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Hammer-down Hi-Power: FN's all-steel DA variant of the browning Hi-Power is the Belgian firm's latest offering to law enforcement and the public.

Jeff Cooper was the first to voice the opinion that double-action auto pistols were "an answer in search of a question." Regardless of the relative merits or flaws of the double-action pistol, it certainly can be said that today they are a fact of life for military and law enforcement applications the world over.

There comes now a double-action version of the venerable Browning Hi-Power pistol, which earned its place in firearms history by being the first "high-capacity" pistol. Does this mean the evolution of the double-action auto pistol has now come full circle? Evolution of a species can be a contentious issue, but when it comes to handguns it is obvious that DA semiautos dominate the latter stages of the species. There is, however, a stark difference when one compares the latest version, this FN HP-DA, to the original single-action Hi-Power.

John Browning died in 1926, and the Hi-Power 9mm pistol with its 13-round magazine was not introduced until 1935. The FN (Fabrique Nationale) firm went to great lengths to establish the legend that this Model of 1935; or P-35, was Browning's last design. The pistol went through several series of models and design improvements in the late 1920s. The credit can be given to Dieudonne Saive, who was given the job of saving this project by taking Browning's initial work and developing it into something the company could sell during the depths of the Great Depression. The result, as they say, is history and the stuff of legends.

The Hi-Power was a worldwide success for many decades and has probably been purchased and used by more armies on the face of the earth than any other service pistol in history But by the mid- to late 1970s it was becoming obvious to the management of FN that the P-35 design was starting to grow a bit stale.

The Browning USA sporting-arms firm, incidentally, is now a subsidiary of Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FNH) located in Belgium. It's a fact that Browning is but a small part of FN, which is primarily a defense contractor for the Western world.

The initial impetus for a new and updated design was the search by the American military for a new service pistol to replace the 1911A1 .45 in the early 1970s. FN, hoping to snag such a juicy contract, unveiled the Browning "Fast Action" and entered it in the initial trials. FN argued, unsuccessfully, that the Fast Action was a better alternative to either a traditional single-action or the double-action semiauto.

The reasoning was that it was the first shot that determined whether a pistol was a single action or a double action. The Fast Action was neither in a pure sense. It was loaded and cocked in the traditional manner, and, after the hammer was cocked, it was pushed forward to rest against the rear of the slide. The action remained cocked, but due to the design of the hammer mechanism, it was able to rest in a hammer-down position. All it took to fire the first round was a simple pull of the trigger.

Unfortunately, as innovative as the design was, it went nowhere. One reason was that the design had many small parts, and military inspectors were fearful that dirt and other debris could clog the complicated machinery.

It was about this time that FN decided to design a pistol that could be manufactured in either of three modes: single action, double action or the Fast Action. The original concept was to use as many of the original Hi-Power parts as possible, but that soon gave way to the realization that a new frame was needed.

An investment-cast frame was designed that would accept any one of the three mentioned trigger groups. A new magazine with a 14-round capacity was also created, and although it resembled the original Browning Hi-Power magazine in profile and shape, it was decidedly different and not interchangeable.

Once it became clear that the Fast Action was going nowhere, FNH introduced the double-action "HP-DA," sometime between 1979 and 1980. It again utilized the more recently designed investment-cast frame and the 14-round magazine, as well as a number of other design changes. In studying the photos of this first HPDA, there is a definite similarity between that model and the test pistol featured in this article, but FNH representatives are loath to connect the two, with no explanation being given.

The test pistol is not the one first introduced back in the early 1980s, although the two pistols share a common heritage and multiple design characteristics. This latest pistol has gone through a number of evolutionary improvements, but it does retain one feature first seen with the original--a firing-pin safety that is directly connected to the plate retaining the firing pin at the back of the slide.

What is unusual is that this plate is moved by action of the disconnector. As the trigger is pulled, the firing plate is raised through action of the disconnector and allows forward motion of the firing pin, once the trigger pull is completed.

All of this is getting a little ahead of the story because this latest pistol is being marketed by FN Herstal, not Browning. A few years ago, FNH won a contract to build M-16 rifles for the American military and a brand new manufacturing facility was built in Columbia, South Carolina. The test pistol is manufactured in Belgium but is imported by the FN division in South Carolina.

It also is not "assembled in Portugal" as we have become accustomed to seeing roll-marked on new production Browning Hi-Power pistols. This one is made and assembled in Belgium and is marketed in this country as part of FNH's law enforcement offering.

However, this is not a pistol intended exclusively for the law enforcement community It is also available to civilians, but those pistols are sold with the government-mandated 10-round magazines. When sold to law enforcement agencies or personnel, the magazine will hold 15 rounds.

It would be appropriate to mention a venture made by Browning about 10 years ago that was called the Browning BDM. The "BDM" stood for Browning Double Mode. This pistol was marketed in this country with a slotted-head switch on the left side of the slide. The circular switch was marked with two positions: "R" for revolver mode and "P" for pistol mode. When using the revolver setting, the pistol operated as a double-action-only. The "P" setting allowed a conventional double-action first shot that was followed by subsequent single-action pulls of the trigger.

The Browning BDM was designed in this country by Peter Sodoma and had a number of interesting design features. It had a slide made from component parts and formed on a mandrill, a frame-mounted safety that worked in the opposite direction of a 1911 safety and a grip with a relatively small circumference. Unfortunately, even though the U.S. Secret Service expressed some interest in the design, the BDM went nowhere and is no longer available.

The HP-DA test pistol came in a black plastic case with a foam divider, a spare 10-round magazine and a cable lock. The pistol very much resembles the original Hi-Power, but there are noticeable differences. For one thing, the triggerguard is larger, extended and features a finger rest at its most forward section.

The grips, unlike those on the HiPower, are a one-piece plastic molding with a thumbrest on each side. This grip encircles three-fourths of the circumference of the grip portion of the frame and is held in place with a single slot-head screw. A split keychain-style lanyard ring encircles a portion of the grip at the very center of the heel.

The trigger is similar to that found on the P-35 in that it swings from the frame. However, it has been location slightly forward of the position seen on the original Hi-Power and offers what I feel is a rather lengthy double-action trigger pull. The trigger features a smooth, somewhat wide face with rounded outside edges, which is an important point when you consider the length of the draw. Behind the trigger and just forward of the magazine catch on the frame is a trigger "bumper" to stop the rearward motion of the trigger at firing.

The overall finish of the gun is a black enamel-style paint--not the most impressive visually, but it certainly serves the purpose of guarding against surface oxidation. This painted surface, however, did mar as contact with any other steel object would leave its trace, not as an unsightly scratch, but rather as a tell-tale mark.

Most noticeable upon handling the pistol is the lack of a traditional safety. There is an ambidextrous set of frame-mounted levers where one would expect to find the safeties on a single-action pistol, but they are decocking levers. Additionally each decocks the hammer easily and quickly. In fact if you shoot with a "high thumb," as one would while shooting a 1911 pistol, you may experience the unintentional decock. I did. This is not a serious problem because the gun returns from a single-action to a double-action first-shot mode, but it is distracting when it happens while you are not expecting it. I gave special attention to where I placed my thumb while gripping the pistol, and the problem went away.

I've experienced this phenomenon before, but it was with pistols with frame-mounted safeties that incorporated a decocking mechanism at the most downward stop. In those instances, I usually pushed the safety too far down and unintentionally engaged the hammer decock.

The sights on the HP-DA are more than adequate for a service pistol. Both are installed atop the slide by means of a crosscut dovetail. The rear sight is a substantial blade with two white upright rectangles painted and positioned on either side of the wide, square u-notch. The front sight is wide, but it allows ample amounts of light on either side of the front blade when viewed through the u-notch channel of the rear blade.

Shooting the FNH HP-DA yielded absolutely no surprises as it functioned flawlessly over the course of approximately 300 rounds. As mentioned previously, the trigger pull is lengthy, and that caused some concern initially when testing the pistol for accuracy. The pull of the trigger is smooth--surprisingly so--and it has only the slightest trace of "stacking" as it nears the end of the pull. The Chatillon trigger-pull scale measured the double-action trigger pull over several tries between 11.25 pounds and 11.5 pounds. The single-action trigger pull scaled a more consistent 5.5 pounds in pull weight.

My first target groups were simply poor, but a retest yielded a smaller series. The difference can be attributed to my personal difficulty with pistols featuring long-length double-action trigger pulls. To compensate for this shortcoming on my part, I had to grip the gun with my left hand, more or less, and shoot it with my right. The results will be seen in the accompanying chart of ammunition velocities and resulting target groups.

For routine cleaning, the FNH HPDA fieldstrips in the normal manner. Remove the magazine, check and make sure the chamber is empty, and then retract the slide to where the slide stop engages the recess in the slide. With the slide retracted, push out the slide-stop pin from the right side of the frame. Remove the slide from the frame. Holding the slide upside down, compress the recoil spring and remove it from the slide. This will allow the barrel to be removed from within the slide, and no further disassembly is necessary for routine cleaning. Reassemble in reverse order.

In a world overrun with polymer-frame widgets, it is refreshing to work once again with an all-steel pistol. That the FNH HP-DA is a reliable and trustworthy self-defense/law enforcement pistol is a certainty. It is also a durable service pistol that will be welcomed in service around the world as well as in the United States.

Has the evolution of the Browning Hi-Power now come full circle? I can't say because I still appreciate the old warhorse, both for its design and for its heritage, but HP-DA is sure to maintain the heritage established by its famous predecessor.

PRIMER                      POWDER TYPE  BULLET WT.   NO. OF RDS.
                             & CHARGE      & TYPE       TESTED

 Winchester WinClean         115-gr.     BEB-TC           10
 Black Hills                 124-gr.     JHP              10
 Federal + P Expanding FMJ   124-gr.     FMJ              10
 Speer Gold Dot+P            124-gr.     Gold Dot HP      10
 Winchester SXT              147-gr.     SXT-HP           10

PRIMER                        AVG.     EXT.   BEST 10-RD.
                            VELOCITY  SPREAD    GROUP
                             (INS.)           @ 25 YDS.

 Winchester WinClean         1,141      46    3.25 ins.
 Black Hills                 1,160      61    3.75 ins.
 Federal + P Expanding FMJ   1,136      51    3.0 ins.
 Speer Gold Dot+P            1,253      30    2.5 ins.
 Winchester SXT              968        15    3.25 ins.


This latest double action pistol from FN Herstal has gone through a number of evolutionary improvements Even though it is marketed by FNH's law enforcement division, the pistol is available, for sale to civilians.

Although the HP-DA bears a resemblance to its famous forebear, it lacks any form of manual safely and features a double-action first shot to be followed by subsequent single-action trigger pulls, that is, until the decock lever has been activated, at which point the mechanism reverts to a double-action first shot once again.

The FNH HP-DA disassembles easily into these basic components for cleaning and routine maintenance.

The slide features an exposed extractor that is different than the one on the traditional Hi-Power. The extractor on the HPDA is more robust in its construction.

There is a set of frame-mounted levers where one would expect ambidextrous safeties to be located on a single-action pistol, but these are decocking levers. Either lever decocks the hammer easily and quickly.

The trigger on the HP-DA features a smooth, somewhat wide face with rounded outside edges. Behind the trigger and forward of the magazine catch on the frame is a "trigger bumper," which stops the rearward motion of the trigger at firing.

Unlike the standard Hi-Power, the HP-DA features a finger rest on the forward portion of the triggerguard. Dave Snyder employs this feature as the takes a two-handed sight picture at a downrange target.




Dept. HG

Law Enforcement Division

1364 Beverly Road. Suite 303

McLean, VA 22101

(703) 288-3500

Action Type: Traditional double/single action, semiautomatic, short-recoil operated pistol

Caliber: 9x19mm

Capacity: 10 rounds (15, law enforcement only)

Overall Length: 7.9 inches

Weight: 1.93 pounds empty

Sights: White dot blade front sight, square notch rear with two white bars

Safeties: Decocker

Finish: Corrosion-resistant, semigloss finish

Price: $647, $739 with tritium night sights
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Author:James, Frank W.
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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