HK Built The First Striker-Fired, Polymer-Frame
Pistol Decades Ago. They’ve Done It Again.
But This Time They’ve Done It Right.
We have a new generation of “millennials” among us handgunners, bless ’em, but they don’t see entirely eye-to-eye with us old folks on handguns. Many of them seem to think any handgun made entirely of metal belongs in a museum. Some of them have declared on the Internet how happy they are the stodgy old Germans at HK have finally gotten with the times and offered a striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol under their esteemed brand.
Au contraire, young Jedi knights. We of Yoda age (and wrinkles) remember when HK introduced the very first such pistol, the VP70Z, way back in 1970. Designed originally as a machine pistol, which needed a shoulder stock with integral selector switch to hit its incredibly high rounds-per-minute count, it absolutely sucked as a semi-automatic. The trigger felt like a mile of bad road, the strange “shadow” sight picture was impossible for most shooters to see, and it tended to jam on anything but RN ball ammo or Remington 115-grain JHP.
Prior to the VP70Z, HK had introduced the very first polymer-frame pistol, the P9/P9S series. With polygonal rifling (recognize another harbinger there?) and—in the Target series—an exquisite adjustable trigger complete with trigger stop, the P9S was awesomely accurate. However, its peculiar double-action decocking mechanism was the sort of thing that made firearms instructors wake up screaming in the middle of the night. The procedure entailed holding the decocking lever down, pulling the trigger and then slowly releasing the lever upward.
The pistol’s slide-mounted safety lever had to be enlarged to become really workable at speed, and like the VP70Z, it was only reliable with ball or Remington JHP if you didn’t have a gunsmith throat the feed ramp. As to striker-fired design pioneering, HK’s P7 series in that very configuration was popular for many years (and still has devoted fans).
Now, all these years later, HK has made amends for the VP70Z. Behold the new VolksPistole in 9mm, otherwise known as the HK VP9. My first impressions of it are as follows:
Coming out of the box with a nice array of interchangeable backstraps and side grip panels, the VP9 embodies recent developments in German handgun technology. Yes, it resembles Walther’s PPQ M2. But the Walther in turn resembles the earlier hammer-fired HK P30. Which in turn seemed to draw from the Walther P99, and…oh, the heck with it!
How a gun feels in your hand is, of course, subjective. But, subjectively speaking, I love the feel of the VP9. There. I said it.
The distinctive “ears” at rear of the slide (inset) aided
manipulation and did not compromise concealability.
The HK VP9 was accuracy tested with these three 9mm loads
ranging in bullet weights from 115, 124 to 147 grains.
My two problems with the hammer-fired P30 series were pretty straightforward. In the traditional double-action mode, the decocking lever seemed to have been designed more for orangutan paws than human hands, and the interior lower surface of the triggerguard—where the dual-paddle magazine release levers sit—tended to pinch my trigger finger painfully. Both of these problems are solved in the VP9 design.
The striker-fired system eliminates any need for a decocking lever. Just as with a Glock, the trigger pull is the same all the time. Apparently I wasn’t the only one bothered by the configuration of the P30 triggerguard. I hear Bruce Gray is now offering a modification of P30 triggerguards to prevent the “pinch” that some of us experience. Thirty-some years ago Bruce and I both shot on Team HK. He used his tuned and comp’d P7 at the Bianchi Cup while I shot a P9S Sport/Target. There ain’t a whole lot about HK (or SIG) pistols that Bruce doesn’t know.
The geometry of the VP9’s triggerguard seems to have been altered to where the “pinch” has been pretty much eliminated. The only time I felt it was shooting from the bench, where my rested elbows altered my wrist angle, subtly affecting how my finger sat on the trigger.
The VP9’s magazine release is a downward-pressed ambidextrous paddle on the underside of the triggerguard, which goes back through the P30 and the USP and all the way to the P7M8 of the early 1980’s. It allows your trigger finger to hit the paddle, at once getting it away from the trigger for safety and eliminating the need to shift the gun in your hand for your thumb to reach a magazine release button. The result is, simply, faster reloads.
Looking down at the top of the pistol, you’ll notice rounded-edge “wings” at the rear edges of the slide. This useful feature helps your hand gain purchase there. Unfortunately, those edges are too rounded and don’t protrude enough to catch against belt or holster for emergency slide manipulation. These wings, called “charging supports,” are removable and can be replaced with flat spacers available from HK.
The pistol’s fixed sights (above) were big and easy to see. Red dot indicates
“ready to fire.” From this angle (below) the VP9’s light attachment rail,
forward slide grooves and luminous front sight are plainly visible.
On the Range
With a Glock-ish trigger tab safety, the VP9 has a bit of take-up before it hits resistance. As is the case with all pivoting triggers, leverage comes into play. If you gauge the trigger from the toe, it takes less effort to break the shot than if your finger is in its normal position at roughly the center of the trigger. Measured from the toe with a Lyman digital gauge, the pull weight on my test sample averaged 5.28 pounds from the toe and 5.78 pounds from the center. Pulls were very consistent shot to shot. The re-set could be described as “medium.”
In loading the magazine, I noted the feed lips of the mags were sharp on the thumb, but unlike some other pistols, no great pressure was needed to get the last (15th) round into the magazine, although a magazine loading tool is available from HK.
Bore axis is slightly higher on the VP9 than on the Glock, though I honestly couldn’t feel any difference in muzzle rise. Butt to top of slide, the VP9 is slightly larger than the Glock 19 (and has the same 9mm cartridge capacity).
The VP9 comes with “luminous” sights that need to be lit up beforehand with a flashlight or some other light source. The sights glow brightly at first, but start to fade after half an hour. Scuttlebutt has it that this is due to European tritium regulations being tighter than those in the US. So if you want real night sights, plan on a tritium retrofit.
As is traditionally the case with HK pistols, the VP9’s sights were regulated very close to point of aim/point of impact, something occasionally not the case with other brands. Hits were a whisker left for this shooter’s eyes at 25 yards, but were OK for elevation with 115- and 124-grain ammo, although grouping a tad high with 147-grain subsonic loads. Accuracy testing was done from 25 yards off a Matrix rest on a concrete bench.
Federal 115-grain +P+ 9BPLE, the load the Illinois State Police and other departments made famous as a “man-stopper,” put five shots into 2.85-inch. The best four of those shots clustered in 1.85-inch, while the best three stayed in 1.55-inch. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the “best three” measurement, which tends to factor out unnoticed human error, giving a good approximation of what the same gun and load will deliver for all five shots from a machine rest.
Black Hills’ famously accurate 124-grain JHP was “Best of Test” for accuracy, with five shots in 1.95-inch (and a “best three” measurement of 1.10-inch). Winchester’s Winclean 147-grain subsonic jacketed truncated cone ammo is hugely popular in this country and famous for its accuracy. It delivered a 5-shot group measuring 2.35-inch and a “best three” of 1.20.
Twenty-five yard accuracy results (top to bottom): Black Hills 124-grain JHP,
Federal 115-grain +P+ JHP, 147-grain Winchester Winclean JTC subsonic.
Although gunwriters don’t get to test each firearm with tens of thousands of rounds, I did get several hundred rounds through the VP9. The closest thing to a malfunction was an unintended slide-lock in mid-firing cycle from the benchrest, which may have been human error due to the shooter (me) leaving his thumb in too-close proximity to the easy-to-operate, ambidextrous slide-release lever.
I spent a couple of days carrying the VP9 in a hybrid IWB holster cut for the P30 by Remora, in which it fit perfectly. Felt about like carrying a Glock 17. The side panels might be abrasive enough to cause some discomfort against bare skin, but proved to be no problem with a tee or polo shirt between grip and epidermis, and an untucked shirt or vest for concealment.
Mas demonstrates controllability of HK’s VP9: The spent casing
from his first shot (arrow) is followed by muzzle flash of the
second one, without the muzzle flipping off target.
HK is deservedly famous for BMW-class workmanship, and a comparable cachet. But with a retail price of $719, the VP9 dramatically undersells the similar-feeling P30. The “shootability factor” is high, and with its blend of “BMW workmanship with upper-end Volkswagen price,” I think the VP9 will make a lot of friends among American handgunners.
By Massad Ayoob
Photos: Gail Pepin
Grey Guns Inc.
33479 Hwy. 19-207
Spray, OR 97874
Remora Concealment & Security Products, LLC
P.O. Box 990340
Naples, Florida 34116
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