Comparison: 9x18mm Makarov & .380 Bersa Thunder Duo-Tone
The Makarov pistol is extremely well thought of in some circles and is noted for exceptional reliability with most types of ammunition. The Bersa Thunder is the latest incantation of the company's .380 ACP pistol and is quickly gaining strong support among shooters as well. It, too, is garnering accolades for reliability.
The Bersa used for this report is the "lightweight" version having the aluminum alloy frame with the forged steel slide. A better comparison might very well be their all-steel .380 as the Makarov has a steel frame, but I don't own such a pistol. Still, those considering the purchase of one of these pistols might gain something.
Despite the differences in physical dimensions, the pistols are very similar in size. I find the difference in weight between the Bersa and the Makarov more noticeable than differences in length or width.
A question being asked more and more is "Which is the best?" On the gun boards, I see more and more discussion of this topic, frequently with but one word or one line answers. Such may show support for the particular pistol, but might be thought a bit lacking for someone truly interested in spending hard-earned dollars for one of these guns. I propose to offer some personal observations based on firing a fairly significant amount of ammunition through each pistol. Hopefully, this will be of use for folks considering purchasing one or both of these guns.
Length: 6.34" 6.6"
Height: 4.49 4.7
Width: 1.16* 1.3**
Length: 3.83" 3.5"
Empty: 1.56-lbs. 1.19-lbs.
Capacity: 8 7
*Measured across slide & thumb safety lever
** Measured across raised thumb rest on grips
(These were the widest points on the respective pistols.)
While one can get the Makarov in .380 ACP, it is most often found in the original chambering, 9x18mm Makarov. The Makarov's bullet diameter is 0.363" rather than the "regular" 9mm/.380 diameter of 0.355". Some place significance on this, opining that the larger diameter increases the round's "stopping power." My own opinion is that the diameters are so similar that there's no difference in effectiveness based only on that difference.
In normal trim, the Makarov kicks out a 95-gr. FMJ bullet at about 1050 ft/sec while the .380 will move the same weight bullet about 100 ft/sec slower. Another way to look at it is that the Makarov's standard velocity loads attain speeds similar to those from .380 +P. An exception is the Russian "Brown Bear" 115-gr. JHP made for the Makarov. It averages well over a thousand-feet-sec from my Maks and is nearly as fast as the standard pressure 115-gr. 9mm Federal JHP when fired from a 3" barrel. (The powder in the Federal load is not optimized for shorter barrels. Other 9mm loads easily surpass Makarov velocities.) The heaviest factory loaded .380 JHP I'm aware of weighs 102-grains and averages a bit over 900 ft/sec from .380 pistols such as the Bersa, Walther PP, or CZ-83.
Where one can obtain a greater variety of American-made JHP ammunition for the .380, expanding ammo for the 9x18mm Makarov can be found. At one time, Hornady, Corbon, and Speer were offering such. I know that Corbon no longer offers it and I'm not sure on Hornady. Speer's excellent Gold Dot Hollow Point is still available. Both ball and JHP ammunition will normally be significantly less costly than for the Makarov than the three-eighty. Most of this will be foreign-made and will use steel cases. I don't mind using such in the Makarov as it was designed for it, but will not use steel cased ammo in anything else other than my AK-47.
In my opinion, the 9x18mm offers a distinct advantage here. Ammo is much cheaper; this allows for more practice for the less money. JHP ammo that actually does expand is available for both.
The .380 ACP (left) and the 9x18mm Makarov cartridges are very similar in appearance. Both of these have 95-gr. FMJ bullets. Both are capable of surprisingly good accuracy.
These .380 ACP bullets were fired into water. Top Left: Remington 102-gr. Golden Saber.
Bottom: Magtech Guardian Gold 85-gr. JHP +P, Top Right: Hornady 90-gr. XTP.
This is Barnaul's 95-gr. JHP for the Makarov. It expanded well for me when fired into water. Notice also that the cases are sealed at the case mouth as they are at the primer.
Both of these fixed barrel, blow back pistols shoot tighter than some might expect. Either is capable of shooting tighter groups than the vast majority of us can wring out of them. More shooters will choose the Makarov for a "plinking pistol" over the .380 due to the less-costly factory ammo available, but both will be chosen as defensive pistols by some.
With that in mind, I'll offer some general comments on these rounds for self-protection. I consider the majority of .380/9mm Mak loads roughly equivalent, with a slight edge going to the 9x18mm Mak.
Any handgun round from the .22 up can kill, but as "power" goes down, placement becomes even more critical than with the larger, more powerful rounds. It is my opinion that no commonly used defensive caliber is potent enough to offset poor accuracy. Vital areas must be struck, often repeatedly to make a determined human aggressor stop. Either of these rounds are at the bottom of what I personally consider "acceptable." Neither are my first choice for a defensive handgun caliber. My concern with them centers on expansion vs. penetration capabilities. Plenty of penetration can be had with FMJ, but wound channels are small. With aggressive expansion, more tissue is crushed or cut, but penetration is limited. Most of the .380/9mmMak expanding ammunition penetrates in the 7 to 9" range. For a straight-on torso hit without your opponent's arm being hit, this is probably sufficient. I have serious doubts if shooting from the side and having to traverse the chest cavity from an angle and possibly through an arm.
On the plus side, either of these pistols is easy to shoot and easier for most people to shoot accurately and quickly than the snub .38 Special and both hold more shots than the typical J-frame 5-shot revolver. With solid hits, possibly more than one or two, either is capable of doing the job, but probably not the best choice for the job. Yet, decisions on defensive arms are not usually based on caliber alone for many folks.
That brings us to the often-asked question: "Why use a .380 or Makarov when full-power 9mm handguns can be had that are the same or smaller size?"
I don't presume to "know" the reasons, but will offer my thoughts:
Cost: Either the Makarov or the Bersa can be had at the lower end of the price scale, usually around $150 to $200 for the former depending upon where made and condition and about $200 to $225 for the latter, brand new. While both of these pistols are inexpensive, I find neither cheap. Some refinements found on more high-dollar handguns are not present, but either of these handguns have proven well-made, reliable, and accurate in my experience. Being straight blow back conventional DA/SA automatics, it costs less to manufacture them than for the locked breech pistols. The Makarov has proven itself reliable and durable after years of actual use by current and past enemy nations. The Bersa appears to be a very genuine effort by the Argentine company to provide a very viable competitor to higher priced three-eighties. It appears that the gun is being chosen by more and more shooters as it costs considerably less than other .380 ACP pistols roughly the same size. While many believe that cost shouldn't be the primary determinant in choosing a defensive arm, there are some folks to whom it must. Compare the cost of a clean Makarov or new Bersa to a Kahr K9, Walther PPK, or SIG-Sauer P232. These price differences mean quite a lot to many.
Size: This size handgun feels "good" to many people…including me. I normally don't use nor currently own any of the really small pistols chambered in .380 ACP as the abbreviated barrels don't get as much velocity with these light bullets unless +P ammunition is used. These more traditionally sized blow backs are a bit easier to get good hits with, at least for me, and recoil is generally considered less than with the little guns that might serve very well for a second or third backup gun. The Bersa or Makarov might very well be the primary defense gun for many.
Physical Dimensions of the Cartridges: To a person not so "up" on handgun cartridges the .380 ACP, 9x18mm Makarov and 9x19mm Parabellum (Luger or Nato) appear about the same size and a mistake is made in assuming similar potency. Without question most of us understand that the latter round offers considerably more ballistically, but some do not.
So, what about the guns if the choice is made to go with one or the other?
I find the Makarov and the Bersa very easy to shoot well in both slow and rapid fire. In my Bersa, the double-action is smoother than my E. German Mak's. Single-action pulls are close enough to be considered equivalent. The Bersa is noticeably lighter to carry than the Makarov, but neither is really "heavy" with a proper belt holster. If going for a pocket holster, the advantage goes to the Bersa. In shooting, the Makarov's extra weight does reduce recoil. I find the Bersa a more comfortable pistol, but that is subjective and others will find just the opposite. Neither pistol bites or cuts the hand that shoots it, something I cannot say for the Walther line of .380 handguns or the FEG version of the same.
· Neither has an internal firing pin block.
· Both offer slide-mounted thumb safeties. (They work in opposite directions. "Up" is "FIRE" for the Bersa, but "SAFE" for the Makarov. More than a few opine that the downward thumb sweep to put the Makarov into firing mode is easier than pushing up on the Bersa's. I personally carry either of these pistols with the safety off and the hammer down. Both have inertial firing pins. Unless dropped on a really hard surface and flat on the muzzle, neither will fire. The Makarov does not have a firing pin spring; the Bersa does. Thus, the Mak is possibly more prone to a discharge if dropped as described, but such is not likely at all. Keep in mind the way the safety operates on the Makarov, too. To me, it is more "natural.")
· Magazine "Safeties": The Bersa has one; the Mak does not. I don't care for magazine disconnects, but if it is important to you, the choice is made.
· Sights are fixed on both pistols. The Bersa has 3-dot fixed sights that are physically larger than those on the Makarov. The rear blade is click adjustable for windage. I greatly prefer the fixed sights on the Argentine pistol. Others have no problems with the miniscule fixed sights on the Makarov. While the latter can have more visible sights added, the Bersa has them out of the box.
· Appearance: This, too, is subjective but I think the Bersa Duo-Tone is a more attractive pistol than the Mak. Some people find "looks" of no importance whatsoever. The E. German Makarov I have has a polished blue finish that is more attractive to me than the matte black slide on the Bersa, however.
· The grip angle on the Makarov is more vertical than that of the Bersa. I don't find either to cause any problems when shooting at speed. Which is better for you will have to be determined by your actually holding both pistols.
· Magazine Release: The Bersa uses the push button type and it's located near the top rear of the trigger guard. The Makarov has a heel-mounted one. On service pistols, most prefer the push button type, but this seems to be of less importance to many on "pocket pistols." While I've had zero problems with the push button on the Bersa or other small automatics, I do think the heel release on the Makarov is less likely to inadvertently drop the magazine. This also means that speed reloading another magazine will probably be slower.
· Durability: I have only fired around two-thousand rounds through the aluminum-framed Bersa. So far, no problems, but I do think that the Makarov is probably the tougher of the two if one expects to really fire lots of ammunition. The pistol has an all-steel frame and has proven durable over the long term. Again, I'm only guessing, but I strongly suspect that the Makarov would win in a test to see how many rounds can be fired before there's a catastrophic failure of either slide or frame. For most users this is a non-issue as they'll never fire enough rounds to find out. The Makarov barrel is also chrome-lined; the Bersa's is not. Both normally come with plastic stocks. The Bersa's are attached with a single screw on each while the Makarov's is a one piece affair attached on the rear grip strap with a single screw. I see no particular advantage to either in that regard. The Bersa does have vertical grooves on both the front and rear grip straps, which are exposed. The Makarov's front grip strap is smooth. An area of concern that is not discussed too often is the question of feed ramps. The Makarov uses a one-piece, steel feed ramp ala Browning Hi Power, while the Bersa has a two-piece one similar to that of the 1911. The bottom portion of the two-piece ramp is a part of the frame. IF the magazine allows a blunt JHP bullet to tip downward when feeding, it is possible to eventually ding the feed ramp on the Bersa. For that reason, I use only JHP's having a rounded bullet profile. The Mak's ramp is steel and such marring is not a concern.
· The Bersa is currently being made. The Makarov pistols are surplus and often used…to varying degrees yet spare parts seem to be more plentiful and are definitely less expensive for the Mak with many being offered through the excellent folks at www.makarov.com . This in itself is testament to the pistol's popularity. On the other hand, Bersa reportedly offers very good customer service and you do get a guarantee. Extra magazines are definitely less costly for the Makarov than the Bersa. With single-stack magazines, the Mak offers one more shot per loading than the Bersa. On the other hand, Bersa offers a floor plate that allows for another round or two if desired. I don't see either as being a particular advantage as both hold at least 8 rounds when fully loaded. I think the problem will have to be solved before all 8 shots are fired or we've run out of time. The Bersa magazines have witness holds on the side and a plastic floor plate. The Makarov magazines are cut out on both sides, but have metal floor plates. I suspect that if accidentally stepped on, both would be damaged, but think the Makarov magazine to be weaker if undue accidental force is applied from the side.
The slides on both pistols remain locked back when the last shot is fired and both have external slide releases. I find the Bersa's more conveniently placed than the Makarov's. The Bersa has a more generous tang at the rear of the slide to prevent hammer bite, but the Makarov has sufficient and being bit by either is not a problem.
Internally, the Makarov has fewer parts. Theoretically, this offers less opportunity for small parts to break, but the Bersa is not overly complex inside. I have seen no problems with the Bersa in this regard.
Like the Beretta 92 and Taurus copies, the Bersa uses an external draw bar activate the hammer. Some consider this a flawed concept. I've noted no problems with it.
In this picture you can see the open-sides in the Makarov magazine as well as the very nice polished blue on the E. German pistol. On the butt of the pistol, the heel-mounted magazine release is visible. Note also the small fixed sights. Like other handguns, the Makarov has both strong and weak points.
Something not mentioned often is the feeding cycle on the Makarov. Ideally, most autos strip the round from the magazine with the rear of the cartridge sliding upward against the breach face. The extractor claw slides over the rim via the extraction groove.
The Makarov does not do this. It has a projection at the bottom of the breech face that prevents it. The extractor gets to the cartridge rim by jumping it. It shares this method of feeding with other firearms like the HK P7 and the FAL rifle. This does not appear to hurt the Makarov extractor as might be the case for pistols not designed to feed this way.
In this picture you can see the split protrusion at the bottom of the Makarov breech face that prevents "controlled round" feeding. Note also the massive extractor. This system works very well with the Makarov as they are noted for their dependability.
The Bersa uses an external extractor that is pinned and powered by a spring behind the rear of it. The Makarov extractor is not pinned. It uses a spring-loaded, in-line plunger in combination with the extractor's design to hold it in place. I see no particular advantage to either and both systems are used in other pistols with great success.
Which is the Best Gun?
Assuming that the prospective purchaser has no particular bias toward or against either pistol, in this particular case, I'd say, " It depends."
· If you are a shooter who goes to the range frequently and plans to shoot thousands upon thousands of rounds, I'd go with the Makarov; likewise if you dislike or distrust aluminum frames. I'd also go with the Mak based on ammo cost being significantly lower if planning on shooting lots and from now on.
· If you want the most "powerful" round between the two, I'd go Makarov, but again, I don't think the advantage is much…if any in the real world with most loads. The 115-gr. load might give the Mak an edge, but it has proven to be one of the few rounds that gives some feeding problems in some guns.
· If you find the sights hard to see on the Makarov and plan to use them (as I think we should), I'd go with the Bersa. Better sights can be installed on the Makarov, but for out of the box use, the Bersa does have the better sights.
· If having a wider selection of American-made ammunition is important to you, go with the Bersa over the 9x18mm Makarov. (The Mak can be converted to .380 ACP by merely installing a barrel in that caliber if desired and you strongly favor the Makarov.)
· If the pistol's to be used as a backup gun, I'd go with the lighter Bersa.
· If you intend to carry the pistol for protection and prefer to carry with the safety engaged, I'd go with the Makarov as the downward sweep of the thumb is more natural for most folks than pushing upward to disengage the safety.
· If you intend to render the pistol "safe" when at home, the Bersa does offer a magazine disconnect; the Mak does not. I much prefer other methods of limiting a particular pistol being able to be fired by unauthorized persons, but some will favor the magazine "safety" on the Bersa for this purpose.
· If you intend to use a pocket holster, I'd go with the Bersa. It is lighter and I find it more comfortable than the Makarov when carried in a pocket. (For me, both are pushing the upper edge of the envelope in what I can carry concealed in a Docker type pant pocket.)
· If you have a hard time disassembling pistols for cleaning, go with the Bersa. It has a take-down lever mounted on the frame. The Makarov has a hinged, spring-loaded trigger guard to be pulled down while the slide's retracted, lifted, and them removed from the front of the frame.
· If you feel the need to detail strip the pistol, go with the Makarov; it is easy to take completely disassemble and has fewer internal parts.
· If you prefer that your pistol have a warranty, you'll have to go with the Bersa unless the particular dealer will "guarantee" the Makarov. Such is unlikely, but does happen now and again.
The Bersa .380 has a generous tang and better sights out of the box than the Makarov. Both pistols offer a knurled flat on top of the slide.
You know better than I (or anyone else) your reasons for purchasing either of these pistols. I think both are little gems and really like them both. I personally own both and have no intentions of getting rid of either, but were I forced to own but one, it would be a 9x18mm Makarov. I would also spend extra to have decent sights added. I shoot my guns quite a bit and find the inexpensive ammunition in the Mak's caliber a very strong pull to the gun. I also admire the pistol's robust construction and since I do not routinely carry it for self-protection, the extra weight is a non-concern for me. Such might not be the case for you.
This Bulgarian Makarov has nearly as smooth a DA as the E. German and it can be made smoother. The Novak sights make it much easier for me to shoot. If I could have but ONE gun between the Makarov and the Bersa, it would be a Mak set up this way. This one also has Pearce grips on it.
Either the Makarov or the Bersa offer extremely good quality for the price, but the "best" depends upon the user's perceived needs for that gun as well as personal bias. I've stated my personal preference, but were I required to take the Bersa, I would not be upset. I think both are really well worth the money and both have been exceptionally reliable and accurate in my experience.