Everyone I know who has carried a gun for serious business rates reliability as the most important characteristic, but the cheaper the gun, generally the less reliable it will be. There are exceptions, though. Arcus, a Bulgarian arms manufacturer, has been making pistols, revolvers, grenade launchers, grenades, artillery rounds and mortars for the Bulgarian army and police for years.

And if the Arcus 98DA I tested is indicative of all Arcus 98 pistols, then the company’s expertise has resulted in a rarity—a reliable and inexpensive double-action semiauto.

The Arcus 98DA is a full-size, short-recoil, locked-breech pistol chambered in 9×19 Parabellum with a frame, slide and barrel CNC machined from steel forgings. The sample gun featured stippled rubber grips that provide a very slip-resistant surface that will help prevent this solid piece from squirming out of your hand. The matte blue finish, while not fine, is evenly applied, and there were no sharp edges on the gun.

Thumb safeties are seeing a resurgence of popularity, and the Arcus 98DA comes so equipped. This feature, when combined with the gun’s automatic firing-pin safety, allows the gun to be carried either cocked-and-locked or with the hammer down on a loaded chamber, but extreme caution must be exercised when lowering the hammer since there is no decocker. Because the thumb safety cannot be engaged with the hammer down, there is no third option. The magazine release, located behind the triggerguard, worked properly, and when pushed, magazines dropped free like a 500-pounder from a B-17. Reloads were easy because the narrow snout of the double-stack magazine is slipped readily into the wide magazine well. The Arcus also has a lanyard ring, another practical feature from the past that is regaining popularity.

Disassembly of the Arcus 98DA is like that of a Browning Hi-Power, the design on which the Arcus is based. The slide is first locked to the rear by engaging the safety, not the slide catch, in a takedown notch. The slide catch is then pushed up and to the left to remove it, which allows the slide to be taken from the frame. Last, the barrel, recoil spring and guide rod are separated. An interesting design feature is a deep recess at the front of the barrel lug that positively engages the rear of the recoil-spring guide. The guide also contains a spring-loaded ball that fits a retaining detent in the slide catch shaft to prevent the slide catch from creeping to the left and out of position.

In order to keep the retail price down, Arcus has economized by not polishing the innards and packed the gun, its two double-stack 15-round magazines, cleaning rod, gun lock and manual in a cardboard box instead of a plastic carrying case. I can live with tool marks inside the gun and without a plastic case if the gun feels right in the hand and functions properly, so I took the Arcus to the Scottsdale Gun Club to see how reliable it was.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the gun printed 25-yard groups of two to four inches, which is perfectly adequate. The (13-pound DA and six-pound SA) trigger was not built for precision shooting and displayed a good deal of stacking along with a heavy, gritty break and plenty of overtravel, but nevertheless it proved to be accurate and fast in tactical drills, thanks in large part to the traditional three-dot combat sights. They were easy to acquire and properly regulated, but the rear sight can be drifted for windage or replaced with a higher or lower version to adjust for elevation if necessary.

Except for a magazine-induced premature slide-lock that occurred with only one magazine, the gun functioned properly. Even very expensive guns have occasional magazine problems, though, so I don’t consider this a serious flaw. The solution is to get a new magazine. The Arcus 98DA, imported by Century Arms, is a gun I would consider if I were looking for an inexpensive 9mm.

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