makarovs at this distance, I thought I'd give it a whirl, just for grins.

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Using the Russian/Beast combination mentioned previously and a 6 O' Clock hold on the darker, smaller innermost bullseye, this 10-shot group was the best of 3 fired.

These "tests", while too tame to interest some verified for me that the Makarov pistols being fired were capable of very decent mechanical accuracy. I have little doubt that they were capable of tighter groups but due to human error (mine), we didn't see them shot to their absolute truest potential.

5 Yards:: At this close distance I fired Mr. Jim Higginbotham's "Standard Controlability Test". (He is a long-time long-time firearm instructor for both state and federal agencies.) The drill is this:

1. Start at a low-ready 5 yards from the target, which is the size of a vertically-folded piece of 8 1/2 x 11" typing paper. The target is now 5 1/2" wide by 8 1/2" tall.

2. Passing is 5 shots into the target in no more than 2 seconds.

3. An average of 3 runs was taken.

4. I used the 115-gr. Silver Bear ammo for this drill as it was offered a little more recoil than the 95-gr. Barnaul JHP.

I did the test 3 times using the Bulgarian with its smallish factory sights and then 3 times with the larger Novak 3-dot sights on the Beast slide.

Resulting averages were very similar for both setups:

Factory Bulgarian: 1.77 secs

Bulgarian w/Beast Slide: 1.71 secs

I forgot to photograph the "groups" but they were roughly the same with some on the edge of the target from both the plain Bulgarian Mak or with it using the Beast slide.

7-Yards: At this distance, I did 5 runs starting from a low-ready position. As was the case when doing the controllability drills, the gun was DA for the first shot. It was the standard "two-to-the-body-and-one-to-the-head" exercise that the late Jeff Cooper also called "The Mozambique Drill". How valid it is or isn't in real life might be argued by some deep into training and tactics but my point in using it is simply to have a consistent standard to be used in conjunction with Mr. Higginbotham's controlability test to see if the "high-visibility" Novak sights were superior to the admittedly small sights standard to the Makarov.

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Here are the Beast slide w/Novak sights (top) and the Bulgarian factory slide (bottom) as viewed from the top so a visual comparison of the sights can be made. Are the Novak sights really better? I just wanted to put them to the test and see using the same frame with the same trigger-pull for the gun in either configuration. POA vs. POI were very acceptable (with both the Bulgarian and the Russian, which says something to me about consistency in manufacture of these pistols, at least with these two.

Again, an average was taken using the Pact timer.

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Here are the results are 5 FTS drills using the Bulgarian in standard factory trim using the small fixed sights.

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...and using the Beast slide conversion.

Average times were 2.26 secs with the standard fixed sights and 2.19 secs with the Novak-equipped slide. How much of this is just my human reflex variation and how much is actually being able to pick up the larger sights? I do not know? Is there enough time to make a real difference in the real world? I'm not sure. You decide for yourself.

I will say this. If one's eyesight is such that close-in objects (like handgun sights) are no longer clear (like they were 25 years ago), the larger sights probably do make a difference. I shot with my eyeglasses removed. Otherwise I could not have seen either sight clearly. (I didn't think to try the drills with my glasses on or we might have seen a more distinct winner. Note that the chest group with the smaller Bulgarian sights seems more vertically strung. Might this be from my trying to find the smallish front sight at speed and perhaps overcompensating?)

In any event, I found the results from either variation of the Bulgarian pistol to be satisfactory.

Observations: I will admit that I was not really surprised at the similarity in results using the factory vs. Novak sights. This is because several years ago I had Novak sights installed on a couple of Mk III 9mm Hi Power pistols. Comparing them to the standard fixed Mk III sights, I found no real difference in either slow or rapid-fire exercises. Those sights are closer in size than the Novak to the Makarov standard sight but how much real world difference is there between the two? Would this hold true for every single shooter or just some and not others? I don't know.

There were no malfunctions with either pistol, something that remains the standard for the Makarov.

Are they acceptable defensive "carry guns"?

You decide.

For me, there's no question that they remain addictive...

Best.
Stephen A. Camp
 

Re: The Defensive Makarov Revisited...

Postby KBCraig » Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:57 pm

Thanks for the report. To borrow a phrase, if only accurate guns are interesting, the Makarovs are downright fascinating.

Pet peeve: The pistols you tested are Makarovs. Other pistols chambered in 9x18 ("9mm Makarov") are not Makarovs, any more than my .45 ACP Ruger is a Colt.

I have a beautiful 1963 East German Mak, fitted with Pearce grips, but I also have the original black bakelite-esque grips, plus red thumbrest grips. The Pearce are thicker, and sticky, both of which contributed to concealment difficulties over the slick plastic grips. They're much better for shooting, though.

I'd like to find a Bulgarian to customize with good sights. Stock sights are fine on the range, even for rapid fire, but that narrow blade and tiny notch disappear quickly when the light fades.

Random thoughts:

Maks are heavy for their size. You have no doubt that you're carrying a solid steel pistol, no matter how handy the size.

For anyone who considers .380 (9x17) an acceptable caliber, the 9x18 offers an additional margin of comfort. Ammo choices are more limited, and none of them approach the effectiveness of mainstream 9x19 self defense rounds.

The heel catch magazine release severely limits reload speeds. It doesn't stop me from carrying a spare magazine when I carry the Mak, though.

Maks "point" very readily, with a good grip angle and ergonomics. At self defense ranges, this makes the stock sights less important.

I learned that I can't use my standard "high thumbs" grip, because my thumb will brush the safety, nudging it juuuussst enough to engage the hammer block, but not enough to drop the hammer. In other words, it will still be hammer back, and pulling the trigger will drop the hammer, but the firing pin will be block. This results in a click that should have been a bang, something you wouldn't want in an emergency. Solution: tuck the thumbs.

Thanks for the review. I have a case of the same Barnaul ammo. It shoots fine, but I carry loaded with Hornady XTP.
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Re: The Defensive Makarov Revisited...

Postby Mike1951 » Wed Aug 13, 2008 11:44 pm

I picked up a commercial Baikal a while back for $200. I became aware of Mak's too late and now the pickin's are slim.

Still one or two places online to pick up an EG. Guess I need to since it doesn't look like I'm going to stumble onto one anytime soon.
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Re: The Defensive Makarov Revisited...

Postby Lodge2004 » Thu Aug 14, 2008 9:05 am

Excellent test and write-up on the Makarov. Mine is a commercial Baikal IJ-70 with factory target rear sight and .380 ACP barrel. It is very accurate and has never malfunctioned. They are great pistols.

I bought mine the day I took my CHL class in +/- 2003 for $138 (including tax). It was the only really good deal I have ever had when purchasing a firearm. The gun store clerk tried to talk me out of buying it by saying it was "some old Russian pistol they got in a trade". Since I really wanted it, he gave me a sizeable discount and almost apologized for selling it to me. I smiled all the way home.
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Re: The Defensive Makarov Revisited...

Postby Mark F » Mon Aug 25, 2008 6:07 am

Stephen,

Supreme write-up. I'm a long-time Makarov owner, having mine since 1980. I didn't shoot it much in the early days as I was a .357 advocate and later moved to a 44 Mag. My Makarov was actually my second autoloader, as I also purchased a Tokarev 7.62 about 3 weeks earlier. I finally pulled my Makarov out and began shooting it about a year ago, and I was surprized at how reliable and accurate it is. I have the Russian made .380 ACP version. While the Mak is no where near as potent as the Tokarev I would still use the Mak in a pinch. My Makarov is now my car carry.

I think I paid about fifty bucks for my Makarov... and a hunderd for my Tokarev.

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