An HK “Friday afternoon” gun? A P30 that shoots to the left…

My regular readers already know the story of my love/hate relationship with the HK P30 9mm with the V4/TGS LEM trigger that I bought this year and took to Rogers Shooting School.  If you’re new ’round these parts, please take a moment to read the most consistently popular article on my blog.  If you have several hours to spare, check out the epic discussion it spawned over at pistol-forum.

I accepted delivery of this P30 in February 2014 after ordering it through a fantastic “kitchen table” FFL here in the Bay Area, Chris Chambers at Digital Instincts.  (Very highly recommended if you live in or near the Bay Area, BTW.)  Not too long after I got the P30, I managed to come within a hair’s breadth of blowing out every tendon attached to my right elbow through training/overuse injuries, limiting my ability to shoot at my usual standards.  As I got up to speed with the P30 I suspected that it shot to the left, but with my injured arm, it was hard to tell for sure.

P30-Slide-Dawson-Tritium-FrontPartway through my intensive 2.5 month Rogers train-up program, I switched out the factory sights for a plain-black 10-8 rear sight and a Dawson Precision tritium front at the recommendation of Darryl Bolke, aka “nyeti”. The white ring on the tritium front was colored fluorescent orange using a paint pen.  Using precision measuring equipment in my home machine shop, I very carefully centered the sights on the same line that the factory sights had occupied, aligned with the rib along the top of the P30 slide.

Fast forward to my week Rogers Shooting School, where the P30 and I did not do well together.  From the very first day I was shooting frustratingly below my usual standards.  Long story short, I should have been pushing the lower bounds of an Intermediate ranking with scores in the 80’s.

Instead, it turned out that I did not earn a rating on The Rogers Test at all using the P30.  On my very last run at The Test, on Friday morning, I gave up on the P30 and squeaked out a Basic rating (still quite an achievement) using an M&P Pro borrowed from the school armory.  I left Rogers happy with what I’d learned and achieved, but profoundly dissatisfied with the P30.

I recorded HD video of some very solid freestyle shooting (slow-mo version) during a range session earlier this week on a day when I was feeling 99% recovered from my tendonitis.  The results left me convinced that three factors were at play:

  • The gun was definitely shooting to the left
  • I was likely shooting low at 10yd, possibly burying the dot in the notch (software issue)
  • The sights might be regulated a bit low (hardware issue)

The indoor range most convenient to me has one downside: the lane tables are not stable, and you can tilt most of them back and forth about 20 degrees.  Nonetheless, I ordered a Caldwell Deadshot Shooting Bag Combo on Friday (thank you Amazon same-day delivery!) and found a few hours today to get to the range and test-shoot the P30 side-by-side with a USP Compact 9mm (direct ancestor to the P30) from both supported and freestyle shooting positions.

The USP Compact served as both an experimental control for the improvised bench-rest and as an interesting comparison to the P30. The USPc and the P30 are different generations of the same gun, with the most significant external change being different grip shapes and sizes.  I even used P30 mags to feed both guns, if that tells you how closely related they are.

Please note that the vertical stringing is due to the unpredictable fore-and-aft tilting of the lane table, made even more tippy by stacking the big Deadshot bag on top of my double-depth Pelican gun case.  It was not unlike trying to do precision shooting while balancing on a playground seesaw:

There was one trigger-push flyer in the first test group.  The rest of the group was clustered around 2″ to the left of the target dot on the 10-inch paper plate.  I was shooting with a very careful drive-the-dot sight picture from a supported position — at this distance, I was referencing the corners of the front sight blade against the flat circle on the plate.  I later shot two 10-round/10yd freestyle (unsupported) strings back-to-back with the now-adjusted P30 and the USPc, which showed that it’s definitely me holding a bit low.

How much did I have to adjust the rear sight to get things to line up?  Quite a bit, as it turned out, although I got it squared away pretty quickly with only two strings of test fire before locking it down:

P30-Slide-10-8-Rear-Offset

Yeah, that’s a pretty significant adjustment.

Here’s the thing — a gun that shoots 2″ left at 10yd leaves damn little room for error on an 8-inch circular target.  At 15yd, you have a tiny 1-inch margin for error before you’re off the left edge of the plate, while at 22yd (the farthest target at Rogers) it would basically be impossible for me to score a hit if I held the sights perfectly on center.  Sure enough, when I went back and looked at some of my helmet-cam videos from Rogers captured while I walked the course post-shoot, those back targets all had hits on the left side or left edge, when I hit them at all.

The lesson here is simple: even if every gun you’ve bought from a given company has shot straight right out of the box, even if it’s HK, the next one you buy may be a bit off.  The gnomes in Germany aren’t infallible, and in this case, I got a P30 that shoots to the left.  I doubted what I was seeing in practice leading up to Rogers, because everyone kept telling me I was mashing the trigger wrong, or that it was a grip/stance issue, or whatever.  I should have had more conviction in my ability to diagnose a gun with sight-alignment issues, since I was the one actually shooting the gun.

After adjusting the rear sight the P30 is shooting fine for me now, as seen on the test target.  Even so, I’m considering sending it back to HK after the next USPSA match, as I’d feel bad selling someone else a gun with sights this wonky.  It’s still eminently reliable and shoot straight now that the sights are adjusted, but… yeah.

Update: Based on feedback from experts at pistol-forum.com and via private messages, I’ve been reassured that this is well within the normal range of adjustment for a straight-from-the-factory pistol, even if I’ve never seen this happen with an HK pistol before.  As such, I won’t be going to the effort of working with HK to get it checked out, with the corresponding downtime while the gun is out for service.

Next Steps: The current front sight is a 0.125-inch-wide, 0.155-inch-tall Dawson Precision tritium unit.  I’d like a bit more light around the front blade, and I really liked the narrow blade, high-centered fiber-optic front sight I saw on Manny Bragg’s STI at Rogers.  I’d also like to compensate for my tendency to hit 1″ low at 10yd, which translates to a 0.140 tall sight.  Seems like it’s time to custom order a 0.100W/0.140T fiber optic sight from Dawson…

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