Success begets success, and there’s no better example than Heckler & Koch‘s VP9 series of pistols. First introduced in 2013, this series of polymer- framed, striker-fired 9mm semi-autos now includes the VP9 Tactical with a threaded barrel, the long-slide VP9L and the subcompact VP9SK. There’s also a model offered in .40 S&W, the VP40.

Carrying different-sized pistols of the same basic design with identical controls and sights eliminates the need for re-familiarization when the change from winter to summer clothing suggests a downsized pistol for better concealment. The same logic applies to backup pistols. Here, the VP9SK is an ideal backup for the VP9 or VP9L, and it accepts their larger magazines.

Imported from Germany, the VP9SK fits squarely into the subcompact category. Comparing its dimensions to the Glock 26 show that it is slightly longer, taller and heavier than the latter with the same barrel lengths and magazine capacities. But the VP9SK has a single-action-like trigger, which means the fully cocked striker only moves forward when released by the trigger sear. When the striker is cocked, the red-painted portion of the firing pin protrudes through a small hole at the rear of the VP9SK’s slide. This system differs from Glock triggers, which pull a partially tensioned striker slightly rearward before releasing and are therefore considered “double actions.”

The VP9SK also has a pivoting trigger tab that prevents the trigger from moving rearward unless depressed. This tab is a drop safety that supplements the firing pin safety, which captures the striker until the trigger is depressed. The trigger tab and firing pin safety allow a round to be safely carried in the chamber.

All VP9 pistols continue HK’s practice of using cold-hammer-forged, polygonal-rifled barrels made of the same abrasion-resistant steel used in certain cannon barrels. These barrels are proven to last longer than barrels with conventional land-and-groove rifling. But you should not shoot un-plated or un-jacketed lead bullets through polygonal-rifled barrels, as the lead can accumulate forward of the throat and spike chamber pressures.

The slide is made from a single carbon-steel forging and is tapered toward the top to shave unnecessary weight. This also makes the pistol more comfortable to carry inside the waistband compared to a pistol fitted with a blocky, square-profile slide. The slide also has forward serrations, and there are two “charging supports” at the rear to help shooters rack the slide. These are removable by drifting the rear sight.

The VP9SK keeps in line with the excellent ergonomics of the other VP9s, making this pistol incredibly comfortable to hold, point and fire. The grip has contours to naturally fit the hand, and the frontstrap has two wide finger grooves that won’t detract from your grasp even when wearing gloves. This fit is far superior to pistols with flat sides and small finger grooves. Moreover, the VP9SK’s grip can be changed in girth and front-to-rear length by drifting out a roll pin with a punch and swapping out side panels and/or backstraps.

Thoughtful engineering is also reflected in the oversized “winter” triggerguard that allows a gloved finger adequate access. Yes, small triggerguards are more aesthetically pleasing on small pistols, but the VP9SK is about performance, not winning beauty contests. The oversized triggerguard enhances safety and speed, as winter gloves can cause accidental discharges if squeezed into small triggerguards.

The controls on the VP9SK are fully ambidextrous, with slide release levers on both sides and two magazine release levers at the rear of the triggerguard. The slide levers are accessible to the thumb without adjusting your firing grip. Rather than retracting and releasing the slide with the support hand, these slide levers are intended to be activated to chamber a round. These levers are extremely easy to use, especially if you’re in a dark, stressful situation. However, that being said, the VP9SK’s slide levers could be wider, closer to the dimensions of the HKP30’s levers.

The magazine release levers are best activated by the trigger finger. Two techniques work: sliding the trigger finger rearward along the bottom edge of the triggerguard or tapping the release lever directly with the fingertip. This design departs from what American shooters are used to, but it’s been around for decades and is extensively used on Heckler & Koch and Walther pistols.

The VP9 was designed with a competition-grade trigger, and the same unit is used in the VP9SK. My sample pistol had a trigger pull weight of 6.2 pounds according to my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge—a little over the factory specs of 4.5 to 5.6 pounds. This was the heaviest but crispest trigger of the three HK VP9 pistols I have tested, with no creep and only about 0.1 inches of movement while breaking. Better yet, the trigger resistance is like a solid wall without the springy rubber-band-like break of many striker-fired pistols. The trigger reset is fairly short and readily felt, and the pistol’s wide trigger shoe made the pull weight seem lighter. Also, the trigger safety tab fully recesses into the shoe and doesn’t protrude into the index finger like other designs.

The VP9SK comes with two steel 10-round magazines: a flush-fitting model that requires a partial grip and one with an extended edge that affords a full grip. More notable for those who may carry the VP9SK for defensive purposes, a magazine from any HK VP9 or P30 will fit in this gun. I like this because I can carry the VP9SK in an ankle holster with its standard 10-round magazine while carrying a 15-round spare in my pocket or two spares on the other ankle in a DeSantis double-mag ankle pouch.

The VP9SK uses three-dot sights with luminous green inserts. Though the sights glow in the dark, they must be charged before use by exposing them to light, and they need to be recharged in less than half an hour. The sights are made from steel, not polymer, and are windage adjustable by drifting. They also have some subtle engineering that helps makes this pistol easier to shoot. To maximize the sight radius, they are mounted at the very front and rear of the slide. The rear sight is tapered towards the top, which quickly guides the shooter’s attention to the front sight, where it needs to be.

Defensive Tests

I tested the VP9SK by shooting groups at 11 yards from a Caldwell rest with Black Hills’ 124-grain JHPs and two 115-grain FMJ loads from Remington and Winchester. Shooting from a rest verifies the pistol’s mechanical accuracy and demonstrates how a load prints on the target relative to the sights. Following that, I shot the VP9SK off-hand to determine how well it would perform as a defensive handgun in a crisis. Three additional loads were used to test the pistol’s reliability, which was perfect except for one failure to feed caused by an out-of-spec round.

The Black Hills load produced the best and average five-shot groups of 0.63 and 0.93 inches at 11 yards, respectively, which is very good performance for a tactical pistol. For those who like to compare velocities between barrel lengths, the VP9SK’s 3.39-inch barrel lost only 32, 41, and 58 fps with the Black Hills, Remington and Winchester loads, respectively, compared to the VP9 with its 4.09-inch barrel. This shows that the Black Hills load performs relatively well in short-barreled pistols.

Firing off-hand demonstrated how easily the VP9SK handles recoil, both with the flush-fitting magazine as well as the extended one. The muzzle rise was minimal, and I could easily recover my sights for quick follow-up shots. The superbly shaped grip enhances the shooter’s control over the pistol even when shooting stout loads like Black Hills’ 124-grain +P JHP, which generates .357 Magnum-like ballistics from carbine-length barrels.

The sights on the VP9SK worked very well during the day. They are easier to pick up than any type of white-dot sights I have previously used. They could be improved, however, with Heine E-Z Lock sights that have tritium inserts for night use, a cocking ledge on the rear sight to rack the slide in case one hand is injured, and are easily windage adjustable without needing any tools.

Raising The Bar

The number of polymer-framed, striker-fired pistols is vast and growing, with new models coming out each year. But even in this crowded field, the VP9SK raises the bar in the subcompact segment. Once you shoot it side by side against your favorite competitive model, it’s easy to see why. This pistol’s superior ergonomics and quality of manufacture really come together to make a pistol that is accurate, reliable and very easy to shoot well.

HK VP9SK Specs

Caliber: 9mm
Barrel: 3.39 inches
OA Length: 6.6 inches
Weight: 23.07 ounces (empty)
Grip: Polymer
Sights: Three-dot luminous
Action: Striker-fired
Finish: Matte black
Capacity: 10+1
MSRP: $719

HK VP9SK Performance

Load Velocity Accuracy
Black Hills 124 JHP 1,094 0.93
Remington 115 FMJ 1,062 0.75
Winchester FMJ 1,103 1.12

*Bullet weight measured in grains. Velocity measured in fps by chronograph. Accuracy measured in inches for best five-shot groups at 11 yards.

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This article was originally published in “Pocket Pistols” 2018. To order a copy, go to

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