One day not too many years ago at Dragonman’s outside of Colorado Springs, I picked up a really nice Tula hex Mosin-Nagant 91/30 for $80 on a whim. Within firing the first five rounds I decided to start a collection of WW2 rifles and pistols. I intended to eventually own a rifle and pistol combination from every combatant nation in that time period, starting with Soviet stuff because it was easily the most affordable and accessible. I never really planned on carrying any of it for daily self-defense . . .
My interest in the Tokarev started after reading an interesting Shotgun News article about the TT-33 a few days later, and recalled that I had seen one for sale while buying that 91/30. I sped back to Dragonman’s, made a beeline to the case where I had seen the Tokarev, and felt a little sick as the spot where it had been was empty. Mel somehow knew exactly why I looked so crestfallen, and he had a little fun giving me a hard time before pointing out the TT which was temporarily moved to another case. About 30 minutes later and for just a little over $200, I happily walked out with a well-made and maintained Tokarev, an issue holster, extra magazine, and a bundle of paper-wrapped surplus Russian 7.62×25.
Over the first couple months of owning it, I put a lot of rounds through the Polish TT. It always ran perfectly, though I eventually replaced the old springs with fresh Wolff springs. I started carrying the TT-33 and thought about getting a more modern pistol, but income and expenses being what they are, I still can’t reasonably fit a new handgun into the budget.
Since then, I’ve encountered disapproval (and sometimes outright derision) for carrying the gun. I’ve been told that the TT-33 is unsafe to carry locked and cocked (which I understand and don’t do), the trigger and import-added safety sucks, the 7.62×25 round is far too fast and small, it doesn’t have enough capacity, it’s too big, inaccurate, etc. I understand these arguments, with the most vehement being those against “Israeli-carry”/Condition 3; but I take into consideration that the Tokarev wasn’t designed to be carried otherwise.
So I practice at least weekly with the TT. I agree that the import-added safety sucks, but I’ve never relied on or trusted any mechanical safety. For me, the only “safe” firearm is one with an empty chamber. With the TT-33, it’s simply faster, easier, and safer to draw and rack than carry with a round chambered. Were it a modern pistol designed for carrying in Condition One, I would do so. I understand the Tokarev’s limitations, and operate within them.
When it comes to actually shooting, the SAO trigger isn’t match-grade, but I’ve spent some time smoothing out the rough machining in the FCG and replacing springs. The TT-33 has a half-cock notch which solidly locks the trigger and slide together, but using it requires that the hammer be thumbed back before firing. Instead, I keep the hammer fully cocked on an empty chamber, greatly reducing the force needed to work the slide, which helps with speed.
The TT rides in a simple leather slide IWB/OWB holster, which leads me to a big reason why I like carrying it — the Tokarev is a very slender pistol and I’m pretty trim, so it comfortably disappears under any shirt I choose to wear. Though it’s a full-size military handgun, it doesn’t ride like one. I keep it loaded with 85gr Prvi Partizan JHPs, as they are a far more appropriate self-defense round than standard FMJs. The bottleneck 7.62×25 greatly aids feeding in all conditions, and the large external extractor does it’s job without fail. When it comes to reliability, with new springs and new ammo, the Tokarev will do it’s job when I pull the trigger.
During the many conversations and arguments I’ve heard over the years about which pistol is superior/ideal for self-defense, the oft repeated maxim is that “the best pistol is the one you have/will carry”. This certainly is true for many who have limited budgets and can’t afford the latest compact wunderguns (and refuse to buy a Hi-Point or Jennings/Cobra), and for those who have been carrying and training with an older pistol for years and don’t feel like starting over on a new platform. My decision to carry the Tokarev TT-33 is a combination of these reasons, but mostly I just enjoy carrying and shooting a reliable, comfortable, familiar, 60 year-old relic from the Cold War. Besides, if it was good enough for Ivan, it’s good enough for me.