Stephen Hunter: James Bond’s Walther PPK Sucked

Writing in washingtonpost.com, novelist Stephen Hunter rips Bond’s PPK a new one:

“Its tragic flaw is that when it was designed, streamline was the hot lick, but nobody had heard of ergonomics; men adjusted to machines, not the other way around. And though it looks sleek, its edges are all razor sharp, while the trigger pull is like dragging a 75-pound rake across gravel. When you finally get the 10-pound lever far enough back to fire, the pipsqueak jumps like a snapping mousetrap as it recoils, the slide shooting back in supertime, then forward again as all those edges cut into your flesh. Shoot a box of ammo, and your hand looks as though it’s been put through a meat grinder. You probably haven’t hit anything either, because the sights are tiny and the barrel short . . .

“So the gun, like the man, is an illusion. Its reality is pointless: Bond never had to aim, had hands made of asbestos and never missed. He could have fired a staple gun and put Blofeld away.”

comments

  1. avatar aaronw says:

    My P-64, a 9×18 clone of the PPK, does the exact same things to my hand.

    1. avatar Bremmer says:

      The P-64 was my first handgun, and is still the worst firearm I’ve ever shot. However, it was heavy enough to bludgeon someone with if you didn’t feel like dealing with the 27-lbs trigger pull.

  2. avatar hoppes#9 says:

    Hey, I own a .380 PPK/S. All true, but still…

    🙂

  3. avatar Darth Mikey says:

    Of course the picture above is the infamous prop “Golden Gun”, which would be very cool (and probably very illegal) to make a working version of. (The firing prop did not break down.)

    Good assessment of the PPK, though.

    1. avatar Mark says:

      It also appears to fire an entire rimmed cartridge.

      1. avatar kb says:

        All while attached to several strings

      2. avatar Bob says:

        That’s 65% more bullet per bullet.

  4. avatar Dr. Dave says:

    I disagree. The PPK has a fine ballance and points naturally. Keep in mind it is a pre Jeff Cooper gun, and most people point shot. As in, point the gun and shoot it, sight picture be damned. I think it has mild recoil: It is quite heavy for a .380. They are very well made guns. Also very concealable. And in my experience, they are VERY reliable. My mothers, that I would borrow for a back up peice, has never malfunctioned, and I cant remember any of my customers being anything less than trustworthy. Its a simple design, not hard to take down. The mag release sucks, and it is a little rough around the edges. I would trust my life to one, and so would many others. In fact, thats why its been copied so much and has been in production for so long.

  5. avatar hoppes#9 says:

    Hahaha .. I just noticed you can see the supporting strings in the image at the top. Early days, eh?

  6. avatar Dr. Dave says:

    Also, it has a fixed barrel which makes it quite ideal for a suppressor/silencer. Is it a great gun today? No, its outclassed. But its an old design reflecting the times, and was, and still is, a formidable concealment peice. And like most smaller guns, it really is an experts weapon.

    1. avatar Christian says:

      But it is a purely blowback operated design. All the noise escapes through the breach if a suppressor is mounted.

      1. avatar "Dr." Dave says:

        Right, but you dont need a recoil device/neilson device to help it cycle. So it works quite well.

  7. avatar Jerry says:

    I also have a PPK. Once broken in, I find it to be very reliable and accurate. Sharp edges???? Where? Of my carry’s it is the simplest to take and go. Just drop it in my pocket. I have tried some pocket holsters but found them less than satisfactory. I do not carry anything else in the pocket with the PPK so there’s nothing to snag the trigger.

  8. avatar Ralph says:

    Snappy recoil? Check. Slide bite galore? Check. Long, heavy trigger pull? Check. Small sights and short sight radius? Check and check. Pretty? Check? Pretty cool? Totally. And some of the TALO specials are beautiful beyond compare.

    Keep in mind also that Bond’s original PPK was chambered in .32 Auto, which is softer-firing than the .380. It was a big step up from Bond’s original pistol, which was a Beretta 418 in the anemic .25 ACP.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      And yet it would drop a man at 50′ with a single shot. Amazing gun, that.

      1. avatar rosignol says:

        Shot placement is king. 😉

  9. avatar Al_in_Ottawa says:

    I owned one in .380ACP, note the past tense of the verb. The sharp edge on the backstrap hit me on the middle joint of my thumb in exactly the wrong spot every time. I hated shooting it so much I sold it and used the cash to partially pay for my CZ-85 in 9mm.

  10. avatar Greg Camp says:

    I have the P-64. As long as I hold it the right way, it doesn’t cause any injury to me. It’s cartridge isn’t guaranteed to cause much injury on the other end, but it’s not a bad backup or close-quarters gun. It is not designed for feats of long-distance shooting. As always, get to know the gun’s characteristics and use it accordingly.

  11. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    OK, let’s deliver a dose of perspective into the mix:

    When Walther introduced the PP (and shortly later, the PPK), handguns and handgunning were in their infancy. Very, very few people were very good with a handgun – any handgun. And handguns reflected this. Never mind the Hollywood depictions of pistoleros in the Old West. That’s so much BS, and any serious handgunner knows it.

    The first serious handgunner? Easy: Go read the writings of Elmer Keith and you’ll see handgunning as a serious vocation starting. Keith was far ahead of his time – very far. And why was Keith such a handgun guy? Well, if you read Keith’s writings, you find out why: He was horribly disfigured when a young lad in a fire. His left hand was horribly injured and twisted around – and he had his father and mother get him drunk on 100-proof whiskey, then re-break it and set it straight on a mink pelt stretching board, but his left hand was never quite right again, which made his rifle shooting not what he wanted it to be. So Keith was a handgunner who figured out how to get the most out of a handgun – and invented “handgun hunting” before the term was invented to describe such things.

    Nothing like this happened in Europe. Nothing like this will ever happen in Europe. It happened in the American West, thanks to a hard man in a hard place who had to make the most of what he had.

    Go pull the trigger on a US 1911 of that era and compare it to today’s 1911’s. Go ahead, find a 1911 in original condition for that era, a civilian 1911,one that has not been touched by a gunsmith, one that is in the condition as originally delivered by Colt… load up a magazine and put some rounds onto paper.

    I’ll wait. Hmmm… da-da-da… dum-de-dum… bump-bi-diddly… never mind me, I’ll be waiting over here for you to find such a pistol. Or a unicorn. I’ll make it easy on you and require just a plain unicorn, not one of those giggling “alternative energy” unicorns that can violate the Laws of Thermodynamics as it craps Skittles while prancing through the sky…

    What’s that? You’re having trouble finding a 1911 in original condition? They’ve all been touched by gunsmiths, and the ones that are truly original are so valuable, you could trade them for two skittle-crapping unicorns and the owners won’t let you cycle the action, much less shoot them?

    Well, why is that?

    It’s because handguns in that era weren’t expected to be used anywhere nearly as seriously as we expect today, especially in Europe, where they get a roaring case of the fan-tods (and in the UK, die of morbid mental flatulence) at even the sight of a gun, much less the actual use of one. When guys like Jeff Cooper came along in the trail Elmer Keith had cut and said “You can be much more effective in a fight with a handgun, and I’m going to show you how!” finally people started to take handguns as a combat weapon seriously. And in turn, they suddenly wanted the innards of their guns worked over to make them so much better than they ever came from the factory.

    From the 50’s until the 80’s, here’s how the acquisition of a factory-new 1911 went:

    The box arrived. You opened it up, checked that everything was there, then you recorded the serial # off the frame. You closed the box back up and you covered up your address on the box with the address of your gunsmith, and you sent it off to get worked on. You rarely bothered actually shooting the pistol to find out what it was like, you already knew. Besides, your gunsmith was going to charge you for cleaning it. The trigger pull was pretty much what Mr. Hunter described above. Cooper used to tell people to also get their 1911’s “de-horned” – all the sharp edges stoned down, so it wouldn’t catch on your clothing whilst drawing it.

    Back when the Glock was introduced, it had several radical departures for a handgun, and in particular, one that isn’t talked about there on TTAG, mostly because TTAG is inhabited by younger people who grew up with Glocks, and they don’t remember the “BG” – “Before Glock” period of history. That unacknowledged radical departure was this: You could buy a pistol, take it straight to the range and run 200 rounds through it and be satisfied with the trigger and cycling of the gun as you bought it, the day you bought it, without stopping by your gunsmith first.

    Today, you notice how most all 1911’s have that “beavertail” grip safety? How they have “Commander” style hammers? Yea, that’s not an accident, folks. That’s because the sainted 1911 could “hammer bite” the back web of your palm if you had fleshy palms. That hurt like a SOB too, folks. Today, it’s a minority of 1911’s that are made for civilian or military sales that don’t have a beavertail/commander setup.

    Here’s real-world hammer bite:

    http://www.sightm1911.com/lib/review/RIA_M1911A1.htm

    Back then, almost all handguns had rough innards. Get inside a PP or PPK, and you’ll find the typical machine marks of the day. What you have to do is what you used to do with the 1911’s: Send it off to a ‘smith and have him make it nice inside. As a small, easily concealed handgun, the PPK isn’t bad. It’s a bit underpowered in the original 7.65mm loading, but then what European handgun isn’t? Elmer Keith and Jeff Cooper both would laugh at today’s pre-occupation with the 9×19 round, which also started in Europe. Real men, rough men, who worried about the outcome of a pistol gunfight being in their favor, used calibers that started with a “4” and bullets of at least 200 grains.

    And in truth, a guy like Keith was a harder man in real life than the fictional Bond ever was on the screen.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      D.G., most of the 1911’s I saw from before the 80’s were surplus military issue and nobody shot anything but fmj in them and the groups on paper looked like shotgun patterns. You’re very much right about gunsmithing them straight after recieving them.

      I never got the 1911 bug and I have to remind myself that the young shooters nowadays don’t remember a time when the only “wonder nine” was the Browning P35 with it’s 13 round mag. In those days most cops carried a wheelgun.

    2. avatar Charles5 says:

      I really think you should have your own section on TTAG, although I would perfectly understand if you didn’t want to.

      1. avatar Darth Mikey says:

        I’ll second that.

      2. avatar DrewN says:

        Hell, he should have his darn site. I’d happily read a few hundred words from DG on a daily basis. Makes my own quite insignificant contributions seem like the mewling of a three year old.

    3. avatar g says:

      Very informative. This should be a post in and of itself!

    4. avatar Skyler says:

      There’s a lot of hyperbole in that post, red meat for the real he-men 9mm haters. Pistol marksmanship was a big deal to the Texas Rangers quite a long time ago, and I doubt they invented it either.

      But I’ll attest that my military issue M1911 in the mid 1980’s was a piece of junk.

      I have never shot the PPK, but my Sig P232 is very nice.

  12. avatar RIGHT! says:

    I used to poo-poo the mag catch as well, but unlike the 1911 stlye mag release it is unaffected by sitting on the gun or unintended pressure while in a pocket, purse, IWBH, SH. Since it is unlikely that this firearm’s original POU was to engage in a full on street battle the mag catch makes perfect sense. I wish my nifty-tiny 380 had the same mag catch system as the PP Series since the mag is always popping out while carried

    1. avatar Loyd says:

      A big complaint with my LCP is whenever I pocket carry the mag releases when I sit down. The European style release on the butt of the grip would be more ideal.

  13. avatar Mehul Kamdar says:

    Not sure if it was the ammunition that was available back in India where I was born and grew up, but every PP, PPK and TPH that I shot jammed after a couple of magazines through the pistol. The Mauser HSc and Ortgies pistols did not jam, though, but they are rarer over there. Somehow, I think the glamor of the whole Bond franchise had more to do with the PPK’s popularity than any claimed merit of those pistols.

    1. avatar Mehul Kamdar says:

      PS Why not put up a PPK picture instead of some silly studio prop?

  14. avatar Jay says:

    My PPK is one of the best guns I own. I’ve experienced none of these problems and chicks at the range love the size and light recoil. I’d buy another one but I have my eyes on a PPQ.

    1. avatar Partially Concealed says:

      Do it, my PPQ is a prized possession. U will love it.

  15. avatar jwm says:

    I have the upgraded PPK. The Makarov. Fewer parts. More reliable and with the heel type mag catch it’s practically murphy proof. Also with the fixed barrel it’s damned accurate even with the small sights and my bifocals.

    1. avatar Chris Dumm says:

      +1

      The Makarov is larger than the PPK but quite comfortable to shoot. Hammer bite was never an issue, and the trigger (particularly in single action) was quite satisfactory. Accuracy was good to excellent (1″ offhand at 15 yards for mine) and reliability was a simple 100%.

  16. avatar 16V says:

    When somebody opens an article with something as completely inaccurate as “…nobody had heard of ergonomics; men adjusted to machines…” I know I’m gonna see some other half-informed nonsense fill the rest of the page. I was not disappointed.

    There’s tons of evidence the early Greeks very deliberately designed their tools to be easy to hold and use. Regardless, “modern” ergonomics and the science of human motion have been around for well over 100 years. Was it always the metric? Hardly. But saying that it just wasn’t there when Carl designed the gun back in the early 1930s is just plain wrong.

    Rough edges? Recoil? Slide cuts? What reject from the final minutes of the Ranger/Interarms days was he shooting?

    Like all guns, it doesn’t fit somebody’s hand, somewhere. But it seems comfortable to me for what it is.

    1. avatar Houstorm says:

      From the several I’ve shot, it fits mine pretty well. It is a really great firearm in my opinion, if they could figure out how to chamber it in 9mm I’d pick one up sooner rather than later.

  17. avatar Gherkin says:

    Hunter has hands the size of ham hocks, he probably gets slide bite from a 1911. I have a PPK and a PPK/S, works of art.

  18. avatar Gherkin says:

    Stephen Hunter has hands like ham hocks, he probably gets slide bite from 1911s. The PPK is a work of art, pure beauty.

  19. avatar wade37 says:

    I’ve owned a shot a walther pp in .32 for many years and put lots of rounds through it with no problems with function or comfort.

  20. avatar K-Nuckle head says:

    I’ve got one in .32acp and while not my favorite pistol, it’s not my least favorite pistol either. I was made post WW II and as a result I have not had anything done to it. It shoots ball ammunition without a problem, but anything else will not feed with any kind of reliability. As a BUG ……………I’m thinking something with a little more ummph and in my case that’s either a Glock 27 or a S&W M60. Now neither of these are as “neat” looking as a PPK, but “neat” looking can get you in a bit of trouble when the chips are down

  21. avatar Jake F. says:

    I’ve never shot the version .380 of the PPK but I have shot either a .22 or .32 version. It wasn’t bad but I thought the slide release using the trigger guard was a little weird. Not a bad gun but for the price it’s not the one for me.

    On the other hand I have a Bersa Thunder .380 that I love,, much better than the anything like a TCP or a little Kel-Tec.

    1. avatar Rambeast says:

      I have the Bersa Mini-Thunder .45. If it’s lower caliber sibling is anything like this one, I will agree that this pistol is damn near a work of art. The grip is a bit big for my small hand, so shooting DA with it is difficult. I assume the .380 has a signifigantly smaller grip. Shooting SA is a dream, and the OOTB accuracy is amazing. Missing golf balls on the 100yd berm by only a few inches with a 3.4″ barrel is pretty awesome. The missing is probably due to my trigger pull.

  22. avatar Jean Paul says:

    My dad was a Louisiana State Trooper and a gun enthusiast. Louisiana was very lenient about what troopers carried off duty, but troopers had to qualify with everything they carried. Dad had a PPK/S as one of his CCW pistols—and he shot the qualification course with it. Max distance for a handgun was 25 yards, and he did it with the Walther.

    It’s not the gun, it’s the shooter.

  23. avatar John Cordine says:

    I owned a walther PPK in 380 back in the 70s. I loved everthing about that gun but the scars it left on the web of my hand and thumb. Head shots at 25 yards were the norm. The first double action shot was always difficult but the single action was fine. Mine was bought new while I was stationed in Germany. Many of the guns
    called a walther, are not made by Germans in Germany. In the 80s a company called Mannurin?? (spelling does not look right) in France bought rights to manufacture the guns under the walther name. The French do not take quality control as serious as the Germans . Then the guns started being made in America.
    Someone earlier commented that suppressed blowback doesn’t work. I say, he has no experience with suppressed weapons. Mine have always worked fine. Now trying to suppress a 1911 and get it reliable is a challenge.

  24. avatar Bob says:

    Has this guy ever shot a gun? I’m reading my first novel by him, Dead Zero, and he’s got guys being nicked by a .50 flying 30 feet thru the air and states that it can knock someone thru a windshield and 25 feet farther. Really? I’ve shot a PP a lot and this isn’t my opinion.

    1. avatar DrewN says:

      Well, he is very,very prone to exaggeration, that’s for sure. The only novel of his I feel holds up at all is Dirty White Boys and to a lesser extent Hot Springs. The rest are barely a step up from The Executioner or The Death Merchant pulps.

  25. avatar Dogman says:

    I have large hands and the ergonomics of the PPK/S is fine for me. The recoil of the .380 is mild. While the DA trigger pull is heavy, the pull to let-off is extremely short and not a problem at all to control once you get used to it. There are a few sharp edges but none in places that bite you as long as you have a proper grip; however, I do have the S&W version which is somewhat modified in this area. The gun is fairly accurate–more than adequately accurate for self defense. But…

    …it has tiny front sights that need to be painted day-glo orange to be visible. It comes with checkered plastic grips that are slippery even when dry and nearly impossible to hold tightly with sweaty hands (wood grips fix this). It has no lock lever to hold open the slide and this is a problem because the guns often fail to feed even FMJ ammo properly and sometimes fails to eject or extract the cases consistently. The guns also like to be clean and well lubricated, which is fine until you run a dozen rounds through it and the residue starts gumming things up.

    For a gun designed for self defense, it is not a gun that is very reliable by today’s standards. I would hate to depend on it as my only option for self defense. However, it’s a great range toy and I enjoy shooting it.

  26. avatar miforest says:

    back in the day, revolvers made up the vast majority of duty and personal defense guns. look up the S&W victory 38 here on this site and you will understand why .

    that said , a friend has a ’43 ithica that has used to the point of needing a new barrel,barrel bushing, and a new recoil spring in the factory weight. it shoots well, always works with fmj, and has no bad bite.

    1. avatar Larry says:

      Back in the day? I hate that expression. It sounds so stupid. What day are you talking about-yesterday? last week? It doesn’t even make sense. At least name an era…. I was born back in the day. Sheesh! My grandson is 7 years old, but he was born “back in the day!

  27. avatar Rokurota says:

    James Bond is a working operative and his PPK is a working gun. It is not a range toy, and no doubt bears little resemblance to the milsurp guns y’all and Hunter have shot. If Q can install a bulky, non-snag-free palmprint reader, the fellow can certainly tune the trigger and handload custom ammo for 007.

    And Fleming may not know his guns, but it was Maj. Boothroyd (the inspiration for Q) who suggested the PPK. In the 1950s and 1960s, everyone in Europe, police included, carried .32s and .380s. Seriously, who’s gonna tell James Bond he’s undergunned ‘cuz he ain’t shootin’ no .45?

  28. avatar Iggymazda says:

    Have it, shot it, LOVE it. Please take the time to shoot the gun. Go to the local range, ask them if they have it, if not check somewhere else, someone else will. Recoil was nothing, but the gun was hard to get a hang of, the wife says it looks tiny in my hands and it feels that way. At first I shot way left and the slide bit me, then I loosened up and held the gun lower than I would hold one normally, then focused on my trigger finger. After some practice I could pull the gun from my IWB holster, fire, and as fast as I could pull the trigger my shots fell in a 2-3 inch group at 25 feet with strict time constraints, 2 seconds pull and fire (safety always on in holster) and 4 seconds for 2 shot, reload and 2 more. Truth be told, practice and realize this isn’t a new polymer “wonder” it’s a steel gun designed long ago, take time and practice, you can be good at it too. Finally, buck up on the kick, it’s not barely close to a 40 or 357 mag, I don’t really even notice.

  29. avatar Doug Burgoyne says:

    The guys that complain about the PPK .380 having a hard recoil must have; A. never shot a larger caliber gun, B. have had a vagina transplanted on the end of their wrist where their hand once was, C. both A and B. Folks like this wanker also harp on the DA trigger pull. OK, it does have a hard trigger pull in DA. It’s part of it’s built in safety and takes a little practice (but not brute strength…unless you have the aforementioned hand/vagina transplant). However, people that comment on it rarely mention it’s beautifully crisp, short, fast SA trigger action for those important follow shots. MUCH better than the average striker fired standard trigger pull on shots in SA action. Enough of half-assed “reviews” that don’t deal with the entire functionality.

    Not only is my PPK stainless way prettier and cooler looking/feeling than the stupid/cheap plastic pocket pistols that have flooded the market…it is way more accurate and fun to shoot. Do I say this because it’s my only pistol and I’m hung up on it? No. I have and shoot many other guns in different configurations and calibers (berettas, springfield 1911, revolvers, S&W 3rd gen autos, etc). But, this is about my favorite gun in the safe to carry and shoot.

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