I starting out shooting International Defensive Pistol Association competitions some 13 years ago with a highly customized Colt 1911 .45 that was a hoot to shoot. That big .45 semi-wadcutter slug left perfect .452 inch holes in targets that you could see from 20 yards away. It was soft shooting and had a crisp trigger. Of course I dropped some $600 in upgrades to that basic model Colt, with all new trigger parts, sights, grips, barrel, and a crisp gunsmith trigger job from our friend Ray Saltzman. The best thing about that Colt was I got to learn as I shot. I got to learn about stovepipe jams, double feeds, failures to extract, and squib loads. I learned how to do “tap-rack-bang” drills to clear a gun, how to field strip a pistol and clear an obstruction, and how to beg back up guns from other competitors. I kept trying to convince my shooting buddy to pick up a 1911, a real shooting man’s gun. He was perfectly happy with his HK USP .45 Compact for his big bore needs, and I didn’t understand why. His only complaint was how boring the gun was.
Two years ago, I was cruising the aisles of the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife Show when I ran across a very good condition HK USP .40 full size at a suppressor booth for $350. He had taken it in trade a few hours before and just wanted it out of his case. I emptied out my wallet ($342), did my background check, and ran for the door. I had been looking for a nightstand gun that was high capacity and capable of accepting an attached light, and this fit the bill. I had been looking at police trade in Glocks, or maybe a CZ P-O7 combo deal at Gander Mountain. I really had been trying to avoid adding the .40 cal S&W round to my battery. I hated the thought of stocking another round in my ammo locker, but how could I say no to a deal like this HK.
The HK USP .40 S&W (Fullsize) is a polymer frame DA/SA pistol with a capacity of 13+1 and weight of 29 oz with empty mag. It features a safety lever in a familiar position for 1911 shooters, but will actually decock the gun if pushed down all the way. This is a pretty nifty feature if you’ve shot much with a CZ pistol and had to manually decock the pistol by grabbing the hammer with your fingers and slowly lowering it down while pulling the trigger. HK also brags about the double captured recoil spring that supposedly reduces recoil. This feature would be familiar to anyone who has field stripped an officer sized 1911 clone and two springs wrapped around the same recoil rod under the barrel. Original MSRP in 1993 when this model premiered was $925.
Mounting a light to a first generation HK is not an easy task, despite the fact that HK invented the rail for a pistol light. HK developed an accessory rail for It’s SOCOM contract HK Mark 23 .45 for the Navy Seals, and came up with a straight, wide dovetail on the frame dustcover. More recent pistol manufacturers adapted the HK rail with weaver-style cross slots to better keep the accessories from sliding forward during recoil. I combed the gunshow for lights and mostly came up empty. There was one dedicated Insight light made to fit the USP rail, but it was a ten year old design with an 80 lumen halogen bulb and $214 price tag. I found a $29 adapter that would fit the USP rail and mount the more common lights with the locking crossbar, and picked up a modern 120 lumen Insight M3 pistol light for $85
I took my new (to me) USP, rail and flashlight home and put together a shooting system. I was excited with the price I paid for this quality package, but I knew better than to load it up with hollowpoints and stick in the bedroom pistol safe. I picked up a variety of cheap range ammo and a spare magazine, then headed to Pops Indoor Gun Range. Three shots into my initial training session I learned a several very important points about this HK. Those dual recoil springs do a great job of taming the snappy recoil of the 40 cal S&W round. If you’ve ever shot a .40 Glock or compact Taurus in .40 S&W, then you know what I mean by the word “Snappy”. The HK recoiled much slower and straight back, like a 1911 shooting a 200 grain target round. The next thing I learned was that this thing was accurate; I was decorating my target with Mickey Mouse silhouette 3 shot clusters at 15 feet. The next thing I learned is that the adapter I bought to mount my light was worthless. The light shot off the front of the gun and landed 3 feet in front of me beyond the firing line. Whoops, must not have tightened it down right. Fwing!!! There it goes again. OK, never mind, we’ll shoot it without the light. Three magazines full later taught me the final lesson for this gun; it does not digest cheap Russian made TulAmmo 40S&W 180g FMJ. I probably had 5-7 jams in 50 rounds. I’ve always had great luck with the cheap Russian fodder in 9mm, 45, 7.62×39 and .223; with the only problems previously experienced with the .380 ACP in several guns.
This was not first outing that was inspiring confidence in this gun for self defense. I took the gun home and cleaned and lubricated the gun per the user manual instructions. I probably should have done this before the first range session. I returned both the light and the rail to the sellers at the gun show. They weren’t happy, but were more interested in making sure I had something that worked. I found a UTG quick release 110 lumen led pistol light for $35 on closeout that had a removable cross slot locking lug so that it worked on USP and weaver style mounts with no adapter. I picked up some Winchester white box value ammo from the friendly neighborhood Wally World for $32 and went back to the range. It was still soft shooting, very accurate, the light stayed on, and there were no more jams. I’ve never had a jam since that first range session with the Russian ammo, and the pistol feeds defensive hollow points with monotonous regularity.
This gun now sits in my bedroom gun safe and has earned my trust and respect. With the light on, I can actually see what I am aiming at in a dimly lit room. Every time I pull the trigger, it goes bang. Where ever I aim, I hit within 1.5 inches at 10 yards. I finally understand my friend’s comments about how boring this gun is, and how much I like boring for a gun intended for self-defense.
The Hoosier Gun Guy
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