Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bersa Thunder 9mm HC Pro Review (and comparision with the Ruger P89).

After a lot of effort, I finally got it! Surprising how difficult it is to find one of these things, but after much perusing of on-line gun classifieds, I finally snagged this one from GunsAmerica. As I review this gun, I'm also going to make some comparisons to the 9mm that used to be my main auto, the Ruger P89.

First, a little background. Both of the pistols have roots in military or law enforcement service, as well as origins with legendary firearms manufacturers. The Bersa is the service pistol of the Argentinian National Gendarmerie (police force), and while Bersa might not be a name with a pedigree, the Thunder 9 is based on the Walther P88 design, and the manufacturing seems to be solid. The Ruger's reputation comes simply from being a Ruger. They have been known for making tough, reliable firearms with anvil like durability. And most people DON'T know that the Ruger P85 (an early version of the P89) was a principal competitor when the military was looking for a replacement for the venerable 1911. It was actually created to fulfill that contract, so it was designed from the ground up for rough treatment and problem free operation. Although I'm pleased with the Bersa, I haven't owned one for ten years as I did the P89, so I can't speak to long term reliability. The P89 never failed me once during that time...not one mis-feed, jam, or breakage of any kind, even after thousands of rounds. That says a lot.

The bottom line? The pistol was $339, and was purchased from Roberston Trading Post out of Tennessee. These people are friendly, helpful, and made the whole thing easy. Plus, they had the best price around on the gun, they shipped for only $15, and didn't charge me a percentage fee for using a credit card. They are a class act all the way, and I highly recommend them.

My own FFL charged me only $10 to do the transfer, for a total price of around $365. You can get P89's in this price range, so as far as that goes, it's a toss up.

Both the Bersa and the Ruger are inexpensive for what they are: high quality 9mm pistols. The Ruger's quality is legendary, but is the Thunder 9 a good value for the price?

So far, it seems that way. The Bersa is impressive. I've only put around 100 rounds through it (and they go fast, through the Bersa's two 17 round mags that are included with the pistol). I shot a mixture of hollow point and ball ammunition of 3 different brands and I'm happy to report that the Bersa gobbled everything down without issue and was quite accurate. They say that the accuracy of these guns improves even more as you shoot them, but this gun is pretty good already.

I did three tests at 10, 15, and 20 yards, using targets on standard 8.5 x 11" paper. I didn't have a single round off the paper. Correlate that to a bad guy, and you're talking about a small space in which most of the vital organs reside. Obviously, the closer I was, the better. At 10 yards, it was not difficult to get 2" groups consistently. I feel that my own ability (or lack thereof) was keeping me from achieving even tighter groups, although I felt my accuracy improved as I shot through the hundred rounds.

Am I more accurate with the Thunder than the P89? Not necessarily. The issue that makes the Bersa so much sweeter is the trigger. The P89 is "stagey", with a long pull, even in single action. You pull the trigger back to what feels like a stop, then you have to take up even more trigger. You then get a fair amount of creep before the gun discharges. In contrast, the Bersa has no staging...just a little creep, then it fires. The P89 can shoot accurately, but the trigger makes you work at it.

After a hundred rounds, I didn't notice any fatigue or pain from recoil with the Bersa. The gun shoots smoothly and comfortably. At first, I was wary of the hard plastic grips, but I found them easy to hold and very form fitting and "meaty" for my large hands. I would like a rubber grip option, something other than a Hogue slip-on, but it is not a pressing issue. The Bersa grips are fine. I did take the sheen off of the grips by buffing them a bit with steel wool, and this improved both the appearance and feel of the grips.

Of course, the P89 grips are thin. I had a set of Hogue wraparounds that helped that a bunch, but the factory Ruger grips weren't nearly as comfortable to me. Also, it seems to me that the longer and more upright grip angle of the Bersa fits my style of shooting much better.

The Bersa has several options on it that make it a great value for the money. The "round chambered" indicator is nice, although I'd rather it be on the side than on top. I guess the idea is to make it easy to see when you are aiming, because it will be right where you are looking. But, if it were either on the left or the right, it would be simple to FEEL it, eliminating the need to look altogether. But, that's nitpicking, considering the P89 had NO round chambered indicator.

It also has polygonal rifling like the CZ82, which may not be an advantage from an accuracy standpoint, but will probably last longer than a barrel with traditional rifling. Also, the firing pin is reinforced to allow dry firing practice. I don't know how safe it is to do that, but I've heard in more than one place that the reinforcement was done for that purpose. I dry fired it a couple of times without any ill effects, but it is not something I'd want to do day in and day out.

Furthermore, the Bersa has an integral front rail and Glock style "dot U" sights. They are far easier to see than the Ruger's traditional dot sights. I'd like to have a laser at some point, but I think it would make holstering a challenge. And, shooting the Bersa is easy enough that it is really not necessary. EDIT: Since writing this, Bersa has begun to ship their Pro series with dovetail sights, front and rear.  By all accounts, they are compatible with Sig #8 sights, so upgrading should be easy.

Needless to say, the Ruger has traditional rifling, regular 3 dot sights, and no integral rail. To be fair, the Ruger design dates back to 1985, and other Ruger pistols have been updated with the features found on the Bersa, so we're kind of comparing apples and oranges, but there are still a lot of P89's out there for sale in this price range, which makes these guns compete with one another in the market.

Take-down is not difficult for either pistol, but the Bersa makes it so simple that a child could do it. You simply eject the mag and flip a lever down. The slide comes right off. Pull the guide rod and spring out, push the barrel forward and down, and you've just field stripped the pistol.

The Ruger requires you to lock the slide back and push the ejector down so that the slide can come forward. Then, holding the gun in your right hand as if you were shooting, place your index finger on the take-down pin. While holding a little bit of back pressure on the slide, push the take-down pin through slightly. With your left hand, grab the other side of the take-down pin (which doubles as the slide lock) and pull straight out. The pin won't come out, but it will move far enough out of the way to let the slide come forward. Then, just like on the Bersa, pull the guide rod and spring out, push the barrel forward and down, and you're finished.

Basically, you need only complete these steps in reverse to reassemble, but on both pistols, it takes a bit of fiddling to get the slide lined back up so that the take-down lever or pin re-engages. Neither is difficult, but the Bersa is brain-dead simple.

There is a world of difference in the finish between the two pistols. The P89 has a durable finish that can withstand a lot of abuse. I've dropped it, scraped it, bumped it, and so on. I forgot and left it in my truck for 2 weeks and found it coated with a light dusting of rust over the blued slide. A little steel wool and gun oil fixed it up good as new, showing no discernible damage. Of course, the frame was powder-coated or some other such tough finish and never had any scratches or thin spots.

Like the Ruger, the Bersa's frame is finished just fine. Unlike the Ruger, the slide is a disaster. I've heard this is not uncommon for the matte versions, which is why I originally wanted a nickel finish, but they were impossible to find, so I settled. I almost wish I hadn't. The finish itself is uneven and splotchy. It looks as if it ALWAYS has an uneven coating of oil on it, because some areas had a sheen and were almost glossy, while others were truly matte looking and dull. I personally don't care whether or not it is glossy or flat, but Bersa needs to pick only ONE! It is a shame, because this horrible finish almost ruins an otherwise handsome looking gun.

I've since corrected the problem by ordering a replacement nickel slide from Eagle Imports ($65), pictured above.  That solved my only complaint with the Bersa.  It now looks quite handsome. My advice is to order the nickel or duotone from the beginning, although I have heard reports that Bersa has solved the mottling on the matte slide.
Bersa warrants their pistol for life for the original owner. I've heard their service is very good. I've also heard that Ruger's is as well, but I don't know the terms of their warranty.

My recommendation? As far as I can tell now, you can't really go wrong with either pistol. But the fact is, the Bersa seems like a much more full-featured pistol for the money, especially if you have the extra scratch for the nickel finish or a buddy who's crafty with Duracoating. But, that's an extra step that you don't have with the Ruger. Plus, the Ruger is a known quantity. You know it will never fail you, because it is built like a tank.

I will give more info on the Bersa's reliability as time goes on. If it is as good as the Ruger's, then the choice is a no-brainer.

UPDATE, June 2015: Several years on, the Bersa continues to perform reliably. It runs well, even dirty, and accuracy is very good. The funny thing is, I originally got this pistol as a stopgap until I could get a CZ, but I don't see any real need to upgrade at this point. The price point has increased somewhat...the cheapest I've seen the Thunder 9 HC is right around the $400 mark.  Still a bargain for a solid, reliable combat handgun.


Anonymous said...

great review I have the origional bersa thunder 9mm in a parkerized finish and the thunder pro 9mm in nickel i love them both id put a bersa up against my browning hi power which is shameful to say because its my favorite but they are great guns. also educational i did not know that they were looked at by the military. so easy a child could do it made me laugh when i was 7 i could field strip my fathers 1911 garand ppk hi power so on and so forth... any child can field strip any gun just a matter of training lol. thumbs up on your review

Mike Jenkins said...

Nice review. I own a bersa thunder .40 subcompact. I love it. I'm considering a Bersa thunder 9mm for my wife. This review may have helped me make up my mind.

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