November 28, 2021

Heckler & Koch USP .45 ACP Compact, by Pat Cascio

Anyone who is the least bit familiar with the HK line of USP handguns, will surely know that these are large guns – even their “compact” models are large. Their USP line-up was designed to last a lifetime with very little chance of things breaking or going wrong. I had an early HK USP 9mm full-sized model, and to be sure, it is one big handgun – it was designed for duty use, by military and law enforcement. They are not especially suited for concealed carry – although I carried the full-sized USP 9mm concealed for quite some time – close to a year. It wasn’t an easy pistol to conceal – took the right holster and clothing.

Our own US Navy SEALs have used the HK .45 ACP SOCOM version for many missions – and that gun is much too big to conceal, and if I recall, it weighs about 5-pounds with the suppresor – ouch! However, it was meant to serve many different applications and it carried them all out as designed. I never owned the full-sized civilian version of the USP chambered in .45 ACP – never found one at my usual FFL haunts, either new ones or used versions.

Today, we are looking at the HK USP Compact .45 ACP. It is a great pistol, for concealed carry or even duty use. Now, we have to keep in mind, when talking about an HK USP “compact” pistol, they are still rather large and heavy.

As many readers will no doubt notice in the pictures of my particular Compact version the HK mounting rail that was proprietary to early HK pistols, has been modified, so it is now Picatinny compatible. I purchased this gun used, and whoever owned it before had taken some tools to the rail and opened it up, so it would accept many contemporary accessories. Unfortunately, they did a terrible modification job on the gun. This butchery resulted in the USP being priced “oh-so-right”. So I could overlook the basement modification work, as I rarely mount lights or lasers on my handguns to start with. And I then cleaned up some of the kitchen table sloppy work, as best as I could.

The Specifications

The HK Compact .45 ACP is 1.38-inches wide, and has a barrel that is 3.75-inches long. It weighs in at 28-48-ounces empty. The gun can handle the standard 8-round magazines, as well as the horrible 10-round mags. As you can see if the pictures, the 10-round mags were, without a doubt some kind of horrible nightmare of an after-thought if you ask me – they stick out too far, and…well, see for yourself in the pictures – not something most gun makers would ever think of inventing and then sticking it in the magazine well. They just look bad, real bad!

I like the HK paddle (ambidextrous) magazine release – unlike most semiauto handguns, that have a button you press to release your magazine, these paddles are pushed downward to release a magazine. And, it is easier, if you are right handed, to use your trigger finger to press down on the right side of the gun, instead of using your thumb on your right hand – good idea, with one small exception. I think that HK designed these paddles too large. That is just my take on it, but they don’t need to stick out as much as they do.

Heckler & Koch, say, in their information documents, that the USP Compact is a small frame pistol. Well, I guess, if you compare it to their full-sized USP pistols, it’s “small”. But compared to other similar guns, this is at least a medium to large frame handgun. HK says this gun was designed to handle the most powerful 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP rounds you care to run through it – no complaints from me. It’ll handle them all – you can shoot all the +P round you want through this gun.

The trigger reach is a bit shorter than that on the full-sized USP pistols, and that’s a good thing. On the larger USP handguns, the reach can be a bit much, depending on the trigger version you have installed on your USP, and there are 9 different variants of trigger operations you can have on these guns. My sample can be carried cocked ‘n locked, or you can decock it, once you have chambered a round and carry it with the first shot in the double-action mode, and the follow-up shots in the single-action mode. Plus, you can carry it, with the hammer down, on a loaded chamber, and the safety “on” or in the “off” position. I didn’t see any need to carry it in the double-action mode, with the safety applied. However, when carried cocked ‘n  locked, the safety should always be applied – just like with M1911 series handguns.

On the 8-round magazines, you can use the flat magazine base, or the slightly curved one. The curved floor plate is definitely the best way to go. With the 10-round magazine, you are stuck with the magazine the way it comes – ugly and sticking out too far below the grip of the gun. The frame is black polymer, that has a fiber reinforcement meaning it will last forever. I like the trigger – curved and grooved and very fast to operate. The thumb safety isn’t all that difficult to reach, when taking it off “safe” but difficult to apply without really shifting the gun in your shooting hand.

HK ditched the recoil system they use on the full-sized USP pistol, and installed a mechanical, captive recoil system. HK says this recoil system is good to go, for about 20,000-rounds before you have to replace the polymer recoil buffer on the recoil spring guide.

A Durable Finish

My Compact .45 ACP has what HK calls their “Hostile Environment” finish on it, super, super tough stuff. The slide is super-tough, too, it is a one-piece machined slide made out of nitro-carburized steel. The hammer is a bobbed affair, and that helps prevent it from not snagging on clothing. The slide release is extended and easy to release with your thumb. The extractor is large – very large – and should pull out the most stubborn empty cases from the chamber.

In my testing, I always carry any handguns I’m writing about, if I can find a decent holster. I couldn’t! In this case, I used a no-name ballistic nylon holster, that held the gun tight and high on my belt – it worked as well as could be expected.

In my shooting, I was fortunate that I had a good supply of Black Hills Ammunition on-hand – even during our current ammo drought. I shoot a lot more 9mm ammo than I do .45 ACP. So I have a good supply of .45 ACP ammo on hand, most of the time. I don’t have as much as I’d like to have, but more than enough for .45 ACP-chambered gun review articles.

From Black Hills, I had everything they make, their 200-gr Match Semi-Wadcutter, 230-gr FMJ, 185-gr JHP, 230-gr JHP, 230-gr JHP +P, 185-gr Barnes Tac-XP +P and their 138-gr HoneyBadger loadings. I enjoyed shooting the HK Compact .45 ACP quite a lot! In my testing I fired more than 200 rounds downrange – probably shouldn’t have shot up that much ammo. I had zero malfunctions. In short order, I ditched the 10-rd magazine, and all the rest of my shooting was done with the 8-round magazine, with the curved floorplate on it.

My accuracy testing was done, at 25-yards, with the Compact resting on a big boulder, over a padded rifle rest. I could easily hold the groups down to 3-inches without any problems – there were a few groups that were larger. But those were my fault, not the gun or the ammo. The overall winner was the Black Hills 230-gr JHP load – I thought their 200-gr Match Semi-Wadcutter load would walk away with these honors. You never know, what load will give you the best accuracy in a particular gun until you actually shoot various loads. I got several groups slightly under 2.75-inches – if I did my part. All accuracy testing was from the single-action mode. All the other loads were right around 3-inches – again, only if I did my part.

I love the Black Hills 135-gr HoneyBadger load, and whenever I’m carrying something chambered in .45 ACP, I will more than likely load a mag with this one. However, I liked the recoil impulse of the 230-gr JHP +P load in this Compact – the gun just seems to really run smoother with this round. Of course, there was plenty of recoil – you knew you had a hot round there, so I’d probably stuff these rounds in the HK for self-defense use.

I couldn’t find much to fault with the USP Compact .45 ACP other than the little nit-picking I did in this article. I wouldn’t hesitate to pack this gun, with a spare 8-round mag on my off-side, for self-defense use. And, I’d even take it into combat on my hip, with several spare 8-round magazines. The gun is “that” good. I won’t even think about the current market price on this gun, because of the ammo and gun drought that we are in. So, shop around if you want one and go from there. I think you’ll find a lot to like in this “compact” HK pistol.

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