The Perfect Hi Power 

The Perfect Hi-Power 

For The Narrated Video of this article is available here...

The Browning High Power is what can be called the first "Wondernine" pistol and was ahead of it's time.  This is not an article of the storied service history of the Browning Hi Power as books have been written on this topic and if you want to get some more history on the piece, you will find plenty of it with a little bit of searching around.  If one were to consider the high power in the 1930s, it was truly the pistol that you may have wanted as it was probably the best  thing out there.  Some would argue that the hi-power made even the  1911 obsolete and that may be a bold statement, it is pretty much true, IF we take stock gun against stock gun at that point in history.  

But the 1911 was modernized for 50 or so years starting when the US government sold them as surplus in the 1950s for 20 bucks.  People at the time started messing with them and never really stopped.  The Hi-power, on the other hand was the weird foreign pistol that shot that wimpy 9mm and was not as cheap and available to mess around with for the last couple of generations of people in the USA.  Instead, it just continued to soldier on in the hands of service men from around the world,   Putting down Terrorists from Northern Ireland to Israel and carried in officers holsters from Australia to  Sudan, and everywhere in between.

That meant from the 50s to the early 80s, if you needed a gun that held a lot of bullets, you wanted a Hi-power and you had to buy  one at full price. This limited its' buyers in the USA and it never caught on like the 1911.  

One is reminded of the Film "Serpico"  where All Pacino is seen buying a high power at the Jon Jovino Co. Gun shop.   

"That takes a 14 shot clip, you expecting an army?" The store clerk says holding a Hi-power up as Pacino fills out forms. 

"No, Just a division." Pacino says without looking up.  

That film was based on a true story of a Cop in a city full of corruption.  Serpico himself later confirmed that this scene was in fact true and that, in fact, he bought the HI power at the exact gun shop as pictured in the film.   The film came out in 1973, before most reading this were even born.  It was considered "specialized and niche" back in those days.  

My personal history consists of owning and shooting a few of them over the years.  It caused me to form a few opinions on the original design that always left me parting ways with ones that I had.  One has to face facts, the high power is approaching 90 years old as a design, and it is a little dated at this point.  But it also was never truly modernized for those that would use it today, such as a guy like me.  At the time I was in the market for a high capacity all metal 9mm, I had a slew of options such as Berettas, Sigs and Smith and Wessons, all of which were cheaper and more modern in every way.  

Two more "practical" high powers came in and out of my hands one being the Arcus 94 and the other being one put out under the Charles Daly name.  The Arcus featured modern squared off "stealth bomber-esqe looks with finger grooves and the other being a more modern take with XS big dot sights as standard.  The problem with Both of these were he Charles Daly shot no where near the point of aim of the XS sights (which I have never liked) and the Arcus build quality was low on my example and it would never run worth a crap despite my best efforts.  

One of my shooting companions several years ago completed in IDPA with a Hi-power, shooting the living crap out of it and whooping my ass at matches more then once as I ran much more modern pistols.  He was, at the time, a total fan and had made his decision that the single action trigger and the extra weight of the piece more then made up for its European down sides.  

The down sides of the Hi-power as a practical piece were (to me at least) three big things,  the magazine disconnect safety, the sights and finally the weird safety lever.  

A magazine disconnect safety, in and of itself,  is one of those things that is not a deal breaker on a practical pistol in my opinion.  The magazine safety is probably more misunderstood and disliked for stupid reasons then anything else on a pistol.  This safety feature makes the gun inoperable if the magazine is not in place, regardless of a loaded chamber.    

Most people who hate them state that they want the gun to fire without a magazine in the event that you are reloading the pistol and still need to fire "because you may need it to fire before you can get the next magazine in place"  That is bullshit in my opinion, as I can never find reference to this actually happening in a fight. Reloads are already rare in a fight and if you have to do it so slowly that you already don't have the mag in your hand before you eject the other one out of the gun you are doing it wrong.  My opinion on this is based on  watching people reload under time limits in a training environment under a moderate amount of stress hundreds if not thousands of times, if you wait around to get the next mag in the gun until the empty one hits the ground, you are probably not good enough  at gun handling  that having that one round available to use mid reload  is not your biggest problem, get the next mag in and have it on it's way BEFORE you eject the empty one.  

The other reason that most experts site for not wanting a mag disconnect is, "if the magazine becomes lost or damaged, it is better to have a single shot pistol then a non functional one."   I will give you that magazines fail, and I have heard of and personally witnessed magazines break and the guts and rounds fall to the ground or all over a patrol vehicle, BUT this is another thing that is easily remedied by having a second mag available.   If this happens and you DONT have a second mag, then you probably are not going to think to pick up 9mm rounds off the floor and start stuffing them in the chamber like it is the 1860s and you are at the battle of little big horn.  It didn't work out so well for the seventh cavalry then and it is looking about equally hot for you as well.  

No, the reason I hated the Magazine Safety on the Hi power SPECIFICALLY is it is a terrible one.  The nature of how the pistol works means that the spring loaded mag safety is pushing against the TRIGGER, making the trigger pull just that much heavier or gritty, and it also pushes against the MAGAZINE, making it NOT drop free when you try to get it out of the gun.  Having a SINGLE ACTION pistol is advantageous because it gives you a good, consistent trigger pull.  Original vintage European Hi-powers are known for having gritty, heavy triggers with the magazine safety partially to blame.  When Hi-capacity 9mms were a rarity, that was fine, but in a modern market, with 4 pound triggered striker fired options everywhere, it is unforgivable.  Drop Free mags are also a requirement, when the mag is empty or damaged I want it to get out of the damn gun and GO AWAY by hitting a button, period, I don't want to have to rip it out so I can get the next one in.  The Magazine safety in the Hi-power prevents this from happening, it is a relic from a bygone era that was made for a specific military's requirement that Frenchmen wouldn't lose expensive magazines in the field while cleaning out laterites or eating baguettes and is contradictory to how the pistol is used today.  

Inevitably, I will get comments that will say that the removal of this bastardized contraption of the magazine disconnect is a relatively simple matter and fixes this issue.  This is totally true, but there is at least one case where this was done and the "REMOVAL OF A SAFETY DEVICE" from a pistol sounded really bad in court, leading to a plea deal instead of an acquittal.  In the case I am referring to, Massad Ayoob,  In Combat Handguns (February 2006), mentions "a case of this that occurred in Florida. The situation (....) was an accidental discharge of a factory stock Colt Commander .45, which struck a bystander and inflicted a fatal wound. When police and evidence technicians searched the scene, they discovered a Browning 9mm autoloader in the defendant's car. Both weapons were studied in detail by firearms examiners at the crime lab. They determined that the magazine disconnector safety had been removed from the Browning Hi-Power. This became an issue as the case progressed toward trial.... "  the hi-power in question was not even the gun used in the negligent shooting, but it was used against the defender in court.  I am not trying to make the fight after the fight any harder on me, so I always opted to leave the damn thing in.  

The next big problem I had with most hi-powers is the sights.  Many of the more traditional  hi-Powers and several of the cheaper clone copies had the standard black on black post and notch sights that, while not horrible, were not exactly great either.  This is to be expected with surplus or retro pistols and I can give this a pass.  The thing is the more Modern "FN" "practical" Hi-powers that came out at the end of the production run and were "Modernized" still had weird European sights that were dovetailed into the slide.  They were not "three dot" sights exactly, but more like three big rectangles.  They basically whited out the entire front sight blade and then put two really big white rectangles on the rear.  These were less then ideal and reminded me of some cigarette smoking, Vespa riding European trying to design a better set of sights on a gun he is not even allowed to own.  Going back to the Charles Daly I purchased several years ago, one of the big draws was the XS big dot sights installed from the factory, and if they would have hit anywhere close to point of aim and produced even a bit of accuracy, I might have kept the damn thing.  

It just seemed like the Hi power always got the short end of the stick when it came to the sighing arrangement. and no one ever put out a model with a useful set of modern sights on it.   Granted,  this  is easily the most "fixable" problem with the high power, but remember this is not a Glock, this is Hi-power, and when you venture into a design that was adopted by multiple nations, made by multiple manufacturers and set up in multiple different ways, the chances of this becoming a simple DIY project become more and more slim.  If you wanted a set of modem sights on your pet hi-power, you needed the assistance of gunsmith, or a milling machine and a lot of determination, both of which many gun owners are sorely lacking.   

The last thing that was always a gripe to me was the safety lever.  I would argue that most safety levers in the era that the Hi-Power was developed were intended to be switched off and then a grip of one hand established to fire the piece like bullseye shooting.  This was fine, but nobody shoots that way anymore, like at all. Except for bullseye  match shooters, who aren't exactly filled with people trying to register for matches.  I have been a defensive armed professional and civilian firearms trainer for over a decade and a half a this point and have never been trained or  taught people to shoot one handed unless they have a damn good reason to, like the other one is occupied or missing.  So a more modern thumb safety that lends itself to be held in the off position and then used with a good, high thumbs, two handed hold, is the preferred setup on a modern pistol that is fitted with a thumb safety.  Take a look at pretty much all of the polymer framed pistols with one and you will find it set up like this. This is another thing that the 1911 benefitted from over the years, as custom makers and eventually manufacturers adopted this change.  Today you almost cant get a safety lever that is as little and as pokey as the original one on any modern 1911.   

The Hi-Power, for some reason never had this feature integrated into it for WAY to long.  Short of one off custom jobs, the stock safety was never really intended for a modern grip, and then FN "upgraded"  it with a weird, sorta extended safety lever thing that they put one both sides so it was "tactical".  I never was really sure what to do with it as your thumb was clearly not designed to ride over it while shooting and I never could get comfortable with it .  It also seemed sloppy as far as fitment and never "snicked" off properly like most modernized 1911s.  Going back the "almost right" Charles Daly, it was the first stock Hi-power I had seen that had something more akin to a modern, practical safety on a factory gun.  Like I said before, I just wished the damn thing would have shot better, I probably would have kept it.     

So for about a decade I decided the hi-power was just not the pistol for me.  As much as I love history and Serpico is awesome, I just figured the Hi-power and I would never truly get along.  Then Springfield goes and makes the SA35.  It addresses all of the gripes I have with the design while still keeping it retro looking , and they went and started making it in the USA to boot.  Man I had to try one out. 

I don't know how well the SA 35 is selling to be honest, it came out about a year ago and even though I deal in guns, I couldn't get one.  Further I only ever saw one in the wild and it was used (barely) and the dealer wanted almost full new retail.  Car byers will understand this market, It is nuts as far as getting anything nice right now and your are gong to have to pay for it.   

A few days back I finally got ahold of one and managed to hit the range for the first time in months.  I was going into this with high hopes and Springfield met all of them.  I get it now.  The SA 35 made me change my opinion on the Hi-Power as a practical competition and defensive pistol.   For the first time, SOMEBODY put out a Hi-power that I actually like AND it can be pushed into the roles beyond curio and range/safe queen. 

This is the Hi-Power that you can shoot the snot out of and actually enjoy it because the feature set is EXACTLY what a modernized high power should have.  The first and most important thing that this Hi-Power has is NO grip safety.  The SA35 is the first hi-power or hi-power copy in nearly 90 years that I have ever known to come factory equipped with NO magazine disconnect Safety.  This means the legal concern of removing it and the impractical concerns of its design are now null and void.   This is huge.  

Further Springfield opted to modernize the thumb safety so that it is much more modern. It is not hugely extended and it's very subtle in its design, but I had no problem riding the safety lever while shooting the pistol with a modern two handed high thumbs hold.  This is the first time that I have been able to hold a hi-power like I want and actually bang steel with it and get the sights back on target while an empty case is still in the air.  It is a good feeling. 

Three, the sights are much improved.  I am not the biggest fan of three dot setups and prefer to have the front sight have some high visibility while the rear is blacked out..  Springfield in general has gotten away from the three dot or other pictograms on the back of rear sight on their other offerings.  Most of them come with a front fiber optic but here they have opted to go with a standard white dot.  This is the only swing and a miss design wise that Springfield did in my opinion, I would have probably payed extra for a tritium fiber optic front sight here, as that is my preference.  No big deal and easily fixed EXCEPT Springfield chose to go with a one off dovetail and the only sights that are an available option to this point that I can Confirm are specifically set up for the SA35 are available from XS.  Luckily the ones that they are offering are not the previously mentioned XS Big dots, so it may be an upgrade that is in the future. 

Add to all this that the grips are form fitting checked walnut with nice figure to them, the finish is a Matte business like blue similar to Parkerizing and the gun ships in a soft case and comes with a MEC Gar made 15 round mag and you are looking at a hell of a gun.  Further the price of the piece is right, while not cheap, it is certainly cheaper then the last of the FNs from a decade ago and in line with entry level 1911s from the same manufacturer.   

I tested the pistol with 235 rounds of ammo on its first range outing.   The vast majority of which were the standard 9mm reload that I have come to settle on that works in the all of the pistols I have used it in.  This is a Armscore 9mm 124 grn FMJ bullet over a relatively stout load of Bullseye with a standard small pistol primer.  The Primers are usually CCI as I find them to always work the best but the great primer shortages that we have experienced it the 2020's to this point has led to me to using what I can find.  In this case it was Fiocci Primers and I noticed no difference and found them to work as advertised here.  

I also loaded my standard "dog Lunch" mag of five Hornady Critical defense 124 grn, five Sig V Crown 124 Grain, five Winchester Ranger T 124 Grn in the first mag and ran them all through the gun with no issue.  I then tried a second test with 5 147 grn Remington Gold Sabers and 5 old school Federal Hydrashocks.  The malfunctions only occurred the hydrashocks which were of a specific type that were my fault.  AS far as this pistol feeding hollowpoints, I see no reason to suggest it would be an issue here. Obviously if I pick a load that I plan to carry with this piece, I will do a bit of testing to esure they run before staking my life on them.  

I did indeed experience about 6 very specific malfunctions that, after analyzing the video evidence (there is other value to recording your shooting besides making videos that no one watches) were entirely my fault.  You see my very high-thumbs forward hold led my support side thumb to interfere with the front end of the slide stop a bit and cause it to prematurely engage because I was pushing on it.  This is not the fault of the build quality or the firearm at all.  If I were to blame the pistol for this, this  would be like saying that a manual transmission car is no good because I cant get it to engage and drive down the road because I don't know how to drive it.  It is a training issue and a user error, not a problem with the product.  

Another test that I do to new guns is what I call the "Gangsta/top gun" protocol.  I shot the pistol dominant handed and support handed, then fired the pistol five times each handed "Gangsta" style to the side, then I  shoot 5 with the pistol "inverted."  It ran them all.  I have had lesser guns that cant do this test reliably and that is why I find merit in it, if you have to hold the pistol a certain way to make it work, then that is a factor to me. 

There are two main competitors for  the SA 35 in the the current 2023 market that I feel are truly more apples to apples as far as as a fair comparison. The first is the Turkish imported TISAS brand which is cheaper  then then SA 35 and is available as an upgraded model.  The problem with this is the damn Magazine safety is present in it and that completely eliminates this as a contender for me.  The other is the The New FN hi-power that was released at shot show this year by FN.  This pistol is not a hi-power, it is a modern pistol that they tried to make look like a high power.  That is like calling the mustang EV a mustang, even though we all know that this is marketing and not really the realilty. People will always look at it and go "That is not a REAL mustang."  Just like people will always look at the FN and say, "That is not the REAL hi-power".

  So overall should you buy a Springfeild SA 35 in todays market of polymer framed striker fired wonder guns with slide cuts, optic ready infrared sighting options and 60 million round relibilty records?  Well that depends on you.  If you like the latest and greatest, the SA 35 is probably not the piece for you.  If you are like me though, have a few of the polymer modern guns that you use and want something with a bit more of historical flavor that is made of metal and is improved enough that you can actually use it, then the SA 35 fills the bill better then anything else on the market, EVER.

It is the High power for people who never liked hi-powers and it is highly recommended.