We throw the word “tactical” around a lot, don’t we? And yet it’s not so easy to define. Some manufacturers just label their guns as “tactical” if they’re all black or decked in Picatinny rails. Of course, you can’t have a tactical operator without night-vision gear and a chest rig covered in MOLLE/PALS webbing. And we can’t forget the couch commandos who argue online about guns and their tactical merits: “How useful is it if it can’t mount a light or hold 30 rounds?”

In my mind, a truly tactical weapon is simply one that can withstand hard use and give its user an edge in a fight. I’ve never served as a police officer or soldier, but I know quite a few people who have, and they all stress that their guns have to be completely reliable in any environment. That’s rule No. 1 for them. And that’s one reason they never invest in first-generation firearms; instead, they’ll wait until a plat- form has developed a proven track record before handing over their credit cards.

The Beretta 92 has such a track record, and it’s served as the M9 for the U.S military for decades. But it’s almost been around too long, which is what led to the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System (MHS) program. This led to several manufacturers submitting next-gen (and not so next-gen) pistols, and though the Sig Sauer P320 won and is now being fielded as the M17/M18, a few of the contenders are hitting the commercial market. The polymer-framed, striker-fired Beretta APX, Glock 19X and FN 509 all came from this contest. And when FN decided to created a special 509 super-charged for duty, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a test sample.

Full-Sized Fighter

FN is calling this new variant the 509 Tactical. I suppose “510” wouldn’t have worked, as this gun is much more than just one step above the original model. What do I mean? While the standard FN 509 would give me plenty of confidence in a firefight, the FN 509 Tactical is packed with features to give you an over-whelming advantage.

First off, this new 9mm comes with one 17-round magazine and two extended 24-rounders. 24 rounds. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t stop giggling while loading these long magazines, which have polymer spacers to prevent over-insertion into the magazine well. If you carried the gun with the 17-rounder in the gun, plus one in the chamber and the 24-rounders as spares, you’d be carrying 66 rounds. If you can’t end a fight with that much ammo, something’s wrong.

The magazines are black, as are the controls, barrel and sights. The rest of the gun is Flat Dark Earth, which seems to be more “tactical” than black these days. Even the military’s new M17 and M18 pistols are this same tan color. Presumably jungle combat is out of the picture for the foreseeable future.

The FN 509 Tactical is a full-sized fighting pistol that feels good in hand. It’s 7.9 inches long, 5.56 inches tall, 1.35 inches wide and weighs in at 27.9 ounces unloaded. More importantly, the gun comes ready for a sound suppressor and miniature reflex sight right out of the box. The cold-hammer-forged, stainless steel, 4.5-inch barrel has a recessed target crown and 1/2×28 muzzle threading, which will work with most 9mm suppressors. FN also includes a knurled thread protector fitted with an O-ring so it won’t loosen during firing if you haven’t mounted a can. The chamber and feed ramp are also polished for reliability.

A Closer Look

The nicely sculpted slide is fitted with tall three-dot night sights, but just in front of the rear sight is a cap, or cover plate, held in position with two Torx screws. Remove this plate and you can add an adapter to mount a miniature reflex sight. FN includes everything you need to install today’s most popular red dots from Burris, C-More, Docter, Leupold, Trijicon and Vortex Optics. The tall iron sights will co-witness with the red dot and allow you to aim over a suppressor.

But one cool aspect is the cover plate itself. If you don’t install a reflex sight and leave the plate as is, you’ll notice two “wings” that rise up and surround the two-dot rear sight. These wings protect the rear sight from being bumped or losing its zero, and they’re serrated to provide traction for one-handed racking. I’ve yet to see this feature on other reflex-ready handguns, and it just goes to show FN’s experience and attention to detail.

The slide also has forward and rear serrations, a wide ejection port and an external extractor that doubles as a loaded-chamber indicator. When a round is chambered, the extractor sticks out slightly for visual and tactile feedback.

The first thing worth noting about the polymer frame is the grip, which provides plenty of traction without being uncomfortable. You’ll notice squared checkering along the front, sides and back, while the dished-out areas for your thumb and trigger finger have a softer texture similar to skateboard tape. FN includes small and medium interchangeable backstraps, and a larger version is available as an accessory. The medium backstrap came installed on my test gun, and that worked best with my medium-sized hands.

Other Considerations

The undercut triggerguard helps you choke up on the grip, and a Picatinny rail is molded into the dust cover for mounting lights, lasers and über-tactical combination units. As for the controls, the magazine release and slide stop are both ambidextrous and easy to reach. As a sinister lefty, I appreciate ambidextrous controls, though I’m quite accustomed to using my middle finger to depress a left-side magazine release. But I didn’t mind the magazine release here, which worked very positively.

The trigger has a built-in safety and is rated for a 5.5- to 7.5-pound pull weight. My test sample’s trigger pull was a tad gritty before a very definitive break. I got used to it quickly. The reset was short and easy to predict. It’s also worth noting that while there is no manual thumb safety or anything like that, the gun has a striker block, a drop safety and a trigger disconnect safety as well.

Ready For Battle

OK, I know it’s cliché, but as soon as I opened the 509 Tactical’s tan nylon case, I couldn’t wait to test the pistol out. Its quality was immediately evident, and taking it down for a quick inspection only proved the point. The fit and finish on my test gun were top notch.

Of course, a gun like this has to earn its “tactical” moniker, so I ran it hard with five different 9mm loads from Federal and Sig Sauer. I broke the gun in with Federal’s 150-grain Syntech TSJ rounds, and the slide failed to lock back after I emptied the second 24-round magazine. But I attribute this to the gun’s break-in period, as there wasn’t a single malfunction afterward. The gun was absolutely reliable over 400 rounds— slower deliberate fire, rapid fire, one-handed, sideways, limp-wristed, you name it.

The 509 Tactical handled well and felt comfortable in my hands, and I actually preferred using it with the 24-round magazines in place. Yes, they’re longer and made my ammo crate weep, but they provided some good in-hand heft. I also couldn’t help but notice onlookers at my usual Quickshot range here in Atlanta commenting on all the hollow points I blew through, and the gun handled every different projectile type without a hitch.

Firing off-hand at a paper target 15 yards away, my best five-shot group came from the Federal Syntech TSJs, which measured in at 1.5 inches. Sig Sauer’s 147-grain FMJs came in second place at 2 inches, and Federal’s 115-grain Train + Protect VHPs created a 2.25-inch cluster to earn the bronze medal. I didn’t have a reflex sight or sound suppressor on hand for testing, but running the gun as it came right out of the box, I came away impressed. The foundation is solid.

After Action Report

No, I didn’t douse the FN 509 Tactical in sand or mud or leave it at the bottom of a lake for six months before testing it, but the gun never missed a beat with anything I fed it. That’s important to me, and it’s probably important to you. (If you want that kind of “hard-corps” testing, I’m sure a YouTuber will get to it eventually.) I also have no doubt that my military and police friends would love this gun simply for its reliability, not to mention its inherent accuracy and feature list. The fact that you can add a reflex sight and suppressor is just icing on the cake.

Like most Americans, I want options, and the FN 509 Tactical offers just that. You can dress it up for a Rambo excursion or leave it “low pro” for simple range sessions. This is a gun you can trust from a trusted company. There’s a reason FN has been making the U.S. military’s M4s, M16s and M249 SAWs for years. The company knows what works and what doesn’t. And this pistol definitely works.

FN 509 Tactical Specs

Caliber: 9mm
Barrel: 4.5 inches
OA Length: 7.9 inches
Weight: 27.9 ounces (empty)
Grip: Polymer
Sights: Tall three-dot night
Action: Striker-fired
Finish: Flat Dark Earth
Capacity: 17+1, 24+1
MSRP: $1,049

FN 509 Tactical Performance

Load Accuracy
Federal 115 Train + Protect VHP 2.25
Federal 135 Hydra-Shok Deep 3.00
Federal 150 HST 2.60
Federal 150 Syntech TSJ 1.50
Sig Sauer 147 FMJ 2.00

*Bullet weight measured in grains and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 15 yards.

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