Retro Carry Option: The Luger P08 with Modern Ammunition
Oleg Volk 05.09.16
The Luger toggle-lock design dates back to 1893 and its 9mm iteration to 1908. It was the main German military pistol during WW1 and through the start of WW2. I got my hands on a 1920 sample and wanted to find out how it would fare as a modern carry pistol.
The gun had been so popular with secondary users, such as guerrillas and the enemy troops, so it had to have some merit. Compared to it, the replacement Walther P38 was merely cheaper and had a slide release for easier reloading one-handed.
Since the P08 does not use a slide enveloping the barrel, it is rather muzzle light. That makes it far easier to aim one-handed. With the toggle-lock moving up and away from the frame, the pistol doesn’t rise on firing nearly as much as you would expect. Recoil, with all types of ammunition, is mild even though the overall weight is only 30 ounces, not much for all steel construction.
Sights are similar to the Mauser rifle, shallow rear notch and pyramid front. While not all that quick to acquire, they work very well for precise aim at distant targets. At first, I expected the toggle rising in the line of sight to be a distraction, but the event is so transient that it doesn’t register. It is certainly less distracting than a slide reciprocating towards the shooter. It’s a definite advantage when firing from a retention position. The safety moves forward for FIRE, back to block the sear for SAFE. The pistol is drop safe.
P08 is rumored to be ammunition sensitive. For my test, I used five types of ammunition:
- Master Cartridge (now Georgia Arms) 147gr subsonic FMJ
- OATH Halo 135gr match copper
- Freedom Munitions 115gr FMJ
- Advanced Ballistics Concepts 98gr Zeurillium alloy FP
- Inceptior ARX 80gr polymer/copper mix
I had no failures with any of the five types. Given the flat point design of the Z bullets, I didn’t expect them to feed but they did just fine. Given the light weight and very low felt recoil of the ARX bullets, I didn’t expect them cycle, but they did just fine, though they didn’t lock back in either of the two pistols I used.
As a control, I also fired Iver Johnson 9mm Hawk M1911 pistol (4″ barrel) with the same ammunition. After walking about 400 yards from the car to my improvised range, I realized that paper targets were left behind, but I had ammunition boxes and twigs to put in front of the berm.
Since the P08 had only one original magazine, I alternated two newly made Mec-Gars with it. Each magazine was loaded and fired off at least twice (and some as much as four times) with each type of ammunition. At ten yards, there were no misses on the cartridge boxes with either pistol. I found the 1911 harder to shoot accurately quickly, as its heavy military grade trigger was completely outclassed by the short, crisp Luger trigger. Taking my time, I was able to make hit, but Luger sights definitely work better for precision. Had the featureless 1911 sights been upgraded with dots or fiber optic front, the advantage would have gone to them.
Accuracy was best with Halo and Z bullets. After firing at ten yards, I paced back to 25 and commenced with Z bullets against a small rock. The first shot knocked it down, and the second shot split it into thirds. Having figured out the hold from those hits, I was able to split it again with an edge shot, having the target of no more than 4 by 6 inches at that point. Quite accurate for a military pistol!
Curiously, the 1911 magazine was also made by Mec-Gar. Adding to it the Keltec magazine in my pocket backup, we had a preponderance of one brand, probably for a good reason. Luger magazines are notoriously hard to load due to strong springs and steep feed angle. The disassembly tool doubles as a magazine loader, but I didn’t have one on hand and only belatedly realized that the plastic cartridge box insert can double as an improvised loader.
Hooking one of the openings around the magazine button makes it easy to depress the follower just enough to insert the eight rounds.
I did not have any Hornady ammunition in 9mm with me, but the polymer-plugged pointy bullets would probably work well in the Luger as well. The Halo bullets I used have the same rounded profile as OATH’s expanding Tango design, which would be my choice for defensive carry with Luger.
Advantages to P08:
- Very accurate, hits on A zone of IDPA targets are easy to make out to 30 yards
- Points well for instinctive shooting
- Easy to shoot one-handed, especially compared to modern pistols
- Very low recoil with a variety of ammunition
- Good reliability with a variety of ammunition
- Excellent trigger
- No production carry holsters exist, would have to order custom leather
- No night sights or any aftermarket sights at all
- No slide release, though the toggle can be released from the rear position by pressing against the belt or any convenient solid object
- Reliability with hollow points hasn’t been tested yet
- Take-down latch can be activated by the left thumb in two-handed hold, though I had it happen only once in about 150 shots
I think it’s time to order a carry holster and mag pouches for it.