True Confession: I Bought a Plastic Gun!

I have remarked, on more than one occasion, ‘new’ guns just don’t do much for me. Most of the new crop of plastic framed, multi-shot blasters are far too large in grip circumference, are lacking in suitable power and simply lack grace, style and soul. I just bought and shot a new technology pistol and like it. Will wonders never cease?

It’s a Heckler & Koch USP Compact in caliber .40 Smith & Wesson. This pistol avoids some of the common pitfalls of ‘new’ guns. I bought it on purpose after much thinking and checking – some might call ‘research’. I quickly add, none of my ‘research’ involved talking with other shooters and asking what they thought of either the pistol or the caliber.

Allow me to explain. I’m an old school Government Model and Smith & Wesson revolver man. Oh yes, proper built single action revolvers – notably Rugers and good copies of the Colt Model P are acceptable in specific roles. One of my personal problems is that of hand size. My hands are of ‘average’ size in terms of finger length. I can grip and control a Government Model very well, but that’s about the biggest grip – in circumference – I can positively grip and control. Anything bigger feels like I don’t have a decent grip and is – at least feels – unstable.

For instance, I have a Heckler & Koch USP (full size) I bought a number of years ago to carry as a duty weapon. The USP has a double wide magazine made of plastic. I mention the magazine is plastic as the walls of the magazine body are therefore thicker than the metal walls of the USP Compact magazine. This results in the USP (full size) having a grip that is wider – therefore greater in circumference – than I comfortably can hold and shoot. (Okay, I did always qualify with that sidearm and always shot a possible score of 150 on the qualification; but it wasn’t as secure and comfortable as I like.)

For another instance, the Glock 17. Somewhere in the vast brain trust that runs the firearms program of the agency for which I used to work, someone got the brilliant idea to issue the Glock 17 to all hands. Everyone knows about the basic Glock 17. It’s a full size belt gun with a grip suitable for people with fingers about an inch longer than mine. It is chambered for the 9×19 NATO round – or 9mm Luger for the classicists – so the recoil doesn’t intimidate those of our number who are recoil shy. Of course, those who are ‘recoil shy’ typically have hands smaller than mine. However, since ‘qualification’ has everyone shooting with both hands – except for the three yard powder burn stage – the lack of control is not problematic. When qualifying, that is. Reality is different, but I’m getting off on a tangential tirade and should get back to the topic at hand. The bottom line is, holding a Glock 17 feels like holding a 1”x1” piece of furring. By the way, shortening the grip does nothing to reduce circumference; the ‘small’ versions are just as bad.

To be fair to the ‘vast brain trust’ I somewhat defamed in the last paragraph, a couple of years ago, they made a good – nay – excellent choice of issue firearm to replace the Glock. They acquired and issued the Heckler & Koch P2000 pistol, chambered in .40 Smith & Wesson.

The P2000 has a grip size somewhat – but just enough – smaller in width than other ‘high capacity’ magazine pistols. I can grip it and control it. Kill the fatted calf! Not only that, but some of the female officers – who are even smaller than me – seem to be able to grip and control it better as well. The .40 S&W chambering – avoided in the prior Glock decision on the grounds recoil would be a problem – does not seem to be a problem with the P2000. (Probably would not have been with the Glock, either; but I digress.) Not to mention a higher caliber and heavier bullet moving at about the same velocity as the smaller and lighter 9mm bullet provides a greater chance of ending a deadly threat. (No guarantees in life, but a wise person goes with the odds.)

The only fly in the P2000 ointment is the action style. The P2000 is a double action only (which is how it was issued) – OR – a conventional double action first shot/single action subsequent shots (known as ‘DA/SA’) with decocking safety only proposition. I don’t like that sort of control mechanism. As I mentioned earlier in this essay, I’m a Government Model sort of fellow.

The H&K USP Compact – Variant One – is a double action/single action design with a single control that will either decock the hammer – OR – will place the pistol on ‘safe’ in the manner of a Government Model or traditional single action semi-automatic pistol. AND – Fraptious Day! – the USP Compact has a grip size just like the P2000 – small enough for my hands! On the down side, the smaller grip size of the USP Compact carries fewer rounds than the full size USP. Well, carries one less round. The full size USP has a thirteen round magazine while the USP Compact has a twelve round magazine. Frankly, that’s not going to be the difference between surviving and losing a gunfight. Nor are the magazines interchangeable with the ‘bigger’ capacity just sticking out the bottom. I just checked.

So, with all this knowledge in hand, I decided a Heckler & Koch USP Compact in .40 S&W was what I wanted as a full time concealment instrument. I should point out the pistol is also available in 9×19 and the venerable .45 ACP chambering. My personal opinion is the 9×19 is not quite suitable for self-defense and the .45 ACP chambered pistol is larger in size and weight. If your preferences differ, it’s okay. You’ll learn with time if you’re lucky.

Therefore, I went to see my local gunshop owner – the honorable Clark Williams of Old Market Firearms in Hastings, Nebraska – and by the cunning artifice of throwing money at him, I prevailed upon him to order me such a sidearm. I picked it up last Wednesday (the fourth day of May in the year of our Lord 2011).

Upon receipt of the pistol and getting it home, I did look it over and read the owner’s manual. The manual describes the finish on the metal as “…corrosion resistant “Hostile Environment” blued finish…” It’s black. It’s the same color as the black “Corrosion proof fiber-reinforced polymer frame”. I mentioned earlier my distaste for new guns having to do with a lack of style and grace. This pistol does not have the flowing lines of a Smith & Wesson revolver or a Browning High Power or a classic Luger. It does have the business like look comparable to a Government Model – but without the simplicity of line or deep blue of finish. It has style, but it’s the style of a working pickup truck, not the style of a Mustang coupe. It’s not nearly as ‘clunky’ looking as the full size USP. The slide serrations are cast into the body of the slide, not machined like a classic Government Model. The hammer has an obvious seam mark from the casting process, as does the frame. The backstrap – integral with the frame – and the front strap have checkering cast into the frame. The side panels are also integral and feature a textured portion not unlike skateboard tape. As in nearly all modern polymer frame pistols, there is no provision for personalized grips. I suppose those faux ivory scrimshawed grips with the buxom lass holding a Confederate Battle Flag would be out of place anyway.

I examined the pistol for obvious defects, obstructions in the bore and general function checks. Not surprising, it all seemed normal. The controls are simple and direct. The trigger is deeply curved – reminds me a bit of the trigger from a Mauser HSc. The trigger pivots at the top as opposed to pushing rearward. There are three small ridges in the center of the trigger serving as ‘grooves’. I think I’d just as soon have it smooth, but I probably won’t mess with it. The slide stop is pretty normal; pretty tight to the frame but grooved so one’s finger or thumb can activate it. (Which always makes me wonder about those who demand the slide stop never be manually depressed to release the slide; why do manufacturers make them to so operate?) The slide stop is also the retainer for the slide in the same fashion as the Government Model. However, the retaining portion is located on the shaft, not the loose end. The manual thumb safety – ‘control lever’ – is tight to the frame but suitable for manipulation; both as safety and as decocker. Mine is set up for a right hander – just as well as I am right handed – and looks as if it could be reversed for a lefty. The parts list shows parts for an ambidextrous safety, but neither reversing the single lever or the ambidextrous option is discussed in the manual. The magazine release is ambidextrous. It releases the magazine when pressed down toward the bottom of the pistol on either side of the trigger guard at the frame. The magazine drops free without restraint. All the controls are pretty intuitive to one familiar with semi-automatic handguns. The possible exception being the magazine release and it’s not difficult to figure out, even without the manual.

I note with pleasure the trigger guard is squared off and grooved on the forward edge. Since I shoot with finger on trigger guard, I find it proper. I also take some amusement at those who decry the practice as outmoded or ineffective.

I took it to the range on May Fifth and shot it.

Scrounging a cardboard B27 target and a supply of ammunition suitable, off I went to the Four River’s Sportsmen’s Club just east of Hastings. I set up the target at what I understand to be the fifteen yard distance. Far enough to note any sight setting discrepancies and close enough to see what I’m doing.

I loaded the two magazines to full capacity. Need to make sure the magazines work full to empty. (Note to self: I probably want at least one more magazine and perhaps a total of five. At $35.00 each, I may have to budget for such purchase.) I have a stash of Winchester Ranger SXT 165 grain HP ammunition from when I carried the full size USP on duty. So that’s what I used.
Shooting from a standing, two-handed modified Weaver stance, the first five rounds went into a group the size of the X-ring, but slightly to the left of center. All in the 10 ring. Okay, at fifteen yards this should not be anything amazing. However, I took out my brass drift and hammer and gave the sight a whack in the appropriate direction. Another five shots showed me I whacked too hard. So I gave the sight half a whack back in the other direction. There. Centered to my satisfaction. Fifteen rounds of the SXT ammo while adjusting the sights and all in the 10 ring. (At near powder burn range admittedly, but shows promise.)
I dug into my ammo stash and pulled out some reloads I had put together some eight to ten years prior. Some 170 grain FMJ truncated point bullets over a suitable dose of WW231 powder. Not maximum pressure loads, but practice stuff that will operate the pistol reliably and shoot to the same point of impact as the SXT ammo. I also have some Oregon Trail cast lead 155 grain SWC bullets and some Bear Valley cast lead 180 grain truncated point bullets loaded in similar fashion; WW231 powder at moderate pressure levels.
I shot twelve rounds of each at the center of the target. All four loads – one factory and three reloads – all shoot to the same point of aim. At least at the fifteen yard mark.

My accuracy criteria for a concealed carry pistol is the gun and ammo must be capable of headshots at twenty-five yards. Before anyone gets all worked up, I’m not suggesting normal defense shooting will entail any shots at twenty-five yards, let alone a head shot. Nor am I suggesting I could perform such a shot under duress. (Actually, I probably could, but I hope never to determine the question.) It is merely a criteria for accuracy. If I know the pistol and ammunition is so capable, it gives me more confidence and will certainly deliver any reasonable shot I may have to attempt.

So I drug the target stand out to the twenty-five yard line and returned to the bench. Loading up five more of the Ranger SXT rounds, I carefully – using both hands – fired five rounds in a slow fire cadence at the head of the B27 target. Four shots went into a group 2”x2” and centered nicely on the head of the silhouette. The fifth shot (actually the fourth in the series) hit the head off to the right of the others, but still enough to ring the bell. I felt it pull off when I fired it. The pistol certainly passed the criteria.

I went out and pulled the target and stand back to the five yard area. Loading a mix of my reloads in the magazines, I fired twelve sets of shot ‘pairs’; one double action and the second single action. This duplicates the first two shots fired from the holster in a conventional DA/SA pistol.

To explain the exercise, the trigger finger movement is different between the double action pull and the single action pull. The late Jeff Cooper opined this was a near insurmountable problem and caused all sorts of unwanted side-effects including wild shots, loss of control and voting Democrat in extreme cases. Experience of numerous people, including your humble servant, have shown it is a problem but not so insurmountable as formerly thought.

The shot pairs I fired went monotonously into the high center area of the target, which is pretty much where I was pointing. This was – again for clarity – at a range of about five yards; no more than seven. This is not the sort of exercise one performs casually at twenty-five or fifty yards. The hits show to be most suitable for close up point shooting. To be fair to the late Brother Cooper, this is not the technique one would employ for a string of Timed or Rapid Fire on the NRA National Match Course.

Back to the USP Compact. I fired a total of sixty-eight rounds; twenty of the SXT and forty-eight of my mixed reloads. All rounds fed through the magazines, chambered, fired, impacted on target, extracted and ejected just like in the script. The empties landed mostly about ten feet to my right. (The firing line is cement, so the cases do bounce and roll.) Some three or four empties ejected to my left. These were NOT the final shot from the magazine; I’m at a loss to explain the phenomenon. However, it really doesn’t seem to make any real difference. Except to a fat guy who doesn’t bend well picking up the brass for reloading.

Looking at the fired factory loaded brass with a magnifier one can see scuff marks where the case was pulled from the chamber. One notes the firing pin impressions are off center; however, when aligned with the ejector mark – noted on some but not all cases – the firing pin seems to be striking just a bit high from center. Some, but not all primers show a firing pin drag mark; as if the firing pin was not fully retracted as the case was being ejected from the pistol. I’ve seen this on other pistols as well and have never been able to discern any difficulty or impending problems as a result.

Not directly related to the gun itself, I noted the cast bullet ammunition produced considerably more smoke than the jacketed ammunition. I pulled the barrel out following each string of cast bullets to examine for fouling. There is residue, but no discernable leading. A few passes with a bristle brush took out all the smudges in the barrel. As I examine the barrel sitting here in my office, I can find no sign of leading. The interior of the bore is bright and looks burnished or polished.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the pistol. It fits my hand(s), delivers a suitably strong blow accurately and doesn’t seem to be very finicky in function. I will be carrying this one a lot. I will be shooting it in the bi-weekly action pistol shoot at the gun club and probably in the bowling pin match as well.

Anyone considering a dedicated self-defense pistol for either home, concealed carry or even open carry is encouraged to look this firearm over and measure it against one’s own criteria and tastes. It’s a bit spendy, but so are hospital stays and funerals.

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3 Comments

Filed under Firearms and their use

3 responses to “True Confession: I Bought a Plastic Gun!

  1. Doug

    After reading your list of fine firearms at Firearms Talk, I decided to wander off to read your blog.
    I too purchased my first plastic pistol.
    Rejecting Glock, because every time I pick one up I feel as though I’m sighting down a 2X4, I chose an M&P 9. The retired sheriff’s firearm instructor whom I’ve taught MNFAS with for 25 years said I’d be happier with it than the SR9c I was looking at. While purchasing it ,my wife suggested I get the Crimson Trace because I eventually want to try it any way. When it came the CT was on the replaceable backstrap, the large sized replaceable one. Having rather medium sized hands- o well. I began immediately to have failure to eject problems. Eventually getting excited enough to go and punch out the rolled pin that holds the extractor in place I was surprised to find the spring encrusted with rust as well as 2 small pieces of rust particles under the extractor. That problem taken care of, there have been no extraction problems since. i an beginning to really enjoy it.
    I was receintly asked why I usually shoot at 20 or 40 yards. I grinned and replied that, when I do shoot closer the targets look really big.
    In spite of a new plastic pistol, I find myself opting to carry my 3″ adjustable sight Model 60 .357. Doug

  2. Thanks for playing, Doug. Yeah, Glocks give me the same feeling.

    H&K makes a replaceable back strap pistol in the P2000. I sort of wish the USPc was so equipped, but the issue grips just work for me – as mentioned, my hands are smallish.

    I hadn’t really considered the S&W M&P pistol series; mostly for ‘principle’ reasons. S&W cheapened their product line back in the early ’80s by dropping pinned barrels, recessed cylinders, the obscene ‘Clinton lock’ and putting the firing pins in the frame, poorly. I don’t have much more confidence in their semi-automatic pistols as far as engineering and quality of manufacture is concerned. Your experience with the rust in the extractor doesn’t help allay those feelings.

    However, I’m glad you fixed it and it works well for you. I’m probably just over sensitive about somethings. Actual function in the real world is what matters.

    I’m with you about revolvers, by the way. I now have a pinned barrel version of a S&W model 19, .357 Magnum, two and one-half inch revolver. It shoots about as well as a handgun can and I’m delighted with it. I suppose I need to write it up as well.

    Just one question, sir: What the heck is MNFAS?

    Please come back and post some more.

  3. Doug

    MN Firearms Safety. I have had a 36, 19, 27, & 29 with pinned barrels The present Smiths seem to be accurate as always and as of late the fit is tighter than a few years back. I’m not sure whether the 686 4″ or the 629 5″ is my favorite. Have a great time with the 19.
    I’ve a newer Smith with a “Hillary hole”- an ugly thing- so far not a problem.
    Jut for grins, I had to renew my CC permit. That retired sheriff’s deputy then invited me to his cc class and afterward asked if I brought along extra ammo and if I desired I could shoot with the class. The target was a B 27 and it was 12 at seven, 24 at 15 and 24 at 25yards. I did so and afterward complained to him my target looked like I had taken a shotgun to it. He indulged me for a moment and then,” Doug. there isn’t anything less than an eight!” He was right there were 7 eights and that meant 53 rounds found there way into the 9 or 10 ring. there was a breeze and the range temp. was four degrees. Yep, I did it with the M&P, sometimes people who love to shoot get a little too self critical. I’d outfitted the m&P with Tru-Glo fiber optic/trinium sight worked great.

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