I was lucky enough to get in on a group buy of Bulgarian Makarovs with my brothers several years ago when they first hit the market. At that time, I think I paid $125 shipped. My two older brothers and I all got them, and ours were all in excellent (unissued) shape. They each came with two magazines. Little did I know at that time how great of a conceal carry piece this would make. It’s thin single stack magazine design lends itself to easy concealment.
The capacity is decent for a single stack, holding 8 rounds (plus one in the chamber) of 9×18. It has a DA/SA trigger, and a safety that doubles as a de-cocker. They also feature a chromed barrel that is fixed. They also have fewer moving parts than many other pistols making them more simple and more reliable. It’s a solid chunk of communist steel and you can see that this weapon design has served military, police, and KGB’s operatives well based on the evident quality and solid construction. It wasn’t long after I purchased this handgun that I decided that NOBODY had a good excuse not to own a good, reliable handgun.
I was so impressed with the reliability and excellent value of this gun that I have successfully convinced several others to take a chance on this firearm as well, including a brother in law (his first gun purchase along with a Remington 870) and my father in law. Most recently, a good family friend of ours (who is in medical school and has little spending money) bought one as well. Prices have gone up on these lately. It’s tough to find them for less than $200 in almost any condition, but they are still an incredible deal at those prices.
After I bought mine, I bought some more spare mags, a mag loader, various holsters, and replaced the standard 17# recoil spring with a slightly heavier 19# spring (some opt for the even heavier 21# spring) in order to better manage the various loads and the recoil generated in the blowback design. You might try checking out makarov.com for many of these Makarov upgrades and accessories, which is where I got them. However, I think that magazines are a bit harder to get a hold of these days. The straight blowback design along with the fixed barrel make this firearm extraordinarily inherently precise. It’s not the perfect firearm, it has it’s flaws. The sights leave much to be desired, the double action trigger is very long, and the magazine release is in an awkward spot (under the grip next to where you insert the magazine).
Lastly, I am not a huge fan of the caliber. Although it is a bit more powerful than the .380 (9X17), I feel that the caliber is a bit weaker than I would prefer. It’s about on par with the .38 special. I would prefer if it were chambered in 9×19 (although the blowback design wouldn’t allow it). The 9×18 is fairly easy and common to purchase online. I tend to purchase it in bulk from places such as aimsurplus.com. It’s not a caliber you are likely to find at Wal-Mart though. Also, there is not a huge selection of self defense ammunition available. I took the time to test out several loads from manufacturers including Hornady, CCI, Barnaul, and Silver Bear (Uly).
From left to right: Hornady 95gr XTP, CCI Blazer 90gr Gold Dot, Barnaul 95gr JHP, Silver Bear 115gr JHP
Of the loads shown in the picture above, the Silver Bear 115gr JHP was the most impressive with the deepest penetration and a good reliable expansion. This load was said to have been loaded a bit hotter than most 9×18 loads, or at least has chrono’d at velocities that would suggest that much with the weight of the bullet.
Unfortunately, finding this loading now has become all but impossible for me and many others. It’s a good thing I bought several boxes when I had the chance as this is my carry load. Silver Bear also makes a 95gr JHP. If I were to choose a load other than the 115gr Silver Bear JHP, it would likely be the 95gr JHP they make or the 90gr Gold Dot by CCI Blazer. The 90gr Gold Dot did not expand extremely well but it penetrated better than the other two. The Barnaul 95gr JHP would be my last choice as the expansion was not always uniform and penetration was poor. It should also be noted that the 9×18 cannot be used in 9×19 chambered firearms and the 9×17 round should not be used in 9×18 chambered firearms.
Although said to be a 9mm, it is actually slightly wider (9.3mm vs. 9mm) in diameter than a 9×19 or 9×17. Makarovs can be had in 9×17 (.380ACP), although not as commonly and even .32 NAA if I am not mistaken. I prefer the 9×18 version though despite it’s flaws simply because I want the extra power (however insignificant). Other countries who manufactured the Makarov are Russia (of course), E. Germany, and China. The E. Germans are known for their quality and superb fit and finish. The Chinese are supposed to be the most sloppy, although all 3 of these mentioned origin Makarovs have some slightly higher degree of collector’s value as the Bulgarians were released in the greatest numbers. Also be careful of people listing Makarovs of other origins than these 4.
Many sellers mistakenly or intentionally mislead buyers by listing a “Makarov” of Hungarian or Poland origin. The Hungarian PA-63 and the Polish P-64 are often mistaken as Makarovs because they are chambered in 9×18 Makarov. Although they are decent weapons, they are not actually Makarovs. The Makarov is arguably better and they tend to cost more as well. Also chambered in 9×18 is the CZ-82 and the Polish P-64, among others.