Heckler & Koch P30L Variant 3 Long Slide, M730903L-A5 9mm
In the February 2012 issue, we tested five high-capacity semi-automatic 9mm handguns that were aimed at the Practical Shooting competitor. Practical Shooting evolved from experimentation with handguns used for self-defense. One characteristic that separates Practical Shooting from other organized pistol competition is that the scoring takes into account the amount of time it takes to deliver the required number of shots for each course of fire. So, fast-action gun handling, as well as quick, precise shots becomes an integral part of the shooter’s score. In this test, we’ll pay particular attention to features and components that make the guns faster and easier to operate, as well as more accurate.
GT thought that the Generation 4 changes to the $649 Glock G34 make it a better all-round pistol if not a better choice for Practical Shooting competition. By reducing the grip to SF (Short Frame) specifications, they were able to hold the gun more efficiently. Two more backstraps were supplied to increase the distance between the web of the hand and the trigger. The application of blunted pyramids to the surface of the grip was another welcome addition, in their view. Internally, the Gen 4 used a multi-spring recoil guide rod that is not interchangeable with Gen 3s. They thought its action was smooth and consistent, but this component may have to prove itself to competitors who change recoil springs to match the impulse of handloaded ammunition. Last, they thought the dot disconnector added a greater sense of feel to the trigger, making it more consistent, therefore safer.
The February roster included two guns that were specifically prepared for competition by CZCustom.com of Mesa, Arizona. In the new test the guns were not as specialized, but the $1108 Heckler & Koch P30L V3 is one of the guns favored by HK’s official Practical Shooting team. Here’s what they thought:
The pistol was tested for accuracy from the 25-yard line by firing from a sandbag rest. Test ammunition was the same as used in our previous test, including new manufacture (red box) 115-grain FMJ, and 124-grain JHP rounds from Black Hills Ammunition. We also fired 147-grain flatpoint FMJ rounds from Federal American Eagle. We shot groups of record with the HK P30L single action only.
To learn more about the match potential we set up two action tests. Our “field” course of fire was the same one used in our February test, consisting of picking the gun off a table top and firing at two IPSC Metric targets 21 feet downrange spread 15 feet apart. The shooter was centered between the two targets and the catch was that the gun was fully empty with pistol and loaded magazine lying next to each other. The shooter began with hands placed flat to either side of the gun and magazine. Upon an audible start signal from our CED8000 shot recording timer, our shooter loaded the gun, and moving from left side target to right side target, fired two shots to the center mass A-zone (a 5.9-inch-wide by 11.2-inch-tall rectangle). The shooter then reengaged from left to right but this time with only one shot to the head areas which measured about 6-inches square. Inside the head area was a 4x2-inch rectangular A-zone surrounded by B-zone values. We also carried over our “double-tap” test but with different rules. We still wanted to know how fast we could deliver a quick pair of shots, but we also wanted to know how fast the guns could be reloaded in situations where the chamber was not yet empty nor the slide locked back. We added the reload because the HK pistol utilized ambidextrous paddles. The target for this test was Caldwell’s plastic-coated 8-inch Bullseye TipTop targets which overall measured 8.5x11 inches and were punched for loose-leaf storage. Figures from our double-tap test reflected the elapsed time between the first and second shot after we had raised the gun from about a 45-degree angle from the horizon. And the amount of time it took us to reload, acquire the sights and fire, then the elapsed time between the final two shots.
The $1108 Heckler & Koch P30L is available in four variants. We shot the Variant 3 (V3), which operated with a double-action first shot followed by single-action-only fire. Other key aspects included rechargeable luminous sights and an adjustable grip consisting of three complete sets of side panels and backstrap. The unique ambidextrous magazine-release paddles enabled our test shooter to eject the magazine very quickly using his middle finger, but this design will accommodate other methods as well. The HK P30L produced the best accuracy both at the bench and during our field test. But we might have been able to shoot the P30L faster with a simpler trigger arrangement. Based on results shooting the HK USP LEM pistols in our June 2011 test, we might prefer the “light” LEM trigger found on the P30L V1 for competition. We’d choose the V2 with standard-weight LEM trigger for carry.
In addition to judging match potential, we also wanted to know how they would relate to non-competitive or beginning shooters. The good people at FortTexas.us training helped facilitate this test, and we asked them why our test guns might or might not be included in their “dirty dozen,” a house collection of 12 different handguns that students are welcome to try to learn firsthand what type of pistol might fit them best.
Heckler & Koch P30L Variant 3 Long Slide M730903L-A5 9mm, $1108
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of our test was how different each gun was from the other. In the case of the Heckler & Koch, the P30L pistol actually offers four variants to choose from listed at the same price. Variants 1 and 2 have the LEM (law enforcement module) trigger, and there are two V3s; one with external safety lever and one without. We asked HK Team Captain Jason Koon which one he shoots. We learned that throughout the course of a season that includes not only Practical Shooting but the demanding Bianchi Cup and the Steel Challenge, the team is likely use all four. But Jason prefers the V3 without thumb safety. One common feature among all P30L pistols was the three-dot sights, which were dovetailed into place front and rear. The face of the rear unit matched the end of the slide, producing maximum sight radius. The three-dot sights glowed when powered up by ambient light or the beam of a flashlight. Wear this gun on a sunny range and they become blazing orbs.
The slide featured mild cocking serrations front and rear with an externally mounted extractor. Beneath the slide was a lightweight polymer frame offering several key features. The dustcover was full length beneath the 4.44-inch barrel, including a 2.5-inch-long accessory rail with five crosshatches that meet Picatinny specifications.
The decocker was located at the rear of the frame next to the hammer. Actually, the location is high enough so at first glance it appeared to be on the slide. It consisted of a small grooved rectangle that when moved, a short stroke downward lowered the hammer safely, returning the trigger to next-shot double action. This could be accomplished by releasing the support hand and stroking with the thumb or with the strong-hand thumb, preferably in coordination with re-holstering with the thumb held against the rear of the slide. Holstering in this manner not only assures that the slide will not be moved out of battery by friction within the holster, but it also makes it possible to detect movement of the hammer should a foreign object enter the holster mouth and tug on the trigger. We liked the rear-mounted decocker because it promotes safety beyond its basic function.
The HK P30 design offered ambidextrous slide lock/release levers with a generous grooved platform for contact. These levers also played a part in takedown. Moving the slide rearward about 1.5 inches aligned the left side lever so that it was capable of passing through the relief notch in the slide. The point of rotation on the right side lever exposed the tip of the cross bolt. By pushing the crossbolt about 0.2 inch, we were able to clear the notch and pull the slide free. It was not necessary to press the trigger, and the slide latch did stay attached to the pistol, so we didn’t have to worry about losing a spare part.
The P30L operated with a linkless design, and it was the rear of the guide rod that supplied the lug that interacted with the barrel during cycling. The recoil spring was a flat wire captured on the guide rod that was buffered by a 1.1-inch-long nylon tube that floated independently over the outside of the coils.
The trigger guard was square in the front with ambidextrous magazine release paddles located at the lower rear corner. The front strap of the grip was populated with three finger grooves, and the grip surface was covered with an effective yet comfortable knurled pattern. Both the dimensions of the grip and its contour could be adjusted to the shooter’s hand by mixing and matching a three-piece set of side panels and backstraps marked S, M, and L. Changing out the grip components was not a quick-change operation, nor was it meant to be. The side panels slipped in and out laterally from the rear. The backstrap slides up into place, capturing the side panels. A steel roll pin at the base of the grip held the unit in check. A light hammer and punch (not included) was required to remove or secure the roll pin. We found the difference between the side panels to be subtle, but choice of backstrap directly affected distance to the trigger. According to Koon, another benefit of this design is comfort. Over the course of a shooting season, he estimates firing his HK pistols more than 60,000 times. Being able to change grip panel sizes can give weary hands some relief. Koon’s regular set up is the medium backstrap with a large panel to the left and the smallest panel on the right side of the grip. We chose to test with the small side panels and small backstrap in place. From the bench our P30L was at its best firing the 115-grain and 124-grain bullets. Average group sizes were 2.1 inches and 2.0 inches respectively. The groups printed firing the 147-grain American Eagle rounds measured within a narrow range of between 2.3 inches and 2.6 inches center to center.
Thanks to the grip afforded us by the interchangeable panels, we were able to lock the gun in our hands and adapt quickly to the DA/SA transition. Our test shooter had a wide hand with only moderate-length fingers, and he found that the easiest way to drop the magazine was to drop the middle finger of the strong hand down to reach the right-side paddle. Left-handed shooters who have adapted to right-side magazine-release buttons by using the index finger will like the HK pistols. With the gun remaining vertical, the magazine ejected quickly and cleanly. Our shooter was fast enough to get ahead of the process and knock the ejected magazine aside in mid air as the fresh magazine approached the mag well. If there was any sticking point to reloading the P30L, it was the lack of any structure to help guide the magazine into place. But HK team shooters overcome this simply by dry-fire practice, said Koon. One of the traditional features found on HK handguns is the indentation at the base of the grip panels. In the event of a malfunction, the magazine could be ripped from the pistol even if the operator were wearing gloves. But we’d be hard-pressed to remember a malfunction with any of the HK pistols we’ve tested.
In our double-tap test, our first split included the transition from double to single action. Our best such split time was .43 seconds. Our reload times ranged from 1.92 seconds to 2.28 seconds, but this was still faster than expected. The paddle release was fast, and we didn’t have to move the gun very much in our hands so we could get back to a firing grip faster than when we were forced to shift the gun in our hands to reach the side button. But during some of our runs we lost time getting the fresh magazine into place. What slowed our overall time on a more consistent basis was the elapsed time between the final two shots following the reload. Our best split time after the reload took more than .50 seconds. Having begun with a double-action first shot, we think too much time was spent adjusting our grip to the rearward single-action position of the trigger. In retrospect, applying a larger backstrap to regulate trigger reach might have helped.
In the field test the first action was to load the gun so all shots were fired single action only. First shots were recorded in a range of 2.96 seconds to 2.46 seconds after the start signal. The best total elapsed time was 5.97 seconds. We scored 18 A-zone hits and 2 C-zone hits on the body of the targets. The head shots scored 6 A-zone hits and 4 B-zone hits.
Our Team Said: The HK P30L scored the most points on target, but our elapsed times were slower. The answer might be to simplify the trigger. Switching to the Variant 1 or Variant 2 pistol with LEM-enhanced DAO trigger would eliminate the transition from DA to SA and solidify the position and the weight of the trigger, thereby improving shooter concentration and physical approach. We think the Variant 2 would be a better choice for the street, and the “light” LEM Variant 1 would be our choice for competition. The choice may come down to striker versus exposed hammer, ergonomics, or simply a matter of cost.