It’s one thing to range-test a gun and individually determine that it’s wonderful enough to nominate it for an NRA Golden Bullseye Award. It’s another to have a group of impartial women—many of them new shooters—corroborate that opinion after shooting and surveying a selection of various makes and models of 9 mm pistols on their form and function. But that is exactly how the Walther PDP Compact came to be awarded the 2022 NRA Women Golden Bullseye for Handgun of the Year.
Before we connect those dots, I’ll begin in the spring of 2021, when I first fired the 9 mm striker-fired PDP, Walther’s replacement for its outstanding but outgoing PPQ. The German gunmaker had already classified the PDP as its new flagship concealed-carry pistol. Considering the popularity of the PPQ, there would be a lot to live up to. The new PDP was receiving plenty of good buzz from numerous firearm publications, including NRA’s American Rifleman, Shooting Illustrated, Shooting Sports USA, as well as dozens of online bloggers, but there was no guarantee I would arrive at the same verdict. Most of the reviews had been written by men, usually for publications with a largely male audience. Having done deep dives into which guns women prefer and why, NRA Women has confirmed that features men like in pistols are often different from what women identify as their preferences. However, based on previous positive experiences with Walther pistols, including the PPQ, I was optimistic for another.
Once I had the gun in hand (of the three sizes currently offered, ours was the 4” Compact) I knew this was a pistol I wanted to hold onto, literally. Part of the reason is because this gun felt more substantial than most traditional “compact” models. To me, its size was reassuring. But there was also a comfort factor provided by the grip's Performance Duty Texture, as Walther calls it, having carried it over from its Q4 and Q5 steel-framed pistols. The tetrahedonal-shaped smooth “bumps” offer a pleasant departure from textures typically found on grips of some other polymers I’d fired in the past few years—and there were a lot of them. Mercifully, there would be no evidence embedded on my palm as proof I’d fired the pistol. The texture also wasn't so smooth that I would worry about losing grasp from sweaty summer humidity or using winter gloves. I felt confident this is a gun I can comfortably retain during extended range sessions or a stressful self-defense scenario. The three choices in backstraps also ensure I could size it optimally for my small hands (I used the medium). As others have noted, there are no finger grooves on the PDP, but the sides of the grips feature contours, which contribute to its great ergonomics.
Another obvious change between the PPQ and the PDP is that there are larger, deeper slide serrations (dubbed SuperTerrain by Walther)—something women, especially, appreciate when it comes to slide manipulation.
One of the most talked-about features of the PDP is that it comes optics-ready. Unfortunately for those who already own a red dot looking for a home, there would be no instant gratification once they unpacked the box. Rather, users must go the Walther website to obtain a free plate by mail by identifying which optic they plan to install. Admittedly it’s a bit disappointing to have to wait, especially for a gun otherwise so ideal out-of-the-box. Nonetheless, with red-dots clearly no longer a fad, the optics-ready feature is by far the biggest upgrade from the PPQ. Although the model I shot had no red-dot, it’s also the most welcome feature for most Walther enthusiasts.
For me, what makes the difference in the sea of black striker-fired pistols is a gun’s shootability and accuracy. Historically, first rounds fired from nearly every striker-fired pistol I test tend to land low. I’m not sure which of the shooting fundamentals I am violating to have this recurring issue, possibly anticipating the shot, bad follow-through, or not locking my grip tightly—errors I typically don’t commit when I shoot a 1911. Whatever the reason, it just is. I have tried to attribute it to my proclivity for 1911-style pistols, with which I am usually extremely accurate from my first shot. With 9 mm striker-fired pistols, I typically suffer a brief period of frustration and adjustment before I feel satisfied with my performance.
It is for these reasons I was so pleasantly surprised after emptying my first two 15-round magazines from the PDP Compact. None of the shots were low. While my groups could certainly use improving, I considered it a win to see everything hit near the center of the paper. To what do I attribute this new phenomenon? While there are multiple factors that cumulatively contributed to a great shooting experience—like the adequate sights (in this case, three white dots, rear adjustable and replaceable with aftermarket varieties like the popular Glock sights); along with low perceived recoil—I will largely credit my sudden polymer prowess to a superb new trigger, which now boasts less takeup and a shorter reset than that of the PPQ (a trigger that many have proclaimed one of the best). It is without question the leading factor for my newfound success. While I am accustomed to the amazing triggers typical of 1911-style pistols, I was not expecting this equally pleasing trigger pull on the PDP.
There are other design and engineering factors in this gun (outlined in these reviews by NRA's Shooting Illustrated and American Rifleman) that no doubt fostered better shooting techniques and better shot placement; other features are just thoughtful—like the ambidextrous slide and mag release. But mostly, this gun just feels good to shoot. It's easy to shoot. And when a gun is easy to shoot, especially for women, we commit to more range time, and ultimately become more proficient. I am quite sure that sentiment applies to men too, but women are more vocal about their choices, and tend to admit immediately to not liking the way a gun feels. We will put it away rather than suffer through a punishing range time just to prove we can.
Which brings us back to our survey—the 4th Annual NRA Ladies Pistol Project. After a three-year hiatus, a group of 18 women convened in Houston, Texas, in October 2021 to fire and survey 14 handguns to determine which features and which gun overall they preferred. Most of the guns were new models, including the Walther PDP Compact. After firing each gun, the women completed an 18-question true/false survey that included questions like, “I can reach the trigger consistently”; “I can reach the magazine/cylinder release consistently”; and “I can manipulate the slide stop lever and lock the action open.” While LPP4 welcomed several experienced shooters, many of the them were relatively new to shooting handguns—and could be considered ideal participants for the Ladies Pistol Project as they might be less partial in their opinions, not yet having enough shooting history to form a loyalty to a particular make or model of gun.
Of note, Walther pistols have been included in all in four Ladies Pistol Project (the CCP, PPS M2, CCP2 and the PDP Compact).
The full details of LPP4, including the list of pistols tested and where each placed can be found here. The Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ (our 2021 Golden Bullseye winner) scored highest* (thanks to not only its incomparable slide operation, but also its magazine, which the ladies could load effortlessly). The Walther PDP Compact scored just behind the EZ, boasting an impressive overall average score of 14.833 points out of a possible 18. The women overwhelmingly rated this pistol as one they could operate easily, including being able to reach and manipulate the controls, and rack the slide. The only area in which the participants scored it less than the EZ was the possibility of carrying it concealed. Compared to the EZ, which features a slide width of 1.07”, the PDP Compact's width is 1.34", a quarter of an inch difference. Although in reality the size is negligible (and only about an ounce difference in weight), the beefier grip combined with a slightly longer overall length contributed to the womens' perception that the gun may be more difficult to carry on-body. Price was not a factor in the survey, although with an MSRP of $649, this gun offers incredible value.
It is important to note that survey answers for the Walther PDP Compact also corroborate earlier LPP findings as to the size, caliber, weight, barrel length and trigger pull of pistols most preferred by women. The PDP Compact falls within most specification parameters (barrel length greater than 3.25”; weight 20 to 30 ozs.; 9 mm; striker-fired). The only factor in which the ladies deviated was trigger pull weight, on average preferring a trigger pull greater than 6 lbs. but less than 7 lbs. Perhaps it is because the PDP’s trigger is so superbly engineered that they didn’t mind it being lighter. It’s also interesting that the PDP edged out the ubiquitous Glock 19, pushing the world’s most popular 9 mm pistol into the the third spot after placing second in LPP3 and first in LPP2. This suggests that manufacturers indeed have their fingers on the pulse of the features that women prefer in their handguns, and are responding in kind. Although the PDP is earning the highest praise in traditional male-centric firearm press, it is gratifying to know that manufactures are capable of building a pistol equally revered by both genders.
Because the Walther PDP meets each of the criteria for an NRA Golden Bullseye, combined with the independent corroboration by the women in the LPP4 survey, the Walther PDP Compact is the clear choice for NRA Women’s Handgun of the Year.
*The 9 mm version of the Shield EZ was introduced in early 2020, and was awarded the NRA Women Golden Bullseye for Handgun of the year in 2021. Thus it was no longer in contention for a 2022 Golden Bullseye Award, based on criteria laid out for NRA Golden Bullseye nominations.