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The Heckler & Koch USP .45 Compact
By Eric Maudsley m
I’ve been in the military or law enforcement in some capacity for the last 24 years, so I’ve seen plenty of different guns come and go, especially in my own gun locker at home.
Having reached the point where we have all “lost” a few good guns to ex-wives, to fund buying a kayak, or for money to fix a muffler, the conversation with my buddies inevitably turns to the guns we wish we’d never sold. !
Laugh now. It will happen to you.
The best pistol I have ever owned for concealed carry was a Heckler & Koch
USP .45 Compact. It is definitely the one I kick myself the most for getting rid of.
The USP series is HK’s take on the standard Browning locking system, and an attempt to compete with Glock in the polymer-frame service pistol market.
The USP series benefitted from the hype surrounding the adoption of the Mk23, and while there are similarities, the USP (and especially the USP Compact) is not a Desert-Eagle sized, crew-served pistol. In the intervening 20 years, the USP series has earned a reputation in it’s own right as a reliable, accurate service pistol.
HK’s claim to fame with the USP series is that there are a nine of different combinations of trigger/safety/de-cocker that can be changed in the field by an armorer, so agencies and individuals can have any combination of safety and de-cocker they’re comfortable with.
Mine was the “Variant 1,” which very conveniently combines a 1911-style safety with a de-cocker in what HK calls the “control lever.”
The safety works whether the pistol is cocked or not, and the de-cocker works and feels similar to the de-cocker on the SIG 226. Unlike the Glock, the USP has a traditional exposed hammer. The hammer on the USP compact is bobbed to reduce printing and snagging, both big issues if you carry concealed. It has an external extractor that, like almost all modern semi-auto pistols, also acts as a “loaded chamber indicator.” Don’t trust it – get in the habit of doing a press-check with any firearm you use.
I generally carried condition 1, (Chamber and magazine loaded) with the safety off, hammer down. This provided a double-action first shot and a subsequent lighter, shorter trigger press and reset for follow-up shots. I tried carrying hammer-cocked, safety on, but found it to be quicker to stick with the same mode as my duty gun.
HK also markets the “Law Enforcement Modification/ LEM” trigger that it developed for the US Border Patrol, which is a double-action only trigger with no safety or de-cocker. It’s about as close to a Glock trigger as you’re going to get in an HK, but not my favorite or their best. On the plus side, the LEM trigger is light years better than the horrendous “DAK” trigger that the Coast Guard chose for their SIG 229s, which, in my opinion, were designed to be hard to shoot so Boarding Team Members wouldn’t try.
Other possible variants include de-cocker only, safety only, and switching the control lever to the right side of the weapon for lefties.
Like the 1911, I find it comfortable on the USP to index my grip by resting my strong thumb on the safety and rolling the meat of my support thumb underneath it. The grip angle is the same as a 1911 and the USP points well, and recoils straight back due to a low bore angle. The grip is stippled and checkered for a reasonably good purchase as it comes out of the box. I tried skateboard tape for a while until it tore up the inside of my shirts & baby-soft skin and discarded it as unnecessary.
The metal parts are treated with the HK proprietary “hostile environment” finish, which is essential, since you’re not going to find an environment more hostile to metal than inside my waistband in August. I’ve had rust show up on my Kimber TLE and other guns in a few hours, but it was never a problem with the USP.
Reasonably lightweight and small enough to hide under a T-shirt with an inside the waistband holster, the USP Compact has a smaller grip circumference, barrel/slide length, and over all height than a full-size USP.
The closest Austrian competition would be the Glock Model 30. The USP compact is comparable in height (5.06” vs. 4.76”), length (7.09” vs. 6.77”) and weight (1.6 lbs vs 1.5 lbs), and slightly thinner (1.14” vs 1.27”).
Thinner is a key requirement for a concealed pistol. A thick, blocky pistol is more likely to “print” or show under your clothes. Combined with holster selection, the thickness of your pistol is going to be the determining factor whether you are able to carry inside the waistband with a T-shirt over your gun, or be a member of the “big guy with a crew cut, wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt over a T-shirt” club when you’re at the zoo with your kids. I’ve been that guy, and all the cops (and bad guys) know who you are. You might as well open carry. The only thing worse would be a tan 5.11 vest at the mall or a fanny pack. Don’t be that guy.
The USP 45 Compact has a 3.8” barrel that is sufficiently accurate, in that it is most likely more accurate than the shooter, and inside the projected operating environment (>10 yards) fist size or smaller groups when running drills are common. I shot one PPC match with mine, just for fun, and scored roughly the same as with my duty handgun, at that time a Beretta 92F. The USP Compact is a good choice for IDPA if you choose to shoot those type of matches.
The USP .45 Compact does not share the recoil-reduction system used on the USP and Mk 23, but with normal defensive loads it was not an issue. The barrel is adequate to develop enough velocity from standard loads to cause them to penetrate and expand as designed, which is why you’re carrying a .45 in the first place.
The extra ⅓ of an inch in height is in the grip, and unlike my subjective impression of the Glock 30, the HK has a reasonably full-sized grip and offers better control. Extended magazine plates can help with this if it’s an issue for you. I generally ran with a magazine with the standard flat plate in the gun for better concealment, and extended floor plates on my backup magazines for a fuller grip.
The USP .45C uses an 8-round, staggered column box magazine with single position feed. One issue I ran into, and it’s a small one, is that the length of grip combined with my larger-than-average hands usually results in a blood blister on the knife edge of my shooting hand after a few speed reloads. That is why, if we ever shoot together, you will see that I do reloads with my pinkie extended like an English woman sipping tea. It is not a problem confined to the USP Compact, and is specific to me. Results may vary.
A word about reloads. The USP series has a different method of releasing the magazine than almost every other pistol you’ve used before. Some love it, and some hate it.
The release is in the same place, but instead of a button on the left side of the gun that you push IN, there is a lever just behind the trigger guard that is pushed DOWN on either side.
I found that it is easier and faster for me to activate this magazine release with my trigger finger. I can do this without shifting my grip, which I have to do to activate it with my thumb. This has an added benefit of getting my finger away from the trigger while reloading. On the down side, you train how you fight, and practicing a different reload technique with a USP may hurt you if you’re required to use other pistols in your job.
HK was an early member of the accessory rail club, but buyer beware; HK rails are NOT milspec rails, they are proprietary. Rail adapters are widely available if you choose to mount a milspec-rail compatible flashlight. Meprolight and Trijicon both make luminous sights for the USP series, and other accessories and holsters are widely available.
After 1999, all USPs were equipped with a “lockout” feature, a small key lock located in the back of the magazine well. This allows you to “turn off” the pistol when it’s stored, as no one without the key (and knowledge of this feature) can fire the gun when it is disabled without first unlocking it. Thank you, legal industry.
The USP .45 Compact was undoubtedly the best pistol I’ve carried concealed. It’s size, weight and design all contribute to be controllable while concealable, and 9 rounds of .45ACP was a tradeoff I was willing to make when I wasn’t specifically looking for trouble. Although the MSRP is around $1,000 now, the advice “you get what you pay for” has always applied to Heckler & Koch in the same way it applies to Audi and Mercedes, including the availability and cost of repairs and parts.
In my experience, the USP .45 Compact is a solid choice for working professionals and civilians who need to a reliable, powerful, accurate pistol to carry concealed. It is not a general-duty handgun due to low magazine capacity and short barrel relative to full-size weapons, and I probably wouldn’t carry it overseas anywhere that I wasn’t sure of the availability of .45ACP, but when used in it’s lane, the USP .45
The Compact is a good choice.