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Gun guru John Farnham writes [via ammoland.com]: We’ve see a number of H&K’s Glock-like VP9 Pistols in Defensive Pistol Classes recently. All have run well, and the pistol’s ergonomics are pleasing. It represents a very acceptable carry-gun. However, one “feature” of the VP9 can be an issue: the pistol’ s ambidextrous magazine-release lever.”

Most modern defensive pistols have a magazine-release “button” on the left side of the frame, just to the rear of the trigger-guard. This represents the “Western” style, and it has been adopted by Glock, SIG, FN, Walther, Kahr, Ruger, et al. H&K’s VP9 pistol is the exception. The VP9 retains the “European” style of magazine release, which is a “flake,” or lever incorporated into the rear of the trigger guard, on both sides (ambidextrous).

For one, I prefer the button over the lever, but mostly because that is what I am accustomed to. The learning-curve in getting used to the lever-release is surely well within the intellect of all of us. But, there is a technique for using the lever that I consider overly dangerous, and thus not recommended.

Many right-handers equipped with this pistol, release the magazine with their right index-finger (trigger-finger). This puts the trigger-finger too close to the trigger, and it is thus too easy to inadvertently press the trigger with sufficient pressure to discharge the gun, while you’re trying to release the magazine!

In fact, this incorrect procedure is so dangerous, I, for one, don’t permit it on my range. The magazine needs to be released using the right thumb, not the right index-finger, much as is the case with a Western-style button-release. Of course, not everyone agrees! But, in my opinion, we have enough UDs (unintentional discharges) with pistols as it is, without fairly inviting one!

“Being right half the time beats being half-right all the time.” ~ Malcolm Forbes

/John

About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit: www.defense-training.com

77 Responses to John Farnham: Don’t Flake Out With H&K VP9 Mag Release

  1. I’m a lefty, so I drop the mags in most of my guns with my trigger finger, not to mention that’s a hell of a reach for your strong hand thumb to that lever.

    • My initial instinct on the VP9 was to use my thumb. It was enough of a reach that I immediately dropped it from consideration for EDC purchase.

    • This should only be a problem during tactical reloads. How about be more careful during a tactical reload because that should only be done when you have time.
      I know. Doesn’t look “operator” enough to slow down and be careful.
      “Dude! You just fucking shot my truck!”
      “Yeah but it was tactical as fuck!”

      • Less about looking like an operational operator operating operationally and more, as Jason points out, about maintaining a well seated grip. The only way for me to make that work was by using my left hand to release, leaving me a hand short for controlling the mag drop (since the only time you want mags dropping to the concrete is in a tactical situation).

        • No, the only time you want the mag hitting the ground is when it is empty. That is a slide lock reload and if you are not training by letting your mags hit the floor, then you are doing it wrong.
          A tactical reload that I was referring to means that you are not empty but you want to top off during a lull in the fight. In this situation, you want to remove the mag by hand and retain it. This is not a speed load so taking care not to hit the trigger should be easily accomplished.

          P.S.
          It sounds like from your comment that you do not have separate training mags and carry mags. You need to do this honey. You need to do this this instant. You need to do this HI. Ed here’s got her hands full with this little baby.

    • I used to drop my magazines that way (also a lefty), but I found that I was shifting my grip on the gun to do so, and would end up with a poor grip after that I’d have to adjust. I switched my CZs over to having a right side mag release, and now generally avoid guns that don’t have a reversible or ambi mag release. My split times for mag changes are *much* faster now.

    • Am I the only one who sees no issue not using the thumb? I place my index finger flat along the frame, well clear of the trigger/trigger guard and use my middle finger to slowly work the paddle. My finger never gets anywhere near the trigger and it is a lot faster than adjusting my grip to use a thumb.

      • I’ve been using paddle-style ambidextrous releases for around 7 years now and I absolutely love them. I release with my shooting hand’s middle finger. No need to shift grip at all, which cannot be said for most button-style releases (not with my stubby fingers, anyway).

        • Bingo!

          I’ve been enjoying the European style paddle mag releases since I bought my P99 almost 20 years ago. After trying and owning many other pistols since then, the paddle is by far my favorite just for this reason. Release with middle finger of the shooting hand means I don’t have to break my grip. It’s very natural.

          I know the button release is very “American” but I don’t get it. Never have. It’s ALWAYS awkward and I ALWAYS end up having to break grip to activate it.

  2. I was actually shooting an IDPA match with a guy on my squad that had a Walther with the paddle and he used his trigger finger to release the mags. The SO really loved that…

  3. It’s the same release as the USP.. I hit that sucker with my thumb…. don’t know why anyone would switch to their index finger.

    • I can’t release the USP’s magazine with my strong side thumb. But for me that’s just another reason to not consider an HK for a carry gun or competition gun.

      • Eh, whatever works for you brother. Maybe I just have long thumbs?

        Personally, it just works for me. I played with it after reading this and and I see little danger in doing it the other way.

        Potato, Po-tat-o to me. YMMV.

    • That’s how the guns were designed, dipshit. You’re supposed to operate the release lever with your index or middle finger, not your thumb.

  4. I picked up a Walther pk380 a while back which also has the lever mag release. Maybe it’s because it’s so thin, but I think it’s significantly easier to use my thumb than it would be for anything else. Anymore, it’s completely unnoticeable

  5. The paddle on a Walther is smaller than the paddle on the H & K VP 9. I’m used to the paddle on the H & K., so I’m not planning to buy the Walther.

    • Um, no. The Walther paddle is about an inch long, while the VP9 is less than half that. I just pulled my PPQ and VP9 out of the safe to check.

    • It depends on the generation of the Walther pistol. Older Generation P99 and P22s have the short paddles (maybe the PK380, never spent much time with those). Newer generations (gen 2 and 3) of the P99s, first generation PPS (Classic), and PPQ Mk1s all have long paddles.

      Sadly, Walther has started dropping the paddle release from the lineup, but the Walthers with buttons are outselling paddle guns 10-1 (according to reports on the Walther forum).

      • I refitted mine (A SW99) with a longer paddle off of a donor PPQ. Makes so much difference.

        I use my right middle finger. Is that weird? My thumbs aren’t long enough to hit a thumb release without shifting my grip with basically any pistol.

        • Really? That’s pretty cool. I wasn’t aware the PPQ release would fit older gen guns. I have a SW99 9mm, the standard size, and would be very interested to know more about how you did it. It doesn’t look like on mine like it would fit anything very much longer without removing material from the trigger guard itself. Thanks!

        • I have looked into swapping my P99 mag release for the long paddle, but i havn’t wanted to cut up the frame. It is one of the OD Green frames, so I am afraid I won’t be able to find another one if I screw it up. I could always see if I could find a replacement frame to cut up from Earls.

          Sisan – I don’t think using your middle finger is weird. I have been experimenting which is easier to use on the short paddles on my P99. My middle finger seems to have more leverage when ejecting a full mag.

          Torrin – A write up on the conversion. You would have to remove material to convert to the long paddles, but you can order the parts through Walther: http://www.waltherforums.com/forum/p99/43340-there-write-up-extended-magazine-catch.html

  6. I’ve run an HK45 since they came out mid 2000’s and have always used my trigger finger to drop the mag as hitting it with my thumb would require breaking my grip.

  7. I switched the mag release to the right side and use my middle finger to eject while keeping my finger along the slide. I dont have a magazine disconnect so if i havent run it dry i still have the option to fire while reloading and the business end still pointed in the right direction

      • Glad to know I’m not the only one to see it as such.

        Beyond, once acclimated it’s by and large a non-issue. I carry a PPS Classic and have never had an issue with the mag release other than first finding it when I initially handled the pistol. That said I release with the middle finger on my strong hand while keeping my trigger finger resting on the frame which blocks enough of the trigger to theoretically keep any ND from occuring. I’ve attempted to drop with strong hand thumb and it’s a nightmare for me as the muzzle sweeps to my left upwards of 90°. Which beyond pulling both pistol and attenrion off target, either requires a change in body position to maintain muzzle safety or serious safety concerns to alleviate a non issue.

  8. Are there *any* documented examples of someone having a negligent (sorry, John, “unintended discharge” is weasel words) discharge when dropping the magazine on a lever-release gun with their trigger finger?

    Doesn’t seem substantially different than lefties using their index finger to press a mag release button on a non-ambi pistol, and that’s a pretty common practice that doesn’t seem to result in tons of “unintended” lead flying.

  9. I used to carry a first gen Walther PPS9 and I always dropped the mag with my trigger finger. it is a natural fluid motion and I never had any doubts about doing it. Using the strong hand thumb was much less comfy. But I can see why range officers might get upset.

    For daily carry, not competition, it is a complete NON issue.

    John E Davies
    Spokane WA

  10. Don’t know about the H&K but I accidently discharged a Walther P22 with this same style mag release in the house while trying to remove the mag. Thankfully I was observing the first rule of gun safety and had the gun pointed in a safe direction. After that I always locked the slide back prior to dropping the mag on that gun.

  11. As a lefty, I was already used to dropping mags with my trigger finger, so the paddle release is quite instinctual for me… to use with my trigger finger, that is. There is absolutely no way I can reach the release on either my walther or my VP9 using my thumb without some serious grip shifting, which of course defeats the purpose of the ambi mag release anyway. Sorry, The paddle release is designed to be hit with your finger, not your thumb. I’m not going to take some expert mall ninja’s word just cause he gets the vapors every time someone moves their trigger finger.

  12. I carry a gen 1 pps daily and have more than 2000 rounds through it. I use my trigger finger to drop the magazine. Always have and always will. One more self-anointed gun guru/expert telling people what to do and how to do it and if we don’t do things his way we are wrong and not safe. He can go suck start a glock.

  13. The paddle mag release was made for index finger sweeping, that way you don’t have to break your grip and it’s quicker for reloading. Quick question, how many people not in a competition (or training for one) reload mags when they’re not empty? So, how would you get a ND if you are releasing a empty mag? I love how it calls the way it was designed to be use an ‘incorrect procedure’.

    • I, and many others, will shoot 5 or 6 target drills (poppers, bowling pins, biathlon style targets) with p239s (7 to 8 in the mag), then reload. The 2-3 spare rounds are there to loop back/retry on misses. Nothing more real world, than running a handgun-biathlon in a suit and dress shoes, with dq/points deducted/ an extra penalty loop if your gun prints when away from your lane….. AND, immediate DQ if you even touch the gun before, or after, having both feet planted at your designated firing position. No running around with 150 heart rate, fiddling with a loaded gun in your hand…..

      In general, variations of biathlon, are good ways to stay in shape and sharp with the gun. Bike, run, swim…. For SEAL wannabes, combine it with triathlon, instead of just running…. For “cowboys,” mount up, and if you’re really comfortable with your competitors’ skills, do some of the shooting mounted (Or, actually, NO! At least if there’s any uninvolved bystanders within bullet range…)….

  14. My daily carry is a P99c and I love the long paddle release. I use my middle finger, as it feels much more natural and I don’t have to shift my grip at all. The Gen1 short releases, like on the H&Ks, were a pain, but the longer paddles are great.

  15. The H&K P2000s that they issued US Border Patrol Agents have that style of mag release. Even with my ham fists I could not reach it with my thumb unless I changed my grip on the gun to do it. With some practice it became second nature using my trigger finger. For my $0.02, bending my finger at the weird, uncomfortable angle required to actuate the lever made it impossible to accidentally touch the trigger. The two motions were different enough that they seemed foreign to one another. Didn’t like it and don’t intend to have one like it in my safe though. Not for this reason, I just didn’t like it. YMMV.

    For the sake of argument I would say that the sequence of “loosen my grip, shift the pistol around, use my thumb, loosen my grip, then shift it back to shooting position” offers a lot more potential to have a accident than an entirely new single motion.

  16. The paddle release is just something that needs to be trained into muscle memory. Between my two paddle guns, I prefer the long paddles on my PPS (my carry gun) over the short paddles on my first generation P99 (bedside gun) because I can just drop my extended trigger finger from the frame to the release. The P99 requires a little more manipulation.

    I can see how an RSO would be more concerned about the short paddle guns since one would have to curl their finger to reach the paddle. Trying to drop a mag on a paddle gun with the strong hand thumb usually requires most shooters to shift the gun in their hand to hit the release. I usually have to loosen my grip and change the orientation of the weapon to use my thumb on my P99 and PPS. I think training to maintain positive control of the weapon by using the index finger (or alternatively the strong side middle finger) is safer than shifting the gun in your hands to reload.

  17. I’ve had paddle mag catches since I started buying handguns. I’ve never once witnessed an ND, nor seen one from anyone that I’ve taken shooting with those guns (including those that have never shot a gun in their life). With those guns, I’ve gone through more than 5000 rounds collectively and again, without a single ND. Is there a risk of people hitting the trigger with their index with a paddle? Yes. Is there a risk of people hitting the trigger with their index with a button? Yes. Both can be avoided with proper training.

    This writer is wrongly accusing the paddle mag catch with a complete lack of proof. If this was such a terrible design that lead to NDs left and right, HK would have stopped using it in it’s current configuration. But it’s proven to be effective and safe for the millions of handguns that have been produced with this paddle style mag catch. In fact, it’s been so effective, they’ve enlarged the surface area of the mag catch paddles with the more current handguns (P30/VP9/HK45 over the older USP/P2000 paddles).

    Another advantage over the button is you’re less likely to eject your magazine accidentally with a soft sided holster (nylon) if you have a paddle mag catch. Not a common occurrence at all, but I have seen mags ejected due to button mag catches and nylon holsters. The mechanics of ejecting your mag with a paddle (downward pressure) over a button (horizontal pressure) better protects it from accidental ejections.

  18. On both my USP and my P2000 I have installed extended mag releases, and I almost always use the index finger… It’s just so convenient and I find it faster to do than to use my thumb.

    I don’t think there needs to be a fear for NDs unless the operator isn’t using the tip of their finger, but rather the joint (if that’s even possible). When I swipe with the tip of my finger it’s well away from trigger and behind the trigger. Usually I do have to change my grip a bit for the index finger to activate the paddle, but I’ve never had it once “accidentally” fall within the trigger guard, let alone to brush against the trigger.

  19. Use your middle finger instead of your thumb and you will realize that the HK/Walther style ambi release is in fact the superior form of mag release currently on defensive pistols.

  20. I think he’s right. Also makes sense to me that the trigger finger is for one thing and one thing only when shooting.

  21. Someone must please tell me how you can have a negligent discharge operating a paddle that is *behind* the trigger. And no, you can not actuate it with some rearward part of your trigger finger. I should know, I had a P30 as my EDC for two years.

  22. My first pistol I bought after I turned 21 was a USP40c. I enjoy using my trigger or middle finger to release the mag, and I suppose I prefer it over a thumb-button, although I couldn’t tell you why. I suspect most people who dislike them (or even think they’re inherently dangerous) are likely right-handers who have probably been shooting 1911s and Glocks for many years and don’t have much of a reason to mess with their routine. I’ve had no issue using buttons, paddles, or even old euro-style heel catches.

    Having never been in the situation myself, perhaps someone has an example of a time when they were in a shootout, or maybe just on a timer, and had an ND attributable to a paddle mag release. I’ve never done anything more stressful with a firearm than attending a large public shooting event. It had its share of NDs, and most of them occurred when people who are under-practiced or have just plain poor habits were drawing, holstering, or attempting to clear a malfunction.

  23. I do not see the paddles as an issue; I have a Walther P99QA in 9mm…it has dual mag paddles, for Me, it is best if I use my index finger and my finger is occupied and cannot be near the trigger…come on now its not like it is a heel-clip release that takes two hands….;>)

  24. Using the index finger to release the HK style lever release is a method that is intended to be used. I have a lot of time behind HK pistols and never once has the lever release posed any safety issue, nor have I ever heard of, or seen this be a real issue for anybody else.

    quote from the Mark 23 manual:

    H. Magazine Release Lever – This ambidextrous spring actuated lever holds the magazine within the grip by engaging in the notch found in the upper third of the magazine housing. Depressing this lever with the firing hand index finger or thumb will allow the magazine to drop from the grip. The magazine release lever is shielded from accidental actuation by the flared trigger guard and the design of the synthetic frame surrounding the lever.

  25. I use my trigger finger on my SR9 and SR9c cause it’s easier and faster.

    I use my trigger finger on walther p22 and have never touched the trigger.

    If folks are touching the trigger, then the problem is not really with the flappy-paddle release. It’s with the shooter.

    He’d really crap his pants to see me rest my finger on the upper part of the trigger guard instead of the frame.

    Seems like an issue in search of an audience. Farnham is normally better than this. Kind of like the issue about people having NDs with the Blackhawk holster. Its because they put their finger on the trigger before they are ready to shoot.

  26. If paddle releases are bad for pistols, maybe we should stop dropping AR mags with the right index finger too…

    • Why /don’t/ we prefer rifles with thumb releases as seen on pistols (or redundant safeties for that matter)? Thumb is far stronger than an extended index finger, and far more dexterous when it comes to delicate movements; that’s why we like it for selector levers, but for some reason not for magazines, even though pistols show it’s not like it gets confusing.

      • Unless the magazine is in the pistol grip, like some pistol-caliber carbines, dropping the mag with a firing-hand thumb release is going to involve an unnecessarily complicated mechanism.

  27. I switched the button on my walthers to right side to use my trigger finger instead. The left side was close to my thumb and I released to mag once while shooting it. I don’t see how an unintended discharge could occur with a trigger finger mag release. However it’s your range and your rule. I’ll never find myself there so it’s all good.

  28. I carry my VP9 for 3-gun (and I’m also a lefty). I’ve never had an SO question my mag releases. The paddle is far behind the trigger, and by using my trigger finger, I’m actually not pushing the mag release with my thumb or right hand while I inadvertently have my trigger finger anywhere near the trigger. Using my trigger finger to release the mag actually removes my finger from the trigger.

  29. Sweeping statements like that just mean I won’t ever attend his class, as I CCW a P2000sk and I use my index finger to release mags. Whether or not his classes are worth anything or not, he’s turning away potential customers.

    In comparison, Mas Ayoob describes using this technique, specifically mentioning that this action affords extra safety because it keeps the trigger finger off the trigger. Too many people leave their finger on the trigger while struggling with a mag release.

  30. I love the paddle release and feel it is much superior to the button. I’m not a gun wizard and my comparison is admittedly “apple to oranges.” Apple: Walther P22. Orange: Springfield XD. I had trouble with both guns when new. The XD button was quite stiff partly because of friction. Frequent use and dry lube sprayed from the inside helped greatly. Still, the double stack 9mm grip must be “flipped” or rotated 20 or 30 deg. CCW to give my thumb enough purchase on the button; then flipped back to firing position. It works but takes a lot of practice to be fluid.

    The Walther P22 didn’t work well for me at first when I tried using my thumb, then my index finger. The lever was too friction stiff because I was pushing inward on the lever as much as downward. The sideways force loaded up the friction so it did not easily move. (Some wear and lube would surely help.) But then I discovered the magic technique: Use BOTH the thumb and index finder.

    Squeeze the grip firmly with fingers below the index finger (no grip shifting here) and position the thumb and index as though you are twisting a small volume knob. Bring those two digits together just above the paddle and then sweep them downward. Now the paddle is not loaded with sideways forces and the mag easily pops out.

    I’m sad to see Walther quit selling most of these paddle models, though it doesn’t matter to me since they are all CA illegal.

  31. What kind of human is hitting the paddle on their full size USP with their thumb-tip? The same guys operating G3 selectors with their thumbs, I suppose?

    Am I gonna die from using my middle finger to tap the lever on my strong side? Trigger fingers are for triggers (or Five-seven safeties), and my index finger can’t bend at a right angle downward enough to hit the lever without breaking my grip, but my middle finger can. So naturally I’ve begun dropping mags that way. I do have to say that I’m curious why HK didn’t make the levers longer, where you could actually get to them easy, or go with a vertically-pivoting mag release (a paddle you press to the left or right)

    Kochs not Glocks

  32. I have a hk p30sk and using my right thumb to release the mag is just as easy or easier compared to a standard mag release. my other pistols all have the standard release and going between them is not an issue for me. maybe my thumb is the perfect length? perfect thumb length master race!!

  33. Farnham has had a problem with just about everything H&K has ever done. I am sure they pooped in his cheerios back in the 80s. The paddle mag release is fantastic and far less of a safety hazard than the Glock “safe action” trigger.

  34. This is a total non-issue contrived by a nobody so that he can feel important for kicking somebody off the range.

  35. Been carrying a VP9 for 2 years. Carried a USP Compact before that. I specifically went with HK because I have small hands and it is easier for me to use index finger on paddle release than use a thumb button release. As long as you train for it and abide by the four universal safety rules, I don’t see the problem. But then again I’m not an operator operating operationally, so my opinion’s worth just about what you paid for it.

    I guess we gotta argue about SOMETHING now that the 9mm vs. .45 debate has been settled.

  36. You should correct the spelling of John Farnam’s name in the headline and article. There is no “h” in his last name

  37. As an older guy; I think that set-up is un-natural enough to keep me from using that model gun of the hand. I wish gun makers would quit coming up with solutions looking hard for a problem. There is enough of that in other aspects of life.

  38. Truth be told, the VP9 is so dangerous there are no VP9 owners, just widows.

    So HK is going you switch to a non fully supported chamber and requiring you to pull the trigger to field strip the gun, cause that’s safe.

  39. Good God POTG. I love you, and you’re my people and all, but on occasion you will argue about the most don’t-need-to-be-argued-about-ever things.

    Perhaps my hands are weird, but I drop the mag by pinching the paddle on both sides with my firing hand index finger and thumb. Injuries/deaths from NDs are a tiny rarity in the firearms world and *none* of them that I know of have come from accidental triggering while working a mag release.

    Find real problems to worry about, like muzzle discipline.

  40. Ridiculous statement
    If you’re dropping the mag, first of all, the gun is empty
    Secondly do you have two index fingers on your right hand?
    You could just as easily have your trigger finger in the trigger guard while dropping the mag with your thumb.

  41. Late response but I’d say find someone else to train you. If this guy is worried about paddle mag releases but not pulling the trigger to break down a pistol leaves me with reservations about his expertise. I
    I’ve been at a range and see people reloading with their finger STILL ON THE TRIGGER.

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