Range Report: Smith and Wesson’s Easy Shooting M&P Shield .380 ACP

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Range Reports

Over the years, I have seen many people struggle with the handgun. Some older folks, and others with limited hand strength, have a difficult time with the revolver. While revolvers are simple enough to handle, the long double-action trigger press challenges some shooters. The Smith and Wesson M&P .380 pistol is the answer they have been looking for.

Smith and Wesson Shield .380 pistol, left profile black

The pistol is offered with a manual safety and without, both versions feature a grip safety.

As an example, I knew a woman about my age well that had suffered a serious injury in a fall. She had courage and worked herself back into shape by lifting weights and constant action. However, she never regained full hand strength and could no longer handle her .38 revolvers. Another purchased a snub nose .38 but simply could not handle the recoil. She adopted a Walther PPK .32—far from ideal for her, but she was able to handle the recoil of the self-loader.

Semi-automatic pistols transfer part of the recoil into energy to work the slide; the recoil spring absorbs some recoil. A self-loader doesn’t have a stiff trigger action—if the pistol is properly designed. Another impediment, however, is that the slide may be difficult to rack. The recoil spring must be compressed as the pistol is loaded by racking the slide.

A 9mm designed to handle +P loads will have a heavy spring. If you are able to handle this type of handgun, a heavy spring is fine. However, many of our brother and sister gun handlers cannot. It is difficult for some folks to chamber a cartridge if the recoil spring is heavy. A person needs a handgun that compliments their abilities, not challenges them unduly.

Smith and Wesson Shield .380 with magazine

The Shield magazine is easily loaded.

Smith and Wesson has introduced a pistol based on the MP22 frame. The new Smith and Wesson Military and Police Shield .380 ACP has the modern 2.0 Shield improvements. The slide features well-designed cocking serrations that make for easy racking.

The front of the slide is scalloped to allow easy manipulation. The frame features the new 18 degree grip angle that makes the 2.0 pistols set so well in the hand. You have a good feeling of control with this handgun.

I really like the handling of the Smith and Wesson Shield .380. The pistol isn’t one of the micro-sized .380 pistols introduced during the past decade. The Shield is a full-size .380 you might say, larger than a Walther PPK. The handling and design are reminiscent of the immensely popular Colt 1903 handgun. Going to this size pistol results in a handgun that is easy to handle, comfortable to fire, and with excellent accuracy in offhand fire.

Smith and Wesson Shield .380 with Colt Model 1903

Note close resemblance in design to the Colt 1903 pistol.

Another feature of the pistol is that the force needed to rack the slide is less than many other handguns. The recoil spring, designed to contain the recoil of the .380 ACP handgun, isn’t as difficult to rack as 9mm-rated handgun springs. The leverage of the slide and recoil spring is good and makes for an easy handling handgun.

Even though I have been handling firearms for several decades, including high-capacity magazine pistols that are sometimes difficult to top off, I still have difficulty with some pistol magazines. I keep the Butler Creek magazine loader handy to load high-capacity 9mm magazines and magazines for the AR-15.

The Smith and Wesson Shield .380 EZ pistol features easy-to-load magazines. These magazines feature a tab on the body that is pulled down to load the magazines. The single-column magazines are easy to load but have plenty of spring pressure to keep the pistol feeding.

Hinged triggers, and triggers with a finger lever safety, are standard for modern pistols. In contrast, the M&P Shield .380 features a single-piece, single action trigger. This trigger allows a clean trigger break. I was pleasantly surprised to find the M&P Shield .380 trigger broke at 5.0 pounds and clean. I like this trigger very much, but a single action trigger demands some form of safety as well.

Field stripped Smith and Wesson Shield .380 pistol

The pistol field strips easily.

The Military and Police Shield .380 features a hinged grip safety. This safety must be depressed in order to fire the pistol. The grip safety doesn’t require a great deal of effort, but it does make for a good safety feature. If the pistol is dropped, the grip safety pops out, and the pistol is made safe. There is also a version with the thumb safety of the MP 22.

I prefer a manual safety but can live with the grip safety. I simply obtained the first pistol available and that was the version without the thumb lock safety. As a side note, when John Browning designed the Browning 1910 he tried to convince FN that the grip safety was the only safety needed, but they insisted on a thumb safety as well. The grip safety of the M&P .380 does the job.

The pistol has many advantages in firing. The pistol is larger than some .380 ACP pistols. As I noted earlier, the Smith and Wesson Military and Police Shield .380 is similar in size and conception to the Colt 1903—a handgun that saw a great deal of action ‘back in the day.’ The Shield .380 is easy to use well. The slide is easily racked using only two fingers. The magazines are easily loaded. The three dot white outline sights offer an excellent sight picture.

hidden hammer showing this isn’t a striker fired pistol

Note hidden hammer; this isn’t a striker fired pistol.

Ammunition selection is critical with the .380 ACP cartridge. Some pistols are not reliable with a wide range of ammunition. Most pistols should be loaded with only the 90- to 100-grain loads. Light bullet loads, and those that use specialty bullets, do not make for the degree of reliability I like. There simply isn’t a surplus of power.

Range Test

I began with a lubricated Shield and the affordable Fiocchi 95-grain FMJ loading. I fired 100 cartridges as quickly as my helper and I could load the magazines. I fired at man-sized targets at 5, 7, and 10 yards, and fired from the retention position as well—a sure test of a pistol’s reliability. The pistol never stuttered and provided excellent results.

The magazines were easy load. At 10 yards, I fired a full magazine as quickly as I could recover the sights in recoil. I fired a group less than four inches in diameter. I also fired the Fiocchi 90-grain JHP to the tune of 20 rounds without any problems. This pistol is not only comfortable to fire, it is a fun gun.

Smith and Wesson shield with TruGlo combat light

The Shield is at home with the TruGlo light.

At the next range session, I fired a mix of Hornady loads including the Critical Defense, XTP, and American Gunner. These loads proved reliable in the Shield. This time, I fired for absolute accuracy firing off the benchrest. I fired at 15 yards. The average group was 2.0 inches with a single 1.0-inch group with the XTP. A fixed barrel blowback handgun with a single action trigger can be very accurate.

The Smith and Wesson M&P Shield .380 has many good features. The sights are good and trigger is crisp. The pistol is easy to operate. The safety doesn’t require thought to manipulate, just make a firing grip. The pistol is easy to use quickly and those who practice will be delivering accurate fire.

Those with limited hand strength or who have experienced an injury will find the pistol to use well. As for the easy racking slide, we did a side test to determine whether the slide would go out of battery in tightly molded holsters and purse holsters. The answer seems to be that there is plenty of spring pressure to keep the pistol locked into battery. I like this pistol a lot.

What do you think of a .380 ACP pistol with an easy to manipulate the slide? How would you use it? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (13)

  • Retired Defender

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    The author repeatedly refers to this model as the M&P Shield 380 EZ. The proper model name is the M&P 380 Shield EZ. Also, this is not a fixed barrel blowback design as alluded to. Rather, it is a locked-breech, in keeping with Mr. Browning’s design (and his 380 cartridge too). I picked one of these up recently and have found it to be easy in nearly every aspect. Easy to load, easy to manipulate the slide, and an easy to manage recoil that make this a rather fun pistol to shoot. It’s also very accurate for its size. I can ring a torso sized piece of steel nearly every time at 100yds from a standing rest. If it holds up in the long run, this one is a keeper for me!

    Reply

  • Bob Gant

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    At 71, I age, and due to many injuries in the Army, I have found myself having to downsize in my firearms. I am no longer permitted to shoot a shoulder firearm. Recently, I passed my .45’s to my son. I have some .40’s and like them, but my most recent purchases have been the 9mm. She S&W Shield is one of the crispest trigger release I have fired since the days of my wheel-gun. Smith was my favorite revolver for a reason. I have bought the Army’s SIG 228, and the P320, but S&W is still tops for accurate point and fire.
    BTW, not an author, but I taught police firearms for over 10 years.

    Reply

  • MattD

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    Mr. Campbell,

    First to answer your question, I’m 71 and starting to look for easier racking pistols and believe that Smith has nailed that option with the .380 ACP EZ.

    I also plan to use it for introducing new shooters to the sport of target shooting.

    I have the thumb safety version of the EZ and have just completed my 3rd range session with it.

    No problems with anything, function, safeties, sights, grips loading mags, nothing.

    I had met a shooting buddy at the range for the 3rd session and he shot it without any issues as well.

    That helped me feel better about having the thumb safety version.

    But I did learn through observation that it may be the case that my gun prefers stouter loads.

    Some new loads I was trying were not as hot as the plate knocker loads I normally use.

    Watching my buddy shoot the EZ, I noticed the .380 cases were maybe ejecting a max of 18″ from the ejection port.

    To me, that implies that I should use a lower strength recoil spring for those loads or just go back to my plate knockers.

    Something makes me think the latter option is what I will do.

    Anyway, your evaluation of the firearm is spot on, and I loved the comparison to the Colt 1903.

    Now that I’ve decided the load I will be using with it, I’ll hang my MANTIS-X trigger training device on it so I can improve my trigger pull and have it set up to have others improve their trigger pull as well when they try it.

    With regard,

    Matt

    Reply

  • TOOLIE

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    I make no claim to being a firearm expert, but this sure doesn’t look like, “A fixed barrel blowback handgun….”. The barrel is not fixed to the frame and the bottom of the barrel appears to have a locking cam as used in a short recoil locked breech pistol.

    Reply

  • Sam

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    Racking the slide isn’t difficult of any caliber pistol – if you know the right technique: Instead of moving the slide rearward, hold the slide stationary and push the frame forward while holding onto the grip (basic physics). As far as loading magazines that have really stiff magazine springs are concerned, having good magazine loaders are indispensable (try loading by hand a magazine of an M&P in .40 cal. and you’ll see what I mean). As far as .380’s are concerned, I prefer my Walther PPK/S, or even my little Colt Pony – but then I’m rather “old school” in taste and experience. BTW: I have found the little S&W Cheif”s Special Model 60 (which was my on-duity backup piece) to be quite easy to handle and shoot, and the ,38 special offers better stopping power than a .380…but I’ll bet you knew that.

    Reply

    • Dale2

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      Obviously you have never had hand surgery and have lost half you hand strength. She has issues racking the slide on almost all 9 mm pistols. No matter the racking process. And also keeping a 38/357 revolver on target. You should not speak in absolutes unless you understand all the facts. For those interested, her answer is the Sig Sauer P938.

      Reply

    • Sam

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      I completely agree and understand. Also, the Sig P938 is one of my favorites in 9mm – it is my current backup piece – and a super shooter.

      Reply

    • Peter

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      Very good points. That proper racking technique is so often overlooked. I have a 9mm Shield (still fairly agile and can handle it), and I use a PPK 380 as my ‘BUG’. I’m wary of the 380’s stopping power. A lot of LEO’s I know think it’s ‘marginal’ at best.

      Reply

    • Sam

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      You are right about the .380. It is certainly better than nothing, but most I know regard it as the bare minimum in a fight. And, if it’s life or death it is always better to have more than the bare minimum. Even proper shot placement (which is always paramount) doesn’t necessarily stop the fight with a .380. I know of an off-duty officer (who was armed with a .380) who came face-to-face with an armed felon in bank holdup, and in their shoot out the officer hit the felon right in the ticker, but the felon kept fighting for a couple more minutes before he ran-off and finally collapsed. The officer (a true hero, in my book) was lucky enough to dodge the felon’s fire while keeping innocent bystanders from being hit, but he doesn’t carry a .380 anymore.

      Reply

    • Dale2

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      The “she” in the reply is the wife

      Reply

  • Charlie

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    Frankly, I find shooting all my S&W revolvers 22 cal up thru 38/357 very enjoyable. Naturally, I shoot them “single action”. I do not have the strength of “Popeye with his huge spinach fed forearms” to shoot double action. Anyway, at 74 years of age, why should I trouble myself with this task. In the semi area, my 1911’s(9mm & 45) and CZ 75SP-01’s (9mm& 40 cal) types are all shot single action including the first shot. I am happy.

    Reply

  • Alan Carnell

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    The wrap on S&W is all very well.

    But.. beware, S&W has a policy of not disclosing what they do on the weapons they repair.

    Strange but true.

    Reply

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