November 17, 2022
The Springfield Armory Hellcat micro-compact 9mm pistol has been among the frontrunners in the robust market of semiautomatic handguns that are small and concealable but offer ammunition capacity on-par with larger guns. SIG Sauer’s 3.1-inch barreled, 10+1 round P365 9mm pioneered the concept. Springfield Armory came in as a fast follower and offered 11+1 and 13+1 capacity with each gun, and simultaneously introduced an Optical Sight Pistol (OSP) model capable of accepting a slide-mounted micro red dot. Since their launch, almost every major handgun maker has developed an offering for the micro-compact market. Both the Hellcat and the P365 platforms have evolved into families of firearms with enhanced capabilities, capacities and even larger-size models that compete with traditional compact guns like the Glock 19, SIG P320 Compact, and Springfield XD-M Compact – yet offer slimmer 1-inch widths.
At writing, the Hellcat platform comes in three primary models. The Hellcat is the original 3-inch gun with 11- and 13-round magazines included, and factory 15-rounders available from Springfield Armory. The Rapid Defense Package (RDP) includes a longer 3.8-inch barrel, a self-indexing compensator and offers the same capacity options. Finally, the Pro is altogether a larger pistol featuring a 3.7-inch barrel, a standard 15-round magazine, and an enlarged slide and frame to match.
I’ve protocol tested all three of the Hellcat models, and have been consistently been impressed with their reliable function and out-of-the-box accuracy. They are smartly designed with features real world defensive shooters want. As with any modern production pistol, though, the Hellcat can be improved and personalized to better suit the individual user. For that reason, I’ve developed a list of upgrades that I consider essential and have evaluated products that may improve your performance.
I personally own three Hellcats and I’ve probably shot a dozen more for various tests or events. As good as they are, I’ve never met a Hellcat with a sub-6-pound trigger pull – most average between 6 and 6.5 pounds. They are absolutely serviceable, but more experienced shooters will find the press to be on the heavy side. Luckily, there is a solution. Apex Tactical Specialties offers wide array of action enhancement kits for popular semiautomatic pistols. Depending on the model of firearm, the trigger kits may include springs, trigger bars, striker blocks, trigger shoes, or assorted sear assembly components. For the Hellcat, it’s simply a trigger shoe, sear spring and striker spring ($90). The parts are all drop-in ready, and Apex provides detailed step-by-step videos to help with installation.
At writing, Apex had just introduced the newest iteration kit that is compatible with all three models of Hellcat. With each new variation of gun, Apex won’t certify a part as compatible until thoroughly testing it for function and safety – this is why they have earned my trust, and my business. In the case of the Hellcat Pro, some minor adjustments were needed, but new production trigger kits are good-to-go in any Hellcat and are engraved with the “HCT/XDS” designator – the underline confirms Pro compatibility (earlier-production Hellcat and RDP units were not underlined).
All three of my guns — Hellcat, RDP and Pro — wear Apex triggers, and their pull weights now measure: 5 pounds, 5 ounces; 5 pounds, 2 ounces; and 5 pounds, 9 ounces, respectively. On average, the pull weights were reduced by a pound.
In addition to excellent triggers, Apex offers a variety of fully-machined metal Hellcat components. I really like the extended magazine release ($60) and takedown lever ($55), both of which are more aggressively textured than the factory parts for improved purchase. They also offer more real estate for manipulation without changing the slim profile of the guns. Barrels, pins and extractors are also offered, and while they shouldn’t be considered critical enhancements, they are high-quality replacements for discerning shooters.
Adding a slide-mounted reflex sight is a must for increasing the performance of any sub- or micro-compact pistol. The Hellcat family comes with great iron sights – bright front dot and a U-notch rear – but a red-dot optic surpasses their capabilities given the short sight radius. They also simplify the aiming process: See the target, put the dot on the target, press the trigger.
It’s a golden age for red dots, and there are plenty of options to fit the Hellcat’s near-ubiquitous mounting footprint, popularized by the Shield RMSc. My favorites in the category are coming from Holosun and Bushnell, right now, for their rugged construction, smart window and reticle design, and competitive prices.
From Holosun, I’m running the HS507K X2 ($342) on the Hellcat Pro. The optic is fully-featured, including 12 brightness settings – two for night vision use – and the company’s Circle Dot multi-reticle system. The sighting arrangement is comprised of 32 MOA circle and a 2 MOA central dot. Users can toggle through the reticle elements to select their preference: dot, circle or both together. Also from Holosun, the new EPS Carry uses an enclosed emitter, meaning the optic has a front and rear lens to better protect the system from environmental factors. I’m testing the EPS Carry Red 6 model ($389), which means it has a red 6 MOA dot reticle with 12 brightness settings – eight for daylight, four rated for use with night vision. Both Holosuns run on CR1620 batteries, boast 50,000 hours of life and are designed with accessible battery trays so the sight does not need to be removed to swap power cells.
Bushnell made it onto my radar for all the right reasons when it released the RXS-250 ($250), a well-built and affordable micro red dot for compact and full-size pistols. Shortly thereafter, the 250’s winning recipe was downsized further to develop the RXC-200 Compact and RXU-200 Ultra Compact Micro Reflex Sights ($200). Both red dots are designed for micro-compact pistols utilizing the Shield RMSc mounting footprint. The difference between the two is the height of the lens, with the RXU-200 offering a lower profile. Because I prefer a bit more glass, I mounted the RXC-200 on my standard Hellcat. It offers a 6 MOA red dot reticle powered by a CR2032 battery with an estimated life of 50,000 hours. Unlike the Holosuns, the Bushnell does not offer manual brightness adjustment, but instead has a responsive automatic system. During my testing, the sight has worked well adapting to low-light indoor settings and full-sunlight outdoor environments.
When it comes to weapon-mounted lights, I used to feel they were extraneous equipment outside the realm of “professional” use. My feelings have since changed. Lights today are brighter, more efficient and much smaller than ever before. They don’t replace the need for a handheld light, but with proper training and an understanding of the difference between searching and shooting, they can enhance one’s personal defense capability.
Streamlight is a leader in compact lights suitable for small guns like the Hellcat, and I’m currently running three of their offerings on my pistols. On the standard Hellcat, I’ve got the TLR-7 Sub ($150), which is a 500-lumen tactical light designed specifically for micro-compacts. Because guns like the Hellcat, SIG Sauer P365 and Glock 43X/48 have small, proprietary rail sections on their dustcovers, Streamlight offers a specific light for each. The Hellcat’s light is marked “SA” for Springfield Armory. The Hellcat Pro has a larger two-slot section of 1913-style accessory rail, meaning Streamlight’s standard TLR-7A ($150) – itself a compact-size light – will fit just fine. Both TLR-7s are similarly spec’d, offering up to 500 lumens and 1.5 hour runtimes powered by a CR123A battery. Both also come with replaceable High and Low backplates so users can position the bilateral activation paddles at their preferred height.
For the Hellcat RDP, I opted for something a little different. Streamlight’s TLR-6 ($130) combines a 100-lumen white light with a red laser sight. Unlike the TLR-7s, the TLR-6 attaches like a clamshell around both the accessory rail and the triggerguard. Powered by two CR1/3N batteries, the TLR-6 offers three modes of operation: light only; laser only; and light and laser, simultaneously. Although laser sights need to be zeroed and take some training and practice to use effectively, they do offer an additional sighting option and allow the gun to be used effectively when the shooter cannot get behind the iron sights or optic. More solutions are preferable in self-defense scenarios, and the TLR-6 light/laser combo is a nice “belt and suspenders” piece of kit.
Anytime you start adding accessories to handguns, the quest for compatible holsters becomes increasingly difficult. For the Hellcat, the most extensive offering I’ve found comes from BlackPoint Tactical. BlackPoint is one of the industry leaders in custom Kydex bending and can create a precise solution for nearly pistol/accessory combination. While the Guns & Ammo team has called in for truly custom builds before, I was excited to see BlackPoint already cataloging a large variety of optic-ready holsters for Hellcats wearing Streamlight illuminators. As an example, I ordered in a Mini Wing Light Mounted holster (from $110) to fit the Hellcat RDP with Holosun red dot and Streamlight TLR-6 equipped. The Kydex pocket is affixed to small leather wings which mount the belt clips. It’s a neat arrangement that allows for some flexibility as well as adjustment options for cant and ride height. Being able to better fit a holster to your body improves comfort and concealment during all-day wear.
There is a lot of customization possible in terms of fitments and features from BlackPoint Tactical, as well as personalization options like premium-pattern Kydex. Therefore the price can vary depending on selections, but the end result will be a discreet, precision-build holster with excellent retention.
Another all-Kydex option I found is from N8 Tactical. The company’s optics-compatible Xecutive Holster ($40) offered a fit for the Hellcat Pro with a TLR-7 Sub, which I found also works for a standard Hellcat wearing the same light. The holster features a single metal belt clip with a little bit of height and cant adjustability. It also offers some retention adjustment via the two screws beneath the triggerguard and dustcover. For the price, it’s a great and affordable option. What makes the Xecutive special, though, is its suite of add-ons. A variety of belt clips, soft loops, concealment wings and foam wedges, priced from about $5 to $13, each – allows the Xecutive to be tailored for maximum comfort and concealment in either strongside or appendix positions.
Overall, the Hellcat is a great product right out of the box. And I have to admit, fine-tuning three different guns to suit my preferences was a bigger undertaking than I anticipated. However, it gave me a chance to explore the market for Hellcat upgrades, take them to the range, and see which ones enhance the gun’s capabilities. The products listed here have my stamp of approval – they worked well for me. But the options for lights, lasers, optics, holsters and other modifications are increasing daily. Like most great projects, I think this one is far from over.
Be sure to show us your Hellcat and tell us what upgrades work for you!
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