By Chris A. Choat
Boberg Arms is a relatively new firearms company, at least new compared to other handgun companies in the U.S. It was founded in 2009 by Arne Boberg and his wife Melody. Their initial mission was to provide a very compact, concealed carry handgun that still had enough stopping power that users could count on to stop an attacker. There have been other small, so called pocket pistols, but many have had to rely solely on the performance of newer bullet design to get the job done. One positive note that came from this is that ammunition companies have hyper engineered ammunition for .380 ACP and 9mm pistols that allow for increased stopping power from shorter barrels without pushing velocities into that range that might destroy small, lightweight firearms that could be easily carried. Arne Boberg went about things a bit differently. He wanted to design a firearm that still kept the pocket pistol footprint, or pocket print if you will, but still had the ballistics of a full sized handgun. He has done this quite well with his new pistol, the Boberg Arms XR9.
The XR9 is a totally new concept in handguns. First of all, the gun’s ammunition is loaded into its magazine in a different way. Cartridges are inserted into the magazine from the rear and are held in place by feed lips that grip the bullet and the front portion of the brass case. Different still, is that the cartridges are oriented bullet down instead of the normal bullet up position with the nose of the bullet pointing towards the breech end of the barrel. The reason for this is explained later when the pistol’s design is covered. Another difference here is that the magazine has no follower, just a spring inside the magazine body. This allows for a magazine that holds seven rounds but is the same size as other magazines that hold only six rounds. Magazine followers are available from Boberg because in early production magazines, the magazine spring sometimes would pop up out of the mag body. The new production magazines have a different spring design and there is no longer a problem. Boberg Arms people tell me that some customers still order the followers with their new guns just because they like having a follower in their magazines. Followers were sent with the gun so one magazine was used with a follower and one was used without. The magazines are stainless steel with black Zytel floor plates.
The XR9 handgun is a double action only, 9mm magazine fed, hammer fired pistol with a 7 + 1 round capacity. The gun’s frame is made from 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum and its slide is high-strength stainless steel. It is available in a short version (XR9-S) with a 3.35 inch barrel or a longer version (XR9-L) which has a 5.95 inch barrel. The “L” model also features a small single lug rail machined into its dust cover in front of the trigger guard. The small rail is just the right size for one of the super small lasers that are now on the market. Both models come in three finishes; the Onyx, the Platinum and the Two-Tone. The Onyx is a matte black that Boberg calls their Ion Bond DiamondBLACK finish. The Platinum Edition has a proprietary Nickel Chrome Satin Sheen finish that looks like a standard stainless steel finish and finally the Two-Tone edition has a black hardcoat-anodized aluminum finished frame with a satin-finished natural stainless steel slide. All models come with two magazines in a hard foam-padded carry case.
The XR9 has a rotating-barrel locked breech so it doesn’t have to rely on a lug on the end of the barrel or any kind of a barrel link locking system. This allows for a shorter pistol with a longer barrel that translates into increased velocities. The gun is rated for 9mm+P ammunition. It weighs just over 1 pound with an unloaded magazine. It features low-profile 3-dots sights that are dovetailed into the slide and locked into place by setscrews. A set of tritium 3-dot sights are also available as an accessory. The guns’ grip panels are made from a super tough black Zytel polymer. Grips in other colors are also available as well as matching color magazine floor plates.
Although rotating barrel locked breech handguns are not a new design, the new Boberg XR9 is a design like no other. In other magazine fed pistols, the magazine sits in the grip with the cartridges oriented so that they come up out of the magazine directly behind the rear of the barrel and the slide simply pushes them out of the magazine straight into the breech. In the XR9 the cartridges are still fed up through the grip but are oriented so that they come up directly under the breech. As the slide is pulled back the round is pulled out of the magazine, from the rear, by twin tongs that grip and lift it up to align directly with the chamber. As the slide is then pushed forward by the recoil spring the round is pushed straight forward into the breech ready to be fired. This design eliminates the need for a feed ramp which again makes for a much shorter pistol while keeping the barrel length of a mid-sized compact pistol. With this design the cartridge is controlled from the time it is withdrawn from the magazine until the empty is ejected. The company advertises their XR9 as the “World’s Smallest, Most Powerful 9mm Pistol” and we received one of their “S” models and put it to the test.
The pistol received from Boberg Arms for testing was their Two-Tone model. The first thing that you notice about the small pistol is not only the very small size but the quality that has gone into the machining and fitting of the gun. Every part of the gun fits well and functions smoothly; except the magazine. With an empty magazine locked into the gun it can be moved up and down about the thickness of a dime. It also rattles when you shake the gun. That being said, when a loaded mag is locked into the gun the top round is slightly compressed and all the rattle and movement of the mag disappears. As stated before the gun is double action only and as such has no manual safety, relying on the trigger pull to cock the hammer and thus fire the gun. The gun also has what Boberg Arms calls a Passive Firing Pin safety. This is basically a firing pin block that is only released when the trigger is pulled fully to the rear.
With no external safety levers the gun is very flat and snag free. The only controls that are on the side of the gun are the takedown lever and the magazine release, both of which are recessed into the frame. The XR9s slide features angled, machine cut cocking grooves at the rear that are nice and sharp and allow for a good grip when racking it. As stated earlier, the gun is hammer fired but even the hammer fits flush and does not protrude from the rear of the slide until the trigger is pulled. The magazine release is a small serrated button that sits in the normal place just to the rear of the trigger. The magazine release is offered in either a right hand or left hand version. If you have a right hand magazine release and want to change it to a left hand mag release you need to order the left hand version as the installed release cannot be moved from one side to the other. While on the subject of the magazine, another nice feature is that the gun can still be fired with the magazine removed.
The gun was taken to the range with a wide variety of 9mm ammunition. The ammunition selection ranged from 115 grain full metal jacket to 147 grain hollow points. Several bullet styles were used and the power range of the ammunition went from low velocity target ammo to +P defense ammo. Loading the magazines for the first time was somewhat different. At first I had a hard time convincing myself to load the mags from the rear. It just went against everything I was used to, putting ammo into the magazines bullet first. After a few practice runs my brain and my hands finally connected and everything went fine.
Test firing was done at ranges from 5 yards to 15 yards. It’s not that the gun doesn’t have the accuracy to shoot farther because it most certainly does; it’s just that 5 to 15 yards seems to be the distances that the gun would be practically used. The excellent sights on the XR9-S will definitely put bullets on target even at extended ranges as long as the shooter does his or her part.
The trigger pull on the XR9-S is adjustable by interchanging the gun’s mainspring (trigger/hammer spring). There are three different springs available for the gun 6 lb., 7.5 lb. and a 9 lb. which basically tells the trigger pull weight. The gun comes equipped from the factory with the 7.5 mid-weight spring. Boberg also supplied the author with a 6 lb. spring. The manual states that the 9 lb. spring might be needed if military grade or ammo with extremely hard primers is used. The trigger pull on the test gun broke at an average of 7.6 lbs. measured with a Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge. The first shooting tests were done with this spring in place. The spring was then replaced with their 6 lb. spring. This spring dropped the trigger pull to a 10-shot average of 5.8 lbs. This was a very noticeable difference and although the XR9-S has an amazingly smooth and consistent trigger, all shooters agreed that the 6 lb. trigger spring was the one to use. Group size shrank dramatically as well. No failures or light primer hits happened with either spring. Boberg also offers a short stroke trigger kit that can be user installed. This short stroke trigger has an effective draw and reset of only .28 inches as compared to the standard trigger that has a .38 inch draw. Although this trigger allows for a shorter trigger pull with a faster reset it also makes for a heavier pull.
The XR9-S is a pure pleasure to shoot. The double action only trigger is glass smooth and every shooter that tried the gun shot well with it. The gun has a very small recoil spring and guide rod because the rotating barrel/locked breech design just doesn’t require a heavy spring to control the slide. One very big advantage of this is that the gun’s slide is very easy to cycle. The female testers that shot the gun had no problem cycling the slide to load the gun. This can sometimes be an issue for women that try to use pocket pistols that have heavy recoil spring. We tested this feature alongside a Kimber Solo. Some of the female shooters couldn’t even pull the slide all the way to the rear on the Kimber but they had no trouble at all with the Boberg.
As long as you feed the gun good quality ammunition it runs with any style bullet. We shot it with full metal jacket ammunition as well as some ammunition that had extremely large hollow points. It ran with everything. There is a caution notice that is included with the pistol that says to not use Federal Champion, Blazer Brass, aluminum cased or other “Wal-Mart special” types of ammunition as these types do not have crimped in bullets. The reasoning here is that because the magazine grips the bullet as well as the front 1/3rd of the case and a non-crimped-in bullet can actually be pulled slightly forward out of the case and cause a jam. We actually did have this happen a couple of times using reloaded 9mm that apparently did not have the bullets crimped in. The bullet was pulled forward just enough to cause a failure to feed when it was chambered. We stopped using the reloads and this issue went away.
Group size at 10 yards ran from 3 to 4 inches with novice DAO pistol shooters to just under 1.5 inches with veteran shooters. Women shooters found that the gun had a very soft recoil and was completely manageable even when using +P ammunition. Most all shooters commented on the very smooth trigger pull and some even said it felt like it was riding on ball bearings. Over 500 rounds of different 9mm ammunition was shot through the test gun with zero problems as long as good quality ammunition was used.
The diminutive size of the Boberg XR9-S lends itself well to being carried. There are now several holsters being made for the Boberg in Kydex as well as leather. In this authors opinion, one of the best is the Minimal Clip from Side Guard Holsters LLC. This holster is an IWB (Inside the Waist Band) holster made from very thin leather. It features a spring clip that grips just about any surface making it ideal for carrying in purses or pants without a belt. It also is made taller on the side that goes against the body so that it does abrade clothing or your skin. It is available in either right or left hand and comes in black, brown and natural leather color. It can be ordered with any cant from zero to 20 degrees to suit the individual shooters style. During our test the pistol was carried in the holster for several days at a time. The holster is very comfortable to wear and holds the pistol firmly eliminating the possibility of the gun coming out at the wrong time. This top quality holster is a bargain with a retail price of just $40 and best of all its made right here in the U.S.
Probably the only criticism that this author can find with the gun is the price. The least expensive model is the standard or “Two-Tone” gun that retails for $995. But remember this gun is a full inch shorter than any of its closest competitors and it holds one more cartridge, not to mention you have a pocket gun with ballistics on par with larger guns such as the Glock 26. Yes, there are less expensive pocket 9mm pistols out there but I don’t think that there are any that are as well built as the XR9. Remember the old adage “you get what you pay for.”
Boberg Arms Corporation
1755 Commerce Court
White Bear Lake, MN 55110
Phone: (651) 287-0617
Side Guard Holsters, LLC in Minnesota
Phone: (651) 263-1434
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