Range Report: Beretta’s M9 Civilian Version

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, General, Range Reports

When the United States Army adopted the Beretta M9, it was quite a surprise to many of us. The apple cart wasn’t upset; it was wrecked. The Beretta replaced the long-serving 1911A1 .45-caliber pistol. While there are many fans of the 1911, there are also many detractors and some who felt the pistol was long overdue for replacement.

Beretta M9 fieldstripped

The Beretta M9 fieldstrips easily into its main components—receiver, recoil guide rod and spring, barrel and slide.

The Beretta was a product of the world’s longest-serving arms maker and had passed a difficult trail period with its reputation intact. While there are many opinions, when double-action first-shot handguns of the period are considered, the Beretta was among the best available. The SIG P226 tied the Beretta for reliability, but perhaps the manual safety of the Beretta is the feature that tipped the scales. No matter how rigorous the test, you don’t know how reliable a handgun is until it enters service. Americans use their pistols more often than other armies, and the Beretta soon proved to be reliable in action.

It is rare for a firearm to enter military service and not undergo some type of revision or modification. This is true of the Garand rifle, and the 1911 progressed from the 1911 to the 1911A1. The Beretta 92 became the Model 92FS. The locking block was the same basic design used in the Mauser C96 and later the Walther P38. NATO-specification 124-grain ammunition is hotter than civilian +P ammunition and can be hard on the firearm. The locking block should be changed periodically in service, but a new design also proved more durable.

The Beretta also suffered from feed issues with magazines purchased on the low bid. Once these magazines were trashed, the Beretta was reliable as a machine can be. After many years of training with the Beretta and training others in handgun classes, I’ve never seen an unqualified malfunction with a Beretta 92 handgun. The Beretta has served with the U.S. military worldwide and also with many police agencies. Various French units, the NYPD Special Services District and the LAPD, as well as the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, have enjoyed excellent results with the Beretta.

Beretta M9 with Black Hills Ammunition

Black Hills ammunition gave excellent results with the Beretta M9.

I was initially reluctant to obtain a Beretta 92. However, with an increasing training load, and the number of young people wishing to master the Beretta both before and during military service, I obtained first one and then several Beretta 92 handguns. During the past 20 years, I’ve enjoyed good service with Beretta 92 and M9 types.

The pistol is reliable partly due to the straight-line feed design. The magazine feeds wide-mouth hollowpoint bullets directly into the chamber. When the potent +P+ 115-grain JHP became available, I found the Beretta 92 fed these loads well and also functioned with these loads.

The Beretta trigger action is often smooth. While long, the first-shot double-action press is smooth at about 12 pounds compression. The single-action trigger usually breaks the sear at 4¼ to 4½ pounds. The Beretta demonstrates little muzzle flip, and the pistol is very controllable in the single-action mode.

Beretta M9 right side

Note the M9 lanyard ring, external trigger drawbar and red dot under the safety, denoting the Fire position.

The slide-mounted decocker isn’t as handy as a frame-mounted safety. By practicing a straight-thumb movement similar to that used when taking the safety off the 1911A1 handgun, the Beretta safety offers a degree of speed. The grip isn’t small, but it’s manageable. There has been a slight redesign of the grip, and the frame profile is superior to the earlier production handguns. The grip is large, but even the youngest students find it manageable (if not ideal) with proper technique.

The Beretta 92 isn’t feather light, but for the size, it is light at 34 ounces—the product of an aluminum versus steel frame. The pistol has good features, including an extractor that protrudes to tell you the chamber is loaded. Beretta magazines never seem to give trouble. They are tapered at the top. This facilitates rapid speedloads, making the Beretta among the fastest of all self-loading pistols to quickly reload.

The pistol is easily fieldstripped. Simply lock the slide to the rear, remove the magazine, rotate the takedown lever and release the slide. The slide then is moved forward and removed from the frame. Follow up by lifting the recoil rod and spring assembly out of the slide. A pin in the locking wedge is pressed forward, and the barrel is removed from the slide. This is all the disassembly that’s needed for normal maintenance. The open-top slide doesn’t trap debris. Overall, the Beretta is an easy handgun to service and maintain.

Beretta M9 left side slide open

With the slide locked to the rear, the Beretta is safe and ready for inspection.

The M9 is a variant that’s as close to the military M9 as possible. The sights are marked in a different manner, and the finish differs from the standard M92. I recently obtained and tested the M9 pistol. I began my evaluation by fieldstripping the pistol and lubricating the long bearing surfaces. Next, I loaded the supplied magazines (the pistol comes with two) and a spare I had on hand. In the interest of function and longevity, it is best to purchase Beretta magazines for Beretta pistols rather than aftermarket.

I loaded the magazines in the proven manner. I loaded three to four cartridges at a time, then tapped the magazine on my boot heel to be certain the rounds were properly seated and continued until the magazines were loaded with the full complement of 15 cartridges. I locked back the slide and inserted a loaded magazine into the magazine well until it locked. I then used the slide lock to release the slide and load the pistol. If you follow these rules, malfunctions should be limited.

Initial range work was done with 115-grain FMJ loads. This ammunition is a quality resource for practice. The pistol was fired at man-size targets in rapid-paced drills at 5, 7, and 10 yards. Beginning with the hammer down and working through the smooth, double-action trigger stroke, center hits were achieved. Double taps were performed at close range and controlled pairs at longer range. This handgun is controllable, and the modest muzzle flip ensured that the shooter came back on target quickly.

Bob Campbell shooting the Beretta M9

The author found the M9 to be a joy to fire and use, with light recoil and excellent practical accuracy.

Due to the tapered magazine, it was not difficult to quickly insert a magazine and load the handgun during speed drills. The Beretta handles quickly—you must give it that—and the M9 performed well. A difference between the M9 and the Beretta 92 is that the rear sight features a single white bar rather than the popular three-dot system. This bar seems to give better precision accuracy with less chance of misaligning the sights.

During the first firing session, I also fired a number of jacketed hollowpoint loads. The practice loads break about 1,150 fps; the 115-grain JHP +P runs closer to 1,300 fps. This load gave a strong push and greater muzzle report, but control remained good. I also fired a single magazine of 124-grain JHP +P. At 1,200 fps- plus, this loading demonstrates an excellent balance of expansion and penetration and would be an ideal service load for agencies deploying the 9mm Luger cartridge.

While the 9mm doesn’t offer hard-driving recoil, the shooter must be certain to control recoil when firing service-grade loads. These loads never failed to feed, chamber and fire, or eject. Practical accuracy was good. The sights are well regulated for 115-grain ammunition, with 124-grain loads firing just slightly above point of aim.

Accuracy results – 25 yards, measured in inches Load Group
Black Hills Ammunition 115-grain JHP +P 2.5 inches
Black Hills Ammunition 124 -rain JHP +P 2.0 inches
Fiocchi 147-grain JHP 2.0 inches
Fiocchi 123-grain FMJ 2.4 inches

When carrying the M9 concealed, I use an inside-the-waistband holster. With a combination of VentMesh and Rhino mesh that protects both the handgun and the user from perspiration, this is a comfortable holster that distributes the weight of the Beretta well. The balance of speed and retention is good.

The Beretta has enjoyed an excellent service record. The pistol handles well, and it is reliable and accurate. There isn’t much more we may ask from a service pistol.

What has your experience been with the Beretta M9 (Military or civilian versions)? Share them in the comment section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (42)

  • Joe


    The Beretta M9/92FS has an action dating from the Walther P-38, which was pretty state of the art for it’s time. Since then much better pistols like the SigSauer emerged. Sig was supposedly beaten out at the last minute by Beretta on price.

    More cynically, some suspect, the contract win resulted from a leaning towards the Italian company for payback after the Carbaneri special operations unit in 1981 rescued US Army General Dozier from his communist kidnappers, The Red Brigade. Moreover, Special Forces NCOs at Fort Bragg assigned to field test the pistol said their negative reports were changed by those higher up the food chain. Specifically, complaints they had about malfunctions when covered in mud were papered over to ensure this contract went through.

    Many people do not realize there are even more differences between the military M9 and any civilian variant, 92FS or otherwise. There are subtle differences in springs used, metal thicknesses, and as pointed out, the overall finish. A depot-level armorer would be able to tell the difference but your average solider may not notice.

    Part of the contract stipulated that the pistols would be made in the US after a small initial run of production in Italy. As with other weapons systems, contractors bid on making repair and replacement parts, sometimes with changes to specifications requested by the customer, DoD.

    One such change was to the frame of the M9 to prevent slides from blowing back and hitting shooters in the face. A round nub was added to the left side to direct the slide up and over the shooters head, should this happen. This situation happened more than once when Navy personnel including at least one SEAL were (stupidly) using hot ammo designed for submachine guns in their M9s.

    As to whether or not military M9 pistols will be released for civilian sale, this is possible since the government recently approved releasing several thousand surplus M1911s through the civilian marksmanship program (thank you, Trump administration!) But honestly I don’t know who would want one – there are much better pistols already on the market.


  • Mickey Meador


    I was wondering: When the US Military Brass decides on the replacement for the M9 will the US public be able to buy these surplus pistols? Or will
    President Clinton (sic) order them melted down because or “the children” that would be murdered with them? Hopefully President Cruz will offer them to We the People who actually paid for them already at a genuine discounted surplus price.


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