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IJ-17A Russian Commercial Model, 8 round, adjustable rear target sights, .380 caliber.   Article with photos published in Concealed Carry Magazine.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me what pistol they should get for concealed carry duty for someone who is just about broke.  The idea is that they want something that costs as little as possible, yet is a good solid gun capable of standing up to a lot of work, abuse, and the test of time... a proven design with a good reputation.  Not only should it be tough as nails, but it also needs to be exceedingly reliable.  Because what good is a concealed carry gun if it wont “go bang” every time you pull the trigger?  Oh, and it needs to be accurate too, and compact so it can be carried and concealed easily.  Tough, reliable, accurate, compact, combat proven and cheap.  That formula points straight at the Mak.  The next thing they ask me is, “what is a Mak?”      

The Makarov came out shortly after World War II within the iron curtain and it was called the “Pistolet Makarova”. Today it is called the Makarov in the common tongue.  Or just “Mak” by its friends and family.  When it first came out, it quickly gained popularity.  Not that anyone had a choice in the matter… you either liked it and supported The Party or you didn’t, and the pistol was used on you.  In fact, in the Soviet Union, the Makarov was the #1 favorite pistol for dispatching political dissidents, spies, or anyone asking for a second loaf of bread.  (Thankfully times have changed.  Thank you President Ronald Reagan!)  The Mak has a great following around the world. Most any military force that uses or used the AK-47 type rifle, pretty much also used the Mak.  So this popularity wasn’t exactly forced.  It can stand on its own merits.

 When the Mak was replaced by more modern pistols (most of which are just Makarovs with some alterations) surplus stock of these pistols came to our shores.  The importers thought these little pistols had some potential and they were absolutely right.  Thanks to its rugged design and solid steel construction, these tough little pistols last forever.  Thanks to the fixed barrel, these things are also surprisingly accurate.  For these reasons, the Mak has gained a cult following that has grown like popular underground movement. 

The Mak was produced in Russia, East Germany, Bulgaria, and of course, China.  After the wall fell, the Mak continued production in the reunified Germany.  I’m sure this little pistol is probably produced in other places, but importers have and are bringing them in mainly from these sources.  The Mak, like most other successful pistols, has been cloned many times with slight changes and modifications.  One of the best examples of that would be the CZ-83 which could be considered the pinnacle of the design’s potential.  Most Maks and the like can be had for under 200 dollars and I’ve seen some examples as low as $125.  This makes it one of the most economical CCW choices out there. 

I’m not sure how the design actually came about, but I have a suspicion that it had something do with the Russian designer looking at the Walther PP, slamming down two or three bottles of Vodka, and then trying to draw the gun from memory.  The other Russian engineers in the room, who had also consumed large quantities of Vodka, cheered the design, agreed to build it, and then handed the drawing to the Machinist who had not yet had any Vodka because he just came into the room to see what all the cheering was about.  This was how a lot of Russian military hardware came about, but if you ask them they will of course deny it.

The native round for the Mak is 9X18MM.  This is a hot little cartridge that is slightly shorter and slightly fatter than the .380ACP.  So don’t try mixing the rounds, because you could suddenly go Palestinian. (meaning you could blow up)  This 9X18MM is also often called “9MM Mak”.  Most gun shops know it this way and might not know the times eighteen thing, but they catch on as soon as you say “Mak”.  So don’t worry, the ammo is good and plenty and you don’t have to hunt through a gun show to find imported surplus packed in plain brown boxes.  But if you do, you will be rewarded with some incredibly inexpensive ammunition.

I got this Mak from a friend in California.  He didn’t want it any more because it didn’t feel good to him and it rusts when you look at it wrong.  I said I’ll take it… I’m somewhat familiar with iron curtain ergonomics (meaning they don’t have any) and I have a new gun product called “CorrosionX” that is pretty much made for stopping corrosion on firearms.  When I got the gun in, I could see what he meant by rusting easily.  It had a thin sprinkling of orange colored dust along the slide.  That is rust, my friends, a guns worst enemy.  Under the rust was some pitting… where the rust was actually eating into the slide.  Not bad pitting… not deep… but it was there.   First thing I did when I got the pistol home was to field strip it and examine it.  The internals were fine and the gun was mechanically sound.  I treated the whole works with the CorrosionX and have not had any problems with rusting since.  This stuff isn’t just a protective treatment, but it is also a cleaner and lubricant as well, so the treatment gave me a nice slick function.  The only thing I had to work on after that was waiting till I could get out and go shooting with it.   That’s what I call “The Hard Part”.

The Mak that I have right here is actually in .380.  This unit is a Russian made pistol intended for commercial sales to civilians.  The fit and finish on this example is excellent for a surplus import type pistol. There are no tool marks on the outside and the slide is polished quite nicely. Really the only difference here is the caliber and the adjustable rear sights.   The technical name for this model is the “IJ-17A”.  It was made in Russia by the IMEZ firm at the foothills of the Ural Mountains.  I thought it fitting that it would be test fired here in the foothills of the Uintah Mountains.  Okay, in reality it could have been chiseled out on the steps of the Kremlin, I always shoot in the foothills of the Uintah Mountains.  That’s where I live. 

Sorry if I sounded a little curt right there… I’m a bit miffed at the moment.  You see, I brought my bride with me to do some shooting and to run the camera.  Deveni is the girl that you see named in my other articles for having taken the photos.  Not this time.  I’m the one taking the pictures this time, because she is doing all the shooting.  No, I’m not irked about that, she is a wonderful companion and a good shot too.  No, the problem is that she pretty much has laid claim to the Mak, so it’s not mine anymore.  Excuse me if I am a little brusque.  “It fits my hands” was the excuse.  Yeah, nice excuse.  How come that didn’t work when I sat in the seat of that new Nissan Titan 4 door and wrapped my paws around the steering wheel? 

She is wickedly accurate with this little pistol, so much so that I conceded firing for fear of being shown up!  She has fallen in love with this pistol, and this is a rare thing.  The only other gun she really liked was a certain stainless 1911 .45 that I had.  She’s a .45 girl at heart, so this was a surprise.  She hated my last Ex-Soviet handgun, a CZ-52.  I didn’t think she would take to this one at all.  My hopes came up when she made a complaint about the sights.  While being adjustable target sights, or the knock off Russian equivalent of target sights, the front sight post is very small and gets “lost” visually.  Not that it is really lost, you know it’s there… somewhere… you just can’t see it.  It is kind of like a fun little game of “hide and seek”. This makes accurate shooting a challenge.  Especially when that problem is compounded with a trigger that feels like you are dragging a piano across a gravel road.  Okay, it’s not that bad, I am exaggerating.  A little.  Deveni still managed to pull off some impressive shooting with it, and so do most other Mak shooters.  So my hopes for recovering “dibs” on the gun were lost.

We shot up several boxes of ammunition of different sorts and didn’t have a single jam with any of them.  There was however one malfunction, and I caused that myself when Deveni let me shoot her pistol.  My thumb was riding on the slide release lever when I fired the last shot, so the slide didn’t lock back.  This isn’t really a problem as it didn’t prevent me from firing all the rounds.  It would only have slowed down reloading a second, and you really can’t even call that a malfunction.  That’s pretty much Operator Error right there, and I’ll take the blame for that.  Deveni didn’t have that problem and she is still smug about that… yeah, even now while you read this she is sitting over there looking at me over the edge of her book, “The Da Vinci Code” with those eyes saying “neener neener neener”.  

Some say that the recoil from a Mak is brisk.  This is due to the pistol’s method of operation.  It’s a straight blowback design.  A blowback gun works by using the weight of the heavy spring and inertia of slide to hold the chamber closed until the pressure has reduced to safe level to open.  This means there is no mechanical functions in the gun to absorb recoil energy that can reduce the felt recoil.  This is a very simple operation that is used even in “high end” small caliber guns like the SIG P232, which is also in .380.  The 9MM Mak caliber guns do feel a bit sharper in the recoil because the native cartridge is much hotter than most .380 loads.  But don’t let this scare you… the recoil is nothing to worry about.  My better half wasn’t bothered by it at all. 

There are a lot of different loads out there for .380, and plenty for 9X18MM too.  Lots of good choices for defensive use.  Silver Tips, Hydra Shoks, Gold Dots, you name it.  If you want cheap ammo for plinking (“plinking” means informal recreational shooting) then look for a 9X18 Mak, because you can get a whole case of ammo for the cost of a pizza dinner for the family. 

The Mak is a very simple design.  Looking at the little manual (thankfully it is not printed in Russian) I see that the whole pistol uses only 41 different parts.  And of those, 12 are just the sights. 3 are the grips and 4 others are the magazine.  This is not a complicated gun.  In fact, the rear sight on this commercial model is more complicated than most of the rest of the gun.  Take down is about as simple as it gets. 

1.  Unload and clear the pistol.

2.  Cock the hammer back. 

3.  Pull the front of the trigger guard down.

4.  Pull the slide back and lift it up off the rails.

5.  Pull the slide forward and off the barrel. 

Done.  That’s it.  Reassembly is the same sequence in reverse.  It’s so simple that even an uneducated army conscript from a cabbage farm can do it.  That means anyone; even a first time novice can do it.  There are no “tricks” to it.   It really doesn’t get much simpler than this.

The controls of the gun are even simpler.  The magazine release is on the bottom of the grip frame.  This is called a “Heel Release” or a “European Style Release”.  It’s simple and effective and it works very well.  It also makes for a good system for a concealed carry pistol because you do not have a button on the side the pistol that could accidentally be pressed.  There are only two controls on the side, one is the slide release, and the other is the safety.  The safety is mounted on the slide as is popular for European handguns, but interestingly it’s upside down according to the European style.  Up is safe, down is fire… just like on a 1911.  The safety is also a decocker and a virtual gun lock.  With the safety on you can not retract the slide, pull the trigger, or thumb cock the weapon.  It’s locked up nice and solid.  To unlock it, just push the safety down like a gas pedal to go.  

These pistols not only have a following, but they have a shrine.  For anyone looking to buy a Makarov, or who owns a Makarov pistol, you need to check out  There you can catch technical articles, reviews, pictures, and anything you ever wanted to know about the Makarov type pistol.  They also sell spare parts and custom parts and even some custom gunsmithing services for the Makarov and for the CZ-52.  From that website, I am going to order the fixed rear sight replacement, and I might even have them cut in a dovetailed front sight as well.  This would resolve the hide and go seek game I talked about earlier.  Oh, and those custom wood grips look pretty snazzy too.  Lots of options and information.  Anything you want for the Mak you can order there.  They even have holsters, but I think I would rather get a holster from  Eric there knows Maks and knows how to make a custom holster for it by hand better than anyone.  

Shooting the Makarov gave Deveni such a grin… when she claimed the gun, how could I refuse her?  How could I argue the matter?  No, seriously… how?  I want that Mak back!  *sigh*  This takes me back to the opening of this article… Thank heavens it’s cheap enough for a guy that’s virtually broke, because I’m going to have to buy my own now.




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Copyright G H Hill 1999-2012

The 4 Rules of Firearms Safety:

1.  Handle all firearms as if they were loaded.

2.  Never point the gun at anything you're not willing to destroy.

3.  Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you have made the decision to fire the weapon.

4.  Know your target, and know what is beyond the target.

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