For more information, visit www.smith-wesson.com.
To purchase a Smith & Wesson Shield pistol on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Shield%20Smith.
There is likely no segment of the firearms market that is more crowded with choices than the concealed carry handgun market. The lion’s share of consumer choice in that market is the 9mm, and among the plethora of single-stack sub-compact 9mms available Smith & Wesson’s M&P Shield reigns supreme. If you own one you know why. And for those who wanted ballistic performance in excess of the 9mm cartridge, the Shield has also long been available in .40 S&W (after all, who doesn’t offer the caliber that bears one’s own name!). That left only one segment of folks wanting – but when that group wants, they want louder than anybody. There are just those who feel that no line of handguns is complete until it is offered in .45 ACP. Well folks, Christmas is coming about six months early this year – because the new Smith & Wesson .45 ACP M&P Shield is here at last!
Making the early announcement at the 2016 NRA Annual Meeting, Smith & Wesson effectively drowned out anything that anyone else was talking about. From that opening day at NRAAM to now, the .45 Shield has been the buzz. And unlike many other new models that are talked about, displayed, and sometimes even demonstrated – this one really exists. And it’s on its way to your local gun store right now. Hold on – before you grab your sleeping bag and twelve months of gun magazines to camp out in front of the store – read on and I’ll tell you more about it.
My test and evaluation (T&E) copy of the 45 Shield arrived with the optional manual thumb safety, but thankfully without the magazine disconnect safety. Copies will be available with and without each. Depending upon where you live, that choice might be made for you. At first look, I was astonished that this big bore powerhouse was seemingly no larger than its 9mm sibling. I’ve had the 9mm Shield for years and am intimately familiar with its dimensions. Lifting the .45 Shield from the box for the first time, I could feel one eyebrow rise partly in wonder and partly amusement – paying homage to the late, great Mr. Nimoy. Why, this gun is not much bigger than the other Shield – or if it is, I can’t perceive it without a caliper. “Fascinating”!
The dimensions are different in most places, but sparingly so. The most obvious increase in size versus the smaller caliber Shield is the length. If you are an experienced concealed carrier then you’ll likely agree that this is the most forgiving of all key dimensions. The .45 is thicker only by thousands of an inch, and my eyes can’t perceive it. Neither can my holsters. A firm Kydex or similar holster will be better if it is made to fit the .45 Shield, but leather or mixed material holsters, such as the new Alien Gear OWB I tried it in will accept it. And my litmus test holster – the DeSantis pocket holster – swallows it up just fine. Oh, and a bonus for the extra length is a longer sight radius.
Shooting the .45 Shield
I was eager to shoot the pistol and answer my own biggest question: What is the recoil going to feel like? I’m no stranger to subcompact .45s and I know firsthand that a full box of ammo can be a challenge to get through at the range. They can be nothing short of punishing. I was extremely impressed with my first shots – and continued to be impressed through hundreds of rounds – at just how soft this little .45 shoots. The engineers at Smith did a fine job of fitting the proper spring assembly, and the M&P ergonomics help considerably. I’m not exaggerating when I say that you can shoot this gun all day at the range. I will add the caveat that when you feed it some serious self-defense rounds, like the Federal HST +P loads, you can tell the difference. Even then however, the shooter is not punished.
The sight picture on the .45 is the same as other Shields, as the sights are identical. The white three-dot configuration is highly effective, and the front sight post fills the rear notch nicely. At 10-15 yards the Shield likes a tight 6 o’clock hold, with the bullseye balanced on top of the front sight. The shooting experience with the .45 Shield is quite pleasant. The ergonomics of the M&P Shield platform is very good, as most shooters will agree – but the new Shield in .45 ACP adds a new grip frame texture that would be a newsworthy story all on its own. This new texture is more aggressive and abrasive, like grit. It virtually locks your hand and the pistol together, and prevents slippage during recoil – even on a hot day with sweaty hands. All of these elements combine to make rapid fire a reality and follow-up shots are easily placed on target.
To test the accuracy of the .45 Shield, and to provide a consistent launch platform that would help me evaluate the way the gun shoots, I used a bag rest 15 yards from my target, and ran 5 different high-quality loads through the gun to evaluate groups. The results were good considering this distance is more than twice the textbook 7 yard self-defense distance that we’ve all come to swear by, thanks to the great work of Dennis Tueller. Five shots from each ammunition type produced fairly consistent results averaging just about 2 ½” groups. To help eliminate the variable of this particular shooter and his mistakes, I also measure the best 3 shots – and those averaged just over 1 ¼” groups with the best performers under an inch. I recommend doing similar testing with any gun you plan to carry and at least 3-5 different top brands of self-defense ammo. You’d be amazed how some guns just seem to prefer certain ammo, and you won’t know which performs best in your gun until you test it.
The rest of my shooting was done off-hand at a distance of 10 yards from a standard IDPA target, aided by a stick-on target dot to help me focus. The accompanying video shows those shots in addition to the rested tests. In this writer’s opinion, the .45 Shield is a darn good shooter. Smith & Wesson says it’s okay to shoot +P ammo in the 45 Shield, but warns that doing it a lot will accelerate the wear and tear on the gun. They do warn against using any +P+ entirely.
If you’re familiar with the M&P line, then you’ll already know where all the controls are and how they work. Except in one case it may be a matter of learning what doesn’t work – at least not how you might expect it. Specifically, the slide stop / slide release control has become just a slide stop. At least on the copy of the .45 Shield I tested. My 9mm Shield is one of the guns I know I can slam a round in the chamber with just a flick of my thumb, but the .45 Shield wouldn’t let me do that if I stood on it and jumped up and down (okay, I didn’t really try that because that would probably break five of the four basic rules of gun safety). It’s not a big deal, and if they have made an engineering decision to make it harder to use the control to release the slide, well okay. But otherwise it should work. A small complaint overall.
This copy of the .45 Shield is equipped with the manual thumb safety. I generally avoid external safeties on striker fired handguns, so I rather enjoyed playing with it as a sort of novelty. It works very well. Placed almost perfectly for the user to flick off with the thumb and providing nice response via a “click,” it is easy to operate and functioned as designed. I was pleased that you can engage the safety and still manipulate the slide. There is something to be said for that. I still don’t like them – but it’s a good control.
The magazine release button is also pure M&P and functions perfectly. Easy to locate, easy to use, and the magazines drop free every single time.
If you are a southpaw however, you might be disappointed that of the controls on the gun, only the magazine catch can be reversed.
The New Stuff
Okay, the obvious new feature is the caliber itself – but with that aside, the most noticeable new feature of the new Shield is the grip texture. Far from a subtle design change or gimmicky improvement, the new texture on this pistol would be newsworthy even if it were the only change. Using a “pointy granulate” pattern, Smith & Wesson has created a much more aggressive texture that digs into the skin and keeps this gun slip-free while shooting. I give a big thumbs up to the change, but time will tell if this new design makes its way to the 9mm and .40 S&W versions.
The other noticeable change externally is the presence of a thin row of serrations at the muzzle end of the slide. Forward serrations are all the rage, especially if you want to look tactical. But this thin strip of swirl patterned cuts is not really enough to grasp for a press-check with any confidence. I count this change as purely cosmetic. That said, it looks good and I’m okay with it.
Let me be the first to say that Smith & Wesson is going to have a winner with the .45 Shield. And even if I’m not the first to say it, I’m claiming it anyway. If you don’t like M&P Shields then you will surely seek your joy elsewhere, but if you do like the Shield, and you like the .45 ACP cartridge, then you are going to be beside yourself happy over this gun. Smith & Wesson has addressed two of the things that customers have complained about with the Shield – the grip texture and the trigger. The much-maligned M&P trigger system continues to improve, and the one in this little .45 is remarkably good. The pull is smooth and grit-free, and the break is clean and crisp without any spongy feeling. Reset is of respectable stroke length and provides good feedback. The .45 Shield is not a subcompact beast that you must tolerate once or twice a year to feel like you train with your carry gun – it’s a gun that you’ll enjoy shooting, and those training sessions might just become frequent and productive.
If the trucks carrying the new .45 Shield are not already on the way to your neighborhood gun store, they will be soon. Now might be a good time to grab the sleeping bag, cooler, and phone charger and find a spot out front.