A reliable, accurate self-defense semi-auto with lots of firepower
Story and Photos by Jerry Catania
Smith & Wesson has introduced a new series of semi-automatic pistols called the Smith & Wesson Self Defense Series. Built on the basic Sigma platform and initially made in 9mm and 40 S&W—and named the SD9 and SD40 respectively—these pistols offer many features requested by individuals for home and personal defense.
Lightweight, relatively inexpensive and easy to handle, the new SD pistols promise to be very popular for homeowners and armed citizens alike. I received the 9mm version for testing and evaluation, and I must say that Smith & Wesson has knocked one out of the ballpark with this hot, new pistol.
SPECCING IT OUT
The SD9 is a striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol with a 4-inch stainless steel barrel, a stainless steel slide, an overall length of 7.2 inches, and a 16+1 capacity. The slide has been blackened with Melonite, a process that reduces unwanted signature glare as well as yielding a surface hardness of 68 on the Rockwell scale.
This new pistol is very lightweight at 22.7 ounces (unloaded) and pretty slim at 1.29 inches with all corners nicely rounded. The SD9 is supplied with two stainless steel magazines in a plastic case. No magazine loading device is provided, however.
The SD9’s sights consist of a white-outlined dot front with a tritium insert for low light, and a standard steel two-white-dot rear sight, easily adjustable for windage via a set screw. It is fitted with a new, slim 18-degree grip with aggressive front and back texturing. The slide is also serrated both front and back for easy manipulation. The receiver is fitted with the now nearly mandatory universal Picatinny-style rail for lights and lasers, and also features a textured trigger finger locator above the trigger guard on both sides of the frame. The magazine-release button and slide stop lever are placed only on the left side and are not reversible.
The SD9 is fitted with the new Self Defense Trigger, which is a smooth, consistent DA-style with a fast reset. The trigger does not have a double-strike capability and is reset after firing (or manually). A witness hole is located at the rear of the barrel/chamber to provide a visible loaded chamber indicator.
When I first read about the SD9, I thought: “Finally, someone is bucking the Law Enforcement trends and introducing a pistol for civilians.” The SD9 is indeed designed for civilians and proven to be an easy-handling, accurate shooting machine that was 100 percent reliable. The grip was very comfortable and felt good in my hand, which is large, but has short fingers. Reach to the trigger was easy with no twisting of the grip required. The controls were well placed and again, no shifting was necessary to reach the magazine release or slide stop lever.
The smooth-faced trigger was consistent, with no stacking, and it did not slap the trigger finger after firing. Ejection was consistent, as well, with empties flying 15 feet to the right rear and none of them coming near my face or eyes. There was no pinching or cutting of my hand during firing, and no levers or buttons were inadvertently activated during shooting.
The white follower of the magazine provided an easy-to-see verification of the gun’s empty status at slide lock. The magazines were slick to install at speed, and while they were rather hard to load fully in the beginning, they became easier to load as shooting progressed.
The sights on the SD9 were well regulated with the point of impact barely above the front sight at 25 yards. This is exactly where I want the shots to hit. The windage was dead on and no adjustment was needed there, either. I was able to hit 1-gallon water jugs as far as 133 yards with no holdover, although holding steady enough to do so consistently was another matter.
The sights, however, gave me my only complaint. The white-outlined tritium front washed out under some light conditions and was generally less visible than the rear sight under most other conditions except /really/ low light. This caused the eye to try to focus on the rear sight—an obvious handicap in fast shooting. In near darkness, the tritium insert worked like it was supposed to.
A comparison to Glock pistols is inevitable, and the SD9 most closely compares to the Glock 19. It is the same weight, length and width for all practical purposes, but has a smaller grip (in circumference) and a shorter reach to the trigger, which I liked. The angle of the grip on a Glock is a little greater and they tend to point a bit high for me, compared to dead-on for the SD9.
TESTING ‘HOT’ AMMO
The shooting test was conducted using two +P versions of the 9mm Parabellum cartridge (see sidebar). I do not shoot the standard pressure loads and usually do all of my 9mm firing with +P+ loads, which the S&W manual specifically prohibits, thereby voiding the warranty.
Not wanting to lead anyone astray, I opted for two of the best +P versions, which are not prohibited by S&W policy. Cor-Bon supplied its hot 115-grain JHP, and Double Tap provided its unique 147-grain Bonded JHP. Both loads were accurate and reliable, with groups in the 3- to 4-inch range expected if the shooter did his part. Best of all, while velocities and energies were high, blast and flash were /very/ low. Both loads were very controllable in rapid-fire shooting, whether one or two handed.
For comparison of ballistics, I shot the SD9 next to a G19 and surreptitiously added a couple of my usual test loads; some +P+ 9mms. Chronograph results taken 8 feet from the muzzle looked like this:
|LOAD||MV (fps)||ME (ft/lbs)|
|Corbon 115 gr. +P jhp||1,345||463|
|Double Tap 147 gr GD +P||1,044||365|
|Win 115 gr +P+ jhp||1,326||456|
|Speer 115 gr GD +P+||1,297||430|
|LOAD||MV (fps)||ME (ft/lbs)|
|Corbon 115 gr. +P jhp||1,335||449|
|Double Tap 147 gr GD +P||370||1,066|
|Win 115 gr +P+ jhp||1,316||441|
|Speer 115 gr GD +P+||1,283||421|
MV=muzzle velocity, ME=muzzle energy, fps=feet per second, ft/lbs=foot pounds, jhp=jacketed hollow point, GD=Speer Gold Dot hollow point (bonded)
Two things jump out at you: The SD9, with its conventional rifling, gives up nothing compared to the Glock’s polygonal rifling and the Cor-Bon 115 grain +P is hotter than the hottest of the +P+ Police only loads. The Cor-Bon load is available to all civilians. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Having carried the SD9 concealed on a daily basis during the time I had it, I can attest that it is an outstanding choice for either home defense or concealed carry. Lightweight, reliable and smooth with lots of firepower, it is a solid choice in either 9mm or 40 caliber.
Best of all, it is made in the USA and comes with Smith & Wesson’s incomparable Lifetime Service Policy.
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DEMYSTIFYING 9MM +P AND +P+
The Internal Ballistics—that is, the operating pressures—of all cartridges in the United States is standardized by the Sporting Arm and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, or SAAMI. The 9mm and its operating pressures is listed in three separate levels, all using the same basic shell casing: 9mm Parabellum (or Luger) @ 35,000 psi; 9mm NATO @ 36,550 psi; 9mm +P @ 38,500 psi.
A fourth level—the +P+ 9mm—is /not/ regulated by SAAMI, and its pressure level is set by the companies making the ammunition. For this reason, many gun makers, including Smith & Wesson and Sig Sauer, do not warrant its use in their guns. As far as I know, only Glock warranties the use of /all/ 9mm ammunition, including +P+. The major manufacturers make all four levels.
The effect of higher pressures is higher velocities, higher energies and more stopping power. For this reason, the +P+ version has been used (but is no longer) since 1980 by the Illinois State Police, the Secret Service, the Border Patrol and others. In the past, the +P+ 9mm has proven to have stopping power equal to the best 40 and 45 caliber loads. The +P version is currently in use by the FBI, LAPD and the NYPD, although they use different loads.
While still being made, the +P+ 9mm is giving way to the improved performance +P versions, which today give power levels as great with SAAMI standardized pressures. Everyone wins.
SMITH & WESSON
DOUBLE TAP AMMUNITION
SMITH & WESSON SD9
Capacity 16 rounds
Barrel Length 4 inches
Overall Length 7.2 inches
Weight 22.7 ounces
Sights Steel 2-dot rear; tritium night front
Grips Textured polymer
Finish Black Melonite