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Classic Browning Autopistol Range Showdown: Colt M1911 vs Browning Hi-Power P-35 – Who Wins?

John Moses Browning was the greatest gun designer of all time, without a doubt. What’s a bit more debatable is the question of what Mr. Browning’s greatest handgun design was.

Browning Hi-Power. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Browning Hi-Power. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

John Moses Browning was the greatest gun designer of all time, without a doubt. What’s a bit more debatable is the question of what Mr. Browning’s greatest handgun design was.

Many would say the M1911 .45 ACP single-action (SA) semiautomatic pistol, and these folks have a compelling case for saying so. After all, it was the gun that survived a 6,000-round torture test in order to convince the U.S. Army bureaucracy to adopt its first-ever general-issue autopistol, from there faithfully serving our servicemembers for 75 years. The M1911 remains incredibly popular after 112 years.

Other pundits would say the Browning Hi-Power 9mm SA autopistol, aka the BHP, aka the P-35, aka the “Grand Puissance,” aka the L9A1 (the official designation conferred by His Majesty’s Armed Forces), and these folks also have a compelling case. After all, it was Mr. Browning himself who envisioned the BHP as an improvement over the 1911, although he died in 1926, thus leaving it up to Monsieur Dieudonné Saive to finalize the pistol in 1935. It was the first “Wonder Nine, i.e. the first to use a double-column magazine. The P-35 became *THE* most widely used military, police, and counterterrorist pistol in the world and held onto that status for several decades. Though not as popular as the M1911 nowadays, it still has legions of fans. 

After that quick review, which of the classic blasters performs best? Well, since I own both of them, I decided to take these beauties to the range and shoot them side-by-side to find out. 

Contestant #1: Colt M1911

I purchased my classic Colt from the former Winchester Gallery gun store – now known as Shoot Smart – in Fort Worth, Texas. She cost me $2,200.00, and she’s been worth every penny. Upon obtaining the gun’s papers from Colt, I discovered that my pistol was made on November 5, 1918, a mere six days before “The Great War” ended.

Just prior to this range session, my gunsmith at Sterling Arsenal in Sterling, Virginia, installed a new recoil spring and Wilson Shok-Buff to help reduce wear and tear on this centenarian gun. 

Contestant #2: Browning Hi-Power

I bought my Hi-Power from Fowler Gun Room in Orange, California in 2007; a buddy of mine did a serial number look-up for me and determined that it had been made in 1967. The slide is rollmarked “Browning Arms Company St Louis Mo. & Montreal P.Q.”. It then reads “Made In Belgium” immediately below that, indicating that the gun was actually built by the Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal plant.

Alas, during one range session, the factory-original front sight sheared off, so my then-local gunsmith, Mr. T.J. Jimakas of TJ’s Custom Gunworks, installed Smith & Wesson revolver-style sights as replacements. T.J. also added stippling to the front strap and refinished the slide in black Parkerizing job to replace the less durable bluing. 

Range Showdown 

I went to Silver Eagle Group (SEG) in Ashburn, Virginia to conduct the range showdown. I used 50 rounds of ammo for each gun – a combo of PMC Bronze 230-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) aka “hardball” and Winchester Target & Practice 230-grain FMJ for the .45, and PMC Bronze 115-grain hardball for the 9mm. The course of fire for each gun was as follows:

—25 rounds, head shots, 7 yards.

—15 rounds, groin/pelvic girdle shots, 25 yards.

—10 rounds torso shots, 50 yards.

All of the two-handed shooting was done from the Classic Weaver Stance. The target used was the ICE-QT paper target.

Both guns had an excellent trigger action, which makes me wonder if the previous owners of either pistol had done a custom action job on them. With 1911’s sliding trigger, it’s relatively easy for a competent gunsmith to do a trigger job. By contrast, the BHP is considerably more challenging.

Wiley explained back in 1986 in “The Gun Digest Book of 9mm Handguns,” “The trigger is a pivoting type, one that works a drawbar on the right side of the frame and one that has been roundly cursed by a legion of gunsmiths trying to improve the trigger pull.”

Both pistols were quite comfortable to shoot, notwithstanding (1) all of those old wives’ tales about the .45 ACP being an excessively hard kicker and (2) both pistols reputation for inflicting hammer bite upon the web of the shooter’s hand. Indeed, that hammer bite factor partially explains why the design was modified in the form of the M1911-A1 and the Mk II Browning in 1929 and 1982 respectively. 

Both guns were jam-free. However, my dearly beloved old Colt had ultra-tiny sights that were extremely difficult to focus on beyond 7 yards – which – and to make matters worse, the front sight on my M1911 fell off the slide on the last round of the firing session (just like had happened with my P-35 back in the day)! Argh! 

At 7 yards, the BHP gave me a delightfully tight-centered group that chewed out the paper bad guy’s nose, prompted the humorous comment “Nosectomy” from a Facebook friend; at that same distance, the Colt kept all her shots in the head but with a wider-dispersed group, throwing one high into the hairline, therefore only scoring 2 points instead of a perfect 5. Both guns connected with all shots at 25 yards, but the M1911 was staying way to the left, whilst the Browning was still tighter and better centered. At 50 yards, the Colt was hopeless, with only three hits in the 5-zone, one low left in the 2-zone, and six total whiffs! The BHP kept all shots on target, with five 5-zone, four 4-zone, and one 2-zone hit. 

And the Winner Is…?

As much as I love my old Colt and the .45 ACP cartridge alike, the Hi-Power was the clear winner. All the same, I’m proud and privileged to have both of these grand ol’ guns in my so-called “D’Orr-senal of Democracy.”

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).