Smith & Wesson is the largest manufacturer of handguns and long guns in the world and certainly ranks as one of the oldest—along with Colt and Remington. The 2016 Product Catalog, which is available in a downloadable form on Smith & Wesson’s website (, presents a dizzying array of handguns and AR-15 rifles suitable for self-defense, competitive shooting, and hunting. If you are in the market for a firearm to accommodate your needs in any of those three areas, you would be hard pressed not to find something in the Smith & Wesson line to satisfy you.

One of the things that increases the choice of Smith & Wesson firearms are those available from the Smith and Wesson Performance Center.

According to the Smith and Wesson 2016 Catalog, “Performance Center revolvers, pistols, and modern sporting rifles are the embodiment of old-world hand craftsmanship and modern technology.” For those who want a firearm that is just a bit different than what is available “off the rack,” the Performance Center can provide an arm with upgrades that not only enhance shooting performance, but appearance as well. The Smith & Wesson M&P9 Ported Shield is one such arm, and the additional Performance Center features are available without breaking the bank.

The standard M&P Shield is a single-stack, striker-fired, slim-profile 9mm concealment pistol of the type which is all the rage these days: compact, with a polymer frame that gives the Shield an unloaded weight of 19 ounces and is great for all day carry. The stainless steel slide and barrel are coated with a black protective finish. Two magazines are included: an extended 8-round magazine and a flush 7 rounder. More about those capacities in a moment. Basic sights are fixed three-dot white. MSRP of the standard Shield is $449.

The Performance Center Ported M&P9 Shield builds on the base-level Shield with two significant features, and those features are noticeable right out of the box.

The first upgraded feature is the ported barrel. Ported barrels are designed to vent a small portion of the powder gases from a fired cartridge as it travels down the barrel and exhaust it away from the bore axis in a “V” pattern. This vented gas works to reduce muzzle rise and helps the shooter keep the pistol on target during rapid-fire strings.

There are three ports on the Smith & Wesson slide, but only one actual set of ports set in the barrel itself. The three slide vents presumably allow for variations in slide velocity to ensure that there is adequate venting of the powder gases. They also lower the weight of the gun a bit; the ported Shield weighs in at 18.2 ounces.

The second upgrade is the addition of Hi-Viz Fiber Optic sights: green up front, contrasting red in the rear. The combination is very eye-catching in certain types of light conditions.

I took the Ported M&P9 to the range with three different test loads—SIG Sauer’s Elite Performance 115-grain FMJ load rated at 1185 feet per second and 359 FPE, SIG’s 124-grain V-Crown JHP load rated at 1189 feet per second with 390 FPE, and the Polycase Inceptor ARX 74-grain defense load rated at 1475 feet per and 357 FPE—and the chronograph.

It was during the loading sequence of testing that I encountered the first problem with the Shield. No matter how hard I tried, I could not load the 7- and 8-round magazines to full capacity. I’m not lacking in hand strength, but I could not top the magazines off. The 7 rounder ended up holding 6 rounds, and the 8-round magazine held 7. There was no loading tool included to assist. Perhaps with some more extensive use, the magazines will ease up enough to top off the final rounds.

I did most of the familiarization with the SIG FMJ ammo. Functioning was flawless right out of the box, and I immediately noticed a significant reduction in muzzle rise caused by the porting.

While the trigger of the Performance Center version of the M&P Shield is also rated at 6.5 pounds, it sure didn’t feel like that. There was a bit of slack, but the trigger let-off ended up being quite crisp. That, coupled with the ported barrel, allowed some accurate shooting at 40 feet. 3.5-inch groups were the norm.

The second issue I ran across was the slide release lever. I use the slide release on auto-pistols for what it was originally designed for: releasing the slide from lockback with the thumb of the shooting hand. While the Shield has a fairly prominent release latch, it is relatively flat. I had difficulty releasing the slide on live ammo with it on a couple of occasions, and had to resort to releasing the slide with my left hand.

I tested the SIG V-Crown ammo and found that it also functioned flawlessly, with the same degree of accuracy.

Next, I test fired the Inceptor ARX loads. Some time back, I tested the same ammo from a GEN 2 Glock 17, and experienced cycling problems. I speculated that the malfunctions were the fault of my pistol and not the ammo. The Shield proved me correct; not a single malfunction occured. The 74-grain ARX bullet—even at a much higher velocity—produced the least recoil.

I ran the V-Crown and the ARX loads over the chronograph to see how much of a reduction in velocity there would be from the 3.1-inch barrel vs. the factory test barrels. The average velocity for the V-Crown ammo was 1058 feet per second, which yielded 308 FPE. Not huge differences from factory ballistics by any stretch.

The ARX Inceptor ammo also showed a mild velocity loss. Actual muzzle velocity averaged 1315 feet per second, which yielded 284 FPE at the muzzle.

The Performance Center Ported M&P9 Shield is marked “Performance Center” on the slide to set it off. The enhancements improve combat performance potential for only $70 more. These upgrades aren’t just fluff; they’re functional. Consider the upgrade if you are looking for a 9mm or .40 Shield. MSRP is $519. The .40 caliber version is the same price.