Handloads for the 9mm
Date: Oct 17 2014
The 9mm Luger cartridge was developed for the P08 Luger and has prospered ever since. Introduced in 1908, the cartridge was used by the Germans during World War I. It so impressed combatants that the cartridge was also adopted by many other nations. The French made noise about wanting a 9mm service pistol after World War I but did not adopt the Browning Hi-Power as they had speculated upon. The Hi-Power prospered just the same. The Russians missed their chance to adopt the 9mm but went with another German service round, the 7.62x25mm (.30 Mauser). During World War II, the Brits developed the Sten machine gun and wrapped it around the 9mm cartridge. After the war, the Allies adopted 9mm service pistols largely because they had 9mm submachine guns. In time, even police agencies adopted the 9mm Luger as a service cartridge. During one period of the last century, the 9mm was the most popular police service cartridge in America. This is no longer true, but the 9mm remains important.
There have always been those who believe the 9mm simply cannot be an accurate cartridge. There are others who have proved them wrong, but you must proceed with careful research. It is one thing to take a top-end pistol such as the Browning Hi-Power Practical and work up a number of high-velocity, super-accurate loads. If beginning with a good quality brass, that type of project can be pure pleasure. It is quite another thing to work up loads for a mixed bag of 9mm handguns using “range brass.”
Loads that perform well in one handgun may not achieve the same accuracy in another. When the goal is to load a few thousand rounds suitable for practice in any 9mm found in the safe, the task is more difficult than we might suppose.
Perhaps it is the 9mm’s popularity that plays against it. The cartridge has been produced in so many nations for so many years that inconsistencies have crept in. I have been able to work up good loads for eight 9mm handguns that were made in six different countries. I also learned that while it is one thing to achieve good function, good accuracy is another matter. This was not a project to achieve a potent defense load or to stretch the capability of the cartridge, but rather to produce good loads suitable for practice in all handguns concerned.
Beretta 92, 1991 version: The Beretta is not my favorite service pistol, but I train young soldiers. My own son is a military intelligence officer, so I keep a civilian M92 on hand for reference and practice.
Browning Hi-Power, 1980’s production: This is an original satin nickel pistol with adjustable sights. The model of a well-behaved 9mm.
FEG High Power: This cut-rate clone of the Hi-Power is true to the original. This pistol has smoothed up considerably with use.
Walther P38: This is a wartime Walther and a true “bring back,” not an import. It was taken from a German officer, as the story goes. There must have been more officers than enlisted men, as I have yet to find a “bring back” taken from tank crewmen or enlisted men.
Walther P1: A modern version of the P38, the P1 features slightly different slide contours and an aluminum frame.
Czech P01: This is one of the most reliable service handguns of all time and an excellent example of the CZ 75 – among the most proven of modern service handguns.
Heckler & Koch P7: A masterpiece of the gunmaker’s art, this is a gas-retarded blowback that is not suited for +P loads. Lead bullet loads cannot be used at the risk of gumming up the system. It will not function with light bullets in the 90-grain class. The pistol also features a polygonal rifled barrel. These problems are considerable to the handloader but not insurmountable.
Helwan 9mm: This is a copy of the Beretta 951. Produced in Egypt at the Maadi plant, the Helwan is quite rough. The pistol is quite a contrast to the Maadi AK 47. The rifle is among the best fitted and finished of any AK variant, while the pistol is so rough it is barely serviceable.
This is an eclectic mix of pistols to say the least. The P7 is often carried as a personal defense handgun and the P01 is a house gun. The others are recreational handguns.
The 9mm is a great pistol for breaking in new shooters on centerfire handguns. As an example, a group of teens was introduced into the world of good handguns. If you have never seen a 14-year-oldgirl smile while firing a P38, it is a worthwhile experience. We simply have to introduce young shooters into the game and let them enjoy it. The 9mm is a big step up from the .22 and one they can enjoy. But with the high and ever-increasing price of factory ammunition, many of their opportunities are limited. You and I had best serve as recruiters into the shooting fraternity!
Making and Finding Brass
A friend recently offered several thousand 9mm cases of mixed brands. His agency went to the .40, and this range brass was no longer needed. I relearned much concerning 9mm brass. I first thought perhaps some .380 ACP brass was mixed in, but no, the 9mm brass varied almost .02 inch in length. Some loads had to have been headspacing on the extractor, not the case mouth. The longest brass was just fine, according to industry specification, but the shorter brass was not. The treasure trove contained some Winchester brass from the previous service load, but much was mixed brass from commercial reloads. Some had been manufactured in the Pacific Rim, others in South America. Some was once-fired Winchester USA used in training exercises.
I hit upon a big reason for 9mm inaccuracy. In previous testing of a Browning Practical, a good amount of brass that had been under my personal control for some time was used, and also new Starline brass. As often occurs, on the way to working up one good load for two pistols, I was sidetracked by an experiment.
I decided to load and fire a few rounds from range brass – just pick it up from the bucket, clean and load it without measuring case length. Next, a few loads were fired in the short brass and finally a few rounds loaded in the ideal length Winchester brass. Only 200 rounds were used, but the results were very interesting. I used a proven load involving Unique and the Hornady 124-grain flatpoint jacketed bullet. Using the Browning Hi-Power and the Beretta, groups ranged from 6 inches with the too-short brass to 3 inches with the Winchester brass. The range pick up that was not sorted ran into 4.5 inches average, with some good and some poor groups. The factory will err on the side of function over accuracy every time. The folks shooting their Glocks into the berm may not notice the difference. Lesson one: Sort your 9mm brass.