by Chris Christian - Monday, February 29, 2016
In 1986 the U.S. Military officially ended its three-quarter century reliance on the 1911 .45 ACP with the adoption of the 9 mm Beretta 92F, which they designated the M9. Unlike the 1911 it was easy to operate with either hand and held 16 rounds of 9 mm, instead of eight rounds of the heavier recoiling .45 ACP. It was a simpler gun to train new recruits with, and met the needs of the military at the time. Times have changed, and the new M9A3—introduced in 2015—has changed with them.
The M9A3 is built on the same aircraft-alloy receiver as the M9 series. It has an empty weight of 32 ounces (with an empty magazine). The overall width is 1.5 inches, with a height of 5.51 inches and an overall length of 8.9 inches. The receiver is finished in matte gray, while the grips and slide feature a desert tan finish. A three-slot Picatinny rail on the dust cover allows the mounting of lights or lasers.
The barrel is 5.2 inches long with a 1/10 twist. It extends about 5/8 inch beyond the slide and that portion is threaded 1/2x28 to accept most common suppressors. A thread protector cap is included. Sights are three-dot Trijicon tritium night sights dovetailed into the slide. They are drift adjustable for windage, and easily replaced if different sights are required.
The M9A3 operates like the M9, but one thing that was immediately noticeable was that the grip circumference was reduced from that of the M9 and M9A1. Thin Vertec-style grip panels leave the checkered front and backstraps exposed. The intention was to provide a smaller, more easily handled grip frame. I have medium-sized hands and found it to be extremely comfortable and to point just about as naturally as pointing my finger. For those with larger hands a set of interchangeable wrap-around rubber grips are included that mimic the size of the standard M9/M9A1 grip.
Another change is the universal slide that allows the slide-mounted ambidextrous safeties to be converted from the supplied FS model (which serves to decock the hammer and function as a safety) to the G model (which serves as a decock lever only and springs back into the off position after decocking). The universal slide retains the same open top design of the M9 that prevents many ejection malfunctions.
Thanks to a new base plate design the magazine capacity has been increased from 15 to 17 rounds. It accepted 17 rounds easily, and had enough play in the leading cartridge to make positive slide forward reloads. The new base plate design also eliminates the possibility of palm pinch when slamming a magazine home, and the beveled magazine well makes fast insertion easy. It features a drop-free magazine design and the oversized magazine release on the left side shoots them out with authority. However, the gun does not have a magazine safety—a feature liked by some, and disliked by others.
The M9A3 operates in the traditional DA/SA mode—a lengthy double action pull for the first shot, followed by a shorter single action pull for subsequent shots. On my Lyman trigger pull gauge the DA pull was just under 12 pounds. The SA pull measured 5.25 pounds and was very crisp with no creep and minimal over travel.
On The Range
It had been awhile since I used a traditional DA/SA semi-auto, so I started out running rapid double taps on USPSA targets in the 7-to 15-yard range to get used to the gun. These were done starting with the hammer-down DA position to get into the rhythm of the DA/SA system. The Vertec-style grips pointed so naturally that I never bothered to try the included wrap-around grips.
One of the perceived negatives to the traditional DA/SA operating action is that the lengthy DA trigger pull for the first shot can result in poor accuracy. I didn’t find that to be a significant factor with the M9A3. The pull weight was almost 12 pounds, but it was extremely smooth and free of any hitches or staging. Once the trigger started back it kept coming back, smoothly and continuously, to a clean break. It’s actually a better DA trigger than that found on many DA revolvers coming from the factories today. Using the DA mode only (decocking between shots) I had no problem consistently ringing an 8x10 inch hanging metal plate at 30 yards from a standing freestyle stance. The lead splashes showed about a 6-inch group.
Once I finished the familiarization period I settled down on a sturdy rest at 25 yards for accuracy tests. I chose factory loads in weights of 115, 124 and 147 grains, along with one of my 135-grain competition handloads that barely makes the required 125 Power Factor. The crisp SA trigger pull was an asset, and the accompanying chart will show that the M9A3 has more than enough accuracy for any task.
One thing I found interesting was the relative lack of vertical dispersion among the differing bullet weights. The 1/10 twist in a 9 mm barrel has proven to handle a variety of bullet weights well, but I have seen noticeable differences in vertical dispersion between the lighter and heavier bullets in other 9 mm guns. That didn’t happen here. There was less than 1.25 inches of vertical dispersion of the group center between bullet weights of 115, 124, 135 and 147 grains. At 25 yards that’s virtually no difference. The gun is certainly not ammo sensitive. It also doesn’t seem to be very maintenance sensitive.
Prior to my testing I had one of my Pro Arms pistol teammates run the gun on their range. As a retired Army MSGT, he’s had plenty of experience with the M9. My instructions to him were to take the gun out of the box and shoot it “as is”—no cleaning or lubrication. He ran over 50 rounds of Speer 124-grain Lawman and 124-grain CCI Blazer through it with no malfunctions. I put an additional 250-plus rounds through it without cleaning or lubing—just shooting it out-of-the-box. There were no malfunctions of any kind, and that included some light handloads that won’t cycle some 9 mm handguns, along with a number of different JHP profile loads from various manufacturers that came out of my practice bucket. The M9A3 fed and fired everything I put into it.
Combine that reliability with the level of accuracy the gun showed and it would seem that the new Beretta M9A3 is a serious pistol for serious shooters. The M9A3 carries an MSRP of $1099 and ships with three magazines, trigger lock, warranty papers, owner’s manual, and oversized grip panels. The test gun arrived in an attractive and practical ammo can-style plastic box, with a pre-cut foam insert securely cradling the contents.
Velocity recorded on an Oehler 35P three screen chronograph with start screen at 10 feet; average of five rounds. Five-round test groups fired from a sandbag rest at 25 yards, measured center-to-center, and the average of three groups.
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