Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mother Russia's Pistol

Bulgarian 9x18 Makarov PM
It occasionally happens that a firearm is so loved by those that carry it that the weapon becomes part of that culture.  Of course the AK47 achieved this status decades ago in Russia, but there's another Russian firearm that's loved the world over, perhaps you've heard of it.

The Makarov PM (Пистолет Макарова, Pistolet Makarova) pistol chambered in 9x18.

The Makarov entered Russian military service in 1951 and continued to be the primary Russian military service pistol until the adoption of the Yarygin PYa 9mm pistol in 1991.  However, the Makarov's service history didn't end there, it continues to be found in Russian military arsenals and in the holsters of Russian police officers to this day.  Much like the 1911 pistol in the United States, the Makarov is deeply rooted in Russian culture and will likely continue to be popular for decades to come.

Nikolai Fedorovich Makarov was in his late 20's when he served as the chief designer in a Russian factory located in Zagorsk manufacturing PPSh submachine guns for the "Great Patriotic War".   It was here that Nakilai spent years working under Georgiy Shpagin, the creator of the PPSh-41 SMG.  No doubt it was during these formative years that Nikolai drew inspiration from his mentor, Shpagin.

Makarov disassembly
After WWII the Russians began a series of programs to upgrade their military small arms.  The SKS, AK-47 and RPD machine gun all came out of this post war era, as did the Makarov.  For a service pistol, the Russians were looking for a smaller, lighter and more accurate replacement for the TT-33 Tokarev.  The new pistol had to chamber either a 9mm or 7.62mm cartridge.

Nikolai wasn't driven by ego and had no problem examining other pistol designs and borrowing from them as he saw fit.  The Walther PP held a number of design elements that Makarov admired and rolled into his design.  The Walther PP is blow-back operated, has a fixed barrel, a slide mounted safety/decocking lever and required the user to pull the trigger guard down to accomplish disassembly.  All of these features found their way into the Makarov PM's design.

Makarov open magazine
For all of the similarities the Makarov shares with the Walther PP, there are a number of differences as well.  The Makarov has an external slide stop/release, features a chrome lined barrel, has a leaf main spring vs. a coil spring and features a heel magazine release.  The Makarov's safety lever also works exactly opposite of the Wather PP's.  The user must have the lever in the downward position to fire and the upward position is safe/decock.  One unique feature of the Makarov is the 8 round open magazine design.  This design allows for easy inspection of the remaining rounds as well as being easier to clean - or so that was the thought behind the design.  However, the design also allows for debris to easily enter the magazine.  Apparently this design wasn't problematic in service and the Makarov continues to use the same magazine design to this day.

The 9x18mm cartridge was chosen because it lent itself to the blow-back design Nikolai wanted to use. Ballistically, the 9x18mm is very similar to the .380 cartridge.  The bullet of the 9x18 is around .364" in diameter whereas the .380 uses a .355" bullet.  Both can propel a 95gr bullet at around 1,000fps, however the 9x18 is capable of slightly higher muzzle velocities.

U.S. made commercial 9x18 ammo
The Makarov has been built in several different countries.  Russian, Bulgaria, China and Germany (East) have built Makarov's over the years.  Some claim that Romania also built them, but I've never seen a Romanian Makarov nor can I find any evidence one was ever made.  Russia made both military and commercial Makarov's.  These can be identified by their markings as well as most commercial pistols will have target sights whereas all military Makarov's will have simple fixed sights.

Makarov's weren't commonly seen in the West until after the break-up of the former Soviet Union.  Today Makarov's can be found in abundance with examples from each of the countries that have manufactured them being available on the U.S. surplus market.

9x18mm ammunition is available from a number of different sources.  Surplus ammo still finds its way into the United States but many commercial offerings are also available including domestically produced target ammo and self defense ammo.  Newly manufactured steel cased ammo from Wolf, Brown Bear and Silver Bear are also readily available on the U.S. market.

A surprising number of Americans own, shoot and even carry Makarov's as defensive pistols.  Companies such as Fobus and even Don Hume offer carry holsters for the Makarov pistol.

Stay tuned for a video review of the Bulgarian Makarov on the Military Arms Channel!


  1. Nice write up, the PM is my conceal carry :)

  2. Makarovs are great guns IMO. I have a Mak in my carry rotation. I am surprisingly accurate with it too.

  3. Well written article, concise. I am very confident carrying my bulgy mak. It is rugged, simple and a pleasure to shoot. For myself and many other mak owners they just work.

  4. Good article. Looking forward to the video review. I have been interested in the Makarov for some time. No doubt, one will be purchased in the future.

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  6. I love my commercial Mak. Used it for my HR 218 qualification. Shot a 290 with it. Very flat carrying weapon.