The Bulgarian Makarov
a brief testimony
(Updated 04 Oct 2002 with new photos, see below)
as always, click on the images below to see a larger one.
A couple of weeks ago (at the time I wrote this, in around May 2000) I called my local gun shop to ask if he could do some repairs on a little .380 AMT backup pistol that belonged to a manager friend of mine at the credit card company where I work. In the course of our conversation the owner mentioned that he had in stock a pair of Makarov pistols. I've always wanted one of those, but when he mentioned the low price they were going for I decided to finally put my money where my mouth is.
A couple of days later I had a permit in my hand to begin the purchasing process for my new pistol. I was absolutely itching to shoot it as everything I've heard about the Makarov--or Pistolet Makarova as they are called in the Motherland, I'm told--was that they were a tough, accurate little gun, ideal for their intended purpose despite the fact that the gun is a 50 year old Soviet design. It was intended as a military sidearm so one knew it would perform well at the bench test. I was not disappointed. This particular one, while new in the box & complete with chrome-lined barrel and neato Russian surplus leather flap holster, looked like it had been in storage in some Eastern European army surplus warehouse for a few years and had some anti-rust gunk that needed removing. Stiff as a board, it deserved some serious "breaking-in" which I was happy to do.
Shown with Russian military flap holster with attached cleaning rod.
Thus...one fine Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, just before going to work, I drove to a conservation department range. The gun performed admirably. Having never shot it before, having just bought it moments earlier, I managed to get all 8 hardball S&B target rounds in the magazine into the black, firing one-handed. There is nothing better to start one's day before going to work, especially if you work in a socially rigorous, emotionally-taxing, stress inducing customer service environment like me, than popping off a few rounds at the target range just before getting in the office!
The Mak with it's cousin, the Tokarev, courtesy of AK Church
A couple of days later, armed with 4 boxes of the same S&B practice rounds, a pack of standard NRA slow fire pistol targets and seven bucks to pay the range fee, a friend and I found ourselves at a nice climate controlled indoor pistol range for a real test. As I said, the Makarov didn't disappoint. This specimen is of the Bulgarian persuasion, identified by the small "circle-10" insignia stamped on the frame, which is widely regarded as the finest variety of all the imported Makarov pistols. The target pictured below was shot at about 10 yards fired one handed with the sights held at the "six o'clock" position. The flyer was my fault (I was distracted by the thunderous roar of my companion's Rossi .357) but for what tiny bit of skill I have I was most pleased with the performance!
I was kind of proud of this one for some reason, despite the flier.
Then I decided to run the electric target carrier a little farther, out to about 18 yards. I figured that knowing me, I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn at this range, but it was worth a try. I took my time and steadied my sight picture and slowly squeezed off all 8 rounds in the magazine. The target below was the result. For someone who needs as much practice as I do, for the gun's intended purpose it would certainly stop an attacker at that range. I have decided that if our state government ever decides to actually observe the U.S. Constitution then this will be my carry gun of choice.
A lousy group from an untalented shooter...me...but the Mak overcame my handicap anyway
And by the way, in case you need one more endorsement...that friend of mine that had the malfunctioning .380 pocket gun? He's trading it for a Mak.
(Special thanks to Karl Bloss at www.makarov.com for useful advice and input.)
UPDATE: (05/19/2001) It seems I have finally found the flavor of ammunition my trusty Makarov likes the most. It's a Russian import of some kind; unfortunately I don't speak Russian so I can't read the box this stuff comes in but here's a photo of it I provide for you linguists out there. I loaded up on a bunch of this stuff at a local gun show and hope to hang onto a supply of it. Here's a pic of the front & back of the box...email me if you can read this. :-)
Further, it is worth bragging about that my skills have much improved since I first wrote this article last year sometime. Here is a better target of what the gun will do after you've had some practice with it. The ammo used here was actually a different variety than that pictured above; these were some discounted rounds I got from Dillon's employing a 103-grain bullet (typical stuff is 95 grain) over a slightly warmer powder charge (specifics unknown). Range, wind conditions, etc. were otherwise similar.
The flyer was my fault.
Further photos will follow to display the superb grips & Uncle Mike-style holster, as well as the nite-glow sights and magazine modifications, that have since been applied to the gun.
October 04 2002 Update!
Months and months ago I promised to update this article with some photos of my Makarov after making a few cosmetic changes to it. You ladies and gents have been more than patient with me and at last I finally have a few new photographs to show you. First however I'd like to thank the countless people who have dropped by Miles' web site to pay me a visit here on these pages. Your emails of similar testimonials and suggestions on how to get the most out of your Mak have been entertaining and helpful. It has helped me realize just how popular this little pistol really is.
I'd also like to thank Mike Cumpston, noted gun author and recent member of the www.milesfortis.com family, for the informative book he sent me: The Ultimate Makarov Guide. Click the link for more info about this book (as well as ordering info if you want one) besides being another good Makarov site in it's own right.
First, the Ashley Outdoors sights I acquired are still in the package they came in. I'm having trouble finding a local gunsmith who's equipped to deal with installing the things. Photos of the gun with the sights installed, as well as targets to see how well it prints afterwards, will have to wait a bit longer. When I get them finally attached you will be the first to know.
The first two photographs were taken by my brother (that's me actually holding the pistol) show off both the Pearce grips I bought for the gun as well as the Uncle Mike's multi-function holster it lives in now. All the refinements I've placed on the gun so far have come from www.makarov.com. As I've said in the past I have no affiliation with those folks, yet I still can't recommend them enough if you're in the market for accessorizing your Mak.
The grips by the way are superb. They are soft, cushy, and eat up a lot of the 9x18 felt recoil. Installation can be done via trained chimpanzee, and they just plain look better. It occurred to me later that for some reason my Bulgarian Mak was imported using the Chinese/Norinco style "wood" colored plastic grips. Markings on the gun's frame definitely make it a Bulgarian gun. Maybe the importer just found it less expensive to put the cheaper grips on it? I don't know, but the superb Lane Pearce grips make it a moot point.
As for the holster, this is the Uncle Mike's rig that we're all familiar with. While I will hang onto the original leather military issue flap holster that the gun comes with for nostalgia purposes if nothing else, the nylon and Velcro rig is much more practical (or would be if I lived in a state where the US Constitution was actually observed...but I think I already said that) not to mention discreet. It incorporates a pouch along the front for a spare magazine with a Velcro-closure flap.
The holster is ambidextrous; it sports a 2 1/2" belt loop on either side as well as a steel "IWB" or inside the waistband clip which is removable and thus also ambidextrous. Release is operated via a thumb-break consisting of two separate straps made adjustable by the fact that they also fasten into the belt loops via Velcro. One merely takes a kitchen butter knife or other wide flat metal object, slides it up into the fold to separate the strap from the side of the holster so it slides in and out freely, then pulls the knife back out thus reattaching the Velcro when the desired adjustment is achieved. This doesn't mean much for the Mak pistol in particular but does mean the holster can be used for other autos of similar size.
Another item of curiosity that I couldn't pass up when I saw them on Karl's website were the replacement magazine floor plates with the pinky extensions. They're custom made by a clever outfit named MJ Facets. For the life of me I can't remember where these gents are located but the parts themselves are still available at www.makarov.com.
Installation was relatively easy, the Makarov magazine being a simple creature to begin with. One merely uses a metal probe of some sort (I used the tip of a screwdriver) to unhook the mag spring from the original floor plate. Then, while keeping tension down on the spring so it doesn't fly spectacularly out of the magazine, one replaces it with the new extender plate. I understand that now there are available extenders that increase the magazine capacity from 8 to 10 rounds as well, but I've never played with these.
I first thought the pinky-plates were relatively expensive at about $13 + shipping apiece when I bought them, being made merely of brass with an oxide finish, but these concerns become secondary when you hold the gun with one installed. They make the grip more comfortable if you have bigger hands and don't really seem to "print" any worse than a regular magazine if you're carrying it concealed. I bought two of them and put them on the two original magazines that came with my gun, leaving all my other spare mags I've collected along the way unadorned. You can see them in each of the three photos above, and I'll include a better "close up" of one below alongside a normal magazine for comparison.
The mag on the right in the above photo has the aftermarket floor plate. As you can see some of the finish has rubbed off showing it's true colors beneath. This is an easy fix of course; I just haven't bothered since I haven't found it necessary. (Both magazines are loaded with CCI's "Blazer" steel cased 95-grain JHPs by the way.)
One last note on nylon gun gear. A few weeks ago I upgraded my auto-pistol home defense system with a Ruger P-89 9mmP and the Makarov was relegated to a backup, though a much respected one. After test-firing my new 9mmP I drove to the local Army surplus store looking for magazine pouches and other accessories for it. The only thing they had on the shelf at the time were ones said to be made for the Colt 1911 style magazine with a 3" belt loop. Considering the very inexpensive price tag I said "what the heck" and took it home. Naturally it didn't fit the thick double-stack mag of my new Ruger, but guess what I found instead...
The photo on the right shows the open 1911 pouch with the mag inside. I was so darned proud of my accidental find.
It was a perfect fit for a Makarov magazine! The mag takes up the exact space of the pouch pocket with no leftover bulk other than the floor plate peeking up over the lip of it. You couldn't buy a better-fitted mag pouch for a Makarov magazine on purpose. Maybe the Mak has something in common with it's Western contemporary after all.
John "Lone Gunman" Dunn
And yes, even the Dunn Man gets fan mail
It is my opinion that no one should be without one of these. At the ridiculous low price for which they sell, they should own the market for inexpensive, competent, self-defense firearms. What else can you get for the price?
I had a chance to do some surfing on the Internet and found some actual chronographed ballistics for the 9x18. As I suspected, they showed European ammo was the hottest, although the Fiocchi ammunition did not deliver quite the 1,200 fps advertised (what ammunition ever develops the ballistics advertised by the manufacturer -- that's why I prefer to read actual chronograph tests). It was still good -- somewhere around 220 foot pounds of energy -- but it was not as hot as the factory web page said. In any case, the real surprise was some Russian ammo made by a company called Barnaul. It actually delivers at or above the factory published ballistics -- 1,066 fps for 239 foot pounds. The actual chronographed ballistics I saw showed 240-plus foot pounds of energy -- so the published ballistics are not just manufacturer's hype. The have both a 95 grain FMC and a 95 grain JHP. I bought a box of the FMC from a local dealer and am going to test it. He has a friend who has used the JHP load and saws it's awesome -- blew a nasty chunk out of a two-foot diameter piece of PCB pipe! The guy sold his 9mm Parabellum because he like the Mak better and felt the 9x18 Barnaul JHP load was, for all practical purposes, just as effective. Hmmm ... one thing is for sure, you'd have a hard time churning up 240 foot pounds of energy out of a .38 Spl snub, the gun that is usually held out as the standard for hitting power in compact firearms. And with the Mak, it's not five booms and a slow reload. It's 8 rounds (9 if you want to chamber one then re-top off the mag). In New Mexico, a state sadly populated with vicious street gangs, I'll take the firepower advantage of the Mak any day!
Again, anyone who needs an economically priced compact defense gun with decent stopping power can do no better than a Mak. In fact, smart folks don't spend extra money unless they can get more in return. I like Walthers, but why spend four or five times the price of a Mak to have a less powerful .32 or .380? Not when you can buy Bulgarian Maks!
Hi John. I read your review of your Bulgarian Makarov and decided to put my money down and buy a new Bulgarian Makarov as you did. My father bought the Makarov last year and he is very pleased with his purchase as well. I can hardly wait to test my new Makarov at the club I belong to. My father bought a box of Blazer 90 grain JHP ammo with the aluminum non-reloadable case and he achieved the same accuracy as you did. This ammo cost fifteen dollars for a box of 50 cartridges. You may want to try a box of this ammo since my father did not experience any malfunctions and found it to be extremely accurate and reliable. ENJOY YOUR MAKAROV. --jag
I was just looking at your review of the Makarov and noticed the Russian ammo box. I studied Russian through high school and although I am a little rusty I think I can tell you what the box says. Underneath the writing "9x18mm MAKAROV" are the words being translated. Phonetically they are pronounced "Dlya Sporteenov Sprelbwee." It means "for sports (sporting) use (events).
On the other side next to the notice in English is the same notice in Russian. It is pronounced:
Oubedeetcya, chto damnuee
patron (short "a" sound) sootvetctvouet
Hope this was some help.
Thanks for the insight and the translation. I really appreciate it!
John "The Lone Gunman" Dunn
Hello Mr. Dunn: