The Defensive Makarov Revisited...

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Stephen A. Camp

Moderator In Memoriam
Dec 24, 2002
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, 15 and 25 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 and 25 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.

25 Yards:

Though many don't shoot their Makarovs at this distance, I thought I'd give it a whirl, just for grins.

Using the Russian/Beast combination mentioned previously and a 6 O' Clock hold on the darker, smaller innermost bullseye, this 10-shot group was the best of 3 fired.

These "tests", while too tame to interest some verified for me that the Makarov pistols being fired were capable of very decent mechanical accuracy. I have little doubt that they were capable of tighter groups but due to human error (mine), we didn't see them shot to their absolute truest potential.

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...

I have deterred assailants twice with a Mak: a fool who thought he'd rob me at an ATM and a car full of chemically altered yoots of whom I ran afoul in a construction zone. In neither case were any shots fired, but I have no doubt the Makarov is up to the task should anybody actually need shot.
My first carry gun was an EG Makarov. When Michigan went "shall issue" it was the only gun I owned suitable for carry. Before then all we could do was shoot our guns on the range.

The Mak worked well for a couple of years. I did have a problem with light strikes caused by the safety spring working loose.

I later upgraded to a S&W M-65 with a 3" barrels. I had more confidence in the .38 +P loads then the 9x18 Mak round. Between that and the light strike issue I just felt better with the S&W.

I still use the Mak as a "spare" carry gun if the Smith is down for cleaning or some such. It does conceal well and is very comfortable.
Most excellent write up!

My old hi-cap Mak worked flawlessly and was accurate with anything that was loaded in it. I never got a chance to try those heavy 115gr JHP Brown Bear + Silver Bear loads.. Hornady 95gr XTP is another great cartridge for these fine little pistols with decent terminal performance.

How's the DA trigger on your Mak? Mine had lots of creep and travel.

The Novak sights look really sweet on your Mak - they appear to be a BIG improvement over the fixed and adjustable factory sights for CCW

Thanks for sharing!
Yep. Worth a Carry.

Oh, indeed it's worth carrying. I'd rather carry my Mak than not carry my Colt.

I'm a 1911 fan, and would carry that all the time if it were concealable, but under most circumstances for what I wear and where I go, it's just not practical most days.

On the other hand, the little Mak goes along very nicely. Of course, so would a Raven 25, but I, too, have observed that the Mak:
1 - is utterly reliable.
2 - is way more accurate than it should be.
3 - is cheap enough to practice with - a lot.
4 - is a 'fun enough' gun at the range that it actually does get carried and shot.

My Mak is in .380 - I load .380 now, but didn't want to fool with the Mak cartridge when I bought it. I'm not convinced the .380 is anything like a .45, but with "premium" factory self-defense rounds, I don't feel undergunned if I "Pack the Mak.":evil:
Hello, Rampant Colt. The DA is not going to match a slick S&W to be sure but neither gun's is bad. There Russian's trigger-pull is lighter than my Bulgarian's but both are pretty darned smooth.

Hi Stephen ... would you have a link to your first piece "A Case FOR the Defensive Makarov" ... I'm sure we Mak lovers would enjoy reading it ... :what:

As for the power of a 9x18 for defense ... I'd hate to get shot with it ... since we all know that 1 shot stop is generally not realistic I don't mind the idea of chipping away at a BG's attitude with a pistol that fits my hand and is accurate from first shot to last ... great write up ... :)


Mr. Camp:

You have some experience with the Bersa T380, as per some of your reviews. Does this new review change anything, especially in light of the going prices for Maks?

So...would you recommend a new Bersa for ~$275 or MilSurp Mak for $350?

BTW, we should all be so lucky that a writer such as Mr. Camp graces our pages. Excellent work as usual!
Hello and thanks for the kind words. I've not bought or shot a newer Bersa Thunder in quite a while but some officers I know report feeding problems with them. At the same time, I've seen some come through CHL classes that are new enough to have the lock that have functioned 100% reliably.

Were I going to carry a .380/9mm Mak caliber pistol, I'd go with the one that I could shoot the best, assuming equal reliability. If that was the Bersa, that's the way I'd go. Likewise, if I simply preferred the Makarov's extra weight, slightly warmer round or whatever, I'd opt for it.

Speaking only for myself, I prefer the Bersa for concealed carry as it is lighter than the Makarov and mine's proven reliable in the extreme. Again, in my situation, this genre of weapon would almost always be in the BUG status and for that, I want lighter weight. At the same time I'm not arguing against someone wanting to tote the Makarov. I just prefer the slightly smaller Bersa; it's lighter and a little more compact.

If I couldn't find a reliable Bersa but owned a reliable Makarov, I'd go with it in a heartbeat. It's really pretty hard for me to pick one over the other as I've had such good luck with both.

What did it take to get the Novak sights onto a Mak slide?

You just gotta find a gunsmith to do it. I think Novak will do it, themselves.

There Russian's trigger-pull is lighter than my Bulgarian's but both are pretty darned smooth.

Last Mak I bought, I went through about 10 inspecting, then trying trigger pull. There was a fair bit of variation. And likewise, my Baikal .380 has a better trigger than my Bulgarian surplus gun.
Great write up as usual Stephen! I have four Maks. Two Bulgies, one EG and one Russian Commercial Stain Nickel in .380. I've carried one of the Bulgies on many occassion. I never feel under armed as I know I can hit what I aim at with the Mak.
My Mak is in 380 . I love that thing , My best handgun buy! Paid a little over a hundred bucks for it several years ago. I wish I had bought more of them.
Different makes and weights of ammo, rapid and slow fire drills with good groups and no jams. Since shot placement and reliability are the corner stones for any carry pistol I'd say your time at the range was well spent. As for the power of the 9x18, most of the modern HP loads will make the minimum penetration goals and most ball with reach the ideal outlined by the FBI. Not outstanding power but enough to do the job if I do my part.
What did it take to get the Novak sights onto a Mak slide?

If I remember correctly, the custom shop used to do it. They stopped a couple of years ago, and of course, now they are out of business. I believe that the webpage still has all of the articles and information, though.

I think Novak will do it, themselves.

Hmm, I wonder... I'm a dyed-in-the-wook Novak's fan, and if they would do it, I'd recommend it highly. They're awfully nice folks, I'm sure you could ask them what's involved. Call them and ask for Mike. He'll take good care of you.


I'm blaming you when my wife finds out that I'm on another "mission". Just wrapped-up the surplus SIG (P6 & P220) obsession and an currently telling myself to ignor the Makarov; it will go away! :D
Which Makarov is considered the "best"? How does the Russian specifically stack up?
I got my dealer to order a West German Makarov for me when they first imported into the US. He liked the feel of it so much, he ordered couple more. One was for him and the others to sell. They were very popular and sold. He liked it so much, it became his ccw.
Mr Camp, I just finished shooting the Makarov and saw your, as usual, excellent report.
Very nice shooting.:)

As you might remember I'm a big Makarov fan.

This morning I was trying a couple things.

One was changing the recoil spring between factory (17 pounds) and the Wolff 21 pound.
I have 21 pound recoil springs in all my Maks, even the .380's.
A couple ladies want me to teach them to shoot and one gun I want to use is the Makarov.
The 21 pound spring reduces kick but I'm not sure the ladies will be able to pull the slide, so I wanted to remind myself how much harder the factory spring kicks.

I started out by shooting eight 115gr JHP Silver Bear, at 50 yards, using the factory spring. (standing, two hands)

I'm pretty sure the recoil, with the factory spring, will be excessive for the ladies.
I installed the 21 pound spring and shot eight 95gr JHP Barnaul from 50 yards. Much less felt recoil, even considering the lighter bullet.
Guess I'll just see what the ladies can handle.
My Wife liked the Pearce grip on her Mak but I don't like it. Too bulky.

The Makarov I shoot the most is this old VERY worn Bulgarian. It's not beat up but it shows a LOT of wear. I'd guess it was a range gun or some such. Recently I had to replace the sear and disconnecter.
Even as old as it is, the gun is still more accurate than it's owner.
The gun put all the shots in the BG from 50 yards.:)

I finished up shooting at a couple "head" targets from 10 yards (we won't talk about the poor groups:eek: ).
Then chased a Pepsi can around the berm while point shooting. (now that's fun and I did surprisingly well).

Yeah, I like the Makarov.:)
Which Makarov is considered the "best"? How does the Russian specifically stack up?

IMO, the East German Mak has the best workmanship and finish, but usually shows a little holster wear. Also there weren't many EG Maks imported, so the price on them is relatively high.

The Russian has adjustable sights and some rear sights have too much play.
Many appeared to be new/unused.

There were a lot of Bulgarian new/unused guns. The machine work was as good and better than the Russian, but I've seen some crappy finished Bulgarian Maks.

Bottom line, IMO, all the Maks are good guns and it just comes down to how nice the individual gun is.

I bought this East German from a dealer that had it refinished for his personal use. I'm not a fan of chrome guns but this is a beauty.

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