When you look at the enduring list of FNH connections to U.S. military, law enforcement and sport shooting, it comes as a bit of shock to some that FNH – Fabrique Nationale Herstal – isn’t an American company. The impression of American-ness is reinforced by the 30-year collaboration of iconic designer John Moses Browning with the Belgian firm; after all, Browning passed away while visiting his European partners in 1926, and both his son and grandson carried on Browning work at FN for many more years.
But a state-of-the-art Columbia, South Carolina, plant and some seriously excellent new products may be why FNH is making deserved inroads with American shooters of many new stripes, including us. Our latest foray is with the FNS 9 Compact – a compact carry/concealment version of the FNS 9/9L (reviewed here).
We’ll cut to the chase: We pretty much loved the striker-based, polymer and steel 9L. The ease of slide manipulation for both regular operation and malfunction clearing was a standout. True ambi controls were very well executed, particularly the mag release. The relatively low bore axis combined with grip dimensions, two backstrap choices and texturing to “wow” us as well: Especially for one-handed shooting, no pistol in the class is as controllable in our opinion. A deceptively shootable trigger topped off the 9L package, despite run-of-the-mill measurements. (We hear rumblings of a competition version of the lockwork by the way, and can hardly wait.) Same easy takedown too; delightful!
The point being? We were pre-disposed to think well of the 9C after our time with the 9L, but only the range would tell.
Muzzle length is the most obvious and consequential difference. With the C, this meant dropping 1.4” and 3 ounces compared to the L. The rear of the grip length also drops an inch. Note that’s the rear dimension. Most cut-downs rightly shave the back of the grip and shorten the mag, as these are the parts of a carry pistol most likely to “print” through a cover garment.
Which is a good thing, as far as it goes. The problem comes at the front of the grip, as most everyone hates having no support for the little finger. As a technique issue, Jeff Gonzales of Trident Concepts recommends curling that last finger tightly under the pistol: most of that objectionable floppiness will disappear. Other than this adapted technique, the only other solution is a fourth-finger rest built into the magazine base plate. Often, this is an add-on part, and can trail the introduction of a pistol by frustrating years.
For the FNS 9C, however, this irritation never appears: The two 12-rounders supplied with the 9C come in no other configuration. Longer mags from the full-sized guns also can be cleverly “sleeved,” leaving no gap or dimension change if your state permits the standard 17-rounders (one supplied where permitted, three total mags).
This works together with another slight but important dimensional difference we can’t exactly quantify for you, but can describe: The back of the FNS 9C grip is slightly longer than comparably sized pistols, but gave us a disproportionately more solid feel when shooting the pistol with the short mags. The apparent grip improvement was especially noticeable on rapid follow-up shots. Interesting, too, how this added length and the slight built-in flair of the mag well sped up mag changes: Most carry pistols either slow down your mag swap to calendar-based times or allow you to pinch the @#$& out of the base of your hand. The FNS 9C adroitly avoids both.
As for the rest of our range report, we forewarn that it is dull reading. On target after target, we simply bored a ragged hole; if anything, we shot the 9C even better than the 9L once we factored out the advantage of the L’s longer sight radius. Partially, we think this is due to what felt like a better trigger: again all-but-perfect vertically at the break, but also slightly lighter. We didn’t experience a single malfunction with any ammunition either by manufacturer or projectile type.
The FNS 9C therefore earns its way onto one of our shortest lists: those handguns that “carry like a small pistol, but shoot like a big one.” While pocket carry is probably out, a good holster brings discrete carry decidedly in. Reliable, accurate and pleasant shooting enough that you’ll want to train with it, we’re otherwise out of adjectives.
Oh, wait: How about “ownable?”
Frank Winn is the Guns & Gear editor for NRA American Warrior magazine.