Recently, a batch of affordably priced Steyr M9A1 pistols hit the U.S. market. I bought one of these guns at Cabelas in Eugene, Oregon, for $400.00 last month as an impulse buy, and I wanted to report on what I’ve learned about this gun. It is not my intent to do my typical hyper-detailed review – maybe that will come later after I’ve put a few thousand more rounds through the gun. Rather, in the interest of timely reporting, I wanted to give some background on the importation of this gun, cover a few of its basic features, and summarize my initial range experiences with the Steyr M9A1.
The pistol has the importer listed as “PW ARMS, Redmond, Washington,” which is the first big clue that these are not guns coming into the county via the “official” factory authorized importer: Steyr USA. And that makes these “grey market” guns. And that means that Steyr USA may refuse to work on them should something go wrong. But more on that later.
According to Dan’s Guns, a retail outlet that apparently has close ties with the importer, says these guns were “military overruns” from a middle-east contract. Yeah, OK, whatever. Maybe that’s true or maybe not. Personally, I tend to roll my eyes when I hear stuff like that – particularly when there’s no documentation to back it up. My guess is that this is the type of white lie an importer will throw out there to gin up a little interest. I tried to call the importer directly to get the scoop but they apparently don’t answer their phones.
Regardless of their original destination, these guns are a hodgepodge of older and newer parts – true Frankensteyrs. For example, the frame on my sample was manufactured in May of 2004, and it is the “new style” (i.e. post 2002). Aside from some differences in the ergonomics, the “new style” frame has a Picatinny type rail instead of the older proprietary design. Also, this pistol features the Steyr “Target” logo and the inscription “Mannlicher” on both sides of the grip. As far as I can tell, there have been a couple of different incarnations of the logo on the grip in the post-2004 frames.
The slide is marked “M9”, which indicates that it is fairly old. (pre-2002?). According to Jeff Reese, the head M9 gunsmith (and guru of all things M9) at Steyr USA, there are really no significant differences between the older “M9” marked slides and the newer “M9A1” marked slides.
The only real difference is that post-2010 guns have a roll pin located under the rear sight. This roll pin is supposed to improve the trigger pull. Both new and old slides feature a loaded chamber indicator. My grey-market gun features the new-style extractor which apparently is a significant improvement over the older model. Incidentally, according to Jeff Reese, Steyr USA will replace any old-style extractor free of charge.
From what I have been able to gather, here are the major differences between the various incarnations of the Steyr M9:
Generation 1: Pistols manufactured between 1999-2002 are marked M9/S9 on slide, and may or may not have manual safety. They feature the “old style” grip pattern, including a proprietary rail system.
Generation 2: Pistols manufactured between 2002-2006 are marked M9-A1/S9-A1. They feature a new grip style, which includes a picatinny rail system. They do not have a roll pin under the rear sight. These pistols were sold by CDNN, and they have the “old-style” extractor.
Generation 3: Pistols manufactured between 2009-2011 are marked M9-A1/S9-A1. They feature a new grip style and do not have a roll pin under the rear sight. They were imported by Steyr USA, and feature the new style extractor.
Generation 4: Pistols manufactured from 2011 to the present are marked M9-A1/S9-A1. They feature the new grip pattern, and have the roll pin under the rear sight.
As mentioned above, the PW Arms “grey market” gun is more-or-less a “Generation 3” M9A1 even though the slide still says M9. It’s got the gen 3 trigger, the new extractor, and the new frame with Picatinny rail, and it doesn’t have the manual safety. The only “new” feature that is missing is the “Gen 4” roll pin in the slide.
The Steyr M9A1 fits my hand very well. I really like the high palm grip, as it makes the pistol ride very low in the hand. Having said that, if you are used to shooting more conventional guns like 1911s and Browning High Powers, the Steyr may point high for you so you may need to do a little retraining. In my case, after a few range sessions, I was pointing the Steyr much more naturally than when I first picked it up.
The Steyr’s ergonomics alone were probably enough to sell me on the gun but frankly, what really hooked me was the trigger. Its advertised as a “DAO” trigger, and I guess, technically speaking, it is. But it reminds me a hell of a lot more of a two-stage AR-15 trigger than a traditional double action pistol trigger. There is about 3/16th of an inch of easy take up followed by a fairly crisp five-pound break. There’s only the slightest amount of creep and minimal over-travel. The reset is also very short. All in all, this trigger is superior in every way to a Glock.
The Steyr M9A1 is typically found with their unique patented sighting arrangement. The front sight is a white-filled, black-edged equilateral triangle. The rear sight, which Steyr calls a “trapezoidal” sight, consists of a triangular rear notch framed by two white posts. According to Steyr, “the sight’s shape guides the eye onto the target, and thus the target is captured exactly and quickly.” Steyr also produces rectangular tritium night sights for those shooters who lack flashlights but still prefer not to aim by Braille.
For most people, the trapezoidal sights are either a “love it” or “hate it” affair. I happen to fall decidedly in the “love it” camp. I used ACOG scopes in the military that also featured a similar aiming triangle. I find the triangles to be far superior to circles, especially for six-o’clock holds. It is very instinctive for me to point the “arrow,” as I think of the triangles, on the target and pull the trigger.
The 15 round magazines are true works of art: highly blued and smooth as can be. They are by far the nicest looking pistol magazines I have ever seen, if that matters at all. They feature indicator holes on the side so you can identify how many rounds you have loaded. One side has odd numbered holes, while the other side has even numbers. It is my understanding that 17 round mags are available for the Steyr M9A1, too
The Steyr M9A1 utilizes a multi-stage safety system. There are two automatic internal safeties and one external trigger safety. The external trigger safety is pretty much a copy of the Glock as far as I can tell: a small, spring-loaded inner trigger is housed in a wide, outer trigger and cannot be actuated unless the inset trigger is depressed. An off-angle trigger pull will not, in theory, result in the gun being fired. Personally, I’ve never seen much value in these types of safeties.
This trigger safety also activates the two internal safeties: the firing pin and drop safety. The firing pin safety is contained in the pistol’s slide and blocks the striker from moving forward. The drop safety is an internal safety that’s deactivated by the pull of the trigger.
My sample gun doesn’t have a manual safety. Some earlier versions of the M9 had a manual safety in the trigger guard but Steyr seems to have done away with this feature, at least in the guns it imports to the U.S. market.
My first trip to the range with the grey market Steyr M9A1 was something of a disaster. I had brought 300 rounds of new 2011-era, Czech Sellier & Bellot ammo. S&B has always impressed me as being pretty good ammo, albeit more smoky/dirty than some other brands. I also had a “Mega-Pack” of Remington UMC (Yellow-box) on hand, and 20 rounds of older Cor-Bon +P+ hollowpoints.
First, I tried the Cor-Bons: 20 rounds of flawless feeding and very good accuracy. Switching over to the S&B, however, things went downhill fast. Within the first 200 rounds or so, I experienced two FTFs (“failures to feed”). Then at round 250(ish), I had a complete worst-case-scenario: a lock-up malfunction in which a new round had been chambered but the gun had not completed its lock up cycle. The round was effectively jammed in the gun, such that I could not clear the malfunction. The slide would simply not budge.
I was able to disassemble the slide from the frame, but it was not until I hit the top of the barrel with a rubber mallet that I was able to dislodge the barrel from the slide. Since I don’t usually carry rubber mallets in my shooting bag, the gun was effectively out of the fight until I got home. Total bummer. I’m sure I’ll never hear the end of it from Chris Dumm, who has this uncanny ability to remind me years later that my “XXXX” gun malfunctioned on such and such occasion.
The next Monday, I called up Steyr USA and was able to get a hold of Jeff Reese. He told me that the gun I bought was a grey market gun (my term, not his), but that Steyr USA had made the decision to service these guns despite the fact that they were under no obligation to do so. Frankly, in my estimation, that was a very wise choice.
In this day and age, word gets around on the internet pretty quickly, and if there are problems with any M9, the fact that the particular gun is a “grey market” gun is likely going to be lost on the owner. Jeff told me that Steyr USA was going to work on getting some reimbursement from Steyr Austria for the work they do on the grey market pistols. Overall, I’m very impressed with Steyr USA’s commitment to customer service.
Getting back to my gun’s “lock up” issue, though, Jeff told me that the symptoms that I was describing were unusual, and the culprit was likely the Sellier & Bellot ammo I was using. He said that S&B uses a hard primer that the M9 seems to disfavor. He didn’t have nice things to say about the UMC ammo, either.
He suggested I try something a bit more high quality, such as Winchester white box or Federal. Well, crap. I really hate it when guns are picky about ammo. Score one point for my Glock 17 – it chewed up my last 50 round box of S&B without so much as a hiccup. In fact, I jokingly commented to my buddy that I expected my Glock to let out a satisfying “burp” at the end of those three mags of S&B.
I did some Google searches for “Sellier & Bellot hard primers” and turned up enough hits that I think there may in fact be some truth to the claim. In any event, a few days later I went to my local indoor range and put 100 rounds of Speer Lawman and 100 rounds of CCI Blazer (aluminum cases) through the Steyr without a hitch.
The next week, I went to Wally World and picked up 200 rounds of Federal and 100 rounds of Winchester (White Box). The Steyr chewed through these rounds without any problems. While I will continue to conduct more testing, at this point I am pretty close to being ready to conclude that the initial problems I experienced were ammo-related. Perhaps it was just that this gun needed a 500 round break in period. Only time will tell.
The good news is that the Steyr is very accurate. In fact, I shoot the Steyr M9 better than any one of my other 9mms, including the Beretta 92F, the Glock 17, the S&W Custom Shop “Recon 9,” the Sig Sauer P6 (aka: 225); the P 08 Luger, and the Walther p38. I attribute most of that accuracy to the excellent trigger although I suspect that Steyr’s barrels are first class as well.
The fact that I bought a grey market gun could have turned out pretty scary. Nonetheless, hats off to Steyr USA for agreeing to service these guns regardless of how they got into the U.S. Although I’m somewhat bummed that the Steyr has an appetite for more expensive ammo and is not therefore a “cheap date,” the shooting characteristics of this little pistol more than make up for this fact.
Action: Semi auto, short recoil, locked breech.
Capacity: 15 round magazine, optional 17 round magazines are available.
Overall Length: 6.9 inches
Barrel: 4 inches, 1: 14 twist.
Weight: 26 ounces
Sights: black plastic with “trapezoid” configuration, conventional three-dot sights optional.
Price: $400- $450 (Retail Street Price for grey market imports).
RATINGS (out of five)
Style * * * * *
Although totally subjective, I think the Steyr is the best looking of the “Glock-a-likes” on the market today.
Ergonomics * * * * *
The grip’s high palm swell makes this gun point differently than typical pistols. However, once you train with it, it points just like an experienced bird dog.
Reliability * * * *
After an initial bad encounter with some hard-primered Sellier and Bellot rounds, this pistol has been very reliable. Using decent quality American ammo (Speer Lawman, CCI Blazer, Winchester white box, Federal, etc.,) there have been no malfunctions with 750 rounds fired.
Customize This * * 1/2
I’m going to rate the Steyr slightly less than average in its peer group in this category. Holsters are available for the M9 but options are limited. The Picatinney rail is standard enough, so you can hang whatever lights, lasers or other doo-dads you want from the front. There aren’t many aftermarket parts made for the Steyr, although they do sell a factory threaded barrel for a pricy $300.00. Check out BTGuideRods website for cool upgrades for your Steyr, including Delrin striker spring buffers and stainless steel recoil guide rods and springs.
Accuracy * * * * *
I shoot the Steyr M9 better (i.e. more accurately) than any of my other 9mm pistols. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it has less felt recoil and muzzle flip than most 9′s I have fired, but the Steyr’s excellent trigger probably plays a role in this as well.
Overall * * * *
Assuming the reliability issues I experienced were just ammo and/or break-in related, I’m thinking this could be the start of a long romance. Stay tuned to TTAG for updates.