When the first polymer-framed semi-automatic pistol hit the market with its ingenious striker-fired mechanism, how many people understood the far-reaching impact that gun would have? Today, striker-fired polymer pistols are found in the catalogs of many major firearms makers, and the guns serve reliably in military, law enforcement and self-defense roles.
Heckler & Koch’s (HK) first striker-fired pistol introduced the world to what polymer-framed handguns could be way back in 1970. After the introduction of the VP70, the firearms world has never been the same. The VP70 was selling for more than a decade before any other company would launch a commercially successful polymer handgun. Of course, the famous HK P7 “squeeze cocking” pistol was also a striker-fired gun that was designed nearly 40 years ago.
Given HK’s history with these handguns, it should come as no surprise that Heckler & Koch’s newest pistol, the VP9, is an effective polymer-framed, striker-fired gun.
“V” For Versatile
The Heckler & Koch VP9 is a descendant of the VP70, which was also known as the Volkspistole, or “people’s pistol.” In many ways, the new handgun deserves the moniker just as much as the old gun ever did. The gun is designed to fit nearly ever shooter’s hand and budget.
HK built the VP9 to be completely ambidextrous. The magazine release and slide release can both be activated from either side of the gun. HK used a lever-type magazine release on the VP9 that is located at the rear of the triggerguard. Right out of the box, both right- and left-handed shooters can drop a mag without the need to have an armorer swap a button from one side of the frame to the other.
Slide release levers appear on both sides of the gun’s frame. The right-side lever is about 2 inches long, starting under the ejection port and running toward the rear of the gun. Although it is relatively long, I found it did not interfere with any of the operations of the gun. When running drills left-handed, the right side slide release lever was easy to activate to both lock the slide back and to release it after loading a magazine.
One of the great features of the Heckler & Koch VP9 that helps make it a gun for all people is the significant amount of grip size customization available to the shooter. The HK VP9 has three different sizes of backstraps, plus three different sizes of grip panels. The grip panels are independent of each other, so a shooter can have a thin on one side and a thicker one on the other. There are 27 possible variations on grip size right out of the box. I’ve worked with a lot of shooters over the years, and being able to custom fit a pistol to a shooter while on the range is a huge benefit.
Pricing on the VP9 is likely to be very appealing to many shooters. HK set the suggested retail price at $719. Market prices will likely be below $700, which will put the gun in the reach of many shooters looking for a real combat pistol. A limited lifetime warranty also backs the shooter’s investment.
Cynical observers might incorrectly assume that the gun’s price tag necessarily comes with a reduction in features or quality. Not true! HK built this pistol to the same exacting standards of the company’s other pistols, and it even introduced a few new features like a light-pull trigger and charging supports.
Smooth and consistent is how I can describe the VP9’s trigger pull. The company states that the “trigger quality [is] unequalled in any production striker-fired handgun.” In the sample gun I had, there was a short amount of take-up with a clean break. Trigger reset was obvious, though it seemed overly energetic and tended to push the finger forward slightly, requiring a small amount of take-up prior to breaking again. The VP9 trigger on my gun measured a consistent 5.5 pounds on a Lyman gauge.
Something unique to the Heckler & Koch VP9 pistol are its charging supports. These devices are small protrusions dovetailed into the rear portion of the slide. They are designed to improve the ability of people (especially those with reduced strength) to get a good grip for manipulating the slide. At worst, the charging supports might feel a bit odd when grasping the slide. At best, they could prevent your hand from slipping during an emergency reload or malfunction clearance. If desired, the supports can be replaced with flush-fitting ones.
The stock sights are photoluminescent and are arranged in a three-dot pattern. Photoluminescent sights do not glow on their own like those powered with radioactive tritium. Rather, they absorb the energy of ambient light and then glow. Typically, photoluminescent sights can be much brighter than tritium sights, especially when “charged” with a flashlight. However, the duration of the glow of a photoluminescent sight is measured in minutes, not years, before needing a recharge.
HK’s standard photoluminescent sights worked extremely well for me. In bright conditions, the sights seem to stand out slightly better than plain white dots. In lower light conditions, the sights naturally pick up a low intensity yellow-green glow that makes them easier to see. When I charged the front sight for a few seconds with a small tactical light, I had several minutes with a very bright sight to use.
Magazines for the VP9 are interchangeable with the magazines for the existing HK P30 pistol, so shooters should be able to find additional mags easily. The magazine bodies are steel, and drop from the gun freely. In fact, the steel magazine body slides like greased lightning in the polymer pistol mag well.
The pistol has an accessory rail for the addition of a light or laser. HK extensively tested the VP9 with mounted accessories, and the company certifies the gun for work with lights and lasers that weigh up to 5.6 ounces. My Streamlight TLR-4 G mounted to the rail easily and caused no problems with the gun’s reliability or accuracy.
HK prides itself on the ruggedness of its guns, and the company subjected the VP9 to a wide range of standards and durability tests. More than 10,000 rounds were fired through the sample pistols before the guns were ever announced to the public.
Prior to writing this article, I shot more than 500 rounds through the VP9 over the course of two days. I experienced no malfunctions of any kind. With 12 different loads, a mix of hollow-point (HP), full metal jacket (FMJ) and polymer-tipped bullets, the VP9 was 100-percent reliable. Even after I covered the gun in wet dirt it continued to cycle normally.
Shooting the Heckler & Koch VP9 was a real pleasure. In a full-size gun like this one, 9mm recoil is generally easy to manage. I found that to be the case with the HK pistol. Even when shooting stout +P+ loads, the recoil was mild. HK claims the captive flat recoil spring’s low bore axis helps reduce felt recoil. However, I think that being able to match the pistol to my hand played a large role in controlling the recoil impulse and muzzle flip, too.
The sights were easy to use on both a cloudy outdoor range and a dim indoor range. When aiming, the rear sight notch appeared very wide, allowing me to quickly pick up the front sight. The photoluminescent dots were easy to see in all lighting conditions, and when charged with a handheld light, the front sight was extremely fast to get on target.
Although I was initially skeptical, I found that the charging supports actually worked well for me. When wrapping my support hand over the top of the slide, they provided an instant tactile location reference and also helped prevent my sweaty hands from slipping off of the slide. While I never recommend the “slingshot” method of slide manipulation, the charging supports vastly improve the shooter’s ability to work the slide using just the thumb and index finger of the support hand.
Magazine changes were fast. While all of my personal defensive pistols have a push-button magazine release, I adapted quickly to the lever release on the VP9. Using it seemed to be a natural motion for me.
Accuracy was very good with the VP9. Handheld, I was able to shoot a best group of 1.5 inches with Hornady’s Critical Duty 135-grain +P ammo at 25 yards. I believe the gun is capable of even better accuracy with a more skilled shooter or from a rest. Regardless, I found the VP9 to be more than accurate enough for any reasonable self-defense or law enforcement role.
During shooting, the trigger remained very smooth and constant. Whereas some triggers will change with a break-in period, I could not feel any change in the VP9 trigger at all.
HK has a real winner with the striker-fired VP9. The handgun shoots great and is very reliable. With the ambidextrous controls and the high degree of grip size customization, the pistol should be a good fit for just about any shooter. Mix in the price and the limited lifetime warranty, and I believe Heckler & Koch has a handgun that is worthy of the title of “People’s Pistol.”
For more information, visit http://www.hk-usa.com or call 706-568-1906.