It is no secret to the readers of The Shooter’s Log that I am an unabashed proponent of the Browning Hi-Power. I have been since the mid-1960s when I purchased my first one at Montgomery Wards in Panorama City California for $84. Over the years since that time, I have recommended it to anyone that would listen and encouraged friends and students to try shooting the most comfortable handgun ever designed.
It was a sad day indeed when FN ceased manufacturing the Hi-Power. I must admit that I feel some validation/vindication for my Hi-Power love with the introduction of the current crop of Hi-Power style handguns being manufactured by others. Unfortunately, the only one of the new crop of Hi-Powers that I have been able to handle has been the Springfield SA-35.
I was delighted by its execution. In my hand, it seemed only 1–2 ounces heavier than any of my Belgian-made examples. It is so slight that most will not notice the difference. Should I get a chance to handle the other Hi-Powers appearing on the market, I will be happy to offer opinions on them also.
A Bit of History
Before I explain the differences between the Belgian and Springfield versions, I should probably revisit the development of the Hi-Power for those who are unfamiliar with it. After WWI, John Browning was commissioned by Fabrique National to design a new service pistol for the French military. While working on the Hi-Power design, Browning was frustrated by having to work around his own patents that Colt held on the 1911.
Unfortunately, Browning passed away in 1926 before the design was completed. In 1927 his patent was granted for the locked-breech recoil system he planned on using along with a new staggered magazine design by his protégé at FN designer Dieudonné Saive. When the patents for Browning’s 1911 expired, Saive completed the Hi-Power design, He used some of those expired patent designs that Browning struggled with. It was finally ready for production in 1935.
Ironically, the Hi-Power that was originally designed for the French was not initially purchased by them. The Grand Rendement (French for “high yield”), or alternatively Grande Puissance (literally “high power”) was first adopted by Belgium for military service in 1935 as the Browning P-35.
During its service life, it was adopted as the standard service pistol by over 50 armies and 93 countries. Those numbers make it the most used and highly regarded pistol in history being continuously manufactured from 1935 until 2018. An impressive record by any measure.
Hi-Power for Defense
I have and still believe the Browning Hi-Power is the best 9mm fighting handgun one could possess. I recommend it to all my students. If they have never fired one, I encourage all of them to shoot one of mine.
I find that ladies, especially, find it comfortable and shoot it better than most other handguns. Even those with smaller hands find it allows them to feel confident handling it. I will admit that my Hi-Powers have all had some work done to them but that in no way diminishes the excellence of the design, it only exaggerates it.
One needs to remember that when the Hi-Power was designed there was no hollow point ammunition, everything was ball. That was the case for all automatic pistols until well into the 1970s. So, if you wanted to shoot the new hollow points reliably in your automatic pistol, you needed to have a good pistol smith modify your feed ramp and throat the barrel.
This was especially true with the Hi-Power. The magazine disconnect, a feature the French wanted, also needed to be removed to improve the trigger and allow the magazines to fall away freely. New sights, a custom safety, and slide release were also popular aftermarket options. The need for those modifications in no way reflects negatively on the excellence of the Hi-Power — even though they were needed improvements the factory failed to keep up with.
My first Browning Hi-Power was a fixed-sight “T” Series pistol. The gun was a plain blue with checkered walnut stocks that came in a black leather gun case with a red felt interior. I still have an all-original very collectible “T” Series but not that very first one. I never had a problem with the “hammer bite” that many complained about, but I did have the hammer changed on the ones that received a full custom treatment.
I have Hi-Powers that represent all the modern variants since the T Series, and most are 9mm save those in .40 S&W. I am not a fan of the .40 S&W, but I like the Browning so much that after they got the problem of cracking frames fixed — by going to a heavier cast frame from the forged frame — I succumbed. Because of the weight of that all-steel gun, shooting the .40 caliber wasn’t bad with a Hi-Power.
Included here is a photo of my “T” Series Hi-Power for your consumption. As you sharp-eyed Hi-Power nerds can see, the only thing done to it was the removal of the magazine safety. Basically, it can be considered a stock gun for comparison with the Behlert and Hoag customs.
Next are three photos of an Austin Behlert custom Hi-Power. Austin was considered by many to be the dean of custom Hi-Powers for the incredibly imaginary work he performed on them such as his Mini Hi-Power. This example is one of my carry guns and has been modified with some of his signature touches that include the extended beavertail and the flared magazine well.
This pistol also has an ambidextrous safety, extended slide release, custom barrel bushing, serrated slide, his special contoured grips, checkered front and rear grip panels, adjustable sights, and lots of internal work. It is great to shoot, and carry, and one of my favorite Hi-Power handguns. Take special note of the checkering on the front of the grip — something no one has the skill to do today, because they say the front strap is too thin… Balderdash!
The next Hi-Power I would like to share with you is a stock, mint condition, Hi-Power in .40 Smith & Wesson. As mentioned, the ones I have are post frame-cracking issues and are very nice. They have a two-tone finish and rubber grips with the Browning gold medallion — all-in-all, a handsome package. The slide is slightly wider than the frame to beef it up a bit more. I think the added weight — strengthening the entire package — made it a more comfortable platform to launch the .40 S&W from.
The last Hi-Power comes with features added by my favorite custom pistol smith, Jim Hoag — his like will not pass this way again. This Hi-Power has been well used and well cared for over many years. The finish is showing wear, but the skill of the craftsman is still apparent.
Everything, from the Smith & Wesson adjustable sight that is flawlessly installed flush with the top of the slide to the 50 line-per-inch checkering on the rear of the slide — you read that correctly, 50 LPI — was perfectly executed. From the 30 LPI on the front strap to the custom barrel bushing for the barrel, one would be hard-pressed to find fault with the execution. That is why it was rewarded with ivory grips.
As I mentioned earlier the new Springfield SA-35, out of the box provides many of the things we used to have a custom pistol smith attend to. Springfield has added a nicely sized safety that is perfectly positioned and easy to operate and good sights that are easy to see. Springfield removed the magazine safety, tuned the trigger, and improved the feed ramp on the SA-35.
What I would like to see them add as options perhaps would be an ambidextrous safety and adjustable sights. I understand it’s about price point and competing with plastic guns. However, as options, I think they would be popular.
There was one thing that vexed me, until I realized what was going on. After field stripping the pistol for cleaning and examination, I started to reassemble it — as I had done with scores of Hi-Powers, thousands of times. When I put the slide on the frame and started to slide it into position (to lock it in place, so the slide release pin could be fed through the frame) the slide hit an obstruction.
At first, I thought the ejector had somehow become loose and was catching the top of the grove in the slide. When closely examining it, I saw that could not be the issue. After additional investigation, I realized that the barrel has enough play that it had rotated slightly, causing the recoil spring guide to catch on the frame. I found a significant amount of rotation in the barrel that allows that to happen. Not the end of the world but a bit disconcerting. Other than that, I have no negative comments.
At the range, our setup was limited to 20 yards off the bench for the initial rough accuracy testing with some of my remaining 9mm stock. We used Perfecta 115-grain FMJ, American Eagle 115-grain FMJ, Winchester USA 115-grain FMJ, and Magtech 124-grain FMJ. All loads tested printed Minute of Felon, close to the point of aim with the Winchester load getting the nod. The SA-35’s least favorite was the Perfecta loading, but they all fed reliable with no hiccups.
I had two guest shooters, one was a student with a medium level of experience, and a young lady with no prior shooting experience. Both shot the SA-35 well at standard IPSC targets. In particular, the lady found the SA-35 comfortable and comforting to handle and shoot. No surprise there. It is, after all, a Hi-Power. Once again, I don’t like pistols without manual safeties for concealed carry, self-defense, or any serious pursuits.
In my opinion “Safe Trigger Systems” are accidents looking for a place to happen, and given time and opportunity, they will. Springfield has created a worthy progeny to John Browning’s masterpiece. If you don’t have one, I recommend picking one up. Kudos to Springfield on its execution of a classic, and for the improvements that make it an out-of-the-box ready to shoot and carry choice.
I hope you have enjoyed the vintage Hi-Powers. If you have never handled a Browning Hi-Power, you might think I’m biased, but remember I also have more than 50 years of experience on the subject. I have fired just about everything that has come before and since the Hi-Power. I’m confident you will like it. A finer 9mm handgun to defend yourself with, you will not find (no matter what they say on the internet).