Heckler & Koch USP40 | I like the Springfield XD Better

Heckler & Koch USP

All of us have guns we've fallen in love with because of movies and video games. For some it was the CZ-75 from Gunsmith Cats, and others it was the M1 Carbine from everything WWII ever. For me, one of my first loves was the Heckler & Koch USP from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

The H&K USP is a polymer frame DA/SA pistol first released in the early 1990's as an improvement on the legendary H&K Mk23. Unlike most handguns, the USP is specifically designed for use with .40S&W, as the cartridge was rapidly gaining popularity during that era. There are several variants, each with its own unique set of controls. My gun features right hand controls, with the ability to both decock or carry cocked and locked like a 1911.


Controls and Features

The safety/decocker lever is one of the best on the market. The lever is extremely easy to actuate, but never gets in the way of a proper grip, nor activates accidentally. There is slight ledge, but no texturing, making operation with gloved hands a breeze.

Heckler & Koch USP
Note the lanyard loop and relief in the frame to aid in removing stuck magazines

Grip texture is good for the era, but lacking compared to modern offerings. Side panels are visually similar to sandpaper, but not at all aggressive. Front and back straps feature a raised grid made up of smooth four sided pyramids. While pleasant when shooting, the grips do very little to improve purchase with sweaty hands. The frame is also quite wide to accommodate the double stack .40S&W magazines, making this less than ideal for those with small hands.

Instead of a button, the USP features a paddle style magazine release. This allows for righties and southpaws to easily drop magazines with no change in parts. I find the paddle equally easy to use with both my thumb and my middle finger of my firing hand. The release is low profile, and supported by a positive firing grip, negating any chance of accidentally dropping a magazine.


The Heckler & Koch USP's double action trigger leaves much to be desired. Heavy and long, much unlike my anatomy, the polymer USP trigger sits somewhere in the middle compared to other DA guns. Not as nice as a DP51 or Ruger P-95, but better than a Walther PP or EAA Witness.

Despite the meh DA trigger, the single action trigger is actually fairly good. I place it roughly on par with a CZ P-07 or H&K P30. You're not getting 1911 quality, but you won't be let down. 

My USP arrived with a stock barrel, but I knew I wanted to suppress the gun, so I immediately ordered a threaded factory barrel. The O-ring and fresh rifling improved lockup, noticeably improving accuracy. Perceived recoil also dropped with the installation of the new barrel.


Range Time with the Heckler & Koch USP 

  • 20x Hornady Critical Defense 165gr JHP
  • 20x Golden Saber 165gr JHP
  • 50x Winchester White Box 180gr FMJ
  • 50x Winchester SXZ 180gr FMJ
  • 50x Winchester Train 180gr FMJ
  • 150x Federal American Eagle 180gr FMJ
Heckler & Koch USP
Heckler & Koch USP40 wearing a Silencerco Hybrid-46 suppressor

The H&K USP is one of the most unpleasant pistols I have ever fired. Recoil battered my hand with standard pressure loads. Maybe I’m recoil sensitive, but the USP and Glock 23 are extremely harsh recoiling for .40S&W. I’d take a Springfield Armory XD any day of the week if we’re strictly looking at plinkers.

Despite the unpleasant recoil under normal conditions, the H&K USP is my favorite handgun to shoot suppressed. Even with standard height sights I can easily pass the Test with a Silencerco Hybrid-46 attached. The increased weight and reduced recoil make the pistol a dream to shoot.

The USP balances well against the heavy Hybrid-46, helping to keep rounds on target during rapid fire. The overhanging sides of the slide also prevent carbon from covering your hands, unlike most other pistol designs.


The H&K USP was completely reliable for the majority of shooting. The only malfunctions I experienced were when shooting suppressed. Critical Defense gave 3 failures to feed and sent more carbon into my face than any other round. Federal American Eagle had 1 failure to go into battery.

Throughout shooting I experienced intermittent finger slap from the flared portions of the trigger guard hitting my middle finger. This was not a huge problem, but one I certainly noticed.

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Final Thoughts

The Heckler & Koch USP is a fantastic gun, but dated, handgun. The controls are good. Parts and accessories are decently available and relatively affordable. Aesthetics are on point. Without a doubt I'd trust my life to this gun. That being said, I sold mine and probably wouldn't buy another. Shooting it suppressed was fun, but otherwise I have more modern pistols that do the job better and in a more ergonomic and cost effective package.

Should the USP be your first gun? Probably not. Outside of that, I'd never turn anyone away from purchasing one. Unfortunately, a new USP will run you around $800, and a used model in .45ACP or 9x19 isn't much cheaper. Luckily, police trade-ins chambered for .40S&W are plentiful and can be had for as low as $350.

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About Daniel Reedy 392 Articles
Daniel holds instructor certifications from Rangemaster, Agile Training & Consulting, and the NRA. He has received training from Craig Douglas, Tom Givens, and Steve Fisher among others. He also has experience competing in USPSA, CAS, 3 Gun, and Steel Challenge. In his free time Daniel enjoys petting puppies and reading the Constitution. His work is also published by AmmoLand, Recoil Concealment, and Air Force Times. Daniel has also written and edited for The Kommando Blog.

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