If the Soviet star on the reddish-brown Bakelite grip doesn’t scream Cold War military pistol, I don’t know what does. The Makarov PM is like a Walther PPK got weightlifting advice from the Russian boxer Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” It’s heavier, chunkier, and generally built like a small tank.

The Soviets weren’t afraid to steal a few design concepts – or nearly all of them – from a Western gun and beef them up for military use. This straight blowback pistol borrowed heavily from Walther’s design, but the Russians bulked it up to handle the more powerful 9x18mm cartridge. 

The 9x18 Makarov, left, is shorter than the 9x19mm, putting the Makarov above .380 ACP but below 9mm in overall size. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

Renowned for its durability and simplicity, the Makarov PM saw wide service around the world from East Germany and Cuba to Afghanistan and Mongolia. This particular pistol is actually a Bulgarian Makarov, though the differences between it and the original Russian gun are minimal. If you keep your eyes peeled, they have a tendency to trickle into the U.S. surplus market from time to time. 

Some Mak History


As a military sidearm, the original Makarov holsters were set up as kits that included the gun, two magazines, and a cleaning rod inside of a military-style holster that protected the gun and magazines. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

After World War II, the Russians realized their old TT-33 Tokarev pistols chambered in the zippy 7.62x25 Tokarev round left something to be desired (The Tokarev guns and caliber stayed around for quite some time regardless). Between issues with losing the magazines, size, and the advent of more modern combat rifles, they set out on a quest for a suitably small – but robust – replacement sidearm. 

So why didn’t they just adopt another proven pistol? There were certainly some other great options, such as the Browning Hi-Power. But each came with its own licensing and manufacturing challenges, and, I suspect, there was also a level of national pride behind a “homegrown” gun.

The Makarov, left, next to a Hungarian-made FEG Hi-Power show the size differences. The Soviets could have pursued a gun like the Hi-Power, which was manufactured inside Soviet-bloc countries, but chose instead to cut their own path with the Makarov PM. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

The Soviets likely also saw the rise of 9x19mm in the West and didn’t want to be risk lagging behind. Nor did they necessarily want to adopt the Western cartridge at the time. The 9x18mm round allowed the designers to squeeze 8+1 rounds into a relatively small, blowback gun with a single-stack magazine. Although, there was a double-stack variant that was produced later on.

The 9x18mm Makarov round is smaller than the 9x19mm used by Western nations during the Cold War. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)
Single stack magazines gave the Makarov a capacity of 8+1. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

This simple double-action/single-action handgun was also fairly easy to produce and maintain because it was a blowback design that only featured 27 parts and five internal springs. The Makarov, and similarly inspired variants, spread around the globe to Soviet-influenced countries during the Cold War. It served as a primary sidearm for the Russian military until recently, though it still pops up now and again among some police forces and militaries.

Mongolian soldiers fire Makarov pistols during the shooting portion of a competition marking the 86th anniversary of the Mongolian armed forces on March 16, 2007, near Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo: Sgt. Rob Summitt)

Makarov Breakdown


Makarov pistols are simple blowback guns, and they disassemble very easily. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

Field stripping the Makarov down to its basic components takes a matter of seconds, leaving you with the slide, recoil spring, and main body. From there you can push up on the decocker/safety to remove the free-floating firing pin and the safety itself. 

Yes, it has a free-floating firing pin. So do most ARs. The firing pin has a small enough mass that the Russian designer, Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov, deemed it safe enough to spare the pistol an additional spring for the firing pin. The pistols also previously passed drop-safety tests in the U.S. in order to be imported into California, though that original import certification seems to have expired in the state. 

The Makarov has a free-floating firing pin that can be removed at the rear of the slide. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

While small, the Makarov feels hefty in the hand and sizable enough to easily manipulate the controls. It’s an all-steel gun with simple notch sights common to military firearms of the time. Below are some of the specifications for this Bulgarian pistol:

       Weight (Unloaded): 1 pound, 10 ounces
       Length: 6.36 inches
       Height: 5 inches
       Barrel Length: 3.68 inches
       Width (Widest Point): 1.16 inches 

The slide is actually 0.97 inches if you skip the decocker, and the grip comes in at 1.1 inches thick. It is a bit squared, but the Bakelite fills the palm well. The gun could have been blessed with a more ergonomic grip, but I wouldn’t trade it for the classic look of that Soviet star in the center as a collector today. The simplicity and rugged lines speak for themselves.

The heel magazine release on the butt of the grip was in part an answer to Soviet issues with magazine retention in the older TT-33 pistols during World War II. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

Double action on my Makarov averages in at around 11 pounds, with a 4-pound single-action pull after that. The heel magazine release also protrudes slightly from the butt of the grip, and it is easy to manipulate with some practice. Don’t expect cheetah-like mag changes, but it gets the job done. 

Variants & Modifications

The Makarov was incredibly popular, with millions of guns produced in different variants in Russia, Bulgaria, East Germany, China, Libya, and other nations. Its popularity also means there are quite a few aftermarket additions, such as a unique grip made by FAB Defense in Israel that provides a thumb magazine release. 

There are a variety of new grips for Makarovs, including the black Pearce grip, center, with a thumb shelf and the intriguing FAB Defense grip, right, that moves the thumb release to the side of the pistol. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)
You can see the simplicity of the Makarov design in this image of the variant used in East Germany. (Photo: GDR Military Makarov Manual)

Makarov pistols also earned some popularity as a concealed carry gun in the U.S. This has prompted many modern holster makers to add it to their offerings. Interestingly, the Russians developed a special self-loading holster that allowed the user to carry the gun on safe without a round in the chamber. Drawing the gun involved pushing it down and out of the holster, which deactivated the safety and chambered a round. Thus, the handgun could be presented from the holster in single-action mode despite the decocker.


Thankfully, the Makarov was – and still is – a popular pistol. This put it in the crosshairs of numerous holster manufacturers, who make everything from shoulder holsters to IWB and OWB Kydex and hybrid holsters for the old pistol. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

Post-Cold War Life

Makarovs have a certain look and place in history that have earned them some decent Hollywood red carpet time. Marvel in particular has taken a liking to the handgun, with appearances in “The Avengers,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and an easy-to-miss cameo in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” 

I’m not going to lie, I go to my safe to pull out the Mak every time I catch it in a movie. Its popularity and familiarity inside the U.S. gun community no doubt assisted with its various silver screen appearances.

Makarov pistols eventually found a foothold in the American marketplace, where they can still be found in 9x18mm and .380 variants. (Photo: Arsenal Makarov Manual)

I personally find the gun a bit heavy – relative to its size – for concealed carry. But there are plenty of people who enjoy the pistol for just that reason. It shoots well, even if you’re unpracticed with the platform, and the recoil is minimal with the 9x18mm cartridge. 

Better yet, there are some modern self-defense rounds from manufacturers like Hornady. With the exception of the current ammo shortage, I’ve had little trouble finding plenty of plinking ammo as well. Overall, it’s just a fun, reliable gun that I love having in my safe. When I pick it up, I can’t help but feel like I’ve teleported back in time.

Love cool old guns like the Makarov PM? Be sure to check out our carefully curated Military Classics and Collector's Corner sections where history is just a click away.

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