May 25, 2023
By Richard Mann
There’s a renewed interest in the Browning Hi-Power, which was discontinued in 2018. If you want one today, you essentially have four options. Springfield Armory and EAA are offering new Hi-Power clones, you can pick up an original, or have any of the three customized. With prices ranging from around $400 to $3,000, you might be wondering which is the best option.
I’ve been carrying Hi-Powers for more than 20 years and currently own four of them.
I thought it would be interesting to conduct sort of a shootout to see how these different variants stack up against each other. I also thought it might help those interested in the Hi-Power decide if they might really want one and which Hi-Power they might think would be best for them. But, before we get into the test or the results, a look at the guns is in order.
1. Novak’s Custom (FN Lightweight Hi-Power)
My EDC Hi-Power is the oldest Hi-Power I own. It’s also one of the rarest. It was manufactured by FN in 1980 and in 1984 began a tour of duty with a Belgian police agency. At some point, it made its way stateside and ended up at Novak’s in Parkersburg, WV. There, it underwent customization to include stippling on the top of the slide and back and front strap. It also received an extended safety, a Novak’s no-bite hammer, and a trigger job with removal of the magazine safety. A plain black Novak’s rear sight and a tritium front was installed, and a carry bevel package was performed.
Ultimately, the gun ended up with a friend in Arizona. He let me shoot it once, and I begged him to sell it. He refused but then unexpectedly gifted it to me a few years later. The only stipulation was that I’d will it to my son or give it back. I rarely leave home without it, and my son knows one day it will be his. Depending on custom options, it would cost you around $2,500 new. Unloaded, it weighs 23 ounces.
2. Robar / Nighthawk Custom (Browning Hi-Power)
My second most carried Hi-Power was made in 2010 and purchased direct from Browning in 2012. From the jump, the plan was to fully customize this pistol, which is the cast-frame Mk III version. I sent it to Robbie Barrkman at Robar.
Robar stippled the front and back straps, removed the magazine safety, and worked the trigger. The pistol was finished in two-tone NP3 and XS Sights were installed. An extended safety replaced the factory ambidextrous safeties, and a Commander-style hammer was also installed. The pistol was also sent to Nighthawk to be fitted with an extended tang to eliminate hammer bite completely. While there, Nighthawk’s gunsmith said it had the best trigger of any Hi-Power he’d ever seen — it is exceptional. I outfitted this pistol with a set of VZ grips. Cost — depending on options — would exceed $2,000, plus the base pistol. It weighs 29.8 ounces.
3. Springfield Armory SA-35
In late 2021, Springfield Armory shocked everyone with the introduction of the SA-35. The SA-35 is a Hi-Power clone and is very attractive, with a blued finish and wood grips. Outwardly, it resembles many custom Hi-Powers offered by various smiths over the years. Springfield did away with the magazine safety, beveled the magazine well, installed an easier-to-manipulate safety, an all-black rear sight, and a white dot front sight. It retails for around $700 and comes with a 15-round magazine as opposed to the traditional 13-round mag.
This is a well-made pistol. I’ve tested three of them, and they’re all reliable. I gave my son one for his 22nd birthday. He needed a good gun to carry until he gets my lightweight Novak’s Hi-Power, which I hope is a long way down the road. Springfield claims the SA-35 is American-made, and technically it is. However, the slide and frame are imported from Turkey, 80 percent complete. Weight unloaded is 32.5 ounces.
4. EAA Girsan MC P35
Partly because they did not put as much marketing behind it and partly because European American Armory (EAA) is not as well-known as Springfield Armory, this pistol is often overlooked. It was introduced a few weeks before the SA-35. EAA’s Hi-Power is called the MC P35, and it’s 100 percent made in Turkey by Girsan. It retains the magazine safety, which also prevents the magazine from dropping free, and it has the ambidextrous safety, which makes it a very true copy of the Mk III Hi-Power last sold by Browning. The sights are good, with a long, tapered, white-stripped front sight that’s easy to see and easy on holster leather.
Like the SA-35, the EAA MC P35 has the 1911 Commander-style hammer, which is supposed to prevent hammer bite. It helps but does not solve the problem completely. I think the quality of the MC P35 is every bit as good as the SA-35, however, due to its Cerakote finish and black plastic grips, the gun looks a bit toyish — it’s anything but. It weighs 29.8 ounces unloaded and retails for about $400.
This comparison is based on suitability for concealed carry. With that as the primary consideration, five aspects were evaluated. These included ease of carry, reliability, precision/accuracy, user interface, and practical performance. The overall appearance, brand name, origin of manufacture, or costs were not considered, because none of those things can save your life.
To evaluate ease of carry, each handgun was carried concealed in the same Galco V-Hawk holster for a 10-hour period. To establish reliability, each pistol was fired with 50 rounds of Federal’s American Eagle 115-grain FMJ load, 50 times with Federal’s 124-grain HST load, and 50 times with Nosler’s new 115-grain ASP load. For accuracy/precision testing, each handgun was fired from a sandbag rest at 10 yards with each of those loads. A single 10-shot group was fired — with the worst shot of each group discounted — to account for shooter error. User interface and practical performance were evaluated at the same time. User interface includes shooting comfort, trigger action, manipulation of controls, and of course sights. All these elements are subjective and relate to how I interacted with each pistol. The practical performance of each pistol was based on how well each pistol performed on each of the following drills:
Forty-Five Drill: This drill is made up of four elements of five. You must draw from the holster and hit a 5-inch circle five times, at a distance of 5 yards in less than 5 seconds. Average times, hits, and misses are listed.
El Prez Drill: This drill is performed at 10 yards. You start with your back to the targets and, on signal, turn and engage each of the three targets with two shots, reload, and repeat. Only hits in the 8-inch kill zone are counted, and the average time, hits, and misses are listed.
Six-Plate Rack: Unless you’re attacked by a group of soccer balls, a plate rack is not really a self-defense type drill. However, it is challenging, and the better you interface with the pistol, the better you will perform. Average time, hits, and misses are listed.
ACCURACY / PRECISION RESULT
From an accuracy/precision standpoint, there was no practical difference in the performance of these handguns. The customized lightweight Hi-Power from Novak’s turned in the smallest group average, and the EAA MC P35 came in second. However, the difference was so minimal that for all practical purposes, it was a tie.
To keep me from becoming too familiar with each gun during the testing, and to keep progressive improvement as the test progressed from giving the last gun tested an advantage, the guns were randomly rotated through these drills, and each drill was conducted three times with each handgun. The Robar Hi-Power clearly performed the best. The custom Novak’s Hi-Power and the Springfield SA-35 performed very similarly. The EAA turned in the best times but also the most misses.
1. Novak’s Custom (FN Lightweight Hi-Power)
There’s no question this pistol was the easiest to carry; it weighed 7 ounces less than the other three. Carrying it loaded was like carrying any of the others unloaded. Of course, this lighter weight produced a bit snappier recoil, though not enough to negatively impact performance. This pistol had the second-best trigger of the four, and the Novak’s no-bite hammer never bit the web of my hand. The downside to this pistol is that lightweight Hi-Powers are hard to find, expensive when you do find them, and full-custom work from Novak’s is not cheap.
2. Robar/Nighthawk Custom (Browning Hi-Power)
With the easy-to-see XS Sights and a fabulous trigger, it’s easy to see why this pistol performed the best on the practical drills. The extended beavertail also plays a part. It unquestionably makes the pistol more comfortable in hand and seems to improve recoil control slightly. Were it not for the weight, this would be my everyday carry gun. However, like with the Novak’s Hi-Power, custom work like this does not come cheap.
3. Springfield Armory SA-35
During the test, I experienced only three stoppages. They were all with the SA-35. However, they all also occurred with a factory Browning Hi-Power magazine. The SA-35 ran perfectly with the other three magazines used in the test, which were all from Mec-Gar. Overall, I’d rate the SA-35 as performing second best. However, this pistol could really benefit from having its sharp edges turned down and a no-bite hammer or an extended tang.
4. EAA Girsan MC P35
I did not like the two white dots on the rear sight. However, the ramped front sight with the long white bar was very quick on target, and I think it gives this pistol a speed advantage. But at the same time, the trigger was a bit heavy, causing me to pull some shots low. The less than spectacular trigger is due to the magazine safety, which also prevents the magazine from dropping free. You would think this would seriously impact reload times, but in the El Prez drill, the EAA had the fastest times, even though I had to rake the magazine from the gun during the reload. I’d not carry this pistol without trigger work and a new rear sight. Other than that, it’s not bad right out of the box and would be ideal as a base gun for customization.
THE LAST WORD
The Hi-Power, in one of the several variations it has been offered in, is probably the most prolific fighting pistol of all time. It was used by the Axis and the Allies during WWII and has been used in countless other engagements and carried by many law enforcement agencies around the world, all in its stock form. A bit or a lot of custom work only makes this pistol better, and I would advise anyone considering a Hi-Power to at least look at a trigger job, new sights, and having all the sharp edges radiused. Additionally, I’d suggest one of Novak’s no-bite hammers; the Commander-style hammer will still allow for some hammer bite. Pick one, make it your own, and enjoy it for the rest of your life.
In this modern age of plastic pistols small enough to cram in your pocket, many question whether the Hi-Power is, or ever truly was, a premier fighting pistol. My former company commander never doubted it. When he arrived in Vietnam as a special forces officer, he purchased the Hi-Power he’s wearing in the photo from another special forces solider who was headed home.
Why? He was assigned to patrol the Delta in an airboat and wanted the extra firepower in case he got an airboat shot out from under him. It also shared ammo with the Swedish K machinegun he often carried while there as well. (So much for ideal American small arms for war.) He said the Hi-Power was his constant companion on the boat when checking the wire at night, while on patrol, and during airmobile operations. He said it was never out of reach.
My friend, now a retired colonel, passed his Hi-Power along to another incoming Green Beret — again for $100 — the day before he left for home. When he got home, he became a city police officer. And guess what? His off-duty gun was a Hi-Power. He had the magazine disconnect removed, had the trigger worked, and had the feed ramp polished. It served him on his off-duty hours for six years until he lost it in a divorce, which has been the death of many good gun relationships.