The VP9 is Heckler & Koch’s long awaited, full-size, striker-fired 9mm pistol, suitable for duty, open carry, or home defense. Even so, “striker fired” doesn’t tell the whole story. The firing system has yet more interesting details than the typical double-action-only trigger configuration.

By Andy Rutledge

* * *

I got to put a few hundred rounds through this pistol recently at Eagle Gun Range and found a lot to like and, of course, a few things I didn’t warm up to. Let’s look at the specs and then I’ll share some more in-depth details and my impressions from shooting the VP9.

HK VP9 9mm Specs:

  • Chambering: 9x19mm
  • Length: 7.34″
  • Height: 5.41″
  • Width: 1.32″
  • Barrel: 4.09″ / Polygonal, 6 grooves, right-hand twist, 1 in 9.8 inches
  • Sight Radius: 6.38″
  • Sights: 3-dot luminous (glow in the dark)
  • Trigger Pull: 5.4 lbs.
  • Weight: 25.56 oz. (w/empty magazine)
  • Finish: Black frame / black oxide slide
  • Capacity: 15+1
  • MSRP: $719

right and left sides

Shooting the VP9

In preparing to shoot the H&K VP9, I first took a few dry-fire shots. I was immediately impressed with the trigger. It has a smooth and resistance-free take up, a clear wall, and a decent break. I’m used to a Glock trigger that has some resistance and sponginess on the take up. The VP9’s trigger was rather a breath of fresh air.

vp9 trigger

I first did my typical warm up of 10 rounds each at 3, 5, 7, 10, and 15 yards so that I’d have a baseline to compare the experience. At 3 and 5 yards I was still getting used to the initial trigger break, the trigger reset, the felt recoil, and overall controllability. By the time I was at 10 yards I was putting all 10 rounds inside of a 3” circle in about 8 seconds (for me, this is really good). My conclusion is that this is an eminently shootable pistol.

HOWEVER, bore axis matters. It matters a lot (something too many manufacturers don’t seem to realize or care about). The HK VP9 has a somewhat high bore axis and I was continually fighting the effects of this defect. As a mildly experienced shooter I know how to compensate for bore axis consequences, but as a discriminating shooter I don’t cotton to too much muzzle flip.

The sights were easy to pick up and contributed to my accuracy results with this pistol. Both the front and rear sights are dovetailed. The frame-mounted controls seemed to be well placed for my medium-sized hands, and did not interfere with my operation of the pistol. I didn’t have any trouble with the paddle-style magazine release and used my index finger to manipulate it. I would not, however, prefer this sort of control over the typical side-mounted button release. Your mileage may vary. I really like the inset cuts at the bottom of the grip, to help gain purchase on the magazine baseplate if you need to clear a difficult malfunction.

Comfort, Controllability, & Capacity

I enjoyed the feel of the VP9 in my hands. It reminded me of a wider-grip version of the Walther CCP that I shot last month and really enjoyed. Like all of the newer Heckler & Koch pistols, the VP9 has a highly ergonomically designed grip. With the nine interchangeable grip panels, you can likely craft a perfect fit to your hands, too.

While the felt recoil is fairly soft, the relatively high bore axis makes muzzle flip a bit of an issue. Seeking to control the recoil and flip, I found little purchase for my support hand forward thumb. I tried resting it on the takedown control, but it was not far enough forward for my hands. So I had a bit of trouble maintaining proper grip for more than 3 or 4 shots in a row.

The VP9 is about a half-inch taller than the Glock 19, but it has the same 15-round capacity. That’s not terrible, but it’s oddly anemic for a full-size 9mm pistol.

Components and Features


As the photos show, the slide has useful serrations fore and aft, but what might not be obvious without careful inspection is that there is a set of assistive “wings” at the rear of the slide. This is a polymer insert that fits into a slot below the rear sight and provides a bit more purchase when racking the slide. I don’t know if this feature is necessary, but I didn’t find it at all uncomfortable or problematic.

The VP9 has a chamber-loaded indicator and a striker-cocked indicator. I will merely say that these features are irrelevant, as only unsafe people care about such things. Gun manufacturers should stop building them into their pistols.

Likely the most important feature of the VP9 is the grip component system. There are 3 size variations of grip panels each for the backstrap, right, and left sides of the grip, allowing you to tailor the grip dimension and shape it to your hand. This is a really nice feature that should go a long way toward making this Heckler & Koch pistol just right for you. As for the grip texture, it is aesthetically pleasing, but in no way aggressive enough for my taste.

vp9 component system

Another nice feature of the pistol is that the controls are entirely ambidextrous. The paddle-style magazine release and the slide lock can be manipulated from either side. The right-side control for the slide-lock is a long, odd-looking lever. It seems out of place on this pistol and I have to wonder about its long-term durability or propensity to snag on things.

ambi slide lock lever

You can’t see it from the outside, but this pistol packs a significant surprise. Though the VP9 is a striker-fired pistol, it’s not necessarily a double-action-only pistol. When the slide articulates, it cocks the striker spring. The trigger, then, doesn’t have to actuate the striker spring and when pressed merely clears the trigger and drop safeties, and releases the already-cocked striker. By definition, that’s makes the VP9 a single action pistol! A result of this mechanism is that the trigger take up is free from resistance and quite silky. The break is fairly crisp, but involves a bit of creep. Reset is very firm—perhaps too firm, but I have to wonder if things would smooth out a bit after a couple thousand rounds. In any event, as compared to other factory striker-fired pistols the VP9’s trigger may be the best one going.


The H&K VP9 is a very nice-feeling, comfortable pistol to hold. The grip-customizing system with both backstrap and side panels mean you don’t have to settle for a single grip made by the manufacturer for some nonexistent everyman. The trigger is delightful. Mechanical innovation aside, I expect that anyone can appreciate the quality of this trigger. The slide has both fore and aft serrations and the operating controls are available on both sides of the pistol. If one requires different sights, both front and rear sights are dovetailed for easy replacement. The polymer charging assists at the back of the slide are useful for people with lower hand strength. The full-size rail will be useful for some folks and the interesting striker action mechanics has immediate benefits here with the trigger and may cause other manufacturers to rethink their pistol mechanics.

The high-ish bore radius makes for a bit too much muzzle flip for my taste. I’m also no fan of the paddle-style magazine release, though some may find it to be no problem. Those who know how grip texture factors in gun fighting will not appreciate the deceptively nice-looking grip texture. The 15-round capacity is a bit small for a full-size pistol. The rear sight is sloped, which makes one-hand slide manipulation a problem. The right-side slide lock lever is odd and I believe it to be potentially problematic.

So for rating the H&K VP9…

Ergonomics (*****)
The customizable grip makes for an eminently ergonomic feel in my hand. I found the controls to be well placed and did not get in my way at all.

Shootability (****)
The grip makes for a comfortable beginning to shooting, but the high bore axis makes followup shots more of a chore than I prefer. The sights are quite nice and I have to give props to the wonderful trigger.

Accuracy (*****)
This is an accurate pistol and I found it very easy to score precision hits and small groups. That nice trigger was, for me, a big part of the overall accuracy equation.

Customization (****)
The customizable grip fit is a huge plus, since your pistol should ideally be tailored to you and not to someone else. There are plenty of aftermarket sights and plenty of holster options to suit your needs and preference. The full-sized picatinny rail will allow for a host of lights and lasers.

In Summary

This is a formidable pistol and not just for a single feature. There’s a lot going on here to like despite what I’ve cited as negatives. Of those negatives, the bore axis is the one I find most fault with, but the popularity of other high-bore-axis pistols means that my opinion of them may not even matter to you.

Ultimately, I found the H&K VP9 to be a smooth-shooting, comfortable tack driver. I think you should probably give this one a try and see for yourself just how this pistol fits your needs and preferences.

About The Author
Andy Rutledge is a design professional, competitive shooter and avid road cyclist. He trains at Eagle Gun Range and elsewhere a few days a week to hone his shooting and defensive skills.
Eagle Gun Range

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