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  1. #1
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    Default Walther P99 Review

    There and Back Again: A Handgun Tale (Walther P99 AS Review)



    Picking up a handgun for the first time is a memorable experience, even when you don't like it. There's just something about it; the feeling of such power in such a vulnerable creation as the human hand. Also, there's almost always a slight feeling of intimidation or nervousness, and for some, those feelings rise to the level of outright fear. But after the first shot or two, both types of feelings subside and give way to a whole new exciting experience; a sense of responsibility, and, if you actually managed to hit your target, a sense of pride or accomplishment. Some folks may tend to use different words to describe it, but that's generally the gist of it. Like anything new, it can be terrifying and promising at the same time, and for some well-aged gunnies, it's the search for that feeling that compels them to keep buying guns or trying new styles or types of shooting.

    My very first handgun was an HK USP .40 that I won on a $1.00 ticket at a gun bash for the sportsmen's club I belonged to (yes, you read that right, a $1.00 ticket, of which I bought 5 of and won a gun that listed for nearly $800 at the time - hate me or envy me, your choice). When I went to pick it up and do the transfer, I was as nervous as any first-time handgun buyer. I owned a few rifles at the time, and I was certainly not new to firearms, but this was my first handgun, and that was special. After filling out the paperwork, making sure to dot my “i's” and cross my “t's”, lest some federal jackboots in black helicopters descend on my position and haul my rearend straight to the Federal graybar motel, I immediately made a mad dash in the car to my range.

    When I finally got to the range, I took the gun out of the case and studied it for a few minutes. It's no secret to some how well HK handguns are made, but it was new to me at the time. The concept of a “plastic” gun seemed a little odd to me, but as I took note of the sheer brilliance of the engineering and the subtle features that makes an HK what an HK is, I become immediately at ease with the whole idea. Having never owned a handgun before, I didn't know how one was supposed to comfortably sit in my hand, how the trigger should feel or how accurate it should be, but to me, at that time, it felt just right. Thinking back on it, I imagine it's similar to the first time someone has vanilla ice cream; it's new, it's nifty and it's definitely good, so how much better could it get? But then, inevitably, we go on to try chocolate, strawberry and all manners of flavors from Rocky Road to the oddball concoctions made by Ben and Jerry's or the local ice cream shop. And that's exactly how my experience with the HK went. I was in love with it, I thought it was everything a handgun should be; it was simply perfect. However, that entire notion came crashing to a halt the first time I picked up a Walther P99.

    It was sometime during the summer of 2000 as I recall, that I walked into my local gun shop and started looking at the guns on display in the glass cases for something new or different. Since winning the HK, I'd purchased a Steyr M9, a Magnum Research Baby Eagle and a Springfield XD, the latter purchased only the week before. I enjoyed all of those guns immensely for what was really good about them and I took them warts and all. The Steyr's grip was tiny, which aided in concealment but made it a little uncomfortable to shoot in my large hands and I disliked the odd Steyr “trapezoid sights”. The Baby Eagle's grip felt like it was nearly built for me specifically, the sights were damn near perfect and the trigger was amazing compared to any other handgun I'd shot, but the damn thing was simply too heavy for concealment purposes. The XD was a really good gun, but in a bland and boring way. Nothing really set it apart from the others except that while it had no “wow-factor” for me, it really didn't have any negative aspects to it (aside from perhaps the finish on the gun, which was known to rust easily at the time, though mine never did). I had fallen in and out and in and out of love with the HK during this time. I loved the “Hostile Environment” finish on the HK, I beat the living snot out of that gun and it took the beating and still looked the same as when I bought it. The sights were good, though not as good to me as those on the Baby Eagle. The HK's trigger was fair, a little spongy and a tad long perhaps, but the reset was short enough for me to work with and it had a good overall feel to it (though again, it couldn't compare to how short, solid and crisp the Magnum Research's trigger was). It was maybe a little on the large side for concealment, but I made it work when I carried it (mostly in the winter).

    So enter the Walther P99. The grip felt as good as the Baby Eagle's, almost as if it were sculpted with my hands in mind. The trigger, while not as crisp as the Baby Eagle's, was every bit as solid, had a shorter pull and the reset had a better feel and less travel to it than any gun I'd ever laid my hands on. The sights were better than any other handgun I'd held up to that point and as a bonus, the P99's are finished using the Melonite process, which is simply another trade name for the near-indestructable Tennifer finish of Glock fame. I whipped out the plastic and went home with my new German pistol chambered in 9mm Parabellum.

    I practiced with and carried that gun for a couple of years and I loved it on day 600 every bit as much as I did on day 1, if not even a little more. It had some minor negative points like any gun would (the mag release was a pain in the rear to use sometimes as it was too small for me and the rear dovetail underneath the slide curved down enough to rub my hand raw after a prolonged session of shooting), but overall, I loved it; which is why I still can't fully explain why I sold it to one of my best friends a couple of years ago. Maybe it was that whole searching out the new gun feeling thing again, or my newfound infatuation with the .45ACP round that prompted me to buy an HK .45 Compact and three 1911's. I don't know to be honest, I just know that no other gun has been as accurate and comfortable in my hands as that first P99 I held about 7 years ago.

    I've had a rough time shooting handguns over the years. Having been informally trained by a number of diverse individuals had my stance all mixed into a messy blend of every popular stance known to man (with a few not known to man thrown in for fun) and I believed that as a result, my accuracy with handguns has always suffered. I have a semi-custom Springfield 1911 with a 4.5lb trigger that I can't shoot any better than I can any other handgun I own, and I'm not one to blame the guns themselves for accuracy issues. But, thinking back to how well I always shot that P99, there was some doubt to that in the back of my mind...maybe these guns just don't fit me the way the P99 did?

    So, a few weeks back, I'm pondering on buying a new 9mm to go with the FNP SAO I'd purchased a couple of months ago. I searched and searched for anything new that had come out that might pique my interest, but nothing really did. The FNP SAO is as close to a polymer 1911 as I think any design has gotten aside from STI's 2011 guns, so to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my FNP is an understatement, and I knew that I wouldn't buy another 9mm if I didn't think I'd like it as much as my FNP. Suddenly, like a two-ton heavy thing, an idea dawned on me, why not one of the new Walther P99's? They'd made some changes to the design over the years, including a less aggressive dovetail and a longer mag release, so what else could I possibly want that's out there? I was sold on the idea this past Sunday when I watched two movies, both of them having P99's in them. I didn't know if it was coincidence or the gun gods trying to tell me something, but as to avoid angering the gun gods, I went to my dealer on Monday afternoon and ordered a current model P99 AS in 9mm and took delivery of it Saturday morning. So enough about my sordid history with guns, let's get on to talking about the P99.


    There are a few changes in the P99's since 2004, most notably the reshaped trigger guard, the change from Walther's own accessory rail to a standard rail as found on most polymer handguns and the elongated magazine release (as can be seen in the photo below where the new model is on the bottom). On the AS models, the trigger is still the same, which is a wonderfully funky DA/AS/SA striker-fired design unique to Walther. When you chamber a round, the striker goes back, putting the gun into AS mode (anti-stress as Walther calls it). It's a single action mode, but the trigger is all the way forward as it would be in DA mode, yet the difference between AS and DA is that there is very little weight to the trigger pull until you get into where the SA mode comes in. When in AS mode, if you pull the trigger a little bit until you feel it click, the trigger will stay there (kind of like a set trigger design found on some rifles). This puts the gun into SA mode with a very short and light trigger pull, which is how the trigger would also automatically be set if you fired a round and allowed the trigger to reset, the distance of which is shorter than that on my 1911's, if only barely so (if you sneeze, this gun just might reset on you). However, if one prefers DA mode for carry or bedside gun duty, there is a decocker button on the top left of the slide to the rear. The DA pull is long and heavy, after 350 rounds mine feels to be about 10 or 11 pounds, where the SA pull feels closer to 3.5lbs or so, though it's listed as 5lbs in the Walther specifications. There is no manual safety on this gun, and I personally don't think it needs it. For a carry gun, it should spend 99% of its time in a holster (except when at the range) and so long as you don't press the trigger and fire the gun, it doesn't matter how light or short the trigger is. Though, if you're particularly safety conscious, you can always carry it in DA mode. Physically, the trigger is wide, textured on the face and curved aggressively into a secure little hook, which gives it an overall nice feel.



    Notice the differences in the two frames, including the lack of that dreaded ski-hump inside the new trigger guard.


    Walther is known for their engineering abilities, and I'd rank them right up there with Sig Sauer and Heckler and Koch personally, but where the P99 shines for many is not in it's design as related to function (though the trigger is damn nifty), it's in the ergonomic and visual elements of the gun. The grip design alone is a marvel, and after you hold this gun, it should come as no surprise that Walther contracted Morini, the maker of some of the best target and competition grips that can be made (which, of course means that they find themselves in the hands of some of the best shooters in the world). Now, to be clear, the Walther grip isn't some kind of oversized Olympic competition grip, it's an honest to goodness combat handgun grip, it just happens to be designed by someone that knows more about how the hand interfaces with the machine than any of us is ever likely to. And this pays off in spades by giving the shooter a grip that not only feels good and aids in handling and shooting the firearm, but with a total of 3 different sizes of changeable backstraps, it gives the user a grip that can be further tailored to the individual. Walther has been offering the extra backstraps since the P99's introduction in 1996, so at least some manufacturers are finally coming around. The overall grip size is very similar to a 1911, though the Browning design is more of an acute oval shape (as seen below in the comparison pic between the P99, an FNP SAO and a 1911 with a Smith and Alexander magwell).






    The sights are a bit of a non-standard affair as well as they're adjustable for windage via a screw in the base of the sight, which is unlike most combat type handguns being sold today. Also unique to the Walther is the fact that it ships with 3 additional front sight blades of differing heights, which really allows the shooter adjust the gun to the way they shoot and the ammo they carry if necessary. Other manufacturer's don't do this, and it's probably for good reason. Not only would it increase the cost as conventional front sights are more costly to produce, but the Walther front sight is a also little different in that it isn't fitted into a dovetail like conventional sights, it's secured from the underside of the slide using a small hex bolt, so swapping out front sights does not require a hammer, punch and a vice (or a gunsmith) like most other common handguns these days.

    The top of the slide is flattened and then serrated, a feature that reportedly reduces glare and is found on many high-end custom 1911's. Slide serrations are widely spaced and found only on the rear portion of the gun, but they do run all the way from the rear of the slide to the ejection port area. There are no front slide serrations, but they are not needed as the front of the slide is so short that they just wouldn't be very useful.


    As has become a more common standard feature on these types of pistols, the extractor functions as a loaded chamber indicator by moving inward at the rear when a round is chambered and revealing a small rectangle of red paint within the recess. The striker also functions as something of a trigger mode indicator; when in AS or SA mode, it protrudes from the rear of the slide and it has a little red dot painted on it. You can feel the protruding end of the striker in the dark, so you at least know whether the gun is in DA or AS/SA mode.

    The magazine is a standard doublestack mag as found on any other gun in it's class, however, Walther even outdid themselves in this aspect as well. No weld spots or lines can be found on them and the round count indicators actually work, unlike some other doublestack mags on the market. They also stamp the Walther logo, the gun model and the caliber into the mag body which is a nice touch.


    The P99 magazine (blued) compared to the FNP magazine (stainless)

    To round out the features of the gun, the slide stop is long and easily manipulated if one chooses to use that method to release the slide after inserting a fresh magazine. Unlike some other guns, where it appears to be intended that the user utilizes the slingshot method of chambering a round after slide lock, the Walther slide stop seems to be designed with those of us that use that to drop the slide in mind as they made it longer than seen on most other guns and it is serrated to improved traction. The decocker is unique in that it's not a lever on the slide or frame as seen on guns such as the HK USP, the Sig Sauer DA/SA guns or the Beretta 92; it's actually a button located within a recess on the slide. Simply press down and the trigger decocks into Double Action mode.

    The magazine release is a point of contention between fans of the older Walthers and fans of the new. If you scroll back up to the comparison photo between versions, you can see that the magazine release (located where the grip meets the trigger guard) is about an inch long on the newer version and as such, it runs halfway along the length of the trigger guard. Personally, I like it, I can easily manipulate the lever with any finger on any hand if need be, but it's in a position where I wouldn't normally drop the mag by unintentionally hitting the lever.

    One of the best features on this pistol is the fact that it is functionally dehorned at the factory. Every edge is rounded off and every line blends into the next, it is truly a work of art, one that a lot of people pay good money to have done on their carry guns by a gunsmith. No need for that kind of work on the P99, it's rounded like a bar of soap. Even the ejection port, which is also shaped differently than most any other guns on the market (reportedly to improve ejection performance), has the corners rounded off and blended into the slide.




    Even the case is better than standard. Instead of the usual molded plastic or the plastic box with two big pieces of foam, the Walther case has laser cut foam with cutouts for the gun, the extra magazine and two areas for accessories, extra backstraps, sight blades and maybe some tools or a bore snake. I went to work on the case myself by adding a cutout for the protruding end of my TLR-1 light.





    So, the real verdict, how does it shoot? Well, for me, it shoots better than any gun I have ever fired, which includes an impressive list of what's what in the realm of combat handguns (custom or otherwise). I shot 365 rounds (300 of various FMJ rounds and 65 HP's) today, and I find that I can rapid fire the center out of a 8x10 piece of paper at 10 yards seemingly all day long regardless of what stance or grip I use. Hell, it didn't matter whether I used the sights, used a threat-focused approach at near eye level or shot from the hip at 4 yards, I was still on paper and in the scoring ring for all but 10 errant shots. I also got to shoot 150 rounds with my Streamlight TLR-1 attached (20 of them in complete darkness aside from the light) and as a bonus, not only is the light useful, but the extra weight up front allowed for faster follow-up shots; never a bad thing. My concentrated accuracy test involved shooting the staple at each corner of my last target to see if I could hit them and thus drop the paper from the target stand. At 10 yards, it took me a mere 6 shots, with both of my misses being less than a few centimeters too low. That's good enough for a combat or carry gun, it's certainly good enough for my standards and I doubt I could have done that with any other handgun I own. It's inexplicable to me why this gun just shoots so much better in my hands than anything else, though everyone that ever shot with me when I had my previous P99 laughs and tells me I should have never sold it, that was the one gun I shot like a pro. Well, here's to renewing relationships with old friends, this P99, like her predecessor, has earned her rightful place in a holder tucked inside my waistband.








    ŠNineseveN - All rights reserved
    Last edited by NineseveN; March 28th, 2008 at 11:38 PM. Reason: broken link

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    Bravo!! Nice work, well written!

    You cover all the bases that I can think of. The P99 is a fine example of German engineering.

    I was never ever a fan of "tech" guns or Tupperware.. ....until I met the P99. I adopted my P99QA earlier this year and its been my main carry piece since. Although when late fall comes it'll get a vacation as the Ruger Vaquero is brought back out for duty.

    Keep of the good work, I'll be looking forward to more of your reviews.
    RIP: SFN, 1861, twoeggsup, Lambo, jamesjo, JayBell, 32 Magnum, Pro2A, mrwildroot, dregan, Frenchy, Fragger, ungawa, Mtn Jack, Grapeshot.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    I agree - BRAVO! Nice writing style, easy to follow. The photos are well done and fit in as well as the gun fits your hand.

    Best regards,
    chalmitch
    "If you believe the term "militia" means the National Guard then you must believe that freedom of speech is reserved for the Government Printing Office." - Some guy, 2/2007

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    I appreciate the comments, thanks guys.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    This is my next handgun on the christmas list...i was between this and the glock. I had to wait about a week for the p99 so i went with the glock instead. I find it very hard to find the p99 @ local gun shops. For some reason they just don't stock them.. Very surprising i guess it's not a popular gun but it has such high marks. I have a walther tph and it's been good to me so the 99is the next walther in line.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    It's a popular gun, but not as popular as Glocks or XD's are. Walther has sold a ton of them as I understand it, they just don't have the LEO contracts stateside like Glock and others do. Just have your dealer order one, I paid $559.00 for mine, which was well worth it to me.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    Ya that's about the same price i was quoted as well. Did you get the .40 or 9mm? I already have a glock 23 so i was thinking of going the 9mm route and having the option of 17 rounds so i like that.

    I'm thinking about hitting up that gun show in harrisburg this weekend. I'm sure someone might have it down there. I'm just contemplating on the 3 x's 2 hour drive i have to endeavor. I have yet to even hold a 99 only the p22 which has like features. Oh well i'll get one soon enough!

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by SFMarine View Post
    Ya that's about the same price i was quoted as well. Did you get the .40 or 9mm? I already have a glock 23 so i was thinking of going the 9mm route and having the option of 17 rounds so i like that.

    I'm thinking about hitting up that gun show in harrisburg this weekend. I'm sure someone might have it down there. I'm just contemplating on the 3 x's 2 hour drive i have to endeavor. I have yet to even hold a 99 only the p22 which has like features. Oh well i'll get one soon enough!

    The one pictured is a 9mm. The difference between the 9mm and 40S&W is the shape of the slide near the muzzle and the length of slide & barrel. You can see the difference between 9mm and 40.
    RIP: SFN, 1861, twoeggsup, Lambo, jamesjo, JayBell, 32 Magnum, Pro2A, mrwildroot, dregan, Frenchy, Fragger, ungawa, Mtn Jack, Grapeshot.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by SFMarine View Post
    Ya that's about the same price i was quoted as well. Did you get the .40 or 9mm? I already have a glock 23 so i was thinking of going the 9mm route and having the option of 17 rounds so i like that.

    I'm thinking about hitting up that gun show in harrisburg this weekend. I'm sure someone might have it down there. I'm just contemplating on the 3 x's 2 hour drive i have to endeavor. I have yet to even hold a 99 only the p22 which has like features. Oh well i'll get one soon enough!
    I have the 9mm. The factory Walther mags are 15rounds, so you'd get 15+1 with those mags (the two that come with the gun). I've purchased guns I've never held before, but I don't know that I would consider that a smart thing to have done. It turned out pretty good in all but one instance, but I doubt I'll do it again unless I am forced to.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Walther P99 Review

    I think cdnn has a 16 rd magazine but ya as far as buying a gun before you get a feel for it ehh ya not a smart thing to do.

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