If you have been hesitant to “go micro” for your EDC or CCW pistol, the new Springfield Hellcat may change your mind.
by Rob Reaser
Much as we like, enjoy, and prefer to shoot mid- to full-size handguns, the truth is that they are not always practical for everyday carry and they certainly are not the optimal choice for concealed carry. A concealed carry handgun, lest folks forget, is all about having a firearm that you can take anywhere, wear discretely, deploy instantly, and neutralize a close-distance threat so you can safely retreat out of Dodge. It is usually not about long-range, high ammo count gun battles, much as we like to be prepared for that scenario.
This is why micro, sub-compact pistols and lightweight snubbie revolvers continue to be the premiere choice of dedicated CCW and EDC practitioners. It is also the reason why gun manufacturers continue to refine the art of delivering reliably performing, low print, high capacity handguns to the marketplace. When you review the historical offerings of micro and sub-compact pistols, you must admit that we have come a long way.
The most recent entry of note in the CCW pistol realm is the Hellcat 9mm introduced by Springfield Armory. Intended, we’re sure, to go up against Sig’s P365 and, to a lesser degree, the Taurus G2c, the Hellcat is a striker-fired, polymer frame 9mm freshly designed by the folks at Springfield to address all the elements serious shooters desire in a carry-it-everywhere defensive handgun:
- Small, easy to carry and conceal platform
- Solid, no-slip grip for small- to large-hand shooters
- Easy-to-manipulate slide
- Simple operation
- Reliable performance
- Fast sight picture acquisition
- High cartridge capacity
No doubt, bringing all these design and performance features together in a single handgun that is highly concealable and comfortable to carry is a tall, tall order. Were it not so, the market would be flush with handguns meeting these criteria. That it is not testifies to the design and engineering challenges to make such a handgun. Did Springfield achieve these goals with the new Hellcat? We think they did…starting with the last key objective in the above list—high cartridge capacity.
A High-Capacity Micro
Micro-pistol—which is how Springfield classifies the Hellcat—and “high cartridge capacity” tend to be mutually exclusive concepts. Sig pulled it off with the P365, which delivers 10+1 capacity in a diminutive profile. The Springfield Hellcat ups that number with its three double-stack magazine offerings.
The Hellcat comes with two magazines—an 11-round mag that fits flush in the grip and a 13-round extended mag. Springfield also offers an 11-round mag with a pinky extension. That, folks, means 12 to 14 rounds, if you carry one loaded in the chamber and a full mag.
In a micro pistol? Yes! The question we had before getting our hands on the Hellcat was the same as we always have before testing a micro pistol—how will it feel in the hand? As it turns out, the Springfield designers did their homework.
When fitted with the flush 11-round magazine, the grip offers the expected two-finger wrap, meaning the pinky finger is left to curl below the grip. It is no problem if you are used to shooting micro pistols, although shooters with large hands may find it slightly uncomfortable. Small- and medium-sized hand shooters should find no issues.
Swapping to the extended 13-round magazine, the calculus totally changes. The pinky finger is fully supported, and the floor plate extends the backstrap by half an inch to make the gun significantly more stable. This added palm surface minimizes recoil bite and helps keep the grip secure for quicker sight acquisition for follow up shots—all without giving up a much in overall pistol height.
Further aiding in good hand purchase is the textured surface. Unlike many (or most) pistols that limit stippling patches to the backstrap, sides, and front of the grip, Springfield wisely covered the Hellcat grip 360-degrees with what it calls “Adaptive Grip Texture.” Not sure what is “adaptive” about it, but it does a fine job of preventing grip slip. This texturing is also included on the area where the thumb lays across the frame (left and right side) and on the support hand thumb recess forward of the trigger (also left and right side).
Additional hand-positioning assists come via the slight finger grooving on the front of the grip and the thumb shelf located above the magazine release button. From an ergonomic perspective, we think it would be challenging to develop a better design that so successfully blends comfort and function in such a small package.
Moving up to the slide, we must, again, give a sharp nod to the Springfield designers. It is sleek, finished in Melonite, and has some interesting serrations at the rear and forward of the ejection port. When pulling the slide from the back, the rear serrations offer plenty of grip for two-finger operation. For small-frame shooters or those with weaker hands, the slide serrations extend over the top of the slide to provide a solid purchase when gripping the slide overhanded, such as when you pull the slide back to lock it in place.
Speaking of locking the slide, we should note that shooters with larger hands or those who ride the thumb of their firing hand high on the frame need to keep their thumb off the slide stop lever. It is a sensitive little bugger, and if your thumb rides against it or on top of it, this can prevent the slide from locking in place on the last round fired. We never experienced this problem when shooting the Hellcat, but when purposely testing this operation, it was clear that the thumb could certainly interfere with last-round-fired lockup.
Moving on to the trigger, three words…we like it. As you can see, the Hellcat as a straight, or flat, trigger face versus the conventional curved face. There are nuanced advantages to both designs, and it really boils down to user preference as to which profile works best for the individual. What we can say about the micro size of the Hellcat is that its flat trigger face is advantageous for shot control.
Often, we have found on micro pistols that a lengthy trigger pull that places the trigger relatively far back before breaking the sear engagement tends to induce some amount of torque if you do not maintain good control. This, of course, can upset the shot and impact accuracy. The flat faced Hellcat trigger allows the break to come while the trigger is well forward that of most curved triggers. It is something you need to experience to fully appreciate, but be warned…once you do, you will not look at a micro pistol with a curved trigger the same way again.
As for the Hellcat trigger’s function, no complaints here. We really like the feel of the flat trigger on this platform, and the relatively short, crisp break. The reset is also short, and when combined with the shorter overall pull length, you have a trigger system that is well suited for quick and controlled follow-up shots for small handgun.
The sighting system for the Hellcat is about as “general purpose” as they come—meaning “works well in most conditions.” We say this in a good way. The rear sight is drift-adjustable and features a U-notch with a white outline. It is non-ramped on the front, so the sight can be placed against a hard object, boot heel, or whatever to assist in one-handed slide actuation. The front sight includes a tritium vial for nighttime visibility with a green luminescent ring surrounding it. This combination well covers most lighting conditions, which is always a plus for a carry-everywhere defensive firearm.
At first, we were not too keen on the rear U-ring outline and the standout luminescent circle on the front sight. It all seemed too “busy” for quick sight alignment. We basically ignored all this for our target shooting sessions, but after transitioning to defensive shooting stages, we came to appreciate it. The prominent U-ring and front alignment circle did seem to speed up sight acquisition once we became accustomed to it and we decided it was probably a good inclusion on this pistol.
On the Range
Although “fun” is not a term typically associated with shooting micro pistols in man-lethal calibers, we must admit the Hellcat was just that. Credit the favorable trigger geometry, short reset, surprisingly comfortable grip, and good sight picture for the pleasing feel. Recoil is somewhat sharp, as you would expect of a diminutive 9mm that weighs a scant 18.6 ounces unloaded, but not so much as to earn a bad mark.
Of course, positive results always amp up the satisfaction factor. Shooting a variety of handloads along with Black Hills 124-gr. JHPs, the Hellcat ran flawlessly over two range days. Our best 5-shot group taken at 10 yards (30 feet) with a combat stance was 1.922 inches. For a micro pistol sporting a 3-inch barrel, we will take that any day of the week.
So, does the Springfield Hellcat satisfy the overall performance quotient for the serious EDC/CCW practitioner? We have no reason to say it does not, or that it even falls short in any particular area. On the contrary, for a full-feature semi-auto that can fit in most pockets, this little dynamo stands tall in a very small group of contenders. And with an available 13+1 cartridge capacity, you will be hard-pressed to do better.
If there is a downside, some may argue that it is the cost. With a starting MSRP of $569 (the OSP model with an optic cut in the slide is $599), the Springfield Hellcat carries a healthy price tag, but it’s a price many EDC/CCW folks would gladly pay for a low-profile/high-capacity pistol that’s easy to shoot and shoot well.
Springfield Hellcat Micro Compact
- CALIBER: 9mm
- COLOR: Black
- BARREL: 3″ Hammer Forged Steel, Melonite® Finish, 1:10
- SLIDE: Billet Machined, Melonite® Finish
- FRAME: Black Polymer w/ Adaptive Grip Texture
- SIGHTS: Tritium/Luminescent Front, Tactical Rack U-Notch Rear
- RECOIL SYSTEM: Dual Captive Recoil Spring w/ Full Length Guide Rod
- GRIP WIDTH: 1″
- MAGAZINES: (1) 11-Round, (1) 13-Round Extended
- WEIGHT: 18.3 oz w/ Flush Mag, 18.6 oz w/ Extended Mag
- LENGTH: 6″
- HEIGHT: 4″ w/ Flush Mag, 4.5″ w/ Extended Mag
- MSRP: $569