Gun Review: HK USP Tactical .45

You don’t have to be a Navy SEAL to know that the H&K MK23 is one bad ass pistol. But it helps. It also helps when it comes to owning one. Navy SEALs pay for theirs in blood, sweat and tears. Uncle Sam gets a deal. Civilians need to shell-out some $2,300 or thereabouts for the privilege. Truth be told, I’m no more likely to buy a H&K MK23 than Kerry McGregor is to go swimming in an old gunny sack. So, the H&K USP Tactical then, a more affordable offshoot of the MK23 development program . . .

The USP (Universal Self-Loading Pistol) line grew out of H&K’s 1991 entry into the Special Operations Offensive Handgun Weapons System (OHWS) tender. The process delivered unto the Special Operations command the DA/SA MK23, a gun engineered well beyond the standards of contemporaneous duty guns. Two years later, in 1993, Heckler & Koch began production on the USP line.

All major metal components on the USP are corrosion-resistant. Outside metal surfaces are protected by H&K’s proprietary “hostile environment” nitride finish. Internal metal parts are coated with a Dow Corning anti-corrosion chemical to reduce friction and wear.

The gunmaker tested the MK23’s recoil system with over 30k rounds of +P ammunition followed by 6k high pressure proof rounds. After disassembling the gun the Germans found no damage or excessive wear to any of the components.

And then they did some more tests . . .

The ballistic boffins froze the USP to −42 °C (−43.5 °F), fired it and then frozen it again. They heated it to 67 °C (152.6 °F) and fired it. They cycled between these extremes several times. They subjected USP to standard NATO mud and rain abuse. They immersed it in water and sprayed it with sea water. They dropped it from six feet, hammer first, onto a steel-backed concrete slab.

H&K employees deliberately lodged a bullet in the barrel and then sent another one down the pipe. The second bullet cleared the obstruction producing only a minor bulge in the barrel. They loaded a full magazine and then fired the gun again with the bulging barrel. The resulting group measured less than 4 inches of deviation at 25 meters – a standard that some new guns would be lucky to hold.

In short, Heckler & Koch testers made damn sure the only way this baby was going to go off was with your finger on the trigger and the gun fully in battery. And that it would work matter what.

The USP comes in a variety of sizes and calibers, with 9mm, .40 and .45 all represented.  The USP Tactical version features a threaded barrel and a very high front sight so it can be used with a suppressor.

Takedown of the USP Tactical is slightly more complicated than your standard Glock/XDM/M&P gun, but easier than a 1911. You pull the slide back a bit and then pop out the slide catch lever. You also need to remove the barrel thread protector to remove the barrel from the slide for cleaning.


The USP Tactical is not a gun for small-handed owners. While the USP Tactical is a slimmed down version of the MK23, it still requires a medium to large paw to wield effectively. [ED: In Germany, interchangeable backstraps change you.] Thankfully, the USP’s grips are surprisingly well designed, offering plenty of palm purchase and ergonomic comfort. The photo below shows a comparison between the double-stack USP (left) and my SIG P220 single stack.

Typical of German target sights, the USP Tactical’s are a blade and slot design. The sights themselves are all black — no contrast dots, no tritium, no nothing. The rear sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The front sight is particularly tall, protruding eight mm from the top of the slide (a typical front sight is generally in the 3.5-4 mm range).

It’s a suppressor friendly set-up. The USP’s high front sight compensates for the extra 8.75” of barrel length for a can (say, something along the lines of an AAC Ti-Rant suppressor). You can successfully engage close-in targets without the suppressor blocking your sight picture.

Trigger pull on the USP Tactical is 11.5 lbs. in double-action (DA) and 4.5 lbs. in single-action (SA) mode. It’s the same pull as the MK23 in DA, a tad lighter is SA. In single action mode, there’s a bit of take up—maybe a ¼ of an inch or so—before the hammer releases. As you’d expect from a match grade trigger the action feels as smooth as a Porsche Turbo’s steering wheel—and just as controllable.

Reset in Single Action mode is very similar to SIG’s Short Reset Trigger. The USP Tactical’s adjustable trigger allows you to set the over-travel to your liking. That sounds a bit more sophisticated than it is; the adjustment simply extends a little knob from the back of the trigger shoe to control how far the go pedal travels before hitting the back of the trigger guard.


Not much to say here that the target below can’t say for me. That’s a ten round grouping at 20 feet.


The USP boasts a mechanical recoil reduction system incorporated into the recoil spring assembly. It’s designed to reduce wear and tear on the gun and . . . reduce recoil. By a claimed 30 percent.

For real world comparison purposes, I broke out my P220 Super Match, a phenomenally accurate gun that costs about the same as the USP Tactical. As you can see from the P220 target below, the USP blew the Super Match away (at least in my hands)


I have owned the HK USP Tactical for over a year. I’ve fired about a thousand rounds of various types of ammo without any problems. During the test firing, The USP tore through a full mag of my regular range ammo without issues. And then I shot Hornady .45 Auto +P 230 grain XTP.

On the second trigger pull, nothing happened. The slide hadn’t gone completely into battery, hanging back about ¼ of an inch or so. Tap, rack, bang. The spent brass ejected, but again, nothing on the next trigger pull. I whacked the back of the gun and the slide slid back into battery. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The USP had no difficulty cycling the regular Hornady hollow point ammo. Since the problem only seems to be with +P ammo–which puts a lot more force on the recoil spring—I’m thinking my problem may be a recoil spring that’s on its way out.

UPDATE 9/27/2012

I spoke with H&K Tech support, and guess what – there is a known incompatibility that H&Ks have with some of Hornady’s ammo. Hornady has admitted that some of their cases are over sized and this has been causing problems.  The problem was supposedly resolved in June 2012, but my ammo pre-dates that month which is why I have the problem.  I will try some more Hornady in the future, but if this problem was only corrected in June of this year, I am going to wait a bit longer to make sure the new stuff is in the pipeline.

Being the distrustful sort of person that I am, I managed to procure a couple of alternative ammo options.  In my bag was Remington’s Golden Saber 185 grain +P and Federal’s Tactical HST 230 grain +P ammo.  The USP performed flawlessly with both types of ammo.  With this in mind, I’m inclined to take H&K’s word that the problem was Hornady’s not the USP.

Aftermarket Options

The German USP Tactical uses a 12-round double stack magazine. Since it’s an H&K, you’ll pay nasally for extra mags; about $50 a pop. Ten-round mags are also available for those unfortunate enough to live in (or travel to) restricted capacity states.

Unfortunately, H&K fits the USP with a proprietary rail designed to fit H&K accessories and H&K accessories only. There are several reasonably priced conversion rails that clip onto the H&K rail. You can then mount standard Picatinny accessories onto the USP Tactical. The work-around adds weight.

Holsters are another problem. Very few manufacturers make anything that can accommodate that high front sight blade on the USP Tactical. You can replace the handgun’s front sight with a shorter blade, but that compromises the sight’s performance when using a suppressor.

Comp-Tac sells a holster that accommodates the USP Tactical’s sight—which won’t fit the gun if you mount an aftermarket rail adapter. But if you add an adapter to mount some sort of light or laser aiming device you’re looking at a custom holster anyway.

Speaking of suppressors, H&K went with a left hand thread on the barrel. Most standard suppressor don’t fit (including those made for the MK23 which features the more standard right hand thread pattern). A number of suppressor manufacturers offer suppressors that fit the H&K, including the well-regarded AAC Ti-Rant.


At north of a grand, the USP Tactical is hardly a bargain pistol. Nor is it a handmade gem. It is, however, an ultra-rugged gun with more than merely adequate accuracy designed for the rigorous demands of the American special operations community. God knows why you’d need that much durability in a handgun. There are less expensive guns that are just as reliable (cough Glock cough). But if I had to choose one gun for a serious SHTF scenario, this is the gun I want by my side. If only for inspiration.


Length                          8.64 in
Height                         5.9 in
Width                          1.26 in
Weight w/mag          2.05 lbs.
Capacity                     10 or 12
Trigger                        DA/SA
MSRP                          $1,301 (street price about $1,100)

Ratings (out of five stars)
Overall rating is not a sum of the individual ratings

Style * * * *
This gun has style in spades. Sure, it’s plain black on black and the sights are boring (aside from the adjustable rear sight feature), but just knowing this gun’s heritage and who its older brother is makes it a real conversation piece.

Ergonomics  * * * *
For such a large gun, it’s feels fairly compact. The 1.26” width is only .16” wider than my compact SIG P938 pistol and the USP fires big boy .45 bullets. It’s a heavy gun, but then again, if you are planning to send +P rounds downrange, you are going to appreciate all of that weight. That weight also helps to maintain the gun’s overall balance if you choose to add a suppressor.

Reliability * * * * *
Aside from the previously described Hornady ammo problem, the USP ate everything that I threw at it and came back for more.  Assuming that Hornady fixes their ammo issues, this gun should be able to handle whatever round you want to send down the pipe.

Customize This  * *
Holsters are tough to find. You have to purchase an aftermarket adapter to mount Picatinny accessories.

I go through guns the way Imelda Marcos went through shoes. But the only way you’re getting this gun away from me is to pry it from my cold dead hands. And if you choose to try, with this thing by my side, chances are those cold dead hands will be yours.