Back in July of 2016, I reviewed the Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P 9mm Shield pistol. Compact, reliable, easy to shoot, priced right and chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge, the M&P Shield is a favorite with civilians and cops alike, and the Performance Center enhancements added some nice touches for a very modest increase in price.
As good as the M&P 9 Shield is in both the plain and the Performance Center versions, there are still a lot of folks out there who firmly believe — FBI studies notwithstanding — that any discussion of self-defense pistols begins and ends with the number 45. Any lesser caliber — even the .40 Smith & Wesson — is a non-starter. That issue is a discussion for another time, but suffice it to say that there were enough requests from the shooting public to cause Smith & Wesson to chamber a (very slightly) larger Shield in the highly popular and powerful .45 ACP cartridge.
I was working at the retail sales counter at Vance Outdoors in Columbus, Ohio, last year when the .45 Shield version hit the shelves, and the demand for it was high. I think most of the people who purchased the .45 Shield were relatively experienced shooters but not first-time buyers. This is understandable, since the .45 is backed by quite a reputation — some of it deserved, such as its fight-stopping capability, and some undeserved, such as its “vicious” recoil. The truth is that the recoil is heavier in equally sized .45s vs. 9mm handguns, but it is not uncontrollable. When my mom learned to shoot a handgun in her late 50s, one of the models she did best with was an aluminum-framed compact Star PD 1911-style .45 that I carried on the narcotics unit. She proved that even inexperienced shooters can handle the .45 ACP with reasonable loads in well-designed handguns.
The entire M&P line of handguns is highly focused on ergonomics — which basically means designing pistols around the design of the human hand. In terms of a design parameter, ergonomics is a relatively new field, although many fans of the Colt/Browning 1911 will tell you that it is one of the most ergonomic pistols ever designed, before ergonomics was a consideration (or maybe even a word). Proper ergonomic design makes a pistol comfortable to hold and, more importantly, comfortable to shoot. The M&P .45 Shield is no exception, carrying on the tradition of the previous 9mm and .40 S&W versions.
Like all Shield pistols, the .45 version utilizes a single-stack magazine, which reduces grip circumference. While single-stack magazines hold about half the ammunition of similar-length double-stack magazines, many shooters have come to realize that, when it comes to concealment handguns, reducing size and weight is more important than having a mega load of bullets aboard. This explains why every major handgun manufacturer has invested in single-stack versions of their product line, and double-stack compact pistols have become far less popular than they once were, regardless of brand.
The .45 Shield starts with a contoured polymer grip frame stippled all around for an excellent non-slip grip surface. The slide and barrel are Armonite-coated stainless steel. Barrel length is 3.3 inches, which is 2/10 of an inch longer than the 9mm and .40-caliber models. Weight is 20 ounces — more or less — for all three caliber Shields. Fixed three-dot Tritium night sights were factory mounted on the slide of my test gun. Plain three-dot fixed sights are standard.
Like the vast majority of polymer-framed handguns out there, the Shield uses a striker-fired operating system. I think that Smith & Wesson’s articulating trigger safety is the most comfortable among all the polymer-framed pistols currently on the market, as it blends almost seamlessly into the trigger without protrusions. Its curvature is just right, and even the heaviest loads send no shock down through it during firing, which can happen with triggers using a central safety lever. The trigger pull is short and crisp for this type of handgun and is easily managed. While the test gun I received did not have one, an additional ambidextrous manual safety model is also available. Trust me, these kinds of handguns are perfectly safe without the additional safety.
The Shield’s takedown latch is on the left side of the frame and swings downward for the disassembly process. The teardrop-shaped magazine release is on the left side of the frame and cannot be switched. The slide release is also on the left side of the frame and sits nearly flush with it.
I tested the .45 Shield from 21 feet at the Vance Outdoors indoor range with three different loads: Winchester’s 230-grain FMJ ball, Precision Delta’s 230-grain FMJ ball, and SIG’s Elite 185-grain V-Crown self-defense load.
Three magazines are included with the Shield, which is an excellent deal. Two are extended — holding seven rounds — while the flush-fit magazine holds six. All the magazines allowed loading to full capacity.
As I normally do, I fired the.45 Shield straight from the box without additional lubrication. The recoil was easily managed from all three loadings, even firing one-handed. The sights were prominent and easy to pick up, even when it wasn’t dark enough to see the Tritium glow. The 185-grain SIG loads provided the most muzzle blast and the best accuracy. Muzzle velocity of the SIG rounds is rated at 995 feet per second, although actual velocity will be lower from the 3.3-inch barrel. I was able to fire a six-shot group from a two-handed standing position at 21 feet that measured 1¾ inches center to center. Groups with the ball ammo were a bit larger, more in the 3-inch range.
There were no failures to fire or feed, even when firing one-handed, as one would expect of a modern pistol design-built by a quality manufacturer. I noted that the slide release was fairly difficult to disengage, even in an empty pistol with the magazine removed. If there were a bit of a shelf on the lever itself, it would make dropping the slide easier due to improved leverage. However, this is not a huge deal. These days, many shooters don’t use the slide release to return the slide into battery. While I do use it for that, one of the pistols I have been carrying on a fairly regular basis — a Bond Arms Bulldog 9 — has no release lever/slide lock on it. It requires manually pulling back the slide fully and releasing it to return it to battery. If I can get used to that technique for the Bond Arms Bulldog 9, I certainly could for the Smith & Wesson Shield .45.
For those who insist on nothing less than a .45 for defensive work, whether in the home or on the street, the Smith & Wesson M&P .45 Shield is a great option — and, these days, a great bargain as well. The night-sight version without the additional manual safety I tested is priced at $579.99. However, there is a mail-in rebate from Smith & Wesson for the Perfect Summer Hideaway program that runs until September 30. When you send in the rebate paperwork, you receive two additional magazines, two boxes of ammo and a Caldwell Mag Charger. That’s not an insignificant bonus.
More info at: www.smith-wesson.com