Beretta M9A3 on full auto
The other side of the coin
By Dennis Adler
Why is shooting the M9A3 on full auto worth a separate article? Well, the way I see it, switching from semi-auto to full auto is like kicking in the afterburners on a jet or hitting the Nitrous switch on a race car; it’s the ultimate performance. Simply, with the Beretta CO2 model, the select fire control makes the M9A3 capable of doing something most blowback action air pistols can’t. But this isn’t actually as great as I make it sound, and one of the reasons so few pistols offer this feature, either as CO2 models, or in the real world of selective fire handguns. There is, in fact, a very short list of select-fire pistols like the Glock 18 (fully automatic version of the Glock 17), the CZ 75 machine pistol, some rare old H&K VP70Ms (also the first polymer framed semi-autos), and Beretta 93R pistol. The M9A3 and 92A1 CO2 models are the closest BB-firing examples to the 93R. Even more rarified would be the Mauser M712 models from the 1930s, also, as we know, beautifully recreated as a CO2 model today. The issue with select-fire pistols, however, has always been one of accuracy. Full auto is suppressive fire to pin an enemy down, not target shooting. Full auto it is far more effective with a machine pistol at close range. The practicality of automatic fire, originally intended for rifles and machine guns, again was mainly for suppressive (saturation) fire with the intent of hitting a target in the process. At closer ranges, Tommy guns, the German MP40, and various select-fire H&K models, the Uzi, and M16-based carbines for the military and law enforcement, have been much more successful in the field than machine pistols, which also have more limited magazine capacities (the Glock 18 with a small drum magazine being the exception). For airgun enthusiasts, the new M9A3 is the latest select fire pistol, and with its incrementally longer barrel and better sights, it might just be the most accurate full auto CO2 model of the lot.
A better grip, a lighter weight frame, and better sights
If you can add a more sensitive trigger to that list, one can begin to see where the M9A3 could raise the bar for select-fire blowback action CO2 models. The trigger is really important because the way to get the best on target performance from a select fire pistol is to feather the trigger and shoot in bursts, rather than emptying an entire magazine in one extended pull. That’s why Beretta limited the 93R to only three consecutive shots without letting up on the trigger. While the M9A3 hints at that with a similar three dots to indicate auto fire on the selector, the M9A3 does not count shots like the 93R and you can run out all 18 steel BBs in a little over a second!
With a little trigger practice, simply firing off short bursts by lightly letting off the trigger after half a dozen rounds, you begin to get a feel for burst fire. Press, release, and fire again. There are no absolutes here, just getting a feel for the trigger pull to only let the gun fire a short burst. If you hesitate to let off you’ll be close to an empty magazine before you realize it, and accuracy will also begin to fall off. You can get away with a lot more using the big Umarex MP40 subgun, which also holds double the CO2 and better than double the number of BBs. But it’s no pistol!
Combined with the narrower grips and flat mainspring housing, the hold I am using for the auto fire test requires wrapping the support hand index finger around the front of the grooved, flat triggerguard. You can also choke up on the grips a bit and get as solid a hold as possible for burst fire. Some people use this style of triggerguard hold all the time, I prefer a more conventional hold, but the front of the triggerguard isn’t flat and grooved just for looks!
Auto fire at 21 feet
I shot in roughly six to eight round bursts, working mostly by the sound of the gun firing and lifting off the trigger each time, carefully re-aiming at the same area and pressing again, pit…pit…pit…pit…until I felt like I had squeezed off another six. I checked the target to see where the shots were hitting; they were around the punch dot A in the A Zone of the Law Enforcement Targets IPSC cardboard silhouette, but all a little low. I raised my POA and went at it again until the slide locked back. I repeated the entire test aiming a little higher and another 18 rounds went through the gun. The spread for all 36 shots on the silhouette target was under 8-inches with individual groups of six to eight shots clustered at about 2 inches average. That was the wrap for the IPSC target but I wasn’t done yet.
I put up a Shoot-N-C target to run out the rest of the CO2, but to my surprise that was only a few shots before the slide failed to cock the hammer. Everything hit low. I would estimate that when firing in six- to eight-shot bursts, two full magazines (36 shots) is all you are going to get on a CO2 cartridge. With a fresh CO2, I shot a new Shoot-N-C target loading the magazine with 10 rounds. I again fired in bursts of five or six for the first series and then shot until the slide locked open. My 10-shot group on the Shoot-N-C measured 2.43 inches with three paired shots at 3, 6 and 5 o’clock, and almost another pair at 8 o’clock. So, two were hitting almost the same spot before the rapid recoil and my own slight movements sent the next rounds elsewhere on the target.
What was reassuring about the entire full auto test was that the large white dot sights were always very easy to keep on target and that windage was much less of an issue than slight adjustments in elevation for rapid firing. With the aggressive hold I was using around the front of the triggerguard to keep the gun steady, I may also have been pulling it down slightly. Regardless, the spread for two magazines (36 rounds) with the IPSC target was still less than 8 inches all inside the center section of A-Zone, except for one shot that went right in the C-Zone and another that hit on the line.
I’m not at all unhappy with the full auto test results, which are better than I had done a few years back with the 92A1 and better than I have ever done with the M712 at 21 feet. For select fire shooting, with any degree of target accuracy, the M9A3 seems to be the best choice. Is it more fun to shoot than the M712 Broomhandle? The answer to that question, as the old Magic 8 Ball used to say, is “Ask Again Later”.
PS: A little footnote on the M9A3. It turns out the faux suppressor cap is not molded in and is removable, exposing the threaded barrel beneath. Not sure if one of the current faux suppressors will fit, but I will be looking into it.