Gun Review Browning Hi-Power Mark III review

Browning Hi Power Mark III

The Browning Hi-Power is a creation of the famous firearm designer John Browning, along with the legendary 1911 pistol. This handgun was designed in the 1920s and although less popular than the 1911 (at least in the USA) it has been continuously manufactured from 1935 until now and served as a standard service pistol in the armies of more than 50 nations. The Hi Power’s latest model,the Mark III, features an ergonomic grip, cast frame,forged slide, epoxy coating as well as a firing pin safety.

While working on the Hi-Power design, John Browning could not use any of his previous innovations used in the 1911 design. The sale of the patents to Colt prevented this. As a result the Hi-Power is very different from the 1911.Thanks to the genius of its creator it lacks some of the problems of the famous predecessor. It is much easier to field strip and functions with a wider variety of ammunition. Current models work perfectly with hollow point ammunition.

After Brownings death in 1926 the Hi Power design effort was turned over to the Belgian small arms designer Dieudonné Saive after the Colt patents expired in 1928.

Specification

In early 1920s the French government announced a tender for a new handgun for their police force and military. The requirements were as follows: it should be compact, have a magazine capacity of at least 10 rounds, have an external hammer, external safety, be simple to fieldstrip and fire a caliber of 9mm or larger.

FN Herstal won the contract after the completion of the final design of Saive.

Hi-Power Mark III technical spec
Caliber 9mm, .40 S&W
Barrel length 4 5/8” (117.5mm)
Overall length 7 3/4” (196.8mm)
Height 5.02” (127.5mm)
Width 1.4” (36mm)
Sight radius 6 5/16”  (160mm)
Frame Cast steel
Safety devices Ambidextrous external safety, magazine disconnect, firing  pin block
Weight (empty) 2lb 0oz
Capacity 13 (9mm), 10 (.40S&W) + 1
Trigger action Single Action
Trigger pull ~ 7.5lb
Pressure rating Regular only

Unique features

The Hi Power Mark III is an update of the previous Mark II model that came out in 1988. For several years it has been going through a fine tuning process with features added and removed. The model III I reviewed had the following:

Ergonomic grip covers

The grip panels have a raised ledge for the thumb that supposed to ensure a proper grip. I found that the ergonomics of the panels are more suitable for one handed shooting. Using a two hand grip (which is a majority of times for me) is not that comfortable because the thumb rest causes the weak hand thumb to ride on top of the thumb rest. People have different hand sizes and different grips so your experience may be different than mine.

Ambidextrous external safety

The safety lever is large, conveniently located and can be easily manipulated on and off using either hand. It can be useful for left handed shooters.The slide lock and the magazine release are still available only for the left side.

Black mate epoxy finish

The gun has a unique black epoxy finish that makes it look beautiful. It is smooth to touch and looks great when the gun is buffed up. Because I had the gun for a limited time I did not have a chance to evaluate how good it protects against corrosion, dents, and scratches.

Magazine ejection spring

The magazine has a small spring that’s compressed when inserted into the magwell. When the release button is pressed, the magazine literally flies out of the gun.

Hi Power magazine with extraction spring

It’s an interesting feature but, in my opinion, isn’t very practical. In normal circumstances the weight of the metal magazine is usually enough to get it moving. In the case of a malfunction the spring is not strong enough to eject the magazine and it will require manual handling as with any other gun.

My impressions

Ergonomics: ***

[-] As I pointed out already, the grip is more convenient for a one handed grip. The thumb support is located too low for a two handed grip (although we all have different hand size, so your experience may vary).

[-] While the HP does have an ambidextrous safety, it does not have an ambidextrous slide release or magazine release. A quick search yielded no aftermarket solution online.

[+] The safety lever is large, conveniently located and can be engaged/disengaged easily with either hand.

Shootability: ***

Trigger

[-] The trigger is way too heavy for a single action. From what I read it is by design, due to the magazine safety feature (which I personally do not like in a first place). The trigger pull can be greatly improved by having a gunsmith remove the mag safety.

[-] The trigger does not provide any tactile indication of a reset. In other handguns I’ve had a chance to shoot there has always been a click you could feel with your trigger finger when the trigger is reset and the handgun is ready for another shot. In the Hi-Power the trigger is reset somewhere mid-way to being fully released, but there is no tactile indication. You can memorize the location after shooting the HP enough to become very familiar with it. Knowing when the trigger is reset is critical to master the double tap and fast shooting in general.

[+] As it would be expected from a single action gun, the trigger has a short pull.

[+] The trigger is also very crisp and gives very clear indication when the sear is about to release.

Sights

The Hi-Power Mark III comes with slightly larger sights compared to previous models. They do allow a fairly quick sight picture acquisition, but nothing out of ordinary. It would be fair to say they do their job adequately.

Recoil/Balance

[-] I was surprised to see that the gun, while being much heavier, has similar recoil compared to the “plastic guns” so prevalent these days. I own both a (Glock 19 and M&P). Usually heavier guns have lower recoil, but not in this case. Saying that, the recoil is not out of ordinary and should be manageable even for shooters with smaller hands.

Capacity

[-] For the times it was designed for it had an impressive 13 + 1 magazine capacity. For modern times it’s on the lower end for a full size 9mm pistol.

Accuracy

[+] When I took it to a range and shot it at a regular distance of 7-10 yards I didn’t notice much difference in accuracy between the Hi Powers 4.5” barrel and the Glock 19s 4.0” barrel. It seems to be a limitation of the shooter, so I took it back for a greater challenge. I shot both guns at standard 8” paper targets at 100 yards from a bench. At this distance the additional 0.5” of barrel length showed a clear advantage. With the Glock I was able to get only 1 out of 10 rounds on paper at this distance.The Browning put 5 out 10 in the target. (obviously you can see that shooting a handgun at 100 yards is not my thing).

Maintenance: ****

[+] The 1930s handgun can be disassembled as easy as any modern polymer gun such as a Glock or M&P. The cleaning and lube is also straight forward.

Browning Hi Power Mark III field stripped

Concealability: *

This is a full size handgun designed for military and police use. It is heavy and long, although fairly thin. If you are looking for a concealed carry pistol, this is not a good choice.

Reliability: ****

I haven’t had a chance to shoot a great deal with this gun, my experience is limited by a couple of trips to the range where I fired about 500 rounds through it. I used different types of ammo: cheap steel cased Wolf, mid-range FMJ Federal, JHP Hornady Critical Defense. All worked flawlessly. I had zero malfunctions.

Accessories: ****

While Hi Powers are not as popular as 1911s or Glocks, they’ve been in constant use and production since the 1930s. As a result there is a good selection of aftermarket parts and accessories for this handgun. Holsters are available from any major manufacturer (e.g. Falco, Blade-Tech, DC Holsters, Bianchi, Galko, etc.). Crimson Trace produces their laser grip for it. Sights are available also. Trigger reduction springs, and other parts are available as well.

Cost effectiveness: **

Similar to 1911s the High Power is less about practical use and more about collector value and owning a piece of history. This is reflected in its price – the MRSP is $1,070, which is on the high side for a handgun. The street price is of course $150 or so less than the MSRP.

Conclusion

With almost 90 years of history it cannot beat modern firearms in terms of capacity, concealability, and reliability but still demonstrates good performance.

It is not a practical gun. For each application you can find a better analogue among modern handguns. It is too heavy and bulky for concealed carry. Its heavy trigger prevents optimum performance. The unnecessary magazine safety and low capacity makes one question its utility for home defense or as an issued weapon for military and law enforcement.

In my opinion, the biggest value of this gun is in its history. It is a beautiful piece of machinery that has a long and remarkable history in use in different parts of the world. Every serious firearm collector or firearm history enthusiast should have one.

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  • Anton Gray Basson

    On the Hi-power the mag ejection spring is an absolute must. Due to the design of the pistols safety systems the mag doesnt fall free and requires some force to remove.

  • Thom Andresen

    I have five of them and they are excellent handguns.

    • FourString

      I think that the reviewer should have considered the Mec Gar 20 rounders in his conclusion of the magazine capacity. 20 rounds is a decent amount of firepower even for today.

  • strongarm

    Original Browning patent gun was very different than the current production and might
    be said, very much effected by Elbert Searle’s M1907 Savage pistol, which also figured
    out not to interfere into Browning patents already sold to Colt at that time.

    Magazine ejection force of pistols comes from sightly compressed magazine follower
    spring and in loaded form is rather forcefull than empty, but HP magazine safety as
    propped against to the magazine body prevents its free fall, reducing the contact faces
    may be a positive approach.

    BTW, has anybody ever thought why that pistol’s extractor is made as canted.

  • Geoff a well known Skeptic

    I never had problems with the Old MK.II dropping magazines. Back in the 70′s it was considered an odd choice for early “Action” competitions. Geoff Who notes 9mm ball was a terrible round for bowling pin. I traded it on a Gold Cup .45 MK. IV.

  • Canthros

    I think Cylinder & Slide has an ambi mag release for the Hi-Power.

    I also found that the weapon carries just fine! It’s a little smaller than a Glock 19 (thinner, mostly), and, as a result, carries a little better, aside from the occasional discomfort of the spur hammer. I stopped carrying it mostly because you can’t mount a light on it. Still my very favorite pistol, though.

    And I’d recommend trying the gun with the factory wood stocks. That should rest your thumb higher, if that’s a big concern for you.

    • FourString

      Nice. Didn’t know that about the concealability.

  • Roger

    I have a Mk III in .40 S&W. The trigger pull as well as its reset can be improved greatly with the removal of the accursed mag disconnect and some judicious polishing. Good sights as noted are readily available. Beautiful and comfortable grip panels are also readily available. The epoxy finish has been in over 8 years essentially indestructible, difficult to scratch or wearing, impervious to any chemicals I have used for cleaning. Accuracy, while combat worthy, can be improved greatly with a Bar-Sto barrel. But in the end, the one thing that make this pistol one of my favorites, is that it is not plastic. It’s made of real steel.

    • FourString

      Wow, that’s really cool. There are too many flat/dull looking rugged finishes out there. Nice to see a nice blued-ish finish with such durability.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Compared to the 15-to-17 round capacity of ‘full-sized’ pistol, the HP is quite concealable, since it’s the grip that is most noticeable. In fact, it’s about the same as the ‘medium-sized’ Glock 19. Overall, it’s a wonderfully compact pistol. :)

    • vereceleritas

      I agree. The Hi-Power is a deceivingly small pistol. It is a little longer due to the barrel length but the rest of the pistol is roughly the size of a G19, only slimmer. I’m surprised the author rated it so low on concealability considering he shot it side by side with a G19. MecGar makes flush fitting 15 round magazines for the Hi-Power so the magazine capacity is a wash.

      The ejection spring on more recent Browning magazines is necessary because the friction of the magazine safety prevents magazines from dropping free. Not all Hi-power magazines have this spring. I removed the magazine safety on my Hi-Power for this reason.

      • FourString

        flush fitting 15 rounders AND extended 20 rounders from Mec Gar for the Hi Power? starting to sound better and better o.o

        • noob

          “Geez Serpico, a Hi-Power? You gonna fight an army?”

          “Nope, just a division.”

          Serpico (1973)

    • Jan Pierce

      Agreed.

  • insertjjs

    I love my 1992 production MkIII Practical 9mm. I don’t normally like 2-tone guns, but it looks absolutely Beautiful on the HP. Of course I only spent $550 for it used and it was a like new safe queen.

  • Raoul O’Shaugnessy

    Well, first of all, its a matte finish not a ‘mate’ finish. Secondly, ‘under normal circumstances’ the weight of the magazine ISNT enough to get it moving since the HiPowers magazine safety usually retards the ejection of the magazine. Thats why the spring is there, bucky. ‘Under normal circumstances’ the magazine will eject an inch or two from the pistol grip and then stop. If you want a ‘drop free’ mag in the HiPower you have to either remove the magazine disconnect safety or use the ‘mousetrap spring’ magazines. First time with a HiPower, huh?

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      My fault I missed that when I was editing.

      • PatrickHenry1789

        Sure you don’t want to start doing politics? You get these guys riled up enough about politics. They won’t care about the spelling errors. :-)

    • RocketScientist

      Damn dude… condescend much? Thanks for the additional info. Not sure all the attitude was worth it though.

  • 2wheels

    “FN Herstal won the contract after the completion of the final design of Saive.”

    Huh? The HiPower did not win the French competition for which it was designed. Instead a French design did.

    • DaveP.

      Not Invented Here.
      Plus, probably, a little friendly money changing hands.

  • gunslinger

    mag ejection spring? interesting. no one ever thought of that before? or do most of the guns use the follower/spring as the ejection method (if it’s an active method?)

    • FourString

      I handled a Sig SP2022 9mm in a shop once. When I pressed the rounded triangular mag release button, it ejected the magazine in a springy manner similar to what the author is talking about. I have no idea how it works though as I have never taken it apart. I kind of like the function.

    • Sulaco

      Actually the magazine ejection spring has been standard on the .40 caliber version of the HP for a decade at least. At least on mine…

  • wetcorps

    *drools*

    • FourString

      Amen to that brother

  • sdelcegno

    Take the mag disconnect out polish and change a couple springs. The hi power is the 1911 of the 9mm world. It is capable of amazing accuracy and shootability. Really don’t see how you gave it such a low review. This is a gun that deserves just a tad of work to make it stand alone from other pistols.

    • FourString

      FNH really ought to remove the magazine disconnect from the factory model. That should boost the Hi Power’s appeal out of the box going into the new age.

    • Steve T

      Agree 100%, I staked my well being on a custom HP for a few years. I cut that triger pull in less than half. Added a 14 round mag. And like you mentioned, mirror polishing internally made this a great weapon. I’d practice on 75 yard targets most trips to the range. For a draw and shoot, this was the gun. It just felt special the first time I held one.

  • Ken

    I have an early 50′s E series FN Hi Power. With modern Mec-Gar mags, the rounds are actually held at a high enough angle that JHP’s will feed.

    If you want to get a cheap Hi Power, check out Coles Distributing on their Gunbroker account. They have FEG’s with fake FN markings as well as genuine FN’s of many different years, all Israeli surplus. They are a semi secret of Hi Power shooters.

    • FourString

      Nice tip. I’m sure there are a good lot floating around there to be had, as it’s been a very prolific design over the years.

  • J

    One more comment. While the combat shooting sport IPSC was initially developed with M1911s and Hi-Powers in mind, it has changed over time. Today the Hi-Power cannot compete in production division of USPSA. Perhaps a small issue for most, but maybe an issue for some.

  • Blake

    Really torn between the Hi-Power, the CZ 75 SP-01, & the Walther PPQ. They’re all really nice. The Hi-Power is of course the most classic of the three, & seems to have the least chunky design as a result of the narrow magazine.

    Hi-Power fans, convince me it’s better :-).

    • Anton Gray Basson

      Of the 3 guns you want, CZ 75 is the best of the lot in my opinion

      • Sulaco

        Unless you have short fingers then the CZ becomes problematic since trigger reach is a major problem for a lot of people with the design…

        • Anton Gray Basson

          Agreed but then you would have a simular issue with the Hi Power

          • Sulaco

            Don’t think the trigger reach is anywhere near as long on a SA HP as a DA CZ. Had both and sold the CZ just for that reason. Still have the HP’s. Found the CZ at least on my frame was a lot harder to carry and conceal than a HP…

    • tony

      The CIA and FBI HRT both used the Hi Power extensively with good results.
      The others do not measure up in my opinion, and I own several CZs and many Hi Powers.

      • Michael

        SAS used High Powers.
        High Powers and CZs are classics.
        Saw pictures of a compact one, with short barrel and short butt.
        FEGs are good

    • Jan Pierce

      I own a Hi-Power and love it, but the CZ is the way to go. Overall, it’s an improvement on several fronts. If you have a few extra bucks to blow, get a customized one from the CZ Custom shop. They’re a dream.

    • Pete Sheppard

      Get both. Actually, I have an Argie FM Hi-Power (the only licensed copy, AIUI) and a CZ-75 ‘pre-B’.

      • Blake

        Yeah, I think my accountant is kinda hoping I’d just pick one though &ltgrin&gt

        Thanks everyone for the informative replies, keep ‘em coming :-). Looks like there aren’t too many PPQ owners around here…

        BTW I have pretty normal size fingers (“M” glove size). Funny you should bring it up though, it was actually the upgrade of our semicrappy Taurus .380 to a CZ-83 for the small-handed ladies in the family that got me into CZ handguns in the first place (was already bitten by the CZ bug with the CZ-527 before that though, thanks to the good advice of our LGS).

        Apparently the CZ-75 backstrap is interchangeable but el goog didn’t come up with much in the way of options…

        • Pete Sheppard

          Newgunitis is a scourge. Pity we can’t get gov’t assistance.

          • Blake

            Well ya can but apparently it involves being shot at by Taliban…

          • Pete Sheppard

            HA! Good point.

  • me

    A few comments:

    The BHP’s grip frame is actually a bit shorter than most fullsize 9mm service pistols. It holds 13 rounds because there’s no room for more, barring a redesigned hollow follower and tapered telescoping spring (like the one Mec-Gar uses in their 15rd Hi-Power mags). 17rd mags are available that are slightly extended; quality of and reliablity of the 17 round mags varies. I personally want to see Mec-Gar introduce a matte teflon finished “Optimum” magazine for the BHP with their +2 baseplate; if they do I’ll buy at least six of them. That would be a 17 round BHP mag that you could depend on. 17+1 is three revolvers full.

    The trigger pulls are horrendous, yes. If yours is only 7 1/2 pounds out of the box, that’s amazing. Many are in the 10-12 pound range, but removing the magazine safety will cut that approximately in half and get rid of most of the creep that originates in the manner in which the magazine safety slides up and down against the front of the magazine..

    My current BHP–a surplussed ex-Israeli police gun from Cole’s Distributing–has a Cylinder & Slide hammer, sear, wide target trigger, and spring set. Its trigger is under four pounds, and it’s a thing of beauty.

    If you go down from the factory 32lb mainspring to reduce the trigger pull–and many report that you can go down to 22 or 24 pounds without sacrificing reliable ignition on anything other than certain SMG ammunition–put an 18.5 pound recoil spring in, to reduce the speed with which the slide opens.

    Some very respected people say that the BHP is inherently fragile and does not tolerate high-pressure ammunition, pointing to decades-old BHPs in UK military service with worn-out springs that cracked their frames after decades of use with British Mk. VIIz SMG ammo, which is probably the hottest 9mm ammo ever manufactured. A 124gr FMJ at about 1300 f.p.s., you have to look at old Speer manuals from the 1970s to duplicate it, if anyone is of a mind to try (it involved a very stout charge of Herco). Mk. VIIz ammunition is abusive even in open-bolt subguns. I personally regard the all-steel BHP, especially those with the post-1993 steel alloy and heat treatment of the frames and slides, as being very durable indeed–so long as you perform proper preventative maintenance, which on this design includes not only cleaning and lubrication but also changing the recoil spring and mainspring every few thousand rounds.

    Nonetheless, for those who prefer to shoot standard pressure ammo in the BHP, there are plenty of perfectly good standard-pressure 9mm defensive loads. The Mk. II and Mk. III BHPs come from the factory ramped and throated for hollowpoints and I have yet to find factory ammunition that will not feed and cycle in mine. My personal recommendation in standard-pressure 9mm defensive ammo is the 147gr Gold Dot or the 147gr Ranger T-Series.

  • Pete Sheppard

    The Mk III must have thick grip panels. Another common comment on the HP is how slim the grip feels, compared to other double-stack 9′s. This is often a selling point, especially for those with small hands.

  • Rey Leron

    The only other gun I like as much is my CZ 75, which was patterned from the original Browning Hi-Power. CZ is also one of the most copied guns in existence since the design is owed also to the Hi-Power. The trigger is made heavy to prevent inadvertent or accidental shots unlike like the 1911s. And you almost don’t feel the recoil only after the bullet leaves the barrel. Try it next time and see how fast you acquire the next target. It is all by design, that’s why Browning Hi-Power is still sought by many worldwide. It’s heavy, but that’s more on heft unlike clunkiness of plastic. The only thing I don’t like about my Browning is the guy who owned it previouslly had it nickel plated.

  • tony

    The FBI Hostage Rescue Team used them as their first issue handgun in custom Novak form. The seven CIA Operatives who went in to start the war in Afghanistan were carrying them. Perhaps they know something this writer does not. As Jeff Cooper once said, “Full
    size equals full strength. For my money, it is one of the best combat handguns ever made.
    It is safer by far in a variety of carry modes than Glock type pistols. The balance and handling on the BHP are superb.

  • petru sova

    The best High Powers that were quality were the “T” series made in the 60′s and included is the 1969 C model. After 1989 they went to the passive firing pin safety that left less 1/32 of an inch of metal in the rear of the slide which results in cracked slides from the pounding of the hammer. In 1994 they went to the junk cast internal parts and junk cast frame that increased the width of the grip frame which made it feel clunky as compared to the original High Power frame. In about 2000 or so they did away with the barrel hood projection that aided In barrel lock up and corresponding increased accuracy. It was done to save money to appease the blind greed of the stock holders.
    Still when you consider that they still put a nice finish on the blued model and the gun is made from steel (even if it is a junk casting) rather than a junk plasticky frame it is still worth buying. Just do not expect the same quality gun that it used to be.

    • Robert Pavelea

      Cast steel is NOT junk. The CZ-75 is built entirely on cast, which is more robust than forged steel.

      • petru sova

        You have got a lot to learn about castings. They are porous which is a polite way to say they are brittle. To make them the same strength of a forging they have to be made thicker and heavier and sometimes harder. Forgings as long as 5,000 years ago were used to make swords to take up the tremendous shock they had to endure in battle. Try that with a brittle cast sword as it will shatter. I would suggest you try and avoid dropping your cast pistol as well on a hard surface. They go snap, crackle and pop.

        • Rick A

          Like it or not, the cast frames in this case are stronger than the forged. They were produced initially to allow use of .40 S&W. That’s a fact.

  • john huscio

    Do they make a variant with a longer beavertail? Hammerbite would be a constant concern for me shooting these guns.

  • Sulaco

    I have always wanted but never seen one of the “Detective” size HP’s that were made in the 80′s (?). Smaller overall and somewhat lighter. I have a contract Argentine HP and after having its gray paint finish removed and blued its a great gun. But the .40 cal is one of the most accurate pistols I have ever had.

  • petru sova

    The High Power was originally designed as a 16 shot pistol but in order to try to sell it to the Neanderthals of the French military they reduced the gun to 13 shots and the French rejected it anyway. Their excuse was originally that it held to many shots. Their real reason was that they wanted a French designed pistol.
    Now why in the world has FN never produced the original 16 shot pistol? Also why in the world has FN never came out with a compact High Power. I sometimes think FN never had anyone in marketing that new anything about the American firearms market, not in the past and not today either.

  • Rick A

    My wife has a HiPower in .40. What a wonderful pistol. It is in the same size range as most mid size pistols and feels dainty compared to a 5″ 1911. It only gives up a couple rounds capacity to more modern choices, and with a trigger and feel in hand that can only be bested by a 1911 (with the mag safety removed or trigger tuned). It is a bit heavier than more modern plastic framed pistols, but with a good holster and sturdy belt carries the same. The thin slide makes IWB carry easy. A set of Spiegel grips thins the frame, increases comfort, and affords a better purchase. I think it’s a perfect carry and a great shooter. The standard models come in an impressive bright blue finish that is rare these days.

    The BHP is just as practical as it’s ever been in a pistol of that size. I would not count it out and consider owning one a must.