A Hard Look At The Arcus Pistol


by R,K, Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

September 20th, 2006




There is no question that the greatest handguns of all time were designed by John Moses Browning.  The Colt 1911 and the Browning High Power are excellent fighting pistols, proven in wartime, in police duty, and in competition world wide. Long gun designs such as the Auto 5 and the Winchester Model 94 may have made Browning more money, but his fame and legend rest largely in these magnificent fighting implements. Few wax emotional over the ‘thutty-thutty’ or Sweet Sixteen. On the other hand, speak a disparaging word or two concerning the 1911 and wait for the fireworks to start. Strange, many critics of the 1911 tend to holster handguns so ugly they must have fell from the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down!

The Browning High Power is not only a popular handgun in its own right, but a strong second favorite among 1911 shooters. This acceptance of the High Power demonstrates more than a reverence for John Moses Browning. It also shows an appreciation for a low bore axis, reliability, good fit and finish, straight to the rear single action trigger compression, and excellent human engineering. The controls of either are well placed for rapid manipulation and both pistols use identical operating principles.  I often carry a High Power, and feel that the High Power 9mm is a better choice than any other non 1911 pistol — including quite a few .40s and any of the Combat Tupperware.

My experience with the High Power spans decades, but has grown considerably in depth and breadth in recent years. I have learned that the High Power is not a difficult handgun to work with.  I find the trigger system comes away from the frame rather easily, and the deft touch needed to perform an action job on the High Power is within the reach of ordinary mortals.  The pistol is more robust with a steady diet of full power loads, in my experience, than it is given credit for, and can be more accurate than many will admit. Perhaps the longevity of the pistol may be questioned, as steel was once softer and loads hotter, but then I have used FM not FN type pistols for most of my High Power shooting.

So, I am not a novice with the High Power. I enjoy shooting the piece and have carried the pistol on a professional basis. As far as the clone pistols go, my opinions have been formed by much experience with the FM and the FEG. The present FM I regard as superior to the original Browning, with a redesigned slide and safety and a good trigger action. The FEG is for the fellow who wishes to own a High Power of the original type, exhibiting a nice blue finish and stepped slide. The FEG is rougher than the Belgian or Argentine versions internally, but retails for less than the FM and half the price of a FN High Power.  I have enjoyed some experience with the Israeli Kareen, but with a single example in my experience I must reserve judgment.

The Arcus handgun currently imported by Century International Arms gave me pause. It looks like a High Power, but the slide and frame differ in some regards. And that is OK, so does the FM, especially my favorite FM Detective. But the square cut slide of the Arcus looks like a modern design, mimicking the SIG and Glock in profile. The Arcus appears to be well made of good material, with good fitting and polish.  The sights are a cross between true high visibility sights and the embryonic sights found on military weapons. They are usable for combat and precise enough when lined up properly. The safety is positive in operation, of the new and improved ‘speed safety class.’  The trigger is pleasingly smooth, breaking a clean four pounds. This was unexpected from an economy pistol, as the original High Power often exhibited a six to seven pound trigger compression.   

The slide is heavier than the original High Power, while retaining the classic steps in the slide forward of the ejection port.  There have been questions concerning the strength of the High Power and suggestions that the pistols have sometimes been made of soft steels. The FN Mauser bolt action rifles are certainly strong enough as are the various machine guns built and deployed with the FN stamp for many decades.  I would not expect a jeep manufactured in 1952 to run forever without a broken axle, and I am certain the British Army and the SAS have the proverbial box of broken slides. But all pistols break at some round count or the other, and all lines have some specimens less robust than the other. My experience indicates the High Power is nearly as robust as the 1911, given regular maintenance. The High Power seems free of the Ka Booms and ruptures that have been well documented with other types of handguns. My friends in engineering tell me that the heavier slide of the Arcus, which features a step that is not as steep as the original High Power, should be stronger than the original if the steel used is of equal quality. This only stands to reason.  The Bulgarian Makarov and other firearms from Bulgaria have proven suitable for hard use, so the Arcus has a good heritage. The frame is also appropriately beefed up in comparison to the original dimensions of the High Power. In other words, while the FM is a license built High Power and accepts High Power parts, and the FEG is a copy that sometimes requires fitting of Browning Parts, the Arcus is a considerably different handgun.  If you like the High Power but fear soft steel, then this is the pistol to assuage your fears.

The Arcus also features a squared trigger guard, which some like and others do not. It gives the option of a solid grip by placing the forefinger of the support hand on the front of the guard, and hurts nothing. In general, it appears internal parts such as the trigger are standard High Power but the heavier frame and slide will not accept a Browning slide, frame or .22 caliber conversion unit as companions. 

I have found the High Power to be more feed reliable than the piece is given credit for, but then modern ammunition is usually of a design better suited to good feeding than early hollow point designs. Overall, I have a good feeling concerning the High Power and recommend the handgun highly for personal defense.  No, I am not leaving my .45s behind but the High Power is a well designed pistol that allows the skilled user as good a chance of connecting quickly with a reasonably powerful cartridge as any handgun on the planet.

I was interested in how the Arcus would feed and function as well as the accuracy potential of the piece.  I was also interested in how subtle differences in weight and size would manifest themselves in firing. The Arcus is perhaps three ounces heavier than the original High Power. The High Power is a very good handgun for rapid fire work, coming from the holster and on the target quickly. I wished to see if anything had been lost in altering the equation.

As for altering the equation, don’t overlook the brilliance of design inherent in the High Power. You may push the design envelope too far, as has been done with some 1911s, and achieve little but an unreliable handgun. There is an underlying harmonious symmetry in the Browning designs that cannot be demonstrated mathematically but which certainly exists. As it turns out the Arcus maintains this symmetry well while achieving good performance.

The Arcus was field stripped and lubricated at the range. No surprises, all Browning in the heart and soul. The piece was supplied with two magazines. I was lucky to have on hand several MecGar magazines, which made the going much easier. These are high quality magazines used by many of the leading makers of quality handguns. The thirteen rounders give an adequate reserve of ammunition, although I would not feel naked before my enemies with the still common ten round magazines.

All of this gear was carried in a deluxe range bag from Bagmaster. There is plenty of room for ammunition, a cleaning kit and magazines to compliment the handgun. Ammunition choice was simple. I have a standard procedure that shows the reliability - or lack thereof - of handguns.  I include cast bullet handloads, full metal jacket loads, standard hollowpoints, and finally +P loads in the test program. The less expensive loads are used for the most part to evaluate the handgun’s handling, reliability, and overall acceptability with a wide variety of loadings. I have used National Bullet Company’s 122 grain flat point bullet with excellent results, usually over either HS 7 or HP 38 powder. I stay around 1100 fps or less. This load functions even military handguns, including most Lugers, and is accurate enough for small game.

The first few magazines were anti-climatic. After the expectation of firing a new variant on a favorite handgun, the pistol performed exactly as expected. There were no break-in malfunctions of any sort, the pistol came out of the box running. I hosed down man sized targets at moderate range, getting a feel for the Arcus. The pistol is as fast on target as any High Power, offering the "get on target fast and get a hit" quality we all know and appreciate. After the initial acclimation  I switched to Wolf brand Russian produced ball ammunition. This ammunition is now offered with a new polymer coated case, and I found the ammunition fed and chambered smoothly. This full power 9mm ball ammunition functioned well in the Arcus. There were no malfunctions in firing over 300 rounds of this load. These rounds were expended by my cohorts, with favorable comments.     

I switched to more precise shooting, firing at Shoot N C registering targets at ten to fifteen yards, vying for a center hit. This time, I used the Fiocchi 123 grain Combat loading. Similar to the original truncated cone load popular in Europe with the introduction of the 9mm cartridge, this is the number one full metal jacket load in 9mm Luger, in my book. Accuracy is outstanding, powder burn clean, and the bullet cuts a full caliber hole. The sights of the piece proved well regulated for the six o’clock load. At ten yards, it was no mean feat to place the contents of an entire magazine in the X ring. This load has more recoil than the practice loads, but the piece was controllable. At fifteen yards, off hand, I fired a ten shot three inch group into a Shoot N C. Every indication from all shooters involved showed the pistol demonstrates excellent hit probability.

Next, I moved to standard velocity hollowpoint loads to verify feed reliability. There are several 9mm loads I keep on hand, some proven for accuracy and others for expansion.  I fired a magazine each of the Federal 9B 115 grain JHP, the Speer Gold Dot 124 grain, Federal’s 147 grain JHP, and the Fiocchi 115 grain JHP. I fired these as rapidly as possible while keeping a good sight picture in ten round bursts at ten yards in order to measure the control of the handgun while gauging feed reliability with hollowpoint ammunition.  

Here are the results of my ten shot groups:

Federal 9B  115 grain JHP 2.9 inch group
Federal 147 grain JHP 3.0 inch group
Fiocchi 115 grain JHP 3.25 inch group
Speer Gold Dot 124 grain 3.5 inch group

Moving to the +P loadings, I brought out the heavy hitters. Cor Bon has a well deserved reputation for producing loadings that maximize the caliber. Many of us would not consider a 9mm Luger for defense if we could not deploy a powerful loading from Cor Bon.  I was interested to see how the Arcus would perform with this ammunition. One of my High Powers will demonstrate almost 1,400 fps with the 115 grain Cor Bon load, well above the claimed 1,350 fps, and even my FM Detective breaks 1289 fps. So, my expectations were high. At the same time, experience has shown that some handguns begin to malfunction with +P loads. These loads accelerate slide velocity to the point that the slide’s movement outstrips the ability of the magazine to feed. My fears would prove groundless. I also fired a sampling of the Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P load. This loading demonstrates an ideal balance of expansion and penetration. This is the standard load of the New York City Police Department. Feed reliability was excellent. Either of the +P loads demonstrated greater recoil than the standard velocity loads, but control was not affected. A full size 9mm is controllable with +P loads, and while the recoil and blast of the more powerful loads is noticeable it does not present a control problem.

I field stripped and cleaned the Arcus before progressing further, running a number of patches through a now dirty bore and applying lubricant. The pistol showed no signs of eccentric wear or high spots after firing almost five hundred rounds of ammunition. The National Institute of Justice sets forth a three hundred round reliability criteria for police service handguns, demanding three hundred continuous rounds between cleaning and lubrication. The Arcus had met that criteria.

I expanded the firing test to several other loadings. Frankly, since I had a new 9mm on hand I thought this would be a good opportunity to get the measure of several loadings I had little experience with. The first load was the Cor Bon PowRBall. This is a 100 grain hollowpoint with a polymer ball in the nose. This design guarantees feed reliability in any handgun that will feed ball ammunition. Unlike the old BAT load, the polymer ball does not separate from the hollow nose after it exits the barrel but stays with the bullet on impact. This insures that the ball drives into the bullet, insuring expansion. The projectile is driven at well over 1450 fps. Expansion, as proven by the author in ballistic media, is impressive. Frankly, even in pistols like the Arcus, with good feed reliability, this is a fine load. A magazine full was uneventful.

The next load is the Cor Bon DPX or Deep Penetrating load. In answer to those who demand more penetration from combat cartridges, Cor Bon has introduced a fantastic loading. Using a solid copper Barnes X bullet, this load propels a 115 grain JHP to a true 1265 fps from the Arcus. This is an outstanding load, the single most accurate loading tested and one that exhibits a good balance of expansion and penetration. In ballistic testing, the DPX bullets demonstrated good expansion. This is a good load for those facing threats who may be wearing heavy clothing, or when facing adversaries wise to the use of cover.

Next, I set down to do accuracy testing with the Arcus. The sights are fine for general use but target type sights are really needed for good 25 yard work. Still, the piece turned in encouraging groups. A combination of a decent trigger, a clear sky, and Hansen Eagle Eye shooting glasses made the day. The groups are nothing to be ashamed of on any count. Overall, I am impressed with the Arcus pistol.  I was predisposed to like this pistol because I am a High Power fan, true, but if there had been shortcomings I would have been doubly disappointed! The controls are crisp and positive, the trigger action acceptable, and every round fired in our six hundred fifty round test fed, chambered, fed and ejected normally. The pistol weighs in at 37 ounces, three more ounces than my other High Powers, but it seems the heavy slide dampens recoil to an extent.  I was able to fire this pistol with a greater degree of control in rapid fire than either the FEG or FM variants on hand, and I have quite a bit of time in the High Power. The difference in recoil is not as readily perceived firing the pistol on its own but when compared to the standard High Power in a side by side test, the difference is obvious. Is the Arcus, then, the ultimate High Power?  Time will tell.  The piece has little history at this point but word of mouth and shooter feedback is encouraging.  My personal piece has found a home in my modest battery.

25 yard benchrest groups, Arcus 9mm Luger caliber handgun:

Load Velocity (fps) 25-yard group
Cor Bon 115 grain DPX 1265 2.0 inches
Federal 115 grain JHP 1149 2.5 inches
Fiocchi  123 grain Combat 1190 2.6 inches
Cor Bon 115 grain JHP 1373 3.25 inches
Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P 1235 2.8 inches
Anderson Munitions 147 grain TC 965 1.9 inches
Nosler 115 gr. JHP/HS-7 1255 2.25 inches
Gold Dot 124 gr. JHP/Unique 1102 2.5 inches
NBC 122 gr. FP/  HP-38 1090 3.25 inches

On Holsters

The Arcus is a bit of a stretch for standard High Power holsters. Most is not all of the off the shelf brands will accommodate the High Power.  Strong side holsters from Gould and Goodrich, as an example, accommodated the Arcus but be certain the pistol’s squared trigger guard does not conflict with your choice. This is a good point in favor of patronizing a well stock shop. In custom holsters, the Watch Six from Milt Sparks is well designed inside the waistband holster from the shop offering the original Summer Special. The Watch Six is of thinner leather than many other Milt Sparks products, in order to allow the greatest concealment potential. As such, it accepted the Arcus just fine. After using the Arcus in this holster for a few months, it would probably be a bit oversize for use with a standard High Power. The Watch Six offers excellent fit and finish and while I am not in favor of mismatching fit and handguns, the Arcus seemed to like the Watch Six. This is a first class rig.


From CDNN we ordered a couple of the KRD marked 17 round High Power magazines. I normally load these down just a little, with fifteen rounds.  It is a fact of physics that by downloading slightly we decrease stress as much as ten per cent on the high capacity magazine. I find sixteen rounds, with one in the chamber, an adequate gun load. These magazines have proven reliable and of high quality. The draw bar of the High Power rides close to the magazine and a poor quality magazine will affect the trigger action. When a custom shop such as the Action Works does a High Power trigger action, they will also tune or polish each magazine to the trigger bar. The KRD types worked just fine with the Arcus.

The proper drill in loading a high capacity magazine is to load two or three cartridges then tap the back of the magazine against the boot heel to be certain they seat properly, and continue as the magazine is loaded, finally tapping the bottom of the magazine to fully seat the cartridges. We followed this drill and the magazine worked as advertised. 

I also changed the space age wrap around grips of the Arcus at one point and substituted a set of walnut grips from the parts bin. The look was pleasing to me but I am a minority. Others, including my son, felt the finger groove grips supplied with the pistol were much more pleasing in appearance. To each his own, in the end it does seem I am able to fire the handgun more efficiently with the original grips. But we do have the option of changing the grips and all High Power grips fit the Arcus. This is interesting, as we have discovered we sometimes have to cut out a small section of custom grips to mate to the frame of the FEG pistol.

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


The Arcus is a handsome pistol with many good features.





The Arcus (left) is slightly larger and heavier than the Browning High Power (right), but is light and handy enough. Note the Esmeralda O’Sheehan grips on the Blue FEG High Power.





The safety lever of the Arcus is handy, well placed, positive in operation, and features a positive detent in the slide.





The front trigger guard of the Arcus is squared and serrated in the custom style, offering excellent hold when the pistol is grasped in the two-hand grip.





The trigger of the Arcus is standard Browning fare, but smoother and crisper than most. High Power trigger compression is not often smooth, but this pistol features a smooth trigger.





The slide and the frame of the Arcus (left) is noticeably larger than the High Power (right), giving the pistol a predictable margin of safety.





The Arcus digested every type of hollow point without fail, including the Speer Gold Dot and the Hornady XTP bullet.





Anderson Munitions 9mm 147 grain FMJ-TC load, a Special Match load, did indeed prove the single most accurate load tested.