By Mike “Duke” Venturino, American Handgunner
Like many of you, my firearms formative years were the 1960s. In gun magazine articles back then big bore revolvers reigned supreme, .45 Autos were accepted and 9mms in general were despised — so were .38 Specials. As best I can remember about the only American made 9mm pistols then were Smith & Wesson’s Model 39 and Colt’s 1911 Commander. Otherwise 9mm pistols floating around in our country were military souvenirs brought home from two world wars or military surplus stuff from the same countries, with a handful of rare imported specialty pistols. Most were made in Germany or Spain. In fact, the only two 9mm pistols I actually held in my hands in the ’60s were German: a Luger and a P38. They came home with American GIs.
Between 1966 when I bought my first handgun and 1985, I owned only two 9mms out of slightly over 100 handguns purchased in that time frame. They were a Smith & Wesson Model 39 and a German Walther P1 (the P38 with aluminum frame). Both reinforced my feelings of disgust with 9mms. The Walther shed its extractor twice, the last time in a foot of snow. I had it fixed and peddled it.
The S&W wasn’t at fault when it scared me twice. I got sloppy in handloading both times. First a cast bullet somehow was pressed deeper into a case. Pressures skyrocketed, blowing out the case wall and splitting the wooden grips. Otherwise the Model 39 or myself were not hurt. I glued the grips back together and continued shooting. Next, I experienced a “slam-fire” which is when you let the slide slam forward and the pistol fires. It was pointed in a safe direction but the occurrence still shook me. Checking my handloads, I saw in my hurry to get ammo loaded and go shooting a few primers weren’t seated flush in their pockets. Regardless, I traded my 9mm for a Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver and didn’t buy another for over 20 years.
In the late 1980s, I was on contract as a writer for another gun magazine and they were on a pro-9mm rant to the point of silliness. People I hardly knew would come up to me and say mockingly, “Well what sort of 9mm will your magazine have on the cover next?” I could only reply, “It will be one sort or another.” That was true. Without actually bogging my head and totally refusing, I resisted writing about 9mms.
Even when I began amassing a collection of World War II firearms, 9mms were ignored at first. I even bought one of the extremely ugly Webley Mk VI .455s several years before adding a 9mm to the collection. Then in 2007, I had one of those epiphany thingies — I decided to buy a German MP40 submachine gun. Of course, it was 9mm and that seemed to break the dam. While I was waiting for the MP40’s paperwork to clear and while I had some spending cash in my pocket, I figured an MP40 needed a Luger as a companion piece. Of course that decision was made while at a gun show where there were several to choose from.
The one I bought was made by Mauser in 1937 or ’38 and typical of what the German Wehrmacht termed Pistole 08 or P08 for short. They have 4″ barrels, checkered wooden grips, and a unique toggle action. Overall, mine is in great condition, albeit with a few tiny exterior pits likely from being in a damp leather holster. To my own surprise I fell in love with my Luger. It’s accurate and hits to its sights, after I drifted the front blade slightly. It also functions perfectly as long as it is fed roundnose bullets. Nothing else works. With its mild recoil and rightly vaunted point-ability it’s a true joy to shoot, and its beautiful craftsmanship is likewise a joy to behold.
The Slippery Slope
At the next gun show I rented table space in order to rid myself of a bunch of excess shooting and reloading equipment crowding my office. It sold like hotcakes, so with pockets full again I got to thinking about World War II P38s. Coincidentally a fellow across the aisle from me just happened to have several on display. The one I bought was made by Mauser in 1943, and in the beginning shot way low. No problem since P38 sight blades in various heights cost modestly, so it was easy to fit the proper one to bring the point of impact up with the same loads favored by my Luger.
I also ended up with three Hi-Powers. One made in Belgium while under German occupation and with Wehrmacht acceptance stamps. Another was made in Canada by the John Inglis Company and sold to China. It even has the original wooden shoulder stock/holster. And I also found a second Inglis, issued either to Canadian or British forces late in the war. Here’s a fact I find interesting. My German Luger and P38 occasionally have a failure to feed or failure to eject, both with factory loads and handloads. That has so far never happened with any of the Browning Hi-Powers. They work perfectly with every sort of ammo I’ve put through them.
That brings us to the topic of handloading the 9mm Parabellum, as the round is formally known. By this time I knew my expenditure of 9mm ammo was going to be considerable. Along with the pistols, my MP40 had arrived, a British STEN Mk II subgun’s paperwork was being processed and I was beginning to eye those Browning Hi-Power pistols from World War II. It seemed proper to have a Dillon Square Deal II set up permanently for 9mm, with a seating die stem for roundnosed bullets. When mounted in the spring of 2008 its powder measure was set for 4.4 grains of HP38 (aka W231). To date, it has never been touched; although I confirm its settings using an accurate scale each time the press is used.
Also it’s no secret to any of you handloading readers jacketed bullet prices are soaring upwards, so I searched the Internet for bargains. In regard to 115- and 125-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) types I found the best prices with a brand called Zero Bullets. Also on a trip I also stocked up with Oregon Trail’s cast 124-grain RNs. Then too, being a bullet caster myself, I got a Lyman mould, #356242, for a 120-grain RN. All of these bullets over the said powder charge shoot accurately enough from my 9mms, but I admit the carbon fouling left from cast bullet lubricant does gum up the subguns much more quickly than FMJs.
Likes ’Em Now
In the last 4 years I’ve fired thousands of rounds through these five 9mm handguns and two 9mm subguns and have enjoyed it immensely. In fact I’ve fired more rounds through 9mm handguns lately than any other handgun caliber. That’s quite a statement coming from someone who’s written books on single action revolvers!
The 9mm is a fine, economical, accurate little cartridge. I don’t hate it anymore. His eminence Roy, recently asked me to check out a couple of new semi-autos and I didn’t bog my head a bit. You’ll read about them soon. He said, “Gads Duke, I detect a change in the force,” — whatever that means.
A short time ago, some long-time friends called. Their 18-year-old daughter asked for a pistol for her high school graduation. Yup, that sort of thing happens in Montana. Her folks favored one in .40 S&W. When asked for an opinion I said, “Have you considered a 9mm?” Guess that force-thing His Editorship was talking about might be true?
Thanks to the team at American Handgunner for this article. Visit them at http://www.americanhandgunner.com.