Saturday, November 16, 2013

Guns: S&W M&P Shield review - The Plus-Size Subcompact


The M&P Shield had a pretty splashy debut back in 2012. Early Smith & Wesson ad copy touted it as the ultimate CCW gun - as tough as the larger Military & Police semiautos, and yet small enough to go jogging with:

At first, I thought the Shield might be the answer to my carry gun needs. Once the actual specs of the gun were released, though, it became clear the Shield wasn't really in the same class as the Kahr CM/PM series or the Kel-Tec PF9. While the Shield's width came in at under an inch (thanks to a single-stack magazine and narrower slide), its length, height, and weight were all bigger than I expected or wanted in a small 9mm.

Despite my disappointment, the Shield remains a fairly compact pistol, and earlier this year I picked one up. Is it good enough to replace my current carry gun, the M&P Compact?

Fit & Finish

Out of the box, the Shield makes a good impression. Most slim 9mm pistols feel pretty flimsy, but the Shield uses the same tough-as-nails Melonite stainless steel slide and barrel used in the main line of M&Ps. The steel 3-dot sights are dovetailed into the slide, the included 7 and 8 round magazines are solid, and it's pretty obvious that the gun was built to withstand a lot of shooting.

Trigger & Controls

The S&W Shield trigger is heavier than my M&P Compact, with a crisper reset. The hard pull makes the Shield more difficult to shoot accurately, but it's a compromise that almost every compact gun makes because of the number of people who carry without a holster. I much prefer the lighter, spongier feel of the larger guns.

Aside from the trigger, the M&P Shield feels a lot like its bigger brothers, with a similar mag release, slide lock, and takedown lever. One addition that I could take or leave is the manual safety; though it clicks on and off positively, it's a little too small and low-profile to hit under stress. The pistol is perfectly "safe" without it, and its presence here seems mostly a way to comply with some states' gun laws.

Size Comparisons

As I mentioned before, the M&P Shield isn't really a pocket gun, unless we're talking big jacket pockets. It's about three or four ounces too heavy (i.e., as heavy as a GLOCK 26) and a half-inch too tall.

Even when compared against my go-to carry gun, the M&P Compact, the Shield isn't a clear winner. The Shield is shorter and thinner, yes, but it's also taller, and only 3 ounces lighter (19 oz. vs. 22 oz) despite holding a lot less ammo and being harder to shoot. Side by side, the size difference is noticeable but not overwhelming:

At the Range

The Shield proved to be nearly as reliable as its double-stack M&P brethren. I can recall perhaps a single failure to eject in about a thousand rounds of various types of ball and hollowpoint ammo, which is very good-to-excellent for a single stack 9mm.

Here's some sample shooting results. I'm sure the Shield is more accurate than this, of course, but even with my crappy pistol skills, the Shield still held sub-3" five-shot groups at ten yards with garden-variety range ammo. Good enough for me:

To answer the question posed at the beginning of the review, the Shield hasn't replaced my M&P Compact, and it rarely gets carried in its place. The Shield's harder and less comfortable to shoot, a bit less reliable, and not small enough to not require a good belt and holster. Still, the gun is a tank, and at $450 new, is a decent buy if you want to split the difference between a pocket 9mm and a compact inside-the-waistband carry.