Heckler & Koch P7 (PSP)

My appreciation for the HK P7 began back in the late 80's, when I was neighbors with a guy named 'Brawly'. Brawly lived upstairs from me in our quad apartment building, and we hung out together. He was a machinist at Boeing at the time, and he spent his 'bonus' money on a brand new P7M8. I think it cost him $1,300. He called me up all excited on a Friday night, "Hey! I got it! I want to bring it down and show you!"

I had to tell him, "Brawly, it's not a good time. I've got some guys over playing poker, and we're all drinking. And these aren't 'gun guys'... You're welcome to come down and join us, but leave the gun at home."

He was deflated, "Well, crap. It's not like it's loaded or anything."

"Brawly, these aren't gun guys. They wouldn't get it."

One my poker-playing buddies from Texas interjected, "Where I come from, when the guns come out, it means 'game over'."

Anyway, Brawly got over it and joined us for a few hands. The next weekend, we headed to the range. That P7M8 was one of the sweetest guns I had ever handled. It points instinctively, probably due to three main factors:

I scored very well with that gun the first time I shot it. I came away with the general impression, Damn, that's one sweet gun, but at $1,300 a pop, you can get *two* sweet guns!

Fast-forward a couple decades. I've owned several different handguns. I have a wife who is not an enthusiastic shooter, but who is ready for a gun in her nightstand, and who asked me one day, "OK, I'm coming home and I pull into the garage, where's the closest loaded gun?" After a lengthy discussion about safety tactics, "your car is a weapon", not getting boxed in, etc. I started thinking that our childless household and how we're good candidates for leaving loaded weapons scattered around in various places. When we're entertaining, I "police up" the weapons and lock them away, but I still have to allow for the odd niece or nephew dropping by, so my thoughts turned to weapons that were inherently a little safer than say the typical double-action revolver. One that an average non-gun person could pick up loaded and not fire it accidentally. I thought about the P7 again.

I found a guy out of Waterville, MN on Gunbroker who had picked up fifty HK P7s that were supposedly German police issue and returned to the factory for refurb. He was offering them for $750 or so starting bid with two magazines each. Included box, cleaning tool, manual (german), all the usual stuff. I contacted him directly and negotiated to buy several from him for between $700-750 each, getting discounts for taking his 'blems' and one that was missing the cleaning brush. Upon receipt, I was a little startled to realize the importer was PW Arms in Redmond, which is the next town over from me. The gun world works in mysterious ways....

Along the way, I also learned a few things about interstate FFL transfer. Pretty much anything that qualifies as a "firearm" (a P7 certainly does) can't be shipped direct to you from the retailer, unless you happen to hold a Federal Firearms License (which essentially allows you to buy & sell guns as a business at the retail level). In my search for an FFL (Gunbroker has a search by zipcode feature), I found pricing varying from maybe a low of $20 to a high of $50 per gun, per transaction. After trying to contact some of the lower priced ones I grew frustrated by two things: some were more or less 'unreachable' and others refused to do transfers for guns that they were capable of getting wholesale. This latter one startled me at first, but upon reflection makes some sense; why should they forego $100-150 in profit and enable me to undercut them? I settled on my local pawnshop, who I've done business with many times (though relatively few firearms transactions). Their price: $30 per gun. I had hoped to get a 'volume discount' on the paperwork, but they said it costs them the same and wouldn't budge.

Enough rambling, What's Special About a P7?

OK, in addition to the three points above about 'geometry'...

The P7 is a single stack 9mm with an "8+1" magazine.

The P7 family uses a Squeeze Cocker design. The front strap needs to be squeezed in about a quarter inch to take the weapon off safe. This takes about twelve pounds of pressure to initiate, but much like holding back a compound bow is very easy to hold once "pulled". This earns the weapon the nickname, "9mm Tactical Stapler". Or Tactical Tackdriver if you're feeling cocky. The squeeze cocker means:

The barrel on a P7 is fixed to the frame, not unlike a Walther PPKs. The fixed barrel aids in accuracy. There is no guide rod and associated spring, there is a recoil spring concentric with the barrel. There is a gas piston system to retard the recoil energy, thus replacing the need for a locking block. All of these help in lowering the barrel in relation to the trigger finger and making the gun smaller overall.

The squeeze cocker lever is also used as a slide release, which makes reloads pretty damn fast. The squeeze cocker is of course fully ambidextrous, being part of the front strap. The slide lock on the P7 is located on the left front, inside of the trigger guard. It is a decidedly low-profile and fussy thing. This means it is a non-factor for getting hung up on a holster, clothing or digging into your hide, but it can be a handicap for clearing Type 3 Malfunctions, where one of the key steps is locking the slide back manually.

One of the only other external controls is the take-down button, located on the frame just below the slide on the left side, above the beavertail. Even this button is flush with the slide and beveled towards the beavertail, helping with comfort while carrying (it doesn't dig into your side).

One of the distinguishing features of the P7 over the later P7M8 is the P7 has a "European style" magazine release, a large button at the the heel of the gun, behind the magazine well. The good news? It's truly ambidextrous. The bad news? You can't "drop free" empty mags with your firing thumb like you can on the vast majority of semi-auto handguns in the US. By the way, this is they way Frontsight trains you to do re-loads, but their instructors are willing to work with you if your gun works differently. The 'consolation prize'? With the P7 style mag release and the extended butt-plate on the magazines, 'sweeping the magazine from the gun' (in the event that it's jammed or stuck) is second nature, part of the standard process.

The magazines differ between the P7 and the P7M8, largely due to the difference in mag release location. This contributes to 'sticker shock' on P7 magazines. It's not unusual to see them sell for $75 or more for OEM, and nobody I know is manufacturing after-market models. That's one of the reasons I thought the deal I got, with two magazines per gun, was a bargain.

P7 PSP vs P7 M8

When I was doing some research before buying, I turned to an Unofficial H&K P7 Website. Chris probably has the best overall 'story' on the P7. The gun that I own is commonly called a "P7", but is sometimes referred to as a "P7 PSP". One of the reasons for understanding the nomenclature is that holsters for the P7 are different from those for the P7M8 or P7M13. When a holster manufacturer says they have a holster for a "P7 PSP", they're signaling that they get it, they understand the differences.

The key external dimensional difference between a P7 and a P7M8 is the length of the trigger guard. The P7M8 features an extended trigger guard that lends itself to shooting with gloves on. That minor difference is a big deal for a well-fitted holster. On a P7, there's only about an inch and a quarter of barrel / frame forward of the where the trigger guard begins to curve downwards. On a P7M8, the trigger guard extends about another half inch forwards (I don't have one to measure, I'm approximating) so this changes a key "holster grip" area.

I have read elsewhere that one of the differences between a P7 and its later siblings is the inclusion of a "heat shield" above the trigger on the later models. With the gas piston assembly immediately above the trigger area, P7's are reportedly prone to getting "too hot to handle" when shooting a few hundred rounds on the range. When I was at Frontsight, we did about 200 rounds a day for five days, and I don't recall the gun ever getting anything like too hot to handle. Looking at one of my P7s just now, the area above the trigger guard looks like a solid metal part of the frame, so I'm not at all sure where this 'heat shield' goes, or if maybe not all "non M8" P7s are the same.

As I describe in the previous section, the P7 has a "European style" magazine release, a button on the heel/butt of the gun just behind the magazine well. This makes the P7 mags different from the P7M8 ones.

The firing pin group seems to differ between the P7 and later models. P7's are shipped with a special tool (reminds me a little of a golf spike wrench) for removing the firing pin group. The later models supposedly don't require a tool, and the firing pin group can be removed with finger pressure only (there is some doubt about this, based on webpages. Perhaps 'Teutonic' fingers are required....).

One of the 'features' I'm puzzling over is the Loaded Chamber Indicator. Both Chris and the HK P7 Manual refer to the extractor serving as a loaded chamber indicator:

My Beretta 92 had that exact feature, and I have not been able to discern it on my P7s. Writing this page, I had two identical pistols out, both P7s, one loaded, one unloaded. I could neither see nor feel a difference in the extractors.


The P7 is not *quite* a pocket pistol, not in the same sense as my Walther PPK. Still, one of the things I enjoy about it is the relatively small package. If the doorbell rings, I'm likely to pick up one of my P7s and slip it into a back jeans pocket with the butt hanging out. Then I'm just fine conversing at the door with the Girl Scout or Jehovah's Witness with my strong side hip back from the door, gun concealed, gun-hand at the ready (some of these Girl Scouts can get *really* pushy).

If I'm just doing a quick errand to the store, I might stick the P7 in a coat pocket or vest pocket. I am *not* expecting any trouble, and I'll deal with the fumbling of getting the weapon out of a pocket during the transition from "condition yellow" to "condition orange".

Here I have to confess that one of the things I most like about the P7 is how well it adapts to "Mexican Carry", or the practice of just sticking the gun in your belt or waistband (my apologies to my Mexican brothers out there, I have no idea if the term is offensive). Since coming back from Frontsight, I have been wearing a 5.11 Tactical Belt (oddly, not the Uncle Mike's they gave me, one I bought before going down there). Even without a substantial belt, I find the P7 is pretty damn stable in two different placements:

My friends at Frontsight would freak about that. In order to get the gun seated in your belt, it's almost impossible not to violate the "don't stick your hands in front of the muzzle" rule, but I figure the gun is pretty safe, carrying a gun beats not carrying, and I'm not overly concerned about "re-holstering" after a gunfight. If I'm required to 'get physical' (run / fall down / climb fences) I figure that's part of the whole 'deadly force spectrum' and I'll likely transition to 'gun in hand'.

Enough 'no holster' talk, what about Holsters?

OK, the first holster I bought for my P7 was off of ebay, and it was a 'gun glove' variety, "IWB HOLSTER FOR THE HK P7 HECKLER & KOCH P-7". It's an IWB (inside waist band) leather molded holster with a single belt clip. I think I paid $25 plus shipping. It seems well made, but it's for a P7M8, not a P7. A close reading of the ebay listing states this clearly, so I didn't dispute it and ate the cost. I'll leave it to somebody who has a P7M8 to tell me if this works well for them (here's a deal: if you own a P7M8, this 'gun glove' is yours for the cost of shipping.... you owe me 25 words or so on how well it works.).

I've been on the mailing list for US Concealed Carry for most of this past year. I am not a paying member, but they send me email in an effort to entice me to subscribe. One of their stories featured a dude who is confined to a wheelchair, and he touted the FIST #42 Holster a 'Driving Holster' to Crossdraw variant. As the name implies, this is a weak side / crossdraw holster. It has a unique pivot assembly that allows it to switch between 'almost straight up / down' and barrel 'almost aligned to your belt'. I checked, and they have P7 (PSP) as one of their options! These are leather, hand-boned, and available in a variety of colors for $115 (at this writing, more than the $85 I paid in mid-2009).

I ordered a #42 along with a #18 strong-side paddle holster and a #32 Double Mag Pouch, all in 1-1/4" belt, Cordovan (a deep burgundy that passes for black).

Impressions: these guys definitely have a P7 (PSP) last, and it shows. These holsters are very well matched to my P7 pistols. The finish is a nice rich cordovan, and everything seems well made. After a couple weeks of using the #42 driver / crossdraw holster, I suffered a snap failure. In the real world, the snap adds a little security (securing the holster to the belt), but it's not a deal breaker if it's not there. Since the holster was still pretty new, I asked FIST to fix the snap. They stood behind their product and did so, no questions asked.

About the same time I asked them to fix the snap on the #42, I got antsy about whether the #18 paddle holster would "pass muster" at Frontsight, and I asked FIST if they could rush me a #15 Holster for my P7, along with another #32 Double Mag Pouch in 1-1/2" Cordovan. I was concerned that the paddle holster wouldn't be considered appropriate for their course, since it wasn't directly tied to the belt. As it happened, the safety inspection at Frontsight seemed to mostly check that the holster was 'snug' to the belt, and that it allowed re-holstering with one hand. In any case, I'd like to report that FIST was good about rushing me out the items inside of four weeks when I asked.

I have not had had a lot of experience with holsters (see 'Mexican Carry' above). These seem well made and decent value for money. During my time at Frontsight, it seemed like I was dealing with more 'friction' from my well-fitting leather holsters than my peers with Kydex. Still, if you're looking for leather for your P7, I'd consider FIST a strong contender.

During my time at Frontsight, I did not use either of my leather FIST magazine carriers. My plastic Blackhawk single stack, two magazine case that I bought locally was just easier to hang on the belt once I got to the range (the bucket seats in my R32 make bulky belt items uncomfortable).

I am just about to order a Kydex holster from Raven Concealment Systems, selling through their website, The Malabar Front. I'll let you know what I think when I get the holster in. An update:

This is in January 2010. Seems like their popularity is catching on.

Update - The Raven Concealment Holster (Phantom Modular) is just the thing for a P7 PSP. After a few tries with the other IWB and OWB loops, I settled on the accessory "pancake wings". This holds the P7 "high and tight", just where I want it. I find that on *my* body, I like to tether the forward pancake wing to my belt loop with a short length of paracord, just to ensure it doesn't slide around with movement.

I have a second left-handed version for when I want to carry two identical guns (mostly out on the open road on my touring scooter). I also have another right hand one as a "project" - going to see if I can fashion a reasonable shoulder holster out of it for those long road trips in a car.

Adobe PDF instruction manual for Heckler & Koch P7 pistols

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