October 06, 2005
By Paul Scarlata
After putting .45 ACP and .40 S&W Hi-Point pistols through a thorough shooting test, the author says you can call the Hi-Point pistols inexpensive, but don't ever say they aren't good shooters!
Here in North Carolina we have an old expression: "It looks like it fell out of the ugly tree — and hit every branch on the way down!" With this pearl of wisdom in mind, I don't believe that anyone will hazard the opinion that the pistols to be discussed in this article are actually pretty. But then again, they weren't designed to be lookers.
The idea of a blowback-operated pistol chambered for high-pressure cartridges goes back to the early 20th century. Several designers toyed with the concept, and while most of the resulting products were less than successful, others featured prominently in the history of modern handguns. The first of note was the Spanish 1913-16 Campo-Giro, which was chambered for the powerful 9mm Largo cartridge. It was followed by the Astra 400 and 600 pistols, which fired the same round. Less notable designs included the Beretta 1915-19 and 1923 (9mm Glisenti); Germany's Dreyse Heeres Pistole and Walther Mod. 6 (9mm Parabellum); and the Danish Schouboe, which fired a unique 11.35mm jacketed, wooden bullet!
All of these pistols used very heavy recoil springs to hold the slide forward until chamber pressures had dropped to safe levels and large, heavy frames to absorb recoil energy. Most suffered from severe recoil, difficult operation, and, except for the Astra pistols, mediocre reliability. It should come as no surprise then that all, except for those made by Astra, were commercial failures. Since the 1920s it has been assumed that for reliable operation, a pistol firing a high-pressure cartridge must utilize some form of locked breech.
For the last decade or so Hi-Point Firearms has been offering blowback-operated pistols and carbines chambered for the .380 ACP, 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. In an effort to enlighten information-hungry Shooting Times readers, Editor Joel Hutchcroft supplied me with two of Hi-Point's most popular pistols: the .40 S&W Model JCP and the .45 ACP Model JHP.
After the parcel delivery service truck had left, I opened the two packages I had received and my first thought was, "Hmmm...well, they certainly are different looking." In fact, I would say that they were two of the stranger looking pistols I have beheld in quite some time. It was obvious that in the case of the Hi-Point pistol form follows function.
The first thing I noticed was the massive, slab-sided slide with its black, powder coat finish and a rather large ejection port on the right side. These are die cast from an aluminum/zinc alloy with steel inserts reinforcing the entire breech area and other stress points. When I queried Charlie Brown of Hi-Point Firearms about this method of construction, he said: "Blowback firearms are simple and inexpensive to make and will handle a wide spectrum of ammo without problems. In the area of Ohio where we are located, there are many shops that specialize in die casting for the auto industry. We utilize this resource.
"Hi-Point was one of if not the first American manufacturers to use a polymer frame for firearms. In 1992-93 we offered our 9mm in polymer, then the .380, and lastly the .40 and .45 pistols. It just worked out that way because polymer offers many consumer benefits such as reduced recoil, ease of maintenance, and a longer service life. Polymer by nature is 'slicker' than steel/alloy and is therefore easier to care for, requiring less oil, etc."
The Hi-Point polymer frame features an integral trigger guard and accessory rail for mounting an optional laser sight. The barrel is mounted permanently to the frame while the recoil spring is located in a groove beneath the barrel where a downward extension of the slide bears upon it during recoil. Separate grip panels are held in place by screws and tabs on their bottom edges that enter cutouts in the frame.
This design depends primarily upon the slide's mass to prevent it from moving to the rear until chamber pressure has dropped to a safe level while the recoil spring provides a secondary means of preventing slide movement. Unlike those pistols mentioned at the beginning of this article, because of the weight of the slide, the spring does not have to be so strong as to make manual retraction of the slide difficult. I had several persons of varying stature, hand sizes, and strength rack the Hi-Point's slide and none experienced any difficulty.
Hi-Point pistols are striker fired and utilize a single-action trigger mechanism. A thumb safety on the left side of the frame blocks the sear when engaged. To provide additional protection, the design includes a spring-loaded sear block that falls under the sear pin arm and prevents sear movement if the pistol is dropped while a weight counteracts sear movement.
As is SOP today, Hi-Point pistols come with a trigger lock known as the Dual Lock. The two halves are placed on both sides of the trigger guard (of an unloaded pistol) and are locked together by means of a spring-loaded shaft turned by a special two-prong key. Additional security can be provided by inserting a padlock (customer supplied) through a hole on the end of the shaft.
Controls of the sample JCP and JHP pistols were well located, and the trigger and the magazine release were easy to operate. The manual safety, while positive in operation and secure in either position, was on the small side and a bit difficult to manipulate without moving the pistol around in one's hand. The .40-caliber JCP comes with a single-column, nine-round magazine while the .45 ACP pistol comes with a 10-round magazine. All magazines come with large base pads to ensure positive insertion and prevent damage if they are ejected onto the ground. A generous mag well opening allows fumble-free reloading, and magazines fell free when the release was pressed — loaded or empty, slide forward or locked back.
A simple magazine safety, consisting of a steel bar (magazine lockout, part No. 35) underneath the right grip panel, blocks the trigger bar from pushing the sear cam if the magazine is removed. When a magazine is inserted, it bears against a curved portion of the lockout bar, pushing it sideways so the trigger bar can move to engage the sear cam. In addition, a clearance cut at the rear of the chamber, near the extractor, allows one to visually ascertain if a cartridge is in the chamber.
In common with most semiautomatic pistols, the Hi-Point's slide locks back when the magazine is empty, but it lacks a manual slide release. Thus the magazine must be removed (a loaded one may be inserted if you intend to keep on firing) and the slide pulled slightly to the rear to release the internal hold open (part No. 33). Then the slide is allowed to run forward and return to battery.
Great Sights & Excellent Triggers
The two features I found commendable were the sights and trigger pulls. Both pistols come standard with a blade front sight integral with a full-length rib on top of the slide and a rear sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation. (For those who favor such sighting equipment, Hi-Point offers an optional ghost-ring rear sight.) The standard sights utilize a three-dot system for fast sight acquisition and positive alignment, but instead of the usual white dots, those on the Hi-Point pistols are Day-Glo orange in color. Now, I don't know about you folks, but as I have grown older I have found that sights with brightly colored dots or inserts are most helpful towards my hitting the target. The three Day-Glo dots sort of jump out at you and grab your optical attention, even in dim light.
Now for the triggers. As I mentioned earlier, the Hi-Point pistol is fitted with a single-action trigger. According to my gunsmith's trigger pull scale, the required weight to letoff was just under 4 pounds, and those on both pistols had small amounts of take-up and broke very crisply. One would not be out of place calling their trigger pulls impressive.
Despite their, shall I say odd, appearance, the Hi-Point pistols proved to be well balanced with ergonomically friendly grips. In fact, when practicing presentations with an unloaded pistol, I found it possessed natural pointing qualities, whether gripped two-handed or unsupported. The sample pistols were both 6.3 inches in height and 1.34 inches in width. They are covered by Hi-Point's lifetime warranty.
Field-stripping for normal maintenance is fairly straightforward. First remove the magazine and retract the slide to verify the chamber is empty. Then move the slide to its rearmost position, push the manual safety up in the small, forward notch and lock the slide to the rear. The slide retainer pin at the rear of the frame is now exposed through the large (rear) safety notch in the slide. Using a 1/8-inch pin punch, remove the retainer pin from the frame. Pull the safety down and ease the slide forward. Retract the slide about 3/8 inch and pull upward. Hold the rear of the slide and push forward, removing it from the frame. Reassemble in reverse order.
Surprisingly Reliable & Exceptionally Affordable
I have little doubt that some readers are already expressing doubts about Hi-Point pistols based solely upon their appearance and price. And while this is understandable, it cannot be condoned. Many years ago I read a two-part pro/con article about the so-called Saturday Night Special controversy. While the author of the "con" article condemned inexpensive handguns as the "weapons of choice of criminals," the "pro" side's author made a most succinct point when he said, "Your 'Saturday Night Special' is someone else's heirloom. Or perhaps, more important, the only handgun they can afford!"
Brown told me the reason they brought out Hi-Point firearms was to give the average working person a well-made gun (made in the USA) that was affordable. "So many gun makers have priced themselves out of reach of the 'average' person's pocketbook," he said. "We see and talk to customers every day that use our guns for self-defense, hunting, and truck, boat, or camp guns. A commercial halibut fisherman from Alaska told me he uses one of our .45 pistols to shoot the halibut prior to landing them. A bear hunting guide told me he gives his bow hunting customers one of our .45s to take to the stand with them. We have our guns at many indoor ranges across the country; in fact, they are used for the exact same things as all the other gunmakers' guns are used for! They offer the man/woman who may not have $300 to $700 extra dollars for a gun a gun that's reliable and affordable."
Let's be honest. You don't need to spend a fortune on a handgun for protecting your home. A firearm used for defensive purposes should have several characteristics: It must be safe and completely reliable in operation; it should fire a cartridge powerful enough for the job at hand; and it should provide sufficient accuracy at the distances at which it is likely to be used. If it does that, it doesn't matter if it costs $100 or $1,000.
But this should in no way be construed as an excuse for not practicing with said handgun! Anyone who owns a firearm — for whatever reason — should make a point of practicing with it on a regular basis to become familiar with its operation, learn and practice safe handling procedures, and hone their shooting skills.
When I found out I would be evaluating Hi-Point pistols, I posted a question concerning them on a shooter's Internet forum I use on a regular basis. I received a total of 18 responses from persons who either owned or knew someone who owned a Hi-Point pistol. Of them, 17 were completely positive. Now, I know this is hardly a scientific survey, but I still found the responses most enlightening.
When it came time to conduct my own shooting evaluation of the Hi-Point pistols, my father and I went to my gun club. Pacing off 15 yards, I set up a series of Birchwood/Casey Shoot-N-C targets, and we proceeded to fire three, five-shot groups with each ammunition load.
We found the two pistols more accurate than either of us had at first assumed; most of our groups were in the sub-3-inch range. With the .45-caliber Hi-Point Model JHP, honorable mention goes to Winchester's 185-grain Silvertip load, which consistently printed the tightest groups, while the .40-caliber Model JCP showed a definite preference for Remington 155-grain JHP loads.
We then fired five rounds of each brand of ammunition across my chronograph, the results of which can be see in the accompanying chart.
It was then time to see how the Hi-Points handled in a series of offhand drills. Not having a suitable holster, I began each drill holding the pistol at a 45-degree angle to the ground (low ready position) and, using a D-1 target set out at 7 yards, performed the following drill with each pistol. First lift the pistol and fire nine rounds, slow aimed fire. Then reload and lift the pistol and double tap the target. Lower and repeat three more times. Then I reloaded and repeated the second drill, firing the pistol unsupported. The final drill was to lift the pistol and fire nine rounds as fast as a flash sight picture could be obtained.
The vast majority of the rounds I sent downrange found their way to the high scoring rings of their respective targets. In fact, close examination of the targets showed that only two rounds were outside the X- or 10-ring with each pistol. You can say that the Hi-Point pistols are inexpensive, but don't ever say they don't shoot. And shoot darn well!
The first thing that must be mentioned in my summation is that even though they were fed a steady diet of JHP and SWC ammunition with bullets of widely varying weights, both pistols proved 100 percent reliable from the first shot to the last. That's right, there was not a single failure to feed, fire, or eject out of the 200+ rounds fired through each gun.
Considering their operating system, felt recoil was very soft, which enhanced controllability and the ability to make fast follow-up shots. A plus for those of you who reload is that spent cases were only ejected about 3 feet to the right of the shooter. Additionally, the orange dots on the front and rear sights made target acquisition fast and positive.
I have to admit that their massive slides made them feel a bit "odd" in my hand, especially under rapid fire. But it should be remembered that the circumstances under which these pistols are likely to see service, this should not be a problem.
I was suitably impressed with the reliability, accuracy, and handling qualities displayed by both pistols. I think it would be fair to say that if you are in the market for an eminently affordable handgun that is capable of firing authoritative cartridges for home defense or informal plinking, a Hi-Point pistol may just fill the bill.