Recent reports from the FBI have indicated that gun sales are up significantly this year, with each month showing sharp increases in the number of background checks over the same month in 2015. A lot of these purchases include new buyers and customers looking for concealed-carry weapons, rather than the typical nightstand firearm.
There is obviously some concern about what’s been happening in the country for the past couple of years, and more people are taking responsibility for their personal safety and getting more “hands on” with the tools of the trade.
One fine example of those tools is the new .45 ACP chambering in the striker-fired Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. Even though the field has leveled a bit among 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP with the advent of new bullet technology, some folks—like me—still like having a big-bore option or two on hand for concealed carry.
That’s one of the reasons I bought an M&P Compact in .45 ACP about a year ago.
The new .45 Shield brings a whole new dimension to carrying a large-bore weapon concealed in comparison to its older sibling. Where the M&P45C has a length of 7.55 inches and a width of 1.2 inches, its new Shield model trims things down to 6.45 inches and .99 inches (1.05 inches with slide stop), respectively. While this doesn’t read like much on paper, there’s a significant difference that can be observed—both visually and in the feel between the two pistols.
Because I am used to my personal M&P45 Compact, holding the new .45 ACP Shield was a jarring experience. I’d read the specs on the Shield when it came out, and I didn’t think there was going to be much difference from the Compact. Everything about the Shield, including its controls, is blended into a much more portable package, with its main advantage being the thinner frame because of the single-stack magazine.
Despite its relatively diminutive size, the M&P Shield in .45 ACP still holds a significant amount of firepower. The standard magazine holds six rounds, while the one with the extended base plate holds seven. With one in the chamber, that’s seven rounds with the standard magazine (two more rounds than a J-frame .38 revolver) and eight with the extended magazine.
One feature that is a “love or hate” option for most folks is the thumb safety. Smith & Wesson offers the Shield with or without the safety. Personally, I liked having the safety available for the times I wasn’t carrying it in a sturdy belt holster. It provided just a little extra peace of mind.
While the 9mm and .40 S&W Shield models sport a half-moon cutout on the forward portion of the slide, the new .45 ACP version has a semi-circle of serrations or scallops for users to press-check the weapon if desired. This usually isn’t part of my process, so I was neutral with regard to function. However, from a visual aspect, the execution looked a bit kludgy. (To each his own.)
Another difference—at least, from my M&P45C—is the texturing. There’s no question that the user will get a secure grip on the Shield, because the texturing is rather aggressive. In all honesty, I found it abrasive while testing the weapon at the range. However, one of the days I was testing the Shield, I let a gentleman whom I met have a go with it, and he liked the texturing a great deal. I kept giving him more ammunition to fire to see if he’d change his mind, but he still liked that texturing.
“There’s no question that the user will get a secure grip on the Shield, because the texturing is rather aggressive.”
In the Hand and in the Field
Despite the predilections some users might have with the little details, almost all users can always agree on the major points of a handgun, particularly pistols: We need the weapon to be reliable, accurate and manageable to shoot. For the concealed-carry folks, we also want the best compromise between size, weight and capacity.
Our range sessions with the M&P45 Shield included close-quarters shooting and accuracy testing at longer distances; and the sessions saw the use of a wide variety of ammunition. For this particular weapon, we were lucky to have several premium loads on hand for the trial, including SIG Sauer’s new 230-grain FMJ loads and its 230-grain V-Crown loads.
It was our first test with SIG’s new ammunition, and we were definitely not disappointed with its performance. First, to help get warmed up and break in the Shield, we started off with SIG’s FMJ loads.
“Fantastic!” is the first word that comes to mind After getting used to the Shield, I did a couple of drills, one of which I shot offhand from 7 yards at a rate of one shot per second with a magazine change.
To my surprise, 12 rounds from the two magazines went into one hole that measured 1.94 inches across. Even though the extended magazine is supposed to hold seven rounds, it took about 60 or 70 rounds with that magazine before it would accept the seventh round.
The trigger pull was lighter and a bit crisper than my own M&P45C, coming in at just 4.9 pounds—a welcome improvement. SIG’s 230-grain V-Crown ammunition did even better at 15 yards from the bench and with a six-round group. The sixth round came from a miscount while loading, but all six shots fell within 1.25 inches of each other, making it the best group of all the sessions. Federal’s Premium HST came in second, at 1.88 inches, with a five-shot group.
Before anyone gets too twisted up about the testing distance, keep in mind that this is a subcompact .45 pistol with a 3.3-inch barrel. It’s meant for up-close-and-personal defense. Even so, the group sizes were still impressive, considering the Shield was simply laid on a rest without the benefit of match sights or being locked in a machine rest.
Most important is how the pistol performs in the hand and whether or not the shooter can get the rounds into vital zones quickly to incapacitate the threat. There’s no question that the M&P Shield has the chops for such a mission—and then some.
The reliability was every bit as good as the accuracy. Approximately 400 rounds of the various loads (see the velocity table on page XXX) were fired, and function was utterly flawless. Not a single malfunction occurred, no matter the power level or whether it was an FMJ or hollow-point round. This is a pistol you can bet your life on.
While I was at the range, I shot my M&P45C side by side with the .45 Shield to see what trade-offs there were between the two, as well as if there is more value added in one model over the other.
There was some relief in shooting the Compact. With the added mass, the Compact’s fuller grip was more comfortable, and the recoil was not as snappy as with the Shield. Also, the Compact’s grip surface didn’t feel like 60-grit sandpaper, and it was definitely more pleasant to shoot … but hang on for a second.
I sometimes carry a .357 Magnum J-frame revolver concealed, as well, and it’s not the most pleasant handgun to fire, either. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent threat-stopper. Despite any qualms I might have, the benefits of the .45 ACP M&P Shield more than tip the scales in its favor. It’s not a plinker for all day at the range with full-power loads, but it is absolutely usable, controllable and exceptionally accurate.
For cooler weather, when I can wear a jacket, my M&P Compact will suffice nicely as it rides on my belt in its Wright Leatherworks Predator. But for warmer days and lighter attire, the new M&P Shield in .45 ACP is absolutely perfect for discreet carry in an IWB holster and under a t-shirt.
Even with only the standard magazine, which conceals easier, the user will still have seven potent rounds at their disposal. For those who like to carry a larger pistol concealed, the M&P45 Shield, with the six-round magazine, will also serve quite well as a backup.
The inevitable question percolating in someone’s mind is, So, if you had to pick one or the other, which would you get?
If I absolutely had to make the decision between the two pistols, it would be the new .45 ACP Shield—despite a couple of its little quirks. Both pistols are very accurate, reliable and easily capable of efficiently dealing with threats.
The M&P45 Compact offers an extra round and is slightly more comfortable to shoot. But, for one round less, the M&P Shield is eminently more concealable under both warm- and cool-weather attire. Also, because the Shield weighs almost 6 ounces less than the Compact, the lighter load will carry much easier through an entire day. That’s hard to beat for the price of one bullet.
The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield in .45 ACP is an excellent addition to the company’s lineup and brings exceptional value to a concealed-carry package. If you’re in the market for a .45 pistol that’s almost a perfect blend of size, power and portability, the Shield should be at the top of your must-see list.
I’m just glad I don’t actually have to choose one or the other. Both sound really good to me.
Action: Striker fired
Capacity: 7+1 and 6+1 rounds (two magazines)
Barrel length: 3.3 inches
Sight type: 3-dot white
Overall length: 6.45 inches
Frame width: .99 inch
Frame with slide stop: 1.05 inches
Overall height: 4.88 inches with flush magazine
Weight: 20.5 ounces
Barrel and slide finish: Armornite
VELOCITY TABLE (FIVE SHOT AVERAGE, 10 FEET FROM THE MUZZLE)
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2016 print issue of Gun World.