Arguably the most underrated service pistol in today’s firearms market is the Walther P99 series of pistols.
Reliable, ergonomic, and equipped with a trigger system that remains revolutionary even to this very day, the Walther P99 still strangely remains highly overlooked on the American firearms market. However, it has been trusted by law enforcement and the military.
Walther has begun to gain a larger foothold on the American market with the PPQ (another excellent pistol). But the reality is that the PPQ is nothing more than a slightly modified P99 pistol to begin with. The P99 is where it all began, and in my opinion, is the more interesting pistol.
In this guide, we’ll very briefly cover the history of the Walther P99. Then we’ll dive into my personal experiences with this weapon and the primary features that make it worth owning.
Brief History of the Walther P99
The Walther P99 was developed in the mid-1990s as a successor to Walther’s P5 and P88 series of handguns. While well-made in their functionality and eloquent in their appearance, the P5 and P88 were both showing their age when Glock was ushering in the era of the polymer framed, striker fired pistol.
After a few years of development and prototyping, Walther finally unveiled the Walther P99 pistol in 1996. The P99 was adopted as the service pistol for many European police departments and militaries. It had notably less success in the American market, at least until the release of the PPQ in 2011 (a modified P99 with a simplified trigger).
The P99 was designed to primarily compete with the Glock. But it has one major difference that continues to set it apart from Glock and other striker fired pistols more than a quarter century after its initial release.
The Walther P99’s Trigger System Explained
The standout feature of the P99, and the reason to consider it over other striker fired pistols on the marketplace, is its trigger system.
What Makes the P99’s Trigger Unique?
The Walther P99 pistol is a striker fired pistol, but it operates using a double action single action (DA/SA) trigger mechanism. This mechanism is usually reserved for hammer fired pistols only, such as the Beretta 92FS, SIG Sauer P226, or the Heckler & Koch USP.
The first shot is long and heavy, the gun cycles, and all subsequent trigger pulls are much shorter and lighter either until the gun is emptied or decocked.
In contrast, striker fired pistols (such as the Glock or the Smith & Wesson M&P) use a consistent trigger pull with each shot, as if they were a double action only or a single action only.
The P99, however, indeed uses a double action single action trigger much like a Beretta 92 or SIG 226. The first shot is long and heavy, the gun cycles after being fired, and all subsequent rounds are much shorter and lighter.
When the gun is cocked, you will hear an audible click and a red indicator appears on the back of the slide.
To put the weapon back into double action, you simply have to press the decoking button located on the top left part of the slide. You will hear another audible click, but this time the red indicator disappears.
The AS Mode
But what truly makes the P99’s trigger system so marvelous and revolutionary is because of a third trigger mode it sports: the AS mode.
On a traditional hammer fired handgun, if you want your first shot to be short and light, all you have to do is manually pull back the hammer.
But there is no such hammer on the P99 pistol to pull back.
So what do you do if you want your first shot to be short and light?
This is where the AS mode will prove its worth to you. With your P99 in double action, pull the slide back slightly (but not so far that you eject a round) until you hear another audible click. The red indicator should appear on the back of the slide as well. But the trigger should remain in the original double action position.
The weapon is now in the AS mode. Even though the trigger is in the double action position, it is much lighter to pull back so you will have an easier time shooting the pistol accurately.
The AS mode is the preferable trigger position for carrying the Walther P99. The single action trigger, being very short and light, is simply too unsafe to carry around. The double action mode, while much safer, is also heavy and not as desirable for your first shot.
Keep in mind, in a defensive scenario where you may have to access and draw your P99 to shoot quickly, squeezing off a long and heavy trigger pull is more than doable but just not as easy as single action. Yes, it is something you can master by practicing on the range.
The AS mode, with a lighter trigger pull in the double action position, makes your P99 safer to carry than in single action and easier to shoot for your first shot than in double action. It really is an ingenious feature, and something that has not been replicated in other striker fired pistol designs that I can think of to this day.
To put the gun back into double action, repeat the same process as if the gun were in single action, and simply push down on the decocker lever on the slide.
My Thoughts on the P99’s Trigger
I admit that when I first learned about how the P99’s trigger worked, I thought it was a bit convoluted. It’s actually for this reason that I purchased a PPQ (with its more simple and traditional trigger system) first.
The PPQ, for reference, is simply a P99 pistol with Glock-like single action only trigger. It also has a few other modifications, such as more aggressive grip texturing and forward serrations on the slide, but the trigger is by far the biggest difference.
I carried the PPQ as my standard self-defensive pistol for over four years, but the Walther P99 never left my mind. When I finally went back and purchased one, I trained with it extensively on the range and practiced with the trigger extensively.
As a result, the P99’s trigger system has become second nature to me, and I actually prefer it over that of the PPQ today.
Why I’ve Settled on the P99
The Walther P99, in both its full size and compact variations, has become my choice of pistol for concealed carry. A full size P99 is roughly in-between the sizes of a Glock 19 and a Glock 17 for reference.
It’s not a small pistol, but I can more than adequately conceal it in my Galco Summer Comfort IWB holster in most cases. For days where I need to rely on optimal concealment, I can resort to my smaller P99 Compact.
My full size P99 is a third generation model in 9x19mm Luger. The third gen has been around since 2005, and is notable for its rounded off trigger guard, Picatinny rail for adding lights or lasers, and the extended ambidextrous paddle magazine release to facilitate faster reloads.
It carries either 15 or 16 rounds depending on the magazine. Older P99 magazines carried 16 rounds, while the new magazines hold 15 rounds. Why Walther chose to lower the magazine size by one round, I admittedly have no idea.
My P99 Compact is literally just a smaller version of my full size P99. It features a 10 round magazine with an extended base plate to rest your pinky finger. It also accepts the full size magazines, so I can carry a larger mag for a spare.
Few pistols are as ergonomic to me as the Walther P99. My first ever handgun was the PPQ, which has the same grip shape as the P99. One of the main reasons I selected it was because it was one of the most comfortable guns I’ve ever held. The P99’s grip is like the PPQ, only with slightly less aggressive texturing.
I’ve also found the P99 series of pistols to be incredibly reliable. I’ve put thousands of rounds downrange with my P99, P99 Compact, and PPQ. Never have I encountered a malfunction of any sort with good ammunition or that wasn’t user induced.
This is believable when you consider the incredible torture tests that Walther subjected the P99 to before it was released. Thousands of rounds were fired out of Walther P99 pistols, which were also exposed to mud, sand, ice, and extreme temperatures, and continued to work.
Walther even stuck a bullet down the muzzle and shot it out without any damage to the pistol. This is a feat I’ve only heard of being replicated by the Glock and the Heckler & Koch USP.
Pros and Cons of the Walther P99
Here are the pros and cons of the Walther P99 pistol, in my personal opinion:
- Very reliable
- Very ergonomic
- The striker fired DA/SA remains state-of-the-art to this day
- European-style paddle magazine release is ambidextrous
- Medium-size makes it suitable as both a duty gun or as a concealed carry weapon
- Not the best choice if you dislike the DA/SA trigger
- Not as much aftermarket parts or support
The Walther P99 pistolis one of my favorite pistols for more reasons than one. The gun melts in my hand, I’ve never had a jam. And I find the trigger system just as useful as it is unique.
I’ve also found that the Walther P99 excels as a home defense gun, a concealed carry pistol, or as a range piece. It’s a good gun and it’s proven itself well over the last twenty five years. It’s well past time that this pistol received a new look from American shooters today.