When Sig Sauer created a 10+1-capacity, subcompact pistol it sent the industry reeling. Not long after, about 9 months ago now, Springfield introduce the Hellcat, a similarly sized 9mm pistol with a capacity one-round higher than that of Sig’s P365. Playing one-upmanship will eventually have diminishing returns, but having 12 rounds of 9mm in a tiny subcompact pistol is nothing to sneeze at!
The Springfield Hellcat is just that: a tiny, 11+1 round 9mm pistol that is basically the same size as the Sig P365. Is that a good thing? Does it work? What many folks have discovered in the months since the Hellcat was first released is that the answers to these questions would seem to be yes. But what’s it like to shoot and run the Hellcat, even in a defensive style of drills? Here follow my first impressions.
Why Consider the Hellcat?
The Springfield Hellcat is a subcompact double-stack, striker-fired pistol. It is meant specifically for deeper concealed carry. You might consider the Hellcat for its 11+ 1 capacity (13+1 w/extended mag), which puts it head and shoulders above almost every other comparable pistol and at least a bit above any other competitor. You might consider the Hellcat for carrying in non-permissive environments or for times when you’re wearing lighter clothing. Basically, it is for when deeper concealment and higher capacity are essential to your preference.
I spent some time shooting the Hellcat and getting familiar with its capabilities & performance, and want to share my thoughts on that experience here. As this is a first-impressions review, issues of durability and reliability are not addressed. Others, if you’re interested, have put the Hellcat through a truly grueling 10k-round test, which the Hellcat endured with no reported problems.
Anyway, let’s start with the specs:
- Caliber: 9mm
- Length: 6”
- Height: 4” w/ Flush Mag, 4.5” w/ Extended Mag
- Barrel: 3” hammer forged steel, Melonite finish 1:10
- Width: 1”
- Slide: Billet Machined, Melonite Finish
- Weight: 18.3 oz w/ Flush Mag, 18.6 oz w/ Extended Mag (unloaded)
- Sights: Tritium/Luminescent front, Tactical Rack U-Notch rear
- Capacity: 11+1 (flush) or 13+1 (extended)
- Color: Black or FDE
- MSRP: $569 Black, $610 for FDE
Note that the Hellcat comes additionally in a fiber-optic front sight version and there are also versions pre-cut for a micro red-dot optic (and combination thereof).
Note also that regardless of the positives and negatives cited in this review, the Hellcat is a subcompact pistol and, as such, is appropriate only for experienced shooters. If you’re a novice shooter or brand new to everyday carrying, always avoid subcompact models of any brand in favor of compact or full-size pistols.
Shooting the Hellcat
I started out shooting the Hellcat for groups at short range, just to get a feel for firing rounds. It’s a subcompact, so it’s a bit snappy. Given the magnified felt recoil and the short grip, you’ve really got to—how should one put it?—grip the hell outta the gun to maintain a proper grip and control. It’s really not so terribly bad, but like all small pistols it requires you bear down a bit. I was able to rest my support-hand thumb on the takedown lever, which proved to be a good home and helped with control.
Groups at short range were fine and when I missed, I missed low, due mostly to the longer trigger press combined with me trying to compensate for the muzzle rise. That’s my fault. I did shoot some groups at 10 yards and they were acceptable for a subcompact, but the stock sights—rear sight in specific—were not awesome for precision, for me. Were I to own this pistol, I’d swap out the rear sight for a 2-dot model. I did not enjoy the rear u-notch site so much when trying to keep tight groups. I find it imprecise as compared to a 2-dot rear sight, which for me allows for a better gauge of proper vertical lineup. But I have old-man eyes and simply found it more difficult to know where to place the front dot in relation to the “U” at the rear. The top extensions of the “u” do not go all the way to the top of the sight, so my eyes didn’t efficiently and precisely line up the tops of the front/rear structures without me making adjustments after what seemed a proper sight picture. But that’s me and you may have no trouble at all with a precise sight picture.
After some groups, I did quite a few fast shooting strings that included: moving off the “x” and 4 shots in 1 second, followed by a moving reload, followed by a followup shot. I wanted to see if I could control this small, snappy pistol in something that approximated a defensive shooting context. I had no trouble keeping fist-sized groups at 5 yards for those 4 fast shots, provided I did my part to bear down. The reload was not at first very smooth, as the shortened grip tends to make the empty magazine catch on the palm of my grip hand rather than drop freely. After some practice I was able to modify my grip while ejecting the empty magazine. It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly doable with practice. I didn’t try those fast strings at 7 or 10 yards, but I’m quite sure they’d have opened up considerably.
I should note that I shot this pistol with the pinky-extension mag and the extended mag, but did not shoot it with the flush magazine. I was just able to just barely keep my pinky on the grip while shooting, but I don’t generally mind if the grip is too short for all fingers. The Hellcat’s grip has a mild texture that for me was not optimal. Especially for a pistol this size and chambered in 9mm, a rougher texture would be much better.
The controls seemed to be well located and none got in my way for grip or running the gun. Overall, while it was not entirely pleasant to shoot, it was no big chore. That’s generally what one gets with a 9mm subcompact, so nothing exceptional to report here.
Features and Components
The Hellcat’s main claim to fame and selling point is its 11-round standard magazine (either flush or with a pinky extension) and 13-round slightly extended magazine. This capacity puts it in rarified air as compared to other subcompact 9mm pistols. The stock sights include either a Tritium or fiber-optic front sight, depending on the model, and the rear sight is a u-notch.
The Melonite slide features front and rear serrations, which I found to be just fine for manipulating the slide. Melonite is perhaps the best possible treatment for a pistol slide and it’s nice to find it on this pistol. Though I did not run such a model, there are Hellcats available with a slide that is pre-cut for a micro red-dot optic.
The polymer frame is simple in design and adorned with large, well placed textured areas. The texturing is a sort of micro stippling that is in my opinion not adequate. Like nearly all poly pistols, this one will need proper stippling for better purchase; especially on a snappy little pistol like this. There are even textured rest/index areas forward on the frame that one might use for gripping. I found the takedown lever to be a better thumb index area while shooting.
The trigger is adequate, but not great. The takeup is long and the break is a bit “thunky” and plastic feeling. I didn’t notice it as a problem while shooting the pistol, except where I was used to a shorter press and I sometimes dipped my muzzle low in expectation of a shot that came an instant late. With practice, surely that would not be a problem. The shoe was quite comfortable for me. So, again, this trigger is okay.
It seems Springfield has managed to fit 12 rounds of 9mm into a tiny subcompact pistol without any major problems. Provided it’s reliable in the long run, it would seem to be—as of this writing—the ultimate expression of a high-capacity subcompact for deep concealment.
I’m not a huge fan of the sights or the trigger, but sights can be replaced and the trigger, though not awesome, works just fine and causes no problems when firing the gun. There’s no getting around the fact that a subcompact 9mm is going to be a bit snappy, so I again recommend this or any subcompact only to experienced, strong shooters who know how to properly control a violent little meanie in their hands.
If you need a tiny gun with lots of capacity, I recommend you try out the Springfield Hellcat. Rent it at Eagle Gun Range or your local gun range and see what you think.