Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal, more commonly known as FN, is kind of a big deal. Like a lot of our readers (at least those of us who have sadly bid farewell to being asked for ID at the liquor store even though it’s supposed to be everyone who looks under 30 and come on, I could be 29, right?) the first FN product anyone at Calibre Magazine ever fired was our country’s former service rifle, the mighty FAL, known for decades as the Right Arm of the Free World. The next FN product? The Canadian service pistol, the Browning Hi-Power, . Yes, FN and Canada go together like June snowstorms and swearing, and prohibiting the FAL can’t change that. You hear us, Ottawa? FN FNS-9
We’ll pause here for a moment of silence out of respect for the prohibition and, consequently, effective loss of the FAL to our countrymen.
Tears dried? Stiff drink poured? Okay, let’s mourn the loss of the FAL by doing something positive: let’s celebrate the living. FN Herstal, of course, didn’t go anywhere. They kept right on building some of the most legendary arms in the world. Not only did the FAL and Hi-Power remain in production, but FN’s significance in the military arms trade is truly remarkable. The M249 and M240B light and medium machineguns, not to mention the M2 .50BMG machinegun for when you actually need to erase the fabric of reality itself, are all FN products. The Euro-exotica P90 and the American M16 service rifle, both built by FN. In many cases they compete with other manufacturers who build the same guns under license, so we’re not claiming they’re the sole source of every single gun they make, but no matter how you slice it there is no way to conclude that the Belgian powerhouse is anything but a world-class manufacturer of firearms.
Given FN’s standing in the world of military arms, one question dogs the inquisitive mind: why don’t we see more FN pistols? Leaving aside the classic Hi-Power, and the hen’s-tooth Five-seveN, why haven’t they made more of a dent in the market?
Frankly, it’s probably more of a timing issue than anything. It’s often the case that the first product to market owns the lion’s share of it; at the very least, it becomes the standard to which all other products are challengers. A certain Austrian company got in while the getting was good, and everyone else is playing catch-up against a gun that dominates the market with 80% of law enforcement sales; there’s no way around it. And if you have a multi-decade head start with a popular product, it’s a tough fight to get your product out. The aftermarket support isn’t built in; accessories aren’t as readily available. You’ll fight for every inch of market share.
But what if that just means you have to build a better mousetrap?
And so we come to the FNS-9, built with a four inch barrel for most markets but specially equipped for the Canadian market with the all-important extra quarter inch without which we’d all be dead by now. First of all, we’d like to say that at Calibre, when any firearms manufacturer makes a special run of guns to make it into Canada, we find a place in our hearts for them. When a major military supplier like FN does it, it’s almost more impressive, because let’s face it: FN could ignore the civilian market in Canada and still get fabulously rich off the M249 alone. They’re supporting the Canadian market because they want to. We know, because we sat down with them and talked about it. So we’re starting this review with warm fuzzies.
And this review will be perhaps shorter than we’d like, because the real excitement is yet to come, as we subject the FNS-9 to a long-term test of thousands of rounds. In that testing, we hope to illuminate some of the features in detail, so for the moment, let us simply say that the FNS-9 is a classic striker-fired, polymer framed service pistol that stacks up well against anything we’ve seen. The trigger is better than its competitors; the travel is slightly longer than a Glock’s, but the break is noticeably crisper and it has much less of the creep before the break that many users of striker-fired pistols have grown to accept. The factory sights are good enough to keep unless you have a serious need for something particular; they’re three-dot sights with a large front dot and what’s effectively a U-notch on the rear. That rear sight alone is enough to make us think they consulted real shooters for this build. In combination with the trigger, which not only features an excellent break but is physically a well-built part, being a two piece affair that’s polymer but built to be more rigid and less “flexy” than most of the striker-fired guns we’ve seen, and which presents a smooth, curved profile to the shooter, the FNS-9 is truly a shooter’s service pistol.
The frame is generously checkered with sharply cut pyramids, giving a texture comparable to the Generation 4 Glocks. The front strap has a horizontal serration treatment that we find quite smart; as old 1911 aficionados we’ve seen every front strap treatment known to man, and also endured every form of checkering and experienced all the pitfalls of different types of grips in this area. One thing we’ve noticed: most people do not benefit from overly aggressive front straps. We’ve seen hands torn up harshly by 20 LPI checkering, for example, and in high-volume applications even polymer frames can wear down the fingers of a lot of users. A service pistol needs to be a gun with broad appeal and the grip on the FNS-9 puts the heavy traction where you need it, and takes mercy on the user where possible.
The grip is adjustable, which has become de rigeur for pistols in this segment,and offers enough of a variation that anyone without truly exotic requirements should be accommodated easily. Partly on account of our extensive collection of flat mainspring housing’d 1911s, we switched to the flat backstrap fairly early on into the testing, in spite of the fact that we have size XXL hands. The switch is easy enough: there is a tiny hole in the grip which gives access to a small plastic latch which prevents the backstrap from sliding off. Depress the latch with a 1/16 punch or a finishing nail, and you can slide it down and off the pistol.
The magazine release and slide stop are both ambidextrous, which, in combination with the different grip panels, allows the user to vary technique to match different shooters to the gun. The trigger guard is relatively slim, and intrudes less into the grip than some of its competitors so if you’re used to either relieving trigger guards or putting up with calluses on the first knuckle of your middle finger, you can leave that behind. Partly as a result of the thinner material, there’s a large amount of space in the trigger guard, making it a good option for people who need to wear gloves, or people who have banana fingers. At the same time, the trigger has been shaped to take up almost the entire rear of the trigger guard area, so there’s no issues if you don’t have a bunch of kielbasas growing out of your hand instead of human fingers. Ergonomically, this pistol works.
The slide is nicely machined, with forward and rear cocking serrations and perfectly executed chamfers across the board. We realize this is essentially an aesthetic comment, but at the same time, it shows a high degree of attention to detail that we can’t help but like. It’s easy to look at this pistol and see where the money is going. Gripping the pistol and drawing the slide back, it clears the user’s hand by a good margin even if an exceptionally high grip is taken, the web of the hand being protected by a generous beavertail.
The magazines are, sadly, internally regulated to ten rounds. We know this is a legal requirement. It still makes us sad. They have metal bodies and large baseplates and they work and we can’t find anything about them that causes us concern.
The light rail on the dust cover is picatinny-spaced and so far appears to work well with the Surefire X300 we had handy, although we have yet to fire it in this configuration.
As we’ve said, the real test is yet to come as we pour lead through the FNS-9. Speaking of which we’re open to being sponsored for ammo costs because we think this is going to get ugly, so please, if you’re an ammo manufacturer or importer, feel free to drop us a line. But at this stage, having spent a few weeks and a few hundred rounds with this pistol, we have a very short list of complaints (so far it consists of “holster availability limited”) and a very long list of praise. For the moment, however, we feel our initial warm fuzzies were not unwarranted.
But warm fuzzies are not data. Our goal is to bring data to the table, and as such, this article is only the beginning.
For the next year, Calibre will feed the FNS-9 thousands of rounds. The first 2000 will be conducted without cleaning or additional lubrication, in the spirit of the late Todd Louis Green, a shooter whose life’s work was to introduce objective, quantitative data to pistol testing. The rounds will be logged in Calibre, along with their manufacturer, and any malfunctions or breakages. It will be tested with pistol mounted lights from Streamlight, Surefire and Inforce. It will be run hot, cold, wet, dry, good, bad, and ugly. Every round will be on the clock and nothing will be omitted.
The process to date has been as follows: the FNS-9 was removed from the case, and, in a fit of excitement, fed 50 Blazer Brass and 50 Blazer aluminum with only the initial storage lubricants in place. No malfunctions were noted. Cooler heads prevailed and the pistol was field stripped and a simple mineral oil was liberally applied to all recommended locations, after which the pistol was returned to service.
As of this writing, the FNS-9 in our armoury has seen 478 rounds: 100 Blazer aluminum, 100 Blazer brass, 150 Winchester white box, and 128 reloads. It has been used mostly for drills, but also in competition as the editor’s sidearm in the CQB Service Rifle league. There have been no malfunctions.
The pistol was field stripped for photos but it was not cleaned and no lubricants were added. It will be shot for a minimum of 1522 more rounds before it is lubed again. No, this is not a good way to treat a pistol, but our early experiences have been so positive that we feel the FNS-9 needs to get subjected to some of the same abuse that its competition have famously endured, because right now, we think this pistol is one of the best-kept secrets on the market.
And did we mention the 4.25” Canadian edition is retailing for $700…and we’ve seen the Long Slide .40 for half that?
Stay tuned. This is the beginning of a long road, and one about which we’re very excited: Calibre Magazine’s first long-term endurance testing of a firearm.