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Heckler & Koch HK45 Compact Tactical

Chosen by the Navy SEALs as a concealable combat handgun, this compact HK is versatile, powerful, and reliable.

October 10, 2013  |  by Bob Parker - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of Robert Parker.
Photo courtesy of Robert Parker.
Editor's note: View our "HK45 Compact Tacticalphoto gallery for detailed photos of the pistol.

Heckler & Koch's HK45 pistols were originally developed for the U.S. military's next-generation handgun competition. So they are thoroughly modern pistols with polymer frames to keep them light, interchangeable backstraps for improved hand fit, and Picatinny rails for accessories such as lights and lasers.

The Compact Tactical version of the HK45 (HK45CT) offers all of these features and more in a very concealable package. Like its predecessors, it is a rugged and robust .45 ACP combat handgun.

Modern Ergonomics

You can tell very quickly when you open the box that the HK45CT is more than just an update of the combat proven HK USP Compact. Ergonomically, this is a 21st-century pistol all the way, but it offers the reliability and toughness of a classic HK. More on that in a moment. For now, let's discuss the pistol's ergonomics and features.

HK45 pistols, including the Compact Tactical, fit the shooter's hand much better than previous HK handguns. The reason is the interchangeable backstrap, which is easily changed by the operator.

Heckler & Koch has been making polymer-framed pistols for nearly three decades, so it's no surprise that the HK45 models follow this trend. They have high-impact polymer frames and steel barrels.

The slides on the HK45 series have been rounded and are slimmer than those found on the company's USP models. They also have a nice new feature. In addition to the rear cocking serrations, the HK45 pistols have serrations machined into the front of the slide. 

Grip-to-frame angle of both the full-sized HK45 and the HK45CT mimic that of the 1911 pistol. The result is that the HK45 pistols are almost as natural pointing as John Browning's legendary design. 

Under some circumstances the checkering on the HK45CT's grip helps the user keep a firm hold on the gun. But when your hands get wet with sweat, water, or blood, the checkering is not quite so adequate. HK may want to consider deeper checkering. Individual owners may want to use adhesive grip paper.  

Design and Features

One of the most repeated criticisms of HK's USP line of pistols has been the company's use of a proprietary accessories rail on the dust cover below the barrel. That proprietary rail, unlike a Picatinny MIL-STD-1913 rail, does not accommodate most lights and lasers. Which was a real problem for a lot of operators who favored HK pistols. HK solved that problem on the HK45 line by fitting the pistols with Picatinny rails.

The HK45CT accepts 8- and 10-round, double stack magazines. A distinctive feature on the 10-round magazines is an extended floor plate that some shooters call an "elephant foot." Owners of full-size HK45s can use their 10-round magazines in the compact HK45CT.

Like so many pistols of current manufacture, the HK45CT's trigger guard has serrations on the front.  I'm not sure of the purpose for this. No conventional pistol grip that I know of utilizes this surface. One excellent aspect of the trigger guard for law enforcement use is that it is large enough to accommodate a gloved finger.

The HK45CT sports three-dot tritium night sights, and they are a vast improvement over the ones atop the full size HK45. Ambient room light, a flashlight, or sunlight can all activate them.

Dimensions of the HK45CT are pretty much what you would expect to see on a compact, concealable handgun. Overall length is 7.91 inches; height, 5.5 inches; and width, 1.5 inches. The barrel is threaded to accommodate a suppressor, 4.57 inches long, polygonal, with a right-hand twist, and a sight radius of 5.58 inches.

An O-ring on the HK45CT gives the pistol a tight barrel to slide lockup. These rings usually last several thousand rounds and are easily replaced. 

A polymer buffer is found on the recoil spring and guide rod. HK says this internal mechanical recoil reduction system reduces the recoil forces by 30%, making the pistol more controllable during rapid fire sequences and also reducing the impact and wear on the weapon's parts. The recoil system is one of the reasons that the HK45CT is rated by the manufacturer for +P and +P+ ammunition.

Mechanically Sound

HK45 pistols like the HK45CT are clearly very contemporary, but it's interesting to note that they still use the time-tested, recoil-operated Browning linkless cam system that was pioneered for the Hi-Power.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the HK45CT's mechanics is that it is so easily adapted to fit a variety of operator needs. The HK45CT is actually sold in a wide variety of configurations.

The HK45CT is available in nine variants: standard single action/double action, and enhanced double action only (law enforcement modification (LEM) model). Variant 3 will only decock the hammer and not safe the pistol, and is now carried in the holsters of U.S. SOCOM operators, including Navy SEALs. 

One of the more interesting aspects of the HK45 models is that the pistol can be changed into another variant by its owner. And it's easy to do, with a little mechanical know how (and I have very little). A detent plate found on the left side is exposed when the slide is removed. So it's a fairly simple process to remove this detent plate and replace it with a new one. Changing the pistol from a non-LEM variant to the LEM variant, however, requires a few parts changes and is probably best left to an armorer or gunsmith.

The control lever is usually mounted on the left side of the frame (variant 1), but it can be positioned to the right side for left-handed shooters (variant 2). An ambidextrous control lever is also available.

Slide release and magazine release levers are ambidextrous on the HK45CT. The paddle ambidextrous magazine release is located at the bottom of the trigger guard. Your trigger finger, thumb, or both can activate it. This is an extremely well-engineered and thought-out feature. If you use a thumbs forward grip when shooting this pistol, it's easy to ride the top of the slide release and prevent the slide from locking open after the last round is fired.

Rugged and Accurate

Reliability is a principal consideration when selecting a pistol. I fired approximately 500 rounds through my HK45CT without cleaning or lubrication. That's not a lot by some standards, but more than enough to demonstrate the little HK pistol's tough, combat reputation. Although not common, replacing the trigger return spring after several thousand rounds seems to be one of the few parts replacements necessary on the HK45CT.

The HK45CT's trigger is not a match trigger. Its double-action pull is a heavy 11.5 pounds; single-action pull is 4.5 pounds. The trigger is also a little gritty, with a somewhat lengthy travel, but not bad for a combat pistol.

Results on the range were as expected with an HK. The HK45CT is extremely accurate for a compact combat pistol. 

A total of 400 rounds were pumped through my HK45CT for this test and evaluation. Ammunition used included Hornady Critical Duty 220-grain FlexLock +P, Hornady Custom 230-grain +P, and an assortment of ball ammo from PMC, Federal, and Winchester.

Hornady's 220-grain +P Flexlock round is the company's most recent offering in its line of defensive rounds. This +P round came out of the HK45CT's barrel at an average of 995 feet per second, a little faster than the factory rating of 990 feet per second. Of course, the summer ambient temperatures where I shoot (South Florida) are always in the 90s and that probably explains the difference. But one word of advice, even with the pistol's recoil reduction system, you can tell you're firing a +P round. 

Slow fire accuracy shooting from the off-hand position was more than acceptable. The HK45CT is very capable of shooting large, ragged holes (10 rounds) at 7 yards. Both ball and specialty ammo all fed well through the pistol with no stoppages, and the brass ejected 7 to 9 feet at a 4 o'clock angle.

Rapid-fire strings were controllable even with the additional muzzle flip from the +P rounds.  Headshots on a silhouette target at 7 yards were easily accomplished.

The pistol did not seem to have a preference for any particular round. Bullet weight or configuration did not make any remarkable difference. Even some 230-grain, round nose handloads were dead-on accurate. Hits on targets placed at 15 yards, grouped at around 3 inches when fired from a standing position.

During some combat scenario drills where speed reloads were required, the ambidextrous paddle magazine release worked extremely well. Although not beveled, the magazine well easily accepts a fresh magazine.

The HK45CT is extremely reliable, combat tough, and accurate. Obviously these attributes played a major role in the Navy's approval of this pistol for use by the SEALS and other Naval Special Warfare units. It's an excellent handgun for on-duty or off-duty concealed carry.

Heckler & Koch HK45 Compact Tactical Specs:

Caliber: .45 ACP

Capacity: 8 or 10 rounds

Weight (empty): 1.82 pounds

Overall Width: 1.54 inches

Overall Length: 7.91 inches

Barrel Length: 4.57 inches

Sight Radius: 5.58 inches

Barrel Profile: Polygonal, right-hand twist, threaded

Trigger Pull: SA, 4.5 pounds; DA, 11.46 pounds

Sights: Three-dot fixed

Safety: Automatic hammer safety and firing pin, manual or decocking, depending on variant

Price: $1,193 (DA/SA with control lever), $1,260 (LEM enhanced DAO model without control lever)

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) Police Department for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He has trained thousands of law enforcement instructors in the NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.

Tags: Heckler & Koch, Firearms Reviews, Tactical Gear, Duty Pistols, .45 ACP, Hornady

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Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Jack Hunter @ 10/10/2013 10:01 PM

Are you sure about the night sights? Ambient light does NOT activate night sights. Tritium glows by itself, slightly radioactive. Last Seal I talked to says they are still issued Sig P 226s. Heckler & Koch have made fine weapons for years, their only shortcomings are they don't listen to their customers, and their customer service is a joke. I tried to get an ambi safety for a USP compact 45, they told me it would be 3 months, 12 months later, they said they got ONE in. I traded for a glock.

GP Cobb @ 10/11/2013 9:38 AM

Well Jack that about does it for HK for me. I won't trade the 1911 for that design then and I wouldn't have a glock if I had room for a sawmill. I've never felt the need for a gunsmith with a variety of 1911 manufacturers.

bob parker @ 10/22/2013 6:33 PM

Jack: Editing problem caused the confusion. The Luminova sights on the full-size HK45 need a light source to charge them. And you're correct. Tritium sights on the HK45CT need no charge. The Navy uses the MK24 Model 0 (HK45CT) and the SIG P226 (MK25 Model 0). Thanks

Don Griffin @ 11/17/2013 6:00 PM

I bought a 45c and sent it to HK to have the safety removed and an LEM trigger put in. Sent it on Monday, they called on Wed. and I got it back on Friday. Great people, great pistol...4.5 pull every time. It is my concealed carry weapon of choice, with the flat 8 round clip. Why no safety? A revolver doesn't have one, a Glock doesn't have one...you are just quicker, no fumbling. dg

CJ @ 1/29/2014 5:29 PM

"Like so many pistols of current manufacture, the HK45CT's trigger guard has serrations on the front. I'm not sure of the purpose for this. No conventional pistol grip that I know of utilizes this surface".

Sir, I believe the serrations on the front of the trigger guard are for a grip that was once fairly common that employed the off hand index finger wrapped around the front of the guard.

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