Review: Heckler & Koch VP9SK
November 20, 2017
More than 22 years ago, as technical editor of the American Rifleman, I traveled to Smyrna, Ga., for the introduction of the Glock 26 and 27 pistols. It was quite the occasion, attended by Gaston Glock himself.
We wrung out the new compact pistols in an all-day range session. Younger readers may have forgotten that the then-new Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act limited magazines to 10 rounds, and manufacturers were responding to that by introducing compact double-stack pistols that shrank the pistol envelope to the size of the magazine.
At the airport after the junket, the assembled writers, who along with me included John Taffin, Jim Wilson and two who would be important in the history of this magazine, Frank James and Peter Kokalis, argued about the new pistols.
It was agreed that they were the right products for the situation, that they functioned perfectly and that they would sell like hotcakes. What no one expressed was any great love for them. Everyone thought they were pudgy, blocky and generally unattractive.
Since the two new baby Glocks were initiating a whole new product category, I don't think anyone at the table could have described exactly what he would have liked better, but if you could have reached into the future and brought back the Heckler & Koch VP9SK, I suspect it would have filled the bill for most of us, even Kokalis.
The striker-fired VP9SK bears the same relation to the VP9 as the hammer-fired P30SK does to the P30 or the hammer-fired P2000SK does to the P2000. When you consider the HK still offers the HK45, Mark 23 and
several variants of the USP that I first wrote up more than 25 years ago, it has one of the most complicated pistol lines out there. Many haven't been especially easy to find, either.
Anyone selling a striker-fired pistol into the police market has to contend with more than 30 years of Glock dominance in that arena. Police administrators may like to see something that is bit different from the Austrian product, but it doesn't pay to stray too far, since requirements are often written with the Glock in mind.
So the VP9SK has the familiar trigger with central safety blade. For those of you who have just gotten into pistols or who have been in Rip Van Winkle mode for the past few decades, this is propped against the frame and prevents trigger movement until depressed, a natural part of firing the pistol. It helps prevent firing if the VP9SK is dropped on its back.
The striker system is precocked, providing the VP9SK a very crisp 5½-pound trigger pull. HK has added a cocking indicator on the tail of the striker that protrudes through a port at the rear of the slide.
As a practical matter, I'm not sure when you'd actually use this, as the only condition in which the dot would not be visible would be if you had pulled the trigger on an empty chamber. I suppose it would be handy if you wished to keep a loaded magazine in the pistol with the striker down.
There's a red strip on the pivoting extractor that serves as a loaded chamber indicator, so if you can see red there and the red on the striker, you're ready for the fun to start.
Since the slide must cycle to precock the striker, there's no second-strike capability; if you have a dud round, you must eject it and resume firing. Second-strike capability is usually touted by makers of hammer-fired pistols who are at the moment swimming against the tide.
You normally expect to see a plunger in the underside of the slide for a striker blocking safety, but HK switches it up here with a pivoting striker block. It is rotated about 10° clockwise by a projection on the trigger bar, allowing the striker to move forward.
Interestingly, the trigger bar is controlled by a braided spring that rides in a recess in the right side of the magazine well. You'd expect a one-strand wire spring here, but HK went the extra mile and specified braided.
Trigger travel is about 3/8", with trigger reset occurring in about the same distance of slide travel. The trigger guard is quite roomy, giving plenty of clearance for a gloved trigger finger. It's slightly recurved at the front, with a serrated gripping surface. That feature is out of style these days, but keep in mind those police solicitations written with a Glock in hand.
The VP9SK's exterior is generally smooth, except for the takedown lever on the left above the trigger and the bilateral slide release levers. These are pivoted on the trigger pin and quite long at 17â„8 inches. The extra leverage makes for easy operation, and there's no discernable difference in the effort required for either side.
The left-hander is further catered for by the bilateral magazine release, a style that first appeared on the USP. It's a piece with two arms nicely contoured into the trigger guard, where you can activate it with index finger or thumb, as you choose.
This is an instinctive and handy release system that is routinely pooh-poohed by those who regard any deviation from the M1911 as heresy. If you try it, my bet is that you like it.
The grip is exceptionally comfortable, and unusually capable of customization. The VP9SK is provided with three backstraps that are, respectively, .5", .6" and .7" at their deepest points.
It also comes with three right-hand and three left-hand grip panels that measure .175", .205" and .255" thick. These slide into contoured, dovetailed slots on either side of the grip.
You can select any combination of side panels and backstrap you wish, allowing 18 different combinations. It's hard to imagine the hand that couldn't be accommodated by some assortment of the supplied parts.
All these pieces are retained by a single roll pin at the bottom rear of the grip that also serves as a lanyard loop.
The grip has two finger grooves on its front, covered in the same sort of grippy molding that covers the backstrap and grip panels. A large but nicely contoured beavertail helps you get a high hand position on the grip.
There's a three-slotted accessory rail on the dust cover that's molded around a husky aluminum plate that serves both as a place for the serial number and as a stiffener for the dust cover. When lights are mounted, they can flex an all-plastic dust cover, binding the slide.
Speaking of the slide, it's a quite complicated piece of machining. A low rib passes between the front and rear sights, breaking up the wide expanse of the slide top. Front and rear sights are dovetailed, allowing easy removal and replacement.
The wedge-style rear sight retains what HK styles the "charging supports," plastic wings that extend from either side of the slide rear to provide a better grip when retracting it. As the grasping grooves are quite aggressive, you shouldn't have to worry about the slide slipping your grip.
If you don't like the winged look, HK offers flush-fitting inserts that fill the openings for the charging supports.
The ejection port is flared both at the rear for smooth ejection and at the front, for easy ejection of loaded rounds. Accent lines machined on either side, as well as the slide's taper toward the top, give it a much lighter appearance than Brand G.
The barrel is hammer-forged with polygonal rifling, which is notable for extended barrel life and a slight increase in velocity. The downside for the extremely thrifty is that it's not suitable for cast or swaged lead bullets.
Like most pistols in this class, the VP9SK uses a telescoping captive double spring system. This helps prevent binding of the springs and as a bonus, makes disassembly a lot easier.
Speaking of disassembly, several manufacturers are offering striker-fired pistols that can be disassembled without pulling the trigger, something that's required with the market leader and that has caused unnecessary excitement in police locker rooms.
You don't need to pull the trigger to remove the VP9SK's slide, though I found it slides off more easily if you pull the trigger slightly as it moves forward.
The VP9SK is supplied with two 10-round magazines, one with a flat baseplate and the other with a finger-rest baseplate for comfortable range shooting. Where state laws allow, you can also get 13- or 15-round magazines with even more impressive finger rest baseplates, or you can use the 15-round VP magazine or P30 magazines. A useful magazine loader comes with the pistol.
The magazines are dovetailed and laser-welded at the back for durability, and have witness holes at four, six, eight and 10 rounds. Baseplates slide off for easy magazine cleaning.
Sights are photoluminescent, something of a trend lately. They absorb light during the day and then give off a greenish glow in darkness. The dots are quite bold and eye-catching in daylight range shooting.
Be aware, however, that they don't completely substitute for tritium night sights, since they don't glow if they haven't been exposed to light. If the pistol has been in your bedside drawer for a month, you're getting no glow out of the sights.
Shooting the VP9SK is really a pleasure. The trigger pull leads the category in my mind, though you may disagree if you insist on a shorter takeup. I can remember plenty of 1911 triggers over the years that weren't near as easy to use as this one.
The "charging supports" really work, and other manufacturers should think about offering them as more and more of us start fighting arthritis. They are visually unobtrusive, and smooth enough not to catch on clothing during a draw from concealment.
The sights stand out boldly, and usability is enhanced by the trapezoid shape of the rear sight. I was pleased that the pistol shot to point of aim right out of the box.
At $719, the VP9SK is priced at the top of the category, but for that, you're getting a hard case, two magazines (one with finger rest) and the grip parts. You're also getting a pistol with a lot of creative engineering. We're prone to chuckle about the Germans and their reputation for engineering everything to death, but it pays off here.
If I could reassemble that table of writers from 1995, my guess is that we'd all say "this is what we were thinking about!"