Many people regard Heckler and Koch as one of the best firearms manufacturers in the world. Their rifles and pistols have earned a reputation for being reliable and sturdy under the harshest of conditions, and have been for longer than even Gaston’s Miracle Pistol. A favorite of the US Navy and law enforcement around the world, the HK USP became synonymous with a no-frills, all business gun, and with its durability and 12-round capacity, it brought a world of .45 ACP hurt to forces looking to increase their ammunition capacity without overloading themselves on weight.

HK 45s On Display
HK 45s On Display

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the 1911. But with the HK USP, a pistol of roughly the same weight with 5 more rounds per magazine is a good thing. Add in the ability to service it without a lot of training on the theory of operation, and you’ve got a great tool.

Only one problem.

HK45: USP 2.0

The HK USP is big. It’s a beefy animal that not every shooter finds fits their hands well. Also, while accurate, the USP was not generally what many would call match grade. But the platform is sound.

With the now-defunct Joint Combat Pistol Program coming on the board, the US Military sought out a new pistol that would bring the best of many worlds together: 1911 ergonomics, external safeties, higher capacity, durability, and a grip any recruit could get their hands around. Many different companies provided entrants into the program, and HK was no exception.

Enlisting the help of Larry Vickers, a former Delta operator and one of the foremost 1911 pistolsmiths in the world, HK sought out to do what few other people had done with their platforms: Take two great systems and build one pistol that brought all of the best features of each to the table. Combining elements of the 1911, USP, and HK P30 platform, and including new features such as the use of a rubber o ring to tighten the barrel to slide fit, HK felt they had a winner.

Comparing the HK USP to the HK45 shows exactly why this gun is such a great pistol, too. Overall, the pistol feels smaller. A narrower grip and slightly narrower frame make the gun easier to conceal, while a greater effort to dehorn and smooth out the pistol leaves the gun less blocky and overall more comfortable for concealment. All of the normal controls you would expect are where they should be: Thumb safety/decocker, easy-hit mag release, large trigger guard, and slide release.

Parts commonality between the USP and the HK45 is also a good thing. While not all of the parts are similar, most of the major components can be used, meaning that entirely new stores of parts don’t need to be acquired.

A Pistol for All Shooters

One of the best features I found on this pistol was its ability to convert the pistol between modes of operation based on the shooter’s comfort and desired use. 1911 fans can rejoice at the fact that with the switch of a plate, cocked and locked is easy and safe, and also allows the shooter to attain the thumb’s high shooting position (thumb on top of the safety), without activating the decocker.

In its natural state, the gun can be carried and used as a cocked and locked single action or a double action pistol with the hammer down. And, once again, with another switch, the gun can be made double action only. An available kit even makes the gun’s trigger in this mode light enough to compete with the average glock or striker-fired pistol.

Another feature that sold me was the ergonomics. Where I have problems with most pistols in the way they fill up my hand and feel when I shoot, this gun absolutely doesn’t have that problem. The grip’s shape and replaceable backstraps, while some shooters might not see the utility without using it, makes the gun’s size just right for shooters with a variety of hand sizes.

Accurate and Dependable

I have had the pleasure of shooting about 2,000 rounds through my HK45 so far, and what surprised me most about this pistol was the accuracy. The Smith and Wesson M&P and Glock that I tried previous to this were certainly accurate enough, but when this HK45 proceeded to land a 1″ group at 15 yards off hand, soundly beating everything but my high-end custom 1911, I knew I had a plastic pistol I could really get into. And, a two thousand rounds without cleaning may seem like a lot to expect a pistol to handle when you’re used to keeping clean guns. However, ToddG over at pistol-training.com ran his gun through an impressive 50,000 round torture test over several weeks, without cleanings, and had nothing but good to say.

Drawbacks

HK 45 Compact Parts Diagram
HK 45 Compact Parts Diagram

Like anything, the HK45 is a compromise. It has a lot of great points to it. However, there are also drawbacks.

Like the USP, the HK45 is still fairly large. The compact version is also fairly large for what it is. Another issue is that the guts of the pistol itself are still more complicated than a striker fired or single action 1911 pistol, so service in the field is probably not the easiest chore. Unfortunately, any time you introduce more mechanical actions to the gun, such as a decocker, double action, etc., the mechanical bits become more complex, so this is probably a necessary evil of the design.

Also, like most other things made by HK, everything’s expensive. Magazines, parts, etc. all come with a hefty markup. And, at $70 per magazine, it hurts the wallet for this pistol if you need or want to keep around a lot of spares.

The biggest downside I found, though, is the magazine capacity. Where the USP holds 12 rounds per magazine, the HK45 only holds 10 (though I’ve noticed that my HK45 Mags actually hold 11 rounds, with the last being difficult to insert, and I doubt it’s officially supported.) Since the HK45 uses the same mag tubes as the Compact USP’s 10 Round mag option, using the USP’s magazines is out of the question. Also, HK has indicated that there’s no plans for a higher capacity option.

Bottom Line

The HK45 is an above-average pistol, providing exceptional accuracy and ergonomics in a package that can run in the harshest environments. It is truly a magnificent pistol, if the price tag is worth it to you. With 10-round magazines and a great trigger, this is also a pistol that makes for an excellent service weapon or defensive sidearm. Unfortunately, it’s hard to ignore the downsides.

Mechanically complex clockworks makes routine maintenance and servicing more difficult and less field-friendly, with air-soluble springs and small parts. I installed springs and completely disassembled my pistol as is my routine for any gun on first acquisition to inspect the parts, and while it wasn’t the most pleasant 20 minutes of my life, it was also not the worst experience I’ve ever had.

This pistol earns a solid A- from me, its issues far from outweighing the features and benefits the pistol offers, and any serious shooter should consider this firearm, or one of its Compact brothers, as an exceptionally good option.

See it in Action

Here, Todd G. from pistol-training.com shows us how it’s done, shooting the HK45 like a champ.

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(Some photos courtesy of HK-USA.com)