Review: Heckler & Koch USP — Universal Self-Loading Pistol

HK USP .40 S&W handgun on a grass bed, left profile

One thing I can say right up front about the HK USP is that it feels like a big gun. However, when I compare it to something like a Glock 19, the grip and trigger reach are about the same. The longer barrel on the USP makes it seem much bigger, I guess. HK’s promo information about the USP says it’s the first HK pistol designed specifically for the demanding needs of the American shooter with features favored by the U.S. civilian, law enforcement, and military users.

USP Features

The design of the USP is said to have been influenced by the 1911, including the ability to be carried cocked and locked. This is facilitated by what HK calls the “control lever,” which is a frame-mounted, combination safety and decocking lever. The control lever has a positive stop and returns to the fire position after decocking. It can also be switched from the left side to the right to accommodate left-handed users.

HK USP .40 S&W handgun, left profile
The design of the USP is said to have been influenced by the 1911, including the ability to be carried cocked and locked.

The USP uses a modified Browning-type action with a recoil reduction system designed and patented by HK. It is built to take the punishment of +P loads. The size of the gun helps the shooter handle those loads, as well.

The recoil reduction system is incorporated into the recoil/buffer spring assembly located below the barrel. It’s basically a wider, rounded notch where the barrel interlocks with the frame. This recoil reduction system buffers the impact of the slide on the frame, as the barrel unlocks and the slide travels rearward. The system works regardless of the ammo type and does not require any adjustments by the user.

The USP has a cold hammer forged barrel that has HK’s unique polygonal bore profile. Polygonal bores increase muzzle velocity and reduce barrel wear. The polymer frame of the USP uses the same high-strength and corrosion-free material as used in firearms designed for military use. Metal components used in the USP are also corrosion resistant. The external metal components are protected by an extremely hard nitro-gel carburized black oxide finish.

The design characteristics of the HK USP provide a lot of flexibility in how the gun is set up for the user. For example, my gun has a DA/SA trigger with everything set up for a right-hand shooter. A knowledgeable gunsmith or HK armorer can convert it to a DA-only trigger, and the control lever can be moved to the right side of the frame.

The magazine release lever is ambidextrous and is fit within the trigger guard so that it is impossible to inadvertently depress the magazine release. The magazine release can be activated by the thumb or index finger of the firing hand without adjusting the firing grip. The extended slide release allows for easy actuation without adjusting the grip of the shooting hand.

HK USP .40 S&W handgun, right profile
Metal components used in the USP are also corrosion resistant. The external metal components are protected by an extremely hard nitro-gel carburized black oxide finish.


I mentioned the size of the gun. My .40 S&W weighs 29.83 ounces, is 7.64 inches long, 5.35 inches in height, and 1.26 inches wide with a trigger reach of 2.74 inches single-action and 2.95 inches double-action. That’s one reason I like the idea of carrying it cocked and locked. I found an IWB holster from N8 Tactical that fits the USP well and has a high enough back to keep the rough texture of the USP’s grip from rubbing against my skin. That rough texture on the USP grip, along with the stippled front stop and back stop, provide an extremely secure hand purchase when shooting the gun.

I’ve steered away from shooting .40s lately, due to the arthritis and bursitis pain in my arms and shoulders. I wanted to shoot the USP enough to get a true picture of its reliability as well as accuracy, so I took a couple of extra shooters along for the fun. We packed an assortment of reloads, JHP, and other types of tactical ammunition, plus several brands of ball ammo. I was the first to shoot the gun, standing 10 yards back from the targets we set up.

The gun came to me with five magazines. Three of them are 10 rounders. The other two hold 13 rounds and are stamped “Restricted Law Enforcement / Government Use Only 10 – 94.” Hmmm… This gun must have first been sold in California.

Field Stripped HK USP .40 S&W handgun
The USP uses a modified Browning type action with a recoil reduction system designed and patented by HK. It is built to take the punishment of +P loads.

Range Time!

I live in Texas and ain’t nobody going to tell me I can’t load and shoot a 13-round magazine in my gun. But 10 rounds was all I felt like, so I loaded it and started firing. An incredible thing happened. My 10 rounds pretty much clobbered the center of the target.

Each of my buddies had the same result. Not only is the USP amazingly accurate, but it is also built in such a way that shooters can easily make the best of what it has to offer. What do I mean by that? I mean shooters who don’t always shoot outstanding targets seem to do much better with the USP than with other guns. Wonder why? I’d say it’s a combination of great sights, an easy and consistent trigger pull, a hand grip that’s made to assist the shooter, and the recoil reduction system helping them get on and stay on target.

I enjoyed watching the other shooters almost as much as I enjoyed shooting the USP. There was an appreciation spreading among us I didn’t expect to see. We fired something like 300 rounds between us, and there was not one failure of any kind.

HK USP .40 S&W pistol on a paper bullseye target with bullet holes and a box of Federal Syntech 175-grain ammunition
Shooters who don’t always shoot outstanding targets seem to do much better with the USP than with other guns.

Final Thoughts

After all, the gun has been around for a while. However, this one was residing in the safe of one of my friends. I remember when he got the gun, but I’d forgotten about it. When he told me he needed to reduce his inventory, I offered to take this gun and a couple of others off his hands. I really didn’t do it because I wanted the gun. It was more like I bought it because he offered it to me at a price that I knew to be a bargain.

The USP has been in HK’s catalog for a number of years. My gun was manufactured in 2004. The USP is available in three models: Standard, Compact, and Tactical — chambered in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. If I were buying one now, I’d buy the 9mm Compact. With that gun, I’d have a heck of an EDC gun. As it stands, I doubt I’ll carry this gun, but I know it will hold its own as a household defensive gun or a truck gun. I’m watching some of my grandsons grow into much bigger lads than their dads or me, so who knows, one of them might find this .40 USP just the right size.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of our readers have an HK USP. I would love to hear from you how the HK USP fits your needs. Share your review in the comment section.

  • HK USP .40 S&W in an IWB N8 tactical holster
  • HK USP's extended slide release in a cocked and locked condition
  • side view of the HK USP showing the trigger reach
  • Handgun barrel, operating rod, and recoil spring
  • Field Stripped HK USP .40 S&W handgun
  • control lever on a HK USP .40 S&W pistol
  • Ambidextrous magazine release lever under the trigger guard of the HK USP handgun
  • HK USP .40 S&W handgun, right profile
  • HK USP .40 S&W handgun, right profile resting on river rocks
  • HK USP .40 S&W handgun, left profile
  • HK USP .40 S&W handgun on a grass bed, left profile
  • HK USP .40 S&W pistol on a paper bullseye target with bullet holes and a box of Federal Syntech 175-grain ammunition

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (21)

  1. I bought my H&L USP .40 cal from a military buddy. He just didn’t want it because he seldom fired it. He said he had shot one 13 round magazine.
    Although the price was very good and the warranty transferred to me I was going to decline the purchase.
    UNTIL….. I placed the magazine back into the weapon. The solid, clean and clear “click” as it seated in the weapon SOLD me!
    I thought if the magazine latch was that well tuned and designed the pistol had to be a great buy.
    It is now worth about 4 times what I paid for it. It is 98+% new with the box, and all papers.
    It is getting ready to go on a “tour of duty.”

  2. I used to work as a security guard here in Los Angeles.
    And the last pistol I ever purchased. Was the HK USP 9 mm Fillsize back in 2012. What more can I say a fantastic firearm.

  3. My local gun store has got a USP tactical in near new conditions. After reading this great review and the supporting comments, I will definitely get it. Thanks to all of you for sharing. Mark

  4. My first pistol purchase was a standard USP 45. Unfortunately, I had to let that one go during a rough patch. When things improved I purchased an HK USP 45 Expert (5″ match barrel and match trigger) and a year later a HK USP 45 Elite (6″ match barrel and match trigger). Both are amazingly accurate and reliable. The match barrels and triggers a joy to shoot. Surprisingly, neither was as expensive as you might imagine.
    I eventually sold the Elite. The Expert was my favorite anyway. It handles better. It now has a jet funnel, comp weight, extended mag release, and a Vortex Venom 3 MOA red dot optic mounted via a plate using the rear site’s dovetail. I probably would prefer a 9 mm for competition but for defense against anything a 45 is a solid choice.

  5. @JBH It’s not so much that society has gotten dumber, well, okay, check that… most folks in the US can’t drive a manual transmission vehicle… but you must think that manual of arms has changed.
    I personaly like a SA/DA but only in a revolver or a lever action. If I want it cocked it is. If I want it not, I can manually lower. No inbetween safety decoker. Glock field strips just fine. Don’t like the grip angle or squareness so they’re dissmissed for me but ai can handle one. An internal hammer or striker fire is fine with no external safety as long as you’re aware of what you have and remember to keep your finger off the d*** trigger when handling the weapon. If you’re not comfortable with it, you should not be touching it. Anything you own or carry you should be familiar with.
    Learning is fun but do so with someone who knows the platform you wished learn.

  6. I wanted a Mark 23 since I first played Metal Gear Solid, but I didn’t think I’d ever realistically spend $2K+ on a handgun, so I resolved to get a USP 45 Tactical. A couple of years ago, I finally got my first HK, but I went with the OG USP 40 instead, and it is awesome. My only regret is not buying the compact, but one simply cannot go wrong with the USP in any caliber.

    The guns are precise, and they are tanks. During development, HK supposedly obstructed the barrel with a projectile, then fired another round. The result was something like a slightly bulged barrel which still shot with either a slight or no noticeable decrease in accuracy. Impressive.

    The USP handles .40 S&W so well that the 9mm must be an absolute joy to shoot. I liked mine so much that when I wanted something for concealed carry, I got a P2000SK in .40, and I think I might like it even more than the USP, despite it being snappier. Regardless, the USP still sits on my hip in the country, while the P2000SK rides in town.

    While their rifles tend to be out of my price range, HK’s pistols are well worth the money, and I’m sure I will end up with at least a third someday.

  7. Judging from all the positive comments here, I evidently have a real keeper here. If wishes could be more than wishes I’d wish it into a 9mm but honestly, It’s the best shooting .40 I have.

  8. We used them for about 15 years at my department, I believe we had approximately 250 guns. It was well liked. Down side is its big. The big problem is the magazines are junk and are expensive. We had dozens of them split at the top and caused double feeds makeing qualifications suck for us range guys. We changed to glock 21s and found them to work very well.

  9. When they were new, I wished for a
    Usp .45 tactical, but didn’t have the cash. I found one in a gun store a coupe of years ago and couldn’t resist. It shoots well, but is pretty impractical. A compact seems about right for a .40.

  10. I have a 2004 P2000SK .40 with LEM trigger. Everyone that shoots it, loves it. People first impression is that it seems small… this is true as with any subcompact. However HK didn’t slim down the width, so when it is in your hand it feels robust and not like a deck of playing cards (everyone has an opinion, but I like a full grip when shooting). I could go on forever about how much I enjoy this pistol. One thing I will say that a couple people mentioned I 100% agree HK out performs a stock full frame Glock for me at least. The part that always keeps me smiling is that a 2.48 barrel is outperforming a 4.49in barrel. I think Glock is so popular not because it’s the best, BUT because it’s sort of idiot proof to operate, and the IQ of society is on the decline. Now days trying to explain how a hammer works on a firearm is like trying to explain advanced trigonometry.

  11. The only HK USP I’ve ever shot was the USP Tactical in .40. because that’s what my LEO partner carried, I had the then new S&W M&P fullsize.
    I have to admit I outshot him with his tactical version that day and I really liked the way it shot, and of course were both on LEO tac team, but I seriously don’t remember his version having any external type safties or being anything like a 1911. If it had had an external safety/decocker I wouldn’t have liked it as I have never liked anything with a decocker safety apparati. Darn things seriously make me nervous. Just wait until you get swept by some “experienced” daddy’s daddy’s daddy grandpa’s uncle’s cousin had one… uh, so is it up down, why can’t I shoot it?! It’s loaded. Yeah it’s loaded GET YOUR finger off the trigger and keep it pointed downrange! I don’t know what’s worse, people who can’t follow simple directions or people like 1911 style stuff. Good article though Mr, Freeman

  12. My first handgun I got was a HK USP 9 compact in 1999 still have it. It’s a great gun.
    My first issued PD handgun was a HK USP 40 variant 3, carried that till we switched to S&W M&P 40. The nice thing was we were able to purchase the HK’s.
    Got the LEM trigger kit and had them both converted to the LEM trigger .
    Both guns are tanks and are awesome to shoot

  13. I picked up a .40 USP from an auction of surplus correction officer sidearms. It came with five magazines and a nice drop leg retention holster at a bargain price.
    It’s a bit big to feel comfortable as an EDC but has a secure home in my safe as my EDC is also .40. I really like it and you’ve written everything I could about why I do.

  14. I bought a USP 40 in 1997 to carry on my first job as a Cop i carried for 7 years having it inspected every year. never having a thing needing to be changed or replaced. My youngest son went to the Police academy 6 years a go and he carried the same USP through out the and his first 6 years as a Deputy Sheriff. It is know back in my safe waiting for the next time that i go to the range I take every time i love shooting it. Oh yes when my son got it i added the mag well flair and i bought him 13 round mags. One thing that was not mention in the read is that when the gun is loaded it becomes well balanced.

  15. We were issued HK/USP, 9mm hand guns wheni was in LE. I loved that 9mm usp. I T shot real well, and no problem qualifying with it, It felt good in my hand, and was very accurate. The usp had a great de-cocker for safety reasons. When I had to draw it for use and then not have to fire it ,that de-cocker was great got got holstering my weapon. We went back to Glocks, and I disliked that qualifying scores with that gun were bad. When I retired, tried to find a HK-USP to carry as a ccs weapon, but I could not find one. so I bought a Ruger 9E, in is a good, accurate gun, but not an HK-USP. I prefer 9mm as a carry gun.for a long time prior to being in LE, I shat a gov model 1911,45 cal in competition steel targets. I still use that 45 for target practice, along with that Ruger 9E..

  16. Hay I think we both got the same USP 40 ! Came with 2 restricted 13 round mags and night sights. Used . Shoots like a champ, mags are expensive, but it’s a HK. Enough said

  17. The USP .40 was my first pistol. Took ownership about 15 years ago from a friend who felt .40 was too snappy. Being a person of medium stature, the USP does feel like a large pistol in hand. However, it never feels like it’s out of control due to it’s size. I do agree the ergonomics of the USP maks one feel like a great shooter. It is inspires confidence when holding it, like your favorite pair of jeans. It just works.

    Reliability, ergonomics, accuracy. What more can one ask for? Oh yeah. Availability and cost.

    I’m in the market for a 9mm EDC and it’s down the the USP Compact or the Beretta PX4 Compact (which I also own the full sized) There’s a reason both are not easy to find at a decent price and if given the choice, USP Compact hands down.

  18. The 10-round magazines you have probably date back to the 1994 federal magazine limits, which impacted everyone.

  19. I can echo the author’s description here, as a USP owner. Getting away from caliber-of-the-day “fashion”, my purchased-new .40 S&W USP (standard) is the best-shooting pistol (accuracy, reliability, and low maintenance), I’ve owned from out-of-the-box. No modifications, no smithing, no magic, or “special” ammunition required for it to perform well. The basis for these statements are in comparison to various Glocks, Rugers, S&Ws, and 1911s. Thinking about it, it may be the sole unmodified firearm I own.

    When purchased, I got some flack from my range buddies about it being plastic (really); uncertainty about the caliber’s effectiveness (vs. .38 +P, .357 Mag), etc. Then they shot with mine.

    Nearly the entire group purchased USPs – and all still have them, for the reasons in the article. It’s a solid shooter.

    Nice used examples appear to be a relative bargain for this well-designed and manufactured firearm, and not hard to find.

  20. I have a bunch of airline pilot buddies who became FAMs after 9/11. The only gun they were allowed to carry in the cockpit was a USP compact chambered in .40 but it wasn’t a commercially available model. It is single action only, so you can’t carry it cocked. And no safety. They were required to carry it chambered.

    H&K allowed every FAM pilot to buy one at cost and one of my buddies didn’t want one so I got his. To this date, it’s my favorite pistol for new shooters. You just plain can’t screw it up. Soooo smooth. Never jams. I love shooting it too. I have safes full of guns but this is the pistol in the lockbox at my bedside for things that go bump in the night.
    I’ve looked everywhere to buy another. Just flat can’t find one. And none of my other buddies will give theirs up.
    If you find one of these rare pistols, grab it.

  21. I own two, a USP 9 and a USP 45. They are, by far, my favorite pistols that I own. I do prefer the 9 because it is less expense to shoot. The de-cock and safety feature was what sold me on this gun. They are both very accurate and comfortable. I’ve shot a lot of different ammo in them. They hate Perfecta but have no issues with anything else I’ve used. I used the 9 for my concealed carry class and the Perfecta jammed every 3rd round or so. I switched off to Blazer aluminum to finish the class. It ran flawlessly. Neither gun has ever jammed except for when running Perfecta. My 9 can hold 16 rounds including one in the chamber. I also own a Glock 19, it lives in the case. My son in law likes to shoot it from time to time. After I let him shoot my H&K, now he’s in the market for one.

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