Thursday, June 27, 2013

Smith and Wesson M&P Shield 40 S&W Review

Late last Summer, I reviewed the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield 9mm.  Initially, I wasn't sold on the Shield because it really wasn't that much smaller or lighter than the older 3rd Generation Smith and Wesson single stack semi-autos.  I warmed up to the pistol after spending some time on the range and came to appreciate how easy it was to shoot and how reliably it functioned with any ammunition I used in it.  As I wrapped up the review of the 9mm, I made a mental note to add the Shield .357 Sig to my wishlist for future purchase.

I was very disappointed when the SHOT and NRA shows passed this year and no single stack polymer compact .357 Sig was announced by Beretta, Springfield Armory, or Smith and Wesson.  I had cash in hand and was ready to buy the first Nano, XDs, or Shield chambered in .357 Sig I could get my hands on.  Regrettably, all three manufacturers focused their line extensions in other areas so the market is still waiting for a single stack .357 Sig option other than Sig's P239.

Undaunted, I changed my mental note from Shield .357 Sig to Shield .40 S&W at about the same time I happened to walk into our local Cabela's and find a Shield 40 that the store had just finished checking into their inventory.  One very nice feature of many of the polymer framed pistols chambered for .40 S&W is their ability to use 9mm and .357 Sig conversion barrels.  If you aren't familiar with the barrel swapping feature, you can read this previous post about my 3 caliber capable Glock 27.  I'm hoping down the road one of the aftermarket barrel makers will come out with a Shield conversion barrel, but for now I'm quite satisfied with the 40 S&W and prospect of a possible conversion later on.

I'm skipping the unboxing video for this review because the Shield 9mm and Shield 40 S&W are essentially identical in all features and functions.  The only functional difference is the magazine capacity for the Shield 40 is one less round per magazine versus the Shield 9mm.  Since I skipped the unboxing, I also skipped the initial cleaning.  As a change of pace I wanted to see if the Shield 40 arrived ready to shoot from the box.  Over two weekends I ended up running 160 flawless rounds through the pistol before guilt got the better of me and I decided I better give it a cleaning.

The video below documents the highlights from three weekends with the Shield.  I'll be honest and admit that I wasn't super thrilled with my ability to shoot the pistol after the first two trips to the range.  I really struggled with accuracy and found that too many of my shots were going low and left during longer and faster strings of fire.  Prior to my third outing, I compared the Shield grip with another single stack polymer 40 S&W that I can shoot fairly well.  The Shield grip was visibly larger so that wasn't my problem.  I decided the stippled grip was not providing the aggressive gripping surface I needed.  I added a Hogue Hand-all Jr to the grip and that seemed to fix my problems keeping a grip on the pistol.  The Hogue grip works for now, but I'll probably install a set of Talon rubberized grips in the future.  


Range Review:


When it came time to pick out holsters for the Shield, I opted for a Remora Size 5MP ART SS holster for IWB appendix carry.  I also tried the Shield hybrid holster from Aegis Armory.  Both holsters were used in the range review video.


I tested a wide variety of ammunition over the 275 rounds run through the pistol during the review.  The Shield fed, fired, and extracted everything that was loaded into the magazines.  During the review I shot FMJ target/range loads from Winchester, Federal, Remington, CCI-Blazer, and Fiocchi.  All rounds were 170 or 180 grain weight.  I also shot Federal, Hornady, Remington, and MagTech JHP defense ammunition with 135, 155, 165, 175, and 180 grain bullets.  Again, there were no issues with any of the tested ammunition.  It appears that my Shield 40 came from the factory ready to run, with no awkward break-in rounds required.

As I was working through the review, I was also doing some terminal test work on another project.  Since I had the Shield and ammunition with me, I included a terminal test in the review.  I'm actually really glad I did the test because I think the 3.1" barrel of the Shield may not allow all 180 grain JHP loads to reach their minimum terminal performance velocity level.  The tested load below simply didn't perform to expectation and I have to believe it was due to insufficient velocity.  I'll be looking for carry ammunition in the 155 or 165 grain weights.

For those wondering about penetration depth of a FMJ 40 S&W, I think they 4 layers of denim test shot may provide you with some insight. 


Overall, I'm really pleased with the Shield 40.  Sure, I need to spend quite a bit more time behind the trigger and work on my speed and accuracy, but at least I won't have to worry about or question if the pistol will function.  With so many gun makers rushing stuff out the door to meet market demand, it was refreshing to have such a trouble-free experience with the Shield.

About that manual safety......yes, I did use it all the time.  I know some folks don't like the idea of the safety being on the pistol and would prefer if it wasn't there at all.  Others like the manual safety and may actually purchase the Shield because it has a frame mounted manual thumb safety.  As I started the review, I was on the fence regarding the thumb safety.  I never used it when reviewing the Shield 9mm, but this time I made sure to use it ALL THE TIME.

After 3 weeks with the pistol, I did an experiment comparing total time to draw, fire twice, and score two hits on a 6" paper plate at 5 yards.  I used the Shield 40 carried IWB appendix carry and a Kahr PM40 carried in a similar holster in the same location.  Split times from beep to first shot were virtually identical with both guns.  Like most things in life, practice makes perfect and sweeping the thumb over the safety during the draw became an automatic step by the third weekend.  One advantage of video recording much of my range time is that I can watch my own progress over time.  Week 1 I was botching the safety deactivation during the draw frequently.  By week 3, it was automatic and smooth.  If you are willing to commit the time and cost required to train yourself to use the thumb safety correctly, I didn't see any negative impact on my practice shooting.

I closed out the range video with "it's a keeper" and for me it will be.  I've got my shopping list put together for the modifications I would like to make.  I will be swapping the factory sights for XS 24/7 Big Dot Night Sights out of personal preference.  I mentioned the Talon grips earlier in the review to take the place of the ugly Hogue Handall Jr.  I've started shopping for a 357 Sig conversion barrel, but Bar-sto and Storm Lake have not produced a barrel for the Shield yet.  I'd also like to pick up a few spare magazines, but it's virtually impossible to find spare magazines unless you are willing to pay the on-line auction house inflated prices.  Hopefully the magazine problem will go away as demand stabilizes or starts to tail off.

Having reviewed both the Shield 9mm and 40 S&W, I can really see why the model has become so popular in the marketplace.  It's large enough to be a range gun you will want to practice with, but still small and light enough to be a comfortable carry companion.  You will be seeing more of this Shield in future ammunition tests.

Please see this important update on the Shield.

Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested.  All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media.  Terminal performance in all other media will show different results.  It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision on which specific ammunition to use for their needs.  It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.

Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.


  1. I though you were doing the 22Mag Wasp today.

  2. That was the original plan until I shot the 40 test last weekend and it just made sense to bundle the test and review together. 22 Mag will be up next Thursday. I'm still hoping for a box of Gold Dot 22 Mag so it can be included in the test results, but I think that's becoming a pipe dream.

    1. Would love to see that data, but you're right, the Gold Dot .22 Mag seems to be unobtainium.

      I assume most of the .22 Mag fans out there have seen the recent article in American Rifleman about the .22 Mag for defense. I think it's available online. Huge, useful chart full of ballistic data on a ton of loads.

      Author shot the loads through a 1" barrel NAA mini-revolver, a 1.8" Ruger LCR (any interest in the .22 Mag LCR, Bruce? Seems like the kind of gun you'd have a ball shaking out for the site), a 4.6" handgun barrel (Super Single Six?) and a rifle.

      Summary: .22 Mag totally sucked in the NAA (sub-800 fps velocities). It was not bad in the LCR: 1050-1190 fps for the 40 gr loads, and several of them both expanded and gave about 12" penetration. More velocity and more reliable expansion in the longer handgun barrel. They thought the elusive Gold Dot, Win PDX, and some Hornady load were the defense loads of choice in the LCR: expansion + penetration + low flash.

      Interestingly, behavior of the .22 Mag often changed drastically in the rifle at 1800 fps. Rounds that had acted like little 9mm JHPs at handgun velocities suddenly turned into varmint rounds -- massive expansion or fragmentation, short penetration.

      Great article; recommended.

      And BTW, thanks for the great site. Wonderful info.

    2. I did read Richard Mann's article in the June American Rifleman. Richard does nice work and I'm a fan. My 1.625" barrel length data may be interesting to you because it's not as good as the 1.8" LCR, but doesn't suck as much as the 1" NAA.

      I'd love to have copies of the LCR 22 LR, 22 Mag, and .357, but I can't afford to buy everything I'd love to have.

      Appreciate the positive feedback on the blog.

  3. Keep us posted on the accuracy. To me accuracy problems and the stupid vestigial manual safety are potential show-stoppers with this gun. My Kahr K9 shoots lights out, has a virtuoso trigger, never malfs, and has no extraneous controls to mess up. Other than cost it seems strictly preferable to the Shield.

    There was an intriguing review of the 9mm Shield in a recent issue of Handloader magazine. If you read between the lines, it was one of the most negative handgun reviews I've ever read in a commercial gun magazine. The problem seems to have been accuracy. Charlie Petty very conspicuously included no group sizes at all, had a sly sentence about "after shooting the Shield offhand I knew there was no point in formal accuracy testing" and omitted to recommend the pistol.

    1. I like the Kahrs too and my only issue with them is their screwed together construction with metal screw into plastic. It makes me afraid to do any work on them.

      I thought the Shield 9mm was on par with the PM9 when I did the Shield 9mm review last year. I know that's apples and oranges, but I didn't have a P9 to compare it with.

      Shield 40 accuracy was fine for my intended purpose of 10 yards or less. Once I find a good carry load that will expand, I'll try it for accuracy at 15 yards and see how it does. Thanks for the heads up on the potential issue. It didn't even register on my radar during the review process.

  4. Hey Bruce -

    Totally subjective question. How does the recoil of the Shield 40 seem to you, compared against your PM9 or Nano?

    1. Hey Brad, nothing personal but that question is the worst part of gun reviews for me. It's so difficult for me to give an answer because so much of felt recoil depends on the shooter. Hand size, bent or straight elbows, grip discipline, etc. all factor into it. Then the only way to really give a good answer is to shoot both comparison pistols back to back, which I didn't do this time. With all that said, I didn't find the Shield recoil to be a detriment to accurate shooting, but I will say that it doesn't sit as low in my hand as the PM9. I actually have a gap between the web of my thumb/index finger and the Shield beavertail. The PM9 beavertail sits directly on the web. Just something I happened to notice one day.

  5. Just bought the shield 40. Omg. This thing shoots like a dream. I almost thought I accidentally loaded it with 380 ammo or something. Lol. I have a glock 27 that I dread shooting bc it beats up my hand so much. And thought this would be similar. So far I am extremely impressed with the shield. Never thought I'd say this but my glock 27 has taken a back seat to this shield 40

  6. Good morning Bruce,
    I could really use your advice, as soon as possible:

    I have a S&W Shield in .40S&W on hold at my local gun shop, which I planned on picking up within the next few days to a week. I have been debating whether or not to buy the 9mm version instead. I am used to the .40S&W in full size and compact pistols, and own a M&P40; however, I have never shot a subcompact in .40, such as the Shield.

    I have been going back and forth on which would be be better for my CCW purposes, as which would be more effective. My main concern is round effectiveness out of such a short barrel vs. recoil from the snappy .40S&W round for follow-up shots.

    Pro's of the 9mm- 1 Extra round and less felt-recoil equals faster follow-up shots, more comfortable to shoot.

    Pro's of the .40S&W- Larger diameter round and more bullet weight, which "should" equal more K.E. and expansion, plus deeper penetration, with the sacrifice of more recoil.

    I've also heard that the Shield's barrel does not fully support the casing. Is this a concern in the .40S&W and how would service life both calibers compare? I'm wondering if the .40 will show wear faster on such a small polymer gun.

    There are very few videos I've found on youtube directly comparing both calibers of the M&P Shield, so I value your opinion, especially since you've conducted extensive variations of ammo out of both in a 3" barrel. Is the 9mm a good choice for a subcompact, self-defense handgun? Or do you think I should get the .40S&W? My main criteria in a dependable CCW gun is shot placement, reliable expansion and penetration with ammo, and last but not least, can I trust it to stop a threat. I have watched hours upon hours of ammo testing and Shield reviews, but still haven't decided.

    I've been leaning towards the 9mm for reduced muzzle flip/recoil, and being able to carry 1 extra round per magazine, however, I am concerned with effectiveness of the 9mm out of such a short barrel.

    Ultimately to sum it up, which Shield would you carry to trust your life with, the 9mm or the .40S&W, and which ammo did you choose to use in the handgun?

    Disclaimer: I realize your response is a personal opinion and not the ultimate decision when choosing a handgun/ammo to protect oneself. I do not hold you accountable for any decision I make to protect myself, include handgun and ammo choices. ;)

    Thank you for your time and helping me,

    1. "Ultimately to sum it up, which Shield would you carry to trust your life with, the 9mm or the .40S&W" - Either one is up to the task. I picked the 40 because I have other 9mm options with the same barrel length. If I didn't, I would probably have the 9mm.

      "which ammo did you choose to use in the handgun?" - In my testing, there are a multitude of good choices available. It all depends on what you can source locally in sufficient quantities for your training and reliability verification with the new pistol. All my 9mm tests have been cataloged here.

      I'm not sure if you've seen this, but I hope you will take a few minutes to read this post regarding my thoughts on ammunition selection.

      Good luck with your Shield. It's a fine choice.

  7. Question: I am looking to a pair of 9mm and .40 "spares"/backups to my glocks and cannot decide between the Shields in 9 and .40 or the Charter Arms Pitbulls in 9 and .40. There are advantages to each. Any insight would be helpful.

  8. Any reason why you are excluding the Glock 26/27? They would be my first choice as backups to G 17/19/22/23. Second choice would be the Shields. Revolvers last because I really have to think about gripping a revolver properly to keep my support thumb out of harms way. I don't know if I will remember to grip properly in a stress situation.