October 24, 2023
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I’ve written before that we’re living in the “Golden Age” of carry guns. I say this not just because of the number of guns on the market designed specifically for concealed carry, but because of the quality and features of these guns. If you’re under the age of thirty, I’m sure you have no idea that finding a semi-auto pistol—of any size—100% reliable with JHP ammunition during what I’ll call the “pre-Glock” era was, at best, a hit-or-miss proposition. Finding a completely reliable compact pistol, with good ergonomics, double-digit capacity, and serious sights? Forget about it. These days, you have all sorts of choices in reliable, concealable carry guns. The most popular type of carry gun for the past 5+ years has been the subcompact polymer-framed striker-fired 9mm, and one of the most popular guns of that type has been the Springfield Armory Hellcat.
People who regularly shoot the guns they carry (which unfortunately is a minority) have discovered that while sub- and micro-compact pistols are convenient for carry, they’re not that fun or easy to shoot. As a result, many companies are now offering slightly upsized versions of their micro 9s—enter the Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro. The Hellcat Pro is a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol. It is currently only available in 9mm. The original Hellcat paired a 3.0-inch barrel with a short grip that fit 11 rounds in a flush magazine. The Hellcat Pro stretches the barrel to 3.7-inches. The grip has been lengthened as well to fit 15-rounds in a flush magazine—and two are provided with each pistol.
The Hellcat Pro is 6.6-inches long, 4.8-inches tall (with iron sights), and just one inch in width. With an empty magazine in place it weighs 21 ounces. There are very gentle finger grooves in the frame, and most people should be able to get all their fingers on the grip, vastly improving control and the overall shooting experience. When the Hellcat came out, its direct competition was the SIG Sauer P365, which had been introduced the year earlier. Springfield advertised the Hellcat as the highest capacity subcompact in the world, as its flush magazines held one more round than the P365. The original Hellcat was smaller than a snubnose revolver, while holding twice as many rounds. The larger Hellcat Pro is smaller in every dimension than the “carry gun against which all others should be judged” Glock 19, while offering the same capacity—and better sights.
Currently Springfield Armory offers several versions of the Hellcat Pro, all of which are “OSP” models (Optical Sight Pistol), Springfield’s term for being optics ready. The only differences in the various models are the finish, and whether or not it comes from the factory with an optic. Currently the only version of the Hellcat Pro which comes from the factory with an optic (the one seen here, the Shield SMSc) is the black model, but they do sell the SMSc optic at the Springfield Armory online store. As seen here, the Hellcat Pro FDE has an MSRP of $692, and the SMSc is currently on sale in the Springfield Armory store for $249.99. If you’re happy with “just” a black pistol package, the Hellcat Pro with SMSc from the factory has an MSRP of $859.
The barrel has a Melonite (nitride) coating for corrosion resistance. In the black models, the slide has a Melonite coating as well. The FDE models have a Cerakote coating on the slide, with the FDE color molded into the grip. At the rear of the barrel hood you’ll see a cutout serving as a loaded chamber indicator—I don’t find these very useful in anything other than direct sunlight, but they allow the pistol to be sold in certain states that mandate these kind of “safety” features. The slide has cocking serrations forward and rear that are shallower than what you’ll see on full-size pistols, and yet are very functional. Cerakote is not noticeably slick under the hand, so between the serrations and the finish you’ll have no problems working the slide.
Both the original Hellcat and the Hellcat Pro have what I consider best-in-class sights. First off, they are steel, unlike the polymer placeholders Glock still insists on using. The front sight has a tritium insert around which is a bright greenish-orange circle of photoluminescent paint, making the sight visible day or night. What does that paint do? If you take the pistol from a brightly-lit area into a dimly lit one, the ring will glow brightly for several minutes, in addition to the tritium glowing bright. You can also hit that front sight with light from a flashlight for a few seconds to start it glowing. The rear sight has a U-shaped notch, around which is a white semi-circle. The notch is generous, allowing for a good amount of daylight around the front sight, which is what you want. If you’re running the Hellcat Pro with just iron sights, the front face of the rear sight is vertical, and tall enough that you should be able to rack it one-handed on a hard surface. If you’ve got an optic mounted on the slide, such as the Shield SMSc provided with this pistol, you can use the front of the optic to rack the slide—and on that note, if your optic of choice isn’t durable enough for this, it won’t handle recoil forces, and you need to choose a different optic.
The Shield SMSc sits low enough in the slide that you can see and use the iron sights through the window, for if/when the battery dies. And a bit about this optic, as it is the optic Springfield Armory currently provides on those optic-equipped models of the Hellcat and Hellcat Pro. The SMSc (Shield Mini Sight—Compact) is available with a number of different reticles, but the one provided with the Hellcats has a 4 MOA dot. The Shield has a polymer housing with a glass lens which has a silicon dioxide quartz hard coating for durability and resistance to the exhaust gases which will be flying around if you do any shooting at all. This coating will also resist scratching, when you undoubtedly wipe off the lens with something completely unsuited to the job (you know who you are).
The optic mounts directly to the slide (no plates) with two screws, and weighs less than half an ounce with the battery (a CR2032) installed. The brightness of the dot automatically adjusts in response to ambient light, and at its lowest it is night vision compatible. At its brightest it is more than bright enough to use outside in direct sunlight. You will have to remove the sight from the slide to replace the battery, but battery life is estimated between 1-3 years under heavy use, and more than 4 years under average use. Shield is actually a British company, which makes me wonder what they consider average use—turning the gun in to the police?—considering private ownership of handguns is pretty much banned in the UK, and the police over there haven’t really caught on to pistol optics yet. It’s clear this pistol is built for concealed carry. The takedown lever is small and nearly flush to the frame. Ditto for the single-sided slide stop. You will probably be able to use the small slide stop as a slide release, depending on the size of your fingers, if you’re wearing gloves, etc.
One of the reasons why I think the Hellcat became popular is at the time, its only real competition was the SIG P365, and while that pistol has a lot to recommend it, it has a weird grip angle. In an era where more and more people are shooting Glocks, with their very aggressive grip angle, SIG went with a nearly vertical grip angle on both the original P320 and the P365 that doesn’t feel right to many people. The Hellcat has a more standard, 1911-style grip angle, and when you present the gun, it’s pointed downrange, not the sky or the ground.
Modern injection molding is getting better and better, and can be made almost as sharp as hand stippling, but you likely don’t want that on a concealed carry pistol as it will catch on your clothing. What Springfield calls the “Adaptive Grip Texture” on the frame is somewhat fine, but nicely grippy. The harder you squeeze the gun, the more the texturing digs into your hand. The texturing is actually raised, staggered pyramid shapes, but you likely won’t be able to see them in detail unless you grab a magnifying glass. In addition to the areas of the grip under your palm and fingers, there are dished areas on the frame above the front of the trigger guard that sport texturing as well, meant for the thumb of your support hand while shooting two-handed.
The front of the frame sports a two-slot rail for mounting lights. Out past it you’ll see the front of the full-length recoil spring guide rod. When Springfield first released the Hellcat they advertised that it had a built-in “Stand-off device,” which would “prevent” the slide from moving out of battery if pressed against an object. This “device” was just the wide end of the recoil spring guide rod, which extends as far from the slide as the barrel, which they then checkered. Springfield Armory doesn’t really talk much about this feature now, and I’m glad, as pressing the end of this gun against anything that isn’t hard and flat as a board, at the exact right angle, would still likely cause the pistol to go out of battery. The end of the recoil spring rod is still checkered, though.
The serrated steel magazine release is reversible, and does not protrude more widely than the body of the grip. I found it easy to work without adjusting my grip. One of the advantages of the longer grip, beyond control while shooting, is being able to more smoothly do reloads without your hand getting in the way of the magazine. While the Hellcat Pro isn’t exactly a competition race gun, between the length of the grip and the beveled magazine well, getting a fresh magazine into the gun is not a struggle. The main complaint—really, the only complaint I’ve consistently heard about the Hellcat—is the weight of the trigger pull. The Hellcat Pro has ostensibly the same trigger system as the Hellcat. Springfield doesn’t list an official pull weight for the guns, but generally they seem to have seven-pound (or heavier) trigger pulls. The trigger pull on this sample Hellcat Pro measured 7.0-pounds. While it was as crisp as trigger pulls get on striker-fired guns, you feel every pound. The trigger itself is polymer, with a passive safety lever on its face.
Springfield Armory could easily put a lighter trigger pull on this pistol, and likely chose this heavier weight as the Hellcat pistols have no external safeties and will be stuffed down pants and into pockets. They’re using that heavier trigger pull as a kind of additional safety to protect themselves and their customers. Red dot optics allow most people to shoot more accurately than with iron sights (albeit more slowly at most defensive distances). However, the increased accuracy of the red dot, in this case, is negated by the heavy trigger pull, and you’ll end up in about the same place, accuracy-wise, as an iron-sighted pistol with a crisp 4-pound trigger. We can argue all day over what a “good” or “proper” trigger pull weight is for a carry gun. If you gather ten people together and ask them that question, you’ll get twelve different answers. However, it’s clear that the Hellcat has the heaviest factory trigger pull of any of the popular sub- and micro-compact pistols on the market. And it seems to be popular not because of but rather in spite of the trigger pull, as the most popular aftermarket upgrade for the Hellcat is the replacement trigger kit from Apex Tactical. This drop-in upgrade will lower the trigger pull to 5.0-5.5 pounds while reducing over-travel and reset.
The Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro exists in that “Goldilocks” zone of carry guns that are small enough to conceal and yet big enough to shoot comfortably. My philosophy on carry guns has always been to carry a handgun big enough to solve any problem you might encounter which can be solved with just a handgun. That doesn’t just mean adequate capacity for fighting off multiple attackers, but a gun that is shootable enough to accurately engage someone at what I’ll call “parking lot” distances. Despite my complaints about the Hellcat Pro’s trigger, the gun is more than capable, which is why it and the original Hellcat have been such successes for Springfield Armory. Accuracy testing is always more boring than fun, but once that was done I had a good time downing steel and punching paper with the Hellcat Pro. It shoots almost like a full-size gun. The high visibility sights are quick to acquire and reacquire under recoil, and the Shield SMSc kept working steadily throughout my testing. I definitely noticed when I was shooting +P ammunition, but the Hellcat Pro proved very manageable no matter what I fed it—and completely reliable.
When it comes to terminal performance, pistols suck (that’s a technical gunwriter term) compared to rifles or shotguns. With pistols, to a great extent it doesn’t matter what caliber you’re using, what matters is where you hit them, and how many times. Considering standard pressure FMJ 9mm ammunition will penetrate a ballistic gel block 20+ inches, the trick is choosing a hollowpoint that gives you the penetration, expansion, and recoil you want. For smaller guns like this, one of my favorite loads is Federal’s HST Micro offering. This 150-grain bullet is heavy for caliber, so you’re guaranteed penetration. Plus, it’s very soft recoiling, which is good when shooting it out of small guns.
Springfield has been spot-on with their advertisements for the Hellcat Pro. From their promotional video off YouTube, Special Response Team Commander Joe Weyer states, “In twenty-five years of police work, I have never once intervened in a rape, I have never once intervened in a home invasion, I’ve never once intervened in a robbery. It’s very rare that law enforcement actually intervenes in that type of crime. Law enforcement is almost always, traditionally, reactive. You know, you have to, in those first moments, be able to take care of yourself.” This is why the term “first responder” is such a misnomer—the real first responders are the citizens who are there when something happens. The refusal to accept the truth of this quite often defines someone politically. They say that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged—they suddenly see the light, about so many things. Society is getting increasingly crazy. The good news is, modern carry guns are capable of so much more than those available to previous generations, which is excellent. If you’re going to carry a gun for self-defense, it should be capable enough to get you out of whatever trouble you find yourself in. The Hellcat Pro—with or without optic—is exactly that kind of gun.
Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro OSP
- Type: Striker-fired, semi-auto
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 15 rds.
- Barrel: 3.7 in., Melonite finish
- Length: 6.6 in.
- Height: 4.8 in.
- Width: 1 in.
- Weight: 21 oz.
- Slide: Steel, desert FDE Cerakote
- Grip/Frame: Polymer
- Sights: Steel, tritium/luminescent front, U-notch rear, optics ready
- Optic: Shield SMSc with 4 MOA dot
- Trigger Pull: 7 lbs. (tested)
- Safety: Drop safety on trigger, internal striker safety
- Price: $692 (FDE w/irons), $859 (Black w/SMSc Optic), $299 (Shield SMSc optic separate)
- Accessories: Two 15-round magazines, cable lock
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory
The articles was originally published in Be Ready! Magazine. You can find an original copy at OSGnewsstand.com. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.