In the 1970’s and ’80’s the US military held a competition to select the replacement for the 1911. The new pistol would be required to fire the 9mm NATO cartridge and would be have to meet rigorous reliability and durability standards. After most of two decades and several restarts, the Beretta 92F was selected, narrowly beating the Sig P226 mostly due to cost. Designated the M9, this pistol’s story bears some similarity to the M16 rifle. Both were to use a NATO-standard round and both had much higher capacity magazines than their predecessors. Probably the greatest similarity was that servicemen using both were highly suspicious of both rounds’ stopping power. But as history and experience tell us, “stopping power” is far more dependent on shot placement than any specific round’s performance properties. In any case, the pistol was a harbinger of the new double-stack era where most semi-auto pistols would have roughly double the number of rounds of the 1911. With very little modification this pistol has been in service with all branches of the US military since 1990. So, how does it shoot?
I have shot numerous M9s over the years but for the purpose of this review Bill loaned me his essentially new pistol. Over the course of a couple of weeks I put about five hundred rounds through it using several different types of factory ammo as well as my USPSA Production load. All fired perfectly using either the factory magazines or the aftermarket units Bill had picked up recently. I found the pistol to be very accurate. With its locking-block barrel and all-metal construction the gun is a very steady platform, especially in single-action mode. Of course as a double-action/single-action pistol it suffers from the same issue as does the aforementioned Sig P226: that long, hard double-action first shot. In speed shooting this isn’t ideal but you can always manually cock the hammer or as many people claim, you can overcome the issue with plenty of training. There is no denying that being able to pull the trigger a second time on a round that didn’t fire the first time has its advantages.
Still, I am a big fan of “cocked-and-locked” pistols and with the M9 this isn’t possible. You are either cocked with a round in the chamber and no safety (yikes!) or you have the hammer de-cocked with the firing pin blocked. The first situation is dangerous and the second requires a lot more work than just thumbing off the safety to fire the gun. Is this more a personal preference than a truly superior/inferior condition? Perhaps but it should be mentioned regardless.
Another big selling point during the military trials was the durability/reliability of the M9. This is a well-made pistol of rugged design. The estimated mean-time-between-failure was estimated at 35,000 rounds. I do not doubt this number. Compared to modern polymer pistols this would seem to be an advantage, much like the Sigs. On the down side, the extra weight does make carrying this pistol a chore, especially concealed. Along those lines the gun is rather stout through the grip. In fact I found it too big to operate comfortably. This is a common complaint for shooters with smaller hands. It is interesting to note that the modern Beretta PX4 Storm is an absolutely wonderful pistol to hold in my hand. This is due in large part to the new polymers used in the grip frame, allowing for a much thinner frame wall than was possible with the M9. One thing the Storm did not improve upon was the location of the safety. For some reason the safety/de-cocker is located on the slide rather than on the frame on both pistols. As mentioned in my post “In Search of the Perfect 9mm for USPSA“, this was a heartbreaking deficiency in what was an otherwise amazing pistol. Especially annoying was how this raked my fingers every time I racked the slide. Sometimes the historical precedent should be broken, but they didn’t ask me. 😉
At the end of my evaluation period I had confirmed much of my previous beliefs about the M9. It is a solid, reliable, accurate workhorse of a pistol that is tried-and-true, but compared to many new designs it leaves a lot to be desired.
I still want one.