M9 Review: 25 Years with the Beretta 92
The Beretta M9 - Photo by Keith White
When adopted, the new Beretta 92SB-F (M9) created quite the stir. After all, look at what it followed – the M1911A1 wasn’t just popular, it was beloved and perhaps the most proven combat handgun since
the invention of the handgun. The only handgun with a service record that could possibly rival that of the M1911A1 was another Browning design, the Browning P-35 Hi Power.
In the opinion of this writer, the Army made the right decision. Out of the traditional double action 9mm pistols generally available in 1985, the Beretta was the best. The Beretta had won every pistol trial for the US Army for a decade prior to adoption. The Sig P226 came in at a very close second and its smaller cousin, the P228, was adopted as the M11 – as a smaller alternative to the M9 with an correspondingly smaller grip.
Trial by Fire
Still, you never know how good a pistol really is or isn’t until it enters military service. Although the Beretta 92 had been in service for a good decade with Italy and Brazil by the time the US got around to fielding it, there’ s really nothing quite like US military service. For one thing, Americans tends to find ourselves in armed conflict a whole lot more often than smaller nations like Italy and Brazil. As a result, while the Beretta 92 encountered very few issues in service with Brazil and Italy, it did have some issues with US service.
Along with the greatly increased use, the US military adopted the 124-grain 9mm NATO cartridge; whereas other nations were mostly still using standard pressure, 115-grain 9mm. So here we have a situation where the pistol began seeing far more use, and that use was with a higher pressure cartridge. Predictably, things began to fail.
For those who study military arms this should come as no surprise. Most weapons encounter some degree of difficulty when they enter military service. Usually it’s not a design problem, 9 times out of 10 it’s a materials and manufacturing issue. Some examples would include some of the greatest arms ever built:
- M1 Garand
- Browning Hi Power
- Steyr AUG
I could go on and on and on. In fact, very rarely does an arm enter military service and not see major changes in materials and manufacturing processes to correct issues that are identified through military service. One of the few exceptions to this rules is the M1 Carbine, which miraculously seemed to work just fine since day one.
Early on, the Beretta 92 encountered issues with cracked slides and locking blocks. For those quite familiar with military arms, the cracked locking block came as no surprise at all. The locking system for the Beretta 92 comes right from the Walther P-38, another pistol with an excellent military heritage; and while the tilting locking block system of the P-38 and 92 has been proven to be a very reliable one, the Walther has always had issues with cracked and broken locking blocks. Even after greatly improving the locking block, it is considered a “wear” part on the 92 and is periodically changed after a set number of rounds.
Still, the locking block is very robust and suffice to say that the part lasts somewhere comfortably in the 5 digit range. I read one article in a popular firearm periodical that did a test where the locking block lasted well over 15,000 rounds, and in that article the author asserted that the locking blocks are supposed to last around 17,000 rounds. Truth be told, it’s very few shooters indeed whose pistol will ever see that many rounds – and let’s remember, that’s 17,000 rounds of NATO-pressure ammunition.
The issues with the slide were also addressed, and while cracked and broken slides are still encountered from time to time in the US military, the frequency is much more in line with that of other 9mm military sidearms. Shoot them enough and ALL will break, that’s just the reality of the mechanical device known as the handgun.
Finally, there were some major reliability issues encountered in the middle east when some low bid, sub-contracted, non-OEM magazines were purchased by the military. And unfortunately the Beretta 92/
M9’s name was tarnished a bit because of those magazines. Once those magazines were replaced with factory magazines, the reliability went way up. The fact is, the Beretta M9 is one of the most durable and reliable 9mm double action pistols in the world.
There have been many reported issues with reliability from the Middle Eastern theatres of combat due to the super fine sand that has a consistency of flour. My response to this? All firearms have reduced reliability in such an environment. Some do a little better than the M9, and many do a whole lot worse. The Middle East can at times be an extreme environment for small arms, and one would be advised to treat it as such by keeping your weapon covered as much as possible and cleaning it as often as possible.
In worldwide law enforcement service the Beretta has served with distinction. While not nearly as numerous in the holsters of American cops as the Glock, the Beretta has been well received with the law enforcement community. Perhaps the most well known police agency that issues the Beretta 92/96 is the Los Angeles Police and Sheriff’s departments, both of which have had excellent results.
My Own Experiences with the M9
When the Beretta 92 came out, of course I had to have one. In a short period of time, I had an original Beretta 92, which had the frame mounted safety and the magazine release located toward the bottom
of the left side grip. I had a Beretta 92SB-F which was from one of the first batches of what would later be called the M9. And finally, I had a Taurus 92AF, which was a licensed copy of the Beretta 92. All
three pistols were excellent.
At the time I had these pistols I was doing a massive amount of shooting, so all three received a very high round count. Most of the ammo they fired were my reloads, generally consisting of a 124-grain cast lead round nose. And I can honestly say that I cannot remember ever having a malfunction of any kind in any of them. I should note that the Taurus, being much cheaper cost wise, received the lion’s share of abuse which included over 10,000 rounds of Egyptian SMG ammo which was probably a touch hotter than 9mm NATO. All of my 92’s were truly excellent pistols.
Recently I managed to end up with a pretty much brand new Beretta 92 in 9mm, and I’m happy to say that not much has changed. I was delighted to see that reliability and accuracy are just the way I remembered. I brought out a wide assortment of JHP rounds and some FMJ for my shooting session. Not one group averaged over 3”, and more than one was at 1.5” or slightly under. Considering what you
pay for a Beretta (they’re not cheap, but they’re not horrendously expensive either), that’s excellent accuracy. Often times when you have a gun that is equipped with a chrome lined barrel, you’ll end up with somewhat less than exciting accuracy. This is because chrome plating often results in areas where the chrome is thicker and areas where the chrome is thinner – in short, it’s inconsistent. Over the years, manufacturers have managed to make the chrome lining process more and more consistent, to the point that of the many chrome-lined barrels turned out these days are just downright accurate – the Beretta 92 clearly fits that description.
The DA trigger pull remains as one of the best in the industry, and SA pull showed a spongy/creepy take up followed by a crisp let off at 4.98lbs according to my Lyman electronic trigger scale. A good friend of mine is a rather talented gunsmith and he let me fondle and dry fire his Beretta 92 and I’m here to tell you it was love at first squeeze. The DA pull on his Beretta feels like the DA pull on a very well tuned S&W PPC gun: light, smooth, and consistent. Fortunately, he’s willing to teach me how he went about this superb Beretta 92 trigger. Still, as I said before, there’s nothing wrong with it the way it is out of the box.
For such a large grip, the ergonomics are surprisingly good. From the 92SB to the 92SB-F there was a re-design of the grip shape, and for my hand at least, it was a big improvement. As best as I can tell, Beretta seemed to have found some inspiration from the CZ-75, but unfortunately for all of us, didn’t quite go all the way – which would have been awesome as the CZ75 has outstanding ergonomics.
The grip frame of the M9 has a very subtle dip in toward to the top of the backstrap like the CZ75, but Beretta would have been well advised to make it much more pronounced – it’s barely noticeable at all. The magic chance in my book is the front strap, which has a subtle forward sway toward the bottom – and that little bit makes all the difference if you ask me.
The first pistol I ever held/fired that had the forward sway on the front strap was the old Polish VIS-35 Radom pistol that was used in WWII by both Poland and Germany. The forward sweep on the Radom is extremely subtle, but what a difference it makes. I’ve always wanted to see some manufacturer make the same change to the M1911A1, but none has.
So the redesigned CZ-75ish grip frame of the Beretta makes a very big, very fat grip frame seem much smaller than it is. In fact, my 12-year-old daughter, who is about 5’-1” and a mere 105lbs, handles
and shoots this very large pistol rather well. While the grip of the M9 is a bit big for anyone to expect universal fit for all soldiers in the US military, it’s not so big that those with small hands are completely
unable to manage the pistol.
Weight of the pistol is 34 ounces, which is fairly light for such a large pistol. This puts it in the same weight category of the all steel Browning Hi Power, the all steel Colt Combat Commander, or the similarly aluminum framed Sig P226; and lighter than the full sized M1911A1 and other full sized all steel pistols.
At first blush one might think this may not be such a great choice for concealed carry, but I say that’s not necessarily so. I carried a full sized Browning Hi Power for nearly a decade with no complaints of
weight. But I also know the magic cure that allows me to carry a full sized pistol comfortably and easily concealed: world class gunleather!
The M9 as a Concealed Carry Gun
It’s been said that a gun should first be comforting, then comfortable; I can’t agree more. My mantra for concealed carry is that if it’s so big that it has to be carried in a holster, you might as well just
go ahead and carry a full sized pistol, and you’ll thank me if you ever find yourself in a fight and notice you have a full sized fighting gun in your hand and not some tiny pistol you can’t get your whole hand
on, firing a cartridge that’s marginal for bunnies, and probably completely inadequate for a large, ticked off human.
Think about it – if you have a holster that can conceal a full sized pistol with just a semi-large t-shirt, and made it generally comfortable (admittedly with a little getting used to) to carry such a pistol; why would you handicap yourself with a lesser gun?
That’s just what I’ve been doing for over 10 years now – regularly carrying a full sized fighting gun. I fully intend to order up a very high quality IWB holster for this Beretta. No, the 92 won’t be un-
seating my favorite carry gun ( a Lightweight Commander sized S&W 1911 in .45 ACP), but I certainly want the option of having the 92 as a backup for when my regular carry gun isn’t available. And with a
world class holster, I’m very confident that I can comfortably carry the big Beretta concealed.
Everyone has their favorites, and everyone’s body is different. Some of my favorites are the Milt Sparks Versa Max II, HBE Leatherworks Com III (similar to the Sparks VM II, but with thinner leather),
Mitch Rosen ARG, and the El Paso Saddlery C-Force (very similar to the Rosen ARG). Any of these holsters will give me very comfortable, secure, well concealed, all day carry of a full sized auto. What makes these holsters work so well for me is the offset belt loops. There are many IWB holsters that put the belt loops right in the center of the gun, and for me at least, this just adds to the thickness of the gun. With guns like the Beretta or most other full sized DA autos, the thickness is what makes things uncomfortable, so adding to the thickness just doesn’t make much sense to me. All of these holsters place the belt loop(s) to the front/rear or both sides of the gun, spreading the load out without adding to the thickness of the holster.
A Serious Fighting Gun, First and Foremost
So to sum it all up, the Beretta has had over 20 years in US military service, which has helped turn a very good pistol into a great pistol. By today’s standards, some may consider the design a bit dated – by that, I mean the pistol is a bit large. But that largeness is nice at the range as you have enough weight to settle the pistol well in your hands, and you have enough sight radius to do some truly outstanding shooting. I can hit man-sized targets with an M9 with boring regularity at 150 yards because of the longer sight radius, good trigger, and excellent accuracy. The Uncle Sam tried and true reliability is very comforting when the chips are down.
Despite its age, the Beretta 92 remains a very good choice as a defensive pistol for concealed carry holders and law enforcement. In fact, if I were a cop working for an agency that required DA or DAO style pistols, I think the Beretta 92 would perhaps be my first choice.