How To Make The 92FS 9mm Shoot
New modifications are making the countrys much-maligned Beretta service sidearm much more accurate.
The Colt .45 ACP Government Model 1911 and 1911A1 pistols rode on the hips of soldiers, sailors, and aviators through two World Wars and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam before being retired in 1985 in favor of Berettas 9mm M9 sidearm. In the minds of many .45 Auto loyalists and other observers, the government made a grave mistake when it retired the Pistol, Automatic, Caliber .45, M1911A1, in favor of the Beretta M9 a dozen years ago. They maintain the .45 autos were supremely reliable, effective, and battle-hardened GI firearms, and stepping down to a foreign manufacturers 9mm might imperil American soldiers in some future conflict.
Fortunately, the U.S.A. hasnt had to conflict-test the notion that the M9 cant carry the 1911s water, so debate about the M9s usefulness has moved into other quarters. On the civilian side, the commercial Model 92FS and its variants have not been widely accepted in any venue we are aware of. They have practically no profile in the action and speed games. As nonservice carry guns, the beefy 34-ounce, 8.5-inch long 9mms can not seem to find a niche between lighter, smaller .380 ACPs and more powerful .40 S&W autoloaders. Also, very few law-enforcement agencies pick the 92FS over comparable Sigs, Glocks, and H&Ks. In accuracy shooting competition, such as bullseye matches, the service-handgun M9/92FS has been noticeable only by its absence.
We have been looking for more than a year trying to find a firearms mechanic who has solved any of the Berettas problems, the most nettlesome of which was its resistance to accurizing. Nearly every 92FS weve had a chance to shoot in that span couldnt produce groups under 2 inches at 25 yardswhich may be fine for a battle arm, but which isnt remotely close to being competitive on paper or steel.
Now weve found two paths to greater glory with the 92FS and M9, respectively. Pennsylvania gunsmith Jack Weigand has brought down from his shop on the Mountaintop an inexpensive, quick, clean commercial modification that tightens up the front of the 92FS. Moreover, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit gunsmith Master Sergeant David E. Sams has systematically cleaned up trouble spots on the M9 and has turned it into a topnotch bullseye gunon the order of sub-inch groups at 50 yards with factory ammo.
We recently tested Weigands commercially available modification to see if it actually helped a pre-ban 92FS shoot more accurately. Sams AMU modifications arent available commercially, but his knowledge of how to accurize the M9 is. By reading about his solutions, the interested shooter may be able to find a smith who can perform some of the AMU wizards work and bring the 92FS up to snuff at the range.
The Weigand Nosepiece
The nosepiece is a 1-inch-tall, 0.25-inch-thick piece of steel that fits over the front of the barrel where it protrudes from the slide. On a stock 92FS, about 0.375 inch of the barrel juts out in front of the slide, and the nosepiece fits over the exposed barrel and is fixed to the slide with two Allen-head screws. Weigand says the nosepiece reduces the amount of barrel-alignment change from shot to shot, which improves the guns consistency.
To see if the product performed as advertised, we shot the 92FS with six brands of ammo before we shipped the gun: PMCs Eldorado Starfire 124-grain Jacketed HP C9SFB, the Federal Personal Defense 135-grain Hydra-Shok Jacketed HP P9HS5 fodder, Hornadys Custom 115-grain Jacketed HP XTP No. 9025, No. 9025 SXT 147-grain Jacketed HP XTP bullets from Winchester, Speer Gold Dot 124-grain GDHP No. 23618 rounds, and the Winchester 115-grain FMJ No. Q4172 rounds. We also measured the rounds velocities with an Oehler 35P chronograph. We shot the accuracy groups with the help of a Ransom Rest, firing 10 five-shot groups at 25 yards.
As the accompanying tables show, the best groups came with Speer Gold Dot ammo, which shot 1.9-inch groups on average at 25 yards. But there was wide variation between the best group (1.0 inch) and the worst group (2.8 inches). The worst-performing ammo was the Winchester Q load, which averaged groups 2.8 inches in size, with a best group of 1.7 inches and a worst group of 3.8 inches. Across all the ammo lots, we calculated the gun shot 2.3-inch groups on average.
Our followup testing showed that the Weigand nosepiece improved five of the six accuracy results, one by as much as 35 percent. We saw the most improvement in the PMC ammo. Our $100 investment dropped groups sizes from 2.6 inches on average to 1.7 inches. The Speer and Winchester Q loads showed 21-percent improvement, followed closely by the Hornady Custom ammo (20-percent improvement) and Winchester SXT rounds (15-percent improvement). Only the Federal Self Defense load showed no change in group sizes after the nosepiece was added.
But in one respect, we saw improvement in the Federal load, too. Before adding the nosepiece, the range between best and worst groups was 2.3 inches. After the nosepiece was added, that range dropped to 1.1 inches. The other ammos showed similar or larger drops in group-size range.
Performance Shooter Recommends
For $100, Weigands simple, effective part is worth the money, in our view. Though a more comprehensive, more expensive workup on the 92FS may be available to civilians in the future, right now the BT Nose Piece offers a sizable improvement in the guns accuracy for not a lot of money. We recommend it.
Lets skip the main course for now and get to the dessert: A tricked-out AMU M9 shoots 0.875-inch groups at 50 yards with factory match ammo. Thats right. Just over 1.5 MOA from a handgun. Even the best 1911s shooting tweaked handloads cant do better, and most .45s cant approach that level of accuracy.
Whats the secret, and why hasnt anyone else been able to work out the Berettas bugs to this level?
Youve got to give full credit to the Marksmanship Unit, the 39-year-old Sams said. The unit commander called me into his office and told me to make the M9 fit for competition. About a year later, it was ready. But I didnt have to work on anything else, and I could order or build whatever it took to get the gun right. I cant think of a commercial gunsmith who could dedicate a full year to a single project. Theyve got to eat.
Oddly, Sams had to juggle and balance several aspects of gunsmithing to get the gun to shoot well yet make it easy to work on. It wasnt enough to make it accurate, Sams said. I had to make sure it was durable, that I could repair it quickly and easily in the field with limited tools, that the gun was shooter friendly, and that I could build enough of them for the AMU shooters. Any solution I came up with that didnt fulfill all these criteria wasnt good enough.
The major upgrades he settled on involve many of the same principles as accurizing a Government Model, but adapting them to the M9 proved tricky. He emphasizes that no one step alone would produce the results he demands, but the interplay of the modifications makes for a sweet-shooting gun.
The first step was getting the barrel lockup consistent. Sams says the barrel is the heart and soul of any gun, and its a given that to shoot well, the moving barrel has to go to the same place in lockup.
Fitting the slide to the frame, of course, is an important part of this. But the Beretta had aluminum rails that didnt respond well to any of the traditional rail-fitting techniques, such as squeezing the slide to the frame, welding on new metal and then fitting, or installing aftermarket parts (they dont exist). He solved the problem by removing aluminum from the rails and screwing on handbuilt steel blocks that were Loctited in place. This gave him durable, malleable metal that allowed him to fit the slide and frame.
Next, he installs a match-grade barrel, and Sams makes sure a given barrel will shoot by locking the barrel in a special jig. The jig, which has a swinging breech assembly, allows AMU to test each barrel before any work goes into it. You can be darned sure that if a barrel wont shoot in this rest, theres nothing we can do to make it shoot in the gun. Its a quality-control step that allows us to make sure were using the right components before we assemble a gun, he said.
Once a barrel passes this test, Sams threads the front of the barrel and installs a custom-made cone bushing thats a common modifications on 1911s, said Sams, who spent his first 17 years in the Army as an infantryman and his last three at AMU. But fitting the AMU version of the cone bushing solved a lot of problems that a larger-diameter barrel or slide bushing didnt. Not only did it work, but if the gun gets out of adjustment, the cone bushing can be removed and shortened a few thousandsths, then screwed back on. The gun should tighten right back up.
Adding two set screws in the breech block assembly (see sidebar) and changing out the springs finishes the AMU conversion. Sams uses a stock 1911 mainspring and a new recoil spring. He says the stock 13-pound recoil spring doesnt provide the solid front-end lockup that he likes, so he uses aftermarket 15-pounders instead.
That attitude is keeping with his mechanical background. Growing up in Virginia west of Richmond, he learned how things worked by watching his uncle gunsmith and rebuild vintage Ford pickup trucks. He was not school trained. But he was a mechanic who could make anything run, Sams said. Sams went into the Army at the tender age of 18 and is now preparing to retire after 20 years. But he has always worked on guns at homeeven when he was jumping out of planes as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, when he was a drill sergeant, during a short 21/2-year stint as a civilian police officer, in the role of chief pistol instructor, or as a shooter who was a member of the 1988 National Trophy team.
I have to confess, I became a shooter just so I could get my foot in the door to come to the AMU as a gunsmith, he said. A lot of shooters knew me, and because I built some of their personal guns, they were comfortable recommending me when a slot opened here. Im so lucky, because our mission is to train and support the best shooters in the world, and we have unbelievable talent and resources to accomplish that mission.
Though MSG Sams plans to retire in November, further development of the competition M9 will certainly continue. In particular, Sams believes ammo refinements will play a large role in advancing the M9. What shooters are using now is marginally passable by AMU standards, the MSG says. A match-grade 124-grain jacketed hollowpoint round is shooting very well, Sams says, but it cant be used in the Service Pistol or EIC (Excellence in Competition or leg) match portion of the National Match Course. Instead, 115-grain or 124-grain full-metal-jacket ball ammo must be used, and it doesnt shoot as well as Sams wants.
New barrel-twist rates may also solve the ammunition problem. Sams says he has thoroughly tested barrels with 1:16 twist (thats the barrel AMU shooters are currently using), and hes begun experimenting with 1:24-twist rifling.
How shooters operate the trigger is another area in need of improvement. Sams says the guns trigger pull can be smoothed and refined, even though the 14-element Beretta trigger can already be easily lightened to the 4-pound minimum allowed by competition rules. Sams thinks machining oversize parts and fitting them down could solve those trigger-quality problems.
There are likely other fixes for the M9, and Sams is adamant that he doesnt have all the answers. John Browning, the father of the 1911, could develop a gun by himself. He was a master at building guns. Im not, Sams said. The way I look at it, a gunsmith is only as good as the people around him. Im surrounded by some of the best here, and everyone has contributed ideassome of which Ive been able to make work.
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-By Roger Eckstine and Todd Woodard
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