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Reviews : Arsenal

Walther P99 Duty Pistol

A hallmark of Teutonic technology, the P99 offers innovation and rugged reliability in the field.

April 01, 2002  |  by Roy Huntington

Ergonomics and overall useability of the P99 were rated high by Police testers. Accuracy was tops with ammo tested.

In 1886 Carl Walther decided he wanted to build handguns and was enamored with the idea of an "automatic" pistol. That first pistol, the Walther Model 1, finally saw the light of day in 1908 and rode in the holsters of virtually every German officer in the first "big" war. Walther's reputation began to grow and by the time Fritz Walther (Carl's son) developed the famous PP/PPK series in 1929, Walther was the premier handgun builder in Germany.

With the advent of the P-38, the world's first full-sized, practical double/single action auto pistol chambered in a "serious" caliber (9mm), Walther raised the bar on handgun design.

At over 100 years old these days, Walther continues to innovate in the world of handgun design. In 1994 the German police went looking for a replacement for the Walther P88 pistol. The P88 was a beautifully engineered machine that functioned flawlessly. But in typical German fashion, it was all steel and a machinist's dream (nightmare). Cost, weight, and magazine capacity forced the polizei to make some changes.

A Clean Slate

After carefully examining virtually every model of potential police pistol out there, Walther made some decisions. The new design would need to be light, so a polymer frame was decided upon. Magazine capacity needed to be 16 rounds, so a "high-cap" body was designed. Walther was also smart enough to hire famous Olympic handgun grip designer Morini to design the ergonomically pleasing P99 grip.

Using four inserts in the backstrap, the P99 grip can be "customized" to fit virtually anyone's hand. Things were looking good.

One of the most important issues was the action of the design. Not wanting to simply copy the Glock or SiG designs, Walther cleaned off the table, burned some midnight black-forest oil and drafted a new concept in semi-auto actions.

The ambidextrous magazine release levers are well-placed and work positively. A simple, natural movement downward ejects the magazine smartly.

Although the P99 functions like a typical Browning-inspired dropping barrel design, the trigger group has some surprises. The fairly standard double- to single-action striker-fired basic design doesn't rely on any levers or buttons to function. There is no side-mounted decocking lever but a slick hidden "button" installed neatly in the top of the slide on the port side, just in front of the rear sight. It sounds funny but it works as slick as fresh axle grease. You just reach up and push it with either your shooting hand thumb or the off-hand thumb. It's sort of one of those "Why haven't I thought of that before" things.

Now is where it gets really interesting. A shooter has a choice of a double-action first shot, a "single-action" first shot with a long trigger pull or a short-throw, single-action first shot (by starting the trigger back slightly to a locking position). Confused? It sounds way more confusing than it is in the real world. It just takes a few minutes and then you'll have it clicking and clacking with the best of 'em.

Frankly, the standard double-action pull is light and smooth with the corresponding "single-action" pull offering a clean-breaking "4.496 pounds" (gotta' love those precise Germans). If you want to "decock" from the single-action "Glock-like" mode, just punch that magic button on the port side and you're in business, back in double-action. Clever, those Walther people.

The “bits and pieces” come apart easily and clean-up was simple. The Tenifer finish on the slide is corrosion resistant and harder than a file to help alleviate the bumps and bruises of patrol work.

Features and More Features

Since the P99 is striker-fired, there is a handy striker nose poking out from the rear if the gun is cocked. You can see and feel it easily. Additionally, the extractor is pushed out slightly if the chamber is loaded so with a quick glance or an equally quick tap of a nervous finger tip, you can check to see if you're cocked and loaded as it were.

The rear of the striker can be seen and felt if the P99 is in the cocked, single-action mode.

When it comes to safeties, the P99 has them in spades. Look for a striker safety (like a firing pin block) that will only allow the striker forward if the trigger is fully to the rear. There is also an "out of battery" safety to prevent firing if the slide is out of battery (actually, most autos won't fire in this mode, so maybe Walther is cheating a bit on this one?). There is a trigger-based safety and the decocker.

But, with the long double-action trigger pull, the safest mode is to leave it just like that. The only way the P99 can go off then is to pick it up and pull the trigger on purpose. All the other goodies are icing on the cake and help to prevent those "Ah, 'er, 'um, here's what happened, Sarge" conversations that can sometimes occur at the most inopportune moments in one's career.

The magazine release is set up for ambidextrous use and is a clever lever system, like the ones on H&Ks, but smaller and more sculptured. Located at the rear of the trigger guard, a quick press "down" and the mags pop right out. MegGar makes the 16 round 9mm cop magazines and the 12 round .40 cop magazines for Walther. They appear to be top quality, and that's not surprising since Walther does a first-class job on everything else. Non-law enforcement models come with 10 round mags.

The mag well isn't beveled and in all honesty, it wouldn't hurt to see it done. If the factory doesn't see fit to do it, a few minutes with a sharp knife (thanks to that polymer frame) would take care of the problem. Did it slow us down on reloads? Not that we could notice, but every little bit may help when the chips are dropping lower and lower.

Sights are a pretty standard three-dot set-up, with the rear adjustable for windage. The cool part is Walther sends extra front sight blades of differing heights to adjust for elevation, depending upon your particular duty load. That's awfully handy. Don't forget those grip profile inserts too. Sometimes it's the little things that count.

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