Handgun design has changed rapidly in the past 10 years—we’ve had an explosion of polymer pistols, followed by a slew of lightweight, compact and sub-compact models made for concealed carry, and new full-sized duty pistols.
And there have been some new semi-auto pistols that fall into a different category entirely.
Ten years ago, when Smith & Wesson introduced the M&P and Springfield the XD—full-sized polymer pistols that were followed up by smaller versions for the CCW market—the German gunmaker Heckler & Koch introduced the P30 semi-automatic pistol, a gun that could be called intermediate in size. The frame has a full-sized grip and magazine capacity, but the rest of the gun is as compact as it can be, wrapped around a 3.85-inch barrel. Ever since, the P30 and its many variants have become nearly as common and relied upon in Europe as the Austrian-made Glock or its American counterparts, and have seen extensive field use.
Since its ’06 introduction, the P30, which is available in 9mm or .40 S&W, has become the standard sidearm for a number of European police forces: the German Federal Customs Administration; the cantonal police of Zurich, Switzerland; the German Bundespolizei, which ordered 30,000 P30SKs (the sub-compact version of the pistol). In 2010 the state police of Germany ordered the P30 V2, another variant, and announced that state prison personnel will also be equipped with the pistol.
Heckler & Koch can’t say exactly which law enforcement or government agencies around the world use their products (seriously, we asked!), but there are a number of H&K firearms used in the U.S. Various military and police departments that can afford them use the H&K P30, the striker-fired H&K VP9, or the P30’s grandfather, the USP, a large pistol originally designed for tough military use chambered in .45 ACP.
H&Ks were never considered inexpensive, but you get something for the extra cash. The tolerances on the P30 are remarkable tight for a factory gun. You can see the quality in the machining and finishes, especially on the various facets of the slide, which is machined from a solid billet of steel and has a black oxide coating.
The barrel is cold hammer forged with polygonal rifling, which the company says increases muzzle velocity and barrel life.
When the gun goes together, you can feel you aren’t holding a $200 rattletrap 1911. There’s a gravity to the P30, despite its light weight. That kind of production quality, along with H&K’s legendary design and ergonomics, plus target-shooter accuracy out of the box paired with a decade of field-proven reliability, makes the P30 a more-than-solid choice for any shooter, whether it be for the range, for home defense, or for concealed carry. And as you’ll see, the customization options go a long way toward making the P30 one of the easiest guns to fit, making well worth the extra ducats for many shooters.
Fit and Grips
When it comes to handguns, fit is perhaps more important than with any other type of firearm. Rifles and shotguns have their idiosyncrasies when it comes to fit—length of pull, comb height, cheek weld, and eye relief if you’re using a scope—but there are a lot of ways to compensate for ill-fitting measurements while shooting. A handgun isn’t so forgiving.
There’s nothing between a shooter and a pistol where the plastic meets the meat, and that is where the H&K P30 shows off its impressive engineering the most, and certainly first.
When you unbox a P30, the wonderfully contoured polymer grip jumps out immediately. Pick one up and say it doesn’t feel plain good to hold, like it was made for the human hand. I dare ya.
Additionally, the grip is customizable and disassembles almost completely, with a removable backstrap and side panels, all covered with a great grippy texture.
It comes in a plastic padded case with three different sized panels for each location and three backstraps. If you want the thinnest profile possible for carry purposes, you can configure it. If you have larger hands and find that the biggest backstrap and a palmswell on the strong hand side sets the handgun in your hand the best, you can do that too, along with various other combinations.
It’s all held securely by a small roll pin near the magwell that is easily removed with a simple punch. That frees up the backstrap, and once you slide that off, the side panels are free to be removed and replaced.
Once I got the grip the way I wanted, there was almost an audible click when I picked up the gun. It settled perfectly in my hand, and felt as if it knew where I wanted it to point. There is no top-heaviness that you can feel with some polymer pistols, even when unloaded. As compact as the frame is, the grip is full-sized, offering incredible control over the small gun.
For those who want the P30 with as small of a profile as possible, the P30SK has a shorter grip and reduced magazine capacity for concealed carry comfort and reduced printing.
All this means that the pistol is a pretty easy shooter out of the box with the factory installed white three-dot sights because it points so naturally with your hand. The first trip to the range was mostly about getting used to the trigger. After that, it was 1.5-inch groups out to 15 yards all day.
The P30, like the Beretta 92FS or the Sig Sauer P226, suffers from an ailment common to most double-action/single-action pistols—a mushy trigger—but the P30’s is better than some.
In double-action mode, it has some, but not much, creep and breaks at a comfortable 11.5 pounds, though it feels like quite a long way to travel—especially if you’re used to the short, delicate trigger pull of a single-action-only 1911 or the intermediate weight and pull length of a striker-fired pistol.
Since it’s DA/SA, once you fire the first shot in double action, the pistol will operate as a single action until the last round is fired or the hammer is decocked. That’s accomplished by pressing a small lever to the left of the hammer on the back of the slide, which disengages the sear and safely lowers the cocked hammer. (The gun is also available without the decocking lever.)
The single-action pull breaks at 4.5 pounds and has a nice, short reset, allowing for rapid follow-up shots. All in all, it’s not a bad trigger, and once you get use to it, any mushiness becomes inconsequential.
It’s worth noting that the P30 has many variants, as do most H&K pistol models, and some have substantially different triggers.
I opted for the V3S model, with the DA/SA action, single-piece spurred hammer with a decocker button, and a manual safety—basically every control that’s offered on the P30. The other variants are simplified versions.
For instance, the V1 is configured to be similar to a single-action-only pistol, meaning the external hammer has no spur, and there is no decocker button, so the only way to release the mainspring, once the pistol is cocked by charging the slide, is by pulling the trigger over an empty chamber.
Alternately, the V5 is set up as a double-action only pistol with a conventional DAO trigger with a pull weight of 8.1 pounds, a spurless hammer, and no decocker. If you’ve ever shot a Glock, you get the idea.
At the Range
For a handgun with a barrel length of just 3.85 inches, the P30 is surprisingly accurate during both rapid fire and precision shooting drills, and with a variety of ammunition.
I ran a couple of boxes of random Remington 9mm loads, about 200 rounds of American Eagle 124-grain FMJs, as well as about 200 rounds of the company’s new 115-grain 9mm Syntech range ammo through the P30. It ate everything I fed it with no discernible difference in accuracy or recoil and zero malfunctions.
The addition of a match weight specially designed for the P30 sold by brownbeargear.com added some additional stability for the light pistol (just 22.8 ounces unloaded) and some solid recoil reduction.
The company also sells match weights for the P30L—which has a slightly longer barrel and slide than the P30—the VP9, HK45, and the USP.
The short trigger reset made for great rapid fire capabilities and the 15-round capacity means the P30 can bark for quite a while between reloads, which are made smooth by a slightly flared magwell and extremely well-made, rugged magazines.
The H&K P30 has a lot of checks in the plus column. The ergonomics, grip, and ambidextrous controls are wonderfully designed and extremely comfortable for users with various hand sizes, due to the customization options mentioned earlier.
Its accuracy and engineering are at the top of the industry when it comes to polymer pistols, Disassembly and cleaning are extremely easy and intuitive, with no need for tools.
It’s size and light weight make it a great choice for a duty pistol or concealed carry, especially since there are both long-barrel and sub-compact versions, and the availability of various control configurations means shooters can get a pistol with the features they want, instead of having to settle with the functionality of a DAO pistol, when that’s really not what suits their needs best.
The first gripe many American shooters have with the P30 is the location and style of the magazine release. Like most H&K handguns, the P30 incorporates the paddle-style release that’s also found on many Walther handguns, instead of the more American thumb-button style release.
If you’re willing to train, you can changes magazines extremely fast when you engage the mag release with the trigger finger, and you may feel that you have a stronger grip on the gun itself, since the thumb doesn’t have to change position, and can more readily be in position to trip the slide release once a new magazine is inserted.
The design is inherently ambidextrous and is easy to trip with either the thumb or the trigger finger of the strong hand. For those who will have to undo a lot of training with a magazine button release, it’s a consideration. When you get to the range, you may find it’s not much of an adjustment, or you may find your thumb searching for a button that isn’t there while your other hand is holding a full mag, leaving you wondering what you’re doing.
Another detractor is the price of additional magazines. The P30 ships with two 15-rounds mags, but scouring the internet for any third-party manufacturers of the mags will come up blank. The only extra mags are those made by H&K priced upwards of $35 each (thought it’s worth noting that the P30 9mm magazines will also fit the H&K VP9).. In fact, price overall is a concern. The gun itself, depending on options, lists for $859 and goes for between $800 and $1,000 in real-world price tags.
Comparatively, a Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact goes for about $460, with extra 9mm 15-round mags available for as little $18 a piece.
But that extra money for a P30 just doesn’t float off into the ether. You’ll feel the extra bills in the slide-to-frame fit and see it in the precision welds on the staggered tab seams of the steel magazines with polymer floor plates. And, more importantly, you’ll see it further down the road in the pistol’s longevity. There’s a reason there aren’t many aftermarket, third-party manufacturers of P30 parts and magazines—because, in this case, it’s very difficult to make something better than the factory version.
One place that the P30 won’t rip your wallet to shreds is in the holster aisle. Though there are fewer P30 holster options on the market than there are for some American-made guns, there’s still a good variety, including inside- and outside-the-waistband, and shoulder holsters. It will also fit securely in most adjustable, universal holsters designed for its size class.
Finally, the sights. They are serviceable 3-dot sights done with phosphorescent paint. This means they will glow brightly in the dark, but only after they have been charged by light for a period of time—tritium night sights they are not.
One would think such an expensive handgun would at least offer alternative fiber-optic or tritium night sights.
For self- or home-defense, the sights are perfectly adequate, but for precision or long-distance handgun shooting, some finer, adjustable sights are called for, and for home defense, some tritium night sights would be a welcome addition.
Caliber: 9mm or .40 S&W
Capacity: 9mm x 15 rounds; .40 S&W x 13 rounds
Trigger travel: .25 inch (SA), <.55 inch (DA)
Sights: fixed, open square notch rear sight with contrast points
Overall length: 7.12 in.
Height: 5.43 in.
Width (with optional manual safety lever): 1.37 in.
Barrel length: 3.85 in.
Sight radius: 5.84 in.
Weight (w/ magazine): 26.8 oz. (.40 S&W), 26.08 (9mm)
Magazine weight: .20 lb.