In this article, I will provide a product review and range report on the Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm pistol as both a general equipment review and as information on an Aegis Academy rental gun. To set the proper context, let’s start with a little history.
In 1982, Glock took the firearms market by storm when it introduced a durable and highly reliable polymer framed pistol with its unique “safe action” trigger. Shortly after the Austrian Police adopted the 9mm Glock 17 as its duty sidearm, military and police forces around the globe either adopted or strongly considered this venerable platform. In the years that followed, many other pistol manufacturers rushed to regain this valuable corner of the firearms market.
For decades, Smith and Wesson revolvers and semi-automatic pistols had been long-favored sidearms for U.S. law enforcement. Adapting to law enforcement and consumer trends, S&W threw its hat in the polymer-framed pistol ring in 1993 with the “Sigma.” However, the Sigma design shared so many similarities with Glock that the subsequent lawsuit for patent infringement was eventually settled out of court in 1997.
Adapting to the ever expanding polymer-framed pistol market and aggressively seeking to enter into military contracts while also regaining a foothold in law enforcement circles, S&W introduced the M&P, or Military and Police, pistol line in 2005 with the M&P 9mm. Since then, they have expanded the line to include full-size, mid-size, compact, competition, shield, bodyguard and revolver models in 40 S&W, .45ACP, .357 Sig, .380ACP, and .22 Long Rifle. The M&P moniker has also extended to .357 Magnum/.38 Special M&P revolvers.
The S&W M&P pistols are polymer-framed, striker fired, short recoil operated, semi-automatic breech-locking pistols. This design incorporates an inertial striker safety which prevents the striker from moving forward and igniting the primer due to pistol momentum alone. This passive safety is disengaged only when the shooter depresses the trigger to initiate the firing sequence. The original models had no active or thumb safeties, but later models include this as an option. Other options include a magazine safety which prevents the pistol from firing while the magazine is removed as well as an integrated ignition system lock.
Other common design features include an integrated Picatinny rail to mount lasers or lights, ambidextrous slide lock, reversible magazine release, aggressive forward cut rear-cocking serrations, steel low mount “three-dot” or tritium sights, external extractor, loaded chamber indicator, and interchangeable back-straps to adjust to different hand sizes.
The action is a bit interesting. Most striker-fired pistols are considered single action since the slide recoil sets and locks the striker in a position ready to fire and the next trigger pull releases the striker to only move forward… thus single action. However, slide recoil in the S&W M&P sets and locks the striker 98% to the rear. The next trigger pull completes the remaining 2% movement to the rear before the sear releases the striker to move forward. Therefore, the S&W M&P is considered a striker-fired Double Action Only pistol. (Source: Smith and Wesson)
Ergonomically speaking, the bore axis is very low and an extended grip tang provides exceptional “guidance” toward a proper grip while drawing from the holster as well as recoil management during rapid fire.
The pistol tested in this product review is the same model as the Aegis Academy rental gun. Actually, it IS one of the Aegis Academy rental guns. The Smith and Wesson web site lists this pistol’s attributes as follows:
I am very familiar with the M&P pistol line. I purchased a full-size M&P .45ACP in 2011 and used it extensively in USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) competitions in the Production Class through 2013. I have also used the full-size M&P 9mm on the range during instruction with Aegis Academy. In the following paragraphs, I’ll review the fit, function, and finances of the full-size M&P 9mm.
Fit – I found the full-size frame to be well suited to my large hands… even with the “Medium” back-strap insert installed. Aegis clients with smaller hands appreciated the option to “go down” one size and have the small back-strap insert installed. However, those with the smallest hands did occasionally have trouble gaining a “high grip” to ensure the tang sat snugly against the web between their thumb and forefinger. For most shooters, this pistol points naturally and the combination of the low bore axis and the extended grip tang made it easy to get the first shots on target while keeping the recoil manageable for rapid follow-up shots as well.
I personally appreciated the extended grip tang… especially when drawing from the holster. Again, with large hands, this is my main complaint with Glock pistols: overgripping the frame and getting “bitten” by the slide. See the photo below.
Function – The polymer frame makes this a relatively light weapon and the double action only striker fired operation with no active safeties make this pistol that is very easy to manipulate and operate. The ambidextrous slide lock is mounted close to the frame with very little over-hang, which makes it unlikely that the shooter will inadvertently lock the slide to the rear while firing. However, this feature can also make it a bit difficult to purposefully lock the slide to the rear when demonstrating a clear weapon or preparing it for disassembly and cleaning. The full-size model provides a generous sight radius and sufficient mass for recreation, competition, and home defense, but may be a bit too long for concealed carry.
I consider maintainability to be a sub-set of function, and this pistol’s simple design makes it VERY easy to maintain. Again, comparing it to the Glock’s comparably difficult disassembly sequence, taking the M&P down to its basic components is akin to most other semi-automatic pistols. (1) lock the slide to the rear; (2) rotate the take-down lever 90 degrees clockwise; (3) release the slide forward; (4) pull the trigger; and (5) disassemble.
Once disassembled, the four major parts (slide, barrel, recoil spring/recoil spring guide, and frame) are easy to clean and maintain.
Also, installing any of the three different back-straps into the frame is equally simple and requires no tools, which is a plus while you are on the range. Simply rotate the frame tool 90 degrees to either side, pull it clear, and then pull the back strap away from the frame, place the new back strap into the frame, and reinstall the frame tool. Coincidentally, the frame tool can also be used to facilitate a detailed disassembly of the frame, if desired.
Finances – Comparatively speaking, the M&P 9 is very affordable and the price lends itself to many consumers on the market. Smith and Wesson lists the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price of the full size M&P 9mm as $569.00. However, retailers typically sell this pistol in the mid $400.00 range. For Law Enforcement and Military Personnel (active, reserve, and retired), retailers like Quantico Tactical list this pistol with standard sights for $398.00 (click here).
Also, the magazines are very affordable compared to many other manufacturers. 9mm 17-round magazines can be purchased for as little as $25.00 each.
As I had mentioned earlier, I’ve competed with the full size M&P in .45ACP for two years in USPSA. During that time, I shot approximately 2,000 230grain Lead Round-Nose hand-loads with no malfunctions. Its light weight and superior ergonomics made it an ideal pistol for the USPSA production class. I will note, however, that the earlier M&P in .45ACP had a long trigger re-set with no discernible tactile re-set. This means that the trigger did not “click” when it moved forward far enough to re-set and I could not tell exactly when it did so. While the pistol never mechanically failed, I did experience a number of “shooter-induced” malfunctions when I “mashed the trigger” while attempting follow-on shots before properly re-setting the trigger.
Please note, however, that S&W has corrected this problem. Newer models incorporate both a shorter and tactile re-set trigger. I do not know exactly when S&W incorporated this update, but the pistol tested was manufactured in April of 2013 and IT DOES include the short and tactile re-set.
In case you were interested in determining when an M&P was manufactured, look at the 4 digit code on the label of the box. The first number in the sequence is the year it was manufactured and the following three numbers indicate the number of days. The pistol tested has the number 3121 on the label, which means that it was manufactured on the 121st day of 2013.
I conducted this test on 15 January, 2015 at Sharpshooter’s Indoor Range in Lorton, Virginia. I tested the function of the pistol with 17 rounds of Hornady Critical Defense 115gr FTX cartridges shooting 7 rapid pairs and finishing the magazine with three rounds as fast as I could fire them. The M&P expertly fired and cycled these cartridges and I’m satisfied with this combination for home or personal defense.
To test firearm precision and personal accuracy, I fired American Eagle 115gr Full Metal Jacket rounds from a number of distances. There were no failures to feed, fire, extract, or eject during these tests.
For the first series of tests, I engaged a target with 5 rounds, individually fired from the low-ready position, in a time limit of 2 seconds each (measured on a PACT shot timer), at distances that ranged from 10 feet to 30 feet.
As you can see, the American Eagle ammo fired through the full size M&P 9mm performed well and produced groups that are quite acceptable. Notice that my 30 foot group is a bit better than my 25 foot group. I attribute this to the relative size of the target and that I, again, focused more on the target than the front sight when the small diamond was 25 feet away compared to the larger diamond at 30 feet. Regardless, with a 2 second time limit, this is quite acceptable.
At 75 feet, I fired ten rounds from the off-hand position in a modified weaver stance with no time limit. This target represents the best of three attempts to meet my personal standard for precision/accuracy of keeping it “all in the black.” For this target, I scored an 80 out of a possible 100 points with only 1 X-ring shot.
Analyzing these targets and comparing them to my experiences shooting fast-paced action-style competitions in USPSA, the consistency leads me to conclude that the light weight, ergonomics, and recoil-management of the polymer M&P pistols lend them to ease in “pointability,” target transitions, and recoil management for follow-up shots, but the platform is simply too light and perhaps ill-constructed for longer-range precision shots.
I do, indeed, like many things about the M&P design. Most of all, I like the extended grip tang and its positive effect on guiding my hand into a high hold during the draw, its pointability, and recoil management. Comparing the older non-tactile long trigger re-set to the updated design with a shorter tactile re-set is a significant improvement. As a brief aside, I also appreciate some unique design attributes in the magazines themselves. The factory magazines for this pistol have indicators on BOTH SIDES (even on one side and odd on the other), so I know exactly how many rounds are loaded in these magazines at all times. Notice in the photo, it is easy to see that the magazine on the left holds 15 rounds and the one on the right holds 8. Sometimes, it truly is the small things.
The full size S&W M&P 9mm pistol is ideal for recreation, action-oriented competition, and home defense due to its ease of operation and maintenance. These same attributes combined with its comparatively low price-point make it desirable for newer shooters as well. With the M&P’s many positive design attributes produced in a variety of calibers, frame sizes, and slide lengths, there is something for just about every shooter.
For me, it is a little too light to serve all of the functions for which I would use it. I prefer pistols with metal frames. While the fit, function, and finances would be a 4 or 5 of five stars for many shooters, the light weight of the polymer frame made it a 3 of 5 stars in my opinion only.
Do you have any positive or negative experiences with the S&W M&P pistols? We would love to hear them. Sound off in the comments below or send me an e-mail at HHall@aegisacademy.com.
Stay safe and shoot straight.
~ Howard Hall
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