Cult guns are a weird thing: the HK P7 M8 is no different. But this cult gun is one of the most usable of the beloved one-off guns in modern handgunning; in fact one could even say the HK P7M8, HK P7M13, HK P7 PSP, HK P7M10, HK P7K3 and HK P7PT8 (every iteration of the P7 platform) is more mainstream than any of the other “cult” guns.
But why is this handgun so beloved?
• The HK P7 M8 has every conceivable feature built into it and it was done this way, far ahead of its time
• The HK P7 M8 was discontinued because it costs more to make than it can be sold for due to market parameters (a good thing to be discontinued for)
• The HK P7 M8 is the fastest and safest “loaded and ready to fire” carry weapon ever built
• The HK P7 M8 was over-engineered and rarely is there a version that needs additional work
This article is about the reasons this weapon is so beloved, and why I personally choose it as an everyday carry weapon, despite not being in love with the cartridge it is chambered in (9mm x 19). This article is also a history of the weapon and the information about how it has influenced different segments of the gun community. Certainly many will disagree with me and the thousands of others who swear by this gun as to its superiority as a carry weapon. The HK P7M8 and its derivatives (P7 M10, P7 PSP, P7 M13, P7K3) are not the only carry weapons that perform well, and regardless of the gun you choose, what’s really important is that you have something that will work the first time, every time, and give you peace of mind during a time of stress. As a side note: learn to use and shoot your firearm of choice and get trained for concealed carry.
The Heckler and Koch P7 M8 is an autoloading pistol designed in the late 1970’s and released publicly in Q2 1976 as the HK P7 PSP (Polizei Selbstlade Pistole or Selfloading Police Pistol), made specifically for the Law enforcement community (and more specifically the Famed West German police. In response to the horrible events of the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, the contract was drawn up for development of a more advanced and potent carry/duty weapon. The specifications of the contract were very focused and required absolute accordance. As such, the following three firearms were the only test subjects chosen: The Sig P225 (P6); Walther P5; HK P7 PSP. Eventually the Counter Terrorism group of the German Federal police chose and implemented the P7 PSP around 1980 (actually near the end of 1979). Other special forces and elite military and law enforcement groups adopted the weapon as well in the following several years, in different variants and with different build styles.
In some circles this cult firearm is rumored to be the advanced and reengineered version of an Allan Woodruff design from the early 1920’s made in the United States. This time however, chief designer for Heckler and Koch, Helmut Weldle (who also had roles in the development of the HK USP and HK45 as well as the VP70) got it nearly perfect for the role it would play for many elite and law enforcement units worldwide. The P7’s reign for its niche, would span over the next two decades. For HK fanboys (and girls) Helmut Weldle is a Rock Star, with many innovative designs produced and several longstanding firearms.
The original P7 PSP was released to excellent reception by law enforcement in Europe, but lacked several key components to make it a satisfactory challenger in the United States for law enforcement. At the time, Law Enforcement in the United States was looking for an answer to the question posed by lower capacity revolvers, as criminals were becoming more and more brazen and well equipped. The changes made to the P7 PSP resulted in the release of the HK P7M8 in early 1981. The second release was for U.S. guns sent in 1983 stateside. The changes included:
• A polymer heatshield to cover the gas piston area to avoid heat transfer to the shooter’s hand during rapid fire and multiple reload scenarios, like prolonged firefights.
• A different magazine and release point, putting the magazine release on the side of the frame as opposed to the bottom of it like the P7 PSP. The release is ambidextrous, like the rest of the weapon.
• A “gloved hand” trigger guard, enlarged for more room for the trigger finger.
• A wider and heavier trigger.
• Firing Pin/Striker and bushing were changed
• The HK P7 PSP has 51 parts
• The HK P7M8 has 56 parts
Heckler and Koch’s slogan “No Compromises” or “In a world of compromise, some don’t” was given a new meaning by the innovation and over-engineering of the P7 variants. Essentially, everything about this weapon was built on the premise that it must be perfect for each action or interaction. That said, it wasn’t completely perfect (more on that later), but it certainly didn’t disappoint for those who could utilize it effectively.
Those who deemed it a great carry gun in the United States included the New Jersey State Police, The Navajo Nation police force, the United States Park Police, Seattle Port authority and the Detroit SWAT team. The Hanford Nuclear power plant has a private security force that uses them, funded by the DoE.
Outside of the U.S. the P7 series had success with the following departments of note:
• Elite Mexican Military Special Forces groups
• GSG-9 German Counter Terrorist Unit
• Grecian Military Units and Special police units
• Danish special police units adopted the HK P7M13
• Luxembourg based police special units
• South Korean SWAT
• Over 50 law enforcement agencies in Europe, and more than 10 agencies in the United States adopted one or more variant of the HK P7; several South American and Asian countries have adopted the variants in their special units.
The HK P7 M8 (and all other variants) feature a unique design with a squeeze cocking mechanism which allows a loaded chamber and a fully safe condition from draw to fire. It takes less time to go to firing from safe than any other pistol in trained hands. It is chambered in 9mm x 19 for the M8 and M13 as well as the PSP, .40 S&W for the M10 and .22LR, .32 and .380 for the K3. The key features of the gun are as follows:
Fluted chamber: The subtle fluting allows the natural momentum of the rearward moving slide to combine with the exiting gas from the brass after firing for flawless “extraction”. You’ll notice the quotations around the word extraction, because it can “extract” cartridges without an extractor in place. The fluting is rarely copied and offers a unique advantage in some extreme conditions.
Polygonal rifling: Offering a tighter seal and a higher velocity (though many loads aren’t able to post consistent speed increases), the cold hammer forged barrel is easier to clean, last a lot longer, and have better accuracy. This is one of the earliest mainstream examples of a polygonally rifled barrel. It helped to shape the market viability for the polygonally rifled barrel now popular on many duty weapons.
Fixed barrel: Because the barrel doesn’t move, it is inherently more accurate, and it is fixed into a lower position, seating the bore line closer to the natural pointing position of the shooter, giving felt recoil reduction and more natural firing angles and ergonomics.
Delayed blowback design: The gas piston delays the rearward movement of the slide to improve the functionality and allow for felt recoil reduction, smoother extraction and faster follow up shots because of reduced muzzle flip.
All steel heavy duty magazine: The magazine walls and profile is nearly twice as thick as competitor magazines and allows for a more solid feel and more reliable feeding, because of the lack of flex and spring in the overall magazine structure. The magazine angle is perfectly mated to the barrel ramp to improve feeding by straight line chambering. This isn’t a new concept, but the tolerances from match firearms was first introduced in many ways in this era of firearm design; the P7 was a direct recipient.
Ambidextrous everything: As part of the original contract requirements for the West Germans, the gun had to be ambidextrous to allow easy shooting for multiple operators and for multiple tactical scenarios. This gun handles the ambidextrous need with aplomb.
Short sight plane: The short sight plane allows for easier target acquisition, and keeps the process simple and effective. The “short” sight plane is long relative to the overall size of the weapon, and thus, offers better than expected accuracy when paired with the fixed barrel.
110 degree grip angle: About as naturally pointing an angle that a gun can employ, it sits well in the hand and doesn’t require any specific manipulation to achieve the perfect grip feel.
Loaded chamber indicator and Striker fired design: It’s the original gangster of striker fired weapons, and allows a faster cleaner ignition than a spring loaded firing pin, with direct connection to the working action parts. It’s a faster ignition and the loaded chamber indicator allows you to know when you have a round in the chamber (the extractor is also used as a loaded chamber indicator in addition to an extractor).
Heavy weight relative to other competitor guns: The weight is heavier than other compact guns, especially those in the 9mm caliber. This weight helps reduce recoil and muzzle flip, but may detract from the concealed carry of the weapon slightly.
Things you may want to note:
Lead ammunition isn’t a favorite of this weapon, as it loads up (cakes) easily in the gas system and doesn’t do well in polygonal rifling.
Magazine capacity in an M8 is only 8 rounds (+1 in the chamber) so plan accordingly. It’s enough to get you out of trouble with one or two attackers, but not enough to handle riot control.
The magazine inserts into the magazine well at a nearly 90 angle to the bore line, so the initial magazine reloading may be a bit awkward.
The cocking mechanism can cause concerns if you are jumpy with it as a new HK P7 shooter, and some range time will be appropriate to getting used to the shooting process.
The gun can heat up quickly around the forward frame area, specifically in the trigger guard area. Because the gun is compact and all steel, it holds heat, and can heat up after as few as 24 rounds or three magazine loads. It can get uncomfortable after 50 rounds if not wearing gloves.
The weapon is no longer in production, and parts and factory items can be very difficult to find, depending on the part. Furthermore, parts and the weapons themselves are expensive relative to competitors.
By some, the 9mm is not considered a potent round relative to other more “modern” rounds for self defense and concealed carry, but it is widely available, has a huge amount of loads, and should be able to serve adequately as a carry cartridge.
The PSP was a European styled and widely made variant, with many more in the production run compared to other variants. It is chambered in 9mm x 19 and features a heel located magazine catch/release and an eight round magazine. It was made in blued steel and geared specifically towards law enforcement in Europe.
The M8 was the culmination of improvements made on the PSP and was marketed to the U.S. law enforcement market, and eventually to the civilian markets globally. The changes are mentioned above in the text, but include a trigger guard heat shield; ambidextrous frame side mounted magazine releases, and a larger trigger guard. Chambered in 9mmx 19 and featuring an 8 round magazine, virtually all else (except from the striker and bushing) remained substantially similar to the PSP.
The M13 was released as a high capacity version, and remains an incredibly popular gun in the Domestic U.S. as the desire for high capacity firearms is at an all time high, especially for 9mm chambered weapons. It has a 13 round magazine and all of the M8 “upgrades”, and is of course chambered in 9mm x 19.
The M10 is a slightly less svelte and much less attractive version of the M8 with a .40 S&W chambering and a 10 round magazine, which was released in 1991. The grip size is similar to the M13 and the production run is rumored to be 3000 in nickel and 1000 in clued steel, and thus commands in incredibly high premium for such a gun.
This weapon is a smaller, removable barrel version of the P7 firearm able to be retrofit to accept .22LR, .32 and .380 by changing the magazine and barrel. The smallest production run of any mainstream P7 variant, it is extremely difficult to find this weapon with all three caliber conversions and often times exceeds $5000 in value on the market, when it does surface.
A training weapon not able to chamber lethal ammunition: some 225 of these were produced in total.
The .45 ACP prototype that never made it to production due to the high cost of production and the lack of market interest (though this seems ludicrous now, as the .45 has become quite a popular cartridge for small carry weapons).
The HK P7 (M8 etc.) is still a compact, reliable and efficient weapon well suited to concealed carry. It has a lower recoil and better accuracy than most other duty type weapons, as well as a very solid feel and an incredible build quality. The magazines are heavy duty and can easily be stored for long periods of time loaded, and are tough enough for fast extraction and dropping. The slim profile of the weapon makes it more easily concealable, and despite the low capacity relative to competitors, the weapon has all that a CCW carrier would expect in a fast response weapon. The speed of moving from safe to fire is unparalleled, and the weapon has the inability to be shot without specific knowledge of the cocking mechanism and specific manipulation requirements. The HK P7 is such a well built weapon, and as new parts supplies come onto the market, it means a lower total cost of ownership for long term carry users, compared to previous expectations. It’s unmatched as an all steel weapon as far as technology and features are concerned, despite being designed before most of the readers of this blog were able to own a handgun, and many readers were even born.
If you can get past the limited capacity, and need for larger time intervals between magazine reloads while practicing to reduce heat, the weapon makes a lot of sense for those looking for a real carry weapon.
The gun is considered by most of its cult following, about as perfect a weapon as has ever been produced, but it never enjoyed as large an aftermarket as many other guns of its “caliber”-pun intended.
It’s a bit more specific than that: the small production runs, combined with the large initial price tag, and the fact that the gun stopped production well before mainstream firearms started getting an abundance of aftermarket exposure, leaves the customization market a bit shallow. Then of course, I won’t begrudge the fans (of which I am one) their opinion: the gun is nearly perfect as a firearm comes from factory.
Famed Gunsmith and customization expert Bruce Gray is a big fan of the P7 platform and offers excellent but subtle improvements on the weapon, albeit at a cost.
Robar offers a perfect finish for carry weapons, the P7 notwithstanding, in its proprietary NP3 finish which increases surface lubricity and toughness, as well as an excellent looking finish.
Karl Nill makes excellent grips which improve the shooting of the weapon and certainly help the looks when paired with the Robar finish.
Night sites can be drilled and inserted, or purchased and installed, but the former is the preferred method, as the sights are adjusted for point of aim/point of impact at the factory and are designed not to be removed.
Concealed carry holsters are more readily available than one might think, and several brands exist to fit different carry styles.
Essentially that’s the extent of the aftermarket customization of this weapon (aside from the obvious: like different finishes and custom gunsmithing applications, like checkering and stippling), so buy up some extra magazines, and get to practicing. Be sure to bring some gloves if you go heavy on the ammunition; that trigger guard can get hot.
I own three (a PSP, M8 and an M13) and am comfortable carrying each one in certain situations. My personal opinion is that I prefer a bigger caliber for dangerous encounters like back woods hiking, or large crowd areas, but I can’t get past how perfectly suited to my style of shooting that this firearm is. As such, I carry it as the basis of my EDC. I am confident in my ability to kill someone with a 9mm out of the P7 platform; much more so than the confidence I have in the 9mm round. My other carry weapons are a personally built and customized 1911 and a reworked HK USP in 10mm, though I am in the midst of modifying a Sig Elite .45 P220 into a 10mm (my favorite self defense round). I have also toyed with the idea of designing a ground up one-off version of the P7 platform as a dedicated 10mm, but have yet to rationalize the 10k in build costs and development for a gun that I will likely never have to discharge in a carry situation.
In my opinion the HK P7M8 is the finest all around carry weapon, and I validate my opinion by trusting my life with it daily, but it is not without flaws and faults. If I had my way, it would be a .45 or a 10mm with the same design and size profile, with a few add-ons to improve the specific usability for the scenarios I envision myself pulling a CCW out in.
In all, the HK P7 is an interesting and thought provoking gun. It has a legitimate following because it is a legitimate firearm.