By R.K. Campbell

Call it Fabrique Nationale Herstal, but in America when we see the initials FN we think Browning. Since Browning’s HP 35 was the world’s first high capacity 9mm pistol it seems appropriate that the FNH .45 is a large and heavy high capacity .45 caliber pistol. The Browning High Power combined the 9mm cartridge and a high capacity magazine while the FNH .45 combines the .45 caliber cartridge with a fifteen round magazine. Modern polymer technology makes it possible to produce such a pistol with a manageable size grip frame. Just the same, this is a large pistol that will not find favor with those with small hands. The owner of the test pistol is a big burly man with large strong hands. The owner commented that when he first took the pistol in hand it was the first full size pistol that pointed well, fit his hand fine, and worked equally well in either hand. He can shoot it well and the pistol is a good fit for him. There is a considerable difference between simply firing a pistol on the range and hitting the target and controlling the pistol well in a retention situation. Be certain that the sidearm of your choice is one that fits your hand and that you are in control of. While the FNH .45 features excellent serrations on the polymer grip frame the size of the pistol is a consideration for service use. That being said, the FNH pistol is well made of good material and seems to have many desirable attributes in a service grade pistol.

This handgun uses the locked breech design pioneered by John Moses Browning. The pistol locks up by butting the barrel hood into the ejection port and unlocks via angled camming surfaces on the bottom of the barrel. The pistol is a double action first shot design. A long pull of the trigger both cocks and drops the hammer and subsequent shots are fired with a shorter single action press. The double action trigger is heavy at an estimated sixteen pounds. Our RCBS registering trigger weight gauge was off the scale with this trigger. The single action compression is a relatively tight five pounds with a bit of takeup, little overtravel and no backlash to speak of. The left handed owner of this pistol is particularly enamored of the fully ambidextrous layout. The decocker, the safety, and the magazine release as well as the slide lock are fully ambidextrous. This is welcome not only to the southpaw, but the tactical shooter that wishes to be able to use the piece with either hand will also enjoy greater all around friendliness to the non dominant hand. Only the take down lever isn’t ambidextrous. Take down is simple. Rack the slide to the rear, lock the slide in place, rotate the takedown lever and press the slide off of the frame after the slide lock is released. The magazine spring and spring guide are easily pulled from the bottom of the barrel and the barrel lifts from the slide.

The safety is well designed. The frame mounted safety allows the pistol to be carried cocked and locked, hammer to the rear, ready for a single action shot with a flick of the safety. Without the added safety of the 1911 pistol’s grip safety, many may not find cocked and locked carry attractive. Even if you prefer hammer down carry the cocked and locked option is useful when moving between targets or shooting positions as the safety may be placed on during tactical movement without the necessity of lowering the hammer. The safety is an efficient design that disconnects the trigger bar from the hammer. Pressing the safety down strongly will decock the hammer, allowing the hammer to be lowered safely without touching either the hammer or the trigger. The pistol features a positive firing pin block as well.

Like many modern pistols the FN .45 is delivered with two backstrap inserts. They are easily changed to conform to one hand size or the other. One is more rounded than the other. The flat type seems to make the pistol shooter low for most shooters, so not only hand fit but point of aim to point of impact relationship may be factors in choosing the proper grip strap insert. The pistol features the popular frame rail for mounting a laser or a combat light. The magazine well is a wide mouth design. The steel fifteen-round magazine is tapered at the top making rapid insertion of the magazine smooth given a practiced shooter. The pistol isn’t particularly heavy at about thirty three ounces, light for the size thanks to the polymer frame. This weight goes a long way toward absorbing recoil from the more powerful. .45 ACP loadings. Unlike many pistols, the steel frame rails of the FN design are replaceable. The slide is of stainless steel but our dark finish test pistol is finished in durable matte black Melonite. Most finishes are a compromise. Some resist wear and others resist corrosion. The Melonite finish has proven to excel in both categories. Melonite is a nitride finish that has proven more durable than conventional bluing. The slide features a loaded chamber indicator. The sights are excellent examples of tactical sights. The sight picture is clear and sharp allowing rapid acquisition of the sights. Sight alignment with these sights was easily learned and overall the sights are as suitable for duty as any iron sights on any service handgun tested within the past decade.

The pistol is supplied with not one but two spare magazines, for a total of three magazines. This is a good feature considering that more than a few pistols are delivered with a single magazine. This is a realistic minimum for practical use with one in the pistol, one on the belt as a spare, and one resting. The pistol is also supplied with an economy plastic holster that works just fine for range work. A more durable design should be chosen for service work or concealed carry. There is a trigger lock and owner’s manual in the hard case supplied with the pistol.

Moving to test firing the pistol was first liberally oiled along the long bearing surfaces. Among the loads tested in this firearm were several examples of steel cased ammunition. Representing a need for conservation of increasingly expensive brass the new steel cased cartridges are a good resource for cash strapped shooters. The Hornady Steel Match loads proved accurate, reliable and clean burning. Another load tested was the Hornady Critical Duty 220 grain load. The Steel Match load breaks about 850 fps. The Critical Duty load, designed for a worst case scenario, breaks over 900 fps. The Critical Duty load is an ideal all around police service load. We began at fifteen yards firing at a man sized silhouette with a magazine load of the steel cased cartridges. The trigger was different than the 1911 or the Glock, taking some acclimation. Once the sweet spot in the trigger was found the shooters were able to make one ragged hole with a full magazine. Firing fifteen rounds of .45 with this much comfort and modest recoil is refreshing. Accuracy was good and the slide heavy pistol simply stays on target with a trained shooter applying the correct measure of sight alignment, trigger control and recoil control. The Hornady Critical Duty was tested for accuracy at twenty five yards. Firing from a barricade rest the average group for three five-shot groups – fired with a pause in between – was two and one half inches, although in one case three shots went into one inch. This is an accurate handgun well worth its price. All those who fired the FNH .45 were favorably impressed. Anyone looking for a heavy duty service pistol in .45 caliber will find the combination of accuracy, reliability and fit and finish attractive. The pistol has a good reserve of ammunition and should be up to solving any problem that can be addressed with a handgun.


(703) 288-1292
Caliber: .45 ACP
Action type: Double-action/single-action, center-fire semi-automatic pistol
Frame: Polymer
Slide: Matte-black Melonite-finished stainless steel
Barrel: 4.5 inches
Magazine: 14- or 15-round-capacity detachable box
Sights: Fixed iron sights
Trigger pull: Double-action, 14 lbs.; single-action, 5 lbs.
Overall length: 7.85 inches"
Width: 1.58 inches
Height: 6.33 inches
Weight: 32.4 oz.
Suggested retail price: $795

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (May 2013)
and was posted online on April 12, 2013


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