Beretta’s M9 is one of the most common pistols of the later half of the twentieth century. The long open slide design is instantly recognizable. While the standard M9s (and the other Beretta 92 variants) are just about everywhere, the updated M9A3 is much harder to find. Now Umarex and Beretta are teaming up with a full-auto M9A3 BB gun.
A bit about the M9. The M9 is the Department of Defense (DoD) contract version of the Beretta 92. The 92FS is the most common of the 92 variants. It began as a full sized 9mm and marked the highpoint in a century of Beretta pistols. The long open slide was designed to reduce weight, and prevent jams while the gun is ejecting spent brass.
After 30 years of military service, Beretta began making serious updates to the M9’s design. The M9A3 was built to keep up with new demands from the military. They added a rail to the frame on the M9A1, but the M9A3 needed even more. The sights were upgraded. They began adding threaded barrels. Even the shape of the grip was modified.
The M9A3 has what Beretta calls a “Vertec-style” thin grip. The frame’s grip dimensions were modified to improve the way the pistols points. The grips themselves were thinned to keep the pistol manageable by those with small hands. Inside the frame, though, the mag well was expanded to hold a double-stack magazine.
The slide on the 9mm could be swapped out. If you wanted a safety mounted on the slide, that came standard. You could swap that slide, though, for one with a decocker in the position of the safety (more like the Sig P226).
The frame on the M9A3 has some aggressive textures. The backstrap has excellent checkering, and the texture on the grips is equally biting.
As Beretta designed the M9A3, they hoped the gun would find a home with the US government as they began talking of replacing the aging M9s. As such, they finished the gun in Cerakote that matched the myriad of uniforms being worn in current conflicts. The brown and grey of the gun’s finish is really well done and adds as much protection to the metal as it does camouflage.
It is no secret that the M9A3 didn’t gain the traction Beretta had hoped. The M9A3 isn’t cheap. As the handgun trials moved toward modular polymer based designs, the M9A3 still relied on milled aluminum. It was a very real step up from the standard M9, in almost every way, at a time when the DoD was leaning toward much less expensive designs.
The BB gun version, though, is easier to find, and much more affordable. This is obviously a working homage to the originals, but Umarex has also built in a full-auto feature. There was actually a 3 round burst built into an even rarer Beretta, the 93R, but the full auto BB gun is much easier to keep on target.
I was at an Umarex event in Tulsa late last year when I got my first glimpse of the new M9A3 BB gun. It was cold—well below freezing—and getting the CO2 to run these guns was almost impossible.
As such, I ran the gun in very fast spurts. Cold spurts, I might add. Who shoots BB guns on outdoor ranges in the sleet? I do, I guess. It is my job. But running full auto CO2 tends to ice over the capsules when it’s this cold, and the shooter, too.
The CO2 is housed in the magazine. This gives the mags a realistic weight. They hold 18 BBs. With several mags on hand, you can realistically practice mag changes. The weight is a bit heavier on the empty BB mags than an empty 9mm M9 mag, but they both drop free, so the experience is functionally the same.
And you will be dropping the mags frequently of you are going to shoot it full auto. This gun is fast. The reciprocating slide gives it a recoil impulse, too, which helps to build hand strength. Just like a with a Beretta 9mm, you have to develop an effective grip if you hope to keep repeat shots on target.
Umarex is meticulous in their attention to detail. The frame on their M9A3 is metal, which gives the gun heft. The dimensions are exacting, so there’s no shortage of available holster options. This one may not fit in some M9 holsters, as the rail and the extended barrel are both additions to the original.
All told, this is a seriously fun air gun. When I first saw it, I thought it might get dismissed as a footnote for Beretta collectors. It isn’t. The new gun could prove a useful training tool for anyone with an 92, or an M9 or M9A1. And for the rest of you, there’s always the full auto.
The MSRP on the new M9A3 is $124.99.
David Higginbotham is a writer and educator who lives in Arkansas. After years of writing and consulting in the firearms industry, he's coming back to his roots with air guns.