As anyone who has ever handled a standard Heckler & Koch USP can tell you, measuring 7.6 inches long, 5.35 inches high and 1.26 inches wide is a big pistol. Even for an uniformed police officer, carrying one all day can be very inconvenient. The situation is more so for the licensed civilian who carries their handgun concealed. To address these concerns Heckler & Koch introduced the USP Compact.
Unlike some “compact” pistols, HK didn’t simply hack off pieces of the slide, barrel, frame and grip. In addition to shortening the length, height and width of the pistol, the slide, polymer frame and grip were all re-contoured to provide slimmer dimensions and a shorter trigger reach without sacrificing ergonomics or recoil control.
The USP Compact’s machined steel slide features drift adjustable front and rear sights, aggressive grasping grooves and a prominent set of metal sights (both three dot and night sights are available). The generously sized ejection port and a large claw extractor ensure positive extraction and ejection of spent cases while the extractor does double duty as a loaded chamber indicator.
The barrel features polygonal rifling for enhanced accuracy, easier cleaning and longer barrel life. The external hammer has been bobbed so it won’t hang up on clothing or gear—further enhancing concealability.
With the reduction in length of the slide and barrel, the mechanical recoil reduction system found on large-frame USPs was replaced by a flat compression spring contained in the captive recoil spring assembly by a polymer absorber bushing. Despite the part’s smaller size, service life is still engineered to exceed 20,000 rounds.
The slide reciprocates on four steel inserts that are integral to the fiber-reinforced polymer frame. To make it southpaw-friendly, the pistol’s magazine release paddle is located at the base of the triggerguard where it can be activated by either hand. The slide release is well shaped and positioned for easy manipulation and the control lever (a.k.a. safety/decocker lever) can be mounted on either side, although moving it to the starboard does require additional components.
The design of the pistol’s lockwork allows it to be carried in either “cocked and locked” mode or with the hammer down on a loaded chamber. For the former, you chamber a round and then push the control lever up to make the pistol “safe.” Pushing the lever down allows you to fire the pistol with a short, single-action trigger stoke.
For the latter, you chamber a round and then exert additional pressure on the control lever, pushing it past the “fire” position where it safely decocks the pistol. You can then fire the first round with a double-action trigger pull and subsequent shots in single-action.
The breech is locked by the barrel hood moving up into and bearing on the front edge of the ejection port. When you fire the pistol, the slide/barrel unit reciprocates to the rear locked together. After a short distance the barrel is cammed down, which allows the slide to continue rearward extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case. The recoil spring then pulls the slide forward, stripping the next round from the magazine and chambering it. As the slide goes into battery the barrel is cammed up, locking it and the slide together again.
Despite the Compact’s grip being shorter than the standard USP, magazine capacity (.40 caliber) has only been reduced by one round. The pistol comes with two 12-round magazines, one with a flat basepad and the other with a finger rest basepad that allows a full grip on the pistol, even for those of us with meaty paws. The sides of the grip above the magazine well have been relieved to allow an enhanced purchase on malfunctioning magazines in case it is necessary to drag them out of the pistol. An integral rail located on the dustcover section of the frame allows mounting lights, lasers or other tactical accessories.
The USP Compact comes with HK’s “Lock-Out” device. Located in the rear of the magazine well, this unit is operated with a long key that locks the hammer, trigger and slide to prevent unauthorized firing of the pistol.
I was suitably impressed with the USP Compact. The quality of materials, manufacture and fit were all first class. The pistol’s ergonomics were very good, and were enhanced by using the magazine with the finger-rest baseplate.
While I could manipulate the slide stop without moving the pistol around in my hand, I did find the operation of the magazine release a bit disconcerting. As just about every pistol I own requires it, pushing the magazine release in has become second nature to me. The HK requires a downward sweep that took some getting use to and if I were to use it as a service, or full time concealed carry, pistol I would have to do a lot of practicing with it. That being said, the magazines fell free when the release was pushed (down) whether they were loaded or empty, slide forward or locked open.
Both the DA and SA trigger pulls displayed a bit of “new gun” stiffness, but the former was stage free while the latter broke crisply at—according to my RCBS trigger pull scale—3.75 pounds.
At the test range, my first task was to test fire it for accuracy from a rest at a measured 15 yards with four different brands of JHP .40 ammunition. As has been my experience with a number of .40 pistols, the Compact preferred heavier bullets and I fired several sub 2-inch groups with the Remington and Hornady ammunition.
After the chore of chronographing was completed, I set up a pair of Birchwood Casey combat targets, belted on a Galco holster and proceeded to run USP through the following drills—from 5 yards, draw pistol and fire five rounds on each target with an unsupported (one-handed) grip; from 5 yards, draw pistol, switch it to weak hand and fire five rounds on each target; from 10 yards, draw pistol and fire two rounds (double-tap) on each target, perform combat reload and repeat (re-holster and repeat drill twice); from 15 yards, draw pistol and fire five rounds on each target, slow aimed fire.
These drills showed that the USP Compact was capable of doing what was needed to be done. Thanks to its excellent ergonomics and the aggressive texturing and checkering on the frame, recoil control was very good. The sights allowed fast target acquisition and transition and the controls—even that magazine release, once I got used to it—were easy to manipulate. Except for some of the rounds fired with an unsupported grip, all of the projectiles sent downrange found their way into the higher scoring zones of the targets.
Seeing no sense in hauling unfired ammunition home I spent an enjoyable half hour engaging steel plate targets on the 25- and 50-yard backstops and racked up a satisfying ratio of “clangs” to “bangs.”
My only complaint concerned the DA trigger. I had expected it to smooth out and lighten up with use but despite running about 300 rounds through the Heckler & Koch USP that afternoon I did not noticed very little improvement. In the pistol’s defense I have to mention that I did not experience a single failure to chamber, fire, extract and eject. But then HK pistols are known for their reliability… and this one lived up to the family reputation.
If you are in the market for a lightweight, reliable, good-handling pistol for police service, home defense or concealed carry it would be worth your while to check out the USP Compact before you make a decision.