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


Bullet Powder Muzzle
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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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)

  • john


    The M&P 9 MM SHIELD SHOOTS GREAT but the slide is the hardest I have ever tried. I’m going to sell it.


  • Dave


    You’re a better man than I. I have a Shield 9mm and that’s enough recoil for me.

    You’re right–they are accurate.


  • bryan


    I bought the shield in 40 cal. and absolutely love it.i also have the full size m&p in 40 cal. and the sshield seems to be more accurate.i have only shot the shield 7 rounds but with no hiccups at all.seems to be a great dependable ccw weapon.dnt be hesitant to buy in 40 cal..recoil is not bad at all


  • Earl Eckert


    The Sig P290 was my favorite carry weapon until I got my S&W 40 Shield. It is a great gun. I love it.


  • Bill


    I have just recivied the M&P 40 Shield and very pleased with the concealment ability and fire power have shot about 200 rds. I’m also insterested in any modification to enhance it ability for recoil and trigger. Very satisfied


  • Bill


    Just bought a shield. Have never fired one but after reading Bob Campbell’s report, I think it will be the right gun for me. I will comment more after a few hundred rounds. I have used 45s for years. This will be a welcome change I am sure.


  • Bob


    Sorry I was mistaken on the buffer system for the shield. I really like the DPM system that I have on 3 other firearms and thought the Shield was one of them. They currently don’t make one for the Shield yet. No other choices are available at this time. The trigger was an Apex Tactical carry version. Trigger breaks right at 5 lbs. Great short reset. Did install myself including replacing spring under the sights. I swapped sights to XS big dot which I like alot. I went the whole route including sear and trigger swap. Worth every penny.


  • Bob


    Sorry I was mistaken on the buffer system for the shield. I really like the DPM system that I have on 3 other firearms and thought the Shield was one of them. They currently don’t make one for the Shield yet. No other choices are available at this time. The trigger was an Apex Tactical carry version. Trigger breaks right at 5 lbs. Great short reset. Did install myself including replacing spring under the sights. I swapped sights to XS big dot which I like alot. I went the whole route including sear and trigger swap. Worth every penny. Everybody that shoots this gun loves it and rave about the trigger and lack of recoil.


  • SportsDen


    Please provide more info/detail on buffer system, and on effects with Apex trigger. I would consider doing same .


  • Bob Russell


    I had wanted the Shield in 9mm but was tired of waiting and when I found one in 40S&W I bought it. I was pleasantly surprised by the recoil but I did put a recoil buffer system in it as well as an Apex tactical trigger kit in it. I would now venture to say that the recoil is less than if not equal to the production 9mm model. I really like it and feel good about having the extra stopping power the 40 affords me. Quick follow up shots are not a problem. Of course I have shot several hundred rounds through it and feel very comfortable with it. It is my EDC.


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