The Defensive Makarov  Revisited

Hello. A good while back I penned out a thing called "A Case FOR the Defensive Makarov" and after receiving several queries concerning how "appropriate" the 9x18mm Makarov is as a defensive arm, I decided that a follow-up piece might be of service.

My perception of why the Makarov remains so popular with many shooters is that the little things have a second-to-none reputation for reliability and didn't cost the proverbial "arm and a leg", yet one got a quality firearm for this lesser tariff. When the rest of the shooting community (finally) learned that these little shooters could also actually group nicely and with many of the then inexpensive foreign ammo, the rush was on. (Sadly, I fall into the latter group, foolishly waiting until about the end of the rush to get my Makarovs.)

In my initial shooting of the little guns, I found the claims on reliability, quality-vs.-cost, and built-in mechanical accuracy to be true.

Still, like the .380 ACP, I never could really get all that enthusiastic about the 9x18mm Makarov cartridge as a self-protection round; maybe it was just too many years of .45's, hot-loaded 9x19's, .357's and other more powerful rounds. Yet, I found myself not willing to sell any Makarov and just enjoying the fire out of shooting them.

For me, they remain as addictive as homemade sin, but as "fun guns" primarily; any sort of "serious" theme remains secondary. At the same time, I believe that "placement is power" and have said so on more than a few ocassions. Thus, it appears to me that IF you feel comfortable with the 9mm Mak's ballistics coupled with a willingness to shoot if necessary and accurately at speed, the gun might very well make a viable "carry gun" for self-defense.

Rather than sit here and try to pontificate on any handgun caliber's "worthiness" in the self-defense arena, I thought that I'd run a few tests, present my findings and let the reader make his or her decision. I will interject my own observations here and there but will try and be as objective as possible on what seems for many to be a most subjective and emotional topic.

Firearms: Today I used a Bulgarian Makarov for most shooting drills. It was used with its factory slide and fixed sights as well as with the now discontinued "Beast" slide, which is a new Bulgarian slide nicely fitted with Novak fixed sights.





This Bulgarian Makarov was used for most of the shooting today. In the past I've shot it usually with the very comfortable Pearce grips. Today, I used thin factory plastic grips as most folks buy their Makarovs wearing them and I could compare to the Pearce grips being worn by the Russian-made gun. (To me, the Pearce grips are more comfortable but a tad harder to conceal due to their extra thickness. Some folks complain of "stickiness" with rubber grips to outer garments like shirts. I suspect this will depend upon both the maker of the grip and the particular shirt material, but do not know this for a fact.)






Some shooting was done with the Beast slide conversion on a commecial Russian frame wearing Pearce grips.

Shooting: Distances in these tests were 5, 7 and 15 yards. The "quick-and-dirty" practical-type drills were done starting from a low-ready position and timed with a Pact Club Timer III. A two-hand hold was used and each drill began with the pistol in the double-action mode as this is how it is meant to be carried. I did not have the safety engaged. The shots fired for group were done at 15 yards from a seated position and in slow-fire; no effort was made at speed. They were fired single-action only with my wrists braced.


Barnaul 95-gr. JHP
Wolf 100-gr. FMJ
Silver Bear 115-gr. JHP
Brown Bear 115-gr. JHP

15 Yards:






This was admittedly the best 5-shot group of the day at this distance, but in my two guns, the Barnaul consistently grouped better than the Wolf ammunition. This group is probably as much luck as any skill.







This was the best group I could get with Wolff 100-gr. FMJ at 15 yards. Like the group in the previous picture, this one was done using the Russian frame/bbl and Beast slide. POA in both was the center of the bullseye.


Using the Bulgarian, this group was fired with the heavy-for-caliber 115-gr. JHP as loaded in Silver Bear ammunition.


Brown Bear's 115-gr. JHP grouped equivalently to the Silver in my opinion. POA using the Bulgarian and this ammunition was 6 O' Clock on the bullseye.

5 Yards:: At this close distance I fired Mr. Jim Higginbotham's "Standard Controlability Test". (He is a long-time long-time firearm instructor for both state and federal agencies.) The drill is this:

1. Start at a low-ready 5 yards from the target, which is the size of a vertically-folded piece of 8 1/2 x 11" typing paper. The target is now 5 1/2" wide by 8 1/2" tall.

2. Passing is 5 shots into the target in no more than 2 seconds.

3. An average of 3 runs was taken.

4. I used the 115-gr. Silver Bear ammo for this drill as it was offered a little more recoil than the 95-gr. Barnaul JHP.

I did the test 3 times using the Bulgarian with its smallish factory sights and then 3 times with the larger Novak 3-dot sights on the Beast slide.

Resulting averages were very similar for both setups:

Factory Bulgarian: 1.77 secs

Bulgarian w/Beast Slide: 1.71 secs

I forgot to photograph the "groups" but they were roughly the same with some on the edge of the target from both the plain Bulgarian Mak or with it using the Beast slide.

7-Yards: At this distance, I did 5 runs starting from a low-ready position. As was the case when doing the controllability drills, the gun was DA for the first shot. It was the standard "two-to-the-body-and-one-to-the-head" exercise that the late Jeff Cooper also called "The Mozambique Drill". How valid it is or isn't in real life might be argued by some deep into training and tactics but my point in using it is simply to have a consistent standard to be used in conjunction with Mr. Higginbotham's controlability test to see if the "high-visibility" Novak sights were superior to the admittedly small sights standard to the Makarov.

Here are the Beast slide w/Novak sights (top) and the Bulgarian factory slide (bottom) as viewed from the top so a visual comparison of the sights can be made. Are the Novak sights really better? I just wanted to put them to the test and see using the same frame with the same trigger-pull for the gun in either configuration. POA vs. POI were very acceptable (with both the Bulgarian and the Russian, which says something to me about consistency in manufacture of these pistols, at least with these two.

Again, an average was taken using the Pact timer.

Here are the results are 5 FTS drills using the Bulgarian in standard factory trim using the small fixed sights.

...and using the Beast slide conversion.

Average times were 2.26 secs with the standard fixed sights and 2.19 secs with the Novak-equipped slide. How much of this is just my human reflex variation and how much is actually being able to pick up the larger sights? I do not know? Is there enough time to make a real difference in the real world? I'm not sure. You decide for yourself.

I will say this. If one's eyesight is such that close-in objects (like handgun sights) are no longer clear (like they were 25 years ago), the larger sights probably do make a difference. I shot with my eyeglasses removed. Otherwise I could not have seen either sight clearly. (I didn't think to try the drills with my glasses on or we might have seen a more distinct winner. Note that the chest group with the smaller Bulgarian sights seems more vertically strung. Might this be from my trying to find the smallish front sight at speed and perhaps overcompensating?)

In any event, I found the results from either variation of the Bulgarian pistol to be satisfactory.

Observations: I will admit that I was not really surprised at the similarity in results using the factory vs. Novak sights. This is because several years ago I had Novak sights installed on a couple of Mk III 9mm Hi Power pistols. Comparing them to the standard fixed Mk III sights, I found no real difference in either slow or rapid-fire exercises. Those sights are closer in size than the Novak to the Makarov standard sight but how much real world difference is there between the two? Would this hold true for every single shooter or just some and not others? I don't know.

There were no malfunctions with either pistol, something that remains the standard for the Makarov.

Are they acceptable defensive "carry guns"?

You decide.

For me, there's no question that they remain addictive...


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