October 27, 2020
Heckler and Koch (properly pronounced ‘Coke’) introduced the VP9 in 2014. It was not their first striker-fired pistol, and far from their first polymer framed gun — for example, the HK VP70 machine pistol was produced in the 1970s and is a polymer-framed striker-fired gun.
HK has seen so much success with the VP9 that they are now offering a number of different versions, including one in .40 S&W (the VP40), an “optics ready” model, and a compact version, the VP9SK. They’re also updating the design, for example upgrading the magazines for the full size model from 15 rounds to 17.
For this special CCW issue, I secured a sample of the new VP9SK-B, which is perhaps the version of this design most suited to concealed carry. Not only is it compact, but it comes with three different magazines and night sights, and an American-style pushbutton magazine release (which is the ‘B’ model).
The full-size VP9 has a 4.09-inch barrel and flush magazines hold fifteen (soon to be 17) rounds of 9mm. It is roughly the size of a Glock 17, which means it is a bigger pistol than what most people are willing to carry. The VP9SK model, on the other hand, has been reduced in size for carry. The barrel has been shortened to 3.39-inches, and the grip shortened by nearly three-quarters of an inch so flush magazine capacity is ten rounds.
Now for your brief German lesson. The VP stands for Volkspistole, literally ‘people’s pistol’. Which is ironic, considering the restrictive process in which German citizens must go through in order to own handguns. (In Germany, this pistol is officially the SFP9.) The SK stands for “subkompakt” which I think even Antifa members wouldn’t need me to translate into English, but I’ll do it anyway — SK means “sorta compact.” Because, apparently, Germany has a different idea about what constitutes a subcompact pistol than most Americans. The ‘B’ in the title means it has an American-style pushbutton magazine release instead of the VP9’s original paddle magazine release. Knowing HK, I’m sure the ‘B’ stands for “bad Americans,” but again I digress.
Overall, the SK-B is 6.61 inches long, 4.57 inches high, and 1.31 inches thick, weighing 23.07 ounces with an empty magazine in place. It’s not the length and height which I think push this pistol out of the subcompact category (it is the same height as a S&W Shield and only half an inch longer) it is the thickness of the gun. For its size it is a very thick gun, which might make it harder to conceal than you might expect from a “subcompact.”
Please, don’t for a minute think this is a criticism. Small guns are easy to carry and hard to shoot, which is why I’ve always been a fan of carrying a big gun and dressing around it. Depending on which magazine you’ve got in this pistol (more on that in a second) the VP9SK-B is eminently concealable with the right holster/belt/covering garment combo, while shooting as well as many full-sized pistols.
The VP9SK-B is a limited production run of the VP9SK. All the B models fall into the “limited production” category, although HK is selling more of them in the US than the standard VP9 with its bilateral paddle magazine release. The polymer push-button magazine release of the B model is reversible. HK has a brief video on the product page for this pistol showing how to reverse the magazine release, and it is simple — all you’ll need is a flat-head screwdriver and a few seconds.
To HK’s credit, they came out with a completely new gun when they designed the VP9. Yes, it does look a lot like their P30, but how many people even know what an HK P30 looks like? HK historically has done a mediocre job of selling themselves to the U.S. consumer market, but that seems to be changing with HK USA.
First to clarify — the VP9 is not a (hammer-fired) P30 that has been retrofitted into a striker-fired gun (cough*SIG P250=P320*cough). While it shares a lot of the design points, and the P30 magazine, the VP9 is an all new design, one that takes full advantage of the striker-fired trigger system which allows for a much lower bore than you’ll find on any other HK pistol.
The 3.39-inch hammer forged barrel and the slide sport HK’s corrosion-resistant “hostile environment finish.” As this pistol is made in Germany, you’ll see the serial number on the frame, the slide, and the barrel, along with the proof house markings.
There are nicely aggressive flat-bottomed serrations front and back on the slide. They cover a lot of real estate, but the engineers at HK weren’t that easily satisfied, they also equipped the pistol with “charging supports.” These are polymer ridges that stick out from the very rear of the slide under the rear sight, behind the rear slide serrations, and provide for the ultimate in traction for people wearing gloves or with reduced hand strength. From behind they make the slide look rather fat, but from the side you might not even notice them.
When cocked the rear of the striker is visible through a hole in the back of the slide, and there is a small red dot on it. It does not protrude from the slide at any time. The barrel has polygonal rifling which should be very familiar to anyone who has ever looked down a Glock barrel.
Unique to this pistol variant are the TruDot night sights, made by Meprolight. These are steel sights, and the tritium inserts have white outlines.
More interesting than the sights, however, is the modularity of the grip. Like the P30, the HK VP9 offers both interchangeable backstraps and side panel grip inserts. Medium-size panels and backstrap were installed on my pistol from the factory, but the small and large ones were in the case in their own foam cutouts. All the backstraps and grip panels are marked S, M or L, and the grip panels are also helpfully marked Left or Right.
The HK VP9’s grip panels slide out to the rear after you’ve removed the backstrap. To get the backstrap off, all you have to do is push out what most of us would call a roll pin, but HK’s engineers term a “clamping sleeve.”
I was curious if mixing and matching the different sizes would result in sharp edges or steps between panels and backstraps of differing sizes, but that’s not the case. So, if you want a large right grip panel, small backstrap, and medium left grip panel, go for it.
More important to your performance than the sights or the grip, however (at least in my opinion), are the magazines provided with the pistol. HK provides three — a flush-fitting ten-round magazine, a ten-round magazine with an extended fingerhook basepad, and an extended 13-round magazine with a grip extension.
The front of the frame has two finger grooves, and most people will find two fingers are all they can get on the frame. Their pinkie will most likely be hooked around the baseplate of the magazine. This doesn’t provide you with as much control as you might like, but of course carried this way the pistol is more concealable.
With the 10-round magazine with extended fingerhook you can get your entire hand on the pistol, but I don’t see very many people using this magazine. Why? Because it is the same length as the extended 13-round magazine, and why go with 10 when you can have 13?
This pistol will of course accept the magazines meant for the full-size VP9. The original full-length magazines hold fifteen rounds, and new for 2020 are 17-round magazines. Personally, the 13-round magazine with grip extension makes this feel like a completely different gun, and even though it isn’t as concealable that is the magazine I’d have in this pistol if I was carrying it. It vastly improves handling and controllability while shooting.
In the “just because you say something a lot doesn’t make it true” category of firearms hyperbole, HK continues to tout that the VP9 has a trigger pull that is “best in class.” Now, admittedly, “best” is a subjective term, which makes it nearly disprovable by lawyers. The trigger pull on the VP9 series of pistols is very acceptable — just about as crisp as a striker-fired trigger pull gets, while not being too heavy.
I had to dig through the German HK website to find the official trigger pull specs for the VP9. The standard TR trigger pull is 30–35 Newtons, and their SF (Special Forces) trigger pull is 20–25 Newtons. For those of you still rejecting the Metric system, in addition to whatever the heck measuring system uses Newtons (Martian?), let me translate that into English for you: the standard trigger pull is 6.7–7.8 pounds, and the SF trigger is 4.5–5.6 pounds. Considering every VP9 or VP40 trigger pull I’ve tested has been under 5.6 pounds, it appears that HK has equipped the pistols heading to the US consumer market with their lighter SF trigger, which both surprises and pleases me. That makes them not quite as good as the Walther PPQ, but better than every Glock except, maybe, the Gen 5s. Trigger pull on my sample SK-B was 5.25 pounds.
The trigger itself is polymer and curved, with a safety lever in the center. The trigger face has some tiny ridges to either side of the safety lever, which itself has a groove in it, so the trigger feels serrated under your finger, although the face of it is relatively flat, which is a good thing.
When I hit the range my goal unique to this pistol was to determine how much the different magazines (and their available gripping surfaces) affected shootability. I timed myself running a plate rack as well as timed strings of fire on an IDPA target, all at realistic defensive distances (7–10 yards).
What I discovered was that I could shoot as accurately with the flush ten-round magazine in place as I could with the larger magazines, just not as fast. If I shot as fast with the flush magazine in place when compared to the mags with the extended basepads, my accuracy suffered.
However, the difference was not as great as I expected, no more than a ten percent spread, and usually less. The difference was in how much control I felt I had over the gun — the extended mags made my hands happier, but didn’t produce as much difference downrange as I expected. I think this is due in large part to how controllable this pistol is. Because it is not, in fact, a subcompact, and that matters when shooting. Even with a flush magazine in place recoil is not abusive, the sights are prominent and set a decent distance apart, the dual recoil springs to absorb recoil, the wider gun which spreads recoil over a larger backstrap area — all of these things contributed.
I loaded up each of the three magazines with ten rounds apiece (in this case with Winchester’s USA Ready 115-grain FMJ FP load) and at ten yards shot them at the center zone of an IDPA target, going as fast as I could while still keeping the hits inside the zone. It was not tough. In the accompanying photo you’ll see the vertical stringing expected when you’re pushing unfamiliar equipment hard and not quite timing your muzzle bounce right. However, the short flush magazine didn’t produce the high and low rounds, my accuracy with it in place was just as good, I just had to shoot a tiny bit slower.
Personally, I like the way the 13-round magazine feels in my hand the best, and even though I barely perform any better with it, sometimes confidence is what you need. Also, those three extra rounds. Sometimes three extra rounds are what you need … and a reload on your off-side, using a full-length 17-round magazine, just in case you find yourself in the middle of a police-free “peaceful protest” that goes off the rails … .
The VP9SK-B is a newer pistol, and not that common. It will, however, fit into any holster designed for the standard SK, and there are a number of those out there. Actually, it will fit into any holster designed for the full-size VP9 as well, although it will be a little short. DeSantis Gunhide (DesantisHolster.com) is just one of many quality holstermakers which offers IWB and OWB holsters for this pistol, in both leather and polymer. They sent me one of their Mini Scabbards for the SK-B, which is a minimalist leather belt holster that tucks the butt of the pistol in tight to the body, and allows it to just disappear under a loose shirt. This is not a pocket pistol, so you will need both a quality holster and a belt to hang it on.
Another intriguing option is the Ultra Custom IWB holster from 1791 Gunleather (1791gunleather.com). Offered in several different sizes, depending on the general size of your pistol, this is a “user customizable” holster with an exterior leather layer over a thermoplastic sheet inside. What does “thermoplastic” mean? It means you can heat up this holster and then form-fit it to your specific pistol, and when it cools it stays that shape. It provides you a hybrid holster that looks leather but performs (nearly) like a polymer/Kydex holster.
To close out this article, here’s another brief German lesson, this one about history — traditionally, HK has just not offered true semi-auto versions of many of their storied military long guns, such as the UMP and G36 (don’t you dare tell me the USC and SL8 count). This isn’t because the German HK brass doesn’t understand and doesn’t like the US commercial market. Well, it’s not just because of that, it is mainly because the German government restricts the commercial availability of firearms designed originally for their military.
When I first reviewed the VP9, I wrote how HK needed to offer a model with an American-style push-button magazine release, not because such a magazine release is superior, but because that’s what American consumers want. However, the unofficial official HK customer service motto is, “You suck, and we hate you,” so I sincerely doubted that would ever happen. I am happy to have been proven wrong.
I was told by an American employee on the US side of HK that things were changing and that they were making inroads against the stiff German leadership in regard to products for America, which is the single largest firearms market in the world. I am pleased to see this is more than just hyperbole. Between the American-style mag release buttons on the VP9 and the introduction of the SP5, so that we finally have semi-auto MP5 option made by HK, at a competitive price no less, they now seem to be producing the firearms American consumers want as opposed to the firearms they think the consumers should want. With HK now having production facilities in the US whose products will not be strangled by German law I am eagerly anticipating what comes next.
There are several versions of the VP9SK-B. The base model comes with one 10- and one 13-round magazine, and retails for $740. This deluxe model with three magazines and night sights has an MSRP of $849.
Heckler and Koch VP9SK-B Specs
- Type: Striker fired
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 10+1 (13 round magazine provided)
- Barrel Length: 3.39 in.
- Overall Length: 6.61 in.
- Height: 4.57 in.
- Width: 1.32 in.
- Weight: 23.07 oz (with empty magazine)
- Construction: Polymer frame, steel slide
- Sights: 3-dot Meprolight night sights
- Trigger: 5.25-lbs (as tested)
- Safeties: Firing pin, mechanical (trigger lever)
- Accessories: 2 10-round magazines, 1 13-round magazine and 3 backstraps/grip panel sets
- MSRP: $849.00
- Manufacturer: Heckler and Koch, (706) 568-1906, HK-USA.com
Heckler and Koch VP9SK-B Accuracy Results