Thin Is In - The Walther PPS

Thin Is In - The Walther PPS

Walther, in concert with S&W, has produced a sleek, slick and stylish 9mm that may redefine the way we think about "pocket pistols." Meet the Walther PPS.

Left isde view of Walther PPS 9mmThe Duchess of Windsor is noted as having said "One cannot be too rich or too thin." I'm not sure she could have foreseen today's world, where rail-thin supermodels charge a hundred grand for a photo shoot while wearing less cloth than the Duchess would have had in an embroidered hanky. While the rich part doesn't apply to us, the thin part does when it comes to a carry gun. In fact, a daily concealed carry handgun cannot be too thin, too light, too compact or too easy to shoot.

Walther--in cooperation with S&W--now has a lock on this category. The advertising campaign for the new PPS is "Think thin." The idea was to make a 9mm pistol that wasn't any larger than the PPK/S and also make it as thin as possible. Well, they have a home run here. My initial reaction upon seeing the PPS was "Man, that's not a pretty gun."

I guess I've spent too much time with polished steel and walnut. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to pick it up, as I figured such a small gun was going to be a hassle in my large-ish hands. Boy, was I wrong. Kudos to the ergonomics engineer who came up with the grip. It looks squarish and blocky but isn't. It looks like recoil will hammer the web of your hand, but it doesn't. It sure does look German.

The magazines come in three sizes, with the smallest holding only six rounds of 9mm or five of .40 and making the grip so short my pinky finger has no place to rest. The next size up has a finger rest, and it works nicely, while the longest magazine makes the gun so comfortable to handle that it would be my only choice.

Well, that and it holds eight rounds of 9mm. How good is the grip? My wife stands all of 5'3," and for her a whole lot of handguns are just too big. She wrapped her hand around the PPS, got a smile on her face and asked, "How much is this?" (No, my checkbook did not quake in terror.)

In being thin, the PPS is far ahead of other pistols. You give up some capacity to get that thinness, but after carrying a gun all day you may come to question the wisdom of a hi-cap magazine. How thin? How about 1.04 inches? My standard "grab and look" comparison of grips is the 1911. As the smallest large-bore pistol in the grip area, it has a very good caliber-to-grip ratio. When I grab a 1911 I usually end up with the end of my thumb at the first knuckle of my second finger.

Walther PPS pistol stripped detailWith hi-caps of any caliber, I can't get my thumb that far onto the second finger. On the PPS my thumb is significantly forward of where it is on a 1911. Combined with the interchangeable backstrap, you can alter the grip diameter and angle for your own hands.

Me, I preferred the larger one, while my wife liked the smallest. The only pistols I recall handling with a smaller grip are the old Colt Model M pistols and the Browning .32 and .380s with enclosed hammers. Those are flat and easy to pack, but they are not 9mm Parabellums. The PPS comes closer than any to the Colt M size, and you've got a much better chambering than they ever had. At 21.4 ounces on my postal scale, it isn't the lightest subcompact available, but for the size I can put up with a couple of ounces of extra weight.


TYPE:Semiauto, double-action only
CALIBER:9mm, .40 S&W
CAPACITY:8 (9mm)
BARREL LENGTH:3.2 inches
WEIGHT:21.4 ounces
SIGHTS:Fixed three-dot combat

I was really curious about how much velocity I'd get out of such a short barrel. It being 3.2 inches in length (chamber included!), you've got to figure it won't give you much in the way of speed. Wrong. I compared it to my Novak Hi-Power with its Bar-Sto barrel, which is the fastest 9mm barrel I have in the safe. At 4 3/4 inches for the BHP, I figured I could really make things tough on the little PPS. Wrong again. In the 115 to 124 bullet weights, the smallest difference was 46 feet per second, with the greatest being 94 fps. Give up 94 fps to gain the compactness of the PPS? Is that a trick question? In the heavyweights, the smallest difference was 22 fps and the largest 38. Even the Remington +P Golden Saber load was not objectionable to shoot.

Walther PPS recoil springAs for accuracy, I sure hope the production guns are as good. Even if they are only close, they will be spectacular. Again, I was not anticipating a fun time. I mean, a two-inch barrel, a compact gun--what can it deliver? The crisp trigger made it fun to try, and the first few targets were very encouraging. I learned yet again the need for correct follow-through when using such a compact little blaster, but once I settled down I was able to shoot bragging groups.

I'm sure there's someone reading this who will say to the guy next to them, "Four inches at 25 yards? He calls that accurate?" You bet I do, and that reader should get out more. If someone sent me a Bianchi gun, or something built for Camp Perry that only did four inches at 25 yards, I'd be outraged. But a pocket pistol that literally fits into the cargo pocket of my Woolrich trousers? Delivering four inches all the time? That is impressive.

The load that posted the first "I've got to take a picture of this" group was the Black Hills Red, a 115-grain JHP going just over 1,100 fps.  I then sat down and shot equal groups with three other loads. So this gun, anyway, isn't some drama queen that insists on one and only one load to shoot well.

I wasn't really looking forward to shooting it when I first had a chance at an industry function. I figured a compact little 9 was going to hurt me. Wrong again. For a compact little gun, it is a soft-shooting one, so much so that the others had to practically pry it out of my hands in order to slam the falling plate racks themselves. I immediately told S&W that I wanted one to test and, if at all possible, that very one. I was told that would be no problem.

I don't know if the soft-shooting feel is due to the dual-spring recoil system or if some clever engineer with a CAD/CAM program looked into the angles of the locking parts and made some adjustments. Whatever the source, the result is a compact pistol that doesn't thump like you'd expect. The PPS is rated for +P ammo, but they do warn you that its use will wear the pistol faster. S&W suggests not using +P+ ammunition in it, and I'd have to agree, but only on recoil grounds.

I don't care how good a recoil spring or what the cam angles might be, you go shooting +P+ ammo out of a short little gun like this and bad things will happen. Maybe not now, or soon or for the rest of your life, but trying to use +P+ ammo in a short barrel like that will be noisy. With such a short slide, recoil will be violent. Your hand and shooting skills will pay the price.

The PPS is listed as being available in .40 S&W. I would think that would be too much of a good thing. Then again, my first sight of the PPS wasn't too encouraging either. When those come in I will have to try them, just to see if the Germanic trickery in this one carried over to the .40s.

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