If turning to this page has caused you to have flashbacks, there is no need to worry. It can all be explained by a simple quote from Yogi Berra, the legendary catcher for the New York Yankees: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
It has only been about four months since we covered the Ported M&P Shield by Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center. In that article, it was noted that S&W was always striving to improve—but we didn’t know they would be this quick to prove us right. While we were testing their upgraded 9mm, they were preparing for the unveiling of a new Shield, chambered in the .45 ACP.
However, if we look at S&W’s track record, we really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it has only been a hair over a decade since the rebirth of their Military & Police (M&P) moniker, reintroduced on a new line of polymer handguns. Just four years ago, the company increased the M&P product line with the addition of a compact pistol, the Shield. This handgun became so popular in the concealed-carry market that S&W’s Performance Center got into the act this past year with its upgraded Ported Shield. What should be a surprise is this latest M&P Shield is paired with the .45 ACP—a cartridge normally restricted to full-sized duty weapons.
If you are wondering if this change in calibers is enough to take another look at the Shield, just consider a few basic facts. The .45 ACP has long ruled as king of the defensive combat rounds, but compact pistols such as the Shield, have mainly been the home of the 9mm Luger and .380 ACP. At the same time, Smith & Wesson has served the American handgun market since 1852. When they speak, the shooting public listens. The M&P .45 Shield was announced at this year’s NRA Annual Meetings and was drawing a crowd around the S&W booth.
Pure ego will allow me to believe you have read my previous writings on the S&W Shield, but I’ll hit on the main details of these pistols, just in case you missed the last issue.
The Shield is a compact, semi-automatic, striker-fired handgun, with a polymer frame and stainless-steel slide. By the size and calibers of these guns, it is easy to see they were developed with concealed carry in mind.
The new M&P 45 Shield has maintained the compact size and is only 0.99 inches wide, unless you want to measure right at the slide stop, where it expands to 1.05 inches. For what it is worth, that is only 0.04 inches wider than the 9mm model. The 6.45-inch overall length, and 4.88-inch height, keeps this new gun right in line with the 6.10-inch length and 4.60-inch height of the 9mm. The barrel on this small .45 has been increased by 0.20 inches to 3.30 inches.
You have to give S&W credit for being able to maintain these diminutive sizes when you consider the dimensional changes between the 9mm Luger and the .45 ACP cartridges. The 9mm has a case head size of 0.39 inches, which is expanded to 0.48 inches for the .45 ACP.
The weight of this firearm is only 20.5 ounces, but that will increase once you load it up with eight rounds of .45 ACP. One of the two magazines supplied with the pistol has a baseplate that is 0.38 inches longer, allowing for a 7-plus-1 capacity. The shorter magazine decreases the capacity to 6-plus-1, and it also diminishes the gripping surface of the pistol.
With the massive trend to striker-fired pistols, one of the biggest complaints has been regarding the quality of the triggers. The most common phrase when talking about this feature has been “mushy,” and I have yet to find a better description. However, the Performance Center 9mm I tested had a decent trigger, and the sample .45 Shield was similar. The pull weight came in a few pounds heavier, at around six pounds, but it had a solid breaking point after about 0.13 inches of takeup.
The .45 Shield maintains the 18-degree grip angle typical for all Shield models, but the texturing on the grip has been refined to almost resemble sandpaper. I did not find it uncomfortable, and it did improve my shooting grip during testing. When the longer magazine was inserted, the overall grip was almost perfect for my medium-sized hands.
Although the slide and barrel are both fabricated from stainless steel, they are finished in a non-reflective, black Armornite finish. The scallop-patterned cocking serrations on the rear of the slide are carried over from the other Shield models; but on this model, there is a single row of serrations on both sides of the front of the slide.
The sights are a set of snag-less fixed sights, with one white dot in the front blade and two dots in the rear sight.
The sample .45 Shield came with a thumb safety mounted on the left rear of the frame, but this pistol can be ordered with or without this feature. I don’t mind saying that I favor having this safety, and my only complaint is that it is not ambidextrous. On second thought, I really don’t care if it is ambidextrous or not. I want a left-handed safety!
PUT TO THE TEST
So far, the minor changes to this pistol, over any other Shield, may not seem like much, but the true difference becomes apparent once it is carried to the range. No one will ever mistake a .45 ACP round for a 9mm or .380 ACP. That fact will hold true no matter if you’re behind the gun, or in front of it, when it is fired.
One detail I noticed while testing the Performance Center Ported Shield is the magazine springs for these pistols are rather stiff. It is all you can do to load them to capacity without having to set them against a desk and forcing that last round in place. This time I was ready. As soon as the sample gun came in, I loaded both magazines and let them sit for a few days. After this period of letting the springs set, it was easier to reload both of the magazines. They even improved more after several sessions of shooting them dry and then reloading.
“With one five-shot group, I was able to drop the overall spread down to 1.88 inches.”
There is no doubt this firearm was designed as a personal-defense weapon, and most of my range time was spent testing the attributes I would normally expect of such a weapon. Reliability is the number-one aspect of any defensive weapon, and for that reason, most of my testing was with full-powered, jacketed hollow-point cartridges. Hollow-point bullets have always been the bane of semi-auto handguns; if you’re going to have problems with feeding, they will usually show up with this type of ammunition.
Not exactly knowing what to expect from this new handgun, I fired several magazines full of Winchester 230-grain JHP, just to get the feel for this weapon. After just the first few shots fired off-hand, I was somewhat surprised about how controllable the handgun was. To be sure, I have to give a nod of approval to the S&W design team. The ergonomics of the Shield can only be described as outstanding. I was rather pleased with the performance of the 9mm Ported Shield when I tested it, and this new .45 gave me no reason to change my opinion of the basic Shield design.
As they say, “Just for jollies,” I fired this handgun in my typical old-school modified (left-handed, right eyed) Weaver stance; and then, single handed, with both my strong hand and weak hand. At times, I rotated the handgun 90 degrees right and left, and even fired it upside down. In other words, I gave this pistol every chance I could think of to jam. After 100 rounds, I just gave up, and I will report that this Shield was 100-percent reliable.
Those rounds were all fired at either 8-inch metal plates at 20 yards, or at paper torso targets at distances of 10 to 15 yards. At times, I would take my time to properly align the sights, and other times, speed was my main goal. Any errant shots were completely the fault of the shooter. The sights were quick to align, and the “sandpaper” texture on the grip proved to be useful in maintaining control of the weapon.
At that point, it took all of my willpower to switch from my off-hand stance to shooting off the bench for a little serious accuracy testing.
That day, I chose two JHP loads from Sig Sauer (200 and 230 grains) and one 185-grain load from Hornady (which uses their FTX bullet) for my testing. When compared to most companies, Sig has not been in the ammunition business that long, but I have been very pleased with every handgun and rifle load I have tested. Sig’s 168-grain .308 Match load performed so well the week before, I felt compelled to email them with my results. This was my first chance to test their .45 ACP loads, and again I was very pleased. At 25 yards, all of my five-shot groups were maintaining a 2.5- to 3.0-inch spread.
Hornady’s Critical Defense 185 grain FTX performance produced similar results. With one five-shot group, I was able to drop the overall spread down to 1.88 inches. Hornady ammunition has never disappointed me, and I have found this is a load that can make even me look like a marksman.
NOTES: Bullet weight measured in grains; velocity is average of 10 shots, in fps, measured 12 feet from muzzle; accuracy is in inches for the best five-shot group at 25 yards.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“ … if you are looking for my real-life, honest opinion of the new .45 Shield, let’s just say, I’m willing to bet my life on it.”
The past decade has seen a great growth in the practice of concealed carry, and shooters have been searching for just the right weapon. The 9mm Shield has proven itself as a pleasant blend between size, capacity and power.
Now we have another power option available, and many of us favor the .45 ACP when dark times appear. Fortunately, this power upgrade came about without much sacrifice in size or capacity.
I was so impressed with the Ported Shield from the Performance Shop that I bought the sample test gun. When combined with the Blackhawk A.R.C. holster, it became a constant companion. When I started testing the .45 Shield, I had just recently added a Crimson Trace Green laser for low-light situations.
I can’t buy every firearm I test or my family would have starved years ago. However, if you are looking for my real-life, honest opinion of the new .45 Shield, let’s just say, I’m willing to bet my life on it.
Smith & Wesson M&P 45 Shield
Caliber: .45 ACP
Action: Striker fire
Capacity: 6+1 & 7+1 rounds
Overall Length: 6.45 inches
Barrel Length: 3.30 inches
Width: 0.99 inches
Height: 4.88 inches
Weight: 20.5 ounces (unloaded)
Sights: Three-dot fixed
Magazines: 1 extended and 1 flat base plate
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the November-December 2016 print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.