Boberg XR9-S review and range report

My adventure with the Boberg started in 2010 when I was looking around for a small pocket pistol. There was a bunch in .380 and smaller, but I just didn’t feel that the .380 was enough oomph for a carry gun. There are significant discussions that a 9mm isn’t enough, so a .380, no way.

I looked around and found the Rohrbaugh R9, Kel Tec PF-9… and basically nothing else. This was before the era of the Ruger LC-9, the Beretta Nano, and the Sig p290.

After some searching I found the website of Boberg Arms. They had up a discussion board where the owner of the company was discussing the issues with building a super small 9mm. At the time I did not know it, but apparently in firearms manufactures all over the US the same was being discussed as given by the large number of pocket 9mm guns that have been introduced.

Why a 9mm vs just a .380?

The simple answer here is ballistics vs size. The current generation 9mm guns are small enough for pocket carry. As long as they are accurate enough there is no reason at all to carry a .380.

As a reference I’ll link to the 9mm power chart (also shown later on) vs the .380 ACP power chart. Notice how in pocket pistol barrel lengths (2 inch to about 3.5 inch) the 9mm consistently has more muzzle energy. In fact, the most powerful .380 +P at a 2″ barrel length is just about as powerful as the weakest of the 9mm loads in the same barrel length, while the most powerful +P 9mm load is twice as powerful when measured by muzzle energy.

Why a Boberg vs another pocket 9mm?

The first issue is Barrel Length vs Size. A 9mm barrel must have some length to it in order for the bullet to come out the correct end of the gun, with enough force to do some damage, and without blowing up the gun in the process.

9mm Force vs Barrel Length

Graph from http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com , measured in a T/C Encore

Note that the Sig P290 and Rohrbaugh R-9 has a 2.9 inch barrel and the Beretta Nano has a barrel of 3.07 inches. Contrasting this with full sized guns, a Sig P226 has a 4.4 inch barrel and a Hi-Power has a 4.7 inch barrel.

The problem is that when you make a gun smaller there really is a limit to how long you can make the barrel and still have a pocket sized gun.

Boberg came up with a good (on paper anyways, I have yet to try it as of this writing) solution to this with his design of putting the magazine under the barrel. This allows an extra half an inch or so of barrel giving it a 3.9 inch barrel, which is significantly up the power curve from the competition but also allows it to have the same length as the other guns allowing it to fit into a jeans pocket nicely, whereas the full sized guns just don’t fit.

On paper, this allows the Boberg to achieve a manufacturer calculated 52% increase in power vs a 2.7 inch barrel like the one in the Kimber Solo. This power increase assumes that one uses the +P load in the Boberg gun and does not use it in the Kimber. The Boberg still gains a manufacturer calculated 19% if +P ammo is used in both guns.

Durability vs Size

The Boberg pistol makes some interesting trade-offs in this area. Most of the time small pistols use small parts in order to keep the carry weight down. This leads the gun to weigh a lot less in the hope that one carries it more often. A Kahr P380 weighs in at 13.3 oz with a loaded (but not +1) magazine, while  the Boberg comes in at 1 lb 5.5 oz loaded, or 11.2 oz heavier. The Boberg is 2oz shy of weighing as much as 2 Kahr P380s.  A Rohrbaugh R9 comes in at a respectable 1 lb 0.1 oz loaded, or 5.4 oz lighter then the Boberg.

Why the extra weight?

Arne Boberg make the guess that gun owners would not mind carrying an extra few ounces in order to have the parts last longer.

The Rohrbaugh R9 has the following on page 10 of their instruction manual:

Note: Rohrbaugh Firearms recommends periodic replacement of the recoil spring after each 200 rounds fired. Replacement springs are available from Rohrbaugh Firearms.

A similar, yet different, notice appears on page 27 of Boberg Arms’ manual:

With heavy use, the mainspring can lose force. Normal life is between 2000 and 5000 rounds.

While the mainspring is not the recoil spring, the usual ratio is that the mainspring lasts twice as long as the recoil spring. Even with this ratio it means that the Boberg’s recoil spring only needs to be changed every 1000 rounds, or a 5x improvement over the Rohrbaugh maintenance cycle.

Even more then that, from a posting on Boberg’s support site:

Our recoil springs have a working length which is almost as long as the gun.  Some other brands of pocket pistols cram the spring in that short space under the barrel, with varying results in spring life.

Our recoil springs start out at about 5.5″ and take a set at 4.8- 4.9″. I personally have shot several thousand rounds through one recoil spring and the 4.9″ length remained unchanged.  If someone wears out a recoil spring while under warranty, we will replace it for free (but at that point, the gun may be totally worn out too!).

It seems that if I am able to wear out the spring it can be replaced under the guns (3 year, non-transferable) warranty.

Also of note, the Rohrbaugh manual specifically states that +P ammunition is not to be used, while it is perfectly allowable in the Boberg.

Adding extra weight to a pocket pistol to increase durability is an interesting idea. I guess market forces will tell if the idea is a good one over time.

Now, this looks good on paper but how does it work?

Well, I happen to be doubly-lucky. First I was able to get on the waiting list in 2010, secondly despite the fact that I live in California where this gun is not on the not-unsafe handgun roster I was able to get the gun via a single shot exemption done by the fine folks at Valkyrie Arms in conjunction with some research done by Mr. Arne Boberg himself.

 

The first time I saw the XR9-S it was configured as a 25ACP pistol with an 8 inch barrel. Excuse the photo markup where I removed the serial number. After my 14 day wait, the usual California-imposed 10 days followed by 4 more days because the shop was closed for Christmas, I was able to pick up my 25ACP Boberg then reconfigure it to a more factory like condition.

XR9-S back to factory configuration

XR9-S back to factory configuration

And yes, it does fit in my jeans pockets, although just barely.

I snapped a bunch more photos of the gun before I took it to the range. The gallery is below. Click any image to scroll through them:

Going to the range:

I have made two range trips since I purchased this gun. I bought a few varieties of self defense ammunition and two different kinds of target rounds for the trips.

I used in my testing

  • Fiocchi 9mm 9XTPC 124 grains hollow point
  • Remington Golden Saber 9mm +P 124 grains hollow point
  • Speer Gold Dot 9mm 115 grains hollow point
  • Speer Gold Dot 9mm +P 124 grains hollow point, marked for short barrels
  • Corbon 9mm +P 125 grains hollow point
  • Winchester PDX1 9mm +P 124 grains hollow point
  • Miwall 9mm 115 grains hollow point
  • Winchester 9mm 115 grains “Target” (Winchester White Box, but not from WallMart, yes it is different despite the identical package)
  • Miwall 9mm 125 grains FMJ, bulk ammo can packaging. This is my local “gun show special” ammo.

I set up my targets at 21 feet.

One of the first things I noticed when shooting it was the lack of a slide lock-back on the last shot. While I initially found this annoying I can understand the reasons. This pistol grabs the next round on during the backwards momentum of the slide. If the slide were to lock back on the last round the slide would have to be fully racked in order to load the next round anyways as just closing the slide with a full magazine inside would not be enough motion to strip a round from the magazine and load it. I do miss the different feeling of firing the last round though as I am not always diligent enough to count rounds while shooting.

During my initial cleaning I thoughtlessly applied Slide Glide (heavy) to the rails the same as I do with my Sigs, this turned out to be a bad idea.

On my first range trip, I first shot 50 rounds of Miwall to warm up. On my last magazine with the Miwall ammo encountered a slide lockback issue. What happened is that the slide would get stuck after shooting or while loading the last round in a magazine, and would stay stuck until the gun cooled off a bit, taking a minute or two each time. This issue persisted with all the varieties of ammo I brought so I decided to call it a day and go clean the gun.

I have since researched the issue and it turns out that this is what happens when you lube a pistol with a grease that is too thick. The instruction manual suggests to lube with only CLP so this is completely my error and is in no way a problem with the gun.

The other odd thing that happened was that the white paint fell off my front sight, which is not something I realized could even happen. On this post on the Boberg forums, Arne Boberg offered to pay for shipping both ways to repaint the sight. While this offer is far above and beyond what any other gun company would offer, repainting the sight with fingernail polish was an easy enough task that I did not need to ship it out for repair at the factory.

My second range trip was much better.

In my second range trip I ran 133 rounds of target ammo and 56 rounds (1 magazine of each type) of the self-defense ammo through the pistol. I had one failure to fire (bad primer) on a Winchester White Box round, but that round fired when it was struck the second time.  I had no case separations or malfunctions of any kind during my second range trip.

My impressions is that shooting this is quite a bit snappier then shooting my full-sized Sig, however this is to be expected. Shooting this is much more pleasant then shooting a tiny pocket 380 as the grip is (barely) big enough for me to get a good grip on. I did have issues shooting consistently low and to the left as I was not stabilizing the frame enough with my lower fingers and my trigger finger wound up increasing my overall grip pressure. This is something I expect to be able to resolve with some practice.

I would buy some pinky-grip magazines if they become available from Boberg Arms in the future.

The gun got pretty dirty from my range trip, but considering that I used CLP as a lube it was actually remarkably easy to clean off. It took me about 15 minutes to clean all the grime off.

After my second trip I did notice that the finish (anodizing?) on the front of the frame below the rails seems to be peeling off. I’m not sure if this will cause me issues in the future, so for now I’m just going to keep an eye on it.

Conclusions:

So far this gun has proven to be quite reliable when used lubed as instructed. If I was using a Rohrbaugh I would need to have already changed my recoil spring, so I for one appreciate the tradeoff for some extra weight instead of a short maintenance cycle.

Boberg Arms seems to have some manufacturing issues, albeit probably minor ones. Not only is Boberg Arms is a new company, the entire genre of 9mm pocket pistols is only a few years old. Boberg Arms’ issues are nowhere near as bad as some of the issues that were experienced by early adopters of some of the other pocket 9mm guns *cough* *cough* *Sig P290* *cough* *cough*. Another current issue that is unlikely to affect anyone other then early adopters is that replacement parts are currently not available. Even extra magazines are currently not for sale. I fully expect that this will be fixed soon though.

Due to limited availability and long wait times I predict that this model gun will stay rare for quite some time, however given the merits of this pocket pistol if Boberg Arms can make enough of them they may have a winner in this pistol.

One thought on “Boberg XR9-S review and range report

  1. I was with Oleg this session & tend to agree:this uasuunl pistol is a shooter! One female shooter commented on how well it fit her hand.All commented that felt recoil was noticeably less than with comparable 9mm’s. Loading the magazine & chambering the first round takes some getting used to:cartridges are inserted into the mag bullet-first which looks backward,& the slide must be firmly racked to chamber the first round-I & at least one other shooter had a minor problem with this:nothing that a little instruction & practice did not cure. The DAO trigger is very smooth & even;indeed one of if not the best factory triggers I’ve felt.Tolerances appear quite tight & overall finish is excellent.