Smith & Wesson's Sub-Compact Shield (page 2)
The S&W M&P Shield offers big-time performance in a discreet package.
By Joseph Kurtenbach, AR Assistant Editor
Several safety features are engineered into the Shield’s design. Most obvious is the manual thumb safety. Self-defense practitioners will debate contentiously whether or not a back-up gun should have a manual safety, a primary argument being that it is just one more thing that could hinder its quick presentation and use at a critical moment. Even the stiffest opposition, however, could probably get on board with the Shield’s safety configuration. Because the lever is set into the frame to accommodate the pistol’s slim profile, there is virtually no chance of it getting snagged or hung up during presentation. Additionally the lever requires definite force to manipulate in either direction, the safety’s tension is more than firm enough to resist accidental contact, and engagement and disengagement are both accompanied by a positive, audible click. Those still set against the manual safety can rest assured that if they leave it disengaged, it will stay that way. Passive features include a chamber window, found in the top of the slide, and an articulated trigger safety. A sear-release lever rounds out of the Shield’s safety mechanisms. Accessible when the slide is locked to the rear, the lever can be pulled down—to a position nearly parallel with the slide—disengaging the sear and making disassembly possible without having to pull the trigger. It should be mentioned that the Shield does not utilize a magazine disconnect and is therefore capable of firing even if the magazine has been removed.
For evaluation I tested a 9 mm Luger version of the Shield. Prior to introducing live ammunition, the pistol was given a thorough once-over. Rather than simply shortening the stock and barrel, the Shield looks as though it were downsized proportionally. In my hand, that attention to detail translates into a gun that just plain feels great. Some smaller pistols take on the ergonomics of a brick, not so with the Shield, which to me seems very natural, and I credit that to the stock being both shorter and leaner in equal measure. The controls were, though small, easy to manipulate and well within the reach of my thumb while maintaining a proper grasp. The white dot sights were bright and easy to acquire despite being seated very low on the slide. The grip accommodates a comfortable two-finger hold, and the extended magazine provides more than enough room for the pinky. Dry-firing, I noticed the trigger is firm, but not excessively so—the average of 10 pulls registered 7 pounds, 2 ounces—with a crisp break. The Shield’s predecessors possessed smooth triggers as well, but were criticized for not having a clear reset. The engineers at S&W redesigned the M&P trigger for the Shield; and by holding the trigger to the rear, cycling the slide, and slowly easing the trigger forward, I was able to experience both an audible and tactile cue that confirmed the problem was solved. Trigger reset is easy to discern and takes place at about the midpoint of the initial pull stroke.
Heading to the range I put the Shield through its paces. Delivering accurate fire at 25 yards is easy to do with the Shield—it is comfortable, has effective sights and points naturally. However, because the pistol is designed for personal protection, an appropriate engagement distance of 7 yards was selected for accuracy evaluation. Three brands of defense ammunition were chosen and five consecutive, five-round groups were fired from a bench rest for accuracy. A complete results table is included, but all the ammunition performed admirably and average group sizes varied by only 0.10 inches. Hornady Critical Defense posted the best average at 1.55 inches, but Remington HD had the smallest group; exactly 1 inch. During testing I encountered no stoppages or failures. In fact, I fired more than 400 rounds from the pistol used in evaluation and witnessed close to 4,000 rounds being fired from other Shields. All told there were no more than five or six stoppages, all of them ammunition induced.
The S&W M&P Shield is exactly what I’d expect from a company that understands that it must embrace tradition, but not at the expense of innovation. By holding on to what works, fixing the things that don’t and keeping a finger on the pulse of expanding and changing consumer demand, S&W has produced a handgun purpose-built to not only be carried and concealed by armed citizens, but also to stand up to the rigors and challenges of law enforcement use.
Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson; (800) 331-0852; www.smith-wesson.com
Action Type: semi-automatic, striker-fired center-fire pistol
Caliber: 9 mm Luger (tested), .40 S&W
Frame: molded Zytel polymer
Slide: stainless steel with black Melonite finish
Magazine: detachable box; six- or seven-round capacity
Barrel Length: 3.1"
Weight: 19 ozs.
Overall Length: 6.1"
Accessories: cardboard box, seven- or eight-round magazine with extended grip, lock, owner’s manual
Suggested Retail Price: $449