An Oddball Cartridge
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
My friends say I’ve never met a $100 bill I didn’t like. That being said, I’ve never regretted the single C-Note handed over about 20 years ago for a Hungarian-made PA-63. It’s an unashamed knock-off of the Walther PP, but chambered for the 9mm Makarov, a cartridge that I knew virtually nothing about at the time of purchase. Ignorance of oddball cartridges has never been a stumbling block for this Handloading Loonie (To paraphrase John Barsness’ “Rifle Loonie” term). Instead, I consider them a learning opportunity.
Never doubt the 9mm Makarov is an oddball — at least by American standards. For one thing, it has no commonality in bullet size with what we normally think of as a conventional 9mm round. Jacketed bullet size for 9mm is .355″. All American jacketed handgun bullet manufacturers use this diameter.
However, our “Big Three” of handgun bullet manufacturers — Hornady, Speer and Sierra — each differ in the size of their 9mm Makarov bullets. This is according to the most recent reloading manuals published by each company. For 9-Mak bullets, Hornady lists .365″, Speer says .364″ and Sierra says .363″. This makes them actually about 9.2mm bullets.
From left to right: 9mm Makarov factory load by Hornady with 95-gr. JHP.
Next is a 100-gr. cast bullet from a special order RCBS mould, shown with
a loaded round. At right is a 95-gr. FMJ Speer bullet, also shown with loaded round.
Similarities & Differences
The 9mm Makarov is usually listed as being midway between .380 ACP and 9mm. In case length it might be true, but not in power. In round figures, case lengths of the three cartridges in question are: 17mm, 18mm and 19mm. However, in actual velocity, the .380 ACP and 9-Mak are much closer to one another than to the 9mm Luger. Again, only generally speaking, the .380 and 9-Mak will give about 1,000 fps with 95-gr. bullets. The 9mm beats ’em both by 200 fps with 125-gr. bullets.
You might also tend to think these three rounds share the same basic case, differing a bit in length (I thought so too in the beginning). The 9mm Makarov and 9mm Luger are actually close in nominal specs — close enough to share the same shell holder. The .380 ACP actually has a smaller diameter in both case rim and case body, requiring an entirely different shell holder from the other two. Starline, the Missouri-based brass manufacturer, sells 9mm Makarov cases.
As always, when setting up to begin reloading for a new handgun cartridge, I buy at least one bullet mould to fit it. The one I ended up with was RCBS-made and labeled 9mm-100-MAK. Mysteriously, it does not appear in their current catalog — neither does Lyman catalog a 9mm Makarov cast bullet design. Redding/SAECO does have their #340 for a 100-gr. Roundnose, meant for sizing to .365″. My old RCBS mould also drops a 100-gr. roundnose, which I size to .365″.
Duke’s inexpensive 9mm Makarov pistol groups
well at 10 yards.
Ready For Reloading
Most reloading benches will not have tooling able to be shared if you decide to take up 9mm Makarov handloading. It will require dedicated dies, jacketed bullets, a cast bullet mould — if desired — along with special cast bullet lube and sizing die.
None of this daunted me and I’ve had fine results with 9mm Makarov handloads in my little PA-63. For one thing, with reloads containing properly-seated bullets — regardless of cast or jacketed — and taper crimped in place, my little semi-auto has never failed to function.
With case volume so limited, only the fastest burning pistol propellants are suitable for 9-Mak reloading. The ones I’ve used are Bullseye, Titegroup, W231, Accurate #2 and Unique. The highest velocities have come with Unique, the best accuracy with Accurate #2, but I’ve determined 3.4 grains of Titegroup or 3.5 grains of W231 will be my standards with either the 100-gr. cast roundnose or 95-gr. jacketed bullets. Those loads break 1,000 fps and show no signs of excessive pressure.
So what sort of accuracy can one expect from a good 9mm Makarov pistol with home-built ammo? My PA-63, which indeed is a fine little pistol, will group five bullets inside a silver dollar at 10 yards — and I can’t see any reason why anyone would need to shoot it at further distances.
Something else my friends say about me is that I’m not mind-melded to guns: sometimes selling ones owned for decades with nary a look back if I have no further use for them. This isn’t about to happen with the PA-63. It often travels with me, and fills a niche in my pistol needs.
For info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index and click on the company name.