When it comes to the topic of concealed carry handguns, debates on which is the best option for carry can quickly become a heated subject. Age old arguments for and against full size frames, 9mm vs 45 ACP can range on for hours with no clear answer. In the end, it boils down to the fact that your life and the lives of others will be depending on the one handgun you have available at the time of crisis. It goes without saying; the most important decision a responsible gun owner needs to make before deciding on caliber or method of carry is choosing a firearm made by a reputable and dependable manufacturer. This month, we’re going to take a look at a great carry pistol option from one of the top names in the world!
Perhaps the most respected name in the firearms industry, Heckler & Koch, continues to impress with its refusal to rest on their laurels of previous successes. This is a company who pioneered polymer construction in firearms. HK actually invented the first striker fired pistol in the form of the VP70 back in 1970. (Yes, there were striker fired pistols almost 15 years before your beloved Glocks were born!) On top of all that, HK created the iconic MP5 platform and introduced the SpecOps community to the Universal Self-loading Pistol (USP) which is still used by some tasks forces today. Recently, HK has done it again in the field of concealed carry handguns with their return to the striker fired pistol concept in the form of the VP9 and VP40. Released in June of 2014, this pistol seemed to fly under the radar during its inaugural year only to blossom into favor by mid-2015. As a long-time fan of HK firearms, I jumped at the chance to test and evaluate a sample of their VP9 chambered in the ever popular 9mm. Over the past three months, I have regularly carried and shot this pistol and finally feel experienced enough with the VP9 to share my experience.
As a strong proponent of daily concealed carry, I regularly pack a mid-size frame Glock 19 chambered in 9mm in a very comfortable inside the waist band holster custom built for me by none other than Survivor Creek Tactical here in Jacksonville, FL. The overall size and 15 round magazine capacity of the G19 have served me well over the years. When the HK VP9 arrived, it was immediately endearing to me due to its similar size fitting directly between my existing daily carry and the full size Glock 17 I use for teaching every week and personal training. As I removed the VP9 from the hard plastic storage case inspection, it seemed to melt into my hand as if custom molded.
Part of what made the VP9 so comfortable was its industry standard replaceable back straps. What set this HK offering apart from other polymer frames was the ability to also change out the side panels to fully fit your palm firmly. This perfect fit isn’t as noticeable when shooting strong hand due to grip strength being able to make up for a lot of regular short comings. When shooting weak hand supported and weak hand only however, the right fit could mean the difference between X ring shots and misses.
The Heckler Koch VP9 has two strong factors right out the gate to ensure it will be a big success as time continues. The first is in its durable cold hammer forged barrel with polygonal rifling. HK has a great reputation for their barrel making process and polygonal rifling has already proven in several other styles of pistol as a long lasting profile. Having used a very similar barrel in other HK products, there is plenty of data showing over 90,000 torture tests very favorable results.
The second factor is 15 round magazines in which HK uses in the VP9. These were originally developed for the HK P30 pistol in 2006 which continues to be produced today. As anyone who has experienced by purchasing a newly created model of a handgun, spare magazines usually take up to a year to become commercially available. With the P30 having a decade head start on the VP9, spare magazines are readily available and reasonably priced.
- Overall Length – 7.34”
- Barrel Length – 4.1”
- Width – 1.32”
- Height – 5.44”
- Weight with empty magazine – 25 oz.
- Caliber – 9x19mm
- Action – Shot Recoil Operated Browning Type Tilting Barrel w/ Locked Breech
Eager to spend some quality time on the range at “The Swamp” training grounds, I had to wait a few days due to Tropical Storms moving through the area. The wait was especially difficult because as a special treat, this would be the first of many reviews to come with our new AR500 steel silhouette training target by the great folks at Steel Veteran Targets. This target system is quick to set up with only the need of a socket wrench and a can of spray paint for basic take down and maintenance. By using a high quality AR500 steel target, I am assured ammo up to a .50 BMG at the appropriate distances will not dimple or damage its surface and cause any undue bullet ricochets which may be dangerous to my film crew and guest shooters.
To accompany my every day carry 5.11 leather belt, I decided to give my good friend, John Phillips with Survivor Creek Tactical a phone call to be outfitted with an inside the waistband holster to carry the HK VP9. In typical fashion I have come to get used to with John, he was excited to help with the project and had a holster / spare magazine holder combo ready to go in time for my first range outing. (Little known fact about living in Florida, production goes up during rainy days because we aren’t tempted to hit the beach or float in the pool!)
As the dark clouds parted and the sunshine broke through to blue skies, I loaded up my range bag with boxes of bulk UMC 115 grain Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) practice ammo and Winchester HE (High Energy) 115 grain Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) personal protection ammo. A quick call to fellow gun writer, Craig Reinolds to check status of the training groups, verified all flash flood water had already gone down and the course was clear to go. After grabbing my “eyes” and “ears,” I was set to head “The Swamp” to put in some work!
Once I arrived at the range and got set up, I wanted to start out by running the FMJ target ammo immediately on our new AR500 targets provided by Steel Veteran Targets. With the main focus of a conceal carry pistol being combat accuracy instead of bullseye shooting, the reduced sized B-27 shape of the Steel Veteran Target is perfect for this style of training. Within 5 minutes, the target was already set up and ready to ROCK!
As I charged the first round into battery, I could really feel the advantage of the rear polymer protrusions or “ears” that aided in keeping a firm grip while retracting the slide. This will open the VP9 up to a wider range of age and strength in shooters. As an instructor for the nation’s largest not-for-profit ladies shooting club, The Well Armed Woman, the ability to cycle the slide is a huge topic not traditionally addressed in the male dominated industry. Younger shooters, small framed shooters and elderly shooters usually do not have the strength in their hands to grip and cycle handgun slides regularly without slipping off. These small grip “ears” are made from the same polymer as the pistols slide and feel wonderful to struggling hands trying to obtain a solid purchase on the slide regardless of which hand is used.
From the draw, four quick shots found their way into the spray painted heart of the steel target. The trigger broke crisp and very clean with a very constant pull all the way through. Unlike most trigger pulls that start out lighter and increase through the “break”, the VP9 retains approximately 5.7lb trigger pull from take up to over travel. This scores huge points in my book by knowing what to expect shot to shot in developing a rhythm in firing. If you have read my review of the HK USP .45, you will know I am not a huge fan of the single / double action style triggers, which makes this striker fire HK offering doubly attractive to me.
A small feature that seems to be important for the “lawyer fearing” population is presence of a loaded chambered indicator. Unlike some firearm companies that go out of their way to make sure this feature always looks like a horn growing out of your forehead, HK has incorporated theirs as a dot in the rear of the slide. If this dot protrudes from its hole in the slide, the chamber is loaded and it is recessed deep in the slide on an empty chamber. While I originally wondered if this would be annoying or distracting while focusing on breaking my shots, it actually never garnered my attention after the initial inspection of the pistols action.
Changing from each 15 round magazine, the ambidextrous magazine release, located at the base of the trigger guard, made for effortless mechanics due to being able to manipulate with my trigger finger, middle finger or thumb regardless if I was shooting strong or weak handed. This is actually rarely looked at as a “plus” because the traditional US style of the release being a button on the grip is easier for the shooter to access with the strong hand. This is usually pointed out by someone who doesn’t understand the extreme importance of being able to shoot with both hands equally. I say this because if you switch to the left hand, which is most shooters’ weak hand, the magazine can be released easily by accident during recoil. HK’s trigger guard mounted “paddle” release eliminates this greatly. The only real drawback to this typically European style HK release comes in attempting administrative reloads while the pistol remains holstered. Due to how most holsters come high up on the trigger guard, it is very difficult to access the release quickly if even at all. A “taco” style holster would probably be more accommodating for this procedure.
Moving from target loads to the Winchester HE 115 grain Jacketed Hollow Point ammo, I could feel a slight difference in recoil given the nearly 100 foot per second difference velocity than the UMC Full Metal Jacket ammo I was previously shooting. I can’t say this difference was any stronger in recoil, but it did seem to cause a slight bit of extra muzzle rise which increases shot to shot times. Using the HK’s 3 dot sights, I was able to transition from our standard small steel targets for focused precision shooting to the Steel Veteran AR500 target to quickly dump rounds into a larger representation of a human’s vital area. The micro flex action of the polymer frame’s construction helps absorb recoil easily and makes for a very controllable pistol to shoot for all skill levels.
For three months after the initial range testing, I have carried daily and trained with it regularly. The non-block feeling of the pistol in my hand is admittedly a welcome change to the 20 years of regularly carrying various model Glocks. I have even started using the HK VP9 in the firearm classes I teach to allow new shooters a chance to enjoy a quality firearm that may not be something they are quite ready to invest in owning at that point. With a retail price of $719.00, it would be a leap of faith for a new shooter to purchase over more affordable firearms without having an opportunity to shoot it and compare.
The VP9 makes a great choice for new and experienced shooter alike with its pointability, simple design and ambidextrous slide lock and magazine release. Field stripping was easy to accomplish for all levels of shooters I worked with. I like the fact in which the HK trigger does not need to be fired in order to disassemble the pistol; this is an added safety feature indeed. By locking the slide to the rear and rotating the take down lever forward, the slide can be moved forward off the frame to remove the barrel and guide rod / spring combo.
My only negative point I have is in the magazine capacity. While I have no issue with 15 round capacity, the size of the VP9’s magazine is almost identical in size to that of the full size Glock 17. This 17 round magazine seems lighter and weaker than the all steel HK counterpart but yet has a long history of reliability and performance. Judging from both magazines, I can’t see why the HK offering would not include these extra two rounds as well. With that being said, if VP9 has to sacrifice a potential 17 round capacity to retain its extremely concealable, more contoured grip, so be it!
Let’s face it, Heckler Koch makes great products, always have and seemly always will. This company refuses to be second place in anything they do. The VP9 has everything it takes to be the next product to carry the HK banner to the forefront of the firearms industry for years to come. With its industry standard Picatinny rail for adding lights and lasers and its custom tailored rear / side adjustments, the options allow all ages, shapes and sizes to feel like this gun was specially made for them.
Since testing this pistol, not only did I purchase the loan sample, I have continued to carry it daily as my “go to” concealed carry firearm. This doesn’t just mean the added daily comfort in carrying a handgun, but also having a great piece of mind to possibly having to depend my life and the lives of my wife and two young daughters on its reliability and performance. I cannot offer a stronger recommendation that this. I urge you to shoot one for yourself and discover what the next level of handgun style and accuracy is all about in the world of striker fired pistols.