by Ken Cherry
October 04, 2014
During my time in the Army, I always competed with the same pistol that I was issued, to maximize familiarity with the weapon system that I carried while in uniform. During the beginning of my military career, an Armand Swenson-modified Colt Series 70 .45 was my match gun of choice for completion in those early days of IPSC. I followed by a Beretta 92FS that replaced the 1911 in Army inventories. Approaching retirement, I realized that these self-imposed constraints no longer applied and that I could choose whatever suits me. I needed to try something new.
Inquiring of some trusted law enforcement and military shooters, I was guided to the M&P series of striker-fired polymer pistols, introduced by Smith & Wesson in 2005. Due diligence follow-up searches confirmed that the M&P 40 would become my chosen match blaster. The M&P line is a Browning Type polymer framed gun originally designed and marketed to the Law Enforcement community. Ergo the “Military & Police” name. Smith and Wesson decided to market it on the commercial side and it took off. The M&P is the evolution of S&W Sigma and features from their collaboration with Walther on the SW99. Many features and shortfalls of the previous guns went into the design today as well as watching several years of the competition tweaking their own designs. The end result speaks for itself.
- Although never mentioned by S&W, the M&P 40 can be readily converted to 9mm by simply replacing the barrel and magazine. After the conversion, as was the case with 40 S&W, the pistol runs flawlessly.
- Interchangeable palmswell grips that will provide an excellent shooter-to-pistol interface for 99%+ of shooters’ hands, including XXL paws like mine. The fit and feel of the M&P is truly amazing, and more than one of my shooting buddies has looked back over his shoulder at me and proclaimed, “I love this gun!”
- Maximum recoil management achieved by the close proximity of the shooting hand to the bore-line axis. By my measurement, the hand placement is 5/8” closer to the barrel’s centerline than the venerable 1911. From range experience, I can tell little, if any, felt recoil difference between 165gr 40 S&W and 124gr 9mm. Smith & Wesson knocked it out of the park in the ergonomics department!
- Simple Maintenance and service, with an integral takedown tool (which holds the palmswell grips in place) that is readily available to push the retention pins out, allowing the internal components to be removed with ease from the polymer frame. Slide removal is achieved by the rotation of a takedown lever at the front left side of the receiver.
- Firmly seating the magazine on reload allows slide to go forward. Critical for us lefties whom need the slide to go forward when seating a magazine without the use of the slide release.
- Speaking of left-handed shooters, the slide release is ambidextrous and the magazine release is reversible.
- An optional ambidextrous thumb safety is available.
- This pistol has proven to be 100% reliable in both 40 S&W and 9mm, Astounding reliability.
- Picatinny rail for gadgets.
- The stock trigger, at least in need of improvement. APEX Tactical is making a small fortune resolving this issue in grand style.
- The grip angle will feel like “holding a T-square” for Glock shooters, who are used to Glock’s greater grip angle. For all others, the 18-degree grip angle has a familiar feel.
- The dovetail 3-dot sights will likely suit the majority of shooters, but competitors will benefit from match sights.
- There is a slide release on both sided of the M&P, but it takes considerable effort to reliably run the slide forward using the right-side release. A minor issue as the M&P is compliant, freeing the slide with brisk mag seating.
- Required for sales in some states, the M&P comes with a magazine disconnect, which prevents the pistol from being fired without a mag inserted. Although I would never advocate the modification and/or removal of any firearm safety feature, I’ve been told that the magazine disconnect can be easily removed and replaced with a portion of a retractable ballpoint pen spring.
- Unless modified, the takedown tool (or a similar long slender object) is required to move a lever within the receiver to allow the slide to run off the front of the receiver.
Fit and finish leaves little to object to, from the palmswell grip-to-frame fit, to both exposed and internal components. Ergonomics, as mentioned, are top shelf, as good or better than anything else available on the market. The barrel and slide are stainless steel, coated with a “Melonite” nitriding finish, which reduces glare and improves corrosion resistance. Weighing in at around 24 ounces, it measures 1.2” wide, 5.5” tall and 7.5” long with a 4.25” barrel. The M&P just points nice. It aims in naturally and the ergonomics make it feel comfortable and un-stressed. The good angle and long beaver tail make the grip feel natural and secure. It’s a fan favorite in the Aegis Academy Familiarization course. Additionally between the .40, .45 and 9mm models that several Aegis instructors use, little difference in felt recoil. It has all the expected features of a striker-fired gun, from a trigger safety, internal safety block as well as pre cocking the striker to 98% after each shot. S&W classifies it as “striker fired double action only” It has a loaded chamber indicator as well.
It is reliable, with a heavy slide that seats nicely and firmly on any ammunition. With four attachment points to the frame it is designed to be “self cleaning” according to the companies web site allowing for particles to fall out during the cycle of operation. Howard Hall has a 9mm and Simon Golby shoots a .45 as stated above so between them and myself thousands of rounds of all calibers from American Eagle, Blazer and PMC go with minimum malfunctions. Reloads have not been an issue and Hornady .40 SW 165 grain Critical Defense fits like glove.
Like most guns the stock trigger is problematic, although less scratchy than some striker guns, the first run had a mushy feel and a non-existent trigger reset. Where most guns have a firm click, the M&P was a depressing sigh. This made it a bit more difficult for newer shooter to learn trigger reset in comparison. As stated above with time this is changing. I have shot a few 9mm LE models and the trigger feels more crisp and firm. Several triggers, from law enforcement carry to competition, are available and can bring the 8 1/2lb mushy trigger pull to a very manageable 3 1/2lb competition pull, or heavier for LE carry requirements.
We always get asked about accuracy. With a variety of ammunition I consistently hit center mass on IDPA targets as well as hold a sub 1 inch group with 5-7 yard bullet hole drills. In drills at 7 to 15 yards I keep them in the 8 inch chest stationary and 10 inches on the move. Howard Hall, dings steel at 50 yards with his consistently, we think he was put here to make the rest of us feel bad. The gun is as accurate as the man pulling the trigger.
In short, of the top three polymer framed guns sold in the USA, this American-made S&W fits the bill for any hand gunner looking for an ultra-reliable, well designed and ergonomically superior handgun that’s head and shoulders above anything else in its price range. A bold statement, to be sure, but made with absolute confidence. Though similar in many ways, the Austrian Glock production line of handguns typically cost several hundred dollars more. The Croatian-made Springfield XD has it’s following, but doesn’t come with many of the standard features on the M&P, such as multiple palmswell grips, The XD-M has addressed this in response to the M&P but the the XD is one-size-fits-all. Both Glock and Springfield pistols only have left side slide releases and are not as lefty friendly. Released in 2005 the M&P had the luxury of seeing what they did and attempt to improve. The M&P is a complete package.
For current and retired military buyers, the S&W $50 discount applies and the $450-550 price tag is reduced even further into the “affordable” category. Purchased complete with two magazines, additional mags ran around $33 on MidwayUSA.com and in short order I was ready to challenge the local IDPA matches. M&P offers a carry and range kit for $689.00 MSRP which comes with Bladetech holster, mag pouches and 3 mags as well as other goodies to sweeten the deal. For those of us stuck in the state of confusion, the website is great as it lists which guns are California compliant . There was a period where M&P magazines were worth more than gold; fortunately they have become more available. Like all guns check your state laws on capacity and features before buying. S&W has followed up with many new models the M&P 40 comes in a compact as well as a SHIELD and the M&P line is available in multiple calibers and models.
For my money, the Smith & Wesson M&P 40 gets the nod for best value in class.
For more info check out www.smith-wesson.com
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