by R.K. Campbell
The pistol covered in this review is the latest in a long line of Heckler & Koch (HK) pistols, which includes the P9S, the VP70 and the P7M8.
The previous handguns were all fine pistols, reliable and accurate. But they had one shortcoming-they were too different from what American shooters wanted and too expensive to be commercially successful. The Universal Self-Loading Pistol or USP, is sometimes referred to as the United States pistol and with good reason. Here is a handgun that offers much that American shooters like.
The USP has become popular with handgun cognoscenti. Introduced in the early 1990s, the original USP resembled the HK4 .380 auto to an extent, but was a much more advanced handgun. The USP features a polymer frame and a mix of American and European mechanical characteristics. The action type is Browning short recoil, with angled camming surfaces, but the gun locks up by butting the barrel hood into the ejection port.
The gun features a frame-mounted safety. This is much easier to manipulate quickly than a slide-mounted safety. And the pistol offers a unique choice of operating systems.
Categorized as variants, there are a total of six. The basic differences are in the trigger action. The USP is offered in double-action, double-action-only, and with a variety of safety configurations. My choice is the standard double-action, or Variant One. This option allows the gun to be carried double-action first shot, hammer down, safety on or off, or single-action, cocked and locked. I like this option very much. Even if you carry the gun hammer down or keep it hammer down and ready in home-defense use, the safety can be placed on after the gun is fired rather than decocking the handgun. This avoids reverting to a long double-action trigger action during a gunfight or tactical movement. The gun is readily decocked by pressing hard on the safety lever.
The first pistols were even larger than the Colt 1911-a legitimate complaint. HK responded with the USP Compact. The trigger reach and grip circumference are smaller. The slide and grip are chopped, of course, but the whole package looks much better and feels better than the USP full-size version. Here is a gun to be lived with on a daily basis.
The gun has some of the feel of the Glock and some of the 1911. If you like either, you can live with the USP. You may prefer it to the older guns.
The pistol lost its mechanical recoil buffer in downsizing, but the recoil-absorbing spring of the compact pistol performs well. The USP features a polygonal barrel. This is fine for jacketed bullet use, but the pistol should not be fired with lead bullets. Lead tends to strip in this type of barrel.
The gun is well made and finished, with many good features. I like the bobbed hammer. The sights are high visibility units with three white dots in the modern fashion.
The grip has a pebble grain finish, which I found especially comfortable. The safety and the magazine release-a long, ambidextrous wedge-were easily manipulated with real speed.
The gun was supplied with two magazines. A nice touch is that one is fitted with a magazine extension, which aids in firing the gun, while the other magazine sets flush with the grip, presumably for better concealment. The longer magazine does add approximately .25 inch to the gun's height. This could poke from a jacket just a little.
My example is chambered for the .40 S&W. Of the three calibers offered in the smaller compact-the .45 is slightly larger-I like the .40 much better than either the .357 SIG or the 9mm. The .40 is a fine performer, with excellent characteristics. It is not a .45, but it sure isn't a 9mm. The .40-caliber bullet seldom deviates as the 9mm or .45 will in light cover, making it an excellent police cartridge. Yet, a number of expanding loadings offer real performance against motivated adversaries.
I have fired this handgun extensively, just finishing up a 1,000-round test. The gun was not cleaned or lubricated during this period, but it did start the test with a good lube. Near the end of the firing period, the gun became sluggish in action due to powder ash and dirty lubricant collecting in the action, but it never malfunctioned. I like this type of performance very much.
I have fired a large number of loads in the USP with excellent results. The 165-grain jacketed hollow points in particular have given good accuracy. This bullet has a long bearing surface that gives good accuracy. The Gold Dot bullet expands acceptably, per my testing. The best single group with the pistol and any load, to date, has been a 2.25-inch cluster of five rounds at 75 feet. This is not bad at all for a service grade compact pistol!
During range testing I found the pistol offered excellent speed on target. Short guns line up more quickly than long, heavy guns. The USP proved very capable at moderate ranges. The gun hung on the target and the shooter could simply punch more bullets in.
At 7 yards, it was no problem to produce one ragged hole in a man-sized silhouette. I did a few tests with my Kompetition Electronics Pocket Pro, drawing the gun from a Don Hume belt slide holster. I began the draw double-action, with the safety on, and double-action, safety off. I also began the draw single-action, hammer back, safety on, cocked and locked.
I recorded the times to a first-shot hit on a man-sized target at 10 yards. No excuses, but I am new to this gun and the holster not broken in. Still, I think the gun is pretty quick. And I believe that no double-action handgun with a slide-mounted safety can be as fast on target as the USP with its frame-mounted safety. Finger motion is all wrong with a slide-mounted safety. Here are the results:
I fired a considerable number of Black Hills jacketed hollow-point ammunition.
My favorite defense rounds would be either the 155- or 165-grain loading. The 165-grain certainly is the more accurate, but not by a great margin. The 155-grain is more proven, but either offers an excellent balance of expansion and penetration. It is the man behind the gun that will matter!
After living with the USP compact on a daily basis for several months, I found it a fine example of modern pistol manufacture. I was reluctant to embrace the modern polymer pistol at first, largely due to the gun's unfamiliar trigger action and lack of a manual safety. While the USP offers much to all of us, it offers confidence and security to me in the form of a positive safety and proven reliability. That is all we can ask for.
| Accuracy testing, 25-yard benchrest 5-shot groups
measured in inches
|Black Hills 180-gr. (remanufactured)||2.6 inches|
|Black Hills 180-gr. JHP||2.9 inches|
|Black Hills 165-gr. JHP||2.25 inches|
|Black Hills 155-gr. JHP||2.8 inches|
*Law enforcement only- all others 10 rounds
357 SIG: 12*
45 ACP: 8
|Height||5.00 inches; 5.06 inches .45|
|Sight radius||5.35 inches; 5.63 inches .45|
|Barrel length||3.58 inches; 3.8 inches .45|
|Source||Heckler and Koch Inc.
21480 Pacific Blvd., Dept. GWK,
Sterling, VA 20166
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