Two of the things I appreciate most are dependability and durability. In a knife, I look for a solid fixed blade. In a firearm, I look for a positive history. For most uses, things don’t have to be absolutely bombproof, but it’s nice when they are. Which brings me to the HK USP45, likely one of the most tested pistols on the planet. 

I have a thing for battle-proven pistols. So, the USP has always caught my eye. I grew up seeing it in movies and video games. I also saw it in the holsters of law enforcement from time to time. 

At one time, I owned a stainless USP chambered in .40 S&W, but it was snappy and bulkier than comparable options, so I sold it off. Regardless, I found myself missing that HK quality and impressive design. However, this time I wanted to give the full-size USP45 a shot. 

HK Mark 23 .45 ACP
The HK MK23 is an absolute tank.

SOCOM Development

Developed in the 1990s for U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Navy, the MK23 Offensive Handgun Weapon System was designed to serve as both a primary and backup firearm. 

The pistol was required to be a maximum of 12 inches long, have the ability to host a suppressor, feature attachment for a laser and illumination options, have a minimum magazine capacity of 10 rounds, chamber the .45 ACP cartridge (+P), and pass a 30,000-round endurance test without failure.

This provided the framework for the USP design (introduced in 1993), which was scaled down to a more manageable size for standard military units and law enforcement. The Universal Self-Loading Pistol was chambered in .40 S&W, quickly followed by 9mm. Later, HK added a USP model chambered in .45 ACP.

I believe this variant provides you with the best version of what the design was supposed to be. The low-pressure round of the .45 ACP reduces parts wear.  However, the lighter weight and smaller size of the USP design makes for a durable handgun that still handles well. 

HK USP Barrel and Recoil Spring
The barrel and recoil assembly for the HK USP45. You can see the captured spring within a spring design to reduce recoil.

USP45 Features

There are two main versions of the USP  — the V1 and V7. The HK USP45 V1 is a standard double-action/single-action pistol with a safety-decocker lever. The USP45 V7 features HK’s LEM trigger mechanism with manual safety (no decocker) and bobbed hammer. This acts like a smoother DAO. When you rack the slide, the mainspring is precocked about halfway. The only time you get the full double-action pull is if you perform a restrike. Both are hammer-fired semi-autos that are the same in every other way. 

The full-size USP features a 4.4-inch barrel with polygonal rifling, which works by squeezing the bullet, rather than cutting it like conventional rifling. This provides a slight accuracy advantage over a standard barrel. The pistol weighs just over 31 ounces with an empty magazine. HK lists the thickness at 1.26 inches, and I’ll be honest, it feels thicker. The whole pistol feels like a brick in the hand, but that adds to the durability. There’s always a tradeoff.  

One of the key features of the USP is HK’s recoil reduction system, which is basically a spring within a spring. HK claims it reduces recoil around 30 percent, and decreases stress and wear on internal components. This aids in the longevity and durability of the pistol, even with repeated use of +P ammunition. It also helps counteract the pistol’s relatively high bore axis and keeps the muzzle rise down. 

USP Safety Decocker
On the V1 model, the thumb safety also functions as a decocker.

The pistol incorporates an oversized trigger guard for use with gloves. HK’s “Hostile Environment” finish is well known for being incredibly resistant. It does not easily wear and does a good job at preventing corrosion. Further, the pistol is supplied with two 12-round mags (10-round options) for the standard model, and three with the upgraded model that includes night sights. As with all HK parts, the magazines are of the highest quality, but they are quite expensive (around $50 each). 

With as great as this pistol is, I can only think of a few cons. The proprietary rail (or Universal Mounting Groove as HK denotes) is dated, but you can buy an aftermarket Picatinny adapter that works well. Additionally, there are versions with and without night sights. At the price, I believe HK should just include night sights on all models. 

Specifications

  • Action: Semi-automatic
  • V1 action: Double/single
  • Safety: Manual safety/decocking lever, left side
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Barrel: 4.41-inch, polygonal bore profile
  • Magazine: 12 rounds
  • Sights: Three-dot model
  • Slide: One-piece machined, nitro-carburized steel
  • Frame: Fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Dust cover: Universal mounting grooves
  • Magazine release: Ambidextrous
  • Slide release: Extended
  • Length: 7.91 inches 
  • Height: 5.61 inches
  • Width: 1.26 inches 
  • Sight radius: 6.34 inches 
  • Weight: 31.29 ounces (without magazine) 
HK USP45 and Glock 19C
Compared to the Glock 19, you can see how stout the HK USP45 is.

Range Testing

The real test of a good firearm is in how it fares in action. Since I’m not an operator (and I don’t even play one on T.V.), that meant the shooting range. I fired a mix of Federal, Remington, and Winchester brass target ammo with good results. All ran without issue and accuracy was top-notch. I started at 7 yards firing a few 5-round groups to get a feel for the pistol. Afterward, I pushed it out to about 12 yards and practiced some double-taps. 

Before leaving the range, I wanted to slow things down and spend some time working the heavy double-action trigger. This is where most people run into issues, as they don’t train with a longer trigger pull, so it throws off their shots. I shoot a fair bit of double-action guns — especially the SIG P220 series. However, I still noticed myself working a bit harder with the HK. This is something I will continue to practice with and learn. There are trigger kits available from HK Parts and Grayguns, but I prefer to keep the USP stock to maintain that legendary reliability and durability the pistol was designed for. 

One of the reasons I went with the improved durability of the USP design was to test out the .45 Super cartridge. .45 Super is loaded to higher pressures than .45 ACP, but is identical in size. Therefore, it can function in pistols chambered for the .45 Auto that are rated for the increased pressure.

At the time of this review, I have only fired a box of .45 Super to check for function and general accuracy. The pistol ran 100%, and I saw no appreciable difference in accuracy. Recoil was more comparable to that of a 10mm with full-power loads. I hope to come back with more .45 Super specific data in the future, because I think this round offers solid performance. 

Note: Neither HK nor Cheaper Than Dirt recommend firing .45 Super from your .45 ACP.

HK USP45 and Ammo
The USP45 was reliable with all the ammunition used. SIG hollow points provide a good defensive option.

Final Thoughts

When compared to modern options that may be a bit slimmer, lighter, and higher capacity, the HK USP may seem outdated. However, if you’re looking for a durable handgun that can handle it all, there’s really no topping it. The USP45 is a battle-ready pistol that will likely outlast you — and your kids. 

For a concealed carry piece, I think the USP design is clearly lacking. However, as a duty or home defense firearm where size is less of a factor, it excels. 

What do you think of the HK USP45? What is your favorite variant of the USP? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

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