Owners of Browning’s discontinued HP40 Hi-Power chambered in 40 S&W have an unusual but highly competent pistol in their hands.
The original Hi-Power got its name because it held more 9mm cartridges in magazine — 13 rounds — than other pistols of its time in 1935. If you parlez-vous ze French, it might also be called a “GP,” for “grande puissance.” Personally, Hi-Power sounds better to me.
Browning offered a 40 S&W version of the Hi-Power platform beginning in 1994. I first noticed it while Practical Shooting because it allowed a competitor to fit more rounds of forty-cal into his pistol yet still make major power factor. Most people know the Hi-Power only as a well-mannered 9mm, but the 40 S&W increased the gun’s slide velocity, making it possible to fire successive rounds faster.
When I first shot the gun back in 2000, the Browning HP40 sold for $608. Browning beefed up the Hi-Power frame to handle 40 S&W ammunition, a change that also made the gun better for law-enforcement and self-defense uses. It was last listed in the Browning catalog in 2010 as item #051003394 or #051003494, with $1029 and $1099 MSRPs, respectively. A less-expensive model, #051001394 for $999, had a black-epoxy finish on the frame and slide, high-profile fixed sights, and composite grip panels.
I saw an HP40 listed on our auction partner GunAuction.com a few months ago and looked around for others— rare as they might be — and found samples in good to excellent condition listing for as high as $850, but most of them were in the $750 area. Is that too much to pay for a gun that’s no longer being made? Maybe so. But to help you make that decision, here’s a little bit more about the HP40 that you need to know before you buy.
Shooting the HP40
The Hi-Power, like many other Browning designs, operates on the short-recoil principle. In that design, the barrel and slide initially recoil together until the barrel is unlocked from the slide by a cam arrangement. Unlike the M1911 pistol, the HP barrel doesn’t move vertically by a toggling link. Instead, a hardened bar crosses the frame under the barrel and contacts a slot under the chamber, at the rearmost part of the barrel.
The slide and receiver were made of polished steel with a blued finish. My first HP40 came with fixed sights, but a loaner gun I got from a friend recently had an adjustable rear sight. The Browning Hi-Power is single-action only with a hinged trigger. Some shooters don’t like this because the trigger angle in relation to the pad of the finger constantly changes.
I used it to shoot multiple-target drills on three Millpark cardboard targets at a distance of 36 feet. From low ready, I tried to make an A-zone head shot on the three successive targets as fast as possible. I used Winchester 180-grain FMJ ammunition to test for sight acquisition, trigger response, recoil and recovery time.
Over the course, I gauged the gun to be a little muzzle-light, but I felt it was highly competent. This basic model with black finish and combat sights (windage adjustable by drift only) displayed a white “three-rectangle” (not three-dot) sight system. I thought this arrangement was easy to see, and I liked the thin front sight.
The slide featured rear serrations only, and it had an external extractor. The safety was ambidextrous, but the mag release was for the right-hand thumb only, as was the slide release. Left-handed shooters would need to release the mag with the trigger finger. The Hi-Power will not fire, nor will the hammer drop, without a magazine in place. The plastic grips are comfortable for either hand, since the channel at the top of the grip will accept either the thumb or the trigger finger as needed.
This gun featured a double-stack magazine with the rounds in the grip piling up in a staggered design. The magazine can’t help but shoot out smartly upon release because a spring-loaded lever is built into the bottom of the magazine. The supplied 10-round 40 S&W mags were made in Italy.
This gun was 100 percent reliable with several brands of ammo I fired in it. Though it had a 4.7-inch barrel, it was only a couple of ticks down in velocity from other full-size guns I shot along with it. The trigger broke cleanly and consistently at 8.5 pounds. That was too heavy for a single-action gun, and I felt the pull did adversely affect my bench results.
Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection 165-grain hollowpoints 23970, $22.51, developed average velocity at 10 ft. of 1168 fps and muzzle energy of 500 ft.-lbs. The smallest five-shot groups I shot with it at 25 yards measured 3.1 in., and the largest groups went 3.2 in. for an average group size of 3.2 in.
Winchester USA 180-grain FMJs Q4238, $21.63, produced 978 fps average velocity and ME of 383 ft.-lbs. Smallest groups at 25 yards were 2.4 in., largest groups were 2.9 in., and average group size calculated to be 2.5 in.
Armscor’s 180-grain FMJs 50081, $15.49, developed average velocity of 968 fps and muzzle energy of 375 ft.-lbs. The smallest group I shot with that ammo at 25 yards was 2.0 in., the largest 2.6 in., making an average group size of 2.2 in.
Firing from a standing position in a practical test, the consistency and short movement of the action proved more important than weight of pull. I recorded a fast series of hits due to a great sight picture and handy pointing characteristics. Elapsed time for one shot on each target from low ready ranged from 1.61 to 1.82 seconds. The other three runs were timed at 1.70, 1.74, and 1.79 seconds respectively, with a total of 14 out of 15 possible A-zone hits. The subsequent drill of two shots on each target yielded ETs of 2.4 to 2.7 seconds with a total of 25 out of 30 possible A-zone hits.
Before You Buy
There weren’t a lot of 40 S&W Hi-Powers made, and it seems that owners of the gun are pretty proud of them. I can see why — despite its short lifespan, the 40 HP is a satisfying gun to own. With its history, there are enough aftermarket parts and refinements to hold its owner’s interest for decades to come.