By Al Paulson
While my wife’s preferred carry gun is a customized Model 1911A1 with tuned trigger and Innovative Weaponry night sights—the daily rituals and requirements of a busy professional woman generally preclude carrying such a sizeable weapon. Since the First Rule of Gunfighting is “Bring a gun!” many women (and many men in hot climates) opt for a small- to medium-framed weapon that conceals readily. The inexpensive Makarov pistol is proving to be a particularly popular carry gun for many women, although it is too bulky to carry in a pocket holster. The Makarov does carry well, however, in a small purse or parka pocket. Furthermore, most women find that the pistol fits their hands well, which is a very important consideration. The addition of a Spetsnaz sound suppressor from Sound Technology enables my wife to fit in some target practice in the back yard without disturbing our neighbors. This is a critical issue since she rarely has the time to trek to the local shooting range. Fitting a suppressor to her carry gun at home provides her with the only practical method of squeezing in the target practice required to maintain the skill level necessary to deliver rapid double taps to the head of a Milpark at 25 yards with almost boring certainty.
The 9mm Pistolet Makarov (PM) is to pistols what the Samozaryadyna karabin Simonova (SKS-45) is to rifles: a robust and economical design that delivers competent service using a medium-powered cartridge. Nicolay Fedorovich Makarov developed the pistolet Makarov for two cartridges: (1) the 7.62x25mm, which was developed circa 1930 by adapting the 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge in an effort to conform to the standard bullet diameter and related tolerances used in Soviet rifles; and (2) the 9x18mm Makarov, which was inspired by the German round called the 9x18mm Ultra. Boris Semin developed the 9x18mm Makarov round, which was formally introduced for the Makarov and Stechkin pistols in 1951.
The 9x18mm Makarov was designed as an intermediate ball cartridge with performance that lies between the 9x17mm (also known as the .380 ACP and the 9mm Kurz) and the 9×19 (also known as the 9mm Parabellum and the 9mm Luger). Basic characteristics of these cartridges are compared in Table 1.
Suppressing the Makarov
As Table 1 clearly shows, the 9×18 Makarov round commonly produces a transonic projectile. This makes 9x18mm variants unsuitable for use with a muzzle can, since the resulting ballistic crack (sonic boom) of a supersonic projectile will be almost as loud as an unsuppressed .22 LR pistol. The only way to ensure a subsonic projectile is to use a Makarov chambered in—or rebarreled for—the .380 ACP cartridge. Added benefits of using the .380 ACP in the United States include: (1) more readily available ammunition at the local level, and (2) a wider variety of high-performance ammunition for this cartridge.
The selection of which Makarov variant to employ with a suppressor is a very personal matter. While I prefer a carry gun with fixed sights because they are both more compact and more robust than adjustable sights, my wife prefers the IMEZ Model IJ70-17A with its adjustable target sights. This variant of the Makarov is 6.3 inches (15.9 cm) long, 4.9 inches (12.6 cm) high, 1.2 inch (3.0 cm) thick, and weighs 24.7 ounces (702 grams) with an unloaded magazine. The metal still shows a lot of tooling marks and the blued finish is blotchy as if the frame was not properly degreased before bluing. The single-action factory fresh trigger pull was a reasonably crisp if heavy 7.3 pounds (3.3 kg), while the double-action trigger pull was a very creepy 15.9 pounds (7.3 kg).
Since the original barrel needed to be replaced with an extra-length threaded barrel, my wife purchased the 9x18mm chambering because it was cheaper. She then bought a threaded 4.2 inch (10.6 cm) stainless steel, extra-length barrel from Federal Arms Corporation of America (7928 University Ave., Fridley, MN 55432; 612-780-8780). She then had Mark White of Sound Technology install the barrel, do a trigger job on the pistol, and fabricate one of his Spetsnaz suppressors for the Makarov. White’s trigger job really smoothed out the double-action trigger pull, bringing it down to just 8.0 pounds (3.6 kg). While some creep did, however, remain when shooting double action, the Makarov trigger action is certainly acceptable for a serious social gun. White also improved the single-action trigger pull to a crisp 4.8 pounds (2.2 kg). White warns do-it-yourselfers never to use a stone or file on the sear surfaces of a Makarov. He uses a buffing wheel with very mild abrasive to polish the appropriate surfaces, but he never modifies the depth or angle of the sear notch. The “simple” design of the Makarov results in a trigger-hammer-sear assembly that has a great deal of slop. The single-action function of the Makarov can never be made as crisp as a Walther PP.
While White prefers the 1/2×32 TPI aftermarket barrel for mounting a suppressor on the Makarov, my wife purchased the 1/2×28 TPI variant of the Federal Arms barrel so I could also mount standard 9mm suppressors on the barrel for testing & evaluation articles. What a gal! I am sufficiently impressed with White’s trigger job that I’m sending my other Makarovs to him for trigger work, as soon as I can afford the $45 plus shipping for each pistol.
While Federal Arms sells a tool for removing barrels, this is not a project I can recommend for the home workshop. The barrels were never designed to be swapped. Due to different manufacturing tolerances among the various Makarovs, installing a new barrel requires: (1) a great deal of finesse regarding alignment of the pin hole; (2) hand fitting of the barrel and feed ramp; (3) brute force dealing with the barrel-retaining pin; and (4) perhaps 2,000 pounds (900 kg) of pressure to insert the replacement barrel. There is a very real learning curve to this rather odious process, and one mistake will pay for having White do the work. I perform much of my own gunsmithing, but this is one job I’ll gladly hire out.
Sound Technology’s Spetsnaz suppressor features all-steel welded construction using 0.058 inch (1.47 mm) wall 4130 chrome moly steel tubing with a blued or baked-on molybdenum resin finish. Like the Makarov pistol, the Spetsnaz suppressor is sturdy and dependable. The can is 7.4 inches (18.8 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter, and it weighs 17.8 ounces (504 grams). Its threaded mount is available in 1/2×27, 1/2×28, 1/2×32, 1/2×36 and 1/2×40 TPI. The 1/2×32 TPI is probably the best choice since it offers a good balance between resistance to unscrewing during use and strength of the threads, with 1/2×28 being the second-best choice.
White made his first suppressor for the Makarov in 1995 at the request of a long-time customer. He went through a number of baffle designs before hitting upon a very unusual asymmetric design which is the variant he called the Spetsnaz, after the name for the Soviet special forces. The internal design of the Spetsnaz suppressor uses two symmetric baffles, followed by three bold and rather unusual asymmetric baffles, topped off by another symmetric baffle in the front of the can. White begins by welding the rear end cap to the suppressor tube, whereupon he puts the can in a lathe to bore and thread the rear end cap. He then compresses the baffles and spacers, and then welds the front end cap in place. The suppressor is returned to the lathe for boring the front end cap. This procedure provides optimum alignment of the can’s bullet passages with the bore of the pistol.
The Spetsnaz suppressor from Sound Technology occludes the sights on the Makarov, but my wife gets good sight alignment by placing a dab of white nail polish on the front sight and shooting with both eyes open, so the suppressed system works something like an occluded gunsight. The nail polish has proved to be remarkably durable for this application. The only liability with this approach is that the shooter tends to hit a bit high with a light-colored front sight when the suppressor is not mounted, and target acquisition with the suppressor mounted is a bit slow since there is no white outline on the rear sight analogous to the rear sight on a Glock. So when the nail polish wears off, we’re going to try leaving the sights black and applying a large dab of white nail polish to the rear endcap of the suppressor so we can still get positive sight alignment. We hope that will solve both problems for us. Mark White, however, prefers a colored front sight over coloring the rear end cap of the suppressor.
The robust design of the Makarov is well suited for those who would like to maximize the terminal ballistics of the .380 ACP round, using the wealth of high-performance bullets in the marketplace. Since the .380 ACP produces pressures in the 10,000 to 15,000 psi range, while the 9x18mm Makarov round generates up to 22,000 psi, the advanced handloader can develop some interesting subsonic loads using 100 and 115 grain (6.5-7.5 gram) 9mm hollow points. While 9mm bullets can be found as heavy as 170 grains (11.1 grams), the .380 ACP case features an inside taper that will cause the case to bulge if one attempts to seat a bullet heavier than 115 grains (unless one seats the bullet upside down). Developing a load with a heavy bullet should be approached with caution so as not to produce pressures beyond the tolerance of the firearm. Also bear in mind that the projectile should not exceed 1,000 fps (305 mps) for optimum sound suppression. VihtaVuori Oy powders tend to require very low charge weights, which reduces the gas volume on which the suppressor must work. The powder also burns very cleanly. Both are considerable advantages when developing a load for a suppressor. Please note that only an advanced handloader should attempt pushing the envelope as we’ve just discussed, and such development should be undertaken with extreme caution. Finally, beware of squib loads that can leave a bullet in the bore. If you don’t catch this if and when it happens, the next round may burst the barrel with some rather embarrassing consequences. A corollary to this admonition is: do not develop a load that produces projectile velocities less than 600 fps (183 mps).
The Makarov is not a target pistol, but this Model IJ70-17A with White’s trigger job and the new Federal Arms barrel delivers 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) five-shot groups at 25 yards (23 meters) using CCI Blazer ammunition with the Spetsnaz sound suppressor from Sound Technology mounted on the pistol. That’s substantially better than the accuracy recently delivered by an unmodified 9x19mm Ruger P89 pistol, which printed five-round groups that all exceeded 4.0 inches (10.2 cm) at 25 yards. While shot placement is always critical when shooting live targets, practical accuracy is a particularly important performance criterion when employing a pistol with marginal terminal ballistics like the 9x17mm and 9x18mm cartridges. The Makarov as modified by Mark White provides excellent practical accuracy, enabling the shooter to place a CNS (Central Nervous System) shot with considerable confidence at realistic engagement distances. I should note, however, that when firing the Makarov with the suppressor attached, bullet impact will be predictably low and a bit left for a right-handed shooter since the weight of the can reduces muzzle rise.
Sound signatures were measured using a Bruel and Kjaer Type 2209 Impulse Precision Sound Pressure Meter (set on A weighting and peak hold) with a B&K Type 4136 1/4-inch condenser microphone, placed 1.00 meter away from the front of the suppressor or muzzle according to U.S. Army testing procedures specified in MIL-STD-1474C.
The ambient temperature during the testing was 53 øF (12 øC). Velocities were measured in feet per second using a P.A.C.T. MKIV timer/chronograph with MKV skyscreens set 24.0 inches apart and the start screen 8.0 feet from the muzzle (P.A.C.T., Dept. SAR, P.O. Box 531525, Grand Prairie, TX 75053, 214-641-0049). At least 10 rounds were fired to obtain an average sound signature or muzzle velocity.
Using CCI Blazer ammunition, the unsuppressed Makarov had a sound signature of 159 decibels. Projectile velocity was 981 fps (299 mps). When fitted with the Sound Technology Spetsnaz suppressor, the sound signature dropped to 129 dB, for a net sound reduction of 30 dB. Relatively few pistol cans of centerfire caliber produce a 30 dB sound reduction without the use of wipes or messy coolants. The Spetsnaz does; the tradeoff is that this is a moderately large and heavy can. But it’s still a practical size as shown by the fact that my wife can obtain 1.5 inch groups at 25 yards when shooting with the suppressor mounted on her Makarov. And neither she nor I has ever disturbed the neighbors when shooting this system in the back yard. What more could you want? Reliability. Makarov tolerances are such that the pistol performs reliably whether devoid of lubrication or in serious need of cleaning. We’ve yet to have a stoppage or malfunction of any kind. That’s more than I can say for my first $2,000 custom Model 1911 .45 ACP carry gun. The IMEZ Model IJ70-17A Makarov pistol with Spetsnaz suppressor from Sound Technology is a dandy setup at an affordable price.
Izhevsky Mekhanichesky Zavod
8 Promyshlennaya str.
Republic of Udmurtia
P.O. Box 391
Pelham, AL 35124
phone and fax 205-664-5860
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N8 (May 1999)|