Personalized Hi Powers: A Minimalist Approach
As a charter member of the Temple of the Sacred Hi Power for about four decades, I have owned several custom Hi Powers. Most of my customized P35’s were done in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I still have a couple of these early customs and both are from the bench of gunsmith, Lou Williamson.
This is my first custom Hi Power. It left the factory as an adjustable sight “Sport” model with a bright blue finish. It had the old “beer can” type adjustable sights. On my Hi Power, that sight just would not hold zero and I found these sights a little tall for my preferences. Using S&W adjustable revolver sights was gaining popularity, possibly from the work done by the late 1911 artisan, Armand Swenson. The fitted Barsto match barrel, bobbed hammer and an extended single-side thumb safety came a year or two later. I shot the gun so much that the matte blue finish on the front strap was worn nearly off. Lou suggested a newfangled finish called “Armalloy”, which is a proprietary term for hard chrome from a Ft. Worth-based company. It is a tough finish and the original is holding up fine today. Thus, my first Hi Power was customized for a purpose and was nicknamed, “Number One”.
This is my second customized Hi Power though the Simonich “Gunner Grips” are a recent addition. Primary differences between it and Number One are the two-tone finish and the “buried” Bomar adjustable rear sight. Both of these shooters remain very mechanically accurate and the trigger work done by Mr. Williamson continues with crisp light trigger-pulls to this day.
I also had Mr. Williamson “make” me a few fixed sight Hi Powers. These normally used either the King Hardballer or King-Tappen rear sight. These were complimented with Lou’s handmade serrated front sights which were silver-soldered to the slide. Dovetailed front sights for the Hi Power had not yet been popularized by famed Hi Power specialist, Wayne Novak. Finishes were sometimes hard chrome or “black parkerized”. Some were fitted with Barsto barrels. Others were not but all were gutted of their magazine disconnects, had bobbed hammer spurs and extended (single-side) thumb safeties.
In essence, Mr. Williamson was building me the Mk III version Hi Power and I sorely regret foolishly letting them “get away”.
Time progressed and though I still had the rare stock P35, my custom “requirements” just seemed to keep tapering off. I did have to try a couple of Hi Powers with Mr. Novak’s distinctive fixed sights but more and more, I found myself doing less and less to alter the Mk III. The changes that I seemed to really need could be done on my own amateur bench, but I still relied on the professional gunsmith for refinishing.
This Hi Power still retains its original Mk III “matte finish” but has been fitted with Novak fixed sights. The right-side extended thumb safety lever has been removed and the shaft rounded. It is wearing a set of Mr. Craig Spegel’s checkered Hi Power stocks. The original spur hammer and sear have been replaced with a Type I ring hammer and sear from Cylinder & Slide. The bottom of the sight dovetails were cold blued several times and closely match the original matte finish. In fact, no one has noticed the difference until they were told.
But an odd thing was happening: I found myself shooting my least-altered Hi Powers considerably more than those having significantly more custom features. Why would this be?
Some could be sentiment toward the two older remnants of years long passed and maybe a subconscious desire to “make them last” though their “duties” these days do not include self-defense and it has been years since either has been in the boonies. Their sole “responsibilities” are to traipse to the range on occasion and punch holes in paper. Their current “lives” are boringly tame, like mine.
And there might be another reason. We’ll visit it later.
Yesterday, none of this was on my mind. I decided to go to the firing range just for fun and decided that it was time to stop neglecting my Hi Powers. I’ve been working nearly exclusively with double-action revolvers and Glocks for roughly a year and I just missed shooting my old “HP’s”. Once again, I did not choose Number One or a more customized one, but a nearly stock 9mm Mk III. I took the camera along so that if I felt like it, I could try for some new Hi Power pictures and document group size since I’d be shooting a new (to me) commercial load as well as a tried-and-true handload.
The lightly-altered Mk III I opted to shoot has been refinished with a matte blue frame and polished slide. I bought the gun used and the factory matte finish had been marred. The factory ambidextrous extended thumb safety has been made into a single-side extended thumb safety simply because I can inadvertently engage the ambidextrous ones. The barrel is a hard chromed one from my parts bin that just happens to fit this pistol with no perceptible movement when the slide is in battery, but no fitting was done. It dropped in place. This Mk III has no magazine disconnect and the hammer spur was bobbed. No trigger work was done. This one had a very useable trigger when I bought it and it measures just over 5-lbs with a break as clean as the proverbial ice sickle. The pistol is wearing a prototype set of Mr. Hakan Pek’s excellent Hi Power stocks which have been discussed elsewhere in the Browning Hi Power section of this site.
Considering the current shortage of commercial ammunition, I felt lucky to get a few hundred rounds of this “clean” 9mm ammunition several months ago even though I didn’t get to “test” any beforehand.
I dry-fired a few times and then set up a few targets at 15 yards. All would be shot using a two-hand hold and in slow-fire. Today, I just was not in the mood for quick-cadence practical style work. My goal was just to repeat yet again basic marksmanship fundamentals and make sure that this perishable skill didn’t! Some shooting was from a rest, i.e., my wrists and forearms are securely “braced” on several sandbags. Other targets were fired from a standing position with no support.
This handload has worked well in my Hi Powers, whether through the 1:10 factory barrels or the 1:16 Barsto match barrels. From the factory barrel, its average velocity measures right at 1160 ft/sec. It has been reliable in a number of 9mm pistols and groups nicely. These shots are all easily contained by the 2” diameter bullseye. I fired this group while seated and with my wrists braced with sandbags.
This was the first group fired with the Remington UMC ammunition using the “Flat Nose, Enclosed Base” 124-gr. bullet. I have not yet chronographed this load, but it feels very mild. Felt-recoil was noticeably less than with the handload. The single low hit was the third shot and was my fault.
From a standing position and using both hands, I was able to keep all but one shot within the 2-inch bullseye. This was done in slow-fire.
Next up would be some shooting at 25 yards.
This 10-shot group was fired with my wrists braced and while seated. The dark bullseye on this target measures 4” in diameter.
The surprise of the day came from shooting this nearly equivalent size group off-hand a few minutes later. (I think that I may be looking for some more of this Remington UMC ammunition if the price is not overly inflated. It appears to get along well with the Hi Power pistol.)
Since the 50-yard range was just a few steps away and no one was using it, I shot a group or two on it. The group shown below is using the previously-described handload.
This fifty-yard group was fired from a seated position using both hands in slow-fire and with braced wrists. This was the best group of the day and is easily contained within the 8” black bullseye.
The same handload was used to shoot this 15-yard group from Number One with the fitted Barsto barrel on a previous range session. Take a look back at the 15-yard groups fired with this load from the stock Mk III barrel. I think that they’re pretty well equivalent. In some Hi Powers, I am sure that the fitted match barrel will significantly improve the pistol’s accuracy potential but the biggest improvements I’ve noted have been with cast bullet reloads. In my experience, the Barsto “shines” if using cast bullets in the Hi Power.
While photographing the groups from the session, I was reminded yet again of how the results using nearly stock Hi Powers frequently matched those from my more-heavily customized ones. I know that I cannot shoot to either of these pistols’ mechanical accuracy levels. I can attain but a certain level and with loads they “like”, either gun can provide it.
Make no mistake; I am emphatically not suggesting that customized pistols cannot enhance both practical and mechanical accuracy, reliability, good looks and so forth. What I am suggesting is that we are usually going to be disappointed when we think that buying a custom gun will make us better shooters. That a better trigger-pull and/or a more comfortable feeling customized Hi Power doesn’t provide us greater potential to shoot well is not in question.
The mistake is made when we mistakenly believe that we can buy skill. I have tried it only to realize that there just is no easy way around “the basics”. Custom pistols can serve us well but so can those remaining nearly stock. A full-blown custom Hi Power can be a thing of beauty, but I suspect many of us might be better served using our funds for range fees, ammunition, training and targets.
I am sure that I am. Subconsciously, I think that this is a major reason for my using less-altered pistols over the past few years. The current Mk III-pattern Hi Powers pretty much meet my individual requirements. This may or may not be true with you. Each of us must decide for ourselves if any customization is necessary and if so, how much.
A Hi Power (or other handgun) might be lavishly customized or it might be stock as a stove. Regardless, each has a custom component unique to it and it alone: the shooter. More than any other factor, this component’s characteristics will determine how well the pistol performs…or doesn’t.
See you on the range.