The idea of carrying a small pistol has moved in and out of my radar over the years, but after intensely studying the performance of smaller calibers, the idea just didn’t do it for me. Larger calibers in small pistols weren’t much better as they added problems of reliability to the equation. Because of this and the lack of firepower of many small automatics, the five-shot Chief’s Special remains a favorite among police officers—it’s one of the most popular backup and off-duty guns in law enforcement.

The ability to use and not just carry a weapon is critical for police officers, and this is true whether they’re on duty or off. Many contend that your backup gun is only for emergencies and can thus be smaller. Maybe my thoughts on the matter are simple, but it’s a sign that things aren’t going well when your life now depends on your second (or third) gun. In such instances, that backup gun better work and you better be able to fight effectively with it—ease of carry is a non-issue.

There is little doubt that small firearms are convenient, but carrying a large pistol has never been an issue for me. For most of my life my mantra, as taken from Clint Smith, has been, “Carry pistols are not supposed to be comfortable, but comforting.” While my sentiments haven’t changed, the availability of pistols that are both “comfortable” and “comforting” has.

With advancements in bullet design, the 9mm pistol is gathering momentum. Terminal ballistics are in a dead heat, but recoil, capacity and the ability to put multiple hits on target have increased significantly. Smaller pistols are more accurate, reliable, controllable and better-suited for fighting than ever before. Several 9mm guns have passed through my hands, some good and some bad, and the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield may be the best of them to date.

I should note at this time that my affinity for the M&P line of pistols is well-documented and anything but a secret: I own one in every caliber (the overall design fits me) and while some are stock, most have been modified. The grip angle, trigger and overall ergonomics allow me to easily transition between the M&P system and my long-standing collection of 1911 pistols. My M&Ps have all been reliable and accurate, weathering the test of time. All of my pistols are full-sized with 4-inch barrels or longer—what I needed was a single-stack M&P with a shorter barrel. It seems Smith & Wesson has done just that.

Gun Details

Available in both 9mm and .40 caliber, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield is a slim and compact M&P pistol. It is truly a slimmer version of the larger pistol, sharing its grip angle and fire control system while showcasing a new and improved trigger. With a frame-width of 0.95 inches, it is very easy to conceal. In fact, weighing in at 19 ounces empty with a 3.1-inch barrel, it just may be the next Chief’s Special.

The Shield has a 5.3-inch sight radius and usable white-dot sights for better aiming. Two magazines are provided: a seven-rounder that fits flush and an eight-rounder that uses a small extension. Given its small size, the pistol also comes with a safety that can be activated when carried in a pocket, purse or other conveyance. The remaining controls are in exactly the same places as found on other M&P pistols.

My test pistol reminded me of the HK P7: slim, lightweight and easily concealed while still feeling very solid in my hands. With the extended magazine, a full grip is not only possible but also easy to accomplish. With the flush magazine, my little finger had to rest under the grip. All of the controls are in the same place with a small, single-side safety in the same spot where a typical 1911’s would ride. This safety fits very close to the slide and could be disengaged in a typical carry rig without anyone even knowing it was there—put it in your pocket, and it will stay in place until removed.

The sights are the same as the standard M&P sets, just thinner. The white dots are visible and easy to pick up. The usual cocking serrations are present at the rear of the slide, and the frame does not include a rail, which is fine with me.

The real change is the trigger, and many people are going to like this. There is little take-up, and it breaks crisply at about 6.5 pounds. The trigger reset is a bit more pronounced for those that need it. Short of a tuned trigger, it is probably the best M&P trigger that has been offered to date.

Range Time

The S&W M&P Shield arrived just prior to my trip to a Ken Hakathorn class being held at Bill Wilson’s ranch in Texas. I found a BlackHawk IWB (inside the waistband) holster for a G26 pistol while searching through my holster collection; the S&W Shield fit perfectly—I used the IWB as its primary carry holster. After a quick trip to the range to ensure it worked with my Hornady TAP ammo, I took the Shield to Texas.

This pistol carries very well and is perfectly suited for traveling inside the waistband—the pistol’s slim design really shines here—and as an off-duty weapon, the Shield will be very comfortable. My preference was to use it with its eight-round magazine to get a solid grip on the draw. With the flush-fitting seven-round magazine, the Shield fit nicely in my pants pocket. Just make sure you find a proper holster for pocket carry.

For testing during the class, I carried the pistol as a secondary on my Mayflower UW Chest Rig. This rig provides for four AR magazines, my radio, a knife, pistol magazines and a couple other items. The Shield fit perfectly in one of the rig’s two front pockets. I used this rig and the Shield during most of the rifle portion of my class; the S&W Shield served as my third gun, but it would normally serve as second gun during an active-gunman event. Back at the home range, much of the Shield’s live fire came from this setup.

The pistol’s accuracy was surprising. Given its short barrel length, I tested the pistol at 15 yards, but it exhibited excellent accuracy out to 25 yards. The best group, measuring only 1.21 inches, was produced with Federal’s 147-grain Hydra-Shoks—mostly due to a lack of recoil. Although no groups were fired at 25 yards, it was pretty easy to hit a 6-inch steel target at will, making the Shield sufficiently accurate for any combat pistol.

This pistol was a joy to shoot using the Federal and practice rounds, and due to its short barrel, many will prefer using +P ammunition, so I tested those as well. Make no mistake: The gun is stout with the hot stuff. Control is not an issue—it was very accurate—but you need to really grip the pistol. With velocities hovering at 1,200 feet per second (fps), you are not giving up any energy to speak of, but you need to hang on.

Magazine changes are fast, just be sure to clear the meat of your palm if you have big hands. The mags are modified single-stacks, tapering at the feed lips for easy insertion into the mag well. Like all small pistols, you can pinch a bit of skin on reloads, but there was no hammer bite and the pistol cycled everything without issue. Much of the practice was spent using SBR 124-grain FMJs, and they were a blast. The Shield was completely reliable with all the hot stuff, and even with some 158-grain subsonic rounds that were lying around.

Final Thoughts

As a somewhat reluctant user of small pistols, I’m more impressed with each test. The industry is getting better at meeting users’ needs, and Smith & Wesson has created a huge winner with the M&P Shield. Made in America and coming with Smith & Wesson’s superb customer service, it does not get much better than this. Many holster companies have also stepped up to the plate to offer carry rigs, including the DeSantis Mini Scabbard, BlackHawk Tuckable Holster, Fobus Paddle Holster and Galco Stinger.

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