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The Makarov pistol resulted from a design competition for replacing the Tokarev TT-33 semi-automatic pistol and the Nagant M1895 revolver. Rather than building a pistol to an existing cartridge in the Soviet inventory, Nikolai Makarov utilized essentially the “9mm Ultra” cartridge which had been designed by Carl Walther G.m.b.H. for the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Walther’s cartridge became the 9x18mm Makarov. For simplicity and economy, the Makarov pistol was of straight blowback operation, with the 9x18mm cartridge being the most powerful cartridge it could safely fire. Although the nominal calibre was 9.0mm, the actual bullet was 9.22mm in diameter, being shorter and wider and thus incompatible with pistols chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum cartridges. Consequently, Soviet ammunition was unusable in NATO firearms, and in the event of war NATO forces would be unable to use ammunition from Soviet sources.

In  1951, the Pistol of Makarov (PM) was selected because of its simplicity (few moving parts), economy, easy manufacturing, and reasonable stopping power. It remained in wide front line service with Soviet military and police until the end of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 and beyond. Today, the Makarov is a popular handgun for concealed carry in the United States; variants of the pistol remain in production in Russia, China, and Bulgaria. In the U.S., surplus Soviet and East German military Makarovs are considered Curio & Relic eligible items by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, because the countries of manufacture, the U.S.S.R. and the G.D.R., no longer exist.

Since 2003, the Makarov PM was formally replaced by the Yarygin PYa pistol in Russian service, although as of 2012 large numbers of Makarov PMs are still in Russian Military and Police service. The Makarov PM is still the service pistol of many Eastern European and former Soviet Republics. China, North Korea, and Vietnam also use Makarov PMs as standard issue pistols.

The Pistol Makarov (PM) is a medium-size, straight blowback action, frame-fixed barrel handgun. In blowback designs, the only force holding the slide closed is that of the recoil spring; upon firing, the barrel and slide do not have to unlock, as do locked-breech design pistols. Blowback designs are simple and more accurate than designs using a recoiling, tilting, or articulated barrel, but they are limited practically by the weight of the slide. The 9x18mm cartridge is a practical cartridge in blowback-operated pistols; producing a respectable level of energy from a gun of moderate weight and size. The PM is heavy for its size by modern US commercial handgun standards, largely because in a blowback pistol the heavy slide provides greater inertia to delay opening of the breech until internal pressures have fallen to a safe level. Other, more powerful cartridges have been used in blowback pistol designs, but the Makarov is widely regarded as particularly well balanced in its design elements. The Astra 600, chambered for 9mm Parabellum is a much older blowback pistol design than the Makarov, and fired a much more powerful cartridge. The US firm HiPoint currently manufactures large, heavy blowback pistols in even more powerful chamberings, including the .45 ACP.

When handled properly, the Makarov has excellent security against the possibility of accidental discharge caused by inadvertent pressure placed upon the trigger (such as in the acts of carrying the weapon in dense brush or re-holstering it). The Bulgarian-model Makarov is even government-approved for sale in the U.S. state of California, having passed a state DOJ-mandated drop-safety test. The PM’s notable features are its simplicity and economy of parts; many do more than one task, e.g. the trigger guard is also the take down lever, the one piece slide stop is also the ejector and the sear spring also is the slide stop (and ejector) return spring. Similarly, the mainspring powers the hammer, and the trigger, while its lower end is the heel (European) style magazine catch. Makarov pistol parts seldom break with normal usage, and are easily replaced using few tools.
In addition to simplicity, the pistol is, unlike the TT-33, easily field stripped and reassembled (including removing the firing pin) without any tools; no more than a minute is required.

The Makarov has a DA/SA (double-action, single-action) operating system. After loading and charging the pistol by pulling back the slide, it can be carried with the hammer down and the safety engaged. To fire, the slide-mounted safety lever is pushed down to the “fire” position, after which the shooter squeezes the trigger to fire the gun. The action of squeezing the trigger for the first shot also cocks the hammer, an action requiring a long, strong squeeze of the trigger. The firing and cycling of the action re-cocks the hammer for subsequent shooting; fired single action with a short, light trigger squeeze. The PM’s operation is semi-automatic, firing as quickly as the shooter can squeeze the trigger. Spent cartridges are ejected to the shooter’s right and rear, some 18–20 feet away. When the safety is engaged,the hammer drops from the cocked position. The safety lever has a notch that blocks the hammer from striking the firing pin. This is the only safe way to lower the hammer.

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