The FN Hi-Power — most often called the Browning Hi-Power — is easily the most prolific military handgun of the previous century. Depending on sources, the pistol was used by 50-100 nations. The Hi-Power (Grande Puissance, P35, H35) was produced in the millions. Clones and copies have also been manufactured, most of these were of good quality, such as the Argentine FM, but today we are discussing the Springfield SA-35.
The Tisas BR9 is a recent clone, the Hungarian FEG another. Israel’s Kareen was popular a few years, but quickly disappeared. The Arcus was a beefed up Hi-Power that generally gave good service.
Modern Hi-Power Design
Sadly, as of 2018, FN/Browning discontinued the Hi-Power. I suspect sales were lagging. The pistol was seen as dated by many shooters. The construction of the pistol was expensive and time consuming. When the last MSRP of the Hi-Power was over $1,000, sales were few. Perhaps as important, there would never be further institutional or military sales of the Hi-Power.
Before you shell out well over a $1,000–2,000 for a used FN Hi-Power, you may wish to get on the list for a Springfield SA-35. They are getting into the pipeline more reliably and are affordable at just over $700. Performance should be your only question.
You should first consider what the Hi-Power is and whether this is the pistol you want. Buying on whim is fine — the Hi-Power 9mm is a fun handgun. A sense of history is well represented by the SA-35’s distinctive lines. If you want to make the pistol a frontline defense gun, there are important nuances of operation to understand. For those willing to master the type, the Hi-Power is a formidable defensive handgun.
Springfield SA-35 Features
The Springfield SA-35 features a matte blue finish. The slide scroll markings are subdued. I much prefer these to the loud billboard types. The grips are nicely checkered walnut. This is class. This is dated some will say, and to each his own.
The pistol features a single-action trigger. The slide is racked, and the hammer is cocked as a round feeds from the magazine. The pistol is then placed on safe with the hammer to the rear. This is cocked and locked carry. The pistol should be carried in the holster cocked and locked.
As the pistol is drawn and you move on target, the safety is moved to the fire position. The trigger does one thing — it drops the hammer — hence the term single-action. There is no handgun on the planet faster to an accurate first shot than the Browning Hi-Power. While the 1911-type is also fast, I could not predict the winner in a contest between them.
The SA-35 pistol features a low bore axis. The center line of the bore lies close to the hand. Control is excellent. Fire, allow the trigger to reset during recoil, and you are on target again. The trigger features a smooth straight-to-the-rear compression.
The SA-35 breaks at 5.0 pounds even — far better than most Hi-Power pistols out of the box. Some Hi-Powers I have tested registered as much as 9 pounds on the trigger scale — recent Hi-Power pistols were better.
The pistol features a safety on the left side only. This is a modern speed safety. The sights are modern wedge types. These sights are superior to anything, save custom sights, that I have found on any previous Hi-Power.
The front sight is a simple bold post. The rear is a U-notch. The combination is ideal for speed shooting. The wedge type sight is named for the stabilizing wedge-type design that may be used to rack the slide on the belt or boot heel, or more easily to release the slide after a one hand reload with the slide locked back.
Accuracy and Reliability
I have fired the pistol extensively. There have been no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. I made certain I used a good mix of ammunition from 100–147 grains. Gun writers really do have these bags of mismatched ammunition and partial boxes!
Much of the ammunition was the Remington UMC 115-grain FMJ loading. This load burns clean and offers excellent accuracy. I often use this loading when testing accuracy in top-end target-grade pistols. This loading makes me less likely to brag on my handloads — combat accuracy is excellent.
The pistol cleared leather quickly, landing on target. The front sight hung on the target as I controlled the pistol and the trigger action. Pressing the trigger, allowing the trigger to reset as the pistol recoiled, recovering the sight picture, and I had a hit.
At 7, 10, and 15 yards, the pistol proved a joy to fire and use. The X-ring was destroyed at 7 and 10 yards with some hits straying into the 8 and 9-ring, if I fired too quickly. As a personal defense or service pistol, the SA-35 gets the nod. This pistol is probably the best Hi-Power yet, by virtue of the trigger action and sights as well as modern quality manufacture.
I also tested the Springfield SA-35 for accuracy from a solid benchrest firing position. I used the MTM Case Gard K-Zone firing rest. In the past, I have found most Hi-Power 9mm pistols, even those with heavy triggers, would deliver a five-shot group at 25 yards of 2.5 inches. Even well-worn Inglis Hi-Powers from WWII seldom stray over 3.0 inches.
This is an accurate handgun by design. I fired several groups using Armscor, PMC, and a dwindling supply of Tula FMJ. Most were in the 2.5-inch range with the Tula an exception at 4.0 inches. Intrigued, I added several loads that I had set aside for the proper time and pistol.
The Fiocchi 123-grain Combat, a full power FMJ loading, went into a brilliantly tight 1.9 inches. Remington UMC broke the 2.5-inch five-shot group standard, slightly, at 2.35 inches. Federal’s Classic 115-grain JHP load went into 2.4 inches. (This ammunition was 10-12 years old.) Hornady’s 147-grain XTP, the only heavyweight I have tested as of this writing, went into a solid and satisfying 2.0 inches.
The Remington Golden Saber 124-grain load offered similar performance. This takes time and discipline to fire a handgun for accuracy from the benchrest. However, I feel the results demonstrate that this pistol is plenty accurate. While absolute accuracy is not as important as speed shooting and getting fast hits at combat ranges, I enjoyed firing the pistol for accuracy and found it to be an accurate handgun that is satisfying to fire.
After thoroughly proofing the pistol, I decided to carry the SA-35 in a Bullard Leather Bodyguard holster. This holster rides on the belt, but due to the severe angle makes for a holster that is nearly as concealable as an inside the waistband holster.
Bullard Leather offers a wide range of holsters. The Bodyguard fits my style and is easily concealed beneath a light covering garment. When circumstances dictate greater concealment, a Bullard inside-the-waistband holster keeps the piece concealed inside the trousers, with only a light covering garment needed to cover the handle of the pistol.
Springfield Armory SA-35 Pistol Specifications
Type: Single-action, short-recoil, semi-automatic pistol
Cartridge: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 15+1 rounds
Barrel: 4.6 inches
Overall length: 7.75 inches
Width: .98 inch
Height: 5.1 inches
Weight: 32 ounces
Finish Matte: Blued
Stocks: Walnut, checkered
Sights: Rear U-notch, front post
Trigger: 5.0 pounds
While I found a handgun with excellent accuracy potential, more importantly, the SA-35 never failed to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. Holsters, aftermarket grips and magazines are easily obtained. The SA-35 not only made the Hi-Power available again, it is an improved version.
I cannot easily test the pistol’s improved metallurgy, but then the original Hi-Power is a long-lived rugged handgun. The sights, trigger, magazine, and overall design seem to be superior to the original. That is a big win for American shooters.