The Smith and Wesson M&P Shield—A Small Handgun, A Giant Step Forward

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms

A generation ago, we defined the wonder nine pistol as a high-capacity pistol with a double-action, first-shot trigger. The Beretta 92 and the SIG P226 are examples. Today, a new introduction in the 9mm caliber is more likely to be a pint-sized pistol suitable for personal defense. The polymer frame, double-action-only pistols seem better suited to size reduction, and manufacturers can do interesting things with polymer and a pistol cast from a mold, rather than forged from a block of steel.

S&W M&P Shield Handgun

The Shield likes some ammunition better than others for accuracy, but function was good with everything we fed the piece.

Impressive Appearance, Innovation and Performance

Among the most impressive in terms of appearance, innovation and performance is the Smith and Wesson Military and Police Shield in 9mm Luger. The Shield is a variation on the Smith and Wesson Military and Police self-loading pistol but differs considerably from the other M&P pistols. The pistol is a trim handgun with a single stack, not a double-column magazine. The slide, barrel and grip are considerably abbreviated. The shield is only 6 inches long, 4.5 inches high, weighs only 19 ounces and is a slim handgun at less than an inch thick. The Shield can stand on its own merits, but it is certain to prove popular with institutional users already issuing the full-size M&P pistol.

The test pistol was chambered for the ubiquitous 9mm Luger round, although a .40 Smith and Wesson version is also offered. The Shield is supplied with a standard, flush-fit, seven-round magazine and an extended-base, eight-round mag. The eight-round magazine offers a bit more purchase in handling and firing the pistol. The consensus was that the eight-round magazine probably would be carried in the pistol and the light and slim seven-round magazine would be carried as a spare.

If concealment were at a premium, such as pocket carry, the seven-round magazine would be used. The Shield offers excellent concealment, but it also chambers a cartridge with acceptable wound ballistics. Calibers below the 9mm/.38 Special standard simply cannot produce an acceptable balance of expansion and penetration for personal defense use. While the author prefers the .45 ACP pistol to the 9mm, the compromises inherent in concealed carry often demand deployment of a lighter caliber.

Features of the Smith and Wesson Military and Police Shield

The Smith and Wesson Shield is a credible compromise, with no compromises in reliability. The pistol is slim and light, which translates to discreet carry. It combines the proven M&P double-action-only lockwork with a well-designed grip, making a rapid draw and target acquisition possible for those who practice. The Shield retains the M&P 18-degree grip angle but does not incorporate the service pistol’s interchangeable grip panels into the design.

The Shield offers several tangible benefits over handguns of similar size. Often, purpose-designed concealed carry handguns have made compromises that limit the shooter’s ability to use the pistol well in a defensive situation. The Shield features proven lockwork, good sights and an ergonomically designed grip. It is the optimum for size and balance in a concealed carry 9mm handgun. When you consider the handling of the pistol as well as the difference in wound potential, the popular .380 ACP pistols are a poor choice in comparison.

Losing your life to gain a few ounces in comfort seems a bad decision.

The grip frame of the Shield offers good purchase and, while recoil is greater than that of a larger 9mm caliber handgun, the pistol is controllable and not at all uncomfortable to fire and use. Several of the testers firing the pistol remarked about how the Shield compared in comfort and accuracy to larger handguns. The pistol is easier to use well than the smaller, underpowered pistols because of the Shield’s larger grip and excellent sights.

The slim-line grip also fits small hands well. Those with larger hands probably will prefer the extended magazine for most shooting chores. The greater the purchase on the handgun, the greater the control, and the Shield is a controllable handgun for its size and weight. The cadence of fire is never set by how quickly you can press the trigger, but rather by how quickly you are able to control the pistol and get it back on target after each shot. The Shield responds well to a trained shooter.

The double-action-only trigger of the Shield is controllable and smooth in operation. Trigger compression is smooth, and the sear breaks at about 6 pounds in our example. Trigger travel is right at 3/10 inch, with reset somewhat shorter. Those familiar with the Glock pistol with have no difficulty acclimating to the similar Smith and Wesson trigger.

The Shield is a striker-fired pistol, so there is no external hammer. There is a firing pin block or drop safety, and the two-piece trigger must be properly pressed to fire the pistol, which protects it from firing under lateral pressure. Part of the reason the recoil of the Shield is modest, even with +P loads, is the technology represented by a captive dual-recoil spring. The frame is polymer, and the slide is finished in black Melonite. The pistol is stippled appropriately on the gripping surface to add adhesion when gripping the pistol. The pistol is smooth to holster and handle, with the edges and angles beveled and rounded to aid in holstering and providing a non-drag surface for rapid presentation from leather.

It is as important to have good sights on a compact pistol as a duty pistol, although many makers do not seem to realize this. A pistol with a short 3-inch barrel, such as the Shield, is easier to misalign due to the short sight radius, and bold sights are a boon to the marksman. The Shield features low-profile three-dot sights, with a large rear notch for rapid acquisition of the sight picture.

When firing loads range in weight from 90 to 147 grains, the relationship between point of aim and point of impact remained acceptable for personal defense, with:

  • 124-grain loads usually dead on for point-of-aim and point-of-impact.
  • 147-grain bullets striking about 2 inches high at 15 yards.

The magazine release and slide lock are unobtrusive, but unlike many small handguns, are easily manipulated. During rapid magazine-replacement drills, the slide lock was quickly hit and replenishment of the ammunition supply was rapid. The loaded chamber indicator comes in the form of a cut out in the top of the chamber for visual confirmation of a loaded chamber.

S&W M&P Shield Handgun Holster

Carrying the Shield in a pocket holster is a good fit with cargo pants.

Firing Tests

We fired the Shield with a variety of ammunition and performed the initial drills with inexpensive full-metal-jacket loads, including the Fiocchi 115-grain FMJ offering. Although this ammunition and the 123-grain Combat load we tested are affordable, they are first-quality loadings that burn clean, are very consistent and offer excellent accuracy potential. The pistol came on target quickly and, with a bit of acclimation, the pistol proved sure and fast on target at 5 to 7 yards—the typical personal defense engagement ranges. There were no failures to feed, chamber fire or eject and no break in issues.

With concentration, we made X-ring hits to 15 yards with a focus on the sight picture and deliberation in controlling the trigger. The Shield definitely demands more practice than a service pistol, but it is more accurate than the average compact, and it is practical not intrinsic accuracy that must be considered. The mechanical accuracy of the handgun is good, but it is up to the shooter to get the most out of the handgun. When firing the Shield for groups from a leaning barricade at 15 yards, we achieved credible groups of 2 to 3 inches—excellent results by any standard for this type of handgun.

When using the 9mm Luger, you must be careful care when choosing a defensive loading. Many believe that wound ballistics demand a higher velocity loading. There is some truth to that, as results with the 9mm Luger loading have not always been acceptable, and many have proven dismal. We tested the Shield with a number of loads, and recoil was more pronounced with service-grade loads. Good human engineering gave us good control and accuracy. Fire; control recoil; pay attention to trigger press, sight picture and sight alignment; and you will get a hit. Despite the abbreviated barrel of the Shield, the Fiocchi 115-grain XTP exhibited some 1090 fps and gave good accuracy. The balance of expansion and penetration is good, and it is a recommended personal defense loading.

The 124-gain Extrema uses a heavier version of the XTP bullet and proved to give good accuracy. Expansion is as impressive as the 115-grain load, and the extra weight probably aids in function. For those preferring penetration on the deeper end, the 147-grain Fiocchi loading gave good accuracy and was among the most pleasant and accurate of all loadings we tested. While expansion is modest with this heavyweight slug—as might be expected at about 900 fps—the heavy bullet is not easily deflected and penetrates heavy clothing and light cover well. In the end, marksmanship will carry the day, but the wound ballistics of these loadings are a counterpoint to the other, giving the individual a choice in tailoring a load to a personal scenario. In a compact pistol, the most important thing to consider is function, and a loading with the cartridge integrity exhibited by the Fiocchi brand goes a long way toward ensuring function.

Moving to inexpensive practice ammunition can be daunting because all ammunition is not created equal. We fired the Shield more than most test pistols because the handgun is destined to become a personal carry handgun. We made the choice and laid in a case of Wolf 124-grain FMJ ammunition. During the next 10 weeks, we expended the ammunition to master the pistol and learn the trigger press plus, in range practice, we fired at targets at known and unknown ranges. That was more a test of the mettle of the shooter and the handgun than firing at paper targets.

We addressed the steel gongs and the MGM (Mike Gibson Manufacturing) steel reaction targets. The Wolf loads never failed to feed, chamber fire or eject and gave a useful level of accuracy. After that intensive practice with the Shield, I found the pistol not only suitable for personal defense but also accurate enough for ridding the homestead of pests and even for predator control. The Wolf/Shield combination proved a happy one for economy. Wolf ammunition works for practice.

Packing the Shield

Since the pistol is intended for concealed carry, a holster offering a good balance of speed and access while retaining the handgun securely in a discreet manner is paramount, indicating the inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster. You carry the IWB holster between your trousers and body, effecting good concealment. The covering garment need only cover the belt line, not drape below, to conceal a belt holster. As a result, a seriously effective handgun may be carried in good concealment in the IWB.

The Shield impressed our raters favorably. Reliable, concealable and accurate enough for the task at hand, the Shield is an excellent personal defense handgun with much to recommend.

Accuracy Results

  • 15 yards
  • 5 shots
  • 3 group average
Manufacturer Load Group
Fiocchi 115-grain FMJ 2.5 inches
Fiocchi 115-grain Extrema 2.25 inches
Fiocchi 147-grain Extrema 2.0 inches
Wolf 124-grain FMJ 2.6 inches
One Shot Munitions OSM/FMJ 3.0 inches
Wilson Combat 124-grain XTP 2.5 inches

Handload

Bullet Powder Muzzle
Velocity
Group
Mastercast 125-grain RNL Titegroup 1050 fps 2.25 inches
Nosler 115-grain JHP WW 231 1101 fps 2.8 inches

How does the M&P Shield rank in your arsenal? Do you carry or have you carried the Shield. Lend us your thoughts in the comment section.

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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 (46)

  • Dennis

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    Near perfect gun for concealed carry. Mine is 9mm — have not shot in .40, but I wonder about the felt recoil and speed of re-engaging target. Also there are fewer rounds available in the .40

    Reply

  • gmas

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    I’m a big fan of the S & W MP product line, this weapon fits the “nitch” between the BodyGuard and my F/size carry. After installing the Apex Tactical Kit I was more than impressed. The Shield in .40 S& W has become the Perfect Carry Weapon for myself. It’s been fed several brands and types of ammo. Not one issue with it, even with the Russian Steel Cased rounds “several hundred” have been put thru her. No
    feeding issues or red flags. A+++

    Reply

  • Racedok

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    I love my Shield in 9mm. A joy to shoot and even my 11 year old can run it. I just got the XS big dot sights for it and I highly recommend it. Very easy to get back on target. You won’t go wrong with it.

    Reply

  • Chris

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    EDC for me is the Shield in 9mm. It is amazing how far SW has come with their striker fire system. I once owned a Sigma in 40 and it had the worst trigger I have ever fired. The shield has a great trigger and it is accurate enough for my needs. I also love that it has an external safety. Some people who EDC do not like external safeties as they add an extra step should the gun need to be put to use. But for me, an external safety is a good thing. You will need to practice drawing and disengaging the safety to be fast at it. The other option is to carry it without the safety engaged. Overall I love the Shield.

    Reply

  • chuck

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    Enjoy the 9mm shield very much. I have contacted Laserlyte and crimson trace askung for a guide rod laser for the shield, but so far no luck. I carry my shield in a fobus roto holster and do not want to change the holster for another to add the laser they offer for the shield now. I will keep trying to get the laser manufacturers to make a guide rod laser. Hope it happens.

    Chuck

    Reply

  • David Sauer

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    I haveca 9mm Shield and love it. That being saud, there are some big problems with this write up. You mention a few times in the article that the pistol is double-action only, which is false. It is a striker-fired action. This is one of a number either glaring omissions (the pistol has an external safety) or flat out wrong pieces of information in this article that need to be corrected for the author to sound credible. How can we trust what you write when you don’t even know the basic functionality of the weapon?

    Reply

    • Thomas Smith

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      David, you are correct that the Shield is Striker Fired but it also is a Double Action Only Pistol. It may have a shorter reset than some other striker fired Double Action Pistols but nevertheless it is still a DOA only Pistol.
      Yes, it does have an external safety which is the only dislike I have about this gun. I never use the external safety but in the back of my mind I always worry about it being engaged when push comes to shove. So far however my worries have been unfounded and the safety has never accidentally engaged while drawing my weapon. Overall I really like the Shield as my EDC.

      Reply

    • Thomas Smith

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      BTW, “Striker-Fired” means that the pistol has no external hammer but rather an internal spring loaded striker pin. When you pull the trigger on a S&W Shield it performs 2 actions. First it cocks the striker spring and second it releases it. Therefore it is considered a Double Action Pistol.

      Reply

    • Jim

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      I understand the Shield to be a striker fire pistol. As for double action, no. The trigger DOES NOT cock the striker spring to my understanding. The striker spring is already cocked when you load the gun. The trigger simply “release” the striker to fire and the gun cycle reloads and recocks the striker spring. You cannot pull the trigger a second time on a misfire. You have to eject the bullet. Double action guns are revolver and guns that have a hammer like the Ruger and Sig Sauer guns.

      Reply

  • Ralph

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    My son is a armour and cop 16 years always carried off duty a Glock 27 and tried the Shield. Sold the Glock and turned me on to the Shield. i always have been a S&W fan W/ a 5″ pro series 9mm and S&W AR15.Have put about 100 rounds through the Shield and completely just love it. Been shooting for 48 years now and the service and reliablity you get w/ S&W is the very best i have ever recieved from any Mfg. i haveever dealt with. The shield is my carry gunand just love the triggers on all my Smiths. Will probably buy more in the future.

    Reply

  • Jon

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    I’ve been carrying the 40 cal shield for some time. Very comfortable and easily concealable. A good holster is a must. It’s lightweight and packs a punch. My hands are large and I do feel the 7 round mag is a little too small. Overall I trust this gun to operate as it should and recommend it to friends and family.

    Reply

  • Gary

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    I have carried by my 9mm and 40 Shields for a couple of years now. The natural point-shooting and low recoil of both calibers is astounding for their size. The 9mm is a joy to shoot, and the 40 has no more felt recoil to me than many full-sized 40’s. Totally reliable, I’ve had ZERO malfunctions in either pistol ever, with probable 3500 rounds through the 9 and a couple of thousand through the 40. I have several Glocks and M&P’s of multiple calibers and size…the Shields are the most effortless to carry.

    Reply

  • Bob Russell

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    The Shield in 40 is my EDC. Shoots anything you load in it. Horhaday critical defense is my carry load. Apex Tactical trigger job, XS big dot sights for better target acquisition.with the short sight radius. Fully trust the gun with my life. What better review can you give after saying that?

    Reply

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