It’s no secret that Springfield Armory makes outstanding pistols. But the rapid evolution of the Hellcat is nothing short of amazing. It’s not just a pistol, it’s a system– with everything you need to give you exactly what you want in an everyday carry micro-compact, self-defense tool.
The 2019 announcement of the Hellcat micro-compact 9mm was exciting news even in a field crowded with similar pistols. Now, just four years later, the gun is well on the way to being all things for everyone in the concealed carry space.
Modern striker-fired pistols are marvels of engineering. They are simple to use, easy to maintain, durable and truly are designed to be excellent fighting pistols that are easy to carry and comfortable to shoot. When Springfield Armory first launched the Hellcat, they called it the highest-capacity micro-compact 9mm pistol in the world, thanks to the 13+1 capacity of its extended magazine. The original flush-fit magazine holds 11 rounds. The gun was delivered with both these options, meaning that a concealed carrier could be toting 25 rounds of 9mm ammo with a gun that is easy to conceal, comfortable to shoot and very fast to get on target.
Of course it was popular and of course Springfield Armory just kept making it better with more options and more ammo. Right now you can get 10-, 11-, 13-, 15-, and 17-round magazines for Hellcats of two different sizes: the original and the Hellcat Pro. You can, if you wish, swap out the original barrel for a threaded version complete with a self-indexing compensator that really does reduce muzzle flip. Yes, there is a pic rail for a light or laser and you can choose a version with the slide cut for a red-dot sight. If you want it, you can even get a version with a frame-mounted safety.
But let’s start by talking about the base model gun. As far as concealability goes, the Hellcat carries a 3-inch barrel and is just 6 inches in length, 4 inches tall with the 11-round magazine in place. The gun is just about 1 inch wide. That 1-inch measurement seems to be the gold standard for modern concealed carry pistols and the Hellcat matches that dimension thanks largely to a patented magazine that offers enhanced capacity in a narrow space. The rounds in the magazines offset from each other, but not in a true“double-stack” configuration.
You may want to choose the Hellcat Pro. It’s just a bit bigger, with a 3.7-inch barrel and 4.8 inches tall and 6.6 inches in length. The 15- and 17-round magazines from the Hellcat Pro fit in the standard Hellcat, but will need spacers. This story will focus on the original Hellcat, because that’s the gun I have in hand and the majority of the features are the same.
The ergonomics of the Hellcat are just great. The magazine catch is easily reversible, and all the other controls are intuitive and easy to access with the slide lock/release and the takedown levers on the right side of the pistol. Like all good fighting pistols should, the Hellcat slide locks to the rear after the last round is fired. The release lever is both subdued yet easy to operate. There is nothing to hang up on your clothing. This is a carry gun of the first order.
The grip texture on the Hellcat is comfortable yet aggressive. If you have handled some other polymer pistols made by Springfield Armory, comfortable might not be the first word you think of. I will reference the XD-M series and their grip texture. ‘Nuff said.
The Hellcat uses a cool double-pyramid design with the taller pyramids having flattened tops while the smaller pyramids are pointed. This provides comfort in the holster and great purchase when gripped firmly. The texture fully surrounds the gripframe with openings near the magazine catch, making for easy access while still allowing for great grip. There are also two textured “index points” above the front edge of the trigger guard that allow for quick tactile reminders of trigger-finger discipline.
The takedown of the Hellcat for fieldstripping is incredibly simple. Remove the magazine, lock the slide to the rear to make sure the firearm is completely unloaded. Visually and physically inspect the chamber. With the slide locked to the rear, rotate the takedown lever by lifting the front end of the lever up. Then, release the slide and press the trigger to allow the slide to come off the front of the frame. This method is much safer than some other pistols that require you to start the takedown process by pulling the trigger when the slide is in battery. Since Springfield’s takedown method starts with the slide locked to the rear, you can very inspect the chamber prior to continuing. Yes, I said it twice. Please triple check that your pistol is empty before you field strip it.
The Hellcat strips down into the four basic components: the slide, recoil spring assembly, frame and magazine.
From top to bottom, the slide offers aggressive serrations both front and back. The serrations on the Hellcat slide are comfortable, attractive and work very well for their intended purposes.
The recoil spring and guide-rod system is a captured dual-spring system that is very easy to remove, clean and reinstall. There is typically no need to tear the components of the spring and guide rod down any further. Just clean them, add a bit of lubricant and reinstall the entire unit during your regular maintenance.
The barrel is hammer-forged for quality and performance. Barrels, especially the chamber area, take a good bit of abuse when gunpowder is forcing a projectile down the bore. You want a good, durable barrel built to exacting tolerances that will perform when called upon. The Hellcat magazines may give you plenty of rounds, but the barrel allows you to put all of them on target.
The polymer frame is … well … a polymer frame. Since we first saw widespread use of polymer for frame-building way back in the mid 1980s, gunmakers have continued to improve upon the medium and have pretty much perfected it. The frame houses a nicely appointed trigger system with the standard center-lever trigger safety.. Standard with one exception that is: The trigger, when the center lever is depressed, is flat. This makes for very smooth and controlled operation. The flatness is not something you’d tend to notice, but it gives the trigger operation a great feel that is a bit difficult to describe.
The factory trigger pull weight falls between about 6 pounds to as much as 10 pounds on the Hellcat. It’s not supposed to be a match-grade trigger. This is a fighting pistol that should be used from 15 yards and closer. The factory trigger works well for the expected combat uses. If you want to improve the trigger, Apex Tactical is already making an aftermarket drop-in unit that puts the pull weight at a very smooth and crisp 5.5 pounds after the suggested 200-round break-in period.
As mentioned above, the Hellcat also offers an optional frame-mounted manual safety for people who like such things. It is ambidextrous and operates smoothly with the thumb, as it should. If you like it, ask for that option. If you don’t like it – well then you don’t like it and don’t have to have it.
The magazines for the Hellcat have steel bodies, good springs and stout followers. The extended magazines use a spacer that fills the gap between the bottom of the frame and the bottom of the extended magazine. The best part is that OEM magazines are only about $30.
With an empty magazine installed the Hellcat weighs just over 18 ounces, making it a dream to carry every day and in just about any carry location. The gun rides well on the hip, in the appendix carry position or in a pocket holster. It even rides well in an ankle rig or other carry option as a back-up gun. It is small enough to work well with off-body carry in a purse, sling pack, or satchel.
Saving the best for last, it is time to talk about the Hellcat’s sighting system. The pistol comes standard with a big bright tritium front sight that is made even easier to find thanks to a deep, wide U-notched rear sight. The combination makes getting this little pistol on target super-fast. For certain, these sights are not what you would calla “fine, match-grade” system. They are fast, and they provide fight-stopping accuracy at combat distances. If you wish, you can opt for a fiber-optic front sight, which is also incredibly easy to find in that wide-open rear notch.
The rear sight is also designed properly as an alternate cocking method, allowing for great purchase on a belt or boot heel in the event that you need to operate the slide with just one hand. Too many “low-profile” sights on fighting handguns ignore this. While it may be true that the odds of ever having to cock your gun by dragging the rear sight down across your belt are really low, the stakes at that point in a gunfight are really high. Having the option is better than not having the option.
Of course, the Hellcat can be had with the slide milled for a red-dot sight. On guns that come from the factory, Springfield includes the Shield SMSC red-dot sight. If you choose to buy the red dot later, expect to drop about $250. The Shield comes with all the mounting hardware you need and you’ll be up and running in now time. Sadly, I snatched up an early Hellcat and didn’t have the slide cut for an optic, so I will be correcting that in the very near future. Optical sights on pistols are not the wave of the future. They are here now and here to stay.
On the underside of the Hellcat a standard picatinny rail is just waiting for a weapon-mounted light and Streamlight stepped right up. The TLR-7 Sub is offered in a model made specifically for the Hellcat. It is marked right on the box. Combine this with Alien Gear’s new Photon holster, not coincidentally made to hold the Hellcat equipped with the TRL-7 and you can configure your pistol and holster set just about any way you want. Please don’t let the mention of these two options make you think that’s the only way to go. Everyone is making holsters for this pistol. I have carried the Hellcat in a Crossbreed, a Galco and more. Just fire up the google machine and take a look. When a gun is popular the accessories are, too.
Springfield also offers a threaded barrel for the Hellcat which allows you to run a suppressor or compensator. Springfield calls their version a self-indexing compensator that makes installation and removal very easy. The replacement barrel drops into the 3-inch Hellcat simply. Just hold down the locking lever as you unscrew the compensator from the ½ x 28 threads, drop the barrel in place and screw the compensator back on. The locking lever automatically indexes the compensator properly, which means no other shims or additional parts are required for proper timing. The drop-in barrel moves your 3-inch barrel to a 3.8-inch barrel so it may require a change in holsters when you make the switch. Shooting with the comp in place does certainly reduce muzzle flip, but the recoil on the pistol is not so overwhelming that it can’t be controlled with a good grip. Some people like a compensator. Some do not. Try it and see what you think.
All-in-all, Springfield Armory is making a big splash in the polymer, striker-fired, micro-compact 9mm pistol category. The Hellcat is well-built, functional, good-looking and offers all the features one might want in a great little pistol for concealed carry. With some 25 different variations right from the factory, and an MSRP ranging from $599 to $899 depending on model, there really appears to be no downside to this little pistol. If you are in the market for a micro-compact 9mm that can be configured to do just about anything you want, the Hellcat deserves a close look.
To locate a dealer near you visit www.lipseys.com/dealerfinder