If for some reason I had to make an impromptu trip to hell and could only use a handgun to fight my way back, the Heckler & Koch MARK 23 makes a damn good case
for why it should be that handgun. For you ’80s babies out there, you know the MARK 23 as the Metal Gear Solid gun. Touted as one of the most thoroughly tested handguns in history, the HK MK23 was literally designed to never die. It’s like the NBA regular season; it never plays defense.
HK developed the MK23 for entry into the Offensive Handgun Weapon System program as requested by the U.S. Special Operations Command (US SOCOM):
Essentially, the organization that directs the activities of every elite military badass on the planet, from the Navy SEALs to the Army Special Forces. And they got their contract in the end.
So why would the U.S. Special Operations Command adopt a gun that, for all intents and purposes, looks like the polymer version of a Desert Eagle? Maybe the fact that they shot 30,000 rounds of +P ammo through it before it started to eat itself alive, or that they were able to shoot on average of 6,000 rounds through the MARK 23 before it jammed. But I’m sure the four groups of .5 inches from 25 meters with five rounds going through the same hole had something to do with it.
Suffice it to say, the MARK 23 is a juggernaut freak of nature that for some reason people keep trying to turn into a novelty.
Depending on who you ask, the MARK 23 either looks like a bloated USP or RoboCop’s off-duty concealed carry gun. I’m slightly obsessed with the looks of the USP, so visually, the MARK 23 makes me all warm and tingly on the inside. The MK23 has a very utilitarian beauty to it. It’s a brutishly handsome gun with classic lines that prevent the gun’s looks from ever really aging. I believe that 20 to 30 years from now, the MARK 23 will still look relevant and fresh next to whatever silly laser blasters we’re using by then.
When you just look at the MARK 23, it’s a massive behemoth of a gun. However, when you actually get your hands around it, it just feels a bit larger than standard. I have small hands, and the grips didn’t overwhelm me; I was able to maintain control of the gun without very much stress. The grip texture is aggressive, but the overall ergonomic language of the gun is a little dated. There are no fancy replaceable backstraps or alien-like grip textures and contours. It’s quite literally just a grip with some texturing.
Of all the double-action/single-action triggers I’ve pulled, I want to say the MARK 23’s is the best. The thing is, kind of like that weird moment when you try to recall everyone you’ve ever slept with, I feel like I’m forgetting one. This isn’t some super slick tricked out trigger with a one-pound pull. What you get is a very clean 11.4-pound double-action pull and a 5.17-pound single-action pull with little to no creep. The reset is predictably short. The trigger itself is textured, making finger placement a no-brainer. The guard is so big I could fire the gun with my fist if I wanted to. The overall trigger assembly really does make this meteorite of a handgun easier to shoot.
The one-piece machined steel slide on the MARK 23 is what gives this gun its larger-than-life presence. Every time I rack the gun I feel like I’m closing the door to a bank vault. It’s my favorite part of the gun because it’s so arrogantly massive. It also serves as the greatest reflection of how beautifully over-engineered this firearm is.
With a 5.87-inch threaded barrel, the MARK 23 could pass for a rifle its barrel is so long. I have no doubt the long barrel length and resulting 7.76-inch sight radius play a large roll in this gun’s jaw-dropping accuracy.
There’s a lot going on with this gun in the safety department. The left side of the MARK 23 looks like an industrial art exhibition. There are levers on top of levers and surface indentations, which turn out to be the frame-mounted silent decocking lever and ambidextrous safety lever. However, my experiences have proven that there is nothing really all that quiet about the “silent” decocker, which is supposed to aid in “operational stealthiness.” The safety is easy to engage, but you can only engage it when the hammer is back, so yes, you can “carry” this bad boy cocked and locked.
I could go on a diatribe about how the “Universal Mounting Grooves" for installing accessories don’t actually universally mount anything. But, considering the MARK 23 was developed before 1913 Picatinny rails were all the rage, I am going to let the MARK 23 make it. Just know that if it ain’t HK or some other HK proprietary feature, and you aren’t buying some gaudy adapter, it likely won’t fit on the MARK 23.
Personally, I love HK’s paddle magazine release. Granted, I can’t exactly reach it on the MARK 23 without completely changing my grip and contorting my wrist like I’m throwing up gang signs. Magazines drop free and clear in a hurry, like they’ve been waiting their whole lives to leave the confines of the MARK 23’s grip.
Considering the sheer mass of this gun, you’d think it would have a capacity comparable to a belt-fed minigun. This would be completely and utterly incorrect. Don’t get me wrong, 12 rounds of .45 is nothing to sneeze at, but when the host of said 12 rounds is damn near the size of my iPad Air, the number seems a bit uninspiring.
Just going by its size and mass, the MARK 23 can look a bit intimidating to shoot, but it’s actually quite easy. You can literally feel HK’s patented recoil reduction system working to fight off all sensations of recoil, like white blood cells fighting off an infection. You pull the trigger expecting a violent jolt, but instead all you get is quite a bit of muzzle flip and a nice but powerful thud.
Shooting the MARK 23 fast is no easy task, due to the unavoidable muzzle flip you get from having a two-mile-long barrel and slide. However, the trigger is fast and helps with the process of speed shooting. I kept shooting faster than the gun could get back on target, so I had to make a conscious effort to slow down a bit and wait for my sights to get back on target.
The MARK 23 is the only handgun that I have made to hit a man-sized target from 180 yards twice within the first four shots. I was able to repeat this several times, so luck had nothing to do with it. The gun is inherently accurate, and with the awesome sight radius on this thing, I might as well have been shooting a rifle. Ok, maybe not.
In all, the MARK 23 has a place in my heart because it makes shooting feel so epic. You can put in work with this gun. I hate that people are so quick to turn the MARK 23 into a novelty item. Desert Eagles are novelties because they’re so much bigger than their functional use. While the MARK 23 is big, it is reliable, relatively easy to shoot, incredibly accurate, and way more ergonomic than the Desert Eagle and guns like it can ever wish to be. Say what you want about the size, weight and mass, the MARK 23 is no novelty. If you ask me, it’s an engineering marvel.
Colion Noir is an NRA News Commentator and the host of NOIR on NRA Freestyle.