Heckler & Koch's New P7M10; Is It The 'Ultimate' .40?

by David W. Arnold

Heckler & Koch's unique squeeze-cocking P7 auto pistol is now available in .40 S&W. Officially designated as the P7M10, the new pistol is a ten-shot beefed-up version of the 9mm P7M13. Actually, this innovative German arms company first announced that they would be making a .40 S&W P7 at the 1991 Dallas SHOT Show, where an early prototype of the pistol was on display. A year later, a refined prototype with a heavier slide was unveiled at the 1992 New Orleans SHOT Show. Production models of the P7M10 were released some six months later, and I received one to try out in July 1992.

Although the P7 is the first radically new handgun design to appear since the Walther double-action autos of 1929, their high price has limited their sales in this country. Some background information on their development is, therefore, necessary for those not familiar with these unique pistols.

Heckler & Koch, or HK as they are usually called, first started work on a new auto design in 1976 with a view to producing a 9mm pistol that would meet the new German government specifications for handguns suitable for police use. A prototype was completed in about five months and submitted for testing. Nearly two years later, HK's new pistol had passed all tests and was deemed suitable for police use along with other autos like the SIG-Sauer P225, the Walther P1, 4 and 5, the SIG P210-4 and the Astra 600. Once the pistol entered regular production, it was given the official designation of P7.

Not long afterward, P7s began to appear in this country, where they were quite well received. The original P7s had an eight-shot magazine capacity, but a 13-shot model was made in the early 1980s to compete in the U.S. military trials for a pistol to replace the Colt 1911 .45. This pistol had some other refinements that included an ambidextrous magazine release behind the trigger guard. Prior to this, a heel-clip magazine catch in the bottom of the grip had been employed on all P7s. Although the P7 was not selected by the U.S. military, HK started to market it aggressively to both police and civilians in this country. Both the eight and 13-shot models were offered, the former now being designated as the P7M8, while the latter was called the P7M13.

Then, just as these pistols began to enjoy some success with some U.S. police departments, the value of the dollar against the German mark fell significantIy. Virtually overnight, P7 prices soared from around $600 to over $900 in the case of the P7M8 and to just over $1100 for the P7M13. Not surprisingly, this had a detrimental effect on law enforcement sales, where price is always a deciding factor. In the years that have followed, P7 sales in this country have been pretty much confined to the civilian market. A few years later, HK added to the P7 line models chambered for .380 and .32 together with a .22 conversion kit.

This new P7M10 .40 S&W is the latest caliber addition to the HK pistol line. Like the 9mm P7 models, it is a recoil-operated semi-automatic pistol that uses HK's novel "continuous motion principle" firing system. This is more commonly referred to as a "squeeze-cocking" action and consists of a special cocking lever that is incorporated as part of the grip. The lever is actually the entire frontstrap, which is hinged to the bottom of the grip. Compressing or squeezing this lever cocks a striker mechanism in the slide to put the pistol in the firing mode. When cocked in this manner, the pistol has a single-action type of trigger, which, in the case of the P7M10 that I received for evaluation, requires some four pounds of pressure to release the striker.

The cocking lever also makes the P7 very simple to operate and shoot. Pulling back the slide is simple and safe, for the pistol cannot fire as long as you don't compress the cocking lever. During firing, the pistol is automatically rendered safe immediately when the cocking lever is released. The cocking lever is also the pistol's slide stop, for like many auto pistols, the P7's slide is locked open after the last shot has been fired. Releasing the cocking lever and then compressing it will permit the slide to close. All this can be done while the pistol is being held in the normal fashion. This feature, combined with the magazine catch on both sides of the frame and the absence of any manual safety, makes the P7 completely ambidextrous.

The M10 also employs HK's retarded inertia bolt-locking action. This system, which is the other unique feature of P7 pistols, has a gas cylinder under the barrel. When the pistol is fired, some of the gases are bled off through a hole just forward of the chamber into the cylinder. Here the gases push against a piston that is linked to the slide, which retards its rearward movement until pressures are low enough for it to safely move back and start extracting the spent case.

One big advantage of this gas-retarding system is that it has enabled HK to keep the size of both the eight and 13-shot 9mm P7 pistols remarkably compact. Consequently, when I removed my P7M10 from its box, I was surprised to see that it was much bigger and heavier than the 9mm P7s. A closer inspection quickly determined that all the bulk and weight is actually in the slide, which is some 3/8 inch greater in height than that of the 9mm squeeze cockers.

The reason for the larger slide is to enable the pistol to handle the.40 S&W cartridge. While the .40 S&W cartridge has the advantage of being able to be accommodated in a 9mm-size auto, it is a hotter cartridge. In this respect, Heckler & Koch are not alone, for most other companies have had to beef up certain areas of their.40 S&W pistols to enable them to stand up to the increased pressures.

Another area where the new pistol does differ with the earlier squeeze cockers is its rifling. While the 9mm P7s all have polygonal bores, the P7M10's barrel has conventional rifling. The difference between the two is that normal rifling has lands and grooves while a polygonal bore has the grooves merged into the lands and looks like a flattened circle.

In all other respects, however, the P7M10 is pretty much the same as the 9mm P7M13. Dimensionally, its overall length of 6.90 inches, barrel length of 4.13 inches and width of 1.30 inches is identical to that of the M13. While the P7M10 is bigger than the 9mm squeeze cockers, it is still more compact than most other makes of service .40 S&W autos. Being of the same overall length as the P7M13, it is quite a bit shorter than most of it competitors, although its height is about the same.

The P7M10's weight, however, does exceed virtually all of its competitors. Most of the alloy-frame service .40s weigh 32 ounces or less, and even the all-steel models only tip the scales at around 36 ounces. The P7M10's weight with magazine is almost 42.5 ounces, which is even more than the 38 ounces of a Colt 1911 .45 ACP.

When it comes to controls, the pistol has the same P7M13 ambidextrous magazine catch located on either side of the frame just behind the trigger. Its double-column magazine holds ten rounds, or 11 if the chamber is also loaded. The fixed front sight is secured to the front of the slide in a dovetail. The rear sight is secured in a similar manner and is drift adjustable for windage. The sights also have a white three-dot system for shooting in dim light conditions. The takedown catch is in the usual position on the left rear side of the frame. Depressing it and then pulling back on the slide enables it to be removed from the frame. That is really all that is involved in field stripping the pistol for normal cleaning and maintenance.

The pistol exhibited the same superb fit and finish that I have seen on all the P7s that I have handled. All the external metal surfaces had an even satin non-reflective blue finish. In passing, it is worth mentioning that all P7s, including this new M10, are now also available with a very attractive satin nickel finish. The black synthetic grips were very well fitted and had a non-slip pebble surface.

Because of its increase in weight and height, I was very interested in seeing how the P7M10's shooting characteristics would compare with the more compact 9mm models. To determine this, I took my personal P7M8 along when I evaluated the new pistol one clear, sunny day toward the end of July. I selected a fairly extensive range of .40 S&W ammunition, consisting of Black Hills 180-grain JHP, CorBon 150-grain JHP, Federal 180-grain Hydra-Shok JHP, Pro Load 150-grain JHP, together with Winchester 155-grain Silvertip HP, 180-grain JHP and their new "Black Talon" 180-grain SXT to shoot in the pistol.

The pistol's accuracy potential was evaluated by shooting it from a seated bench rest at 25 yards. As indicated by the accompanying accuracy chart, it produced above-average accuracy with most loads. With the exception of the CorBon and Pro Load 150-grain JHP, all groups were 3 3/8 inches or under. The tightest group, which was shot with Winchester "Black Talon" 180-grain SXT, measured a remarkable 1 1/2 inches, which is excellent for a combat pistol. Incidentally, this new Winchester ammunition seems to be very accurate in other calibers, because I have shot similar tight groups in a Colt 10mm Delta Elite and an Officer's .45 ACP.

As far as the pistol's handling characteristics were concerned, it was very pleasant to shoot. Recoil from the bench was surprisingly mild, largely due no doubt to the heavy slide. The sights presented a very clear sight picture, while the nice, easy trigger helped to ensure that I fired the pistol without disturbing my sight alignment.

I then put the pistol through my standard mini-practical course to determine its defensive shooting performance. Starting off at five yards, two shots were fired using a one-handed point. The same exercise was then repeated at seven yards with one hand but using the sights. Thereafter, aimed two-shot strings were fired at ten, 15 and 20 yards using a two-handed hold.

The time taken to fire each two-shot string was recorded using an electronic timer. During this shooting session, I took the opportunity to try out a new TFP Speed Timer being offered by TFP/Global Business Connections, Inc., Dept. GAH, 2121 Castlebridge Rd., Midlothian, VA 23113. The timer, which is very compact, is one of several offered by this company and can also be used as a chronograph. The suggested retail cost of this particular model is $175.95, and I found it very simple and easy to use.

During this part of the evaluation, I also shot my own 9mm P7M8 to compare its handling characteristics with the P7M10. I did a total of three runs over the course with both pistols because it has been some time since I have shot a P7.

My best performance with both pistols was achieved during their final runs, and as the accompanying chart shows, there was very little to choose between either pistol. Like my experience with other.40 S&W caliber auto pistols, I was able to shoot my 9mm P7 slightly faster and with a little more accuracy. Even so, the difference was so slight that it was hardly noticeable.

During the entire exercise, I could hardly feel any difference in recoil when shooting the pistols. What I did feel was the difference in weight. The smaller 9mm P7M8 did, of course, feel much more compact and lighter, yet the more I shot the heavier M10 the more I liked it. Its greater weight was enough to steady the pistol and keep the sights on target without tiring my arms. I also tried carrying the pistol in a belt holster and found that I could wear it without really noticing it any more than when I carried the P7M8.

As far as reliability was concerned, the pistol shot everything I put through it without a single malfunction. I must confess that this combined with the pistol's pleasant shooting characteristics left me with a much more favorable impression of the P7M10 than when I first took it out of its box. My initial feeling was that in having to beef up the pistol to enable it to handle the large .40 S&W cartridge, HK had sacrificed many of the advantages that the 9mm P7s have in compactness. The fact is, while the new pistol is heavier and a bit larger, it is a very good shooter. My overall impression of the P7M10 as a service pistol is positive. On the plus side, it is a rugged, reliable, accurate pistol that is chambered for a cartridge that many see as being more effective than the 9mm. Its 10+1-round ammunition capacity gives it a reasonable amount of firepower, and it has all the good shooting and handling characteristics of the P7. While it is a bigger pistol than the 9mm squeeze cockers, it is still more compact than most of the other .40 S&W pistols currently available.

Its only real drawbacks are its weight and price. The former did not worry me, and I don't think it will bother others if the pistol is carried in a well-designed holster and belt. As far as price is concerned, the suggested retail cost of $1,259 is high but certainly not out of line with the current price of $1,219 for the P7M13. In any event, those who like the HK squeeze-cocking pistols will probably consider this new P7M10 worth the price just for its high quality of workmansip, uniqueness of design, pleasant shooting qualities and the fact it is chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge.

Information courtesy of Heckler and Koch