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FAITHFUL TO THE HI POWER
SPRINGFIELD ARMORY SA-35
A TRIUMPHANT RETURN
Shooters who’ve been seeking a newin-box 9mm Hi Power can finally scratch that itch — and it’s American-made too.
e have to credit Dieudonné Saive with finishing the Hi Power’s design a little less than a decade after John Moses Browning’s death. Since its release in 1935, more than a million FN Herstal Hi Powers have been procured for military use by more than 50 countries. After nearly a 90-year run, FN discontinued the renowned pistol in 2018. But in 2021, Springfield introduced the SA-35, a modern version of the Hi Power, which has great promise both for commercial success and as a personal-defense handgun.
THE HI POWER’S ALLURE
FN Herstal discontinued the Hi Power because it had not been a good seller for many years (perhaps, in part, because its MSRP rose to well over $1,000). There have been quality copies, including the Argentine FM and the Tisas, but neither is readily available. And used FN and Browning models command high prices, so getting hands on a shooter-grade pistol can be difficult
This is not without good reason. The Hi Power is a well-made pistol with good fitting of the barrel, receiver and slide, and its historical significance in conflicts worldwide makes it appealing to collectors. I have seen heavily worn examples but never a Hi Power with a factory defect. One flaw is that the safety in most renditions is too small for rapid manipulation, but late-model versions remedied this by including a larger safety that affords greater purchase.
With such a modification, the speed to an accurate first shot is unrivaled. Combine that with the fact that the Hi Power has proven to be one of the most reliable handguns out there and you’ve got a recipe for an in-demand pistol.
As with the 1911, the SA-35 should be carried “cocked and locked” — hammer back,
safety on. Never attempt to
Whenever a military pistol makes its way into private-citizen hands, the topic of its performance with jacketed hollow-points always pops up. I have fired Second World War Hi Power variants that are completely functional with modern hollow-points. Yes, the Hi Power at one time was criticized for poor reliability with JHPs, but this had more to do with the short 90-grain “Super Vel” rounds and inferior ammunition branded for a major pistol maker than any other attribute of the handgun. With Remington’s JHP, Federal’s 9B and Winchester’s Silvertip, I never experienced a stoppage. Modern loads from Black Hills, Hornady, the Big Three and Speer are reliable in any 9mm handgun.
In all fairness, the Hi Power trigger was seldom very good and was tricky to address, which made for a difficult combination. The sights and safety were too small (save the MKII version).
When properly set up, the pistol is a joy
to use and fire and is a
formidable handgun in every way, but the key there is “when properly set up.” Opening the box was the beginning of the job, not the end.
Springfield Armory has produced the 1911A1 handgun and M1A rifle for many years, both of which have enjoyed an enviable record for reliability and value.
So it is no surprise that the SA-35 —
Springfield’s take on the Hi Power — is a quality product.
The pistol is a single-action handgun, meaning the hammer is cocked as the slide is racked. The user must carry the pistol with the hammer to the rear and the safety on for personal-defense readiness.
A longtime home-ready mode is hammer down on a loaded chamber, but this involves intentionally lowering a pistol’s hammer on a live round when
you do not intend to fire, which is about as unsafe as it sounds — especially when you consider practitioners of this technique are basically never doing so on a firing line but rather in their residences. Carry your single-action pistol as it should be carried: cocked and locked, all safeties engaged, and in a proper holster. No carry condition is safer.
The Springfield SA-35 looks like and operates in an identical fashion to the FN Hi Power. The slide and frame contours are the same. The Hi Power is similar to the earlier Browning-designed 1911 but with no separate barrel bushing, swinging link or grip safety, which makes it simpler to manufacture than the 1911. The trigger action is more difficult to tune than a 1911’s, but it can be accomplished. The new SA-35 gets a nod of approval on faithful design.
The pistol is all steel — as a Hi Power should be — and it has a matte-blued
finish similar in appearance to Springfield’s “Mil-Spec” pistols, with grips of nicely checkered walnut. The barrel, slide and frame are forged, which ensures strength and durability. (Late-model FN Hi Power pistols used a cast frame, which works fine, but forged steel is superior.)
The SA-35’s lockwork is free of metal injection molding (MIM) parts.
BOB REESE AND SPRINGFIELD ARMORY, INC.
Robert Rost Reese, a veteran of the National Guard, took up farming after being discharged in the 1950s. But Reese’s real passion was competitive shooting and guns. He bought surplus firearms from the government arsenal in Rock Island, Illinois, and began to resell them. He took a leap of faith when he took a mortgage out on the farm and acquired a surplus company based in San Antonio, Texas. He loaded two semi-truck trailers with equipment and drove them back to Geneseo, Illinois. Reese; his wife, Carol; and their sons, Dennis, Dave and Tom, established Springfield Armory, Inc. in 1974. He chose to name his company after the famous armory that closed in 1968 after over 150 years of supplying arms to the U.S. Army. The Reeses set up their new business at a former diner and began building M1A rifles from the surplus M14 parts. Fast forward to 2022 and the company now manufacturers high-quality firearms, such as the 1911, SA-35, XD, Hellcat, SAINT AR-15 and more. In April 2021, the company announced it would break ground on a new 200,000-square-foot facility. Reese passed away in 2019, but his son Dennis currently serves as CEO.
— Frank Jastrzembski, Contributing Editor
It would be beyond understatement to say that the modern sight configuration is an improvement over the original. The front sight is a dovetail post, and the “Tactical Rack” rear sight is a considerable improvement over even the late-model Browning MKII-type sights and may be used to rack the slide on a sturdy belt or boot heel. The wedge-type unit uses a U-notch, which makes for rapid acquisition of the sight picture and is the ideal combination for personal-defense use.
The pistol may be fitted with aftermarket grips intended for the original Hi Power, and Hi Power holsters are the same for every Hi Power, including the SA-35. Original Hi Power magazines lock and function as they should, but the Springfield-designed magazines hold 15 rounds rather than the original 13. The mags are manufactured by Mec-Gar, which translates to fit, finish and function.
The extended thumb safety isn’t the size of a gas pedal, but it is much improved over the original and even the MKII types, and the indent is positive.
The hammer isn’t quite true to the Hi
Power design, but this is a positive, as the improved geometry prevents “hammer bite” on the web of the hand.
The majority of Browning Hi Powers feature a magazine safety — unless it was specifically removed to meet contract requirements — which will not allow them to fire without a magazine inserted and seated. Such a safety sometimes interfered with a good trigger pull. The SA-35 has no such device, and the trigger is among the best I have experienced, breaking at a relatively clean 4.9 pounds.
TO THE LINE
Though a 34-ounce 9mm doesn’t kick much, the SA-35 seems to recoil more than the polymer-frame guns.
That is simply the nature of the beast.
However, it will be more accurate in fast combat shooting in trained hands.
Before I received the pistol, I ordered a Bullard Leather IWB holster for this assessment. I carried the pistol under a concealed carry vest during the initial drills, and it cleared leather quickly and got on target fast. It balances well and doesn’t have the heft of the 1911 or the blocky feel in hand of a Glock. Draw, push the pistol toward the target, and engage. I was able to remove the X-ring at 7 yards with the sample I evaluated.
I alternated 124- and 147-grain Federal American Eagle loads during the test with no problems on either end of the spectrum. The pistol never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject, and loading the SA-35 magazine and several Mec-Gar magazines on hand wasn’t difficult.
The advantage of the SA-35 is partly due to excellent hand fit to a wide swath of the shooting public’s hands and the crisp, straight-to-the-rear trigger action. Between that and the fact that this pistol is carried cocked and locked, with only a thumb safety that must be disengaged before firing, it is brilliantly fast to an accurate first shot.
The cavernous mag well and tapered magazine make magazine changes fast and easy, and all of this combines to leave the Hi Power with few peers in the hands of a trained shooter.
To test for absolute accuracy, I settled into the MTM Case Gard K-Zone shooting rest, which is a fine piece of gear that removes a great deal of human error and allows a trained shooter to discharge firearms right up to their true potential. I tested three loads at 25 yards with five-shot groups — Federal 124-grain HST, Federal 124-grain American Eagle and Speer 147-grain Gold Dot — and accuracy was consistent, with the Speer load cutting a 2.25-inch group, the American Eagle load a 2.5-inch group and the HST a very nice 2-inch average. This is accurate enough for any chore.
REIMAGINED FOR MODERN USE
Cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and technology are incorporated in this classic design. Though some were likely skeptical at first blush, Hi Power aficionados will be pleased with the SA-35. And so will new shooters who desire to have a piece of history that is still practical to carry nearly 90 years after it was first introduced.
TEACHING AND PRACTICING POCKET CARRY
Without a doubt, the most convenient way to go armed at home or concealed in public is with a gun in the pocket.
Though often not thought of initially, convenience is one of the primary considerations for concealed carry. If donning a gun and going on your way isn’t as simple as pocketing your wallet, keys or phone, an excuse not to carry will invariably evolve over time.
While the objective of shooting is hitting your target, teaching or participating in a concealed carry class specifically focused on pocket carry emphasizes the handling aspects of the gun — with safety being at the top of the list. Realistically speaking, an individual considering pocket carry should be an individual with some experience in the foundational skills of shooting, including marksmanship and safe gun-handling.
Unfortunately though, when an individual is inserting and removing a handgun into and out of a pocket, there is a high likelihood of the gun’s muzzle covering body parts that he or she would rather not have shot.
Taking it a step further, when a person is seated, walking up or down stairs, reaching for something high on a store shelf, or bending over to pick something up, the gun’s muzzle is likely to violate the “laser” rule to which many of us adhere: In essence,
if an individual is adamant that the muzzle of a gun should never point at anything that he or she wouldn’t want to destroy, he or she should reconsider attending a pocket-carry class.
Perhaps a better option for such an individual is to find a way to carry concealed using another method.
A POCKET HOLSTER IS EXCELLENT FOR BREAKING UP A HANDGUN’S OUTLINE. A GOOD ONE WILL KEEP THE GUN POSITIONED PROPERLY FOR ACCESS WHEN IT’S NEEDED.
However, with the very popular inside-the-waistband appendix carry or belly-band carry (among many other examples), the muzzle of the gun “covers” body parts almost continuously.
It’s an undeniable fact that an individual must compromise if he or she is going to carry a gun in the appendix location, in a pocket, in a belly band or even on the hip while conducting daily activities.
When one considers that a quality, well-maintained gun will not fire without its trigger being pressed all the way to the rear, the aversion to where the muzzle might be pointing should lessen. Understanding how a trigger operates mechanically in a pistol and a revolver, as well as the internal passive safety systems with which each is equipped, will satisfy many of the reservations a user might have.
Such an education leads to an increased interest in the triggers on various pocket-carry handguns. This is also usually when the manual-safety discussion happens. These concerns could be offset by the pistol or revolver in question being equipped with a double-action-only or otherwise long, heavy trigger mechanism (such as the KelTec P3AT in the SwapRig CargoPack II holster at left).
Practically every snub-nosed revolver is double-action-capable, and many semi-automatic pistols have that option as well. The longer, heavier initial double-action pull makes it less likely that the firearm will be discharged during administrative handling.
If an individual wants to be absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt sure the pistol won’t fire when he or she is reholstering or handling it, a mechanical safety that the user consciously operates can see to that. And although there may be concerns as to where the muzzle points when he or she is carrying concealed, addressing those issues by strongly considering the trigger and mechanical safeties should help most any pocket carrier allay those worries.
THE RULES REMAIN THE SAME
When instructing on or training in pocket carry, the same basic rules apply no matter where the gun is being carried.
The primary rule is that an average observer cannot determine that a gun is present on your person. Concealed carry, by definition, means that others don’t know you have a gun on you, regardless of its location, unless you somehow make them aware of it.
As such, the outline of your gun must not be distinguishable when you’re carrying in a pocket. The cut of your clothing, the depth of the pocket and the location of that pocket all contribute to the gun’s concealment.
Loose-fitting clothing makes it easier to conceal a gun and any accessories that might go with it. The pocket must be deep enough that no part of the gun shows out the top. And although most people think of the dominant-side front pocket as the ideal carry location, a cargo pocket or back pocket offers a good option in the right circumstances.
A pocket holster is excellent for breaking up a handgun’s outline, and a good one will keep the gun positioned properly for access when it’s needed. A pocket holster also protects the trigger from being pulled inadvertently and protects the gun from pocket lint and other material that tends to collect there. And a good pocket holster helps with retention in a physical confrontation by keeping the gun stable in the pocket until it’s needed.
In addition to concealment and retention, access and recovery are absolute essentials when you’re carrying concealed. The pocket is one of the most difficult carry locations from which to draw, and if you’re in any position other than standing, the draw is tenuous at best. The physical characteristics of the carrier heavily influence the efficiency of the draw from the pocket.
Recovery to the carry location can be equally as challenging for some of the same reasons. Recovery to the pocket should be done deliberately and with conscious thought to ensure the trigger is protected from contact with anything that would cause the gun to discharge. Ideally, the holster should be removed from the pocket for reholstering.
KEEP AT IT
When training on pocket carry, the instructor — as well as the students — will find that there are many compromises to address, which differ from conventional everyday carry methods. It is prudent to initially practice any pocket-carry handling techniques using dry-fire — slowly and deliberately for safety. Once a student is fully familiarized with the necessary manipulations to comfortably carry in a pocket, the convenience factor will go a long way to ensuring the gun is there when the need arises.
‘LIVE-HAND PASSING’ STRATEGY
KNIFE TACTICS FOR AND AGAINST LEFTIES
Being left-handed can be challenging. Besides having to creatively cope with all the tools and other products that are purpose-built for the right-handed majority, left-handers also have to adapt their physical skills to a right-biased world. From a firearm-based self-defense perspective, this isn’t usually a big deal. Since guns offer the benefit of distance, whether you squeeze the trigger right- or left-handed doesn’t really matter. However, once you get into the realm of contact-distance tactics, the plot thickens considerably. Either you end up like many martial arts systems — struggling to do everything ambidextrously and not doing any of it particularly well — or you’re stuck with a practical, dominant-hand-biased system that focuses on using the “wrong” hand.
Fortunately, just as southpaw boxers can learn to be highly competitive against orthodox opponents, lefties can also learn to defend themselves effectively. The key — especially when it comes to self-defense with edged weapons — is to start with a firm grasp of reality and a sound strategy.
Practical self-defense should focus on preparing for what is most likely to happen. For lefties, who account for about 10 percent of the population, that means most likely facing a right-handed attacker. In the Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) system, we refer to this context as “mismatched leads.” If you’re a natural lefty, it applies with a vengeance.
However, even if you’re right-handed, it’s still very relevant. While statistically most of the assailants you might face will be right-handed, the possibility of a left-handed attack is still very real. In that context, the content of this article still applies to you, but in a mirror-image format.
If you’re a regular reader of Defensive Edge, you may remember that we’ve explored the topic of mismatched leads before (in the February/
March 2019, February/March 2021 and October 2021 issues of
This time, however, we’re going to take a different approach based on MBC’s brother system of Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC).
CBC focuses on unarmed defenses against edged-weapon attacks. One of the key principles of the system is using the backs of the forearms as your primary defensive tools. Unlike the inner forearms and wrists, which contain key arteries and the flexor muscles and tendons that enable your hands to grip things (like weapons), the outer surfaces are less target-rich. That means they can be used to block, deflect and redirect attacks with less concern for suffering a disabling cut or puncture.
DEFEND WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
The backs of the forearms defend the tendons and flexor muscles on the insides of the arms.
THE ‘PASSING DRILL’
One of the core skill-development drills in CBC is the “Passing Drill.” In this drill, your partner initially attacks with a sequence of Angle 1 (high-right forehand), Angle 2 (high-right backhand), Angle 3 (low-right forehand) and Angle 4 (lowright backhand) strikes. As he delivers each strike, you pivot your upper body to face the attack and intercept it with the back of the forearm of the arm closest to him. For example, against an Angle 1, you would pivot to your left and intercept his right arm with the back of your right forearm. You would then pivot your body to the right and, while maintaining firm pressure against his arm, “pass” his arm across to the right side of your body.
When he attacks with an Angle 2, you would do the mirror image, using your left forearm to intercept his arm and “pass” it across to the left side of your body. The concept is the same for the low-line angles, except you would block with the back of your left arm — pointed downward — first, and then pass his arm with your right. For Angle 4, you would block with the back of your right forearm and pass with your left. If this seems confusing, watch the companion video to this article and you will quickly understand.
WATCH THE VIDEO
THE ‘LIVE-HAND PASS’
By using the concept of the “Passing Drill” as a foundation, lefties can easily create a strategy that allows them to defend against typical right-handed attacks.
Since the knife will be in your dominant left hand, your right hand is considered your “live” hand, and it will do the passing.
Against an Angle 1 attack, which targets the upper-right quadrant of your body, intercept the attacking arm with the back of your right forearm. Ensure you make contact between the assailant’s elbow and wrist. Using the same skill as in the “Passing Drill,” pass the arm across your body to your right.
As his arm reaches the right side of your body, shuffle or step forward and bring your right palm to your chest to trap it securely against your body. As you do this, place the edge of your knife against the back of his triceps muscle. Keeping your elbow tight to your ribs, drop your body weight and pressure-cut through his triceps. This will destroy that arm’s ability to extend at the elbow joint and ideally sever the radial nerve, compromising his grip.
Follow through on your cut to chamber
your knife at your left hip. From there, thrust into the inside of the attacker’s right knee. Rotate your hand from palm down to palm up and sink your body weight as you sever the top of his calf muscle. As he collapses to that knee, follow with a second body-weight-powered cut to his Achilles tendon. These cuts will destroy his ability to stabilize his ankle and create an instant “mobility kill,” allowing you to break contact and create distance.
Just like the “Passing Drill,” you can use the Live-Hand Pass against a low-line Angle 3 strike by blocking first with the back of your left arm and then passing the attacking arm with your right forearm.
From there, the rest of the technique is exactly the same.
While not suitable against long weapons, the Live-Hand Pass is a simple strategy that gives knife-armed lefties a serious fighting chance against the most common street attacks. It’s also a viable solution for righties against left-handed assailants.