Smith & Wesson (S&W) M&P High-Capacity Tactical Pistols for Competition and Personal Protection: An In-Depth Military Operator/Competition Shooter’s Analysis (Photos and Video!)

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By Jeff Gurwitch

November 14, 2010

For this review of the Smith & Wesson M&P (Military & Police) pistol series, I want to do something that I think is different from what you might normally see on a review of a gun. Most firearms reviews I have seen seem to be based on the writer giving his or her impressions or findings on the firearm after just one or perhaps a series of range sessions. For this review I want to cover the past 2 and half years I have been using M&P pistols and the reason that led me to going from just owning one to several in the M&P pistol line. So, let me start at the beginning…

My quest for a double action 9mm that would be good for both competition and defensive carry started a little over four years ago. I had for the longest time been a diehard M1911 pistol fan. Throughout my military career, on and off at times, I have carried a M1911A1. I just preferred all metal guns and I liked the big old .45ACP bullet. It was therefore just natural that when I started competitive shooting (about 10 years ago), I exclusively used a single-stack Kimber Custom Classic in .45 ACP and a M1991 Colt Commander for personal carry.

It was right around June 2005 after about 5 years of shooting my trusty Kimber in Limited-10 in USPSA matches I felt the need to switch to a 9mm and go for Production Division. The rising cost of ammo for .45ACP coupled with the fact that more and more Limited-10 shooters were switching to double stacked 40’s and such drove me away from L10. So, for the next two years I tried a total of four different 9mm pistols from four different manufactures. I was looking for a 9mm pistol that most closely resembled the feel of a M1911—a tall order for a polymer double action pistol to fill!

Enter the Smith & Wesson (S&W) M&P9 9mm Pistol:

So, for one reason or another, whichever pistol I tried, either I didn’t like the feel of it, couldn’t shoot it near as well as a M1911, or had reliability issues. I just moved onto one 9mm after another trying to find the perfect one for me. It was during this period of trying several different double action pistols that I met Ernest Langdon, who was at the time working for Smith & Wesson (S&W) as a military sales rep. Even though Ernest was bringing the thunder at a lot of matches with an M&P and we had started shooting a lot together, it still wasn’t enough to make me want to go out and get one. It actually took Ernest about a year of dogging me for me to finally give in and give the M&P9 a serious look and try.

In July 2008 I got my first Smith & Wesson (S&W) M&P9 pistol: a standard model with 4.25-inch (4.25”) barrel. Since I wanted to use it primarily for competition, I immediately replaced the stock sights with a set of Dawson Precision sights and gave it to John Cavney of Shooters Supply, Fayetteville NC for some trigger work, before I even fired one round through it. John was able to significantly drop the factory trigger pull weight by polishing the internals.

I liked that first M&P pistol so much I have gone on to get three more: two M&P9L’s, and one M&P9c (M&P9 Compact). I acquired the first 9L just after they came out in November of 2008, and then my second, a custom built one (by Smith & Wesson), in November 2009. The only difference between the two is that the custom M&P9L has a manual frame-mounted “sweep down” thumb safety, which is only offered on standard and compact models. I prefer a manual thumb safety not so much for the extra safety aspect, but because it allows me to obtain the same exact grip I use with M1911’s. Having the safety lever allows me to rest my thumb on it while firing. I think this application of the thumb safety is overlooked by a lot of shooters. I think generally there are two types of automatic pistol shooters out there: the ones who started out on polymer guns already and ones like me who started out with 1911 style guns. If you are the latter I think you will find that, like me, the thumb safety on the M&P is an awesome feature if you want to get the same grip you enjoyed on your trusty 1911.

Shooting Impressions:

So how do these four pistol stack up? To best answer that I have to delve into their respective specific uses. With the S&W M&P9 standard and the M&P9L, they are pretty much the same gun except for barrel length. The M&P9L has a 5-inch (5”) barrel. I find the M&P9 Standard settles a little faster during recoil, so I prefer the Standard model for USPSA match’s where I can get my max speed on. But for 3-gun and IDPA, I actually prefer the 9L. I do feel that with the longer sight radius, I am a little smoother in my long range shots; and since IDPA and a lot of 3-gun matches base their scoring a little more on accuracy than speed, I think the 9L is the perfect gun for both of those competitions.

One standout item on all M&P pistols I think I should point out is the design of their grip/back strap on the pistol. Not only can you change out the back of the grip with 3 different sizes to match to your hand, the beavertail-style back of the frame allows you to get a super-high grip on the pistol and fully protects your hand from the slide during recoil, so the inside of your thumb knuckle doesn’t get “bitten” during recoil. These features along with the grip angle itself puts the S&W M&P pistols above a lot of other DAO pistols, in my opinion.

M&P for Personal Protection/Defenseive Carry, including Concealed Carry (CCW):

After shooting both the M&P9 (4.25”) and M&P9L (5”) for a little over a year in competition I started to entertain the idea of carrying a M&P pistol for defensive use. I was fortunate enough to get chance to try a M&P9 Compact (M&P9c). What occurred was totally different than what I was expecting. Considering the M&P9c barrel is only 3.5 inches (3.5”) long, I was expecting a lot of recoil and muzzle whip during firing. However, after shooting one, I was pleasantly surprised to find it shoots remarkably smooth for a gun that size. In fact, I liked it so much that I immediately ordered one for myself right after that range session! The M&P9c (thumb safety version) now is my primary carry gun. It comes with two a 12-round magazines: one with a finger rest, one without. Because the grip is cut down , I only use mags with the finger rest in order to shoot it comfortably.

For those times when I think I need more than 12 rounds, XGRIP offers a magazine adaptor for the standard M&P magazine (17 rounds) that fills the gap between the full size mag and the grip of the 9c. When applied, the XGRIP for the S&W M&P Compact (M&Pc) pistol makes one continues grip, allowing you to have the benefit of both extra rounds AND a true full-size grip.

**A Note on 9mm Parabellum for Defensive Use:

I will be the first to admit the 9mm Parabellum (9x19mm NATO) round is not the ultimate stopping round (I leave that honor to the .45ACP); but with the right ammo, I have total trust that the 9mm can get the job done. Currently loaded in my M&P9C is Winchester Ranger 127gr +P+.

Parts and upgrades for the M&P:

Now that the M&P pistol series has been out for a few years, Smith & Wesson has upgraded some of the internal parts in the M&P. One notable upgrade to the M&P line is their re-designed striker. Although I have never experienced a striker breaking on any of my own S&W M&P pistols, a lot of shooters have complained of breaking strikers in their M&P pistols while dry firing. To answer this, in the middle of 2009, an “enhanced” striker has replaced the original design. Not only is this striker beefed up and thicker, but the coating on the new striker is smoother, offering a slightly better trigger pull. On my original M&P9 pistol, I had the contact point of the striker that engages the sear polished; with the enhanced striker, this procedure is not necessary.

With the introduction of the S&W M&P Pro model, you now have a M&P9 9mm pistol with a 5-inch (5”) barrel, a Pro sear, and a fiber optic sight upgrade. The Pro sear takes about 2 pounds (2 lbs) off the stock trigger pull weight; I’ve been using one in my first 9L for over a year now, and it runs flawlessly. Although not really new, I just recently acquired a 40-degree trigger bar designed for the 8 and 10lbs triggers. What is new is it being used in conjunction with the Pro sear. Although I’ve only fired about 200 rounds through this setup in my M&P9 standard, I can say there is a definite improvement. Not only is there less slack in the trigger, but it has a little less than half the normal reset distance to the next shot. Again, it’s an outstanding improvement over a stock trigger.

One company that I must mention that offers outstanding products for the Smith and Wesson M&P pistol line is Apex Tactical Specialties, which offers competition ready replacement parts (such as their hard sears) for all models/calibers in the M&P pistol line. I have their hard sear in two of my M&P9’s. Also Apex offers complete “Competition Enhancement Kits” that contain all the parts you need to really slick up the action on your M&P pistol and get it ready for competition.

Smith & Wesson (S&W) M&P9 Pistol Performance Up to the Present:

As it stands now I am just over 10,500rds through my first M&P9 pistol, which is set up with a 40-degree trigger bar and an Apex Tactical hard sear putting the trigger pull right at 4.6lbs. My other M&P9L, which just has an Apex hard sear in it, has a 4.1-lb trigger pull. The increased trigger pull weight might be due to the fact that I also replaced the trigger return spring or the trigger bar. Either way, the extra half-pound of trigger pull weight is worth the trade-off for less reset distance and travel on the trigger; my M&P9c, which has a stock sear, is sitting has a 7-lb trigger pull; my 9L, which has a Pro sear, comes in at 5 lbs of pull.

Maintenance wise, with the first M&P from 2008, I have replaced the recoil spring once at 6,000rds, and I’ve replaced the original striker with the improved one that is now standard on all M&P’s. The pistol has run flawlessly over the past two and a half years. While I own the 9L and 9c versions, the standard model M&P9 is still my favorite one to shoot.

*A note on the magazines:

Even though I think I have acquired about 20 M&P magazines over the last 2 years I have been using the same first 5 I got when I received my first M&P pistol back in July 2008. These 5 magazines between my 3 full-size M&P‘s have seen just over 18,000 rounds through them. It wasn’t until just last month that I finally had to break down and replace one; the plastic follower had worn and started to fail to lock back when empty. I think almost twenty thousand rounds and two and half years of use is an excellent benchmark in terms of reliability and at this rate, I think I’m set for life in terms of ever needing to buy new magazines!

Side by side shoot off:

Just recently I hit the range to do some side by side comparisons between my M&P9, M&P9c, and one of my duty pistols: a Glock 19 (G19). The drill: a 5-shot string as fast as I can shoot from the low-ready position at 5 meters into a 6-inch (6”) circle. Because I don’t shoot the Glock 19 as often as my M&P’s, I gave myself 3 mags (magazines) to warm up prior to the two tries.

Here are the results:

Pistol           String 1 Time        String 2 Time
Glock 19     1.94sec                  1.8sec
M&P9c        1.8sec                     1.68sec
M&P9          1.7sec                     1.6sec

The M&P9c’s slight edge over the Glock 19 can be attributed to the fact that the M&P9c is my carry gun and I’m more used to it. Also, because my M&P9c is equipped with a thumb safety on which I can rest my firing hand thumb, I may be able to settle the gun a little faster when shooting at speed. Shooting-wise, the G19 and M&P9c felt the exact same it terms of felt recoil and muzzle rise. The full size M&P having the best runs was kind off what I expected, since it has a better trigger (different trigger bar and Apex sear) compared to the stock 5-lb pull in the Glock 19. The M&P9 standard is also a full-size gun with longer barrel and larger grip.

The Wrap Up:

Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm pistols have now replaced all my other pistols for both competition and daily carry, including concealed carry (CCW). If you are looking for a reliable, smooth-shooting double action polymer framed pistol M&P’s are second to none.

Editor’s Note: In the photos and video, you can see the author, Jeff Gurwitch, wearing ITW FASTMAG (also written FAST-MAG) 5.56mm AR mag carriers (magazine carriers) loaded with Lancer Systems L5 Translucent AR mags on his belt. DefenseReview (DR) likes and uses both of these products, as well.

Photo(s) Credit: Jeff Gurwitch

About the Author (Jeff Gurwitch):
– Has been a competitive shooter for the last 10 years: USPSA, IDPA, and 3-Gun.
– U.S. Army 3rd Special Forces Group, Ft. Bragg, NC.
– Spent 3 years as an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School
– Spent 8 years with U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group, Ft. Campbell KY and did 3 tours in Iraq.
– Graduated the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification course in 1998 as a Weapons Sergeant.
– Spent 7 years in the mechanized infantry and Airborne.
– Served in First Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in Iraq with the 1st Armored Division.|
– Joined the U.S. Army in June of 1990 as an infantryman.

Company Contact Info:

Smith & Wesson (S&W)
2100 Roosevelt Avenue
Springfield, MA 01104
Toll Free: 800-331-0852 (USA)
Phone: 413-781-8300 (International)
Domestic Fax: 413-747-3317
International Fax: 413-731-8980
Email: [email protected]

Apex Tactical Specialties, Inc.
715-D Santa Maria Ave.
Los Osos, CA 93402
Phone: 805-528-5250
Email: [email protected]

XGRIP Magazine Adapters
PO Box 1231
Ojai, CA 93024
Phone: 805-814-0668

Winchester Ammunition
427 N Shamrock St.
East Alton, IL, 62024-1174
Phone: 618-258-3529
Fax: 618-258-3609

Glock, Inc.
6000 Highlands Parkway
Smyrna, GA 30082
Phone: 770-432-1202
Fax: 770-433-8719

Glock Ges.m.b.H.
P.O. Box 9
A-2232 Deutsch Wagram
Tel.: +43 (0) 2247 – 90300-0
Fax: +43 (0) 2247 – 90300-300

© Copyright 2010 and Jeff Gurwitch. All rights reserved. This content/material may not be republished, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without first receiving permission and providing proper credit and appropriate links.

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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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