A Hungarian FÉG PA-63
Fegyver- és Gépgyártó Részvénytársaság is a mouthful, but the PA-63 pistol that came out of this Hungarian factory is a surprisingly manageable and well-made compact pistol that belies its Soviet-era roots.
The first thing that surprises about the PA-63 is its feel in hand. Solid, well-constructed and ergonomically comfortable, the gun feels very much like the Walther PPK that it mimics. I didn’t have a PPK handy to compare it to, but I do have a Beretta 70 that is every bit as well built as its its PPQ doppelganger, and it was actually a bit hard to tell the two apart without looking. Yes, the PA-63 has the giveaway bare aluminum frame and the hinged trigger guard, and the PA-63 has a decidedly heavier trigger (not all that surprising since the Beretta 70 I have is chambered in the lighter .32 ACP caliber). A lot of shooters put a spring kit in this gun that lightens the hammer (and the double action trigger pull), but I figured I would try this gun in its au naturale state.
And yes, it has a heavy trigger. In double action it’s about eleventy gajillion pounds (it was too heavy to register on my 12 pound scale), and in single action it still comes in at a hefty 6 pounds 10 ounces. The upside is that the break is crisp and clean, and the faint (but perceptible) reset comes very quickly. With some practice I was able to get the PA-63 eating pretty quickly out of its 7 round magazine.
The integral front sight and dovetailed rear sight (presumably adjustable for drift) are small, but they worked well and would present a low risk of catching on anything.
The PA-63 has a Beretta 92-style decocker / safety on the back of the slide, with a slight twist. With the Beretta, it’s immediately obvious when you pull the trigger and the safety on, since the trigger will travel through to its stop easily (and without moving the hammer). On the PA-63, doing the same thing will half-cock the hammer before stopping the trigger entirely. The safety lever blocks the hammer from striking the firing pin, so there’s no chance of a discharge … but the movement of the hammer is something of a detriment in a defensive shooting situation. That said, those who like exposed hammer guns with decockers will be pleased with the PA-63, which stands little chance of an accidental discharge when the gun is being decocked properly.
The PA-63 is chambered in the 9mm Makarov round, which looks like an otherwise ordinary 9mm round with a squat little round bullet. Whether the Makarov has superior ballistics to the .38 ACP that it is sometimes compared to (or the 9mm Parabellum, which it is not usually compared to) is out of the scope of discussion here, but several commercial ammunition manufacturers make quality brass-cased ammunition in 9mm Makarov, and I opted for a few boxes of Geco’s 93 grain FMJ round nose for this range trip.
The PA-63 worked reliably and surprisingly accurately, given that this is a light and compact pistol that was never designed for precision shooting. As many other shooters have discovered, the biggest compromise to the gun’s accuracy is the heavy trigger, for which there are several quality spring kits available. I don’t have any plans to re-spring this gun because I don’t imagine this being a regular range gun, but it’s worth mentioning to those that might consider the PA-63 as an inexpensive carry gun (which I would not recommend, for another reason I’ll discuss shortly).
One of my beefs with PPK-derived guns are the sharp corners on the back of the slide. The gentle curves of the slide’s lines are a visual delight, but when the slide is locked back those corners can be deadly. This is of particular concern if the gun ever needs to be carried with the slide locked open in a holster (as some ranges require). The other slide-related problem with this gun is the hidden slide catch, which makes it difficult to manually lock the slide back. The only way I can see to do it is to pull the slide back on an empty magazine; releasing the slide means dropping the magazine (or inserting a loaded magazine), pulling the slide back, and releasing it. The magazine release is located in the spot that would normally be reserved for the slide lock, and I imagine more than a few new PA-63 owners have fiddled with the magazine release wondering how to lock the slide.
All of these slide machinations could be argued to be a training issue, and I believe that he PA-63 can be manipulated safely. It will, however, take practice to develop the muscle memory that most people have already developed for more conventional control layouts.
Another quirk of the PA-63 is its takedown. Like the M-1 Garand, the Ruger Mini-14 and the Smith & Wesson Model of 1913, the PA-63’s trigger guard hinges back, and in doing so it allows the slide to be pulled back enough to lift the back off of the slide rails. That completed, the slide can be moved forward off the barrel, revealing the recoil spring that wraps around the barrel. And as many other PA-63 owners have learned, the correct orientation for the recoil spring is for the large end of the spring to point forward.
Some online sites have claimed that the “51” hallmark stamp just behind the trigger denotes that the gun was made in 1951, but I don’t believe this to be accurate since, according to Wikipedia, the PA-63 went into production in the late 1950’s. My gut tells me that this gun (and the many others like it that were imported in the 1980’s and 1990’s) probably date to the 1960’s or 1970’s, when the 9mm Makarov round was in its heyday and the cold war was alive and well.
With the surfeit of high quality compact pistols on the market, I see the PA-63 as less of a contemporary carry gun and more of a historical curiosity that gives the collector an inexpensive piece of Eastern-bloc technology to toss lead with.