When it comes to a combat or self-defense handgun, we shooters usually fall into a few different camps. These camps are divided by fierce and passionate people who believe their handgun is the best choice. A lot of times these people aren’t wrong that their pistol is the best—for them anyway. Some people love Glocks, or some love 1911s or Sigs. Some guys would never carry an automatic and stick to the dependable wheel gun. I’m not picking at these guys; their choice is their choice.
A handgun that doesn’t get enough attention in my opinion is the Browning Hi Power. I can see why— I’m guilty of this myself. Of course I always knew about the Hi Power; I knew it was a Browning design, so I instantly equated it to quality. That’s about as much as I knew about it. Kind of like a cousin from a distant aunt: I know he’s there but that’s about it. Everyone recognizes the name, but few love and appreciate it.
Oddly the Hi Power is probably better known in countries around the world than America. This could be the fact the Hi Power wasn’t widely adopted by police forces and never saw any service with the US military. In fact, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team is the only well-known policing force I could find that issued them. Around the world though, it saw expansive use, in fact it was adopted in dozens of countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Israeli’s elite Yamam counter terrorism unit.
As you can see, it wasn’t just third-world nations that adopted this wonderful design, but rather modern militaries and some of our closest allies. The Browning Hi Power is a single-action handgun chambered in the venerable 9×19 Luger. The pistol burst onto the scene with its 13-round magazine, and this was in 1935: the standard capacity was around 7-to-8 rounds back then.
Nowadays I’ll admit 13 rounds of 9mm is kind of weak compared to the Glock 17 and the other wonder nines that seem to squeeze more and more rounds in their magazines. There is a quality aftermarket magazine made by Mec Gar that holds 15 rounds that does not extend past the pistol grip, along with 20 and 30 round magazines if that’s your flavor of Kool-Aid. There are South African 17-round magazines, but I have no experience with these and I’ve heard the reliability is hit or miss.
In my opinion a 15-round magazine is enough to help the Hi Power strive against the modern pistols. Now, as I said before, the pistol was chambered in the good old 9mm, but as the years went on, someone decided it needed to be chambered in 40 S&W, and it worked. The 40 has quite the cult following, and again, it’s all personal preference, whether you want a bigger bullet or more bullets is all up to you. Oh you want it in 45? They have that too—it’s called a 1911.
This whole topic came up to me because I fired my first Hi Power this Memorial Day. The Hi Power was a Browning and belonged to a friend who just purchased it that Friday. My first impression picking the weapon up was its heft. I’m not spoiled by the polymer pistols just yet, but the 9mm full-sized I’m used to is the military-issue M9. The Hi Power weighs noticeably more, almost as much as a 1911.
Like I said, I’m not spoiled on lightweight weapons, but a heavy pistol can be uncomfortable for some to conceal on a day to day basis, so this can be a negative aspect in the world of air weight J frames. My second impression was the overall comfort of the weapon in my hand: it just felt right. My gorilla hands rarely fit any stock grips perfectly, but something about the Hi Power suited me so well. The same was true for my friend, who is much smaller than me. He also loves how the trigger seems to be for his smaller hands. John Browning was a master of ergonomics in that this pistol feels like it was built for everyone.
The Browning slide is also much thinner than the usual Glocks and Sigs. This makes the weapon easier to conceal and actually more comfortable when pulled close to the body in a bellyband or IWB holster. The weapon, besides its weight, is pretty easy to conceal. If you carry a Sig or 191,1 the Hi Power will feel right at home.
Actually firing the Hi Power was a joy. The trigger was firm, but the trigger pull was crisp and consistent. It never felt spongy or stagey or anything like that. Honestly, I would describe it as a refined service pistol trigger. The sights were a typical low-profile three dot. The sights are simple and easy to use—nothing over the top—but perfect for a defensive pistol. My friend mentioned and I confirmed through Browning that there is a model with adjustable target sights.
The heft of the pistol made controlling the standard Winchester white box a breeze, even in rapid fire. The single action trigger, combined with controllability of the pistol make it easy to fire double taps or hammer pairs depending on your term preference. Apparently the old Hi Powers never functioned very well with hollow points, we strapped in some JHPs and the Hi Power ate them up. Apparently the older Hi Power and the unlicensed copies weren’t throated for wide mouth hollow points. These days it’s standard for the weapon to eat anything you feed it.
Accuracy with the weapon was superb. I should have brought something to measure the groups, but firing off hand, I impressed myself. My groups were all excellent, which I credit the pistol for. We didn’t just fire at a fixed line. We practiced drawing and firing, firing in the non-dominant hand, reloads, Mozambique drills, el presidente drills, firing from multiple positions like standing, kneeling, around “barriers” and forward and rear prone. The pistol performed well, and the ergonomics really shined during this drills.
The safety is very similar to the 1911. The model I fired featured a large, ambidextrous thumb safety above the grip. The safety was very easy to engage in both safe and fire mode. The safety was very easy to reach for with both small and large hands.
Shopping around online, I was surprised to see the amount of quality holsters out there. Browning has their own holsters, and De Santis makes beautiful holster as always. I was disappointed to find out that Blackhawk does not produce a holster in their popular SERPA line for the Hi Power. I personally love the SERPA and would love to see one that fit the Hi Power.
Magazines are pretty widely available as well and typically priced. I suggest going with either Browning mags or Mec gar. If Wilson Combat put out mags for the Hi Power, I’d be all over them. There are some very cheap surplus mags out there that may be hit or miss, as a lot of surplus stuff usually is.
I’ve officially fallen in love with the Hi Power. The Hi Power is such a refined pistol, and it’s knocked the 30-06 Winchester Model 70 off the top of my wish list. The Hi Power may not have its fan club shouting how wonderful it is or someone arguing the Hi Power is the only way to go, but I think it deserves a second look. I would suggest to anyone that sees a Hi Power just hold it and tell me you don’t like your first impression.
The price varies by whatever country is putting them out, as well as the quality. Portuguese versions can be picked up for around six hundred in very good condition. Newer Brownings are about double that. The weapon is expensive, and that’s bound to turn some people off when a Glock can be had for six hundred. I can fully understand that reasoning, but something about the pistol is drawing me to it.
I can’t wait to have my hands on a piece of Browning’s history. I love the pistol, and I believe it will find a great place in my gun safe and stay there for a very, very long time.