GUN REVIEW: The Heckler & Koch VP9

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HK’s new striker-fired pistol enters the arena of police duty use.
By Nick Jacobellis

From a historical perspective, it is important to remember that Heckler & Koch has a well-deserved reputation for spearheading the development of striker-fired pistols that dates back to the 1980s. This includes production of the HK VP70 and the squeeze cocking P7. Once it became clear that market trends had established the popularity of striker-fired pistols, especially by U.S. law enforcement agencies, Heckler and Koch began developing a 21st-century striker-fired pistol. This process began over three years ago and has resulted in the new HK VP9.

According to HK, the final phase of testing for the VP9 involved evaluating this pistol with U.S.-made ammunition. HK wanted to ensure that their new pistol would function reliably with ammunition used by U.S. law enforcement officers and legally armed citizens. The evaluation process included the firing of more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition through individual test pistols.

The new HK VP9 striker-fired pistol is influenced by the HK P30, a robust and well-made service pistol that uses a traditional DA/SA trigger or as a DAO-style LEM trigger system. In addition to offering the most versatile and user-friendly interchangeable grip options in the entire firearms industry, the HK P30 has proven itself with a sterling reputation for ruggedness and reliability. This reputation was established in 2009 and 2010 when the HK P30 successfully digested over 90,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition during endurance testing without any major component failures. However, it is important to note that the difference between the Heckler & Koch VP9 goes beyond the fact that it has a striker-fired trigger system, compared to the HK P30’s hammer-fired mechanism. These differences include a different slide, a slight difference in ergonomics, as well as the fact that the VP9 has a few more parts than the HK P30. The VP9 also has more parts than most popular striker-fired pistols.

First Impressions
As you rack the slide to the rear and eject the empty 15-round magazine to make sure the VP9 is safe to handle, you immediately notice how ergonomic and well balanced this pistol is. When you continue to inspect the VP9 further, you notice how easy the slide is to operate due to HK’s patented “charging supports” on both sides of the extreme rear portion of the slide assembly. These vertical extensions provide additional gripping surface that facilitates the fast operation of the slide. It also makes it easier for those with reduced hand strength to manually operate the VP9’s slide.
In addition to the aggressive serrations on both sides of the machined slide, the VP9 is coated with HK’s proprietary “Hostile Environment Finish.” Heckler and Koch also uses the highest quality components in the VP9, including a cold hammer forged barrel that is made from canon grade steel, as well as the highest-quality steel springs and pins. While the standard non-radioactive luminous sights provide an excellent sight picture, the law enforcement model comes standard with traditional night sights. The VP9 has an extended Picatinny MIL-Standard 1913 rail system molded into the polymer frame to support the use of a tactical light. During this evaluation, the VP9 proved to be flawlessly reliable while equipped with a SureFire X300 tactical light. The VP9 also features a well-made captive recoil spring.
As far as maintenance is concerned, the VP9 uses the same user-friendly procedure to remove the slide assembly from the frame as other HK pistols. This procedure includes locking the slide back on an empty pistol, minus the magazine and lowering the slide release lever before moving the slide assembly forward. Once the slide is removed from the frame, the barrel and the captive recoil spring lift out and all can be properly cleaned and lubricated.

Shots Fired
As important as it is to physically examine a new firearm, nothing is more important than testing that firearm in the field using different brands and types of ammunition. While field testing the HK VP9 for The Police Marksman Magazine, the following ammunition was used: 9mm Federal 147-grain FMJ, Federal 115-grain FMJ, Federal 147-grain HST HP, Federal 124-grain HST HP, Federal 147-grain Hydra Shok, Winchester 124-grain FMJ, Hornady 135-grain Critical Duty, Hornady 115-grain Critical Defense, and BVAC 147-grain HP.

In addition to its flawless reliability, the 9mm HK VP9 proved to be as combat accurate as any law enforcement service pistol needs to be. During four different range sessions, the VP9 also proved to be capable of delivering “connect the dots” precision shot placement. This included shooting the VP9 in rapid fire drills to engage a TQ19 law enforcement qualification target at a distance of 7 yards and beyond. Even when used to engage an LE target at 25 yards, the VP9 proved head shots easy to make from a standing unsupported position.

As far as handling characteristics are concerned, the VP9 proved to be very soft shooting, especially when fellow test team members and I found the grip options that worked best in each of our hands. In order to change the ergonomics on the VP9, you should completely unload this pistol to make it safe to handle. Before you install a different back strap or side panels on the VP9, you need to use a punch to remove the retention pin located at the bottom of the grip. Once the retention pin is removed, you can install a different size back strap and side panels. The process of changing the side panels and the back strap is complete once you re-insert the retention pin into the grip portion of the frame. Remember, failing to take advantage of the ergonomic capabilities of the VP9 defeats the purpose of using a pistol designed for use with a variety of grip options tailored to suit different hand sizes.
In order to eject loaded and unloaded magazines, the VP9 is also equipped with a user-friendly curved shape paddle release lever. The moment you depress the paddle release, the VP9 magazine ejects like a rocket leaving its launcher. While this feature makes it possible to execute lightning-fast combat reloads, the use of a paddle-style magazine release is found only on HK and Walther pistols. Hopefully, if you decide to adopt a VP9, Heckler & Koch will eventually manufacture a sub compact model for off-duty carry as well. Even though I have no problem using pistols with a traditional button-style magazine release, I have to admit that I actually prefer the paddle design that is used on HK pistols.

The Striker-Fired VP9 Trigger
Rather than evaluate the VP9 by myself, I recruited three other shooters, including a law enforcement-trained firearms instructor and armorer who currently serves as a school district patrol sergeant, to help me field test this pistol. During this evaluation, the VP9 was compared to a Glock 19, a 9mm Walther PPQ, and the new 9mm FN FNS pistol. A general consensus of opinions regarding the VP9 trigger system was learned.

First, the VP9’s pre-travel was rated as long, the Glock 19 was rated as short, the Walther PPQ was rated as short, and the FNS was rated as medium. Second, trigger break on the VP9 was rated as crisp, the Glock 19 was rated as not as crisp as the VP9, the Walther PPQ was crisp, and the FNS was rated as very good but not as crisp as the VP9. Lastly, the VP9’s trigger over-travel was rated as minimal, the Glock 19 was rated as not noticeable, the Walther PPQ was rated as negligible, and the FNS pistol was rated as noticeable. The end result being that the VP9’s trigger pre-travel was a bit long, with a crisp break, and minimal over-travel.

Closing Remarks
The fact that the HK VP9 is priced approximately $300 less than the price of a law enforcement version of the HK P30 series of pistols ($830.00) is a clear indication that Heckler & Koch was able to develop a striker-fired pistol with a very competitive price point perspective. If the Heckler & Koch VP9 proves to be as rugged as other HK pistols, the VP9 has the potential of becoming a highly sought-after striker-fired pistol for law enforcement applications. Only time will tell if this will be the case. PM

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Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and a former police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while serving in an undercover capacity as a federal agent.

Captions:

  1. The HK VP9 proved to be flawlessly reliable including when this pistol was equipped with a SureFire X300 Tactical Light.
  2. While evaluating this pistol for Police Marksman Magazine, the VP9 delivered a succession of head shots at a fast pace from a standing, unsupported position at distances ranging from 7 to 25 yards.
  3. The VP9 can be disassembled quickly and easily.
  4. The author found the 9mm Heckler & Koch VP9 to be flawlessly reliable, very soft shooting, reasonably priced, and as accurate as any law-enforcement service pistol should be.
  5. Three sets of interchangeable grip panels, in addition to three swappable back straps, provide a comfortable handle for any officer’s hand.
  6. The patented HK Charging Support at the rear of the slide is a unique feature designed to provide an additional gripping surface. They facilitate faster manual slide action. These charging supports also make it easier for those with reduced hand strength to manually operate the slide on the VP9.
  7. The slide stop/release and paddle magazine release on the left side of the VP9 are mirrored on the right side for left-handed officers.

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