Gun Review: H&K P30

In a world of compromise, some don’t.

Thus reads the unofficial slogan of Heckler & Koch, whose products I can only dream of owning…not just because they’re expensive, but because they won’t sell me the really neat stuff they make. Since 1949, the good folks from Oberndorf have been supplying excellent firearms to just about any government willing to pay for them. H&K’s achievements are numerous, but since that’s not the point of the article, I’ll be brief; they have been tactical since before tactical was cool. They revolutionized the use of plastics and polymers in firearms, popularized polygonal rifling, designed a rifle that didn’t need any of those silly brass casings, and still make everything from target pistols to heavy machine guns. All that being said, let’s take a look at their latest pistol offering. Meet the H&K P30…

Isn’t she beautiful? You won’t find any blued steel or wood grips here, but I think she’s pretty in the same way a shark is. Just like those monsters of the deep, the P30 is highly evolved and looks downright predatory.

The slide is smooth and streamlined, interrupted only by aggressive cocking serrations both fore and aft. The low profile, fin-like sights only add to the overall sleek look of the handgun. The pistol’s size is in the intermediate class: she’s neither compact nor full size, but somewhere comfortably in the middle, much like the GLOCK 19. In fact, it’s only 1/10th of an inch shorter than that model GLOCK and just a tad wider if you include its much larger slide release. And the P30′s about an ounce heavier.

The frame and grip are H&Ks usual fiber re-enforced polymer, and everything looks sharp, from the standard accessory rail to the checkering on the front of the trigger guard to its 0h-so-comfortable grip. But more on those later.

Technically speaking, the P30 is more or less the classic link-less Browning tilting barrel action, just like the H&K P2000 before it. And before that, the infamous H&K USP. If it isn’t broke, there’s really no reason to even think about fixing it.

The slide (which, by the way, is machined from one solid billet of steel) and any important metal parts wear H&Ks proprietary “Hostile Environment” finish. It’s essentially a black oxide coating and it’s resistant to just about everything up to and including 5 megaton airbursts, if H&Ks website is to be believed.

The P30′s offered in quite a few configurations. Caliber-wise, you can get it in 9x19mm or .40 Smith and Wesson. You can chose a SA/DA trigger, a DAO law enforcement trigger, a manual ambidextrous safety, spurred or bobbed hammer, a built in gunlock, and even a RFID chip if you’re either European or too lazy to actually read off the pistols model name, information and serial number.

Regardless of the set-up you chose, the heater comes with H&Ks outstanding 3.86’’ polygonal rifled barrel which is supposed to increase muzzle velocity and barrel life. It also means that not only does H&K cold hammer forge their pistol barrels, but they also design them so that even if completely blocked (say, with dirt, mud, blood or the bullet from one of your friend’s handloads) you can still fire a round without the gun going grenade on you.

I personally witnessed a P30 brought back from the firing line with a severe problem. The slide was locked back, and would not move forward. The culprit was a bulged barrel due to a round being fired after a squib became lodged. The pistol was sent back for warranty work, the barrel was replaced, and the owner was quite happy that he still had his shooting hand.

One novel feature of the gun are its interchangeable grip panels. Quite a few pistols on the market have interchangeable backstraps, but someone at H&K had the idea that maybe that wasn’t the only part of the stock people might want to adjust. The pistol comes not only with three interchangeable backstraps (in small, medium, and large), but also with interchangeable side panels.

 

The backstrap, which is kept in place with a small roll pin, keeps pressure on two removable side panels, one on each side of the gun. They slide into place allowing a shooter not only to change how the back of the pistol fits the hand, but also the sides. What’s even better is that the side panels can be set up asymmetrically.

This allowed me to put a large, somewhat bulkier panel on the right side of the grip to fit the concave shape of my particular palm profile and a flat panel on the other side  to get maximum grip with my very high thumbs-up shooting style. Not only are they modular, but the panels are textured quite aggressively. Not to the point where they feel like they’re going to cheese grate your hands, but textured in such a way as to dispel any worry about keeping a good grip on the gun after dunking it in a barrel of motor oil.

It may seem like a gimmick (it did to me, at first) but the modular grip makes a huge difference in practice. I’ve shot and handled a lot of different handguns and I can say without doubt that after setting the grip panels the way I liked, this pistol fit my hand better than anything else I’ve ever held. With a fully loaded magazine, the balance was darned close to perfect. It pointed very naturally, just like an extension of my arm,  just the way a gun in this class should.

But the real question was how would it shoot? I started off with the 9mm version going fairly slowly, plinking at paper targets at different ranges just to get a feel for the firearm and to get used to the SA/DA trigger. I have to admit, I’m spoiled rotten when it comes to triggers. I’m used to nice 1911 designs with fairly light triggers. Also striker fired pistols, specifically my GLOCK, with its boringly predictable bangswitch and super crisp reset.

To be frank, the P30′s go pedal bothered me from the first shot to the last. Not just because of its weight, but because as I pulled the trigger back, my finger would uncomfortably rub across the top of the paddle-style magazine release located at the bottom of the trigger guard. I had to shift my trigger finger placement slightly to the left, but after doing so, the mag release wasn’t a problem.

Predictably, the double action pull is long and heavy. The single action trigger pull, however, is a breath of fresh air. In DA, it starts out a tad mushy but then stages and firms up, allowing you to very easily take up the slack to press through the last bit and drop the hammer. In SA, it’s fairly light, although the pull was a bit long for my taste. Both modes, though, were smooth and consistent and by the time I was done with my warm up, I had more or less figured out the trigger.

Well, almost. The one thing I couldn’t abide about the P30′s trigger was the reset. Or, should I say, the almost complete lack thereof. The reset is so far forward and so hard to feel that it’s almost not worth bothering with. This is probably the single biggest detriment to an otherwise outstanding handgun.

The H&K’s sights are a typical 3-dot configuration and are placed far enough apart to allow easy alignment. They use a proprietary H&K luminous paint and are easy to pick up quickly at my favorite indoor shooting range.

The pistol’s magazines are very well made and sport a black finished steel body. And unlike many double stack mags, they’re fairly easy to load. I didn’t need any special tools – or shred my thumb – to fully pack the P30′s fifteen rounders.

With my initial familiarization of the pistol completed, I borrowed a Blackhawk! SERPA holster, strapped it on, and got down to business.

Over the course of a quite enjoyable afternoon, I burned through over five hundred rounds of ammo in various flavors. From high quality American made to imported steel cased ammo with funny animal names, the P30 eagerly devoured everything. The gun cycled perfectly only one malfunction…and that was a failure to fire from a bad primer. Being a double action, I theoretically could have pulled the trigger for a second strike and tried that stubborn primer again, but I automatically tap-rack-banged and cleared the round before I thought of it.

Any pistol will behave well when you baby it and shoot slowly. But with H&Ks reputation, and the P30′s obvious intention as a duty firearm, I figured it deserved a sterner workout. The vast majority of my test was conducted by firing as quickly as I could yank the trigger.

My method was to use the pistol’s excellent de-cocker, mounted on the back of the slide, to de-cock the pistol on a full chamber, holster it, draw, and fire. I varied between drawing and firing a controlled pair and drawing and firing a Mozambique drill (two rounds center of mass, one round to the head). Regardless, the rapid fire portion of my test was done at the seven yard line from the holster, with the first shot fired double action.

And that was where the pistol really shined. With the exception of a few flyers (most likely from the much longer initial double action trigger pull), I kept the vast majority of rounds where they would be needed to stop a threat.

Groups like this were standard and pretty easy to achieve, even shooting as fast as I could manage, flash sight picture and all.

The pistol’s paddle-style mag release is located in a style endemic to many Germanic designs. And although it may not be immediately familiar to most American shooters, the trigger guard mounted mag catch is just big enough and in almost the perfect place (for me). I had to slightly roll the pistol in my hand to dump the magazine, which drops free quite readily, thanks to their sturdy all steel construction. The pistol also had a decent flair in the magazine well so speed reloads were a lark.

Overall, I was pretty impressed. My shooting with the P30 was only marginally worse than what I can do with my regular carry pistol, which has a significantly longer barrel, better sights, and a much lighter trigger. I think this sort of practical accuracy is owed to the pistol’s superior ergonomics, very fine barrel and build quality.

Once I’d shot through most of my ammo and without letting the pistol cool down, I pulled up a chair to the bench, got out my sand bag rest, and braced the pistol for some longer range accuracy testing.

The initial results were not encouraging. The front sight’s fairly wide, and the trigger, even shooting single action, isn’t exactly God’s gift to target shooting. I got the distinct feeling, however, that the pistol, with a 5.85″ sight radius, is still capable of outshooting me. I did manage to achieve some good quality groups at twenty five yards, such as the one below.

After I fired my last round, I loaded up my range bag and decided to be kind and clean the test pistol before I returned it. Breakdown is very conventional. Lock the slide to the rear, drift out the slide catch, pull the trigger, remove the recoil spring and then the barrel and the disassembly is done.

After five hundred rounds – most of which were reloads or cheap imported ammo – the pistol was mighty dirty. But the gun didn’t seem to mind it at all. Even after some tender loving care with a tooth brush and rag, the pistol’s action and function were just as smooth dirty as they were when clean.

In conclusion, I don’t have much bad to say about the H&K P30. It’s accurate, reliable, and very easy to shoot and use. The trigger certainly isn’t to my taste, but I think someone who’s more accustomed to the whole SA/DA trigger thing would have great results.

The price, however, is another matter. I’d have to think twice – and maybe a third time – before laying out that much lucre even though the gun’s generally a joy to shoot. That’s a lot of money to lay out for a gun when our Austrian friends produce something at least as reliable at about half the price. That being said, I have no doubt that this pistol could be rode hard and put away wet for years and years and still provide faithful service.

Specifications:

Model: H&K P30
Caliber: 9x19mm
Magazine capacity: 15 rounds
Materials: Fiber re-enforced polymer frame, steel slide
Barrel Length: 3.86’’
Weight: 1.43 pounds without magazine
Overall length: 6.99 inches
Sights: Fixed three dot with luminous paint
Action: SA/DA
Finish: Matte “Hostile Environment” Black
MSRP: $1023, about $850 street

Ratings (out of 5 stars):

Style * * *
As in all things, it’s a matter of taste. If you’re into the whole polished blued steel and walnut look, this isn’t the heater for you. But if you’re looking for something that’s all down to earth, no-frills tacticool, she’s the Mona Lisa.

Ergonomics (Carry) * * *
This pistol is light, points intuitively, doesn’t have anything that will snag and is wicked quick out of the holster. She is, however, a little on the chubby side. The P30″s probably more at home on a duty belt or in tactical holster, but she’d still be OK to carry in an IWB holster, or, if possible, an OWB holster with a very loose shirt or light jacket.

Ergonomics (Firing) * * * *
All the controls are in the right place – once you get used to that paddle mag release. It’s accurate and is a pleasure to shoot. I’d have given it full marks except for that trigger, which is the biggest drawback to the gun.

Reliability * * * * *
Come hell or high water, this pistol is going to work. What else could you ask for?

Customize This * * *
With the choice of 27 different grip options, a Picatinny rail and a fair selection of replacement sights and holsters, there isn’t much you can’t do to this pistol. The only limitation is the fact that the pistol is rather expensive and fairly uncommon, so there aren’t tons of aftermarket options.

Overall * * * *
The pistol feels great in the hand, is quite accurate, handles flawlessly and is about as reliable as you’d want a handgun to be. It lives up to H&Ks legacy of building excellently crafted, reliable firearms with mediocre triggers.