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.
Throughout the 90s and 00s, no name was more synonymous with tacti-coolery than Heckler & Koch. The Heckler & Koch 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 more than a decade after the introduction of the .40 S&W and .45 ACP 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.
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.
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 15-round magazine is standard and 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.
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 ambidextrous magazine release is the HK standard 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 HK 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.
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.
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 9mm 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 pistols, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My average extreme spread for the groups at 7 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.
In six years of ownership and more than 3,000 rounds of not-exactly-rapid fire, I’ve had not one single failure, suppressed or otherwise. That is all.
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.
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 bomb-proof magazines known to man.
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.
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)
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: * * * * *
More than 3,000 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 more than 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 semi-automatic 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.