While certainly not the first to get into the pocket semiauto market, Smith & Wesson’s (S&W) entry—the M&P Shield—should prove very troubling to those who believe they have the frontrunner in this contest.
At first, a quick inspection of the M&P Shield showed it to be yet another polymer and steel pocket semiauto. Not so. Here, as the saying goes, looks are deceiving. With this M&P Shield, S&W has struck all the right notes, both those necessary and those desirable, without including any baggage.
I obtained 9mm sample Shield from S&W and have recorded my observations below.
The M&P Shield is a 19 oz. striker-fired semiauto chambered for either 9mm, .40 SW or .45 ACP and holds seven or eight rounds of 9mm and six or seven rounds in .40 SW and .45 ACP.
The stainless steel slide and barrel the Melonite treatment and are black, as is the polymer frame and all small parts. On the 9mm and .40 SW models, the frame width measure .95″ and the slide width 1″. Overall length measures 6.1″, while its height comes in at 4.6″. The barrel measures 3.1″ long. The .45 ACP model carries a 3.3″ barrel and measures 6.5″ long.
You can buy the Shield with or without a manual thumb safety at the top-left side of the frame (mine had a safety), with the takedown lever above the trigger guard. The slide catch is rearward of this, and the magazine catch is located behind the lower rear of the ample, rounded trigger guard.
S&W supplies two magazines with the Shield: one flush-fit seven rounder, and an extended body eight rounder. Both have identical removable polymer base plates. The extended magazine wears a polymer collar that fills the otherwise-open area of the magazine where it protrudes from the frame. The collar is a press fit. There are witness holes on both sides of the magazine bodies, numbered 3–7 or 3–8.
The top of the slide is flat with rounded edges. A visual loaded-chamber indicator is countersunk into the rear of the chamber hood and the forward upper edge of the breech face. S&W terms this the “Type 1 Indicator.” There’s also a Type 2 indicator, which is a similarly-positioned moveable arm that raises above the slide when a cartridge is chambered. S&W included two different types because some states mandate a tactile loaded-chamber device. Such laws sometimes also require a magazine disconnect, which is provided where such laws apply. These were not present with my sample gun.The magazine is neither single nor double column; cartridges are staggered until right before then top, where they form a single line from which they feed into the chamber. This setup allows more capacity and positive cartridge feeding without undue lengthening of the frame.
The standard three-white-dot sighting system affords a good sight picture (night and laser sights are available, too). Sight adjustment is done with the front sight and for windage only. The sight must be moved laterally in its dovetail slot. The rear sight body is shaped to allow snag-free removal from pocket, purse or holster, and the square sight notch, coupled with the squared-up front sight, allowed for good sighting. The 9mm gun has a sight radius of 5.3″.
The ejection port is open across the top of the slide and almost completely down the right side. An ample external and spring-powered extractor is located at the port’s lower right rear. Six scalloped and forward-leaning grasping grooves are beneath the rear sight area. A passive firing pin safety is also in the slide.
The slide features two thicknesses. The upper, more narrow portion runs from the top to almost the bottom edge. This narrow area extends back to just above the frame-mounted slide catch. The lower forward edges of the slide face are angled inward, which helps in holstering the pistol. The striker-retaining backplate is nicely pebbled, reducing thumb slippage if you are trained to press on the rear of the slide while reholstering.
The slide’s left side is marked “M&P 9 Shield” up front and features the S&W logo at the rear, just forward of the six scalloped grasping grooves. On the right, S&W roll marked “Smith & Wesson, Springfield, MA USA.” A white-lettered warning, “CAUTION CAPABLE OF FIRING WITH MAGAZINE REMOVED,” is beneath the ejection port. The caliber designation is stamped “9MM” on the chamber hood. The gun’s serial number is at the top left of the grip area of the frame.
On the frame, as previously mentioned, there are either two or three operating controls—the horizontally-grooved disassembly lever, slide catch and the optional manual thumb safety—all on the upper left of the frame. Note: You can activate the manual thumb safety even with the trigger pulled and not reset. You can also disassemble and re-assemble the M&P Shield with the manual safety in either position. There is no visual indicator of the safety’s status.
The ejector is on the lower left side on top of the frame. The slide travels on four rails or metal inserts, which are part of the trigger group.
On the M&P Shield, trigger reset is short compared to other pistols of this type. There are two clicks. The first occurs right as you ease up on the pulled trigger; then you hear the second and much more distinct click as you allow the trigger to travel farther forward. This is the striker and sear resetting. You can now fire another shot without any further forward trigger movement.
The trigger is of pivoting design and is in two sections, upper and lower. The two are part of the drop safety (often referred to as a trigger safety), the purpose of which is to prevent the gun from discharging if dropped on a hard surface. In use, when you pull the trigger to fire the gun, you don’t notice the safety system’s operation. Factory specifications show a trigger-pull weight at +/- 6.5 lbs. (more on this later).
The oval and inward-sloping magazine catch is located at the lower rear of the trigger guard. S&W points out on its Web site that the M&P Shield grip angle (slide to frame) measures 18 degrees. The gripping areas are all nicely pebbled. The front and backstrap pebbling is carried over in an arc onto the sides of the frame, on the tip of the magazine catch and onto the lower rear area of the trigger guard. Stippling was even done to the rear of the collar spacer used on the extended magazine. Such attention to detail, which greatly adds to providing an excellent gripping area, is usually only obtained from a custom ‘smith.
The backstrap is extended such that when the flush-plate magazine is locked in the gun, the extension supports the rear of the base plate, which then increases gripping area. This allowed me to take a cramped, almost three-finger grip on the gun—including significant palm support—and definitely helped control muzzle flip.
Update: Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center now offers Shield pistols with ported barrels/slides and fiber optic sights.
Disassembly and reassembly of the M&P Shield are simple and quite well explained and illustrated on p. 21-25 of the supplied instruction manual. (The same information for the magazine is on p. 27.) The quick version:
- After ensuring the gun is unloaded, lock the slide back;
- looking down into the ejection port and below the ejector and left side of the breech face (with the slide directed away from you), you should see a bent, narrow, flat bit of yellow-colored metal pointed upward along the back wall of the frame. This is the sear deactivation lever. With a small tool (or your finger if it will fit), push this lever forward to a horizontal position;
- pull back slightly to release the slide catch; and
- simply move the slide assembly forward and off the receiver.
The slide assembly comes off without resistance because the captive dual recoil spring needs no compression while performing this procedure. The spring does need slight compression to lift it off the barrel, which then comes out down and to the rear of the slide.
Reassemble in reverse order, while noting you don’t have to fumble with the sear deactivation lever to move it back into place because inserting a magazine does so.
Important: How and where do you lubricate the gun? Seven drops of oil are all you need. Illustrated instructions for this are on p. 24. (Note: the striker channel should remain as dry and oil free as possible.).
Ted Murphy and I met to run the M&P9 Shield at the Lower Providence Rod & Gun Club in Oaks, Pa. Murphy was greatly interested because he’s been examining pocket 9mms for hot weather use, but I was somewhat apprehensive. My concern was what sort of accuracy I’d get, because when dry firing the gun I found I had to very much lean on the trigger just as it hit its break point. The trigger pull measured at 8.25 lbs. using a Chatillon gauge. Take-up was not a problem, but trigger overtravel looked like it might be, despite the fixed overtravel stop within the trigger guard.
Murphy and I fired Winchester white box 115-grain FMJ and Federal Premium 147-grain HP Hydra-Shok ammo. Circumstances were such that we had to shoot at 12 yards. We shot seated with arms supported on the shooting bench. I found my sights snapping left or right or both with the same shot. Not good for accurate shooting.
I kept getting two or three hits together, then two or three shots wide left or right. Finally, I managed one group of 2.625″ using the Winchester ammo and called it quits. Murphy took over, and using the Federal 147-grain Hydra-Shok ammo, he started well but stacked his hits vertically, with his best group measuring at 3.25″.
We both called it a day. He commented that the white dots in the sights were distracting. I asked about the trigger weight and trigger overtravel. He said they were a bit bothersome, but manageable. The sights or, more correctly, the white dots in the sights, were the problem. Normally, I black them out (I find blacking out the rear two dots helps in precision shooting), but didn’t this time because I hadn’t taken any photos of the pistol and didn’t want to mess up the nice white color of the dots.
Later, while setting up to take the photos, I checked the trigger pull results one more time and was surprised to find the pull weight now at an even 7 lbs. A few days later, after doing the studio work, I went back to the range, this time with the rear white dots blackened. I now had Irv Gill and Joe Mulligan along to get their take on the new gun.
This time we were able to set up at 15 yards. Initially we shot up a mixed bag of ammo, including Remington and Federal 115-grain JRN, some PMC 124-grain JRN, Remington 147-grain bonded JHP Golden Saber and Irv’s 124- and 147-grain JRN lead and 124-grain JHP reloads. My best group was five rounds into 2″ at 15 yards, of which I was quite proud—for a few minutes. Then Mulligan, using some of the Winchester white box 115-grain loads, put seven rounds into a 3″–4″ group at the same distance using the head box of a Warren IDPA training target as his aiming point, and did so shooting two-handed and standing. Gill then quietly filled the extended magazine with his lead reloads and overlaid Mullligan’s hits with eight rounds. They both commented favorably on the Shield.
Later, I again measured the trigger pull, which now breaks at the factory-specified 6.5 lbs. It appears that although this sample 9mm Shield didn’t need a break-in period (nor is such recommended by S&W) and we had no malfunctions, its trigger pull certainly benefitted.
In review, I’m 99% sure the S&W M&P Shield is a winner. The final test before crowning the Shield is shooting lots of rounds to see what fails, stops or won’t work, or falls off. It’s a safe bet the worst that will happen is a cross pin walking due to the frame flexing under recoil, as such pins sometimes do just that in existing polymer-frame pistols.
Choosing to label this fine pocket pistol “Shield” is most appropriate, because although the term “shield” has numerous definitions, personal protection is the purpose of a shield. Properly used, the S&W M&P Shield should fulfill this purpose well.
Walt Rauch received a BS degree from Carnegie Tech and completed service as a Special Agent in U.S. Army Intelligence. Rauch was a U.S. Secret Service Special Agent and a Philadelphia, Pa., Warrant Unit Investigator. He now operates a consulting company for defense-weapon and tactical training. Rauch & Company services include expert witness testimony on firearms use and tactics.
Rauch is also a writer and lecturer in the firearms field. He’s published in national and international publications including InterMedia’s Handguns, several Harris Publications specialty magazines, Police and Security News and Cibles (France). He is the author of a book on self-defense, Real-World Survival! What Has Worked For Me, as well as Practically Speaking, a comprehensive guide to IDPA defensive pistol shooting.
|9mm||7+1, 8+1||3.1″||6.1″||.95″||4.6″||19 oz.|
|.40 SW||6+1, 7+1||3.1″||6.1″||.95″||4.6″||19 oz.|
|.45 ACP||6+1, 7+1||3.3″||6.5″||n/a||n/a||20.5 oz.|
More Reading, & Video
Here are links to our in-depth reviews of other S&W M&P pistols:
On camera: Check out Hickok45’s video review of the Shield in .45 ACP.
Shield Pricing & Shopping
MSRP: $449 (base model)