This past year, I made a couple of impulse buys when it came to weapons: a Kel-Tec KS7 and an RDB, a Walther WMP pistol, and the Springfield Armory SA-35, their copy of the venerable Browning Hi-Power. I did a review when I first had the pistol and at that point, it was headed back to the factory for warranty work. The pistol was returned in fairly quick time by Springfield, which — other than their propensity for not answering emails — did a sterling job with their customer service. After a few weeks, I had the SA-35 (which I continue to call “the Hi-Power” or occasionally “the Browning”) back in my grubby paws.

The warranty receipt seems to confirm a few of my suspicions: 1) they followed the Browning extractor design too closely, 2) they hadn’t nailed down the tooling for the same, and 3) there was some kind of head space issue that made extraction a problem. they had replaced the already replaced extractor, but had also cleaned and refinished the extractor channel. Most tellingly, and this seems to be a pretty standard thing from the online forums and the Facebook groups, they replaced the barrel. With it back, the main goal now was to beat the living hell out of it and see if it would fail. After a good cleaning, I took it out for a 350 round trip to the local outside range. No issues of any kind. Over the next few months, I poured about 1000 rounds through the SA-35 using every kind of ammo I could from the el-cheapo Blazer aluminum cased 115 grain to SIG-Sauer V-Crowns, Underwood Xtreme Penetrators in 115 gain to Norma range ammo in 124 grain and a box of 149 grain American Eagle.

The results: It ate just about everything without fail, save for the Blazer, which likes to stovepipe, but is clear with a quick swipe of the casing out of the port. One trip, it really didn’t like the American Gunner 115 grain XTP rounds and would fail to feed; another, no issues. Outside of that, no malfunctions. Overall, the failure rate was about 0.8%. One test this winter saw me toss the thing in the snow and mud and shoot it without issue. At that point, I decided it was reliable enough to get constitutionally “borne”, when I’m not carrying the newer Fort Smith Walther PPK (which has not failed — period.)

One thing I have noted is that the redesigned hammer that is supposed to stop hammer bite does nothing of the sort if you’re shooting the SA-35 with a high grip. I get whacked in the web of the hand consistently. I also find that the SA-35 shoots low and right (I’m a lefty) and really requires some work with the angle of eye to sight to get right…but weirdly, just drawing and reflex shooting: spot on. So I threw out the new school, thumbs-forward bullshit and started experimenting with different holds. After 30+ years of shooting for work and pleasure, I’ve found every type of pistol wants to be held differently. I started doing holster drills to see why I was true without aiming and with one-handed, but not with a “proper” grip. My hand, I found, was gripping with just a bit of space below the tang, every time.

The Hi-Power was designed when people were smaller, with smaller mits. They also shot one handed, for the most part, and this means you’re holding the pistol differently from how modern polymer and striker pistols want to be held. Shifting the grip just a hair lower, with the off-hand at a 4-5 o’clock position (again, leftie), the SA-35 was hitting true. To encourage the old-school grip, I ditched the nice walnut grips and got a set of the old plastic Browning grips with the sloped thumb ledge. The ledge not only gives your thumb a place to rest, but helped with the grip I found was working for me. It also makes it look a bit more “authentic”.

So — for a new review. The Springfield Armory SA-35 is an excellent knock-off of the Browning Hi-Power with a few features that make it easy to recommend, as later serial numbers seem to having fewer of the teething issues of the earlier models (mine is a 5000 range pistol.) The sights are good, with a front post featuring a white dot and a rear U-notch sight that is flat black. It’s very easy to get a sight picture and go. The elimination of the magazine safety is probably the most remarked change and it is an excellent one. The out-of-the-box trigger is about 5 lbs. and crisp with just a hair of take-up. It’s easily on part with most 1911s. After a grand through the pistol, the trigger is incredibly smooth with a reset that is barely audible. For those who are used to resets you can hear, this can be a bit of a pill; from time to time, I’ve gone to fire a second round and realized I hadn’t backed off the trigger enough. The grip angle, and the thinness of the grip is a plus for smaller hands. The interchangeability of parts with older Browning and aftermarket Hi-Powers is a definite advantage.

Takedown is the typical Hi-Power: Lock the slide with the safety, pop out the slide stop, take off the safety and ease the slide off, take out the spring and guide rod, then the barrel. Done. Reverse it to put it back together. After over a thousand rounds, the SA-35 is showing little wear in the slide/frame rails, a bit more on the top of the frame where the slide rides. It’s on par with most handguns with the number of shots through it.

The downsides: Possible issues with the extractor or barrel. There’s no texture on the front or back strap and bigger hands might find it squirrels a bit when banging away. Lefties — there’s no ambidextrous slide stop. And boo! to Springfield for not doing this. As with some of their 1911s, they don’t do an ambi safety and that’s just unacceptable, since other models have it. It’s a simple economy of scale thing: do it on all of the pistols and it’s cheaper. Brownings had an ambi safety, so this is a serious oversight to an otherwise excellent gun. I’m going to be throwing a set of ambis on sometime soon. In the box, you get a cloth pistol case, the pistol, the usual government-mandated junk, and only one magazine. Again — boo. The case is nice, though.

So is it worth it? If you had asked me after I bought it, I’d had erred on the side of “no.” Having gotten it and apparently sorted out, that changes to a firm “yes.” I got mine for the MSRP of $799 and the quality of the fit and finish is good, the excellent trigger and lack of magazine safety is a big draw, and the ack-compatibility with parts, equally so. If you want a high-capacity 9mm in the style of the 1911(ish) or a CZ without the DA/SA trigger, this is an excellent choice. For people with smaller hands, this would be an excellent choice over something like the Glock or XD series.

(The picture shows the Critical Defense ammo I’ve been using for carry. Mine loves it and has never given a malfunction on this or Critical Duty.)

This was a good year for old designs, especially the ultimate pistol of John Moses Browning, the “High-Power”. There was a lot of pixels spilled on gun websites about the Girsan and the Springfield Armory, and less about the new FN redesign of the venerable pistol. The one that most people seemed excited about was the SA-35, the Springfield Armory version that featured some small tweaks to fix the issues of the FN and other clones.

I had a Browning and a Hungarian knock-off from FEG that was actually better (in my opinion.) They shot extremely well, had a decent amount of ammunition in the magazine, and were easy to field strip and clean. I dropped the Browning because I got a good deal that made me a bit of money from what I’d paid for it, and it funded by first Heckler & Koch. The FEGs was fantastic and got traded in an impulse buy for who knows what — probably whatever new Tupperware .40 hit the market in the late ’90s. Of late, I’ve been moving back toward steel or alloy pistols. There’s plenty of great polymer frame pistols — see anything in the Walther or CZ lineup — but there’s something about a metal gun…

So when I heard Springfield had supposed to have fixed the awful trigger by getting rid of the magazine safety, expanded the capacity to 15 rounds (which, to be fair, some magazine manufacturers had already done), and changed the hammer design to avoid “hammer bite”, where the hammer would smack you in the web of your hand when the slide came back, I was drawn in — just like a lot of pistoleers. You couldn’t find these things for love or money until this month, but I stumbled on one in March at the excellent Omni Arms, here in Albuquerque. There was one tucked back on a shelf of rifles and the impulse buy had its way with me.

The pistol is, ergonomically, a delight. Like the 1911 and the CZ-75 series, it just drops into the hand and points naturally. None of the cranking your wrist down you have to do with the Glocks. It’s single action, so if the hammers down, it’s not going off. When I carried the FEG, I always ran with the hammer down, and cocked it on draw, but there’s an improved thumb safety that is a bit larger and has a much more positive action to it, compared to the old FNs. The finish is Parkerized and not my favorite — the bluing of the FNs and other clones is better. Opinion. I’d like a two-tone version. The walnut grips are nice and serviceable, as are the sites. The ring hammer is not supposed to give you hammer bite (It does me…) Fit is excellent, and while I don’t like the finish per se, it has not seen any appreciable wear with about a thousand rounds through it. It has eaten 115, 124, and 147 grain, aluminum and brass cases, some with nickel, round nose and hollow points without a failure to feed or fire.

But if you’ve been paying attention to the firearm forums and Facebook pages, there’s a serious issue with the SA-35: failures to extract. A lot of the shooters are seeing this at about 800 rounds, but some much earlier. I’m in the latter camp. I had my first failure to extract in the second box of ammo I shot. After that, every magazine saw between 3-5 FTE. That’s patently unacceptable. Now, having had a Browning and the FEG, I knew that these pistols had a reputation for extraction issues. I’d had it with both pistols, so i figured a quick trip to the gunsmith would sort it. The culprits: badly milled channels for the extractor spring (we had that), and weak springs or springs that expanded slightly under pressure and hence caught in the channel (we had that.) However, there have been issues of the slide serrations not being cut to give the extractor room to move. In my pistol (and another I looked at just today at a buddy’s shop) the extractor would not move under pressure, instead of camming a bit. So they have not sorted this, yet.

The gunsmith was packed up so I didn’t see the SA-35 for six weeks. When I got it back, I put two boxes of ammo through it with no issues. The next trip was back to 3-5 failures to extract. Going online, I started talking to others that had had warranty work done on their brand-new SA-35s: not only were the extractors replaced, but the barrels (???). My hunch is this isn’t just a shitty milling of the extractor spring channel, but also chambers with a bit too much head space, so that the rounds are getting ahead of the extractor. Do I know this for certain, no. However, the sheer number of warranty work I’m seeing shows an overall lack of quality control on the part of Springfield.

I contacted the company via email and heard nothing. A phone call did it, but come on — it’s f@#$ing the 21st Century! — answer your bloody emails. The SA-35 is on it’s way back to Springfield, but I will admit I am less than hopeful about this pistol.

Worse for Springfield, this is my first time owning one of their weapons. I’ve shot the XD and XDM others have had, and they’ve got a better grip angle than the Glock. I was interested in the Hellion. Now — I wouldn’t recommend Springfield Armory. Lest people think I’m overreacting on this — I’ve never been receptive to the production teething pains or the “you’ve got to break it in” argument you’ll hear from gunners. That’s like Steve Jobs telling you that you’re holding the phone wrong. It’s bullshit. Finish your product properly… I’ve never had to break in my Walthers, never had to break in a CZ, a Rock Island, a Tanfoglio, SIG-Sauer, Kimber, Beretta or Glock. And if I need it that first night I buy it, all the “it’ll loosen up” in the world isn’t gonna cut it. I’m also not a fan of pushing out a device that contains an explosion that isn’t working properly. One, I don’t need it blowing up. Second, a malfunctioning pistol in a firefight is basically a club.

So, the SA-35, which retails at about $700 (or more online, where the gouging has been outrageous). Is it worth it? The pistol was, to be fair, superbly accurate, good at mitigating recoil, and I really wanted to like it. But the extraction issues make this a no brainer — buy a CZ-75.