Firearms

Battle of the Micro-Compacts: Shield Plus vs. Hellcat

SMith and Wesson M&P Plus left and Springfield Hellcat right

Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed great strides forward in the micro-compact arena. The pistols keep getting smaller and easier to conceal, while the capacity somehow continues to increase. In 2019, Springfield introduced the Hellcat, and it was an instant hit. Pairing its small frame with the fact that you could have a total of 14 (13+1) rounds without carrying a spare mag, it was easy to see why it was such a huge release.

Then in 2021, Smith & Wesson introduced a new version of its already popular Shield line, the Shield Plus. S&W was able to match the 13-round magazine capacity of the Hellcat, all while widening the previous Shield’s grip by roughly 1/8 inch.

Vertical profile view of the SMith and Wesson Shield Plus (left) and Springfield Hellcat (right)
Looking at the Shield Plus (left) and Hellcat (right) side-by-side, they look rather comparable from a length and height perspective. However, the Hellcat is slightly shorter in length and height.

Today, the Hellcat and Shield Plus are two of the most popular micro-compacts on the market. That led my editor and me to a ‘spirited’ discussion about which one was best, so I decided to put them to a head-to-head, Shield Plus vs. Hellcat test.

Similarities and Differences

Even though I did handle and test an upgraded Hellcat model, I decided to compare the specifications of their base models, to keep it as close to an “apples-to-apples” comparison as possible. Without regurgitating the figures you’ll see below, when it comes to the basic dimensions (length, width, height, barrel length), the two pistols were very similar to the point it’s not worth much of a discussion.

Both pistols feature a flat-face trigger. For the Shield Plus, the new trigger design was a welcomed upgrade from the Shield M2.0. Neither base model came with an optic-ready slide, but both have upgraded options available for those wishing to run an optic.

As I alluded to earlier, the big draw with the Shield Plus and Hellcat was the above-average capacity in relation to their size. Unless you reside in one of the wonderful “compliant” states, both guns will ship with an extended 13-round and a flush magazine.

The Hellcat’s 11-round, flush-fit magazine gives you one extra round compared to the Smith and Wesson Shield Plus. One round doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re ever in a situation where you need to use your gun, that one round could be a lifesaver.

The author holding the Springfield Hellcat with a red dot sight over a snowy wood deck
The Hellcat has an aggressive grip texture, which helped in the snowy conditions, but did not impress the author.

The pistols differ in grip texture as well. The Hellcat has a more aggressive grip texture, that — to me — felt too rough, especially after a long, range day.

The Shield Plus featured a medium grip texture that I enjoyed. Lastly, one difference that really appealed to some, was the different color options. The Hellcat is available in Desert FDE or black. The Shield Plus is only offered in black.

Shield Plus

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 
10+1, 13+1
Barrel length: 3.1 inches
Length: 6.1 inches
Width:
1.1 inches
Height: 4.6 inches
Weight: 17.9 ounces
Sights: White dot front, white 2-dot rear
Safety: Trigger safety, no thumb safety

Hellcat

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 
11+1, 13+1
Barrel length: 3 inches
Length: 6 inches
Width:
1 inches
Height: 4.5 inches
Weight: 18.6 ounces
Sights: Tritium front, U-notch rear
Safety: Trigger safety, no thumb safety

Accuracy and Handling

I have to say, I really enjoyed testing these two guns side-by-side. From a pure handling perspective, the Shield Plus felt better in hand — at least to me. The Hellcat’s grip was simply too rough and somehow seemed smaller in my hand than it really was. That’s not to say that it was uncomfortable, I just simply enjoyed the feel of the Shield Plus more.

Man holding the Smith and Wesson Shield Plus, left and Springfield Hellcat, right
From a top-down angle, both the Shield Plus (top) and Hellcat (bottom) look to be nearly identical from a width perspective. However, you can see the slight difference in length from this angle as well.

Accuracy was not a department in which either of these were lacking. I set up 6-inch steel gongs at 15, 25, and 50 yards for testing purposes. At 15 and 25 yards, both the Hellcat and Shield Plus were consistently putting rounds on the gongs. I ran 10 magazines through each of these distances and found roughly 11 of the 13 rounds (per magazine) were dead on.

Granted, those other couple shots per magazine very well could have been user error! We can’t all be professional shooters… can we?

Then, at 50 yards, I was putting bullets to steel on average, 9 of the 13 rounds. Given the distance though, that is a number I’m happy with for my own current shooting capabilities. Overall, they were both accurate, but I would give a slight advantage to the Shield Plus. I have a feeling it could be due to the fact that I’m more used to using square rear sights as opposed to the u-notch that the Hellcat comes with.

Shield Plus vs. Hellcat: Final Thoughts

Both guns proved reliable, accurate, and easy to conceal. For those who love accessories, there are plenty of them out there for both. Best of all, whichever you choose, you’re going to be covered by a great warranty from one of the industry’s largest manufacturers.

Smith and Wesson Shield Plus 9mm pistol with a laser light combo
The Shield Plus fits nicely in hand and has a medium grip texture. Even with extra-large hands, the pinky fit without going past the magazine.

If I was pressed to pick only one though, I would go with the Shield Plus. I personally found the Shield to be a little bit more accurate, it felt better in my hand, and the MSRP is slightly lower. With that being said, you cannot go wrong with either gun!

Would you choose the Hellcat or Shield Plus? Let us know which you’d pick and why, or your review of the Shield Plus vs. Hellcat in the comment section.

  • Springfield Hellcat FDE left, quartering,
  • Smith and Wesson left profile with barrel pointed down at a 45-degree angle
  • SMith and Wesson M&P Plus left and Springfield Hellcat right
  • The author holding the Springfield Hellcat with a red dot sight over a snowy wood deck
  • Smith and Wesson Shield Plus 9mm pistol with a laser light combo
  • Man holding the Smith and Wesson Shield Plus, left and Springfield Hellcat, right
  • Vertical profile view of the SMith and Wesson Shield Plus (left) and Springfield Hellcat (right)

Bio: Ryan Domke is a freelance writer, photographer, and social media consultant with a passion for guns and tactical gear. He works with some of the largest manufacturers in the firearms industry, allowing him the opportunity to continuously learn from and knowledge share with the 2A community. 

When he’s not spending time with his family, you’ll likely find him at the range or starting a new DIY project. If you’d like to check out some of his other content, you can find him on Instagram at (@TheGuyGearReview).

About the Author:

Ryan Domke

Ryan Domke is a freelance writer, photographer and social media consultant with a passion for guns and tactical gear. He works with some of the largest manufacturers in the firearms industry, allowing him the opportunity to continuously learn from and knowledge share with the 2A community. When he’s not spending time with his family, you’ll likely find him at the range or starting a new DIY project. If you’d like to check out some of his other content, you can find him on Instagram at (@TheGuyGearReview).
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (27)

  1. Purchased a Hellcat when the first came out with iron sites for a carry.
    The gun shop owner purchased one also for his wife who I was dealing with. His wife hates the gun. He also says he’s not happy.
    Outside of 10 yards I have trouble hitting paper. Could be me, but been hearing other people complaining about the gun also.
    Plan to try and make a trade on a Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield Plus at another gun shop.

  2. WOW great review and comments….I am amazed not one “well I have a Glock/1911 and its the gun GOD planned on us owning” LOL

    I have a Shield in 40…and it truly is the only 40 I was ever comfortable shooting…so the Shield Plus (have not fired) must be awesome

    HOWEVER..I have owned and qualified with the 365 and the Hellcat.

    I now carry the Hellcat off duty, and as a backup…I love it…Granted I did put the DPM recoil system in and my follow up are dead on accurate.

    Here is the final word on any and all guns..GET THE GUN YOU LIKE to shoot and will carry and practice with. My best friend SWEARS by the Glocks. He loves em and thats great. Another close friend 1911 45 ACP or nothing.

    But it is the gun they are comfortable with. My Primary carry is the Cz75 Compact..just because I love it.

    So 380, 38spec, 45, 44 hell 45-70 Derringer (yes there is an idiot who has one on the internet) if its the gun you like use it.

  3. I own both the shield plus and the hellcat with red dot. For range shooting i really prefer the shield. The trigger is just crazy good after break in. No creep just a little bit of play and then a pop. I run it with the safety as that trigger though heavy doesnt give you alot of warning. Now to the hellcat I feel confident carrying it without a safety cause that trigger is designed that way. You get some slack then quite a bit of creep, kinda of like a warning “are you sure” kind of thing. Then with no noticable wall it goes pop. As for a self defense and carry gun i give 1 up to the hellcat. But for a gun thats just a blast to shoot i gotta go shield. In closing i gotta say the shield is more accurate for me with the irons sites only but that hellcats red dot is a game changer.

  4. I’ve got the Shield. Even though I have small/medium hands the Shield feels better. I tried the Hell Cat and found that the grip felt too short for the way I grip a pistol.

  5. You said the differences in dimensions were not worth much discussion; I would have to disagree with one specific dimension, the grip depth. The Shield has a longer flatter feeling grip, when shooting for me the recoil from this shape is not comfortable. The Hellcat has a grip with less depth and a nice rounded feel. If you are shooting much, the Hellcat has a much nicer feel. I know this is a subjective point, but having owned both this difference really stood out to me.

  6. Great review! I own both pistols and found fit, form and function of one indistinguishable from the other. I tend to use the Hellcat more for cc as it seems a bit more concealable than the Shield.

  7. LOVE Springfield Armory firearms, and although I have thought about purchasing a Hellcat, I have not had the opportunity or pleasure of shooting one. I do own the Shield Plus and although its an awesome pistol, I prefer my Glock 26 with a12 rd mag over the S&W..

  8. I’m a Springfield fan and have several models. 1911, XD, XDs, and the Hellcat. As I was a big ,45 fan, I was really impressed with how the Hellcat did not have the usual snappy recoil I was expecting after carrying a Beretta 92 for several years in both the military and in law enforcement. I was so impressed with the Hellcat that it is now my every day carry and have 3 more, all with different configurations, sitting in my safe.yes, I have several other makes of 9mm’s but have to say I enjoy shooting the Hellcats more than the others. Springfield knocked it out of the park with this one.

  9. I fired both same day. Shield shot better for me and had a thumb safety that I like on a gun that may be put in my pocket w/o a holster to protect the trigger.

  10. I had a Shield 1.0. I bought the Hellcat as soon as it came out for the extra capacity. I found it interesting that you preferred the Shield grips over the Hellcat. It was the exact opposite for me. I feel more in control with the Hellcats more aggressive grips.

  11. I own 2 shields (one with light, and one with laser),and one hellcat with optic. Both are great micros.
    I find myself carrying the shield more often and I shoot better with them in the 10-25 yard range.
    Farther out the Hellcat with Optic wins.

  12. I can only load 9 & 12 rounds in the 10 rd & 13 rd mags, even the gunsmith & sales people could NOT load what S&W says they will carry, they & S&W “say” the mags will ‘loosen up’ in time, now over a year of EDC & they are still to tight to get all the rds (even with a loader) in them. Other than that’false advertising’ it is an awesome weapon, added a Armalaser TR4G green laser & it’s even better, but it still only carries 10 & 12 rds in the mags,

  13. I own a Hellcat and I am happy to have bought it. Concealability is paramount to me. The smaller the better. If the smallest also give me one more shot, that is the end of the argument for me. Since by laws you would be forced to shoot short range or walk away, whatever advantage on accuracy the bigger Shield Plus may have it is a moot point to me.
    The harsher texture on the Hellcat it is also an advantage whenever you need to pull it in a rush out of your concealed holster.
    I have shot mine several times 300 rounds range sessions without failure and without feeling my hands affected at all and I work in an office with the hated paper cuts every now and then….

  14. I haven’t shot the S&W but I own a Hellcat with thumb safety and front sight tritium insert . Before making the purchase I held several micros and the Hellcat felt best in my hand . I like the grip texture very much , but I have hard working , thick skinned hands . Shooting the pistol , I find it easy to hang on to and the front sight is easy to get on target . I’ve thought about getting a Hex Wasp sight for it but I’ve read that it’s always on and I’d be worried about the battery , plus I’m hitting so well with the Hellcats iron sights that I don’t know if it would be worth the extra profile . The gun does make my wrist sore if I shoot it a lot but I’d say that would probably apply to any of the small pistols in this category .

  15. I have the S&W Performance Center Shield plus and love it! Also have the Hellcat RDP that comes with a red dot and small compensator on a threaded barrel.

    The Shield is my daily carry. Your either going to shoot a red dot or iron sights, and i am not used to a red dot so hence the S&W as a carry gun.

    If your considering the Shield Plus I highly recommend the Performance Center version. It comes with fiber optic sights and a ported barrel that is an effective compensator in regards to muzzle control. The trigger in the new Shield is just outstanding for a factory gun.

  16. I have the hellcat, carry it almost daily in an alien gear pocket holster in my cargo shorts. I like the grip texture. I think you would not go wrong with which ever pistol suits YOUR needs.

  17. I own a 9mm shield and love shooting it. I would like to own a hellcat for the simple advantage of the ability to add a red dot sight to the slide. I own two other pistols with this ability and it makes a huge difference to me at least in the accuracy and ability to aquire targets much quicker.

  18. I purchased the Hellcat RDP and believe it has much more to offer than the Shield Plus. The tritium front sight is a plus in low light. The red dot and the tritium front sight put you spot on your target. Next the compensator holds the muzzle down for quick second shots. The compensator is easily removed and replaced without any set screws. A 15 + 1 magazine is also available at a reasonable price. If you compare this model of the Hellcat to the Shield Plus and had several shooters who did not love square notch sights and picky about rubber grips this might have had a different choice of pistols.

  19. For my conceal I sport a Taurus Curve .380! Small light, sports a tactical light and red dot laser built in! Pretty good accuracy also

  20. Shield Plus for me, even if it competed against 5 other pistols of similar size and caliber. Best S&W trigger yet of any M&P, and like you said the grip fits my hand perfectly … like it belongs there.

  21. Great comparison. It’s worth noting that for those of us with short stubby caveman fingers, finding any off the shelf high-capacity pistol that fits our hand well has always been a challenge. Nothing in the high cap magazine realm has ever fit my hand as comfortably as my 1911s, until the Hellcat came along. Another great aspect for us stubby fingered cave dwellers is that the Hellcat’s blackstrap to trigger dimension is short enough to make the addition and ambidextrous operation of a Streamlight TLR-6 naturally comfortable from a ready position. If you have troll hands, the Hellcat is an especially comfortable and welcome addition to the edc market. Nice job Springfield.

  22. For JackM Buy all three, a butt ton of ammo, a fish bowl and three poker chips. Label each chip with one of the three guns and put them in the fishbowl. Then everyday, you pull out a chip and whichever gun is listed train with that one.

    Fringe benefits: you get three great guns; you got lots of extra chips for poker night; and you got a fishbowl incase someone in the family decides they want a fish (or you have something to drink margaritas out of 😈)!

  23. I have an mp shield 40 it’s a snappy little thing I was thinking about trading it in but I love the looks of this gun I think I will keep it a train harder

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