The 9mm Makarov (9x18)

By Chuck Hawks

9mm Makarov
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The 9mm Makarov pistol and cartridge were adopted as the service standard by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics after WW II, and almost all of the other Communist nations quickly followed suit, including China. In the Soviet Union it served the various branches of the military, the KGB, the police, and all other government agencies. "Standard" meant just that in the USSR.

The 9mm Makarov cartridge is basically a Russian copy of the .380 ACP (or 9mm Browning Short as it is known in Europe). Like the .380, it is an attempt to maximize the performance of a blow-back pistol. It is therefore not surprising how similar the performance of the two cartridges turned out to be.

The Makarov pistol is a slightly simplified and improved knockoff of the famous Walther PP (Police Pistol). Like the Walther, the Makarov is an all steel, blowback operated, double action, autoloading pistol with a fixed barrel, a single stack magazine, and a slide mounted hammer drop safety.

In well-made examples (East German and Russian made pistols are usually regarded as the best) it is a very reliable pistol, and not sensitive to bullet type. Makarov pistols usually feed commercial JHP or military ball (FMJ) ammunition equally well.

The civilian version of the Makarov pistol made in Russia since the end of the Cold War is known as the Baikal IJ-70, and it is usually supplied with adjustable sights and two magazines. It is chambered for either the 9mm Makarov cartridge or the .380 ACP. The two cartridges are so similar that the same magazine will work for either. Unlike the very expensive PP, the IJ-70 is an inexpensive (not "cheap") pistol. At the end of 2001, as I write this article, it retails for about 1/5th the price of the Walther pistol in the U.S. The IJ-70 has got to be the best handgun deal in America.

The 9mm Makarov cartridge is not a true 9mm, and it does not take standard .355" diameter bullets like the .380 ACP or 9mm Luger. It takes an odd size bullet, which as far as I know is not used in any other cartridge, that measures .364" in diameter. The cartridge should be called the "9.2mm Makarov" to avoid confusion, but it is not.

Federal, Hornady, CCI-Blazer, and possibly others load the cartridge commercially in the U.S. and it is also loaded in Europe, Russia, and China. Military surplus ammunition comes from the various former eastern block nations.

The good people at Speer chronographed various lots of imported military surplus ammunition and found that it gave a 95-96 grain FMJ bullet velocities from 940-1000 fps from a Makarov pistol. All foreign made 9mm Makarov ammunition uses Berdan primers and cannot be reloaded on standard American equipment.

The Federal Classic factory load for the 9mm Makarov gives a 90 grain Hi-Shok JHP bullet 990 fps from a 3.75" barrel, with 195 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. The mid-range trajectory of this load is 1.2" over 50 yards.

For comparison, the Federal Classic factory load for the .380 ACP gives a 90 grain Hi-Shok JHP bullet 1000 fps from a 3.75" barrel, with 200 ft. lbs. of ME. The mid-range trajectory of this load is 1.2" over 50 yards.

In their stopping power study Marshall and Sanow found that the Federal Classic .380 load with the 90 grain Hi-Shok JHP bullet (above) delivered a one shot stop 69% of the time. I would feel reasonably confident that the nearly identical Federal Classic load for the 9mm Makarov would deliver similar stopping power.

Hornady, Sierra, and Speer supply .364" bullets to reloaders. Bullet weights for the 9mm Makarov are 90, 95, and 100 grains. The less expensive 95 grain FMJ bullets are fine for practice and plinking, but for serious purposes use the 90 or 95 grain JHP bullets.

According to the Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 their 90 grain Gold Dot bullet can be driven to a MV of 971 fps by 4.0 grains of W231 powder, and 1074 fps by 4.5 grains of W231. These loads used Starline brass and CCI 500 primers, and were chronographed in the 4" barrel of a Makarov pistol.

Although the 9mm Makarov (9x18) case is 1mm longer than the .380 ACP (9x17) case and uses a .009" larger diameter bullet, it is clear that the two are near ballistic twins. This fact escapes some shooters, who evidently believe that since the 9mm Makarov is between the .380 ACP and 9mm Luger (9x19) in case length, it must also be between the two in power. Sadly, it is not. (Note the Federal factory ballistics for the two cartridges quoted above.)

Anyone buying a new IJ-70 pistol should get it in .380 ACP. There is a much wider selection of factory loaded ammunition, and .380 ammo is usually available at lower prices. Certainly the .380 is the better choice for the reloader, as good reloadable .380 brass is widely available.

The good news for owners of military surplus 9mm Makarov pistols is that they got a good pistol really cheap. For all practical purposes their pistol's cartridge is ballistically the same as the popular .380 ACP, about which much has been written. The performance parameters of the .380, and therefore also the 9mm Makarov, are well known.

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Copyright 2001, 2003 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.