By Nick Franssen: The pistol that would eventually become known as the Browning Hi Power pistol started life as the P-35. It was in its final stages of development when its creator, the legendary John Moses Browning, died at the FN plant in Belgium. From there, the pistol was completed by Dieudonne Saive and put into production. With some examples still in use today as a military sidearm, the Hi Power lives on.
As a gunsmith, I’ve worked on a few Hi Powers. There aren’t a lot of them around in my neck of the woods, and even fewer for sale. Those available almost are always some type of special edition or vintage NIB. They’re too expensive for my taste, typically in the $800-$1200 range. They’re also more valuable when left alone. I am not one of those guys. The only queen in my life is my dear wife and she’s not going in the safe.
When I decided to buy a Browning Hi Power, Gunbroker revealed that Cole Distributing Inc. of Scottsville, Kentucky had received a large number of examples. They ranged in price from about $325 to $475. Early guns, the MKIIs, and MKIIIs were there for the taking. Some were listed as fair condition shooters.
I picked my gun based on features. I wanted a Hi Power with a matched slide and frame, a barrel in very good or better condition, an ambi safety and a ringed hammer.
Gunbroker and I have a long history. I look for pictures more than descriptions; “85 percent” does not mean the same thing to everyone. CDI offered an inspection period and hassle-free checkout with credit/debit card payments immediately accepted without an additional fee. Three days later, my firearm arrived.
Inside the shipping box: a white, non-descript box with some lettering and a serial number on it. I opened it to find a FN-made Hi Power MKII in surprisingly good shape. My new gun was dark black with a matte hue. The only shine came from where oil was pooling on the surface or the occasional sharp worn edge. There was little finish loss.
The frame and slide had matching serial numbers. The barrel didn’t appear original to the gun, however. It was marked 9mm NATO and electro-penciled with the last four numbers of the serial number. The bore was very good to excellent, but I noticed some pitting on the crown. The barrel was definitely fit for a combat pistol, not a match gun.
I didn’t notice any other rust or corrosion. The slide-to-frame fit was loose, but typical. The grips were intact and in good shape. It would appear that there’s no such thing as a tight Hi Power, and this gun was no exception. Slide-to-frame fit was as loose as a politician’s morals. When dry firing the pistol, as the sear engaged, the slide moved vertically — if only slightly.
Upon closer inspection, my Hi Power may have been a refinished pistol. There were no obvious signs of pitting, but the three-dot sights lacked any sign of paint. The gun was furnished with a Mec-Gar 13-round mag with the same finish. My guess: it was a repark. I was disappointed in not getting a factory Browning magazine, but I didn’t ask about it and it wasn’t a deal breaker.
Hi Powers aren’t known for their love of +P ammo, but I didn’t have a lot of options for hollow point gun food. I had the following on hand: 115 gr. FMJ Blazer brass, 124 gr. TMJ Blazer aluminum, 124 gr. +P Speer Gold Dot, 147 gr FMJ flat point American Eagle, and the elusive 147 gr Speer Gold Dot II. All accuracy testing was done at 15 yards standing.
I fired singles and doubles at steel targets without issues. I found the trigger to be fairly heavy but not unbearable: about 9 lbs. It was also fairly crisp without a tremendous amount of over travel. Reset is long and not nearly as positive as a GLOCK or 1911.
All ammo functioned through the gun without issues. This was one excellent result. I didn’t add any additional lube to the gun, and ran several different types of cartridges. There are stories of early Hi Powers needing to be throated before they’d run hollow points. This one ran them all.
All ammo shot fairly consistently. Groups averaged just over 3½” with the occasional flyer (shooter error). As you’d expect, the 124 +P ammo shot the highest, approximately two inches above point of aim at 15 yards. Both 147 gr. loadings were pretty much at point-of-aim, point-of-impact.
I’m quite happy with my purchase, as well as the gun’s performance. The Browning Hi Power has a long and distinguished service life. It has graceful lines. It fits the hand well. With 13 rounds of modern 9mm carry ammo, it is a formidable carry gun. With its ease of use and minimal recoil, it’s a blast on the range.
Specifications: Surplus Browning Hi Power 9mm
Action Type: Single Action Semi Auto
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Barrel Length: 4.7 inches
Weight: 2.2 lbs.
Material: Forged steel grips: black plastic
Sights: fixed or dovetailed front, drift adjustable rear
Price: $325-$550 used
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
Classic John Browning design. The pistol has a lot going for it aesthetically. Though it will always be known as the “other” gun, it’s been used successfully all over the world. Few guns have the romance and following of the Hi Power.
Fit and Finish: * * *
The Parkerizing on mine was very good for a used mil surp gun. A little pitting on the crown of the barrel. The magazine appeared either new, or re-parked along with the gun.
Accuracy * * * *
This is a combat pistol with combat sights. They’re not the 40’s vintage 1911 sights that liberated the FN plant in Belgium, however, and certainly not Novaks. They work, but they’re not easy. The trigger is fairly heavy, but it didn’t seem to matter. The gun shot five different loadings as well as I can with a stock carry gun. Can’t ask for more.
Ergonomics * * * *
This gun fits the hand beautifully and points naturally. It’s substantial, but not heavy, and has easy to reach controls. I have small hands, but can manipulate every function. The ambi safety was worth the extra money. Would be a five star gun with front and back strap checkering.
Reliability * * * * *
Five different types of ammo with different bullet designs fired without problems. No additional cleaning or lubrication was done after the firearm arrived. Brass ejected consistently, ending up on the ground between 3 and 4 o’clock, right where it should. The magazine locked the slide open every time after the last round.
Upgrades: * * * *
As with the 1911, many parts and upgrades are out there for this fine firearm. I have a set of sights, fancy wood grips, and a spring kit on its way.
Overall * * * *
Classic firearms never go out of style. This one is comfortable and easy to shoot. It’s easy on the hands as well as the eyes. With a solid surplus market, high-quality construction, and fabulous support for custom parts, this is one of the best values out available. While mine was built in 1989, I’d guess we’ll still see Hi Powers around in 2089.
About the Author
Nick Franssen is the owner of HCTC Firearms, LLC, where he specializes in custom gunsmithing, training, and consulting. Nick is also a 10-year Law Enforcement Officer in the Pacific Northwest, where he’s currently assigned to patrol. Nick has several years in the firearm industry as a professional civilian and law enforcement instructor, gunsmith, and competitor. Nick was one of the original Idaho Enhanced Concealed Weapons Permit instructors, and maintains/repairs the firearms of several police agencies throughout the region. For more information on training or custom gun work, see HCTC Firearms on facebook or email nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.