The Springfield Armory Hellcat ($599, Springfield-Armory.com) is a striker-fired 9mm pistol designed for carry that boasts a 13+1 capacity. With big capacity in such a small carry gun, the Hellcat is poised to become a top seller.
Included inside the Hellcat box are a 13-round magazine with an extended base pad, as well as an 11-round flush-fitting magazine. Both magazines are of the stainless-steel variety that are typical of Springfield polymer pistols.
The 11-round magazine is designed to fit flush in the gun, which maximizes the pistol’s concealment qualities. The 13-round magazine has an extended single-piece base pad to accommodate the extra ammunition, as well as plenty of room for a full firing grip.
The Hellcat can be purchased as either an iron-sighted or an optics gun. The model we tested arrived with the Shield Sights RMSc red dot optic in place and co-witnessed, so iron sights could also be used if needed. A small, light, easy-to-conceal pistol with a dot riding on top and easy-to-see iron sights checks a lot of boxes for a good carry gun. The Pro-Glo sights are very visible—the rear sight is square so that one-handed manipulations of the slide can be done if the gun is being used solely with iron sights. As such, one-handed manipulations with the RMSc dot in place are easily accomplished.
Shield Sights is not a new company, getting its start in the 1980s in Great Britain. Specializing in suppressed weapons for Special Forces and stocks for the British Army sniper rifle, they are now one of the leading providers of mini red dots. Recently, Shield Sights has built optics for JP Enterprises and Trijicon marketed under their own brands. The company now produces several models of reflex sights and mini sight systems.
For being such a small gun, the Hellcat fills the hand well.
The Reflex Mini Sight Compact (RMSc) is a parallax-free clear polymer optic that Shield Sights claim can withstand up to 10 times greater shock impact than similar products using glass optics. (This feature was not tested.) The RMS is designed without a red reflective filter on the lens like several competing models. The sight body is made from aerospace-grade aluminum with an anodized matte black finish. The unit has a variable intensity drive circuit that senses target light levels and controls LED output giving optimum visibility of the dot. The RMSc against the targets is small but it is easy to find the dot on the draw when indexing the target.
There is enough texture to the grip of this pistol to prevent it from slipping around in the hand. Stippling on the grip could not be called aggressive but it will receive a warm welcome for the EDC crowd. Springfield’s Adaptive Grip Texture is grip pressure activated. When you run your hands over the grip texture it feels smooth; this is a design feature built into this gun to avoid it snagging on your clothes when carrying or hanging up on the draw. When gripped tightly, the design actually locks into your hand so that it won’t move when firing. Holding onto the gun during live fire was not an issue.
The iron sights are still completely visible with the red-dot installed, providing a lower-one-third co-witness arrangement without requiring extra-tall irons.
The slide has cocking serrations in front as well as behind the ejection port, making the slide easy to rack with a number of different techniques. There is the typical trigger safety that is common to polymer pistols, but there is no grip safety on the Hellcat. A non-proprietary front rail allows the installation of all common lights and lasers. While it's the highest capacity micro-compact with a three-inch hammer forged barrel, the Hellcat is svelte at one inch in width and 18.3-ounce empty weight. With the flush-fitting 11-round magazine, the gun is only 4 inches high and 6 inches long.
This pistol is for EDC and not a range gun or a competitive shooting gun. The live-fire testing we performed consisted of a few different tests than normal. Groups shot indoors at ranges of five, seven, 10 and 15 yards proved that all rounds could be kept far smaller than the palm of my hand. A paster could be hit at five yards with some effort on the part of the shooter. Shooting groups at longer distances did not seem to be an important thing for a gun of this type. In the two sessions that I fired the gun there was not a single malfunction with a variety of ammunition.
The Hellcat frame takes everything that Springfield Armory and its Croatian manufacturing partner, HS Produkt, have learned about molding polymer and handgun ergonomics to produce a masterpiece.
The next test for the Hellcat was to use it as a stage gun in a Carry Gun match. The Hellcat was staged with one round in the magazine and the chamber empty hanging from a magnet stashed under a counter. The stage required the shooter to grab the Hellcat, rack it and engage a mini popper at 12 yards, toss the gun into a box on the counter and then draw and engage the paper targets with their own gun. If the popper was missed they could go back and re-engage with their own gun. The competitors were not permitted to touch the stage gun prior to the buzzer going off, so their first shot was cold. There were 25 shooters in the match on this particular Wednesday night; the popper was dropped with the Hellcat six or seven times. There were no malfunctions on the part of the gun. The shooters who forgot to rack the slide were a little slow to get started on the shooting part but that is not a problem with the gun. It is probably not a coincidence that the shooters on the top of the scoresheet were the ones who hit the popper with the Hellcat. The point is that the gun is as accurate as its shooter.
Jake Martens shot the Hellcat at another Carry Gun match and finished eighth out of 28 shooters. The folks above him on the scoresheet all were shooting full-size guns. This match requires a mandatory reload on nearly every stage, and small guns are at a distinct disadvantage for a couple of reasons compared to full-size guns. But, the results for the Hellcat in this match are more than respectable. Martens did not have the gun ahead of the match in order to become familiar with it. However, he was not at a disadvantage due to not being familiar with the gun; there was one time he bought a gun the night before a match and placed very high in the match with it. Martens experienced zero malfunctions with the gun in the match and he did not miss.
The slide and barrel feature a black Melonite finish, which is a chemical treatment that improves the durability and corrosion resistance of the metal.
The gun was drawn from a Clinger Holster. Martens is familiar with the Clinger holsters, having a few of them for different carry guns. Clinger Holsters is based in Van Buren, AR, where they design and build comfortable adjustable holsters. The hinge inside the waist band model was used during the match. Clinger holsters are not only very concealable and comfortable but they are convertible from IWB to OWB. Additional accessories are available, such as the new Clinger Cushion.
Total round count through the Hellcat was approximately 500 rounds. I personally witnessed every round fired through the gun and there was not a single hiccup. This Hellcat was extremely reliable. The Hellcat runs and is accurate. The sights on this Hellcat are very visible. There is a lot of positive to be said for the Hellcat for a carry gun. The promotional video released for the Hellcat talks about the reliability of the pistol after tens of thousands of rounds. We only fired about 500 rounds through the gun, straight from the box, and experienced zero malfunctions with a variety of ammunition. So if you are in the market for a small handgun that was designed to be an EDC firearm that is full of features, big on capacity but small in size—check out the Springfield Armory Hellcat.
Article from the March/April 2020 issue of USPSA’s FrontSight magazine.