The BHP is one of the all time classic pistols, and those wondering why will hopefully find out in this Browning Hi Power review. We’ll give you the skinny on what it is about this gun that’s made it an icon.
Why bother, though? Isn’t it out of production?
Browning’s parent company, FNH – makers of other fine pistols like the 509 and FNX 45 has indeed ceased production. With that said, there are many on the used market and also some clones out there that ARE still in product, so it would seem that even death is not the end, so to speak.
A Browning Hi Power (or quality clone) is a good addition to any collection. It also makes a better carry gun than you might think. Why, exactly? Read on to find out…
Browning Hi Power History
The Browning Hi Power, for those unaware, was the last handgun that John Moses Browning, the legendary firearms designer, worked on. The project started in the early 1920s, culminating in the final design of the pistol in 1934.
Unfortunately, Browning began suffering from a mild case of being dead in 1926, from which he has yet to recover. The rest of the design work was handled by Dieudonne Saive, a Belgian firearms designer in the employ of Fabrique Nationale.
The genesis of the pistol was a request by the French military for a new handgun. They wanted a gun that was a bit more compact than other popular service guns, held 10 or more rounds, and was rugged and simple enough to hold up for a long time. Dieudonne devised the staggered magazine and Browning designed a gun to go around it at first.
Browning, due to Colt holding the patent, couldn’t use the 1911 design, and had to start from scratch. The initial design was actually striker-fired (if you think Glock invented that…we have news for you!) but, after Browning’s death, was changed to a single-action system with a cam-locking barrel.
The gun would be called either the Grand Rendement or “High Capacity” or alternately the Grand Puissance or “High Power” per the French government, so that’s where the name comes from.
The French military opted not to pick it up at first, but the Belgian military made the smart decision and did. They were followed by various other armed forces such as that of Canada, the UK and others. All told, more than 60 nations adopted it as the official sidearm of their militaries. It was also a popular police sidearm as well.
Browning Hi Power Review: Tale Of The Tape
The Browning Hi Power has a 4.7-inch barrel. Overall dimensions are 7.8 inches long, 5.02 inches tall by 1.4 inches wide, though width is mostly in the grips. The frame is merely 1 inch wide, which is quite slim given that it carries a double-stack magazine. Unloaded weight is about 34 ounces, depending on the model.
Factory grips are typically hard plastic or wood, depending on the model. Standard carrying capacity is 13+1 rounds, but aftermarket magazines increase capacity to 15+1 rounds.
Controls are simple, with a slide release lever and a manual safety lever on the left side of the gun. Some models have ambidextrous safety levers. The magazine release button is located on the grip frame, and all controls sit within easy reach of the thumb.
The trigger is a hinged trigger unlike the previous straight-pull trigger of Browning’s other famous service pistol, the 1911. Some models have a stiffer pull than one might expect, at around 7 to 8 pounds, though others have a quite reasonable 5 to 6 pounds.
The original sights are a fixed front blade and driftable rear sight. Target sights have been a popular option for many years, with an exaggerated front blade. Late model pistols feature dovetailed three-dot sights front and rear.
The Hi Power is a single-action pistol, requiring the person carrying it to either carry cocked and locked (e.g. with the manual safety engaged) or to lower the hammer over a live round, requiring the hammer be cocked upon drawing. There is a magazine safety, so the gun cannot fire without a magazine inserted.
John Browning guns are known for outstanding ergonomics, and the Hi Power is no exception. The grip housing has a palm swell for greater comfort, fitting very well in the hand; better, in fact, than many modern polymer pistols.
The ergonomic appointments later informed the design of a number of other pistols. Look at the palm swell and you see the DNA evident in guns like the CZ-75, Smith and Wesson Model 39, Sig Sauer P220 and P226 and their derivatives, and many more.
The on-paper dimensions are deceiving as the Hi Power feels a lot smaller in the hand than the measurements say it is. While the measurements suggest it’s an open carry only gun, it’s actually a very decent concealed carry pistol. Thin grips can bring the width down to 1.25 inches in width or less, and the thin slide tucks easily into a Browning Hi Power IWB holster. Combine that with a good belt and you’re golden.
Shooting The Browning Hi Power
As the Browning Hi Power chambers 9mm (for the most part; versions in .40 S&W as well as .32 ACP exist) it shoots very softly. The weight of the metal frame soaks up recoil, and the low bore axis tames muzzle rise.
However, there is a known drawback to the Hi Power in this regard, which is the beavertail…what little of it exists, that is. The BHP has only a small shelf that sits over the web of the hand, which makes a high grip a little difficult. Since the default hammer is a spur hammer, rather than a bobbed unit, this can easily lead to hammer bite.
This is why custom-shop Hi Powers typically have material welded to the beavertail to extend it, as well has a bobbed hammer. This is also why when CZ added a longer beavertail on the frame for easier shooting with the CZ-75, the design of which was (obviously) heavily informed by the Hi Power.
The stock trigger is a common complaint. The magazine safety produces a certain amount of trigger creep, so it isn’t as smooth as a 1911 trigger. However, it does give you more tactile feedback than many striker gun triggers. It has a solid feel to it that some shooters prefer. That said, a common modification by owners is to remove the magazine safety and polish the trigger components for a smooth pull. A spring kit to lessen the pull weight is often added as a matter of course.
The controls are a little on the compact side, which gives some shooters some issues. Another common aftermarket modification is an extended manual safety lever.
Older models were known for not feeding hollow point ammunition well, requiring regular polishing of the feed ramp or the installation of a barrel with a feed ramp designed for feeding JHP. However, modern pistols don’t have that issue as the feed ramp was altered by FNH on factory guns beginning in the 1980s.
Peccadilloes aside, the Hi Power is easy to shoot and highly accurate. Like the 1911 before it, this pistol is capable of incredible accuracy. A good number of competition shooters have employed it, so it can punch paper with ease and at close, intermediate and long distances.
It’s one of the all-time greats, and for good reason.
How Can I Get A Browning Hi Power Now?
What good is a Browning Hi Power review? FN stopped making them. Why not review the new Glock 26 or something?
Well, it is a classic gun and people that are starting to collect guns might get curious. The Hi Power is, after all, the original high-capacity pistol. It’s also considered one of the best, despite its older – but still very functional – design.
The first generation of Browning/FN-made Hi Power pistols were first imported in the 1950s. The P35 pistol is the military version, the Mark 1 are the guns made for the civilian market. They are bare bones, blue steel, wood grips, simple sights. Those made from 1962 onwards feature an external extractor. Variants of the Mark 1 include bobbed hammers and revised barrel designs. There is also a very rare lightweight model made with an aluminum alloy frame.
The Mark II model debuted in the early 1980s, with a throated barrel (for easier feeding of hollow points), 3 dot sights, nylon grips and ambidextrous safeties. In 1988, it was further revised with a firing pin block and a different finish; these revisions were dubbed the Mark III. A few upgraded models have been offered over the years such as the Capitan (target sights, bobbed hammer) the Practical (two-tone finish, other options) and the Silver Chrome, with a bright chrome finish, as well.
Production unfortunately ceased in early 2018. FN may not make them, this much is true. However, there are some clones in production.
The best-known at the moment is those made by Tisas, a Turkish gun company that also makes some decent 1911s as well. The Tisas Regent BR9 is a faithful Hi Power copy that’s starting to hit more and more gun stores, and winning some fans in the process. A little fettling is sometimes needed to get them in perfect running order, but it’s a quality pistol and at a more attractive price point than the Browning guns were offered at. The Tisas Hi Power can be had for less than $700, whereas FN’s – sold through their Browning subsidiary, naturally – commanded at least $1,000.
Other clones were made in a number of countries – Argentine, Israeli and Hungarian Hi Power clones can be had for very reasonable amounts – so there are plenty of guns available for the interested collector without breaking the bank. A bevy of used FN guns are on the second hand market as well, which can often be had for very reasonable amounts.
You can get into a Hi Power for not a whole lot of money, if you wanted to. If you ever hold one, you’ll probably want to.