One of the guns I’ve always had my eye on, but only recently had the chance to acquire is the BUL M5. They’ve had a very diverse import history, having been imported by Springfield, Century, Kimber, Charles Daly, Battle Ready International, and others. It’s a double-stack, polymer-frame 1911, and it’s the first gun that BUL Transmark introduced.
How does it measure up? Read on.
The BUL M5 is a double stack 1911 with a polymer frame. There are a couple generations of them, which are easily identified by the shape of the trigger guard. The first generation has a square trigger guard; the second generation has a rounded trigger guard. First gen guns are also typically using a traditional barrel bushing setup, whereas the second gen guns are more likely to use a bull barrel setup – but this is only a rule of thumb.
My particular BUL M5 has an interesting history – it’s a Century-marked import with a Springfield-marked frame and a slide with a “BUL M5” banner. From what I can tell, Century imported a bunch of the generation 1 guns about the time they were being phased out, and BUL sent them whatever they had left – resulting in some interesting mixmasters that sometimes had configurations that had never otherwise been imported. The Springfield guns were never imported with BUL M5-marked slides, for instance – they just had “1911A1” on them (which is incorrect, and maddening, but I digress).
The Springfield guns were also interesting because they were the only 9mm first generation M5 imports. Charles Daly had plans, but I don’t think they ever imported any M5s in 9mm. BRI has some 9mm M5s, but they’re all second generation. I’m always fascinated that 1911 vendors don’t seem to understand that the shooting community is really enthusiastic about 9mm, and the vendors focus on .45ACP a little too much. 18rds of 9mm in a quality 1911 platform gun is a really compelling marketing pitch. As a 9mm enthusiast, I knew the only BUL M5 I wanted was one in 9mm.
The BUL M5 is a high quality gun. It has all the usual trappings you’d expect from a higher end 1911, including an ambidextrous safety. There’s no accessory rail, but BUL has always positioned the M5 as a competition pistol rather than a combat gun. The frame has some factory texturing that isn’t too much to write home about, but my particular gun has race tape on it which works quite well.
The controls on the gun are standard 1911 fare, excepting the ambi safety. The trigger on mine is pretty good, but not amazing. The sights are standard post and notch target sights – black rear, black front. I would prefer a fiber optic front post, but that’s life – this gun is a Commander model, and those guns don’t come with a fiber optic sight by default. In the future, I’ll see if I the Kimber fiber optic front sight fits. The grip safety posed no problems.
The one thing I don’t love about the BUL M5 is the take-down procedure. It uses a full length guide rod, and you need to have a paper clip around to compress it enough to remove the bushing. It’s not a very intuitive process, and it takes a few tries to master it. I also don’t love the necessity of carrying around a bent paper clip to field strip the gun – what if I’m at the range and need to do it, and forgot the paper clip? Full-length guide rods are not known for having much benefit, so I question why BUL made this design decision.
On the other hand, I do love how light-weight the gun is. It’s lighter empty than my KSN GAL, yet has twice the magazine capacity. There’s always a bit of hate for polymer or aluminum/alloy frame 1911s, but lighter is always better in my book. The polymer frame feels sturdy, and the only complaint I could have against it – lackluster texturing – can be resolved with some grip tape, which I understand is a fairly common modification on most polymer competition guns. The magwell also takes some scrapes, but this appears to be entirely cosmetic.
The 9mm M5 takes proprietary magazines that are similar to the Para P18.9 mags, but not quite the same. You can make a Para mag fit the BUL M5 by filing on the top of the magazine catch hole with a flat jeweler’s file until the magazine clicks in and feeds properly. I am not a huge fan of this kind of “hack”, but without easier access to true M5 9mm mags, it’s pretty much the only way to fly. Mec-Gar does make BUL M5 mags in .45ACP, so you’re in better shape with that caliber. My gun came with a weird chopped magazine from the federal AWB 10rd magazine limit era, and it did not inspire much confidence – I guess those Para mags are looking better?
As noted in the BUL Impact review, the M5 magazines can also be used in the BUL Impact. Para mags had a very tight fit in my Impact, so I think there are slight dimensional differences in the Para and BUL mag bodies. They were not so tight in my M5, albeit slightly tighter than the included M5 mag.
This leads me to another quibble: the parts situation is pretty dire, as is the case with everything that BUL makes. You can swap in some 1911 parts if something breaks, but you’re going to be in trouble if it’s a proprietary part. It really has gotten to the point where I think BUL Transmark needs to suck it up and open up a US sales office… this is the biggest civilian gun market in the world, they should be more active in it.
On the range, the BUL M5 performed quite nicely. As noted, I would have preferred better sights, but had no trouble using what was on the gun. Recoil was as expected for a 9mm platform gun. Testing was done with IMI 115gr and Freedom Munitions 147gr. Both were reliable, except for one nose-up misfeed that I think was caused by the magazine (all the magazines were modified Paras; I’m working on finding proper BUL mags). I also had one instance where I accidentally put the safety on due to a very high hold – I think this was a training issue on my part.
I did not test for accuracy specifically, but did find it easy to generate a single ragged hole at the 7 yard line. I suspect the gun would really sing with a decent trigger job.
I paid $400 for my used BUL M5 Commander in 9mm. Battle Ready International sells the second generation version for $1050. While I’m a big fan of this gun, I’ve got to really question the pricing for the new guns. BUL makes a nice 1911, but the polymer frame leads to market expectations that it’ll be cheaper than an all-steel gun. The pricing is considerably in excess of Colts, Springfields, and even some Kimbers that will hold their value much better. If the buyer decides BUL is a second tier manufacturer, it’s now in competition with firms like RIA and Para that are putting out similar all-steel guns for almost half the price. BRI and BUL need to figure out a way to hit a $800 street price with the M5 – it should be a pretty good seller at that sort of pricing.
But, if you can find one cheap with a proper mag, go for it. It’s a great gun, and it runs like a top.