Review: Heckler & Koch VP9SK

Review: Heckler & Koch VP9SK
The VP9SK's three sizes of backstraps and side-panel pairs allow you to completely customize the grip to fit your hand.

Heckler & Koch has been on a roll thanks to the solid, reliable and effective VP9, and now the company has introduced a subcompact version, the VP9SK. The VP9 line features the HK precision strike trigger. This is a refinement of the striker-fired system, where the precision strike has a shorter and lighter take-up than your basic spongy crunch-en-squish striker trigger. Then, once you've pressed through the clean break, the reset is shorter and cleaner.

I don't want to sound too snarky, but it's as if the engineers were told to listen to shooters and make a trigger that satisfied them and yet still had all the usual safety mechanisms built in. The trigger has a safety lever that blocks trigger movement until your finger has pressed it out of the way. There's also a striker safety, blocking the forward progress of the pre-cocked striker until the trigger has cammed this safety out of the way.

The only other control on the VP9SK, the slide stop, is ambidextrous. It's a low-profile lever inset on the left side and a longer lever flush with the frame on the right side. In handling and shooting, the right-hand lever never caused a problem, even though I fully expected it to.

The pistol features an ambidextrous slide lock lever. The magazine release is an ambidextrous paddle at the bottom of the trigger guard. The trigger is crisp, with a short reset.

Also ambidextrous is the magazine release, and here HK and I part company. The magazine release is a dual paddle design, where the paddles parallel the bottom of the trigger guard. This is a clever, positive and solid way to hold and release the magazine. Unfortunately, my grip, developed back when gasoline was priced at 61 cents a gallon, is not a fan. My grip is so high and hard on the frame that I can't lever the magazine paddle down to drop a mag without changing my grip on the frame. But that's me, and it may not be a problem for you. Try it and see.

On the plus side, the trigger guard is wide and slightly curved and does not hammer your finger in recoil, as some narrower ones are wont to do.

The takedown lever is on the left side, forward of the slide stop, and rotates only when the slide is back far enough to let the lever pass through the clearance curve that's cut in the bottom of the slide. The VP9SK takedown does not require you to dry-fire the pistol in order to disassemble it. Remove the magazine, ensure the chamber is empty and lock the slide back. Rotate the takedown lever. Press the slide stop lever while restraining slide movement and ease the slide off the front of the frame.

Notes: Accuracy results are the average of five five-shot groups from a Sinclair shooting rest at 25 yards. Velocities are the average of 10 shots measured by a LabRadar chronograph set 15 feet from the muzzle. Abbreviations: FMJ, full metal jacket; JHP, jacketed hollowpoint; TMJ, total metal jacket.

Once it's off, you'll see the HK dual-spring recoil system. It is self-contained and rests in a notch in the bottom of the barrel, so once you remove the spring and the barrel, you can scrub to your heart's content.

The grip has the same design as the full-size VP9, with interchangeable backstraps and side panels that can be swapped to change the size and shape of the grip. There are nine inserts in all: three sizes of backstraps and three pairs of side panels. You can mix and match them in any combination to get just the right fit.

The panels are held in by the backstrap, and the backstrap is held on by means of a cross pin through the frame. Drift out the pin and you can remove the backstrap and the panels. Assemble the setup you want, then press the pin back through. No, you can't make changes with your bare hands, but how often are you going to be swapping panels and backstraps, anyway? The cross pin also serves as a lanyard loop should you feel the need to attach one of those.

The VP9SK is available with photoluminescent sights that can be quickly charged with a flashlight. The pistol also features HK’s “charging supports” for easy slide manipulation.

The frontstrap has finger grooves. I long ago gave up on trying to get finger grooves that corresponded to my fingers, and now I just overlook them. The VP9SK's two grooves do not have a radical ridge between them, so I just use the design as more of a non-slip grip surface. If the grooves don't fit you, just get a good firing grip on the frame and let the grooves fall where they may.

The dust cover has an abbreviated Picatinny rail. When Picatinny rails on handguns were new, such a short rail might have been a problem. Today, with the popularity of railed compact pistols, accessory makers are producing plenty of lights and lasers that are small enough to fit stubby rails.

The dust cover is also the location of the serial number plate. The VP9SK is not a chassis pistol, and the polymer frame is the frame, so the serial number has to be permanently attached to it. Putting it there keeps it out of the way, but it is easy to find and check when doing inventory.

The bobbed slide is pure HK. Machined from alloy steel, it has been given a semi-matte finish and has been treated to be as corrosion-resistant as an alloy can be. It features cocking serrations fore and aft, with the new signature HK charging supports at the rear of the slide. These small ridges extend out from the flats of the slide to provide extra purchase when working the slide. If you find you don't need them, or don't want them, HK has flush-fitting replacements for you.


In operation, once I got over the "What are these things?" feeling, I never noticed them. However, someone with small hands or who has had some loss of grip strength could find them very useful. If you need to work the slide, anything that helps, helps.

The extractor is a large, flat piece of spring steel that is pinned and pivots to snap over the rim of a case. It is powered by a coil spring in the rear, and the very idea that it would break or fail is absurd. The ejection port is generous, which helps ensure you won't have any malfunctions.

German marking requirements dictate the serial number must be on the slide and barrel as well as the frame, and HK has laser-engraved these below and forward of the extractor, respectively. The slide and barrel also bear the German proof marks, showing they have been inspected and tested and have passed.

The right-side slide-lock lever is long but doesn't get in the way, and the front of the frame has a short Picatinny rail. Today's light/laser makers offer plenty of small units that will fit.

The barrel is something HK can be proud of. It is cold hammer-forged and features polygonal rifling. HK calls it "cannon grade" steel, and given the intense competition between manufacturers, I can understand why the company wouldn't want to provide the competition with the exact grade of steel used.

Polygonal barrels are more than happy to shoot accurately when they are properly fitted, but they are not big fans of cast lead bullets. So if you are planning on getting in lots of practice with your VP9SK, you'll have to restrict your shooting to ammo with jacketed or plated bullets.

The sights are installed in transverse dovetails, with the rear a wedge shape, and you can have your VP9SK with three-dot or night sights. The standard three-dot sights are photo luminescent. That is, they will glow for a period of time after they have been exposed to sunlight. If you want to recharge them, a few seconds of shining your flashlight down into your holster can do the trick.

This is an inexpensive way to get some night-capacity sighting on a pistol, but it isn't the same as a tritium-filled set of sights. If you want those, you'll have to spring for the upcharge.

The pistol comes in a hard case with all the usual goodies: owner's manual, magazine loader, lock and a pair of magazines. One of those magazines has a flat base plate, and one has a finger-groove base plate. Both magazines have side panels on the base plate, which extend up into relief cuts in the frame.

Sweeney wasn't able to get a full grip on the gun with the flat-base plate magazine installed. The supplied finger-hook mag solved the problem and will be a good option for many.

These provide you with a secure grip if you ever have to rip the magazine out in a malfunction drill. I view this as one of those ironies of life: You have a pistol that is perhaps the least likely to encounter a malfunction, and the designers went and added a way to deal with one anyway. Well done, guys.

The magazine tubes have the distinctive HK approach to their construction. The tube ends are cut out in a zigzag pattern, so when the ends are welded to form the tube, the pattern adds reinforcement. If a weld or two should break- and I can't imagine how that would happen- the tube will still retain enough structural integrity to work.

The VP9SK mags hold 10 rounds, but the pistol works with larger-capacity HK magazines- specifically those designed for the VP9 and P30, both 13- and 15-rounders.

Shooting the VP9 SK was utterly uneventful. Well, uneventful as far as recoil and reliability were concerned. It ate everything, it functioned properly with everything, and it hit to the point of aim. It did so with an amazing level of accuracy, considering it's a subcompact pistol and, due to our testing protocols, was accuracy-tested at 25 yards. This pistol shot like it was one of the bigger brothers, and my hat is off to HK for this.

One note: I shot the VP9SK only with the larger finger-groove base plate magazine. The flush-plate magazine is just too short for me to get a proper grip on the frame. So if you find that perhaps your VP9SK isn't as accurate as this one was, try the bigger magazine. You may just find it does the trick.

This, of course, poses a dilemma. We get a subcompact pistol because it is easier to carry and conceal, but if we use the larger magazine for more accuracy, how do we justify the subcompact? Because it is cool, it shoots, and it is HK, that's how.

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