A Beginners/Buyers Guide to the HK USP Series of Handguns
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    Default A Beginners/Buyers Guide to the HK USP Series of Handguns

    A Beginners /Buyers Guide to the H&K USP Series of Handguns

    I have been a gun owner for many years, but in 2003 I was witness to an armed robbery that made me realize I was in desperate need of a defensive handgun. A reliable defensive handgun. One that I could learn inside and out, and trust my life to every day. I found the HK USP to be that weapon. It wasn’t my first pistol, nor was it my first HK weapon, but it was the gun that I learned to appreciate the most out of all the others I owned. Since then, I have owned, carried, used, and abused 7 different variations of the USP Pistol, and shot many others. I have NEVER experienced a malfunction with ANY of the HK pistols I have owned. Not a single one. If that is the kind of performance you are looking for in a defensive pistol, look no further than the HK USP.

    There is a wealth of information related to the USP Series of pistols available on the web. Consider this a Guide/Review/Buyers aid to all things USP. I will try to address issues and questions that new USP owners or potential USP owners may have.

    How much does a USP typically cost?

    HK makes a top-quality handgun, and they typically are priced to reflect this. USP pistols, however, are typically very easy to find at prices way lower than MSRP. Prices vary based on caliber, frame size, features, etc, but as a general rule, a used USP can be found anywhere from $500-$700. The .45 caliber variants are typically more expensive, but not by much.

    So how do you decide if you’re looking at a good deal or not?

    Obviously, the condition of the gun must be taken into account. HK makes a very durable sidearm, and they are relatively low-wear pistols. Check the barrel hood for signs of wear, this is a good indicator of past usage in USPs. A barrel hood that is worn to a silver shine is indicative of heavier use than one that barely has wear on it. Also look at how many magazines the pistol includes. HK USP magazines are usually priced fairly high (anywhere from 30 to 50 dollars depending on the caliber and model), so a gun with 7 magazines might command a higher price than a gun with 2 magazines.

    Speaking of magazines….

    USP pistols have been around since before the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. This ban restricted the use of “high capacity” (read, anything above ten rounds) to government and police agencies only. This ban was lifted several years back, but evidence of it still lingers. Many USP pistols will include ten-round magazines instead of the higher capacity magazines. These are leftovers from the ten-year span that the ban covered. These magazines are typically worth half as much as normal, higher capacity magazines, so take this into account when deciding whether or not the pistol you are eyeing is really a good deal. ***This does not apply to the USP Compact .45 pistol, as its capacity is only 8 rounds, so no neutered magazines were ever needed.

    What is the date code and what does it mean?

    Another factor to consider is the “date code” of the pistol. This is a two-letter code that tells you what year the pistol was made in. The USP was introduced in the early 90’s, and is still in production today, so at this point in time, a USP date code could start with either an “A” , a "B", or a “K”. The letters correspond to numbers, as follows.


    So a pistol with the date code “KF” was made in 1995, whereas a pistol with the date code “AK” was made in 2009. ***On newer HK USP pistols, there is a “DE” marking on the slide. This is not a date code, it’s an unrelated marking from the factory, ignore it.

    Is there a certain date code I should look for or avoid?

    There have been minor changes to the USP series over the course of its production run, but none of them represent significant design flaws, and the date code of a USP pistol is merely indicative of its age. Of course, there are pistols built in 2009 that have been heavily used, and there are pistols built in 1995 that have never even been shot, so the date code does not always correlate to the condition of the gun. I always strive to get the most current date code possible, but I base my purchases on condition, rather than strictly by code.

    1994 changed from a conventional land and groove rifling to the Polygonal bore, as well as the beginning of the use of a captive recoil assembly. Sometime in 1995 some changes were made to enhance the trigger as well. Personally, I would look for the most recent date code possible, while still remaining within the boundaries of my budget. The biggest generational changes in the USP came in 1994 (all pistols from then on had polygonal rifling in the barrel), 1995 (the trigger was slightly improved), and then somewhere between 1996-1999 (firing pin improvements). All USP pistols should serve you well, but those are the main generational differences for those who might care to know.

    What are the different variations of the USP?

    The USP pistol was the first of the lineup to be introduced. The USP Compact pistol came on the scene a couple years later, followed by “Tactical”, “Expert”, “Elite”, “Compact Tactical”, “Custom Combat”, and “Match” variations. Odds are, the average person in search of a defensive pistol for carry or household use will find what they need in either the USP or USP Compact models. Here’s a quick breakdown of each type though:

    USP: Standard duty-sized pistol.

    USP Compact: Reduced in barrel length by about 1 inch, frame thickness, and height, as well as magazine capacity.

    USP Tactical: Includes a threaded barrel for use with a suppressor, raised sights to be visible above said suppressor, a match grade trigger with overtravel stop, and an “O-ring” on the barrel for improved barrel stability and accuracy. Oh yeah, and a cool carrying case. Typically commands $250ish dollars more than the standard USP.

    USP Expert: Includes the same Match grade trigger and raised sights as the Tactical model, but has a lengthened slide and barrel (about 1 inch longer) and no barrel threads. An excellent competition gun. Typically priced close to $1000.

    USP Elite: Includes the same Match grade trigger, tall sights, but has an even longer barrel at approx. 6 inches. Typically used as a target/competition gun. Typically priced above $1000.

    Compact Tactical: Basically a USP Compact in .45 with a longer, threaded barrel. Typically $250ish more than the standard USP Compact.

    Custom Combat: Standard USP with fiber optic sight, textured grip panels, and a different frame color (gray, tan, or green). Typically $100-200 more than the standard USP, depending on the color.

    Match: Basically the same as the USP Tactical, except with a longer 6 inch barrel (unthreaded), and a barrel weight bolted to the underside of the frame. Made famous by the Tomb Raider series of films. Typically best suited as a bullseye gun or bowling pin shooter, the Match is unwieldy and slow to draw and transition from target to target. Typically priced from $1500-$2500. Discontinued.

    What are the different configurations of the USP?

    The USP can be had in all sorts of different configurations based on user preference. Right hand, left hand, ambidextrous, no safety, no decocker, LEM (Law Enforcement Modification – basically a very light double action) DA only, etc. The HK factory or an armorer can set the gun up the way you like it.

    Most USP pistols I see are in the “V1” configuration, what is this?

    This is the designation of the standard setup for the USP. V1 denotes that it is a double action / single action, with decocker and manual thumb safety. Assuming you are right handed, this is typically the most versatile USP configuration.

    Here is a table that outlines the different available USP configurations

    Everyone says the USP is too big….is this true?

    The USP series (in its normal, full sized configuration) is a large pistol, yes. Many people still carry full sized USP pistols as concealed carry weapons, holster selection becomes especially important though. The .45 version of the USP is slightly longer and thicker, so users with small hands may have trouble gripping and manipulating the pistol. The USP Compact, however, is smaller in almost every dimension, and many people find it to be a better fit for their hand than the full sized gun. Almost any reputable gun shop or good sized gun show should have examples of both to handle. Hand fit is up to the user and you must ultimately decide for yourself. ***If the USP series absolutely does not fit you, look into the P30 and HK45 series of guns. I prefer the USP for reasons not worth discussing right now, but the P30 and HK45 offer some ergonomic advantages you might appreciate.
    Last edited by IDontHaveTheTrunkSpace; 10-08-2010 at 02:41 AM.

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    Can the USP Full Size share magazines with the USP Compact, and vice versa?

    No. One of the biggest complaints about the USP was its bulk. When HK made the Compact variant, they had to slim down the frame to make the gun more manageable. Unfortunately this made the Compact too slim to use the magazines from its bigger brother. ***USP Compact magazines are made of metal, USP Full Size magazines are made of polymer, except for the .45 caliber, it uses metal magazines.

    I have heard horror stories about HK customer service being terrible, is this true?

    No. It is largely internet rumor. I have contacted HK CS on several occasions and have always gotten prompt, respectful, and knowledgeable service. HK improved its service department several years ago, and you have nothing to worry about. Pardon me for getting too optimistic, but the odds that you will ever even need HK CS are slim to none.

    How reliable is the USP series?

    USP pistols (and HK firearms in general) are known for their reliability. The USP is one of the most reliable pistols on the planet. It was originally designed around the .40SW cartridge, so 9mm USP pistols are naturally “overbuilt”. They are a little large, but are built like tanks. The .45 USP is scaled up in every way, and is very durable, even with +P and +P+ ammo, though HK doesn’t recommend you use it often. I have personally owned 7 HK pistols in varying conditions, ages, and levels of prior usage, and NONE of them have ever had a malfunction. Not a single one. Each gun saw at least 1000 rounds during my time of ownership. I have every bit of faith in my USP’s as reliable defensive weapons.

    So you got your USP, now what?

    Help, my USP shoots to the left, is it inaccurate?

    No. No offense, but its you, not the gun. These pistols are mechanically more accurate than you or I can probably shoot them. The USP series is not known for its stellar triggers. The DA trigger is long and heavy, and the SA trigger is much better, but still nothing award winning. Almost every new HK shooter I have known (including myself) was shooting low and left when they first got their gun. Learn to master the trigger, and this should quickly go away. If you cant afford to shoot through all your ammo to practice, buy a snap cap and use it for dry fire practice. Before you know it you’ll be shooting the center out of the target.

    My USP shoots low, what the hell?

    When shooting the USP, position the front sight ON TOP OF your target, rather than just below it. In other words, cover up the bullseye with the front sight, and fire. This is how the USP is designed to be shot. If you use the “pumpkin on a post” method of aiming (bullseye ‘resting’ on top of the front sight) you will shoot low.

    I want a light for my USP, where can I find one?

    The USP has a proprietary rail that can only accommodate the HK M2 UTL light. (Typically $100-150) While the UTL is a decent light, there are better designs available. In order to use non-HK specific lights, you need to get a picatinny rail adapter. There are a couple different variations that come with varying price tags. The GG&G adapter is the best, but it is also the most expensive. All of them will work, however, just make sure you aren’t buying an airsoft part.

    Holsters. Where do I start?

    Depends. If youre going to carry it, get yourself a good in-waistband holster, like one from Milt Sparks or Bianchi. If you want a hip holster, look into the Serpa series from Blackhawk , or a Safariland holster. If you want a thigh holster, Safariland makes the best ones. Holsters could be discussed for hours on end, check the holster section of this site for more info than what I could ever hope to provide.

    I’m sure I am missing something, but that is a basic rundown of information that you as a potential USP owner or new USP owner should need. I will update this as I think of more pertinent information, and I’m sure than other members will chime in as well. Overall, the USP series is one of the finest handguns available on today’s market, and there is probably at least one variant that fits your need. Get your hands on a USP, I’m almost positive you’ll come to appreciate them as I have.

    Some HK’s for your viewing pleasure:

    Here's another review of a gun that doesnt get much attention on the web, the FNH FS2000

    Last edited by IDontHaveTheTrunkSpace; 10-07-2010 at 06:39 AM.
    DBray and leadcounsel like this.

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    Awesome summary . . . where were you when I was first learnig this stuff a few years back? Could have saved me the time, but hey they say the journey makes the whole trip worthwhile! And now that I know this stuff, you're spot on!

    Like I said, awesome review and perfect info for the Noobs . . . GREAT job!

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    made a few changes, added the HK variant table, thanks to bordercop for the additional info

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    Thank you sir for that very informative write up.

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    Great article, and ditto on the reliability. Its the primary reason my collection has grown and other brands dropped.
    Hk VP-40 OD Green
    Hk VP-9 FDE
    Hk P30 .40
    Hk P2Ksk .40
    Hk USPc .45
    Hk Mk 23
    Hk USC .45
    Hk P2A1 26.5 mm

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ahhnuld View Post
    Great article, and ditto on the reliability. Its the primary reason my collection has grown and other brands dropped.
    Dude you made 11 posts in like 30 minutes, and 26 today total?
    I am guessing you needed to get to 31 real quick? lol
    But after reading them, at least they didn't seem like trolling posts. welcome to the HK club. ;)

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    Awesome information. Thanks for sharing. :)

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    Bump for a good posting..

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    Nice post man.
    USP45T suppressed w/ UTL, USP45Expert w/UTL, USP45F (EDC), USP45CT, USC/UMP45, SL8-1/G36E, POF-5.

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