What good is a defensive weapon without stopping power? “Not much,” most self-defense handgunners would say in response. Thus, we all agree that an effective defensive handgun requires power, but the more nuanced question is, “How much?”
We recently treated ourselves to a head-to-head test of defensive handguns in an increasingly popular chambering, the .357 SIG. The round was designed to deliver the same amount of power as .357 Magnum ammunition fired from a 4-inch-barrel service revolver, which almost all shooters will agree is enough stopping power for a handgun. Moreover, the .357 SIG round provides more total firepower, because staggered-column “double-stack” pistol magazines hold much more ammunition than a revolver loaded with .357 Magnum rounds. Some agencies now recognize the round’s effectiveness; notably the Texas Department of Public Safety has adopted the .357 SIG round in Sigarms P226 pistols for its troopers.
In this test we will look at two .357 SIG pistols that are small, light, and easy to conceal. The Glock 32 was one of the first polymer compact pistols chambered for .357 SIG. Our version of the model 32 was stock number KADO71, $599. Shooting against that was a Heckler & Koch P2000 Variant 3 No. 735203, $883. We picked this particular gun for our test because we were intrigued with the unique placement of the decocker.
How We Tested
We lubricated the guns once before we began and never cleaned them. Impressively, each gun digested hundreds of rounds without any hint of malfunction.
To record , our test-team evaluators fired three different rounds. We chose 125-grain FMJ “Q” loads by Winchester and 125-grain Speer Gold Dot Hollow Points. Our other test load was the 85-grain Matrix NTF Frangible round from Precision Ammunition, (precisionammo.com). We elected to try frangible ammunition because we planned on doing much of our shooting indoors where cement walls, steel targets and props such as doorways may present hazards such as ricochet or splash-back. As a training device, we also wanted to know if these rounds produced felt recoil comparable to ammunition we would use on the street.
Our bench session was staged outdoors at a public range. Test distance was 15 yards. In addition, we fired standing unsupported using the Precision Frangible ammunition. This portion of our tests consisted of “Mozambique” drills, which required two shots to the body and one to the head of a standard IPSC target. Using a generous time limit of 1.5 seconds, we performed this three-shot drill ten consecutive times to study how the guns reacted. Accuracy was recorded as well as shooter impressions concerning grip, recoil control, and sight alignment. The Heckler & Koch pistol arrived with no fewer than four different backstraps and we were interested in finding out why. We wanted to know how each change in grip transformed the P2000.
Was the Glock 32 in for a tough game of four-on-one? Shooter ready; Stand by.
The HK P2000 pistol was diminutive, and to our eyes rakish in design. Able to fit inside a box measuring approximately 5 inches by 7 inches, it was narrow but still offered ambidextrous magazine and slide-release levers. Referred to as the P2000 US on the hecklerkoch-usa.com website, this pistol was meant to reflect changes to the USP models with the American market in mind. The P2000 is available chambered for 9mm and .40 S&W as well as .357 SIG. Our pistol arrived with two 10-round magazines, but 12-round magazines for .357 SIG/.40 S&W and 13-round magazines for 9mm are available. In fact, this model shares magazines with the USP Compact pistol.
Three Variants are produced, but only Variants 2 and 3 are imported to the United States. The Variant 2 pistol comes with the Heckler & Koch DAO, LEM trigger that offers a short reset. The hammer on the V2 fits flush with the frame and cannot be cocked. Our Variant 3 added a decocker that was frame-mounted, but was accessible at the rear of the slide to the left of the hammer. The hammer featured a grooved tang of generous size for thumbing back when a switch to single action fire was desired.
An exterior tour of the pistol showed further evidence of changes from the USP design. Front and rear sights were dovetailed into place and offered a three white-dot design. But the flat-topped slide was not carved with the USP triangular shape. The accessory rail on the underlug of the frame was a universal design, and we found that it would easily accommodate popular weapon lights such as the Surefire X200. Slide-release levers looked and operated the same from each side of the weapon, but the right-side lever stayed in place during field stripping. Separating the slide from the frame meant retracting the slide about 0.7 inch to line up the relief and remove the pin from right to left. No tools were needed, and none of the parts were difficult to remove.
Looking inside the bare frame, we could see that the job of the lower end was limited to ignition and storing ammunition. The camming surface used to unlock the barrel was integrated with the guide rod instead of being mounted solid with the frame. The guide-rod unit included a captured flat wire recoil spring. Also captured along the length of the coils was a 0.375-inch-long nylon bushing that acted as a shock buffer.
If this sounds radical, then the lower end was clean and simple.
The trigger was connected to the hammer assembly by a transfer bar. But it was so well integrated along the right side of the frame you could almost miss seeing it until the trigger was pressed. The frame itself showed a pair of steel inserts front and rear for slide-to-frame contact. The hammer and decocker assembly was a tight little package about the size of a sugar cube that sat just above the web of the shooter’s hand.
Heckler & Koch went to a lot of trouble to make sure that the P2000 fit everyone’s hand just right. The frontstrap offered a slight swell about half way down, and we thought the texture front and rear was effective. The base pads on inserted magazines added about 0.3 inches to the grip length and overall height of the gun.
The rear of the grip consisted of a removable panel. Four different panels offered a variety of different contours that ranged from almost flat to a generous palm swell. Panels were marked small, medium, large or extra large. The extra-large panel also added substantially to the undercut of the grip. Not only did each grip change rear contour, but also trigger reach. Changing panels required a hammer and punch to remove a beefy steel roll pin located at the bottom of the frame. With the pin removed, the panel moved out of place quickly because seating the panel also served to capture the main spring upon the hammer strut. Thankfully, the hammer strut was fixed in place and there was no danger of it falling out even as the mainspring was free to do so.
Replacing the panel meant working against the mainspring. We had to hold it place while the roll pin was inserted. The proper size punch was not supplied, nor was the proper size mentioned in the owner’s manual. We think this is a mistake because using the wrong size punch can damage or mar the pistol. An oversize punch can shave the hole and result in a loose fit. A key was supplied to work the lockout device located inside the magazine well that secured the action for storage.
After handling the P2000 V3 at the range we concluded that positioning the decocker at the rear of the slide was an excellent idea. Some pistols have been criticized for having too many controls along the side of the frame. In training sessions with increased stress, operators have been known to contact the slide release or even release the magazine instead of pressing the decocker when attempting to safely holster a hot weapon.
With the P2000 Variant 3 we found it very easy to decock and holster. Here is why. When holstering a handgun that does not lock the slide in place when the safety is applied (such as a 1911), it is wise to place the thumb over the rear of the slide or behind the hammer. Without this support the friction of placing the gun in the holster, (or missing the mouth of the holster), can dislodge the slide and leave the gun out of battery. With the thumb behind the slide of the P2000 V3, decocking the weapon becomes a natural part of the holstering process.
From the bench we fired single action only and produced our best groups with the Winchester 125-grain FMJ “Q” load. Our best single group measured approximately 1.1 inches across and most of our groups were in the 1.4-inch range from 15 yards. We got comparable performance with the 85-grain Precision Matrix NTF Frangible ammunition. In a blind test of felt recoil, the Winchester kicked the hardest, but our staff found it difficult to distinguish between the 85-grain frangible ammunition and the 125-grain Speer Gold Dot Hollow points. We think this makes the Matrix NTF Frangible rounds an attractive alternative to other training ammunition. But we thought the Speer ammunition underperformed when fired from the HK P2000 V3. The Gold Dots provided lots of power (about 490 foot-pounds on average), but our groups measured about 2.4 inches.
Standing and shooting unsupported at 7 yards we learned more about the ergonomics of the P2000 pistol. Our start position was from low ready with the gun about 45 degrees from the horizon. Leaving the medium backstrap in place, we fired first shot double action and second shot single action at the 11-inch by 5.9-inch center mass A zone. We followed these shots with one shot single action to the 6.2-inch by 6.1-inch head zone. Holes on the target showed three shots low and two off-center to the left. Then we changed rear grip panels. Jumping to the extra-large panel with the largest palm swell, our central shots deteriorated but the group produced by our single-action-only head shots improved. This indicated to us that the larger panel produced a trigger reach that made it more difficult to perform the longer pull of the double-action first shot, but the longer reach improved our finger position for when the trigger was farther back in single-action mode. Changing to the large-size panel, we again fired DA/SA. For one shooter, the large panel proved best, with only one shot straying low left. The head shots printed a tight 3.9-inch group.
We also tried using the decocker as if it were a safety, a practice not uncommon at many training schools. This meant thumbing back the hammer in crisis and returning the gun to first-shot double action before holstering. Firing the P2000 in our three-shot drill single action only delivered the tightest groups, but required a finer touch. Some of our staff began dropping shots simply because they became impatient during the final repetitions and began to overpower the trigger.
Frankly, our staff had expected this test of powerful lightweight pistols to be punishing. But the Heckler & Koch P2000 surprised us by doing an effective job of dissipating recoil.
For years the slogan for the Austrian manufacturer that makes its stateside home in Smyrna, Georgia, has been “Glock Perfection.” A less catchy but more accurate phrase might be “Glock Simplicity.” The magazine button and the slide-release lever were the only controls besides the trigger. The trigger itself housed a safety that ensured ignition only when the trigger is engaged. Removing the top end required clawing downward on two releases simultaneously, but putting the slide back on simply meant applying it to the frame rails without having to manipulate a catch or seat a pin. The stock sights included a front blade that was pegged into place, and the rear unit was drift adjustable and set into a narrow dovetail. The rear sights on both the HK and Glock pistols were low profile enough to minimize the possibility of catching on the inside of a jacket, but offered enough of a ridge so that the sight blade could be used to catch on the edge of a belt and rack the slide should a jam occur with only one hand free to act. Two 13-round magazines were supplied.
Our Glock 32 was very much the same pistol as the Model 23 that we tested in the June 2006 issue. According to a Glock representative, the only difference between a .40 S&W Model 23 and the .357 SIG Model 32 was the barrel. Then again, our Model 32 was the basic pistol, and the upgrades we enjoyed on the Model 23 we tested, such as Trijicon night sights and an O.D. green frame, would cost about an additional $150.
Our first test of the Glock .357 SIG pistols was published in our August 2001 issue, and at that time we gave it a Buy rating. We liked the way it fit our hands even if we felt that in combination with .357 SIG ammunition, one had to be prepared for a higher level of recoil than either the .45 ACP or .40 S&W rounds delivered. According to Glock, there have not been any changes to this pistol since our last test. The same captured recoil spring and guide rod were in use, and the pistol weighed the same. We did ask a representative at Speer ATK Ammunition if there were any changes in .357 SIG ammunition since its inception in the middle 1990s. The answer was that the same pressure ceiling of 40,000 psi was still in place, but a firm answer regarding changes in loads was not forthcoming.
Our new Glock M32 pushed bullets faster than our HK P2000 by about 28 fps on average for all shots fired. This was likely due in part to its barrel, which was approximately 0.4 inch longer. But in our estimation the Glock also recoiled a little more. Objectivity aside, there was no doubt in our mind that this was true especially in the case of firing the Winchester ammunition, which averaged 44 fps more in velocity. Muzzle energy produced by this round averaged 521 foot-pounds and 540 foot-pounds from the HK and Glock pistols respectively. This was more power than was produced by our full-size .45 ACP Glock 21 in our August 2005 test. This was also comparable to three different 4-inch barrel service revolvers firing 125-grain .357 Magnum ammunition that we tested in our April 2002 issue.
The trigger pull on our M32 weighed in at 8 pounds, which sounds heavy but its movement was consistent from shot to shot. Sitting down at the bench we looked at the sight picture. Even with the wide rear notch there didn’t appear to be much light available on either side of the front sight blade. The sights on the HK pistol were more open and seemed like target sights in comparison. But when we started to fire, our groups consistently landed in the heart of each target. Perhaps at a longer distance the higher definition of the sights found on the P2000 would have paid dividends, but at 15 yards our Glock 32 was right on target. Groups fired with the Precision Frangible ammunition ranged from 1.2 to 2.1 inches. The Speer Gold Dots averaged right at 500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and produced five-shot groups that averaged 1.6 inches. The most accurate and most powerful round in the test was the Winchester 125-grain FMJ rounds landing in groups measuring from 1.0 inches to 1.6 inches.
If the HK P2000 tried to custom fit everyone’s hand, the Glock 32 offered a single grip frame that seemed to more or less satisfy each of our staff members. Despite dropping two shots low and left of center, the remaining 18 A-zone shots formed a consistent pattern. The ten shots in the head area formed a 4.3-inch group.
Gun Tests Recommends
• Heckler & Koch P2000 Variant 3 .357 SIG No. 735203, $883. Buy It. Cleverly designed, the P2000 offered the shooter less felt recoil than expected. The option of single-action fire and a smart layout of controls sets the P2000 V3 apart from other concealable pistols.
• Glock M32 .357 SIG No. KADO71, $599. Best Buy. Simplicity and low price are hard to beat, especially when the pistol seems to be in tune with currently available ammunition, and many helpful options are available from a range of suppliers.