Boberg Arms and their XR9-S aren’t household names yet. Those who know the name will understand how complex this pistol is. For those of you who don’t yet know about it, the Boberg XR9-S (and a similar .45 ACP version) are attempting to chart a new course for automatic pistols. The Boberg design moves the grip and trigger forward on the gun, which makes it faster on target as it easier to control. This design also presents loading nightmares. The end result is the fastest and most accurate pistol I’ve ever fired. And the most problematic.
When I say it is fast, I’m not exaggerating. The problematic piece is harder to explain. The early reviews of the XR9-S have been dominated by polarized opinion. Few try to embody both opinions. The Boberg is persnickety, perhaps. Picky. It is certainly a picky eater. It is one of the best shooting pistols I’ve ever fired. It also has the potential to rip rounds in half, and shower unburnt powder all over you. The Boberg may be the most idiosyncratic gun I’ve ever seen. Yet if you get the perfect ammo in the gun, it is outstanding.
Boberg doesn’t shy away from this dichotomy. They understand that the gun is great, and that it can have feeding issues. In the media kit they sent with the XR9-S, there were some very specific instructions. The most surprising was a list of known ammo incompatibilities. There were 23 specific ammunition types (brand, bullet shape, and grain weight) on the list. Failures ranged from case separations to failures to feed to hard primers. Some of these incompatibilities even included failure occurrence rates.
This wasn’t the first impression I wanted, for sure. When this many ammunition types don’t work, it isn’t the ammunition’s fault. Brands from Hornady and Winchester, to Black Hills and MagTech. Yet then it struck me that actually owning these issues, by presenting them upfront, just may be a genuine corporate conscience. Honest and transparent act of corporate goodwill. Think about the crap we have to deal with from some of these companies. Some of America’s largest brands will pretend their guns are solid gold, and will distribute lemons, just to stay on schedule. Not Boberg. They’re handling this incredibly well.
But you have to accept this, early, in order to appreciate the XR9-S. Behind the list of incompatible rounds is a list of 60 that are known to work reliably, including great personal defense rounds from companies like Hornady, Winchester, Black Hills and MagTech.
Boberg understands this gun, clearly. They even include instruction for the application of anti-seize on the unlock block. This is another one of those features that’s unique to the Boberg design. Without the appropriate (and sparing) application of anti-seize during regular cleaning (or whenever it wears away), the gun will be even more prone to feeding and extracting issues.
What does all of this mean, exactly? I’d take a look inside. Are you a fire-and forget sort of person, or are you detail oriented and prone to fine tune machines? I can think of a lot of things that require constant maintenance in order to function. I control the humidity level on my guitars meticulously so the tops and sides don’t expand or shrink. I take care of my old truck because it takes care of me. I’ve managed to stay married for 14 years–something that I consider a bit of a miracle–by fine tuning the relationship and taking the time to work through all of the metaphorical jams, failures, and separations.
The XR9-S is no different. If you pay close attention, this gun should be great. If you want a pistol that you can buy, load, and carry without too much thought–this is not your gun. Keep walking.
Just a warning–this review is going to walk this line until the conclusion. It may get long. We’re going to ask some complicated questions and go way beyond the does-it-hit-what-you’re-aiming-at sort of basics.
I believe that all criticism, in order to be constructive, should begin with what’s working right. The Boberg is an incredibly accurate pistol. It is a joy to shoot. Groups are uncommonly tight. The gun shoots reliably to point of aim. Recoil is mitigated by the forward position of the grip, and this makes target acquisition between shots faster. And the Boberg does all of this while also defining a sense of style. When the guns works as intended, it performs flawlessly.
When the Boberg Works as Intended
It doesn’t perform consistently with every ammo. Haters are going to start hating right there. This is a fact. There are too many pistols on the market that work with every single ammo available. Hell–there are guns that will shoot the wrong caliber, and do it somewhat effectively (not that it is recommended to shoot 9mm through a .40, but I have). But it begs the simple question–why won’t the Boberg work with everything? This is a 9mm pistol–it should shoot 9mm ammo. I’m not alone in making this argument.
Other notable companies have faced similar resentment, and have managed to carry on in the face of criticism. The Kimber Solo comes to mind, and numerous auto-loading shotguns. That the XR9-S has some compatibility issues isn’t enough to dismiss it out of hand. So let’s look here more deeply.
What does the Boberg do that no other pistols do?
When you move the grip forward, as you would on a bullpup rifle or shotgun, you put the control hand closer to the origin of muzzle rise. On a rifle, this may be a benefit, it may not–it depends on your grip style and the recoil generated by the round it fires. I don’t really need a bullpup .22 LR, or a bullpup .223 for that matter.
On a pistol, though, it is hard to get a support hand into action in front of the grip. At best, it rides on top of the shooting hand. Forward hand grips aren’t legal on pistols. Yet this is where you would really benefit from some extra control. Having that extra hand to hold down the muzzle rise of a .357, or a 9mm could be beneficial. So why not move up the grip and trigger, just like you would on a bullpup rifle? When you move up the control hand, you get even more control.
The Boberg, in effect, is like a bullpup pistol. And this is obvious in the speed I’ve already mentioned. This gun flat out flies. No hyperbole. I shoot a lot of guns, and I’d put this gun at the top. After that first shot, I am on target faster and my followup shots are more accurate with the Boberg XR9-s than they are with any other 9mm I’ve shot.
What do you give up?
Ask a bullpup rifle shooter about the one logical drawback of the design, and you’ll hear the same answer. Loading the magazine behind the shooting hand, under your arm, can be awkward–unless that is the way you learn to do it from scratch. At the very least, it is the one element that requires the most practice and acclimation, especially for those who shoot ARs.
The same isn’t true for the Boberg. Mags still load in through the grip. The gun shoots fast, and you don’t have to retrain for mag changes. So….The problem is the actual feeding of rounds. Because rounds are angling into the grip in a traditional manner, they present below the barrel instead of at the breech. They have to be stripped from the mag and pulled backwards, off the back of the magazine, toward the rear of the pistol where they are then caught by the open slide before they’re fed. Watch the video above, it shows you exactly what I mean. Hard to describe–easy to see. Boberg call this the reverse-feed.
Most pistols rely on the magazine’s spring to present the round, and the movement of the slide itself to strip the round and push it into place. Maybe you monkey with a bit of geometry, and add a feed ramp. It is painfully simple, why is why most of us in this industry are so unforgiving of failures. Sure pistols occasionally fail to feed or extract. But what is the percentage of failure? What is an acceptable failure rate? Is there an acceptable failure rate?
I’ll tell you my opinion. A pistol must work 100% of the time. I have very inexpensive, reliably accurate pistols that have never failed me. I still train for failures, but I have to manufacture them, or have someone else do it for me to surprise me. I will not carry a pistol that won’t fire 99% of the time, right out of the box. If I fire 100 rounds, and it fails me twice in that time, I will work with it at the range, but I’m not going to trust my life to it.
Still, the chances of a pistol failing are much higher than the chances of a well made revolver failing. But I’m getting farther off track. I was talking about Boberg. And this is important. The Boberg is amazingly complex. It is beautiful in its complexity. And it is exquisite craftsmanship. Yet I can’t make it work flawlessly, even with proper application of anti-seize and ammo from their recommended list.
What do you give up? It is the question that began this rambling diatribe. After running more than 1,000 rounds through the gun, I haven’t found the round that gives me 100% certainty. There comes a point when I have to ask if the benefit of the recoil reduction provided by the grip’s forward placement is worth all of the design headaches–or rather the reliability issues that come from the design headaches.
What does the traditional pistol have that the Boberg lacks?
Traditional pistols may have a couple of benefits over the Boberg design. For one, they’re typically built so that the barrel extends farther in front of the trigger guard. That means they’re easier to carry, as a holster has more to wrap around. The Boberg has enough surface area to allow for holstering, but I’d be more careful with how I carried this gun than many other pistols. The Boberg looks like it would rock back easily, and dislodge from a holster. This is far from a show-stopper–but it will require due diligence from holster makers.
Boberg’s site lists several makers who are producing Boberg holsters, and some of them seem traditional enough. Others look to be just as original as the Boberg itself.
The second point I’d make is harder to articulate. With more than 100 years of accepted fundamentals, and more than 100 years of consistent innovations, the traditional pistol, especially those in this price range, work incredibly well. There are much less expensive pistols that will work every time, or damn near close. And this is something Boberg has decided to take head on. While the glass-half-full side of me thinks that the Boberg performs incredibly well, the glass-half-empty side feels like it is a proof of concept. This review felt much less like a typical GunsAmerica review and more like an extension of R&D.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for innovation. I bet the first automatic pistol makers faced a chorus of derision from the old-school revolver crowd, just like the pioneers of everything else (including odd calibers, modular chassis designs, polymer frames, etc.). Without innovation, we’d all still be protecting ourselves with sharpened sticks.
Still, when I do trip over guns that don’t work, I want to fix the problems. This feeling is amplified with the Boberg, because I want a gun that runs like the Boberg.
Yet this is a pistol that’s being sold for concealed carry. If I could find a carry round that functioned flawlessly, every time, one that feeds and extracts and doesn’t separate bullets form their cases, then I’d carry it. How many rounds would I have to put through the gun before I made such a pronouncement? I think 500 would do. I’d prefer 1,000, but I think I could realistically live with 500. 500 rounds, sequentially, no failures.
We didn’t get that. This isn’t to say that we couldn’t have, had we kept experimenting. But finding that perfect round could be an expensive quest. And remember the Boberg’s predecessors. There are lots of guns out there that can handle hundreds and hundreds of rounds without failing. Thousands, even.
I went to two competing big-box outlets, and three gun stores. I raided my personal stash of ammo, too, and managed to find compatible list ammo, incompatible list ammo, and ammo that wasn’t on the list.
The most effective brand we could find was Monarch 115 grain FMJ. While I wouldn’t chose this as a carry round, it performed very well from the XR9-S (only 5 failures in 200 rounds). In all the rounds we shot, we didn’t have a single brand that ran flawlessly.
Let’s talk through some of the gun’s less controversial features. The stats are a good place to start. The total overall length is just 5.1 inches. It has a 3.5 inch barrel. It comes in under an inch wide, too. This puts the Boberg in line with sub-compact 9mm pistols, yet it performs more like a compact. The extra barrel length, buried as it is, offers a nominal increase in muzzle velocity.
The magazine holds 7 rounds. When it is empty, the XR9-S weighs in just over a pound. It is light, compact, thin, and holds more than a typical revolver. All told, there’s a lot there to consider.
The trigger pull on the Boberg is long. It is designed that way. There is a short pull trigger available for those of you who don’t cotton to intentional pulls on concealed carry guns. Even with the long pull, or maybe precisely because of it, I found it easy enough to stage shots. You pull back and a paddle rocks back at the rear of the slide. That paddle is the hammer. It opens up and then snaps back, slapping the pin. And the trigger itself is wide, which simply feels good on the finger.
There are no external safeties. This is a plus for concealed carry, in my opinion. The rest of the gun is meant for carry, too. The sights are low and snag free, and adjustable. The grip is thin, textured well, and keeps in line with the guns thin profile. The controls are all accessible, though I had to practice with the mag drop, repeatedly, before I got comfortable with the motion (I have to shift my palm off the grip, slightly, to hit the button).
After all of the shooting, there was only one other thing I’d point to as a potential area of concern–and that is how you grip the pistol. Watch your off hand. If you get a solid two hand grip on this, be sure you are clear of the barrel. I can’t hold it like I’d hold a traditional pistol. Instead, I hold it more like I’d hold a revolver. It is just safer. But when I get moving fast, and draw from concealment, I find that my left hand creeps forward. While I have yet to hurt myself with this gun, I can see how easily it would be possible.
In the end
You have to check this out. It is worth it. The XR9-S in the two-tone finish sells for $1,049. I’m here to say that this is something you have to experince, if only to know what is actually possible. Can I endorse it for actual carry? Of course–if you have the right personality. If you are one who trains hard, if you compulsively maintain your guns, and study ammo eccentricity–this is your platform.
The rest of us–where does the Boberg fit for us? Competition perhaps? The speed of the Boberg, and the flat shooting accuracy would be great in any practical pistol competition. And if you have a failure then, the world will continue to turn.
But for concealed carry? Out of the box, this gun ran great. Yet the issues we experienced were confidence crushing and serious. Jams were inconsistent, and harder to clear than they would be on some traditional pistols. I don’t know what to say about this, other than this–you will have to accept the Boberg for what it is, find the ammo it likes, and train like crazy before you carry this off the range.