Firearm History

The Browning Hi-Power — Then and Now

Woman holding a Browning Hi-Power semi-auto handgun

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.

Springfield Hi-Power Models SA-35 9mm semi-automatic handgun
The Springfield SA-35 with improved sights, slide release, safety, grips, and hammer clearly visible.

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.

two barrels for Browning Hi-Power 9mm handguns
The top barrel is the original from a T Series Hi-Power with an arched feed ramp. The bottom barrel is a custom Bar-Sto barrel from an Austin Behlert modified Hi-Power with a modified straight feed ramp.

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.

Browning Hi-Power T series 9mm handgun circa 1960
The author’s 1960s-era T-Series Hi-Power.

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.

Austin Behlert modified Hi-Power pistol
Here is an Austin Behlert modified Hi-Power with custom touches.

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.

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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.

mint condition .40 S&W Browning Hi-Power 9mm handgun
Here is a mint condition .40 S&W Browning Hi-Power.

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.

Springfield SA-35

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.

Montage of customized Browning Hi-Power pistols
Here are four photos of a custom Jim Hoag Browning Hi-Power. Please note the checkering.

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.

Two slides from Browning Hi-Power models
These photos show the bottom of the slide. In the top image, you can see the barrel correctly aligned. However, in the bottom image, you can see the amount of rotation or play that exists in the barrel that caused the reassembling issue. I trust this rotation will not present any issues during firing.

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.

Springfield SA-35 on a pistol rest with several boxes of ammunition at an outdoor range
Pistol rest and ammunition tested by the three of us in informal drills to test function, accuracy, and reliability.

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).

Are you a Hi-Power fan? How does it compare to your favorite fighting handgun? Share your answers in the comment section

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Comments (33)

  1. Well, I have had the SA-35 in my hand, and I walked away leaving it on the counter.
    A week later I held a Prodigy too. I did the same with it as with the SA-35.

    I went right out and picked up a Saccato P. Yes, twice above the Prodigy. $$$, but like the Browning HP, it is very hard to improve upon perfection.

    My Browning HiPower just feels right! It shoots right. So, It is right

    The same with the Staccato. Once you just pick one up, the difference is readily apparent.

    Springfield Armory does some excellent work on 1911’s and their M1-A is without equal (IMHO).
    While I still think that my HiPower is just too pretty to shoot, I have to keep reminding myself. It was made to “run.” Just like those triple crown winning horses. To keep them locked away is just wrong.

    Now every gun maker seems to be coming out with a clone of the Hi Power! That just makes mine even more valuable…even if it is just to me.

  2. I originally hesitated buying the Hi-power because of the rarity and the price. But finally, one came along in the right condition and at a reasonable cost. I am not sorry. Love the way this weapon fires. Trouble free, and extremely accurate. The author is right on with his opinion on this gun. One of the finest defense weapons ever made. Mine was manufactured in the 90s.

  3. Picked up my first around 1975, with the red painted interior grips. Changed those for Pachmaier grips which I still love. My second was the two toned model in the eighties. Also picked up another straight blued model which is slightly used but otherwise perfect. Would always slip one into an inside the pants/belt clip holster when I had to respond to an “alert” in USAREUR back before the Berlin Wall came down. It rode comfortably (and invisibly) under my BDU shirt and I was assured of not being “naked” if I encountered a fifth column plant with an AK on my way into Base. I also own a variety of different modern plastic framed pistols, but the HiPower remains my first choice for serious social work.

  4. The question of the grip the shooting was using baffles me– that is a very functional and reliable grip method for shorter fingers.

  5. Although I have a variety of carry pistols, the HP has been my favorite since 1983. As a fighting pistol, my all time favorite, it’s been thoroughly treated to all the mentioned mods. Carried in a custom shoulder holster, it’s size/weight is no factor. Only in duct environments, the added stopping power of my HK 45 is preferred.

  6. Sir:
    I must be as old as you. I’ve been shooting Browning HP’s since 1970 and there is no finer 9mm pistol made, period! I even carried one while carrying a Sheriff’s Deputy badge and always felt secure with it in the holster or in my hand. My friend Wayne Novak built one for me which I still have to this day. It is the finest Combat pistol. It’s reliability is unreal. It has never failed me.

  7. After briefly using a BHP in the late 70’s I always wanted one. 2 weeks ago I purchased a Girsan MCP35. I’ve put 100 rounds through it and apart from the gritty trigger (magazine disconnect) it’s flawless. Fit and finish are excellent and it was less than $500 out of the door

  8. Excellent article on the Browning HiPower. I have owned, and been a fan of the HiPower for many years. It is by far the most comfortable and most accurate pistol in my vault. I have owned a couple of clones as well, but my HiPower Practical in .40 caliber was far superior to any of them. I used to shoot it in competition and it always performed better than i could have expected. I just hope that the new Springfield SA35 will be an admiral substitute for the real thing, as i have not had the opportunity to shoot one yet. As soon as i get the chance, i will assess the performance and compare the two side by side.

  9. I have a high power that was my dads R I P dad, its late 40s early 50s vintage?? My brother got the long guns an shotgun, I got the pistol, it still works fine take it out from time to time,

  10. I have a Hi-Power which I bought way back in ’99. It was used and I’ve only put about 300 rounds through it in all that time. Made in Belgium but I’m considering selling it. It’s a bit on the heavy side for a concealed carry. Very good condition for the year.

  11. The GP-Competition Model was a short-lived late-‘80s version that is easily identified by its six-inch barrel with muzzle weight and adjustable sights. It has two modifications which improve the trigger. First, it has a redesigned magazine safety which does not involve the trigger directly reducing trigger pull weight by about half a pound. Second, as you know, the sear lever located in the slide transfers trigger pressure to the sear. The designers of the Competition Model moved the fulcrum on the sear lever away from the center of the lever and towards the sear. This changed its leverage ratio from a “one-to-one” to a “two-to-one” advantage and reduced trigger pull weight by half without changing any other parts in the design and without compromising reliability and safety in any way. I shot a Competition Model in IPSC competition for several years and always marveled at its perfectly safe 2 1/2 lb. trigger.

  12. I too have put a lot of rounds thru Ed’s beater hipower.
    Love it. Accurate, comfortable and reliable.
    A hipower in other words.
    RIP Jim Hoag. True gentleman.

  13. Outstanding article on the Hi Power! I’ve owned one for many years. Of the many firearms I have shot or carried it is still my favorite!

  14. Another fine firearms study by LaPorta. I’ve been a fan of the hi-power since acquiring a Nazi souvenir in the late 1950s. It wasn’t in great shape but it was fun to shoot. The first thing that I liked about the pistol was how in felt in my hand and the next was it’s high capacity. About 10 years later I bought my first new Browning HP from a local gun shop. Since then I’ve acquired a bunch of them and I admire every one. One possible exception is a single .40S&W model I got from a friend. The piece was mint in an original box that I only fired once about 10 rounds. My complaint centered around field stripping the 40 caliber. I thought I’d never get the spring back in place. Like some of your other readers I can’t wait to get my hands on a SA-35 for a reasonable price. I also have an Ingles & a FEG.

  15. I have shot Ed’s “beater” Hi=Power and it truly is a bueat,at the time I owned a 92FS and the Browning fitted me much more comfortably but getting them in Australia is hard . I now shoot a .38 Colt auto 1991 modified back to the earlier version , this is just about as good to use for me . Keep it up old fella great reads sir !

  16. Once again, an “old time Classic” design has been revised and updated. Many of those old designs could be “updated” and the newer shooters would be surprised to see just how good those guns were/are. Prime example is seeing how many companies now make a 1911. Missed getting an original Hi Power, and instead got a then newly introduced Series 70 Colt (and then a RUGER 89). Me – I have a Remington NYLON 66 and think that REMINGTON made a mistake when they dropped it. How about somebody revise and update the NYLON 66???

  17. I have a a prefex wwii high power. Belonged to my uncle who got it from the guy that brought it back. My dad bought it from my uncle. Then traded it to a guy for a ruger black hawk in the early 70 ‘s. Around 20 yrs ago i bought it back. Its far from perfect. Its showes signs of its age. But love the gun but dont shoot it much. I need to find a newer one but will never sell mine.

  18. I knew Ed would not be able to resist penning an article on the BHP. I remember the exact day I purchased mine, a dual tone stainless/black in 9mm. Then Canuckistani Prime Minister Paul Martin just finished announcing a handgun grab. Seems to have taken a few decades but here we are with the WEF installed Turdo finishing what he started.
    It didn’t take long for me to realize the hammer HAD to be…. modified. Cutting off the bottom of the ‘hammer circle’ then carefully filing and sanding/polishing it leaves it looking great yet sans biteyness. Yes, that’s official language speak where I live. The magazine “safety” sits safely in a small container full of spare parts and springs. Other than those two things, I’ve enjoyed it.
    Great pictures as always to complement another fine article.

  19. Without a doubt they are beautifully made – both from the past and modern versions. Seeing the SA35 be released (I believe earlier this year) made me die inside a little bit knowing that it will likely never see the shelves or stores of California because the dummies who run this state don’t want us to be armed or have any fun. The few that can be bought at auction are a bit too pricey more often than not. However it’s still something that I keep an eye out for.

    Well written article Ed. Keep ’em coming!

  20. Interesting history and examples of the iconic Browning. Because of his extensive experience, I followed the authors advice years ago and added a HighPower to my collection. He is right – it is an excellent design and runs without issue. The HP is a proven warfighter with a sexy steel frame – the way to go if you want reliable performance for sketchy times in nasty places.

  21. I too, fell in love with the Browning Hi-Power when I first had the privilege to shoot one. I subsequently purchased a decent supply of 9mm ammo but dilly-dallied around too long in purchasing my own Hi-Power….and as John A mentioned in his post: ” I nearly cried when they were discontinued!” Originals are our of my price range, unfortunately so I will try and pick up an
    SA35. Kudos to Ed LaPorta for writing another excellent and very informative article.

  22. I have owned two Browning Hi Powers in 9mm..one 35 years ago, that got traded for a Browning BAR 30-06 Hunting Rifle. And one I helped out a friend needing cash about 5 years ago. Although Hi-Powers are well built, good craftsmanship, I find then heavy, and down on mag capacity, (13 ), compared to modern 9mm pistols, such as Sig Sauer, Glock, S&W M&P, Ruger, and even Tuarus, in the medium to low price points. If someone like Springfield Armory would make a SA-35 with an Aluminum alloy frame, and increase the the mag capacity from 15 rds, to 17 rds, and add a Pic Rail Below the end of the barrel, that would bring the SA-35 into the 21st Century. The old 1935 pistol could be made modern then. It would not take Springfield Armory or another Company like FN , Browning, or even Ruger, to upgrade the 87 year old design. Food for thought to Pistol manufactures! I did also trade in the one I bought five years ago, recently, for a New Ruger Manufactured Marlin 95 Guide Gun in Stainless steel, 45-70 with 16 inch trapper length barrel, and Camo Laminated wood stock set.

  23. I love the feel of the Hi Power, but have the same issues with it the author described. They are fixable, though it would have been nice if Browning had done so long before now. I have avoided the new Springfield clone for the simple reason that they have refused to offer it with an ambidextrous safety. When I inquired about aftermarket safeties, they responded that they don’t know if any of them will work. Not very proactive thinking on their part.

  24. I was fortunate enough to pick up one of the last Browning High Powers, just days before they announced that there would be no more of them made. The owner of the Gun Store offered me considerably more than what he sold it to me for just to have it back for his own personal collection. I had just enough wisdom to turn him down. I had not even finished firing my first box of ammo through it before I relegated the Browning to Gun Vault Princess status. My son clearly lusts after it, and one day (long into the future I hope) he will have it.
    I want to carry the Browning High Power. I want to shoot it too. A lot! But the bluing is still perfect and there are no holster scars anywhere on it.
    Springfield claims that their 15 round magazine works perfectly in the Browning, and that makes it even harder for me to keep it in the vault.
    I like the Browning better than my Walther Q5 Match, and for me, that says everything.
    I never thought I would put aside my 1911 .45 Colt Gold Cup, but Springfield put together their 1911 Operator. Now the Gold Cup is permanently parked next to my Browning High Power in the vault. If what Springfield does to the P35 is anywhere near as masterful as what they did with their Operator, then I will have to find a new space in my vault to permanently park my Q5 Match!
    It is crystal clear to me, and my son too, the 1911 is the definitive selection for the .45acp cartridge; and the High Power is equally so for the 9mm. Everything else is only “Also Ran” status. (IMHO that is.)

  25. Two notes–

    First, use an inflation calculator to convert the “dollar of that year” to what it would be today. Nostalgia needs to be tempered by reality. That was serious money back then.

    Second– the staggered box pistol magazine was in production in 1907 by Savage finally issued in 1908, and FN waited for the patent to expire before one of their people “invented” it. The 1907 Savage 45 used a staggered box magazine in the test trials that wound up with the Colt winning and getting the 1911 contract.

  26. I purchased my very first handgun, a T-series Hi-Power at the JC Penney store in Fairbanks, AK in January of 1976 tor $150 (ah, those were the good old days). I stupidly traded it for a Walther P-38 sometime later and regret that transaction to this day. Since I am a rabid 1911 fan I have dabbled more with that JMB design than the HP but I still have two. One is a two-tone late Portuguese- assembled model with improved sights and rather strange ambidextrous safety levers. The other is an Argentine manufacture military model that has improved sights but is otherwise true to the original design. I truly lust after the SA-35 model but they are still scarce on the market and command a premium price from wholesalers. I agree with the author – once one grips the Hi-power one’s hand falls in love with it. I have never gripped any handgun of any design in those long years since 1976 that feels as good as the Hi-power in the hand or that is such a natural pointer.

  27. I have one of the Springfield SA-35 High Power’s and find it a delightful shooter and an easy carry gun. Several years ago I test the BR-9 Regent made by Tisas. Unfortunately, I sent that gun back at the end of the review period and before the article was published Tisas took that gun off the market. I have my suspician that parts from that gun have made it into the Springfield but I have no proof of that.

  28. I have 2 HPs but this SA35 is kind of rare in my area. The new SA Prodigy made an appearance here with 3 days of being announced but this SA 35 is a unicorn.

  29. I’ve wanted a Browning HiPower since the early 1980s, but could never afford one. Back in late 1980s, I ran across a shiny new Hungarian HiPower clone, the FEG PJK-9HP. At the time, Hungary was in the Soviet orbit. It was only $199. I asked to see it, and once it was in my hand, it was just a matter of filling out the paperwork and enduring the waiting period. The fit in my hand is still far superior to any other handgun I own including my CZ-75, which bears a casual external similarity. My HiPower clone, despite tiny sights that I can barely see anymore, wretched trigger pull, and very small safety, is still my most accurate handgun. I can do better with this gun that even my Gold Cup National Match Colt .45 ACP. The newer magazines that are available, made by MecGar in Italy, have a built-in spring that ejects the magazine even with the magazine disconnect intact. I would very much love to get my hands on the new Springfield SA-35, but I doubt that it will ever make it on to California’s horrible and unconstitutional roster of handguns permitted for sale in this state. You were wise to acquire your Browning HiPowers when you did, I nearly cried when they were discontinued!

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