Makarov IJ70-17AH High Capacity Pistol

By David Tong

Makarov IJ70-17AH
Photo by David Tong.

Our esteemed Owner and Managing Editor, Chuck Hawks, has already reviewed the commercial 8-shot Baikal IJ-70 (Makarov) .380 pistol (see the Product Reviews page), so I will confine my article to this high capacity variation. This pistol is chambered for either the 9X18mm Soviet cartridge (actually using a .364 diameter bullet, not a standard .355" 9mm bullet) or the more familiar .380 ACP (9x17, which uses a .355" bullet). I do not believe that this pistol is currently in use as a service arm in any country, but it was offered for commercial sale in the West after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and it was produced in Russia until 1996.

Izhmech, or I.M.E.Z., stands for Izhevskii Mechanichskii Zavod, or Izhevsk Mechanical Factory and this is (mostly) a government arsenal. They offered a modification of the Makarov pistol on the commercial market, both in the original Soviet 9x18 caliber as well as the more common .380ACP. The latter is the subject of this article. Built in 1994, it was imported by the now defunct B-West Imports of Arizona.

The pistol's lengthy name stands for Izhmech Pistol, Model 70-17 (mm long cartridge, or .380). The majority of the Russian Makarovs are in the original issue configuration with the eight round magazine. All of the commercial Russian guns have adjustable sights and modest thumb rest grips in order to fulfill then-current BATF importation guidelines.

Differing in two major details from the original service pistol, it features a click-adjustable rear sight with a rear blade that looks like a replica of the American Bo-Mar and a double/single stack magazine of 10 (most commonly provided) or 13 (considered rare) round capacity. While most reports about these high-capacity magazines state that they hold 12 rounds, the two magazines supplied with the test pistol hold 13 and have a witness hole on the rear spine that confirms this capacity when fully loaded.

In addition, a number of manufacturing shortcuts were made to cut production time. These include an investment cast frame with rather smooth front strap checkering and a trigger guard left rough rather than polished, replacing the machined from forged billet originals. These new parts exhibit notable casting porosity under magnification. The hammer appears to be of similar construction.

Several other smaller fire control parts are stamped, including the one-piece ejector/slide stop, magazine catch, leaf mainspring, trigger bar, as well as the detachable magazine floorplate retention plate and magazine follower. The latter are also inherent in the original, which indicates the usual Soviet desire to make their arms as material and time economical as possible. The sear appears to be machined from stock, although I cannot be sure of this. Interior machining appears quite rough by Western standards and the slide does not operate with nearly the same slickness as either a Walther PP-series or SiG P-230/232, although I expect it is probably more robust and durable than either.

Interestingly, it is said that the original eight round magazines can be used in the wider, high capacity frame, but fit loosely, which might suggest the reason for the odd design of the newer magazines. These transition from double-to-single stack via a spot-welded extension that is unlike any other double-stack (staggered) pistol magazine with which I am familiar. Probably more likely, it allowed the re-use of all original fire control parts in the original width top of the frame, thus simplifying re-engineering. The ten-shot Clinton-era magazines are said to be less than absolutely reliable, due to a plastic follower which tips when lifting rounds for feeding.

Makarov IJ70-17AH magazine
Double stack Makarov magazine. Photo by David Tong.

Since the pistol is based on the original, all-steel, PM service pistol, it is larger and heavier that most modern .380 pistols. It weighs some 28 ounces with a 3.8" barrel and an overall length of 6.3". The pistol is finished with a polished blue slide, trigger, safety and hammer, with the balance of the parts matte blue.

The fixed barrel and field stripping procedure are the same as per the Walther PP series. Pull the hinged trigger guard down, rack the slide all the way to the rear and lift off the frame and guide it forward off the barrel and its circumferential spring. The floating firing pin can be removed by rotating the slide-mounted safety lever up past "safe" to 90 degrees. Removing the safety allows the firing pin to drop out of the slide for cleaning its channel. No further stripping is required for normal maintenance.

The design has been proven robust. There are no weak parts prone to breakage in service. The barrel, press fitted and fixed to the frame's integrally machined mounting cylinder, has a hard-chrome plated interior. This should provide a measure of protection from the original mildly corrosive issue cartridges, as well as from the wear and tear of lots of shooting. It also makes cleaning easier, due to its slickness.

The ambidextrous and angle-faceted, one-piece wraparound molded grip appears to be the only plastic part on the pistol. While looking initially somewhat ungainly and clumsy to my Western eyes, it actually feels good when in the hand and instinctively points well. The American company Pearce Grip, famous for its Glock floorplate extensions, also manufactures a hard rubber replacement that is more rounded and resembles the issue PM stock with a small thumb rest on the left side only.

The double-action trigger release is unremarkable at 11 pounds with some stacking and the single-action release has approximately 1/8" of slack before a slightly creepy pull weight of 5.5 pounds. Trigger reset distance is approximately 1/3" and both audible and tactile, which means that fast follow up shots without requiring the full forward return of the trigger are possible and simple.

Shooting results at 25 yards were limited, due to the lack of ammunition at the time of testing. I was only able to shoot the test pistol with Winchester white box 95 grain FMJ ammo. The .380 has seen a huge resurgence in popularity, due in large part to the production of ultra-small pocket pistols.

I was able to obtain one, five shot group measuring four inches at 25 yards, after burning most of my meager supply of ammo adjusting the rear sight. A bit frustrating actually, as my eyes had been tested and are still 20/20. Recoil is soft, moderated by the weight of the pistol and its wide, double stack grip.

I would expect that, in civilian use, the Makarov would be fired hand held at much closer distances, say from three feet to fifteen yards. Shooting the balance of my ammo at some seven-yard falling metal plates was gratifying, as I only missed once with a full magazine (13 shots).

The sight picture is quite fine. The front sight, milled integral with the slide, is thin and low, probably so as not to obscure the target, making rapid acquisition problematic. To be fair, the issue sights on an East German produced PM I once owned were also quite small.

A translated Russian owner's manual is packaged with the pistol, along with a cleaning rod/extractor disassembly tool and multi-headed L-shaped screwdriver. It states that the pistol is intended for sports training in shooting galleries and gun ranges at distances up to 50m.

The pistol is quite simple. There are only 38 total parts to the design, including the stripped magazine, which is the same number as the original service pistol. The hammer's mainspring is a simple spring steel stamping, which saves space and makes the grip more compact. The single grip screw helps to retain both it and the spring steel magazine catch plate. The ejector and slide stop are a single part, much like the Walther PP upon which the Makarov design was originally based.

I am not sure what to make of this pistol for personal protection, as there are many 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W and .45 ACP compact weapons of similar size and weight. In its defense, however, the Makarov kicks considerably less, is easier to control and holds more cartridges.

Many folks on a budget may want to consider one of these guns. Many would find it easier to shoot accurately and quickly than a double-action .38 Special snub-nose revolver. It offers comparable terminal ballistics with about twice the initial ammo load and is typically much less expensive, although the Makarov is larger and heavier than most snubbies.

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Copyright 2010, 2014 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.