USP SD stock

By Chris Hamilton

Okay, I’ve read Rainbow Six more times than anyone should be willing to admit, seen every episode of ’24’, played every Call of Duty game and now Leghorn’s got me hooked on the adventures of Pike Logan. Obviously, I operate hard. Much like myself, the HK USP SD is heavier than it needs to be and wishes it was more tactical than it is, but still proves to be a solid and reliable performer over 20 years after its introduction.

History

USP SD stock rock

Throughout the ’90s and 2000s, no name was more synonymous with tacti-coolery than Heckler & Koch. The USP Tactical set the benchmark for what a factory suppressor-ready pistol could be with its threaded o-ring barrel, match DA/SA trigger and adjustable suppressor-height sights. When I decided to take the plunge into the world of NFA toys, my first purchase was a SilencerCo Osprey in 9mm, making the USP Tactical in 9mm a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, HK didn’t offer the Tactical in 9mm for over a decade after the introduction of the .40 and .45 versions. Instead, they introduced the USP “SD” (Schalldämpfer or German for “put a silencer on this”), a watered-down version of the USP Tactical that desperately wants to be as cool as its bigger brothers, but ultimately doesn’t reach its full potential without a few upgrades.

Rail adapter w light (Large)

First Impressions

For those who prefer a more elegant steel-and-wood look, the USP isn’t going to win any beauty contests. It’s chunkier than a Seth Rogen/Amy Schumer lovechild and its function-over-form aesthetics will likely appeal more to the tactical tupperware crowd. That being said, there’s a beauty in its no-nonsense German (over)engineering, and there’s no denying how solid it feels in the hand.

rail adapter (Large)

A product of early 90s military and police oriented development, the USP has a somewhat blocky look and feel. The polymer frame lacks most of the ergonomic luxuries of more modern pistols and the grip is oddly short for a full-size duty gun.

Shooters with large paws beware – I wear size medium gloves and my pinky hangs halfway off the bottom of the generously textured grip, though the magazine baseplate adds just enough extra purchase to make it comfortable. The standard magazine holds 15 rounds of 9mm – par for the course in its day – but it’s easy to argue they could have made the grip a tiny bit longer and fit another round or two in the magazine.

The frame mounted safety/decocker is well placed and easy to use – up for safe, down to decock – and requires deliberate pressure to actuate. Additionally, the slide can be retracted with the lever in the “safe” position. The trigger guard has more excess space than the average Hillary supporter’s cranium while the slide release is only slightly smaller than Bloomberg’s ego.

Tiny mag release (Large)

It seems like every feature and control is designed for tactical glove or mitten operation except the comparatively tiny magazine release, which feels out of place on a pistol with such otherwise large and easy-to-use controls. The magazine release is the HK standard ambidextrous paddle style found on many European-born pistols. I prefer to activate it with my trigger finger, but more button-minded traditionalists may choose to use their firing hand thumb. All USPs sport a proprietary pre-picatinny accessory rail that is incompatible with pretty much every light and laser on the market, but aftermarket rail adapters are available.

The slide on the USP SD lacks the beard enhancing “Tactical” engraving of its more esteemed brethren, but carries the same beefy heft and feeling of indestructibility. It makes the pistol top heavy, but balances nicely with a loaded magazine. HK’s proprietary “hostile environment” finish increases durability and corrosion resistance, making it handy for elite maritime ops or use in a potato chip environment. The slide-to-barrel lockup is bank vault solid and there’s little play between the slide and frame. The machining is clean and precise with hardly any visible milling marks. It’s the swiss watch of production handguns.

Disassembled (Large)

The USP series features a double captured recoil assembly that reportedly reduces both recoil and wear on the components. In a nod to suppressor use, the USP SD does have the “Tactical” recoil assembly, which differs slightly from the standard part for better function with a silencer. The 4.86 inch barrel is threaded 13.5x1mm with left hand threads, a common 9mm thread pitch on European guns, and lacks the o-ring found in the .40 and .45 versions. The o-ring allegedly increases precision by improving barrel-to-slide fit, but while there is little hard evidence that it helps, it definitely doesn’t hurt.

Sight picture - no dots

The suppressor height target sights feature no contrasting dots or tritium ampules. The rear sight is adjustable on the near-microscopic level for both windage and elevation using only a small screwdriver, allowing shooters to dial in their point of impact with great precision. Generally, the black-on-black sights work fine in well-lit environments, but are less than helpful in dim lighting or when shooting at dark colored targets – both of which might be encountered while operating operationally.

The full-size USP was designed to be more of a police or military-type pistol with open carry or OWB holsters in mind. There are several companies making quality holsters for the USP series, but HK’s more compact guns are far more popular in the IWB market. The 9mm version is small enough to flirt with the possibility of carrying concealed, but the threaded barrel and tall sights on the SD limit holster compatibility. The SD will (just barely) fit in the Safariland 6004 thigh holster for maximum operational impact.

Threaded barrel (Large)

To disassemble, retract the slide until the takedown notch lines up with the slide release and pull the entire slide release lever out of the frame. Bonus – this can be accomplished with the safety on. The recoil assembly is captured and is removed like all other such parts. Pro tip: make sure you unscrew the thread protector before attempting to remove the barrel from the slide or you will appear decidedly un-tactical.

Trigger

Full disclosure – I changed out the stock trigger on the SD for HK’s factory “Match” trigger almost immediately upon receipt. For, you know, higher-speed operation and whatnot. For this review, I replaced all the stock parts except the actual trigger blade which was apparently lost long ago. The only difference between the stock and match trigger blades is the addition of an overtravel screw that I removed for the review.

The stock trigger on the USP SD can be best described as “meh.” Much forum and interweb research had me expecting a double action pull as long and heavy as an aircraft carrier, with the single action exhibiting “windowless van at the playground” levels of creep. What I got was a perfectly adequate combat trigger that doesn’t compare to the match trigger in the USP Tactical, but instead prioritizes reliability and safety over comfort and precision.

HK literature measures trigger pulls in Newtons, but I’ve always had difficulty with the “delicious snacks to pounds” conversion formula and I don’t have a trigger gauge. The double action is long and heavy, sure, but not unusually so for pistols with the USP’s intended market. It’s smooth without any stacking and I never felt it affected the pistol’s shootability.

The single action pull is also a bit heavy, but smooth. It has some slack with a bit of creep and some overtravel – about average for a polymer framed pistol of the USP’s age. The reset is shorter than you might expect, but requires the shooter take up the slack again before engaging the sear. HK lists the double action weight at about 11.5 lbs and the single action around 4.5 lbs, which sounds pretty optimistic, but I’ll reluctantly take their word for it. Overall, the trigger seems engineered for maximum reliability in adverse conditions, but there’s much room for improvement.

It should be noted that the USP series is remarkable for its trigger system modularity. HK offers several variants that allow the user to convert the trigger system to suit their individual needs. By switching out a few components, a USP can be modified to single action only, double action only, traditional double action/single action or HK’s Law Enforcement Modification (LEM), a heavy single action with a long, light takeup designed for police and military applications. The user can also customize the safety lever/decocker location to either side, opt for an ambidextrous lever or remove it from the pistol entirely.

Accuracy/Shooting Impressions

Even without the o-ring barrel, the USP SD is more accurate than I’ll ever be. After adding the match trigger, the USP has performed surprisingly well for me as a slow fire bullseye pistol, allowing me to stay somewhat competitive with shooters running 1911s and handloaded ammo. In its stock configuration, I wasn’t able to do quite as well for this review.

Best 7yd group (stock trigger) (Large)
Best seven-yard group (stock trigger)

I shot five-round groups freehand at 7 yards and supported at about 17 yards. After getting used to the pull, I was able to shoot a few groups I’m not completely embarrassed to post on the internet. Ammo used was Speer Lawman and Federal American Eagle 147gr.

Best 17yd group (stock trigger) (Large)
Best 17-yard group (stock trigger)

My average extreme spread for the groups at seven yards was 1.56 inches, with my best group at .895 inches. My groups at 17 yards opened up to about 3.5 inches, with my best at 3.0825 inches.

Since the suppressor height sights sit so high on an already tall slide, the sight picture seems abnormally high, slowing down my press-outs and forcing me to be more deliberate in my shooting. Once you get the sight picture, though, they’re great for making more precise shots as long as the target is a contrasting color.

The recoil impulse is pleasant, probably due to the buffered recoil assembly, though there’s a surprising amount of muzzle flip which I attribute to the high bore axis and heavy slide. The grip texturing is easy to hang onto and reloads are a breeze despite the tiny mag release. With the exception of the trigger, shooting the USP SD is pretty satisfying and I found myself shooting through all my ammo just for the fun of it.

Reliability

In six years of ownership and over 3000 rounds of not-exactly-rapid fire, I’ve had not one single failure, suppressed or otherwise. That is all.

Customizability

As I stated before, I set about pimping my USP SD almost before I picked it up. The match trigger improved shootability dramatically with a reduced power hammer spring, polished hammer surface and overtravel stop screw. There was an immediate reduction in group size once I went back to the match trigger, which I welcomed enthusiastically. My best group of the session was this one at .52 inches.

52in group (Match trigger) (Large)
Match trigger group

I also added the “jet funnel,” a factory extended magazine well which not only improves the balance and provides a fuller grip, but allows the use of possibly the most bombproof magazines known to man.

jet funnel w rail adapter (Large)

The steel lined jet funnel mags are impressively overbuilt and bump up the capacity to a competitive 18+1. Additionally, a rail adapter is a useful upgrade to allow for the use of modern tactical illumination accessories with the weapon system. More light is always a good thing and the added weight out front tames the muzzle flip and transforms the USP from a capable combat gun into a gun that’s genuinely fun to shoot. Add some night sights and the USP SD starts to look pretty attractive as a home defense or duty gun.

Jet funnel w light (Large)

Value

So is it worth it? HKs are notoriously expensive with a USP SD going for about $900 online, not including the exorbitant cost of factory HK upgrades like the match trigger and jet funnel.

Is it twice as good as a GLOCK? Not really. It’ll do pretty much the same thing, but in a more refined way, and owning HKs is proven to increase the operator’s speed and lower drag. There are other polymer DA/SA guns that do it right, but I can’t think of any that do it as well as the USP, including HK’s more recent 9mm models. It’s worth it for me as a fun project gun, and the end result is an all-around powerhouse, but the cost of getting there is justifiably a turn-off for many.

The 9mm USP Tactical released last year is everything the SD should have been and costs less when factoring in the upgrades necessary to bring the SD to the same level. Having said that, I’d never sell my SD. It’s been utterly reliable, is nearly indestructible and fits me like a glove. I’m confident this pistol will serve my future kids as well as it’s served me in my tier 1 chairborne ranger ops.

Specifications: HK USP SD 9mm

Length: 7.94 in.
Height: 5.35 in.
Width: 1.26 in.
Barrel: 4.86 in. threaded 13.5x1mm LH
Weight: 28.16 oz. unloaded
Capacity: 10/15 or 18 with jet funnel
Trigger: DA/SA (adaptable to several different configurations)
MSRP: $1050

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style: * * * *
Blocky and made of plastic, sure, but it’s all business which holds an attraction all its own. It doesn’t get much more tacticool than this.

Accuracy: * * * *
Excellent, but the stock trigger makes wringing the potential out of this gun a chore. With the match trigger, I’d give it four and a half.

Ergonomics (Handling): * * *
The grip is a little short but well-textured. There’s no ability to adjust the grip for different hand sizes, but it fits my medium hands very well. The controls are generally huge and well-placed. Rail needs an adapter to use most accessories.

Ergonomics (Firing): * * *
Stock trigger is merely adequate, which is a bummer at this price point. Recoil is soft, though there’s a bit of muzzle flip. Sights are precise, but lack contrasting dots.

Reliability: * * * * *
Over 3000 rounds and no malfunctions, suppressed or unsuppressed. Doesn’t get much better than that, folks.

Customize this: * * * *
HK offers a few upgrades like the jet funnel and match trigger, but the aftermarket support is somewhat lacking. The trigger system is adaptable to several different variants using factory parts.

Value: * * *
MSRP is over a thousand bucks, but street price is more like $900. It’s not cheap, but you pay for the precision and attention to detail German manufacturers are known for.

Overall: * * * *
For a tough-as-nails suppressor-ready pistol, look no further. It’s not everything it can be out of the box, but it’s a tank and a pleasure to shoot.

46 Responses to Gun Review: HK USP SD 9mm

    • I guess the author has the original H&K calendar somewhere. Or was that just a one-off poster for a gun show? I forget. But all the same, kudos to the author for inserting that hilarious easter egg.

  1. I used to have an HK…. then I took an arrow to the knee …and realized they hate me and think I suck… so I sold it and got a CZ.

    • Humorously enough, in many Scandinavian countries, “getting an arrow in the knee” is a idiom/colloquialism meaning to get married (presumably from the groom-to-be falling to one knee to propose). So in Skyrim, to most people he’s saying he used to be an adventurer, until he got injured and could no longer manage the lifestyle. But to those in the know, or from that part of the world, he’s saying he used to be an adventurer, until he got married and settled down and his wife made him take up a “real” job with dependable income 🙂

  2. I’ve found the USPs to be tack drivers, and I really like them. I’ve seen them gently used for around 599, which is a great price.

    I can get a brand new Glock or M&P for 398, so I have not purchased a HK. I CAN afford it, but I’d rather get a less expensive gun and use the money for ammo/car payment/baby furniture. If I had the disposable income I would buy one, but for my purposes the other two suit me better. But if you got the cash laying around, hey, go for it.

  3. “In six years of ownership and over 3000 rounds of not-exactly-rapid fire, I’ve had not one single failure, suppressed or otherwise. That is all.”

    First gun I ever bought was a USP 45 Compact. I’ve put countless thousands of rounds through it, and not a single hiccup. Granted, I never really held its feet to the fire, as I cleaned it meticulously after every trip to the range, but still- it’s a solid pistol.

  4. I just miss the good ole days when a lefty like me does not have to worry about bumping the slide stop.

    Hate the current wave of “ambidextrous” marketing hyperbole without asking what lefties really need

    Sigh

  5. There is no better hand gun, HK USP set the standard, they will not fail were others have, I myself have a USP 40, with close to 6000 rounds 0 failures, can’t say the same for any of my other guns, Glock19, Beretta 92FS,Colt 1911 GI or CZ 75B all have failed more than once

  6. Great review. It seems that in the past year HK has upgraded its USP 9mm tactical with a match grade trigger and O ring. It’s on my list of things to get but I will have to do something really great for my wife to slide that by.
    I am a relatively new shooter and my first handgun was an HK Mk 23. I know. In the words of Jessica Simpson, “I totally don’t know what that means…, but I want it.” I love the way it shoots. The only sound as cool as a pump shotgun being racked is the slide on a Mk 23 slamming forward. I had a good experience with HK service. After 300 rounds the slide would not set back after the last round in a magazine. They were puzzled to say the least. All the parts were in good order so they guessed it might be the springs. They sent me a new pair free of charge. Predictably they made no difference. It turned out, in an attempt to compensate for my poor trigger mechanics (new shooter remember) I was sliding my thumb over the slide release preventing it from engaging. I’m sure an instructor would have told me my thumb had no business up there but I had to figure that out on my own. They were very kind and helpful. My only complaint with HK is the price.
    Keep up the great reviews. They helpful to those of us who don’t know everything about firearms yet.

      • Rogue Spear was fantastic, though we’re probably dating ourselves. As far as I’m concerned, progress peaked with Raven Shield and Athena Sword. Now there was a list of gear to aspire to!

        • Rogue Spear is even what introduced me to the Desert Eagle. The .357 model had a super badass sound.

          The game even taught me about 10mm with the MP5/10. Frickin’ legendary.

  7. Overhyped, overpriced, overly bulky, overly complicated. Plastic magazines have tendency to stick after some time in soft sand.
    Seen many people flip it off safe only to decock it.
    Good for fun but could never justify buying one.

    • I keep playing around with the idea of swapping the detent plate to disable the safety and make it DA/SA only. I haven’t accidentally decocked it yet, but I can definitely see it happening under stress.

    • I’ve always lived my life with the philosophy that it’s better to be a smartass than a dumbass.

  8. Well written, amusing and informative.

    I was unaware of all the differences between various USP models. I have the .45 Auto full sized USP as my carry and go to home defense pistol, suppressed with an Osprey as well (obviously not suppressed for carry). My sights and trigger bear very little relation to the SD. Mine’s a bit of a Frankengun though as it started life as a Plain Jane USP and had it’s tacticoolness added. I have to admit that the requirement to buy an aftermarket rail adaptor is frustrating but given the performance of the gun it’s a small issue IMHO.

    I’ve found it accurate and pleasant to shoot. However I have torture tested it to failure with the muffler on, which greatly increases fouling. She made it to 400-something rounds before she had problems feeding. Considering how filthy a can makes a semiautomatic I’d call that damn good.

      • Yeah the 45 mags have always been metal, but the 9 and 40 were plastic with a partial steel lining at the feed lips. I wasn’t really convinced at first, but they’ve held up admirably. The full steel lined jet funnel mags are a response to some Asian military request I believe, and they are awesome.
        My new bedside gun is a USP 45 FrankenTac I cobbled together with an Octane 45. That gun is a ton of fun.

    • Apparently the larger (HK45c) mag release has a metal catch that wears on the plastic mag bodies over time and compromises retention. Don’t know why they don’t make an official replacement part at this point.

  9. 18rd steel Jet Funnel mags are hardly bombproof. Actually, the stock 15rd magazines are far more bombproof by my experience. When dropped on concrete, the heavy steel baseplate of the JF mags pops off and renders the magazine useless. The lighter 15rd magazines have no such problem.

    • I’ve heard of that happening with the translucent jet funnel mags (though it hasn’t happened to mine), but I’ve not heard of the full steel lined ones breaking. I’ll have to keep an eye on that. The lightness and strength-to-weight ratio of the 15rd mags is definitely a plus though. I just wish they’d cram another round or two in there.

  10. I used to have a ex-cop USP45 with a stainless slide and the proper UTL tactical light that I had picked up for less than the price of a new Glock. While it was fun to shoot and got a lot of envious looks at the range. My medium sized hands could never really get a good grip, so I traded with a coworker for a 1994 German P226 with a factory threaded barrel.

  11. My USP Expert in 45 is the most accurate handgun I own, and this review hits all of the highpoints. They’re definitely not XX% better that other tupperwear out there commensurate with the price increase, but I don’t care as a large handed lefty… I have a Jarvis threaded barrel for mine, but unfortunately the Expert has milled-in sights that don’t clear my Octane suppressor, so accuracy definitely falls down to “serviceable” instead of “single ragged hole” when firing suppressed. Using a laser helps though…

    I might have to look for a USP 9 tactical, although I might be persuaded to try out the new vp9 tactical/threaded model. I just wish the magazine capacity was higher.

    • I bought a 45 Expert to replace the 9 SD as my slow fire gun. It’s probably capable of better mechanical accuracy, but not in my hands. I swapped out the upper and cobbled together a 45 Tac that I shoot much more, especially with a 45 Octane. I hate the ambi safety, but can’t bring myself to pay the $50 to switch it out. I’m really tempted by the VP9 Tac – it might be my next purchase once I get around to trying the rental at the local range.

    • A while back HK had an ad company do an add for them. The advertising company didn’t know anything about guns and released ads with the bullets in the magazine backwards.

      It’s probably a nod to that.

  12. I thank the Gods I started out on a USP. While not the best gun ever, it set a crazy high bar for reliability and accuracy, and I grew up knowing what a good gun feels like and performs like. So, I was able to find the best gun ever–of course, it’s an HK as well, the VP9. Not sure to do the division on the value:cost ratio, but if you just look at max value–harder to get more total value than the HKs. Just pay for it, it’s worth it (buy one used, they don’t wear out at all unless you just shoot Russian/Wolf ammo all day).

  13. Speaking of Russian ammo, that’s the one time my USP9 jammed. The steel case wouldn’t extract out of the chamber. I had to rack the gun using the rear sight against a table with quite a bit of force. I told my neighbor to get better ammo… It was feeding fine in his Springfield XD.

  14. Did anyone else notices those bullets facing the wrong way inside the magazine……
    In the first and last picture???? That is wired

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