New Walther P99 9mm

by Gary Paul Johnston

One of the world's great firearms companies, Carl Walther GmbH, of Germany, has over the years given us a number of top quality pistols, namely the 9mm P38 and the PPK in calibers 7.65mm (.32 ACP) and 9mm Kurz. More recently, in 1988, Walther introduced their superb P88 9mm pistol, which has proved far too expensive to catch on, except for the connoisseur of fine things. However, after being on the back burner in new pistol design for the past decade, Walther has been busy and things have changed with the introduction of a new and exciting polymer-framed pistol the company calls the P99.

A fairly well-guarded secret during development, the new 9mm Walther P99 is now out and about and there's a .40 S&W variant to follow in early 1998. While the P99 may appear contemporary at first glance, the pistol is a marriage of somethings old, somethings new and somethings borrowed - the result of which may make some other gun companies blue.

Born of a desire to design and produce the "ideal" lightweight, competitively-priced pistol for military, police and the private sector, initial design work for the P99 started in 1994 with full production following exactly three years later. Famous for such "overnight" arms development programs, German technology has done it again with the P99.

Striker-fired, the P99 remains a significant departure from other autopistols, and this new gun deserves a class by itself. Using the improved Browning short-recoil system developed decades ago by SIG Sauer, the P99's barrel locks to the slide at the front of the ejection port, allowing the chamber to fill the port when in battery. Using a simplified modification of the Glock takedown lever, the P99 has also incorporated the ambidextrous magazine release, ejection port, trigger guard and light mount concept from Heckler & Koch's USP series. However, while the pistol uses other contemporary designs, such as its firing pin block, ejector and etc., it now goes on to live a life of its own.

Easily changeable by the user, the white-dot polymer front sight of the P99 can be removed with the Allen wrench furnished and replaced by one of three extra front sights that range in height from .165 to .200 of an inch, each moving point of impact about five inches in elevation at 25 yards. The polymer 2-dot rear sight body is adjustable for windage by turning a detent screw.

Different from the trigger on any other pistol, that of the P99 pivots as one piece to unlock prior to firing the gun. Using an integral arm that locks against the frame until pivoted, this trigger has two safety locking notches, one for double action, and the other for single action. That's right; unlike any other, this striker-fired pistol operates SA/DA!

Using an ingenious decocker system, the P99 has a striker with an exceptionally wide sear portion extending downward. In the forward, double action mode the striker is in position to be picked up by the claw-like double action sear on the transfer bar of the trigger. When the trigger is pulled through double action, the claw draws the striker back until it is cammed out of engagement, releasing it to go forward. The striker is not reset by the slide, and if the pistol is empty the trigger can be pulled double action over and over as with a double action revolver.

If the pistol is fired double action, the movement of the slide automatically sets the striker rearward to the single action mode. Here the trigger remains to the rear requiring only about 1/8 of an inch of travel forward to be reset for the next shot. If the trigger is released during single action fire, it goes only partly forward where the single action safety notch on the trigger arm comes into play with the frame. Pulling the trigger again causes it to pivot and unlock as with the double action notch of the trigger arm.

If at any time the shooter wishes to decock the P99, the polymer decocking block in the upper left rear of the slide need only be depressed. This is most easily accomplished by using the left thumb for a right-handed shooter, or the right index finger for a left-hander from a modified Weaver hold. If the P99 were fired one-handed, it would have to be shifted in the hand to decock.

When the decocking block is depressed, it cams the single action sear-actuator lever forward. This trips the single action sear, allowing the striker to go forward to stop against the depressed decocking block. When the decocker is released to return to its upper position, it clears the striker for forward movement to fire the pistol the next time the trigger is pulled. We have described the two modes of fire and the two trigger positions of the P99, but there's more. When the pistol is loaded by releasing the slide to chamber a round, it remains in the single action mode, but with the trigger in the forward double action position. Here, the only thing required to bring the trigger to the single action position is a very light pull. Similar to the "Fast Action" mode designed by Browning some years ago, and now incorporated in Kimber's Daewoo pistol, this movement simply brings the trigger into position to engage the single action sear.

Normally, after loading the P99 as above, the user would decock the striker just as would be done with a traditional hammer-fired DA/SA autopistol such as the Walther P38, and as with these hammer-fired autopistols, there's another alternative; that is cocking the pistol for a first single action shot.

Let's say that a police officer armed with the P99 carries his/her pistol loaded decocked and is the first responder to a call where an assailent is holding a knife to a hostage. If the officer decides that the pistol must be used but does not want to chance a double action shot, the slide of the P99 need only be retracted about 3/8 of an inch to reset the striker on the single action notch. The trigger will remain in the forward "fast action" position, requiring only a few ounces of pressure to bring it back to the 5-pound single action position.

The ability to cock a striker-fired double action pistol for a single action trigger pull puts the P99 in competition with all dual-mode pistols on the market. However, if the user wants the gun in double action only, the simple removal of the single action sear and actuating lever by a trained armorer renders the P99 DA only.

AS with the Glock, Sigma and most other double action, striker-fired autopistols, there is no manual safety on the P99. The gun incorporates similar trigger and firing pin safeties in addition to the above described safety features. In addition to these, the rear of the striker protrudes from the back of the slide in single action, and the rear of the extractor pivots inward in the slide when a round is chambered. Both conditions can be seen (in light) and felt.

Aside from the ambidextrous magazine release, flush takedown lever and decocker, the only other external control on the P99 is the slide stop, and it too rides relatively flush with the side of the pistol. This allows ergonomics to have their way, and ergonomic justly describes the P99. Designed by well-known European free pistol (and grip) maker, Cesare Morini, the grip frame of the P99 was designed totally with the human hand in mind, and with the P99's steel magazine body allowing the grip to be as thin as feasible, the pistol is friendly to small hands.

A Have-it-Your-Way Grip

Complete with subtle finger grooves, depressions and pebble texture, the grip of the P99 boasts one more plus, a removable soft polymer back strap. Furnished assembled with the mid-sized backstrap, each P99 comes with two more, one thinner and one thicker, and if one doesn't fit your hand, another will. The medium-size backstrap seems to fit me best, and also causes the P99 to point most naturally in my hand.

Natural pointing ability is more important than you might think in a gunfight. Holding your (unloaded) pistol at low ready, look at your target, close your eyes and raise the pistol to eye level. Now open your eyes and check if your sights are lined up. I'm betting the front sight of your favorite polymer pistol is higher than the rear sight. That's where your shot is likely to go in a real gunfight. While some gun makers don't want to admit this fact, Walther went to great pains (and patents) to see that the P99 will fit your hand.

To change the backstrap, simply push out the split pin at the bottom with the plastic tool provided and replace it. Enhancing the ergonomics of the replaceable backstrap system is the trigger guard that's contoured both in and out to allow the P99 to sit low in the hand and not pinch the trigger finger. In addition, the P99's magazine release is both out of the way and easy to access with the trigger finger.

Read The Manual!

On the right side of the polymer frame is printed "Warning: READ SAFETY MANUAL" in English and below it, "ACHTUNG: WARNHINWEISE BEACHTEN," which translates roughly to "Aftention: Take Note Of Warning Book" in German. Filled with bold face print on how to use the P99 without shooting yourself, the manual, like all others in this time of litigation, is an attempt to make the P99 "stupid proof," and time is well spent in reading it for a better understanding of the pistol and how to disassemble it.

Field Stripping

Takedown is extremely simple with the P99. After REMOVING THE MAGAZINE AND MAKING SURE THE CHAMBER IS EMPTY, decock the striker; the slide cannot be removed with it cocked. Now, with thumb and index finger saddled over the slide, simply depress both sides of the takedown lever, releasing the slide to come off the front of the frame. Now the captive recoil spring and guide can be removed, followed by the barrel. While it's not difficult to accomplish, no other disassembly is necessary.

Shots Fired

We found the P99 pleasant to shoot. Pointing naturally, the trigger was smooth enough, exhibiting only slight creep during take-up in either mode. With the pistol fitting so well in the hand, recoil was easy to control, and fast transition from double action to single action was befter than with some other pistols. Out of the box, our P99 shot slightly low, and some 9mm loads printed even lower. Finally, the front sight was replaced with a shorter one, and this largely corrected the elevation.

While the factory test target with our P99 measured less than 2.5 inches at 25 meters, the pistol hovered at 3 inches for us no matter what kind of 9mm ammunition we used, and there was often a flier that opened the group up to spoil a smaller cluster of four shots. Still, the gun proved combat accurate, and no malfunctions whatsoever occurred even when using some light reloads my friend Gene Pretzeus wanted to shoot up.


During the development of the P99, Walther is reported to have solicited much input from German as well as other foreign military and police units for guidelines for an ideal 9mm pistol. What someone may have overlooked is that the pistol was going to be heavily marketed in the U.S. where American input might have been of value.

For one, I would like to see slide retracting grooves added to the front of the P99's slide, not only for use in cocking the pistol to the single action position, but in order to use the standard underhand manipulation to check the chamber. I would also like to see the retracting grooves wider apart for better purchase.

In the age where the value of the upswept "beavertail" design of pistol tangs is well established in getting on the pistol in a hurry, the P99 comes with a tang that's actually reversed to curve downward. Serving no purpose in a self-defense pistol, this tang can only make it more difficult for the pistol's grip to help funnel the web of the hand into position in a high stress situation. Luckily the lubricity of the P99's frame helps overcome this, but the tang would have been better designed with a slight upsweep.

If I dry fire the P99 in the double action mode, the left tip of the magazine release bumps the underside of my trigger finger just enough to cause discomfort after only ten pulls. I would file this part slightly to render it level with the inside of the guard. Others who tried this experienced the same "rub."

Some have observed that the magazine well mouth is not beveled. While I don't think this is necessary, beveling the front section of the mouth could improve speed reloading. There is plenty of stock there for anyone handy with a file.

As it is, the Walther P99 is a superb pistol, and my observations are personal, and of a desire to see the gun brought to its full potential, not only across the sea, but here where a huge market exists for state-of-the-art defensive handguns. I predict the P99 will be one of the great pistol designs of the decade. While no known source for a light mount yet exists, you can bet a number of sources are looking into that as you read this.

If you're looking for a top quality autopistol that seems to have the best of all worlds, check out the new full-featured Walther P99. To keep your P99, and the rest of your guns, JOIN THE NRA! In the meantime, shoot more and shoot more often.

First published in the July 1997 edition of Guns & Weapons For Law Enforcement

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