What are Wonder 9s? I guess it depends on who you ask. Many may claim that a Wonder 9 is any pistol with a double-stack magazine in 9mm, and the Hi-Power is often considered the first Wonder 9. That’s fine, but when I hear the phrase Wonder Nines, I picture a metal-framed pistol with an exposed hammer and a DA/SA action. Apparently, gun writer Robert Shimek coined the term in the 1980s to describe the handguns hitting the market at that time.
The term isn’t hard and fast and can certainly be malleable. Define it however you want. For me, and for today, it’s all an all-metal, DA/SA, double-stack 9mm. That’s why you’re not seeing Glocks or other striker-fired polymer pistols in this list.
Why I Love These Classics
I love these guns, always have, and always will. I think it’s the millennial version of a revolver. When Gen X and Baby Boomers think of guns from their childhood, it’s likely the revolvers from the movies and TV shows of the time. When I think about the guns in my favorite movies and TV shows from my childhood, it’s Wonder 9s.
As I grew up and started shooting, I found myself drawn to those specific guns. It became a secondary feedback loop of enjoyment and my early days of shooting were with Wonder 9s. When I hit the Marine Corps, I served as a machine gunner. I was a mere Lance Corporal, and I advocated for and insisted I be given an opportunity at pistol qual.
I wanted a pistol because, in the Marine Corps eternal wisdom, I had to carry my M240 and my M16A4 as my personal weapon. I fought, even argued that I warranted a shot. I found a gunny more willing to listen than yell, and I got my chance and my M9 (After I qualled). Dropping an M16A4 for an M9 was a blessing.
Advantages of the Wonder 9
To be clear, I am in no way saying DA/SA guns or all-metal guns are better than striker-fired, polymer-frame pistols. All of these modern and not-so-modern platforms have some advantages over each other, and that includes the Wonder 9.
For me, I like the benefit of the double action and exposed hammer for reholstering. I can place my thumb over the hammer as I reholster and control the action of the weapon. That could be said about the gun entirely. Even outside of holstering, being able to control the action with my thumb is nice. It’s nice enough that the Glock series has seen the rise of the ‘gadget’ to do precisely the same thing.
If you become capable of shooting a double-action trigger with accuracy, control, and speed, then you’ll be quite competent with the single-action trigger. One downside is learning two trigger pulls, but once learned, you become a better shooter overall.
That long double-action trigger pull is something a lot of shooters tend not to like, but it gives you options. The increased double-action pull makes it tough to have a stress-induced negligent discharge. I agree that striker-fired triggers aren’t a problem, and training is the way to go. That being said, reducing the human element of failure can be a nice feature.
My Favorite Wonder Nines
The CZ 75 was one of the first Wonder 9s, at least by my definition. It is an odd duck and was quite innovative for 1975. The Czechs took some inspiration from the Hi-Power, and it ended up making an awesome gun.
The Czechs used an interesting safety setup that only allowed the manual safety to flip into action after the gun switched to single action. Users could choose the locked and cocked option if they wanted.
Famously they also took the CZ 75 and gave it an odd slide design. The slide rides inside its frame rails, which positions the slide super low and gives it a bit less felt recoil due to the lower reciprocating weight. It’s an awesome gun that’s evolved into numerous platforms, which are still used in modern military forces and professional shooters.
The Sig P226 took the P220, doubled the capacity, and it was an instant hit. The Sig P226 design is one of the most legendary Wonder 9 handguns. Sig’s little pistol has what’s likely the best decocker setup ever produced, and its mounting to the frame makes it super ergonomic, easy to engage, and perfect for the DA/SA design.
The big, all-metal pistol is heavy but easy to control in 9mm. It barely bucks and doesn’t seem keen on fighting the end user. Sig produces bricks for pistols, but ergonomic bricks at that. These big pistols are easy to control, accurate, and boringly reliable.
There is a reason why the SEALs, numerous police forces, and dozens of militaries wield the P226. It’s big, bad, and takes its place in the Wonder 9 hall of fame.
Of course, I have to include the Beretta 92FS. You can put the M9, M9A1, the M9A3, or any model of the 92 series in this slot, and you’d have a damn fine pistol. The Beretta 92 series became the United States military’s M9 in 1985.
The Beretta utilizes a fascinating slide and barrel design. The open-top slide makes the world’s biggest ejection port and a rather lightweight slide design that helps keep recoil low. The Beretta 92FS gives shooters a very capable weapon that’s proven itself throughout the GWOT. It’s also the choice of McClane from “Die Hard” and Riggs from “Lethal Weapon.” Even if I hated the 92FS, I’m contractually obligated to include the weapon on the list.
Smith and Wesson’s third-generation series of pistols get no love. They were fantastic firearms and were born right smack dab in the middle of the Wonder 9 craze. The S&W 5906 was their flagship Wonder 9, and it, like the various third-generation pistols, provided shooters with an accurate, reliable, and capable weapon.
The all-metal frame, stainless design, and ambidextrous controls made the weapon a mix of modern and classic all at the same time. A new 5906 might have a rather stiff trigger, but a well-worn model delivers a wonderful experience.
Heck, the TSW model even gave shooters a rail system for attaching accessories and goodies of all kinds. Toss an optic on, and the gun fits in right with every modern handgun out there these days.
Last but not least is the Ruger P85. When it comes to budget-friendly guns, there is a big difference between budget and cheap. The Ruger P85 defined budget handguns and was a worthy Wonder 9. The P85 retailed for a pittance at the time and has always been a fantastic firearm.
It’s not pretty, but hot damn, it’s reliable and accurate, and the single-action trigger delivers a fantastic experience. Rugers little P85 delivers 15 rounds of goodness to shooters, a massive safety decocker combo, and a price point of less than 300 dollars.
If I made a list of underrated budget handguns, the Ruger P85 would be at the very top. While the Ruger P85 might seem old school these days, it’s still an affordable firearm and would be an outstanding self-defense firearm.
Getting Big and Heavy
As someone who carries a polymer frame, striker-fired pistol for concealed carry, I can never leave the classic Wonder 9 behind. When I go to the range to enjoy the act of shooting, it’s with a Wonder 9. These big guns will always be the weapons I turn to when I need more style than sense.