As I have a limited budget, I'm always on the lookout for an inexpensive firearm to fill the requirements of a CCW gun. While at a local gun show recently, I came across a Bersa Thunder 9, and decided to give it a closer look. The particular model I came across was the Thunder 9 Ultra Compact Pro priced at $400.
In spite of its "Ultra Compact" name, this gun is not a pocket gun. At 6.5 inches in length and 4.75 inches tall, weighing in at 23 ounces empty, it is significantly bigger and heavier than guns such as the Kimber Solo or my own Kahr CM9. And with it's double stack magazine configuration, it is also wider than some. It's about comparable in size to a Springfield XD9 compact, although not quite as bulky and a bit lighter.
This one features a blued steel barrel and slide, over a nickel tone alloy frame. I'm told the blued over nickel configuration is an exclusive to guns sold by Academy Sports, but I got mine from a local gun dealer at the show.
The action is double/single action, with a frame mounted docking lever. Lefties will note that both the slide release and the de-cocking lever are fully ambidextrous. And before any of the purists out there call for my lynching, yes, Bersa calls it a slide release, not a slide stop. According to Bersa, it is perfectly OK to use the lever to release the slide on this gun. And speaking of the slide release and de-cocking lever, I really like their placement. Both are easily accessible with your thumb, while maintaining a natural grip on the gun.
The sights are typical 3 dot sights. They are steel Sig type, both mounted in dovetail cutouts in the smoothly rounded top of the frame.
The gun has an external extractor, and there is a loaded chamber indicator at the top rear of the ejection port, which sticks up when a round is chambered.
The magazines are typical double stack configuration, with a 13+1 capacity. And although the magazine release is mounted on the left side, the gun is designed so that it can be switched to either side in seconds, using a small screwdriver. The magazines slide easily into the gun, with only a slight resistance from the magazine lock. Once inserted, the magazine locks firmly into place with a positive snap. When released, the magazines drop out quickly. In fact, watch those toes when ejecting a magazine. They positively shoot out of the gun. I don't ever expect to have to do a combat reload, but I hate guns that make you pull the magazine out, like my Kahr CM9.
The grips are a one piece molded polymer unit which wrap around the frame from the rear. The polymer grips are stippled in a diamond pattern on the sides and the back strap. The stippling is deep enough to provide a slip proof grip, yet not so deep as to be abrasive, as with some guns I've seen. The front of the grip is alloy, with finger contours. You'll note that the frame provides a 2 1/2 fingers, with the 3rd finger completed by a magazine extension. Deep V grooves are cut vertically into the front of the grip, providing a very secure, yet comfortable grip.
This is a good time to mention that the first thing you notice when you pick the gun up is how comfortable the grips are. This is one of the most comfortable guns I've ever held. I don't have large hands, so many double stack frames feel bulky to me. Not so with this one. In fact, the first thing my son said when I showed him the gun was "Wow, I really like that grip". It just feels good in your hand. And it's equally comfortable to shoot. More on that in a bit.
The slide action is very smooth, right out of the box. This is primarily due to the full length guide rails on both frame and slide, which I really like. The fit is good, but not great. There is a small amount of play between the slide and the frame. About what you expect on a production gun.
The double action trigger pull is long and heavier than some will like, coming in at around 10 pounds. But then I prefer that in a defensive gun. Short, light trigger pulls are an invitation to an accidental discharge. But although long, the pull is extremely smooth, with no stacking or stepping. It is glass smooth, right up to the point where it breaks.
The single action trigger pull is about as good as it gets on a production gun. I measured mine at 4 1/2 pounds, with a crisp break. There is a slight creep, but you have to be looking for it to feel it.
Breakdown on the gun is ridiculously simple. Rotate the take down lever down 90 degrees, and the slide comes off. No lining up notches. No sticking your finger in the action to move levers. No pulling the trigger. And no pins, levers or other loose pieces to get lost. Just flip the lever and it comes apart.
The first thing you notice is the unusual recoil spring setup. It has two full length springs, one inside the other. The springs are coiled in opposite directions, allowing them to move smoothly over each other, with no chance of binding, and the guide rod is solid steel.
As to the barrel, I already mentioned the polygonal rifling. The feed ramp is integral to the barrel. There is a hood over the breech, which I like. This aids feeding, particularly when using blunt or hollow point ammo. I noticed right away that the breach is sharp, and full. Nothing cut away. There is only the slightest hint of beveling at the base of the breach where the feed ramp joins it. This means that the loaded cartridge gets full, all round support, which would make the gun very blowout resistant when using hot ammo. But logic would dictate that the sharp, restricted breach opening would hamper feeding. It obviously doesn't, as I talk to shortly.
The locking mechanism uses a typical wedge cam design underneath the breach, which engages a steel insert in the alloy frame.
And with that, we move on to the first range trip. After the mandatory tear down, cleaning and oiling of course.
I started out with a box of Federal Champion ammo, in 115gr FMJ. It went through the first magazine without a hiccup. It then finished off the box of 50 the same way. 100% function. It just gobbled them up and spit them out.
I mentioned the comfortable grip, well it really became apparent when shooting. It's as comfortable as any 9mm I've ever fired. No compact 9mm gives what I'd call soft recoil, but this one is very easy on the hands. No discomfort whatsoever.
As to accuracy, let me note that I am not a bad shot, but I'm a long way from championship material. So my expectation level is not high. Firing offhand at 7 yards, I put the first magazine load inside a 6 inch circle. Not bad for me with a brand new, short barreled gun. Certainly good enough for defensive purposes.
Next I tried a box of Winchester white box, again in 115gr FMJ. If there is any ammo that is known for giving some guns heartburn, this is it. But like before, it ate them up without complaint, 100% functional. Accuracy was about the same as before, although I noticed accuracy was improving a bit toward the end. I suspect that's a combination of the gun starting to break in, and me getting used to shooting it.
Next came a box of the cheap Remington hollow points. The ones I call flash bulbs, because of the huge muzzle flash they produce, especially in short barreled guns. These rounds are also notorious for causing feed problems in various guns. But once again, I shot the whole box without a hint of a problem. Accuracy dropped off with these. I struggled to keep the shots inside an 8 inch circle. I don't know if that's due to the ammo itself, or just my being distracted by that dazzling muzzle flash.
Finally, I finished the first range session off with a box of Federal Classic Hi-Shoks. This is my preferred defensive round I use in my carry guns. Now I'm not about to launch into yet another endless debate over what is or isn't the best ammo. It's just been my experience that "Old Reliable" works better in short barreled guns then some of the more modern hi-tech designs. I'm quite certain more than a few would disagree, loudly. Oh, and did I mention that Hi-Shoks are very inexpensive? Which lets me practice with my carry load without going bankrupt. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that not only did the Bersa shoot the Hi-Shoks without fail, it likes them. Accuracy improved significantly, easily keeping everything inside a 4 inch circle. If I took my time and set up a good sight picture, I could shoot 2 inch patterns. It'll do.
Before closing, I should mention the safety features on this gun. It has a typical firing pin safety, which is deactivated when the trigger is fully pulled. When at rest, the hammer sits about 1/4 inch back from the firing pin head, and is physically blocked from moving forward. Like the firing pin safety, the hammer block disengages when the trigger is fully pulled. With a round in the chamber, you could drop this gun directly onto the hammer, hard, and it wouldn't go off. Also, the de-cocking lever acts as a manual safety. When in the up (safe) position, the slide and hammer are locked, and the trigger is disconnected. And finally, it has a built in manual trigger lock, which is located just above the trigger, below the take down lever. It is locked and unlocked with a special key which is supplied with the gun.
As of this writing, I have now passed the 500 round mark, without a single failure of an kind. 100% reliability is a must for a CCW gun, and so far this one gets passing marks. If you read some of the comments made by Bersa owners online, you will find that most agree the Thunder 9 Ultra Compact model is the best of the Bersa line. Bersa found the sweet spot with this one. I just hope they stick with a good thing, and don't muck it up with numerous "improvements", as engineers are prone to do.
All in all, this is a whole lot of gun, for not a lot of money.