I’ve always been a 1911 kinda guy. Still am. But I’ve also grown rather fond of high-capacity polymer-framed handguns, in particular, Smith & Wesson’s M&P series. But they have one significant handicap when compared with the 1911: Their triggers suck. Employing a striker-fired system (with merits of its own), the M&P trigger must first depress the striker block, then complete the striker cocking cycle (which was initiated by cycling the action), and finally disengage the sear, firing the weapon. It’s a process that renders a crisp, single-action-type trigger break as elusive as Peter Pan. But wait:
Enter Apex Tactical Specialties – Arizona-based manufacturer and purveyor of premium upgrade kits for high-performance handguns. World-class competitive shooters themselves, the folks at Apex know how to make things better.
I had heard great things about what an Apex action enhancement kit and trigger would do for my M&P. So, in the spirit of investigative journalism, I decided to, ah, well, investigate. And yes, the prospect of giving my pistol a performance makeover was enchanting. I spoke with the folks at ATS and simply told them to send me whatever parts I needed to make my S&W M&P9 as good as it could be. They obliged. Here’s what came in the mail two days later:
Apex Flat Faced Forward Set Sear & Trigger Kit.
This kit included the new trigger and springs, sear replacement kit, and striker block replacement kit. More on those later.
Apex Failure Resistant Extractor.
This was just that: a machined extractor redesigned with better hook geometry, better performance, and less prone to failure.
Apex M&P Reset Assist Mechanism (RAM).
Unfortunately, I was unable to utilize this upgrade due to the iteration of my handgun. Its function is to create a more tactile, noticeable trigger reset for enhanced feel and shootability.
Apex Armorer’s Block and Armorer’s Tray.
Made for gunsmithing on semi-auto polymer-framed handguns, the Block is adjustable to securely hold a pistol in a mar-free, workable position. The Tray sits securely atop your workbench, includes an on-board 1/8-inch roll-pin punch and 1/16th hex wrench, and features a below-deck magnet to grab and hold those tiny parts. (You know the ones: they have a tendency to reduce us to cursing idiots groveling about the dark corners of the floor searching for them.) The Block and Tray work together in stack format if desired.
Before beginning work I took a half-dozen trigger-pull readings with a Lyman trigger gauge, arriving at an average of 8-pounds 5-ounces. Assessing the trigger by feel was more subjective. A long, even grind is the best I can describe it, and while that sounds bad, it was at least consistent. That much said, it resembled a 1911 trigger as a Volkswagen resembles a Lamborghini. Finished with my assessment, I readied for work.
I’m just a neophyte gunsmith when it comes to modern firearms, so I proceeded with caution. First I watched the “How-to” videos found on Apex’s website. The new extractor seemed simple to replace, so I used that for practice before tackling the more complex tasks. The video instructions were good, the process was simple and easy (mostly thanks to the Armorer’s Block) and in no time my pistol sported an upgraded extractor. Halleluiah! Now for the big stuff.
The Trigger came next, but first I had to dismantle the firearm, removing the sear housing block, the take-down lever, the locking block, and the trigger with slide-lock levers, leaving the frame almost completely stripped. Apex’s video instructions are thorough, and by following them carefully I experienced no trouble.
ATS includes two alternate trigger return springs: the green one will produce the heaviest trigger pull, followed by the silver spring. For the lightest trigger pull use the manufacturer’s spring, which is what I did. Mounting the new trigger was simple; the trigger, spring, trigger bar, and slide-lock lever all held temporarily together by the included slave pin. I carefully installed them in the frame, followed by the locking block, all secured by installing the trigger pivot pin followed by the front roll pin. Note: removing and installing roll pins in polymer frames can be challenging. Using the Apex Armorers Block and roll-pin punch made it easy.
Progressing on to the sear I replaced the spring and sear without trouble and re-installed the sear housing block back into the frame. Getting the trigger bar and everything else aligned was a bit tricky, but with care and a small helping of patience it went in smoothly, secured with the rear roll pin. Performing a function check as recommended in the instructions proved I had it right. The trigger and sear installation were complete.
All that was left was to change out the striker block. My eyebrows performed a small aerial as I watched the smith in the video drive the rear sight sideways almost out of its dovetail. I had no idea anything was hiding under there. But indeed there was: the striker safety plunger, complete with spring and spring-top washer. It was a simple matter to index the rear sight with a pencil line so I could return it to zero, remove the tiny setscrew with a 1/16th hex wrench, and carefully drift the rear sight leftward, exposing the striker block assembly without necessitating full removal of the sight.
At this point, curiosity got the best of me. I called Apex and asked, “Why?” I wanted to know how changing specific parts would make my handgun better. The technician who answered my call was knowledgeable, generous with his time, and able to answer all my questions. He told me to look at the factory striker safety plunger, and I would see that it had slightly beveled corners, and was flat on top. True. Then he had me look at the Apex striker safety plunger. It was perfectly rounded and gleamed smooth as a mirror.
Then the Tech told me how one of the chief complaints about the M&Ps trigger pull was “grittiness,” or “roughness”. The rounded, polished Apex plunger would help rectify that issue. It also helps minimizes drag on the trigger bar and aids in tactile trigger reset. I thanked the man, hung up the phone, and gleefully installed my shiny new striker safety plunger and spring.
With trepidation, I reassembled my handgun. Everything seemed okay, so I cycled the action. So far so good. I performed the recommended safety checks from the videos, stuffed a handful of cartridges into a magazine, and walked outside. My woodpile serves as a good impromptu testing range in a pinch, so I cycled the action, held center-mass on a large stump, and touched off a round.
Three more rounds. Then five, rapid fire. Seventeen smoking empties later the gun had cycled and fired perfectly. And the trigger..!
While it’s not a perfect, crisp as a Pringle 1911 trigger, it’s close. Very close. For a striker-fired pistol, it’s extraordinarily good. The flat face took me a few rounds to get used to, but when I allowed my finger to rest naturally on the trigger, migrating toward the lower end of the shoe as intended with the resulting increase in leverage, I grew to like it. For the final analysis, I applied the Lyman trigger gauge once more. A half dozen checks taken two thirds down the trigger shoe averaged right at 4.0 lbs. That’s a reduction of four and a half pounds of trigger grind and pull. The entire upgrade took around five hours – but I’ll bet I could do the next in under two.
Where’s my ammo? I think I’ll go do some more testing…
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