Not everyone can afford a high-end carry pistol, like some of the nicer Kimbers for example, or true custom handguns like the excellent ones available from Wilson Combat. While they are nice to have and shoot, they are not mandatory for adequate personal or home defense.
Some of the most worrisome times of my life have been while awaiting luggage on the baggage carrousel after having checked it in at departure. Those of you wishing to carry a firearm concealed in reciprocity states have felt the same thing. While I don’t want to risk my prized Kimber pistol to TSA officials or baggage handlers, I would risk a much less expensive pistol like the M70A 9mm from Century International Arms (www.centuryarms.com ).
Priced at under $300, the M70A 9mm and its sister M57 in 7.62mmx25 are updated versions of the Soviet Tokarev TT-33, made by the Serbian company Zastava. The updates elevate the Tokarev from a “curio” type plinking handgun to a serious 21st century defensive piece.
The M70A is a solid, all steel pistol with a nice matte blue finish. Never having held or fired a Tokarev, I was pleasantly surprised by the feel of the M70A in my hand. It is compact in terms of its slide width and grip diameter, which houses a single stack nine round capacity blued steel magazine. Fully loaded weight is a very reasonable 2.2 lbs. Barrel length is 4.5 inches. Sights are fixed and prominent plain black-with a “U” notch rear.
Century International made three major improvements to the original Tokarev design. First, they made it available in both the original 7.62x25mm cartridge and 9mm Luger. Second, Century added a slide mounted safety to the original Tokarev single action pistol design. This safety now allows one to safely carry the Tokarev design in a cocked and locked mode. However, unlike the 1911, the M70A safety operates in the direction of the Beretta 92 (i.e. “down” is safe and “up” is fire). The positions are clearly marked with a large “F” and “S.” There is no de-cocking feature, but the external hammer is prominent enough and is grooved for positive access and control. The third update is that grooves on the slide have also been updated to the American pattern, and provide a good grasping surface.
The grips are grooved black plastic, and the Zastava emblem rests in their center rather than the Soviet star. Two magazines are included. There is a magazine disconnect safety that prevents the gun from firing unless the magazine is inserted. The pistol can be charged and cleared with the safety on.
The trigger had a short amount of military take-up, and was reasonably crisp on release, requiring about 6 pounds of pressure to drop the hammer.
I test fired the M70A using four different loads; military style 124-grain FMJ of unknown manufacture, Pierce™ Performance 124-grain FMJ (www.piercemunitions.com ), Speer Gold Dot™ 124-grain +P JHP (www.speer-ammo.com ), and the new Hornady Critical Defense™ 115-grain FTX® JHP load (www.hornady.com ). Shooting the M70A revealed one surprise: it is perhaps the easiest shooting 9mm pistol I have ever fired, no matter which round I used. There was only one jam, and that was an empty case stovepipe in the very first magazine shooting the Hornady Critical Defense loads. Thereafter, there was no cycling issue. The tightest group I fired two-handed standing at 21 feet was with the Pierce FMJ loads-6 rounds in one hole. The M70A shot about one inch low, which is not a huge deal at combat distances, and can be rectified with Kentucky elevation or by filing down the front sight a bit.
The only holster I had on hand to use while firing the M70A was an ancient Uncle Mikes universal belt slide. Surprisingly there are new CCW holsters available for Tokarev’s and their derivatives. Two sources I found were Falco holsters (www.falcoholsters.com), and a style I really liked, the Gotov Kydex™ holster, available at Strike Hard Gear (www.strikehardgear.com).
If you are looking for a reliable and inexpensive CCW or home defense pistol, or if you are an undercover officer looking for a non-cop type of gun that won’t give you away, consider the proven military design found in the Century International Arms M70A, I think you will be happy with the choice. I know I am, and will be adding the M70A to my off-duty armory.