The Heckler & Koch P7M8 is a gun that can’t be mistaken for anything else once you’ve seen it. When you say the name Heckler & Koch, several iconic guns come to mind immediately, covering a wide range of weapons systems. The G3 assault rifle was revolutionary when it came out in 1959, introducing the world to roller-lock-style weapons. The MP5 submachine gun is possibly one of the most recognizable and bestselling weapons of the last 40 years for law enforcement anywhere on earth. And the MK23 series of pistols, which were first delivered to USSOCOM shortly after H&K was awarded a production contract in June 1995, marked the first time H&K had been awarded a contract for making handguns for the U.S. military.
The Heckler & Koch P7M8 pistol, chambered in 9x19mm (9mm Luger or Parabellum), was at one time unsuccessfully marketed to the United States Department of Defense during the hunt for a replacement of the 1911 combat pistol in the early 1980s. One glance at the P7M8, and you can tell it certainly looks different than more well-known pistols. The slide and barrel sit much lower on the frame than, say, a Beretta 92 series or a Ruger P95 pistol.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that this is my wife’s pistol—a gift from her father—and I despise this gun with everything in my being. It seems like every time I take it out with her to shoot it, someone sees it and wants to ask questions about it. The P7M8 is getting harder and harder to find nowadays, driving the cost of one in good condition to anywhere from $1500 to $2200. I’m sure when Heckler & Koch made this design, they had no idea how polarizing it would be. There seems to be no middle ground; people either love or despise this pistol.
I am in the latter of the two camps. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of that division of feelings stems from the “squeeze grip” design on the front strap of the gun. This quote from Wikipedia best sums up the mechanism as a whole:
Squeezing the cocking lever with a force of 70 N (15.7 lbf) cocks the firing pin. Once fully depressed, only two pounds of force are required to keep the weapon cocked. The weapon is then fired by pressing the single stage trigger rated at approximately 20 N (4.5 lbf). As long as the lever is depressed, the weapon fires like any other semi-automatic pistol. If the lever is released, the weapon is immediately de-cocked and rendered safe.
It might have been revolutionary when it was made in 1978, but I personally find it cumbersome and awkward. It makes you keep constant pressure on the grips to keep the gun cocked, so if you tend to limp-wrist your shots, you will end up cocking and uncocking your pistol inadvertently. That said, I’d imagine since it was designed for law enforcement, if drawn in the line of duty, the massive amounts of adrenaline in your body would make squeezing that 15.7 pounds of force seem like nothing at all.
If you stop to consider when this gun was produced, there are several features that set it apart from most of its peers of the time. It featured a truly ambidextrous safety, and a cocking indicator that protruded from the rear of the pistol when the gun was cocked.
As odd as the P7M8 is to grip, the trigger is butter smooth. I’m not a mechanical engineer, and I have no idea what kind of voodoo magic they put in this at the Oberdorf H&K factory, but it’s an awesome trigger indeed. Not great enough to make me want to become a fan of the pistol, but it’s noteworthy.
I’m a huge fan of firearms in general, and I tend to read a lot about them, but with all my knowledge, there are still a lot of things about this pistol that shocked me. Heckler & Koch used a delayed-action blowback system (below) for their P7—think of a hybrid pistol/piston-AR15 setup. I was oblivious to any design like this until I began to read about it for this article.
The P7 also uses a polygonal rifling system, which, if you are used to looking at traditional land-and-groove-style rifling, might make you think the pistol has been “shot-out”—meaning no rifling remains. That’s not the case; look at the differences below.
You can see in the diagrams what I mean when I say the P7 has a hybrid piston-AR15/pistol system. The idea that this concept was around for this long in this pistol family before it made its way into rifles is puzzling. I would have expected engineers to try it on other pistols or weapons systems, but the lackluster sales in North America might have put this entire line of thought on the back burner, especially after it was rejected early on in the U.S. Department of Defense trials in the early 1980s.
The hefty price tag during its production run from 1978 until 2008 definitely hurt sales; combine that with the emerging flood of U.S.-built 9mm pistols during that time and it’s not hard to see the end result. Another drawback to the P7M8 that likely hurt its chances at success: Compared to its domestically produced, typically high-capacity competition, the P7 came equipped with an eight-round single-stack magazine. Even today, with the gun having been produced for 30 years, magazines are hard to find and expensive compared to anything else in its class.
Polygonal rifling was first proposed in 1853 by a British engineer and entrepreneur for barrels on cannons. Today, there are six major pistol companies that still use polygonal rifling instead of traditional rifling. They are Heckler & Koch, Tanfoglio, Kahr Arms, Glock, Magnum Research, and CZ-USA. Fans of polygonal barrels have touted many ways it’s superior to traditional rifling. Those reasons include:
- Not compromising the barrel’s thickness in the area of each groove as with traditional rifling
- Providing a better gas seal around the projectile
- Lesser chance of projectile deformation
- Reduced fouling and build up of debris in barrel
- Prolonged barrel life
I’m skeptical of the claims made by the manufacturers of pistols with polygonal barrels; they have a vested interest in touting the “advancements” in the designs of their products and are trying to gets sales in any legal way they can. They also have shareholders who want good quarterly profit reports, high stock values, and increased market share. That’s not to say they aren’t well-made pistols, I just prefer what I carry and shoot.
This isn’t the first or the last unique pattern of weapon Heckler & Koch has created. Some of these have been well received by the shooting community like the Universal Self Loading Pistol, or USP as we now know it. Others like the P7M8 or the HK-4 never caught traction.
So there you have it: a quick rundown and review of the Heckler & Koch P7M8 pistol chambered in 9mm. It was often overlooked when it first came out in favor of the “wonder nines” like the Glock family of pistols, but it served with distinction with the New Jersey State Police and the U.S. National Park Police Department.
Hope you enjoyed our quick look at a very unique and odd pistol, be sure the check back often, like us on Facebook and help spread the word the The Arms Guide is back in business.