When it comes to firearms, when I find something I like, I normally stick with it. And while there are excellent new firearms being introduced regularly, it would take something truly special to make me change away from one of my traditional go-to choices. For times when I decide to carry small, the gun I’ve reached for more than any other over the years has been my trusty Glock 26—a subcompact 9mm that has proven accurate and reliable. However … the Heckler & Koch (HK) VP9SK I’ve been testing recently is shaking my normally steady devotion to my old favorite.
A LOT TO OFFER
It’s not a surprise, of course, that this new subcompact from HK is a top-quality gun. The company has been making superb firearms for many years. The VP line was designed in response to a market demand for striker-fired pistols. This new pistol carries on the well-conceived design features of the larger pistols in the series but in a size more likely to appeal to those who prefer a smaller pistol for concealed carry.
The machined steel slide of the VP9SK is finished in matte black with what HK calls its “Hostile Environment” finish for corrosion resistance. It features dovetailed fixed sights in a three-dot configuration. They are not true night sights, but they do glow green after being exposed to some light. Tritium night sights are available, however. The slide had angled serrations, front and rear. In addition, the rear of the slide features small wings (HK calls them “charging supports”). These are unobtrusive, yet they provide a superb gripping surface for manipulating the slide, virtually eliminating the possibility of your sweaty hand slipping off the back of the slide under stress.
This is especially appealing to me, because I always close the action of a pistol by pulling back on the slide rather than hitting the slide release lever, even when doing a speed reload. It gives access to the full power of the spring, which can ensure that the top round of a tight, full magazine feeds properly. It’s also more of a gross motor movement, usually easier to accomplish under stress than finer manipulations.
The VP9SK features small extensions at the rear of the slide to ensure a solid grip when manipulating the slide.Another feature on the slide is a red marking on the external extractor that serves as a visual loaded-chamber indicator. The back end of the striker is painted red, as well, and it protrudes from the rear of the slide to show that the striker is cocked. The pistol includes a firing pin block as an additional safety feature, but it’s not a plunger type as on other pistols. A look at the inside bottom of the slide shows that when the trigger is pulled on the VP9SK, the trigger bar contacts a lever that rotates out of the way to free the striker.
The cold-hammer-forged barrel is 3.39 inches long and features polygonal rifling, purported to increase accuracy
and maximize velocity.
“This HK pistol is a joy to shoot.”
The polymer frame of the pistol is contoured for an excellent feel in the hand. It’s not blocky at all. There are finger grooves The trigger guard is large, allowing easy access with gloved hands. The frame features an accessory rail for mounting a light or laser to the gun. The controls on the HK VP9SK are completely ambidextrous—great for lefties, but also good for a fighting handgun, no matter which hand is dominant. There is no manual safety, other than the little lever on the face of the trigger itself.
There’s a slide stop lever on each side of the frame, and the magazine releases are ambidextrous, as well.
THE MAGAZINE RELEASE
Speaking of the magazine release, true to HK form, the release consists of a paddle-style lever at the rear of the trigger guard. While this might seem strange to many of us conditioned to the button-type release, I have come to like the HK releases better. They’re instinctive and easy to reach, and you’re able to easily activate them with other fingers, if necessary. The HK release is not likely to be depressed accidentally, as I’ve seen happen with the more traditionally placed button release. You don’t want to unseat a magazine or drop one completely when things get critical. That’s why I’ve never understood the desire to put extended releases on handguns—unless they’re purely for competition. The pistol comes with two 10-round magazines; one has an extended baseplate that allows for a full grip on the gun. The pistol is compatible with the higher-capacity (15-round) magazines of the larger guns in the VP series. Available magazine sleeves cover the gap between the shorter grip of the SK model and the bottom of those longer mags.
“The HK release is not likely to be depressed accidentally as I’ve seen happen with the more traditionally-placed button release.”
This HK pistol is a joy to shoot. Recoil is manageable with the short magazine and even more so with the extended one. The trigger is smooth, with very little travel, and it has a good, short reset for quick, accurate follow-up shots. I measured the trigger pull at 5.25 pounds. There seems to be less squishiness with this trigger, compared to other striker-fired guns. A big part of enjoying any range session is hitting where you’re aiming. The sights on the HK were easy to acquire and were well regulated out of the box. You can’t blame this gun if you miss the target.
I have little patience shooting from the bench but did some obligatory accuracy testing at 15 yards. I thought
that was reasonable, given the intended purpose of self-defense, plus the short sight radius. It had no ammo preferences.
The best five-shot group was an even 1 inch with Speer Gold Dot 124-grain JHP ammo, which also had the highest average velocity at 1,094 fps. That’s pretty good for that weight bullet out of a barrel 3.39 inches long.
Offhand, the gun handled well. I was able to hit aluminum cans out to 30 yards on a consistent basis. The good trigger was a big help in doing that. There were no malfunctions of any kind. I found that I became accustomed very quickly to the paddle mag releases on the trigger guard. No one should be hesitant about choosing a gun with this type of mag release. After a few quick mag changes, it all seems natural. You don’t even think about it.
During my testing of the HK VP9SK, I also had a chance to try out Etymotic’s GunSport Pro electronic earplugs and found them to be a very good product. I’ve used electronic muffs many times, but they were too large for field use. Other earplugs were often hard to regulate, so small sounds (such as the scraping of a shirt collar against the back of my neck when I turned my head) were amplified to the extent that they became distracting.
However, these earplugs from Etymotic were different. First, they came with a wide assortment of interchangeable plugs (both foam and plastic) to provide a good fit for almost any ear—necessary if the earplugs
are to do their job effectively. Next, the easy-to-find #10 hearing aid batteries, one for each earplug, were easy to install in the little loading gates that cradled the batteries as you loaded them. That reduced the chances of
fumbling these tiny batteries. Small filters keep the earplug canals clean and operational; extras are supplied with the unit, along with the tool needed for the simple replacement.
These plugs have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 25 decibels. They worked very well at the range, where I put them to the test, trying both modes. These days, when I am at the range, I often double up on my hearing protection by wearing muffs over the top of earplugs. Nevertheless, these Etymotic GunSport units would be beneficial in any structured range setting or competition, allowing you to hear important range commands. And they would be especially valuable for use in the field. When I’m hunting in thick cover, I often hear an animal before I see it. These earplugs can alert you to approaching game while helping to preserve your hearing from the damaging sound of gunshots.
Etymotic Electronic Earplugs
Yes, you do pay a bit more for an HK pistol. This VP9SK has an MSRP of $719. But this HK feels more solid than many of the competitors’ polymer guns. The quality is readily apparent. When you consider that this is a lasting investment for use in your self-defense and likely in the self-defense of those a couple of generations after you, it’s not that steep a price to pay.
So, do I make the switch to the HK? That’s a tough call, because I hate to give up on a sentimental favorite. If I were starting from scratch and choosing my first pistol for concealed carry, it would be an easy decision: The HK would get the nod.
|CCI Blazer 124-grain FMJ||
|American Eagle 124-grain FMJ||
|Colt National Match (Double Tap) 124-grain FMJ||
|Speer Gold Dot 124-grain JHP||
NOTES: Velocity was the average of 10 shots measured in feet per second (fps), as indicated by a Chrony chronograph placed 15 feet from the muzzle. Group size was measured in inches; the average was the result of five five-shot groups fired at 15 yards from a rest.
TYPE: Subcompact semiautomatic pistol
CALIBER: 9mm Parabellum
BARREL LENGTH: 3.39 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 6.61 inches
HEIGHT: 4.57 inches
WIDTH: 1.31 inches
SIGHT RADIUS: 5.73 inches
WEIGHT: 23.07 ounces
OTHER: Includes two interchangeable backstraps, two magazines (one with extended floorplate), lockable
MSRP: $719 ($819 with optional night sights and a third magazine)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.