Recently put out of production, the Hi-Power is a great handgun with a fantastic history. READ ALL ABOUT IT
Fabrique Nationale (FN) announced that the Browning Hi-Power pistol has been discontinued from manufacture. In the perfect handgunning world, all pistols would have the mix of history, performance, and collector interest of the Hi-Power. While Hi-Power pistols may be valuable and collectible, they fire the same readily obtained 9mm cartridge as many of our other favorites.
The Hi-Power is among the most recognizable handguns worldwide. If you scan the news, you may see a Hi-Power in the hands of Indian police or being waved by a woman during a street battle in Iraq. Our Canadian allies issue the Hi-Power, and it works as well today as a battle pistol as it ever has. The Hi-Power has been issued to the armed services of more than 50 nations. A generation ago, the Hi-Power was issued to elite units in the United States including the New Jersey State Police Fugitive Squad and FBI Hostage Rescue Team.
The pistol was developed by John Moses Browning as a European service pistol. Browning was a great inventor; he was also among the greatest gun salesmen of all time. While 1911 fans may decry the small caliber 9mm and derisively call it the ‘Half Power,’ a .45 caliber service pistol would have been unthinkable in Europe. Browning did not base the Hi-Power on the 1911 but upon Browning principles just as the Tokarev and French 1935, by different inventors, are based on Browning’s work.
Originally, the Hi-Power was intended for the French Army. The French did not want a grip safety, and none was supplied. I respectively submit that Browning had learned a few things since his 1911, and the Hi-Power was designed to be produced as economically as possible.
The Allies left World War I with a great respect for the 9mm Luger cartridge. The 9mm met French requirements and it offers a good level of power for its compact size. The Luger cartridge is compact enough that 13 cartridges could be stuffed into a relatively compact magazine. Browning further refined his locked breech action to eliminate the swinging link and the result was the Hi-Power or Grande Pruissance.
Browning died in his office in Belgium before the final work was completed. Early models illustrate that the Hi-Power was defined by Browning. Dieudonne Saive, a respected inventor in his own right, refined the pistol and gave us the final form. The Hi-Power is a well-balanced handgun and among the finest service pistols of all time.
The French did not adopt the Hi-Power, but just the same, the type saw immense commercial success. Early variants were shipped to China and South America among other nations. During World War II, the Germans took over the FN plant and turned out the Hi-Power for the Wermacht. John Inglis of Canada, a respected maker of armaments including ships boilers, took up production of the Hi-Power for the allies.
The Hi-Power has the distinction of serving on both sides of practically every conflict since 1939. The Hi-Power has been in continuous production and remains a popular handgun today. A look at the specifications of the Hi-Power shows that it is ideally proportioned for the cartridge it chambers. There is enough weight to absorb the recoil of the 9mm cartridge, but the pistol is light enough for daily carry. The grip fits most hands well. The trigger press is straight to the rear, and the pistol is flat enough for concealed carry.
Barrel length: 4.625 in.
Sight Radius: 6.50 in.
Overall length: 7.75 in.
Weight: 34 oz.
The pistol is all-steel and well-made. The Browning design has gone through several generations but each is recognizable as a Hi-Power. The changes have been minor, usually limited to differences in the sights and the manual safety. The early versions feature a slide lock safety that is smaller than many competing types. With practice, the safety isn’t as difficult to manipulate as some would have us believe.
On the plus side, the original safety is positive in operation and unlikely to be inadvertently moved to the off-safe position. The slide stop and magazine release are easily reached and manipulated. Most, but not all, Hi-Power pistols feature a magazine disconnect that prevents the pistol from firing if the magazine is not in place. The Hi-Power is smaller and lighter than the 1911 .45ACP, and handles quickly. With the greatest respect for the 1911, and its speed into action, if there is a handgun faster to an accurate first shot than the 1911, it is the Browning Hi-Power.
The intrinsic accuracy of the Hi-Power is often very good. Practical accuracy is limited by sometimes heavy trigger actions. Over the years, my RCBS trigger pull gauge has measured Hi-Power triggers at 5 to 11 pounds. There seems no rhyme or reason. The tangent action isn’t easily improved. It is a shame that the heavy trigger action limits accuracy potential in many variants, but then the piece was made for short-range combat.
Then again, there is the shooter who manages the trigger and makes good hits in spite of the trigger action. As long as the trigger is consistent, little else matters to these practiced marksmen. Another advantage of the Hi-Power is speed of loading. All one need do to replenish the ammunition supply was to quickly insert the tapered magazine into a generous magazine well. No need for a magazine chute with this pistol.
The Hi-Power features a heavy hammer spring. This makes thumb cocking more difficult, however, there is a reason for the heavy spring. 9mm Luger ammunition has been produced in many countries. Quality is sometimes indifferent and the Hi-Power had to function with every load and to handle variations in case length as well as hard primers. The hammer gives the primer a solid hit and the pistol has excellent reliability. The extractor design changed about 1962 from internal to external. Magazines interchange in all models. Mec Gar is the preferred magazine brand. I have stated my opinion on the longevity of the 9mm Hi-Power. Any handgun in use for so long will have among its number worn or broken examples.
I have found that the Hi-Power feeds modern JHP ammunition. When hollow points became common in the 1960s and 1970s many featured a wide mouth hollow nose not designed for feed reliability. As a result, these loads did not feed in military pistols without barrel polish or throating. Throating, once universally recommended in the popular press, isn’t the best course and often improperly done.
Modern loads, such as the Winchester Silvertip, perform well and feed reliably. As for Hi-Power accuracy, I feel that the average accuracy of the Hi-Power is pretty consistent. Most examples may be counted upon for a five-shot group of 2-1/2 to 3 inches at 25 yards with good ammunition and from a solid rest.
In the end, the Hi-Power is far more than a handgun to be kept in the safe and never fired. It is among the most useful of 9mm handguns. Light enough for constant carry, reliable, effective, and with more than a little pride of ownership, this is a handgun that has stood the test of time.
3 thoughts on “REVIEW / RETROSPECT: Farewell To the Hi-Power”
I was issued a Hi Power during my first security contract in Iraq in 2004. It worked well enough but I wasn’t crazy about it. I especially didn’t like the magazine safety. In the conditions we were in on a daily basis that was just one more thing to worry about. Still, I do recognize that it is an iconic design and a historic gun and I’m happy that I got to use one under combat conditions rather than just sitting and imagining what it might have been like, but in the end there are many other handguns I would prefer to it.
Ahh, the ‘old’ HiPower, a long time favorite. Mine was produced in ’69, think I bought it in ’70 or ’71. Have only run about 2,000 rounds through it, but never ANY issue with anything I stuffed in it! I carried it many years ago, on duty, but it has been relieved of any service, since I started using my G29 10mm for a ‘little’ more oomph!;) Though it has the stock trigger set up, and breaks right at 6 lb, it is such a clean break that it feels much lighter. Watch the old boy center punch a 5 lb cantaloupe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5YLSNRf_A0
Forgot to mention, my HiPower was $112 at the time. Can’t buy a worn out one under $325 today!