April 2002

Firing Line: 04/02

Mak Roundup
I am concerned mainly about the Makarov testing. I have never owned a Bulgarian Makarov, but I have heard excellent reports of their dependability. I know you have tested these twice and you say the safety/decocker came loose on both. Did anyone on your staff disassemble then re-assemble these Makarovs? I have owned an East German surplus Makarov for several years. It is my main ccw carry gun.

My East German Mak has at least 4,000 rounds through it with absolutely no malfunctions, no jams, no problems of any kind.

-Don Boyd
Port Richey, FL

We inspected the gun without disassembly and oiled it as best we could. —Roger Eckstine


Since the Makarov has been made in several countries including Russia and Germany, I was somewhat disappointed when you chose to test the Bulgarian variety some time ago. You panned this pistol and it probably deserved it. For the life of me however, I cannot understand why you then elected to test a used Bulgarian pistol when you didn’t like the new one. What next, a Bulgarian Makarov (used ) that’s been submerged in salt water for five years?

How about testing a Russian and/or German version, both of which have pretty good reputations?

-Dennis A. McGuire


As usual, I enjoyed your March 2002 issue of Gun Tests. My own experience with a Bulgarian Makarov was, however, very different from yours. Last year I purchased a top-grade Bulgarian Mak from Southern Ohio Gun through a local dealer. I paid $20 more than you did, but got a virtually new weapon with almost no signs of wear. The gun performed beautifully right out of the generic box.

The only problem I encountered with my Bulgarian Mak came when I let a buddy shoot it and then talk me into selling it to him. We’ve shot together several times since that happened, and the thing continues to work beautifully. He loves it, and I haven’t purchased another one only because I have enough alternatives in my inventory.

In the mid-1990s I handled an FFL for my club and sold lots of Makarovs. The only ones nicer than this unissued Bulgarian I handled were one or two mint East Germans and a small batch of actual Soviet military guns I lucked into. Many Commie bloc imports are dogs, but the top-grade stuff places like SOG and Century offer is usually well worth the money.

-Dr. Vinton M. Prince, Jr.
Wilmington, OH


In response to your tests on the Bulgarian 9X18 Makarov, the FEG PA63 in both .380 and 9X18, where you stated they were not reliable and Don’t Buy them, I must disagree. I have owned two FEGs in both .380 and 9X18 for the past four years and have had no trouble at all with either gun after about 500 rounds through each one. The accuracy of each is around 1.5 inches at 25 yards freehand, and that’s only because I’m an old man (65) and not as steady as I was 10 years ago.

I also own two Makarovs, one Bulgarian in 9X18 and one Russian in .380. Again no problems, with either gun, and the accuracy is better than the FEGs and my 9MM Taurus PT-111. I can consistently group an eight-round clip under 1 inch in the 9 or 10 ring all day long. They are great guns to shoot and, I carry the Russian Makarov in .380 as my personal defense gun.

The ammo I have been using has been either the Russian 95 grain in 9X18 or the 9mm Kurz (.380) by Wolf.

By the way, the most I paid for any of the above guns was $129, for the Russian .380. I really enjoy and appreciate your magazine and the amount of work you put into your tests, but in this case, before you condemn these guns, I think you should take another hard look at them because they are a lot of fun, and I found them to be very reliable. Keep up the good work!

-Bob Heidt
Phoenix, AZ

If you can claim accuracy of 1.5 inches freehand at 25 yards with any of these pistols, then Les Baer is wasting everybody’s time. —Roger Eckstine


I just saw the article on inexpensive 9mm Maks, published in the March 2002 issue, and was amazed that you have had such reliability problems with the Bulgarian Makarovs. I own two Makarovs, one of East German manufacture, and the other of Bulgarian origin, purchased new. Both guns are as reliable as an anvil, with about a thousand rounds through the German gun and about 500 through the Bulgarian, through 10 different magazines, without a single malfunction. I will admit that the front site is nearly invisible, the DA to SA transition takes a lot of skill to master, the mags require an inexpensive tool to assist loading, and their accuracy beyond about 10 to 12 yards is suspect, but I don’t have $350 in both of these guns and all the extra mags put together! Their reliability, however, is right up there with the finest of Glocks, SIGs, Rugers, and Berettas that I have the pleasure to own and shoot. And surplus 9mm Makarov ammo is mighty cheap fodder.

These flat, ergonomic, fast-handling and reliable little pistols deserve better press than you’re giving them, I believe.

-Dave Chalk

You almost had us sold on the Bulgarian Makarov. Then you got to the little things like the sights, the trigger, and the magazines. —Roger Eckstine


I own a Bul Mak military surplus that was bought brand new three years ago. I have had nothing but sucess with mine. It is extremely accurate for a pistol costing $150. The only complaint I had with the pistol was that the sights were a little slim, but again, I can’t expect much from a $150 gun, so I’ll take it.

I can’t tell from the pictures of the test piece, but I am guessing that it is a poor example. Again, I can only speculate. I would have to see it for myself.

This is not meant to be negative, I would just like to see a better review because the Bul Mak is a great gun and reliable. I have fired over 1,000 rounds through mine with only one stovepipe incident using several different types of ammunition. I agree that the mags are hard to load, but leaving the mags fully loaded for a few weeks will generally bring the spring tension down. I would gladly let your evaluators use mine. If not, the importer of this firearm is PW Arms, located in Redwood, Washington.

I am not just a shooter, I also make my livelihood producing firearms. I am employed by SIGarms in Exeter, New Hampshire. I work with handguns six days a week up to 13 hours a day. My job is primarily final assembly of the slide, barrel, recoil spring and rod, and final targeting.

SIG handguns are of fine quality and fit and finish, but are a tad pricey for the average Joe. My Mak is more accurate than the large majority of SIG pistols, but does not even come close to the quality (fit and finish), but this is to be expected from a price difference of $150 to $800.

I would like to see another test of the Makarov, preferably another Bulgarian. I have always enjoyed reading this magazine because it gives readers a straight-shot look at firearms, with no “touchy feely” reviews. You have nothing to gain from kissing their ass, which I like a lot.

-Name and Address Withheld


I too have had bad luck with cheap Makarov pistols. I even had problems with one of the good Russian pistols you mentioned. The IMEZ that I bought shot well for the first 200 rounds or so and then started to misfire once every magazine change. I traded it for a CZ CZ83 in 9x18, and it works every time. It also costs three times as much. However, if you depend on a pistol to protect you and your family, buy one that is dependable.

-Mike Woodbury Whitefield


It’s always interesting to see how your test results compare to my experiences with similar guns. The test results and commentary regarding the Bulgarian Makarov were no exception. Several years ago I bought an Arsenal brand Bulgarian Makarov on the recommendation of my gun dealer. I have never regretted spending that $90! The addition of a set of Pearce grips made it into a very fine little shooter that eats anything I feed it. It has never failed to go “bang,” and all the bits and pieces are still as tight as the day I bought it. As a bonus, it’s a natural pointer.

You were right on the money regarding the Mak’s “Magazines by Gillette.” The magazine spring lever is just plain nasty. However, my dealer sold a little $5 stainless steel sleeve that slips over the magazine and depresses the loading lever, making loading no strain and no pain.

On the strength of my experience, several friends have bought Maks, and all have been quite satisfied with them. I have Kimbers, SIG’s, Colts, Springfields, etc. With the exception of my CZs, I’d have to rate my Mak as being among the best “bang for the buck.”

-Lee Fowble
Edmonds, WA


Surplus Assessments
In reading the February 2002 articles “Surplus .45 Automatics: Bargains or Busts?” and “Cowboy Action Slide Actions: Original Winchester or Copy?”, I felt that both of these weapons were unfairly represented.

In regards to the Sistema Colt Mod. 1927, it was given a “Don’t Buy” rating. I think that anyone who buys one of these buys it with an open mind. I think it should be a given that they will not get Gold Cup accuracy or the reliablity of a finely tuned Wilson. Purchasers of these weapons are looking for a serviceable firearm to put in a bedside table or the glove compartment of a vehicle. Something I like to call a “truck gun.”

All of the problems listed about this firearm could be fixed with a new magazine and only minimal gunsmithing, something most hobbyists could do at home in a couple of hours. I think a “Conditional Buy” would have been more fair and accurate. But again, the article did provide valuable information to the uninformed consumer.

And about the Hi-Point 9mm carbine, I’ll just say, no thanks. They’d have to pay me $199 to take it. I think the quality and extended lifespan of the Ruger makes it a better bargain. Poor quality is never a bargain.

Some of my comments about the .45 article can be applied to the article on the ’97 Winchesters. Cowboy Action shooters will often go to great trouble and expense to have an authentic firearm and would gladly pay dearly for one, either to have it fully restored or just get it functioning. The price on these two was very reasonable for their condition. With that in mind they could be given a good tune-up by a competent gunsmith and turned into good shooters. In the condition you described, their collector value was well in line with their price and any modifications would not destroy a priceless antique. And as to their function, all the ones I have dealt with have required rather “enthusiastic” operation of the slide to ensure reliable function. Again, this is something that should be taken on a case by case basis. A “Conditional Buy” would have been more appropriate with a warning that examples should be evaluated by a competent gunsmith. One bad example of a particular firearm does not make a valid field of reference. But it does expose poor quality control on the manufacturers part, which is good to point out.

-Len McNabb
Chattanooga TN


.45 Auto Rim Suppliers
I’m writing to let you know that Remington still makes .45 Auto Rim brass (February 2002) and that it’s available from Midway (www.midwayusa.com), Midsouth (www.midsouthshooterssupply.com), as well as other distributors.

-Steve Aliff
Marriottsville, MD


.300 WSM Praise
First, let me say I am a Charter Subscriber since Issue #1, and have watched this publication get better and better each year. Congratulations, and may Gun Tests live a lot longer than my handgun “lifetime” warranties.

I just returned from Japan, where “air soft” toy guns have been outlawed as dangerous, and the city of Osaka has just banned the carrying of baseball bats, unless one is on the way to, or returning from, playing baseball!

Regarding the .300 WSM in the March issue, you were wondering what the point was in that development. Benchrest shooters found out that short, fat cartridges are inherently more accurate and efficient than long, skinny ones. (i.e. .22 PPC and 6mm PPC). The fat ones give a larger rear surface area for the primer to ignite, and less powder is far forward in the case, so powder burning is more consistent. This means that velocity often equals (or comes close) to cases of larger capacity, and shot-to-shot variability is reduced. Now we can have Magnums in short actions, and be able to convert our own rifles to these cartridges.

Also, belted cases are lousy in headspacing, since belts vary so much. Good ol’ Newton had the right idea with his beltless cases. The British liked long cases, because their powder was in the form of long sticks of Cordite, then Weatherby popularized the idea that “Magnum” and “Belted” went hand-in-hand.

I have a .270, a .30/06 and a .358 Norma (belted) Magnum, so the .300 WSM is not of any value to me, but if I didn’t have those three rifles, then just one .300 WSM (or a .270 WSM or .338 WSM) would be enough for me. Both Winchester and Remington will probably have a whole string of cartridges in the future, based on the new short-&-fat beltless magnum cases. It is my opinion that the long magnums” will be used only by specialized shooters, including ex-Weatherby shooters.

-Alan Dash
Boise, ID


What’s With The Screw?
As a Cabela‘s.44 1851 Navy owner, I could not agree more with your recent test (October 2001) that the guns are fun to shoot and inexpensive to own. I have two questions about the gun:

What exactly is the purpose of the screw on the left side of the gun which seems to prevent the piece that attaches the barrel to the cylinder axis from being pushed in too far? On mine, I had to hammer that bar all the way in until the spring-loaded clip pops up on the opposite side, making the screw unnecessary. After extensive shooting, that bar wants to work its way out of the gun toward the left side, so having that screw on the outside of that bar would make more sense to me.

Also how can one get those ivory-white grips for a 1851? Pietta offers them on one gun, but Cabela’s can’t get the grips alone.

-Gerhard Gotzmann

The little screw is supposed to prevent the barrel wedge from leaving the handgun during disassembly, which means it won’t get lost. On original Colts and some reproductions, it actually worked, but on worn guns and some reproductions, the wedge can easily fall out past the screw. You are correct that the wedge can be driven into guns far enough so that the “hook” springs up on the right side of the frame to retain the wedge, but this is usually possible only on perfect old Colts, or after the reproduction gets some wear so the wedge can go in that far. The integral sprung plate on top of the wedge has that hook to prevent the wedge from coming loose during firing, but on many guns, friction does the job well enough.

On my original 1860, made in 1865, takedown was a breeze. I could bump the wedge with something firm like a plastic knife handle and the wedge would fly out until it hit the screw, and stay there. On reassembly, I just tapped the wedge in, or pushed it in with my thumb until the hook caught the frame. The gun was then tight enough and all ready to go.

I’m afraid I can’t help with ivory-look grips, but you might try the Ajax Co., in Dallas, (214) 630-8893, www.ajaxgrips.com, as they make ivory-look grips for a great many handguns for not a lot of money. —Ray Ordorica