Ports, Sights And Triggers Done Right!
By John Connor
How popular are the M&P Shield pistols? Test samples of the new Performance Center Shields arrived just before December 1st, 2015, when I received a stunning press release: Smith & Wesson had just shipped their one millionth Shield; not “planned,” not “ordered,” not “in production,” but one million shipped! Thinkle onnit, okay? The Shield had only been available since mid-2012; about three and a half years.
Smith & Wesson serves a global market, but I’ll bet the overwhelming majority were sold in America, so let’s look at it in US context: That’s about one Shield pistol for every 320 Americans — almost 24,000 Shields per month since production kicked off. And all of that has been driven not by the marketing department’s dreams, but by demand.
The numbers are staggering, but the Shield’s popularity is no surprise. I received one of the first Shield 9mm’s out of the pipeline and reviewed it for the March 2013 issue of GUNS Magazine. I called it “The Goldilocks Gun” because I quickly found it’s not too small and not too large, but just right, not only for my XL-plus hands, but for smaller and even larger hands too. For me, if it were smaller or lighter, it would likely be difficult to point and control, and recoil might be decidedly unpleasant. If it was any larger and heavier, it wouldn’t carry and conceal so comfortably and easily.
Sure, besides being light, slim, flat and agile, it also enjoys the M&P family attributes of reliability, practical accuracy and ease of use. But in my opinion, what has contributed most to the Shield’s broad people-pleasing power has been a superb combination of dimensions, geometry and subtleties of shape, curvature and touch, creating great ergonomics. That’s no accident; just smart design and engineering.
A few other notes. I checked some online forums for complaints about the Shield. They were notably absent, and most complaints were ridiculously stretched apples-to-oranges comparisons; more like apples to squid and oranges to Ferraris, plus the usual “I just don’t like plastic guns” carping. Then I checked two of the largest online firearm broker sites, searching for used Shields for sale. I found 13 on one and none on the other. Thirteen? With a million Shields out there? This tells me virtually all Shield owners are quietly pleased with their Shields — and hanging on to them. I’m one of those guys.
Miles of text have been written on the mech-and-tech details of the SHIELD and its mechanically similar siblings in the M&P family — including, by me — so I won’t re-hash it all here. Let’s talk about what’s new and different about these Performance Center puppies.
Ports and HIVIZ “LitePipe” fiber optic sights are featured on the new SHIELDs.
Upgrade & Enhance
The two most visible changes are the two rows of oblong slots in the slide and the HIVIZ “LitePipe” fiber-optic sights. For any light conditions other than pitch black, the fiber optic sights are a real improvement. In fact, shortly after paying to keep my original “standard” T&E Shield, I installed a set of green HIVIZ LitePipe sights on it. Smith & Wesson selected red pipes for the rear sights and bright green for the fronts. Having now shot both, I think Smith made the better choice — they’re excellent; bold and fast.
The oblong slide slots number three per side, set at two and ten o’clock. The forward pair are functioning gas exhaust ports. Peer down through them and you’ll see they align with a pair of smaller oblong slots in the barrel, also positioned at two and 10 o’clock about one-half inch behind the muzzle. Their seemingly diminutive size and placement reflect the evolution of gas port technology.
For years I shied away from ported pistols. Early attempts at gas ports were either big holes drilled in the tops of slides and barrels, or lateral trenches looking like they were cut with a fat buzz saw. Both spewed massive gouts of hot gasses and vision-killing flames right up into your line of sight in low light. Time, study and science showed smaller ports at V-angles were actually more efficient at damping muzzle flip, and much kinder to the shooter’s night vision. There was definitely a point of diminishing returns, and those early gas ports went way over it. Some still do, but not those on these SHIELDs.
The visible improvements are certainly valuable, but for me, the best improvements are inside the ported Shields. The data sheets I first received on ’em read simply “enhanced trigger.” That was a real understatement. The standard trigger sear and striker plunger have been replaced with Performance Center parts, and obviously there has been some serious kiss-and-tickle work by the Center’s best gunsmiths to produce a significantly improved trigger pull and a faster, more certain reset.
Examining my early-production standard Shield and the Performance Center ported models field-stripped side by side, the only apparent physical difference I could see was in their striker plungers. The visible end of mine is rather sharp and squared, where the Performance Center part is radiused around the top circumference and nicely polished. But oh, what a difference in the hand! Trigger pull weights — 6.5 to 7 pounds — length of pull and reset are fairly consistent between the two, but the Performance Center Shield’s pull is significantly smoother, the break much cleaner and the re-set far more crisp, tactile and even audible.
The Performance Center’s goals were to reduce felt recoil while delivering improved muzzle control, speed and accuracy — and they did it. For me, clear proof was on the targets and the timer.
Data Doesn’t Lie
To better evaluate performance of the ported SHIELDs, I had my “standard” 9mm SHIELD, but lacking an un-ported .40 SHIELD, I used SOMP — “Some Other Maker’s Pistol” — in .40 S&W; two ounces heavier, with a 4″ barrel versus the 3.1″ of the Shield.
Ammo used was, in 9mm, Hornady Critical Duty 135-gr. FlexLock and Winchester Defend 147-gr. JHP’s. In .40 S&W, Cor-Bon DPX 140-gr. HP and Hornady Critical Defense 165-gr. FTX — all excellent choices for serious social work. In that order, average velocities clocked 938, 896, 1,094 and 1,042 feet per second. Yeah; both those .40’s were pretty hot — and stout, for a light subcompact pistol.
Almost purely pro forma, because the Shield’s practical accuracy is well established, I shot some 5-round groups at 10 yards from a rested position, 2-handed. Results were good — no surprise there — with little difference between the ammo flavors or between the pistols, ported and un-ported. In 9mm, groups ran 1.25″ to 2.5″ with Hornady (HDY) and 1.5″ to 2.5″ with the heavier WIN DEF.
In .40 S&W, groups measured from 1.87″ to 2.87″ using DPX and 1.37″ to 3.06″ with HDY. In 9mm, the ported Shield’s groups were barely, fractionally tighter, I think, due to its smoother trigger. In .40 S&W, groups were virtually identical between the ported Shield and un-ported SOMP, and I’ll give the credit for that to SOMP’s longer barrel. But rested, two-handed slow-fire groups are not what SHIELD pistols were bred for. They strain at the bit for speed and violence.
The Shield is a defensive pistol, designed primarily to be pulled from concealment, pointed or quickly sighted and rapidly engaged in confrontations which are overwhelmingly fast, close and violent. There are countless drills which can both prepare you for the role of defender in those encounters, and also develop, test and polish both your skills and your handgun’s capabilities. To best evaluate the value of the sights, porting and trigger upgrades of the Performance Center Shields, I used what I call the “Onrushing Ogre Drill.”
This presumes you’re being aggressively attacked by a fast, powerful, determined — and probably drugged-to-the-gills — psycho; one who may not be, let’s say, “sufficiently disappointed” by a single round or a brisk double-tap followed by a “pause to assess,” as is taught by lots of trainers. It presumes you’re gonna need five, six or more rounds of sustained, accurate fire; not a “mag-dump,” where you’re just jerking the trigger at max speed and hoping some rounds find his OFF buttons, but steady controlled “lead input” at about one round per second.
I shot them on full size IDPA silhouettes, which feature a 6″ square kill zone in the gourd and an 8″ circle in center mass. Imagine your goblin moving quickly toward you — and remembering most scumbags aren’t disciplined shooters, but the closer they can get the more likely they are to kill you. Using that one-second per shot time as a guide, your goal is to deliver neutralizing shots as fast as you can keep them accurate. Too fast and you’ll drop shots; too slow and he’s on top of you, with fatal consequences. You’ve got to find the Magic Meridian. As I found out, lessened muzzle movement, a smoother trigger with a cleaner break, and especially, working a crisp reset can give you a significant edge.
Now, you’ve got to work that reset to get best results; pulling cleanly and completely through the trigger stroke, and disciplining your finger to allow the trigger to return only, but positively, to the reset point. From reset, you’ve got virtually zero travel to the break, which makes for far better accuracy. It takes lots of practice and every design is different. Put in the work — it pays!
A simple summary: At 10 yards I shot Ogre drills standing, 2-handed. At slower timing, the Performance Center Shields barely edged out my standard 9mm Shield, and the SOMP .40 drew almost even. My take on that was, given a little distance and a solidly locked two-hand hold at a relaxed rate of fire, the Performance Center effects were less evident. Putting on some speed, the advantage of the ported Shields grew greater in both accuracy and faster elapsed times.
But from the moment I began shooting the Ogre one-handed standing at seven yards, the combined effect of the Performance Center’s porting, sights and triggers drew away like Seabiscuit racing a parked car, delivering tighter groups while shaving seconds — especially with the .40! I’m not a big fan of the .40, but I concluded, for whatever reason, I could actually work the re-set more efficiently on the .40 than on the 9mm. File that under “Huh. Hooda thunkitt? Not me.”
One-handed, my standard 9mm Shield was somewhat embarrassed. The .40 SOMP was blown in the weeds. I put them away and kept shooting the new guys, getting tight 5- and 6-shot groups well centered in the sweet spots and running consistently under a second per round. When greater accuracy makes the difference between hitting the OFF switches or not, and a second can save your life, well … Yeah; I was impressed.
Rap & The Wrap
I had one failure to feed completely into battery with 9mm and two with the .40; all within the first 20 rounds through each pistol. I’d call that normal for any new auto. From there on it was smooth running. The mag springs are fairly stiff, so save your fingers and use a mag-loader. Both Shields came with one flush-fit magazine and one “+1” extended-baseplate mag. Size XL gloves are tight on me, so if your hands are that size or larger, be aware you can control these pistols much better using the +1 mags — especially with the .40. Deal with the extra half-inch of butt length; it’s worth it. That’s it for raps.
Despite the embarrassment to my original Shield, these are clearly better guns, and I shoot ’em better. The suggested retail price of a Performance Center SHIELD is only $70 more than a “standard” SHIELD (around the $520 mark or so). HIVIZ LitePipe sights alone run about $106, and the cost of porting, trigger work and a Performance Center sear and striker plunger? You see where I’m going with this, right? Here’s a tip: HOT DEAL!
Now I have to go pet my old Shield, and assure her she’s still loved; just maybe not quite as much. Connor OUT
For more info: https://americanhandgunner.com/company/smith-wesson/