A Full-Service Sidearm

Could S&W Make The M2.0 M&P Platform Any Better?
Beats The Heck Out Of Us How ...

Within every legendary handgun company there are individual product lines, generally centered around a specific application, or in modern Tacti-Speak, a “mission” (although in many cases it’s more of a marketing ID). Ruger’s Blackhawk brand encompasses heavy-duty single-action revolvers. Colt’s “Snake Guns” encompassed their premium double-action revolvers (Python, Diamondback, Cobra, etc.).

With Smith & Wesson, the evocative buzzword is “Military & Police”— a term easily pre-dating them all, having first appeared in 1899. M&P offerings initially covered no-frills service revolvers in K- and N-Frame sizes. But the M&P label sort of faded away when Smith began hanging specific model numbers on everything — which considering the scope of their product line — was inevitable.

However, in 2005 the M&P stamp returned with a vengeance. The platform wasn’t a fixed-sight “classic reissue” service revolver from a nostalgia series this time. It was a polymer-framed, striker-fired duty pistol initially offered as a full-sized 9mm or .40 S&W. It was obviously a major company effort to recapture the American LE market from several, shall we say, competitive products of Austrian, German, Italian and Swiss parentage.

Nobody could, of course, compete with Smith when it came to wheelguns. Problem was, the only revolvers cops appeared interested in anymore seemed to be backup snubbies. In short, S&W had been getting their lunch eaten in the domestic “auto-centric” marketplace and they decided to do something about it. It only seems natural they resurrected the M&P brand, which — then as now — seems a natural for duty sidearms.

The rollout included a Big Splash media push that has yet to be equaled. It worked out splendidly, the pistol was an unqualified hit, and S&W wasted little time in expanding the resurrected M&P line to include mid-size and compact versions, eventually including the Shield and Bodyguard as well as some specialty LE-oriented revolver models and their entire AR lineup.

A Work in Progress

Shooting the latest version of the M&P — the M2.0 — is an eye-opener. The success and popularity of the original version certainly speaks for itself, but the M2.0 still manages to embody the shopworn “New and Improved” marketing cliché. No, it’s not another Performance Center-tweaked version (there have been several), but it might pass for one, although it’s straight from the Big House.

Not content with launching one SKU of a new model, Smith has eight — two .45 ACP’s (one with a thumb safety), three in .40 S&W and two in 9mm. “SKU,” for those of you too embarrassed to ask, stands for Stock Keeping Unit. Not very sexy, but there you are. I used to keep my mouth shut and pretend I knew what it meant until, ashamed, I finally asked. The SKU on mine was 11537 (remember that, you’ll be tested on it later). What it translates to is the following.

The “big” one has a 5″ barrel in 9mm with an OAL of 8.3″ and a 17+1 capacity. Cosmetically, we’re looking at a Sandbox-inspired Flat Dark Earth color scheme (on our test gun), Armornite corrosion-resistant finish on stainless steel and what the company calls an “aggressive” grip texture (it is indeed!). Sight-wise, we’re looking at a drift-adjustable 3-dot setup. And there are four interchangeable palm-swell grip inserts so you can tailor the fit to your own mitt. And the MSRP on this one is $599 — a number which in terms of real-world prices will most likely not stand for long. Still, reasonable even at that price.

So, you’re probably asking yourself what all the hoo-hah is about. How is this M&P substantially different than the one they rolled out a dozen or so years ago? Well the trigger is considerably better — crisper and lighter than most will remember from the original. The trigger reset is both tactile and audible — which is a fancy way of saying you can feel and hear it reset. In addition the interior steel “chassis” is longer than on the original, all the way along the polymer frame as a matter of fact. Rigidity is increased, yet recoil seems less. In addition, the slide itself has been slightly slimmed and “re-contoured,” although not blatantly so.

Now, the original one I experienced at the long-ago media unveiling in Springfield, Mass., was in .40 S&W and wouldn’t shoot 180-gr. ammo worth a whoop — although things did improve when I switched to 165’s. (It seems 180-gr. .40 S&W was initially “coin of the realm” in the early days of the “Ten Lite.”) But I never could manage the trigger properly. It was okay in 7-yard speed drills, but drove me a little crazy in deliberate 25-yard shooting, let alone my attempts at 50 yards.

If this improved trigger was all they did on the new M2.0, I’d have been sold. But “on paper” 25-yard results from a rest with the M2.0 was far better — say 3″ to well under 2″ with an assortment of 115- and 124-gr. FMJ ammo. Am I simply — then as now — a better shooter with the lower-recoiling 9mm? Twelve or 15 years ago a younger and dumber me would have denied that vehemently. But that was then and this is now. So, my uselessly qualified answer is probably. I left my Ransom Rest at home so I can’t swear this new version is more accurate than the old, but it is easier to shoot more accurately.

Jeff Cooper used to refer to this as the difference between “intrinsic” and “inherent” accuracy. The former being what the combined human element and gun are capable of, the latter being simply what the gun is capable of with no human involved.

Revolving Items

To bookend the M2.0 unveiling, we also saw a pretty pair of reminders Smith can “still dance with what brung them.” Of course we’re talking revolvers and the proof here is a pair of pretty cool ones — a J-Frame snubbie and an L-Frame. Both, incidentally, are Performance Center products.

Being an old-time copper, His Editorship Roy has a soft spot for Smith revolvers of any frame size in the .38/.357 range, so he simply had to take both back to the Royal Compound in Missouri, where he gave each a thorough blasting (see sidebar for His Most Subjective Insights).

The first is the Enhanced Action Model 637. What it is, is a stainless steel/aluminum-alloy, PC-tuned J-Frame 2″ snubbie chambered for .38 Special Plus-P. Actually, S&W lists the barrel length as 1.875″, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep fretting over any velocity loss penalty for the fractional difference. The M637 features sculpted custom wood stocks too. I, for one, am grateful the Smith Performance Center saw fit not to instead offer something .357-capable. After all, why pay extra for a beautifully tuned J-Frame only to subject it — and you — to magnum-type abuse? By the way, the stock is great. They tout the action as being 20 percent lighter and smoother than a stock one and I won’t argue the point. It’s excellent.

If you’re really interested in a short-barreled, unmanageable blowtorch, why not pick something heavier (see next paragraph)? Obviously intended for the concealed carry market, the Model 637 weighs 15 oz. and sports a shockingly low MSRP sticker for a Performance Center gun — $525. Oh, and the official SKU number? It’s 170349.

Bigger Brother

The Model 586 L-Comp, is another Performance Center offering. Smith & Wesson, if you’ll recall, introduced the L-Frame 586 back in 1980 as a sort of size compromise for shooters who simply insisted on a heavy diet of .357 Magnum ammo, yet didn’t want to step up to an N-Frame. The L had the same grip size as the smaller K, but its beefier construction made it a better choice for magnums, both from the standpoint of gun wear and shooter fatigue.

My first serious revolver was a Model 586 and it stood up to a .357 regimen I wouldn’t have wanted to subject my K-Frame Model 19 to. This 586 L-Comp is a blued, 3″ barreled number with a 7-shot cylinder and adjustable sights. Which, for me at least, would be mandatory on anything you’re going to subject to the point of impact shifts inherent in the 700–1,600 fps velocity range of a .38/.357 chambering.

At any rate, the 7-shot 586 L-Comp’s barrel is a ported, full-lug tube, which ought to tame some of the muzzle up-flip. It features a PC-tuned action and a Tritium front night sight. The stocks are checkered rosewood. At 37.5 oz. with an 8″ OAL, this may not be the optimum size/weight for a CCW gun, but if you want to pack a whole lot of power in a reasonably compact package, this one’s worth looking at. And compared to a traditional 6-shot revolver, the 586 L-Comp may just classify as “high cap.” The $1,208 MSRP is more in keeping with the Performance Center menu than that of the M637, but it’s a lot of gun for the money. The SKU? 170170.

The upshot of all these new goodies from Smith? The company apparently has no intention of staying off the cutting edge of product development. It’s tough to think of what else they could do to the M&P pistol, but don’t bet against them coming up with something.

Wheelguns Rock

By Roy Huntington

I carried a beloved 6″ hard-chromed S&W Model 19 as a reserve on the Chula Vista PD in the middle 1970’s. I learned to shoot accurately with that gun in DA-only competing in PPC matches. My trustworthy Smith came with me when I got hired full-time on the San Diego PD beginning in 1978. At the time we weren’t allowed to carry a “custom” gun but the range master knew I was a gun-guy (was top gun in my academy) so he signed off on it as a “test” gun. Bless him. Those early years found me relying on revolvers for front-line work daily and I never felt under-gunned — ever. When we transitioned to autos in the late 1980’s I still kept a J-Frame tucked away in an ankle rig. And off-duty — more often then not — found me armed with a revolver.

These two admirable guns from S&W represent some of the best stock revolver engineering I’ve seen, period. Both functioned perfectly out of the box, both are as accurate as I can hold and both offer power, reliability and amazing value. You couldn’t build a custom revolver from a basic gun for the money you’d spend on either one of these. And, being engineered from the beginning as a unit, most stock guns tend to be reliable and well-sorted right off the bat.

The M637 has a delightfully smooth action which is indeed noticeably lighter than a stock gun’s. The grips are a departure too, a bit like the old-school “Fuzzy Farrant” stocks that were smaller at the bottom, and fit your hand well. Pretend to grip a gun, now look at your hand. You have more room at the top of your grip than at the bottom. Yet most revolver grips are big at the bottom. Fuzzy’s grips looked funny, but they worked. I think the fact they looked different than traditional stocks eventually killed them. Fortunately, S&W doesn’t think the idea is a bad one. I’m pleased to see this, and they are especially comfortable in my medium-sized hands. I also like the fact the gun has a hammer. Watching it helps new shooters better learn to stage a trigger, and, it simply looks right to have a hammer there to my eye!

It’s rated for .38 Special +P with no bullet weight limits. While snappy with high performance ammo, I think it really shined with some 148-gr. wadcutters. At 15 yards, shots to the head-zone were a snap, but about 3″ low and a bit to the left — not unusual with fixed-sighted guns of any sort. I ran about 150 rounds of assorted ammo through it and it ran fine. This is a classic “grab it and go” J-Frame, light, smooth and very shootable. Do I need another J-Frame? No, but this one is so delightful, it’s not going back.

The 586 L-Comp showed the fit and finish the Performance Center is known for. Grips are Spegle-like in design and feel comfy but a bit square at the back. The gun is hefty (over two pounds) but digests full-power .357 Magnum loads easily because of that. Hearing protection is a must as that comp blasts like hell-fire. Sights are classic S&W with a Tritium insert in the front. The chambers (seven) are all chamfered and there’s a trigger stop nodule on the rear of the trigger appearing to be hand-fitted as there are delicate file marks on it.

If you loved the 3″ round-butt K-Frames you’ll love this. Adding a bit of beef to the mix offers a certain stability as you move from target to target. At 15 yards this seems to be easily a 2″ gun with everything put through it. I’m thinking it will outshoot me with wadcutters “out there” but it rained cats and dogs here when I was going to do that. If you’re a weekend gamer/shooter, need a solid home defense gun, or are focused and dedicated enough to haul around a hunk of iron, you’ve found a new friend here. The term “personal firearm” comes to mind when I see it on my desk. “Oh that? It’s my personal firearm,” you might say to someone. It sends out self-confidence vibes all on its own. “I’m here, I can help protect you.” I believe it.

What would I do? I’d round off those grips some and possibly add a bit of skateboard tape to the back-strap. Then I’d be 100-percent happy. But — I’m pretty happy now. Wheelguns still rock. No fooling.

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