August 12, 2020
By Patrick Sweeney
We live in a golden age of daily carry options. Back in the prehistoric era of EDC (aka: Before anyone outside of Arkansas knew the name Clinton) daily carry was only for a few, and they had few options. There was the ever-popular 1911, in the full-sized and anvil-weight Government Model (I carried one until I could find something better, despite the backaches it produced) and only ever seen in .45 ACP.
Those with contacts, or lucky enough to score one could opt for a Lightweight Commander, also in .45 ACP. Those two pistols, in .38 Super were also somewhat popular down near the southern border, but the lightweight option was rarely found, indeed scarce, in .38 Super.
Then there were revolvers. You could choose a snubbie in .38 Special, five or six shots. You even had airweight options there. Those airweight options went away if you wanted more than a .38 Special. Go up to a .357 Magnum, and everything was steel. And if you wanted a bore bigger than .357, you had to get an even bigger revolver.
The apex was the .44 Magnum or .45 Colt. In Detroit, mere .32s were sneered at on both sides of the LE divide. .38s were little guns, Magnums were what a man would carry, and if you could, you carried more. The exemplar here is a Detroit officer who was my customer and the first gunshot save by a Second Chance vest, Ron Jagielski, who carried on and off duty back when I knew him, a six-inch nickeled S&W 25-5 in .45 Colt. When he had need of a handgun, he wanted the others involved to know that he was using a big one, a not uncommon attitude at that time, and in that place.
Oh, there were numerous instances of people carrying war-surplus or imported .32s, .380s and other pocket pistols. But they were carried mostly because of extremely hot weather. Or carried in non-permissive environments. Most of those had magazine capacities that topped out at six or seven rounds.
And we did not speak among ourselves of such things, as the thought of carrying a .32 was just not talked about in polite company.
You’ll notice the lack of 9mm options in the sparse offerings.
That’s because the offerings were even more limited. Your choices were a Browning Hi Power, or an S&W M-39. The P35 was as big as a 1911, and while it held more ammo, the ammunition choices back then were even more limited than the sidearms. You carried round-nosed FMJ if you packed a pistol, and lead something-or-other if you used a revolver.
The M-39 was even more of a box of hammers. Not only was it as large as a 1911, it only held the same number of rounds, they were 9mm FMJs, and you had the double action trigger to deal with as well.
Oh, there was the S&W M-59, with its 14-round magazine, but it had a grip that was more like a 2x4 in its ergonomics than a pistol. No-one loved that one.
You can hardly look in the display case of your local gun shop and find choices so sparse as what we had back then. Assuming, of course, that your shop is open, and there is inventory left. But that’s a pandemic thing, not a potential firearms choice thing.
And chief among the modern choices is the Springfield Armory Hellcat.
Springfield made their name as the company that made 1911s that worked and cost less than a Colt, and the M1A, a semi-auto-only clone of the M14. They still make both, offering a dizzying array of 1911s, and the finest and most useful variants of the M1A/M14. But they have expanded since then. They entered the hi-cap market with their XD (of which I have a super-custom one I’ll be writing up for Firearms News readers in the future) and the refined version of it, the XDm. For 1911 fans who wanted a more-compact version, they shrank the 1911 as much as they could, and then the developed the EMP, a true 9mm-scaled 1911.
But the world has more than just 1911 fans as handgun buyers, and so Springfield had their mad scientists locked in the secret lab in the bunkers in the hinterlands, where they worked up a new pistol.
And thus, we have the Hellcat. The most succinct description I can give of the Hellcat is that it is a double stack, striker-fired micro compact 9mm pistol. Which is about like saying Marilyn Monroe was a woman with a nice figure.
And the Hellcat OSP is even better.
OK, from the top:
The slide is alloy steel, machined, deburred, inspected, tested, and given a Melonite treatment, which makes it harder than an auditor’s heart and more resistant to staining than a Carthusian monk. The slide has cocking serrations fore and aft, and they are an interesting design. The slots are wide, flat-bottomed grooves, and the raised ribs in-between have a small gutter machined down them. So, you have both large and small spaces for your fingers to press into, and gain traction.
On top, the slide is flat, with rounded edges to the sides, and there is an iron sight set there to catch your eye. The front is a big glowing ball of tritium, with a white circle around it. The rear is a half-moon notch with a white half-circle that matches the notch. If this is a set not big enough for you, then we might have to consider getting you a new set of eyes. Springfield calls this their U-Dot system.
The rear of the barrel has a beveled hole in it, as a loaded chamber indicator. You need to see if you have a loaded pistol? (Really, they are all loaded, aren’t they? Isn’t that Rule # 1?) Just look through the indicator hole. Forward of the chamber Springfield has roll-marked their logo into the flat top of the slide.
The barrel, while short (that’s part of the micro-compact description) at three inches, has an integral feed ramp, so the path from magazine to chamber is smooth and assured. The barrel is cold hammer-forged, with Enfield-type rifling, so it has no problems with lead bullets, unlike some other striker-fired polymer pistols. The barrel is also given a Melonite treatment, so it is good and hard, and good and smooth.
The back of the slide is flush, there’s a plate that contains the striker assembly and its associated parts, such as the striker safety.
You’ll notice on the OSP that there are a pair of hefty bolts on the top of the slide. Those hold on the filler plate, which fills the gap for an optic sight. Yes, you can unbolt the plate and remove it, and then install a red-dot optical sight. The Hellcat came with an RMSc on board, and this is a good choice.
The Hellcat sent here is the original, all-black version. New is a hellcat with a Desert FDE color in the polymer frame, and the slide is given a matching coating over the Melonite slide. The barrel, sights, and controls are left black.
Inside the slide, the Hellcat has a dual-spring recoil system, and a spring guide rod that is the full length of the system. The front end nestles into a recess machined into the rear of the slide nose spring retainer, and the rear slips into a notch machined into the lower lug of the barrel.
On the frame, the designers at Springfield went with a non-slip pattern they call Adaptive Grip Texture. A fine-grained pebbly-looking surface, the tighter you grip, the harder the texture resists movement. The AGT is also applied to the frame below the slide, but forward of the trigger guard, as an indexing place for your trigger finger. A lot of people park their finger right there. Me, I practically wrap mine up over the top of the slide, but then I’ve been known to do some things to excess. The AGT wraps around the frame below the magazine release, 360 degrees with no break. Then there are two panels, one on each side, above the magazine release, as extra gripping real estate for your thumb or trigger finger knuckle joint.
Down on the bottom of the frame, on the left side, there is a small inset panel that has “Geneseo, IL.” cut into the mold. That’s the only break in the AGT wrap-around panel.
The front of the frame has a small accessory rail, but that rail is big enough to mount one of the ultra-compact lights or lasers that are now common. The frame is also marked there, denoting it was made in Croatia. The serial number is in a metal panel on the underside of the dust cover, inside the accessory rail.
The frame controls are all on the left side of the frame. In the rear is the slide stop, or hold-open, depending on where you are in the shooting cycle. It is protected by a small fence that borders it on three sides. You will find it highly unlikely that your hand can bump the stop up and lock the slide back before you have run out of ammo.
Up in front of that is the takedown lever. We’ll go over that when we discuss disassembly.
Below that, and behind the trigger is the magazine release. It is shielded by a raised portion of the frame, that meets the button from behind and also keeps your hand from inadvertently dropping the magazine.
The trigger has a trigger safety in the center of the straight trigger. OK, straight except for a small curve forward at the very bottom of the trigger. The safety prevents the trigger from moving fully to the rear unless your finger has pressed the safety blade and cammed it out of engagement with the frame.
Then there is the subject of magazines. OK, for many years until recently, 9mm pistols have been designed and shipped with magazines that were initially intended to hold .40 cartridges. To make them work with 9mm ammunition, not only did the feed lips have to be re-configured, but the tubes internal volume had to be changed. The easiest way to do this, and still have frame commonality between 9mm and 40 pistols, was to crimp grooves into the sides of the magazine tube, in essence making the interior smaller (to properly stack the 9mm rounds) but keep the tube externally the same size.
This was the common approach once everyone switched to the .40 back in the very early 1990s. What makers had found back then was, by using 9mm-proprotioned magazine tubes in the new cartridge created 40 pistols that held 10-11-12 rounds in a full-sized pistol. No one wanted that. So, the engineers re-designed magazines to hold enough .40 rounds to make customers happy, and then compromised to make them hold 9mm for the 9mm versions of the same pistols.
Well, no one wants a .40 anymore.
So, Springfield made the magazines the right size to hold 9mms. There is never going to be a 40 Hellcat, so there is no point in using a compromise 40 magazine. That’s what makes the Hellcat both so compact, and still holding so much ammo.
The magazines have witness holes on the back as well as having the holes marked for capacity. The tube also has dual magazine catch slots. On the front, they are stamped “9mm” but that strikes me as overkill. One, try at stuffing a .40 in there, and you’ll realize that these are 9mm-only magazines. But, here’s always someone who didn’t get the memo, hence the marking.
The standard flush-fit magazine holds eleven rounds of 9mm, with one in the chamber. You can get a standard-length magazine with a small finger lip on it, also holding eleven rounds. Or you can jump up to the extended magazine (not extended by much) and that not only has a finger-swell baseplate, but it holds thirteen rounds. The extended magazine also has the AGT panels on the sides of the baseplate, which is itself sized to continue the exterior shape of the frame. It is like having a full-sized (or at least, compact instead of micro-compact) frame and a short barrel and slide.
If finger-swell basepads aren’t your thing, Springfield includes a flat, flush basepad in the box with the Hellcat.
Now, the OSP. The standard Hellcat models are built with regular sight systems. They also have the rear slide serrations machined to run up and over the top of the slide. You can score a Hellcat with a fiber optic front blade, if that’s what you want. On the OSP, the rear serrations are subdued where they run over the optics plate. There are two torx-head screws that hold the plate in place. Remove those and you can then install a red-dot optic.
Underneath the plate you’ll find locating studs, to take the jolt of recoil, and bolt-down holes that have been threaded for your red-dot. Now, the instructions for installing a red-dot are quite clear. First, you have to be using a metric-thread screw, specifically M4-0.7. That’s the easy part, because your red-dot will in all likelihood come with these.
But, the slide only has so much room, or steel. The holes can only be so deep. So, you must measure the protrusion of the screws out of the bottom of your red-dot and ensure that they are no longer than 0.095" long. This should not be a problem, as everyone involved knows what the deal is, as far as getting red-dots bolted to pistols is concerned.
One detail that I like is that the optics plate does not include the rear sight, that stays on the slide. So, swapping the plate for an optic doesn’t change the rear sight, and the optics bed is machined low enough that you can still see the iron sights through the optics window.
The end result is an every-day carry pistol in 9mm that holds twelve or fourteen rounds, with a red dot. A pistol so compact you can easily carry it in comfort.
Now, the designers and shooters at Springfield were quite happy with the Hellcat (Mental video of assembled Springfield staff, holding up pre-production Hellcats, to the sound of trumpets announcing progress), but pre-production isn’t real-world. So, one of the first production guns was hauled off to a nearby range over a weekend, and four of the staff (with some extra volunteers) spent their time running 10,000 rounds of American Eagle 115-grain FMJ ammo through it. (The poor thing.)
They had four rounds fail to go off the first time the striker whacks into them, but they all went off the second time around. Four in ten-thousand? Works for me.
The grip circumference of the Hellcat is small, and I find it reminiscent of a 1911 with trim grips. The Hellcat is a little more square-ish, but not a problem. And not noticeable after a bit of shooting.
The trigger is interesting in feel. There’s a bit of light take-up, and then the trigger pull gets heavier. Then it rolls, as if it were a very short double-action trigger, with an unpredictable let-off. The reset is short and brisk. In all, a very nice, and useable, trigger for a pistol that has a striker to ignite the primer.
Takedown is easy. Unload the pistol. Remove the magazine. Lock the slide to the rear. Rotate the front end of the takedown lever (that’s the one forward of the trigger, on the left side) one-quarter turn up. Grab the slide, and release the slide lock, while easing the slide to its forward position. Once there, dry-fire it, and the slide assembly will now come forward off of the frame.
From here the process is the usual, pry the recoil spring assembly out of its seat in the barrel, then tip the barrel and pull it down and backwards out of the slide.
The frame has the fire control parts assembled into a chassis that is pinned into the polymer shell. The chassis is not meant to be removed from the shell. This is not a modular design, so don’t; go whacking on the pins with a punch and hammer, they aren’t meant to come out. The various parts for the Hellcat can be cleaned by the usual methods, with the exception of the red-dot optic. If you have an OSP, and a red-dot on it, you won’t be able to run the slide through your ultrasonic cleaner. That’s a small price to pay, to have the speed and accuracy of the RDS.
Reassembly is easy. Put the slide, barrel and recoil spring back together. Make sure the takedown lever is still up. Line the slide up on the frame and run it back to full recoil position. Lock the slide back and lever the takedown lever back to horizontal. That’s it.
The trigger of the Hellcat was a great aid in accuracy testing, along with the RSMc red-dot sight. Usually, with a pistol this small and light, accuracy testing is an ordeal, and tests the shooter as much as the pistol. The Hellcat gave excellent results.
Springfield Armory Hellcat OSP Specs
- Type: Striker-fired semi-automatic
- Caliber: 9mm Parabellum
- Capacity: 11+1 rounds and 13+1
- Barrel: 3"
- Overall length: 6"
- Weight: 18 oz
- Finish: Melonite, polymer
- Grips: N/A
- Sights: Tritium U-Dot or RDS
- Trigger Pull: 5 lbs., 9 oz.
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, 800-680-6866, SpringfieldArmory.com
- MSRP: $599 (RMSc)
Springfield Armory Hellcat OSP Chronograph and Accuracy Results