Many recent judicial rulings enabling a citizen’s lawful right to carry a concealed handgun coincide with the ever-present threat of violent criminal attack and a newer threat of terrorist activity in the homeland have greatly increased interest in sub-compact pistols. So, I will add another pistol for consideration and review the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm and provide my observations of the handgun’s fit, function, and finances. I’ll also incorporate some useful accessories, such as the CrossBreed MiniTuck inside-the-waistband holster and Tractiongrips pre-cut grip enhancing tape.
A Little History
Following the immense popularity of Glock’s entry into the U.S. law enforcement and civilian firearms marketplace, Smith & Wesson introduced the polymer-framed Sigma in 1993. However, S&W’s design was so close to a Glock that a copyright infringement suit ended the Sigma’s run in 1997. Ten years later, S&W re-entered the polymer-framed striker-fired pistol market with the M&P (Military and Police) line. The 4.5 inch barreled .45 caliber M&P won Handgun of the Year in 2007 and it’s popularity spawned mid-sized and compact versions of the venerable .45ACP as well as 9mm chamberings in 2008. Later, in 2011, Smith & Wesson produced the M&P 22, chambered in .22 caliber long-rifle.
Also similar to Glock, the standard M&P line of handguns had wide-body frames which could contain “double stacked” magazines… and were somewhat difficult to conceal. So, in 2012, Smith & Wesson introduced the M&P Shield in 9mm and .40cal with a thinner slide and frame, and thus “single stack” magazine to enhance concealability. In 2014, Smith & Wesson introduced the M&P Bodyguard chambered in the diminutive .380ACP.
Initially, the M&P design incorporated only two “passive” safeties (a striker block to prevent inertial movement from striking the primer and a “hinged” trigger design which prevented trigger movement unless it was firmly pressed by the shooter). However, many shooters who wanted to use the M&P pistols for concealed carry or a back-up gun desired the addition of an “active” safety (which requires the conscious activation and de-activation on behalf of the handler). Thus Smith & Wesson incorporated an active “thumb safety” as a factory option in their M&P line.
In addition to client requests for training with a sub-compact M&P Shield, I too wanted to learn more about this handgun and considered it for my personal concealed carry. So I took advantage of a Father’s Day sale this past June and purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm for training and personal protection.
Introducing the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield 9mm
By the numbers, this pistol has an overall length of 6.1 inches, width of 0.95 inches, height of 4.6 inches, and barrel of 3.1 inches… all weighing-in at just 19 ounces. It ships with two magazines… a “flush” magazine that holds seven 9mm cartridges, and an extended magazine that holds eight. The “three dot” fixed-sights present a clear picture and seem durable. For the most part, the operating surfaces mirror the full-size M&P line. However, the Shield does not include the interchangeable back-strap common to its bigger sibling. The advertised trigger pull of 6.5 pounds was verified using a Wheeler analog trigger pull gauge. With considerable “free travel” the pull weight rapidly progresses to the 6.5lbs and lingers there for a slightly “creepy” sear disengagement. Some of this perceived “trigger creep” may be due to the unique striker action inherent to the M&P design. While most striker-fired pistols are considered single action (slide action retracts and holds the striker fully retracted until sear disengagement releases the striker for full forward motion), the M&P line is technically considered “double action” since slide action retracts the striker to 98%. Trigger movement retracts the striker the remaining 2% until the sear disengages and sends it forward.
With its aggressive and “forward facing” slide serrations, the M&P Shield is easy to clear, manipulate, disassemble, clean and re-assemble. It breaks-down into the basic elements similar to other models… slide, frame, barrel, and recoil spring captured in the recoil spring guide. Some owners complain about alleged safety implications stemming from the requirement to pull the trigger in order to accomplish full disassembly. Other than adding one more step, I’ve never had a problem with this. I believe that following the basic safety rules and ALWAYS ensuring the firearm is unloaded prior to disassembly and cleaning will avert any safety hazards. However, apathy and carelessness pave the way to negligent discharges.
Impressions, Fit, Function, and Finances
Eager to evaluate this pistol and test its “out of the box” reliability, I took the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm directly from the store counter to the range and put it to the test by firing 300 rounds of 115 grain Full Metal Jacket ammunition from various distances. I’m fairly impressed with the ease of operation and comfort in this small and affordable package. In the following paragraphs, I’ll evaluate its fit, function, and finances along with a full range report.
Fit – Although small and light, the recoil was both comfortable and manageable. While the extended 8-round magazine provided ample contact for all of my fingers, the 7-round flush magazine did not. However, the generous beavertail functioned as it was designed to both prevent slide-bite from over gripping while also countering any rotational movement from recoil and slide cycle. I’m impressed with the mechanical design in this pistol as it off-sets the typical trade-offs inherent to lightweight sub-compacts.
In addition to evaluating how the gun fit my large hands, I also considered concealability as an overall function of fit. In this aspect, the short barrel/thin frame combination fully met my expectations. I paired the Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm with a quality MiniTuck kydex/leather inside the waistband holster from CrossBreed Holsters LLC. I own a few CrossBreed products and am impressed with their quality, durability, customer service, and price. The leather chassis of the holster both molds to the body and adds comfort during all-day carry and long-distance drives. The Kydex material holds its shape, even during inside-the-waistband (IWB) carry, and enables easy unholstering and reholstering. All the while, the sturdy metal belt clips keep the holster positioned correctly.
OK… back to fit… with a lightweight quality IWB holster the M&P Shield is extremely concealable, even under a T-shirt and shorts. The leather/Kydex combination does its job of holding the pistol firm and releasing it on demand. Furthermore, the ergonomic design of the Shield provides ample grip access and contact for a smooth and consistent draw without having to re-adjust hand placement through the process of the draw.
So, in regard to fit, I’d rate the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm as a 4 out of 5 within the context of its sub-compact concealable design.
When choosing a handgun for concealed carry, I share the concerns and interests of most shooters who desire an active “thumb” safety incorporated to complement the passive safeties. The M&P Shield is manufactured both with and without an active thumb safety. This safety, however, is small and leaves little surface area for manipulation. Admittedly, it is easier to disengage the safety than to engage it. For range or training sessions, this can become tedious. But, since this is primarily a concealed carry handgun, easy disengagement is an acceptable trade-off.
When it comes to concealed carry handguns, reliable function is, perhaps, the highest priority. As I mentioned before, I initially tested this gun directly out of the box. After conducting a visual inspection, running a Bore Snake through the barrel to ensure there were no obstructions, and conducting a safety check, I fired 300 rounds of FMJ ammunition. At approximately 280 rounds, I experienced a failure to eject (FTE). While most FTEs are caused by extractor problems (dirty extractor claws or improper extractor tension), I believe this one was the result of lack of lubrication. Empirical evidence supports this theory. After this first range session, I conducted a detailed cleaning and lubrication of the pistol and fired 400 more rounds on my second range session with no malfunctions whatsoever. Bottom line, the M&P Shield did not pass the “out of the box” reliability test, but has been firing flawlessly ever since cleaning and maintaining it properly.
Otherwise, when it comes to function, the operating surfaces are easy to manipulate, the safeties perform their duties, and the recoil is very manageable. I give it 3 of 5 stars for function.
Out of all the sub-compact handguns I’ve owned, tested, and evaluated, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield is the most affordable. Smith & Wesson lists the MSRP for this gun at $449.00 and online outlets like Davidson’s Gallery of Guns list it from the mid-to-high $300s. With an outstanding holiday sale price, I was able to pick this one up at a military and police retail outlet for just $312.00. Based on the features, name brand, and quality, I believe you can get a lot for your dollar with this gun. I give the M&P Shield a 5 of 5 for finances.
Observations and Range Report
By now, I’ve settled-into a fairly standard method of testing and evaluating handguns by shooting five single-shot strings in a limit of 2 seconds from distances ranging from 10 to 30 feet, engaging multiple targets at 21 feet, and conducting untimed accuracy testing at 75 feet. So, I conducted this test with the M&P Shield.
As a brief aside, I must admit that I had a little difficulty getting used to the smooth trigger face. For over two decades, I’ve learned to manipulate the trigger by pressing the center-of-the-pad of my index finger squarely on the trigger face… and nearly all of my pistols have some sort of texture on the trigger face. However, due to the 92 degrees and nearly 100% humidity on the range during the test, my trigger finger would slide across the trigger face as I applied increased pressure required to fire the shot. In this process, I noticed that many of my shots were trending low and left. For a few shots, I used the “first joint” on my trigger finger, but two and a half decades of ingrained training brought me back to unconsciously using the pad of my finger.
Through the course of my shooting career, I’d come across many fellow shooters who improve their grip by either applying some sort of skateboard tape as a temporary measure or make a more permanent modification by stippling the grip surfaces. Not wanting to make any permanent modifications, I opted for conducting an internet search for skateboard tape. That is when I came across a company called Tractiongrips who make a wide variety of grip enhancing applications pre-cut for specific firearms. Hell, for just $8.00, I decided to give them a try.
The instructions provided with the grips were clear and easy to follow. Key among them were to clean the frame with dish soap instead of a more aggressive gun cleaner and to use either a hair dryer or heat gun to both dry and warm the frame surface prior to application and to better activate the adhesive following the application. It took only a few minutes to complete the process. As you can see in the photo, the pre-cut tape is made to the exact specifications required for the gun while significantly enhancing the area to provide traction. I contacted Don Myers at Tractiongrips and explained my dilemma with the smooth trigger face. While the kit does not include a pre-cut piece for the trigger face, Don sent some additional material for me to apply in this area.
I shot the standard test both with and without the Tractiongrips applied to the M&P Shield in nearly the same temperatures (and sweaty hands). I’m very impressed with the difference the Tractiongrips made while shooting. While a more aggressive skateboard tape may have made more of a difference, I can tell you that the Tractiongrips surface was more comfortable than an aggressive tape and it didn’t snag on my clothing when I carried the M&P Shield in an inside-the-waistband holster. Again, I’m impressed.
For the basic accuracy and function test, I fired 5 one-shot drills transitioning from the holster to the two-handed standing position in a time limit of 2 seconds for each shot using a PACT Club Timer. The three-dot sights were fairly easy to pick-up and the gun proved to be very easy to point to the target. As you can see with distances ranging from 10 feet to 30 feet, I was able to keep the groups from 0.5 inches to 1.75 inches. Most shooting errors were due to vertical stringing and even with the Tractiongrips applied, I still pushed a few shots low and to the left. Trust me, it was much more pronounced without the Tractiongrips!
In order to test multiple target engagement, recoil management, and follow-through, I placed a sheet containing five 3.5 inch circles at 21 feet. With a time limit of 8 seconds, I drew the gun from the holster and fired one shot in each of the circles. In the photo on the left, I conducted the test 10 times without the Tractiongrips. In the photo on the right, I conducted the test 5 times with the Tractiongrips applied. While the photo on the left isn’t bad for shooting from the draw at 21 feet and engaging 5 targets in 8 seconds, the photo on the right clearly depicts the enhanced control I had over the gun with the Tractiongrips applied.
For longer-range accuracy, I placed an NRA B-6 bulls-eye target at 75 feet and fired 10 shots from the two-handed standing position with no time limit. Again, the photo on the left is without Tractiongrips and the photo on the right is with Tractiongrips. While I still pushed a few shots to the left, you can see a much more consistent group on the right.
Having competed for a season with the full-size Smith & Wesson M&P, I’m already a fan of the S&W brand and M&P platform. While I was pleased to see that they produced a sub-compact single-stack version, I was even more pleased to see that they incorporated an active thumb safety into the design. I admit that the M&P Shield “lost a few points” for one failure to eject during the “out of the box” test as well as the need to enhance the grips. Overall, I’m impressed with the gun at this price-point and have included it in my inventory both for instruction and for my personal concealed carry. The fit, function, and finances worked for me with a few minor modifications and I believe that it may work for you too as a concealed carry or back-up gun.
What’s your favorite concealed carry gun? Sound-off in the comments below or shoot me an e-mail at HHall@aegisacademy.com
Stay safe and shoot straight
– Howard Hall
Disclaimer: The observations and opinions expressed herein are the author’s alone provided only for your consideration. I have no personal, professional, or business ties to Smith & Wesson, CrossBreed Holsters, or Tractiongrips and I have not been compensated in any way by any of the aforementioned entities for this review.