The Pistolet Makarova, or Makarov, was a Cold War pistol designed in the 1950s for the Soviet Union. Nikolai Makarov, a Russian, developed the medium-powered handgun as a replacement for the aging Nagant revolver and a Tokarev pistol.
The Makarov was imported into the United States in large numbers after the collapse of the USSR.
Incredibly inexpensive, many Russian, Bulgarian and East German Makarov pistols were snapped up during the 90s.
The Makarov is a straight blowback design. It uses a relatively heavy slide and spring to tame the recoil and function reliably.
The guns are chambered in 9×18, also called 9mm Makarov. The bullets are slightly larger than bullets used in 9×19 and .380 ACP cartridges. The case length of 18mm puts it directly between the two aforementioned cartridges.
The 9×18 cartridge is a relatively low pressure round, allowing its use in a blowback design. This means that a 95 grain bullet is only going to get about 1000 fps, often less, at the muzzle.
Some post-Cold War guns were chambered in .380 ACP. Do not ever try to use ammunition other than 9×18 in a 9×18 Makarov pistol. Likewise, don’t try to stuff a 9×18 cartridge into a .380 ACP or “normal” 9mm handgun. This is extremely unsafe.
The Makarov uses a fixed barrel that is attached directly to the frame. The barrel does not come off during field stripping and routine cleaning.
The surplus Makarovs use a single-stack, eight-round magazine. The magazine does not have a release button that is typical on American pistols. Rather, it uses a heel release that is more common on European handguns.
Post-Cold War double-stack Makarovs were made for the US market. These pistols can hold up to 12 rounds, but the magazines are said by some to be unreliable.
These pistols use a double-action/single-action trigger. This means that the first shot is a long, heavy double-action pull, with follow up shots being single-action. The slide-mounted safety also serves as a decocker.
Sights on the surplus guns are typically fixed, with a thin blade up front and a plain black notch in back.
Some variations, especially those made after importation to the US began, have adjustable rear sights.
Makarov pistols were made in Russia, China, East Germany and Bulgaria. Post-Cold War Makarov pistols were also made in unified Germany.
Quality of the surplus pistols varies, but fine examples can be found. I own a East German made Makarov that has a beautiful blued finish. It has very little wear and few tool marks. The serial number on mine suggest it was made in or around 1961, meaning that this pistol spent far more time in an armory or in a holster than it did on the firing range.
Shooting the Pistolet Makarova
I enjoy shooting the Makarov. It fits very well in my hand, it is well balanced and recoil is very mild.
My Makarov has always been very reliable with very few malfunctions through the years. The ejection port is smaller than I would have expected, but it does not seem to induce any failures.
Milsurp and new production ammo all seem to run fine in the Makarov. If you are shooting military surplus ammo, make sure you clean the gun very well after shooting. A lot of Soviet Bloc ammo was corrosive, and even if the guy at the gun shop said it was not corrosive it is better to be safe than sorry.
Accuracy is acceptable for a military surplus pistol. The heavy trigger pull combined with small sights make for large groups beyond about seven yards. Single action helps, but only some.
A lot of the military surplus stocks of 9×18 ammo have dried up. Fortunately, there are a number of manufacturers making new ammo for these guns.
Russian ammo from TulAmmo, Wolf and Brown Bear are generally your best bet for inexpensive target ammo. However, Federal, Blazer and Winchester do make target rounds for the Makarov.
Due to the size of the Makarov, many people carry the pistol as a self-defense handgun. There are several options for hollowpoint rounds, but the two I like the best are the CorBon Pow’rBall and the Hornady Critical Defense loads. Both of these rounds use a polymer insert to help ensure positive expansion of the bullet from the relatively low velocity cartridge.
The Pistolet Makarova is a simple, but functional design from a dark past. It shoots well and would make for an adequate self-defense pistol should you have the need.
Nowadays, my Makarov spends more time in the safe than it does on the range. I have a deep appreciation for history, and this pistol has become something more than just a weekend shooter for me.
It is a reminder of when Germany was split due to the evils of Communism; a time when this pistol was more likely to be used to execute someone trying to escape to the West, rather than for personal defense.
Too many people have tried to bury the truth of the Soviet Union and communism. My Makarov, with its East German stampings, serves as proof they did exist. God help us all should we forget.