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Smith & Wesson’s M&P40 VTAC is the latest Military & Police rendition. It features a distinct Flat Dark Earth finish, Viking Tactics’ superior dual-sighting system, and interchangeable backstraps. Pair it with a Viridian X5L, and you have a very versatile combat pistol.

Among historic American armsmakers, Smith & Wesson remains not only one of the oldest (founded before the American Civil War) but also one of the most famous for creating models with unforgettable names like Schofield, Combat Masterpiece, Chief’s Special, Centennial, and Military & Police. The latter first appeared as a revolver way back in 1899, establishing a line of firearms that set the standard for law enforcement and U.S. military revolvers for most of the 20th century. More commonly referred to today as the M&P, the historic brand was expanded to include a new, polymer-framed semi-automatic pistol line in 2006. The latest in this series of innovative semi-autos is the VTAC (Viking Tactics) chambered in 9mm and .40 S&W.

Gun Details
What distinctly separates the VTAC from standard .40 S&W and 9mm M&P models, outside of its eye-catching Flat Dark Earth finish, is the Viking Tactics dual sighting system; a tapered front sight provides a quick aiming point combined with a green fiber optic that provides exceptional daylight target acquisition. The real advantage, however, is the secondary tritium vials that have been inserted slightly below the fiber optics. These allow an instant transition from daylight to shadow to darkness without loss of sight picture. The front and rear sights, with their green fiber optics working in tandem with the tritium night sights, give the M&P40 VTAC a remarkable level of versatility for both home protection and law enforcement, where suddenly changing lighting conditions can more often be the norm than the exception. We also found the VTAC sights extremely fast because the rear is cut lower than the normal style, creating a deep valley that places the tapered front sight in view as quickly as you can raise the gun.

For a polymer-framed pistol, the M&P, and especially the VTAC, is a handsome-looking gun that makes polymer more than just a lightweight, durable plastic substitute for steel or aluminum alloy, but something that has style, or as they used to say, form and function, as opposed to form follows function. The frame has an ergonomic design that fits the hand comfortably yet solidly for the hard grasp that usually comes under conditions demanding the use of firearms. The M&P frames are made from Zytel polymer and differ from other polymer-framed semi-autos through S&W’s use of ridged steel rails built into both sides of the frame and running from the front locking block to the rear sear housing block. The internal appearance when field stripped is more akin to a traditional steel-frame semi-auto. The integral rails offer extra strength, reducing the felt recoil and torque that is typical of most polymer-framed pistols. Given the high velocity of .40 S&W cartridges, every advantage in recoil management is important.

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The VTAC’s Warrior Sights are a dual-stacked green three-dot type. Tritium night sights are located about 0.5mm below the fiber optics.

The M&P40 VTAC measures 7.63 inches in length, 5.5 inches in height (base of magazine to top of rear sight), and 1.2 inches in width, including the ambidextrous slide releases. And that is the first of many features worthy of note. The M&P40’s ambidextrous slide releases have a flatter profile than most and are positioned slightly back from the traditional location, which is usually just at the furthest reach of the strong-hand thumb. The slide release is closer to the thumb, which makes activation easier, while the flat profile prevents the tendency to inadvertently rest the thumb on the release, which can, on occasion, cause the slide to close on an empty chamber after firing the last round. It’s embarrassing and I’ve done it.

The M&P40 also has a well-placed and easily activated magazine release that can be reversed for left-handed users. This is the only feature on the M&P40 I would like to see changed. A fully ambidextrous magazine release would not only accommodate southpaws, but ambidextrous shooters as well, and more importantly, any operator who is forced to change hands to gain full control of the gun’s primary functions. For law enforcement and military use, I believe fully ambidextrous features are a must.

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The M&P frames are made from Zytel polymer and differ from other polymer-framed semi-autos through S&W’s use of steel rails built into both sides of the frame and running from the front locking block to the rear sear housing block.

One feature that has been arguable over the last quarter century—actually longer—is the external thumb safety. The M&P40 VTAC has none (though some M&P models do). In the early 1980s, Glock proved that a manual safety was not necessary, and its widespread adoption among U.S. law enforcement agencies essentially made the argument a moot point, except among those who swear by the Colt Model 1911 and carrying cocked and locked, or those who simply don’t like a semi-auto without a manual safety or decocker.

The M&P incorporates an integral trigger safety with its own variation. The lower half of the trigger cantilevers on the upper half, thus disconnecting the internal safety as the trigger toggles back, rather than the safety being engaged ahead of the trigger like a Glock design. The M&P40’s DAO trigger has a constant stroke, which on our test gun averaged 6.75 pounds with 0.30 inches of travel to completely retract the striker before tripping the sear. With a consistent trigger pull from shot to shot, the DAO M&P40 generally feels like firing an S&W double-action revolver. Legendary S&W exhibition shootist Ed McGivern would have found this to be a very cool trigger design. There is also an overtravel stop at the base of the trigger that assists in quick reset.

Overall, the M&P40 neither feels nor handles like a polymer gun, even though it is light for its size, tipping the scales at 24.25 ounces.

smith-wesson-mp40-vtac-dWith an 18-degree grip angle much like a traditional 1911A1, the M&P40 VTAC feels great in the hand, won’t slip and points naturally.

The only thing lacking with this striker-fired pistol is a second-strike capability should a round fail to discharge. To that end, the M&P40 VTAC has one other distinctive feature that makes resetting the trigger almost seamless: the front of the slide features a two-stage, tapered profile that provides an almost effortless means of pushing it back just enough to cycle the striker. Simply grasp the pinched sides and lightly push back on the slide about 0.25 inches (with fingers clear of the muzzle) and you are ready to go. Think of it as a micro version of racking a shotgun slide with your support hand. And it is a hair quicker than grasping the side from the rear to achieve the same end. Using this method is also less infringing on your sight picture. The tapered slide and matching frame indent also help with reholstering the gun.

The M&P has a simple loaded chamber indicator, a peephole at the back of the barrel hood (slide ejection port) that exposes the rim of a chambered shell. While standard M&P pistols employ a magazine disconnect, this feature is not offered on the VTAC model, which will discharge a chambered round with the magazine removed. For military and police, this is a plus.

swmp_sw_mp_vtac-1109Along with a generous triggerguard, the VTAC comes with three easily installed interchangeable backstrap panels that adjust the distance between the web of your hand and the trigger for a better fit.

Getting a firm grasp on the M&P40 VTAC is as easy as fitting one of the three enclosed backstrap panels to fit your hand size. There is one small, one medium, and one large. After trying all three, I went with the large size, as it provided the most secure hold for my hand. In general, I like the bottom of my thumb to touch the top of my second finger when I grip a gun. This isn’t always possible, but with the M&P40’s substantially different backstrap panels, which include extending the distance between the top of the frame and web of your shooting hand, the VTAC can be fine-tuned to the end-user’s needs with little difficulty.

Changing a panel is as easy as pulling the frame tool from the bottom of the grip frame (a quarter turn in either direction to release and then pull it out), and then lift off and replace the backstrap. It takes less than a minute, which is good if weather conditions demand a change to heavy gloves and the need to step down a size in backstraps to compensate. The fame tool is also required to field strip the M&P40. While field stripping this gun is pretty straightforward, the M&P40’s slide must first be locked open and a sear deactivation lever rotated with the frame tool before the gun can be disassembled.

swmp_sw_mp_vtac-1093S&W machines the M&P40’s slide and barrel from bars of stainless steel. The slide is finished in Melonite, and the barrel is broach-rifled.

swmp_sw_mp_vtac-1098The M&P action utilizes a striker fire action and an external extractor. The reinforced polymer chassis also features ambidextrous controls.

Shooting Impressions
For our range test, the ammunition chosen was Federal American Eagle 165-grain FMJ and Hornady 165-grain FTX. Standard muzzle velocity for the FTX is 1,175 feet per second (fps) and 1,130 fps for the American Eagle. A 165-grain FMJ round would be considered a standard .40 S&W cartridge, whereas the new Hornady Critical Defense FTX .40 S&W is an ideal defensive round. It uses a plastic core (Flex Tip) surrounded by a scored metal jacket for rapid, controlled expansion and deep penetration. Upon impact, the soft tip compresses into the bullet, initiating immediate expansion that transfers energy to the target. This can even be seen at the impact points on our B-27 silhouette test target, which shows greater tearing around the bullet holes. FTX also has a flatter trajectory than many comparable .40 S&W cartridges and is less affected by thick or heavy clothing such as denim and leather.

Fired from the M&P40 VTAC’s 4.25-inch broach-rifled barrel, the Critical Defense FTX clocked 1,100 fps, and the American Eagle JHP flew 1,110 fps. Recoil and muzzle rise with both brands was moderate with instantaneous trigger reset.

What you notice first about the M&P40 is the trigger and how cleanly and consistently it breaks between shots, the 6.75-pound trigger pull almost becomes negligible. The gun comes back on target quickly, and the VTAC green fiber optic sights almost glow in daylight, providing rapid target acquisition.

The ambidextrous slide release works easily. I tried it both right- and left-handed and it is easy to reach and operate. The same goes for the magazine release. In fact, every feature of the VTAC works exactly as expected. It is an easy gun to shoot, aside from the recoil imparted by .40 S&W cartridges, which is significantly greater than a 9mm. Then again, it is the same on the receiving end, and that is the .40 S&W’s raison d’etre.

All tests were fired off-hand using a Weaver stance and two-handed hold from a distance of 25 yards. All rounds struck in the 9, 10 and X rings of a Speedwell B-27 silhouette target, with a best group of five rounds measuring 2.5 inches for the Critical Defense FTX and an even 3 inches for the American Eagle FMJ, which had a slightly more robust kick. With four out of five hits in the X less than 2 inches center-to-center (plus one flyer in the 10 at 1 o’clock), it is hard to believe this is a tactical handgun and not a target pistol.

The best 5 rounds of Hornady grouped slightly left, crossing through the 9-ring into the 10, between 9 and 10 o’clock at a measured distance of 2.5 inches center-to-center. The FTX produced the more ragged-edged holes in the target. Other tests produced similar results, but none better than the B-27 shown. I believe the VTAC can be dialed into producing sub-2-inch groups at 25 yards off-hand, and that would be a certainty fired from a bench rest. Considering that most confrontations occur well inside of 25 yards, the accuracy of the M&P40 VTAC at 50 feet or less is indisputable.

Final Notes
This is a highly accurate, easy-to-operate sidearm. The matte Flat Dark Earth finish complements the M&P40 VTAC’s purpose-built design punctuated by the uniquely serrated slide and tapered muzzle. The tall, sturdy VTAC front sight is also strong enough to use as leverage to cycle the action against a hard surface for one-handed use where the operator may be injured or otherwise prevented from using two hands. In terms of overall handling, the M&P40 VTAC is military/law enforcement spec, right down the line from the equipment rail under the dust cover, light action trigger, ambidextrous slide release, and amply oversized triggerguard, to the 18-degree grip angle, which is very close to a traditional 1911A1. This gun is not only worthy of the legendary M&P name, it also takes the Military & Police line to a new level of professionalism.

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