The M&P, First Impressions


For the past few years, my carry gun has been a Springfield XD-9, Service model. It has a few modification’s including Dawson Precision sights (0.100″ red fiber front, 0.125″ width plain (serrated) black rear), and a Springer Precision trigger job. The trigger is excellent, and the gun has been rock solid and reliable.

When I was first choosing a carry gun, the Smith & Wesson M&P had just come on the market. I really liked it, but it was unproven and S&W didn’t have a good track record here (remember the Sigma?). It was between the M&P and the XD, and because of the track record issue I went XD. I don’t regret the decision, but as you can see over time the M&P has proven itself and garnered quite an impressive track record and following. Many police departments, including Austin’s, are switching to the M&P. TLG did a huge endurance test with the M&P. And with all of this growing success, the aftermarket for the pistol is growing, perhaps now second only to Glock. One of the big things that happened to improve the M&P was the advent of Apex Tactical Specialties‘ trigger upgrades about 2 years ago.

It was always on my mind to switch to the M&P, but various things (mostly money) kept me from doing so. But recently some events occurred that finally pushed me over the edge (all hail peer pressure!). Yes, I’m going to be looking at making this my new carry gun, but that decision won’t be final until some tests are run.

What Did I Get

I purchased a S&W M&P in 9mm. This is the “standard full-size” model, with the 4.25″ barrel. There is no internal lock, no magazine disconnect, no additional dohickies like the added thumb safety. Black. I did not get the model that comes with the various Blade-Tech holsters and pouches.

When I purchased from G&R Tactical, I had them install the Apex M&P Duty/Carry Action Enhancement Kit (DCAEK) and the Apex Reset Assist Mechanism (RAM). I knew I’d get these parts anyways so why not just get it done up front? They also did a polish and cleanup job.

I’ve heard more than enough reports about poor performance out of the factory barrels, things like grouping 6″ @ 25 yards. Not acceptable to me. I went ahead and ordered a KKM barrel. However, I am not going to use the barrel until I see how the factory barrel performs. Word is the KKM will do 3″ at 25 yards, which is acceptable. We’ll see how the factory barrel measures up.

And for now, I ordered a Comp-Tac MTAC holster. I’m not sure I’ll keep this as my holster, but it’s a known good holster for me and so a reasonable place to start.

I originally planned on getting some Dawson Precision Charger sights, but I’m not sure. The factory sights are the Novak Lo-Mount carry sights, which have a “charger-like shelf”. Sure they are 3-dot sights, but a little work with a black Sharpie and the rear dots are no more. The front sight is a little wider than I’d like but… well, as I’ve been working with the gun these aren’t too horrible. I reckon I will eventually switch but may not do it yet. I wanted to put off getting new sights anyways until I saw how the point-of-aim compared to the point-of-impact with both the factory barrel and then the KKM, because if it’s not acceptable well, I can get the Dawson’s in various heights and could then do the math to figure out the precise sights needed to ensure POI = POA @ 25 yards. So, sights are still to be determined.

As for other things well… we’ll see as I go along.

First Impressions

This is not the first time I’ve handled an M&P, but it’s the first time I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with one. I’ve shot M&P’s before, but it’d maybe be a magazine or two at most. No real ability to spend time with the platform to form deeper impressions.

Note: as of this writing I have not taken the gun to the range. What with Christmas and all, just haven’t had the opportunity.

When I took the gun out of the box, I disassembled, cleaned, and  lubed it. It’s minorly annoying to have to flip the sear lever down, but really no big deal — you just have to remember to do it. I do like that you don’t have to pull the trigger to remove the slide. Comparing the internals to my XD… gee, the M&P comes across a little more flimsy. I mean, it’s not. It still has to be solid to do what it does, but compared to the internals on my XD, especially that Springer trigger bar well… it’s like the XD is a tank. It’s big, chunky, and solid. The M&P is a little more refined, a little more delicate. A bit more like a woman, if you will. Slightly better curves, still rugged and durable, but perhaps not as rock solid. It’s hard to describe without being able to show you, but somehow the M&P just didn’t come across to me as rock solid as my XD.

Maybe part of it is due to the captive guide rod and that spring. It sounds horrible and creeky. There’s a lot of wiggle with the slide. I also noticed a lot of airspace between the bottom of the slide and the frame, thus more wiggle and motion in the slide; but I hear this is a feature of the gun.

Initial dry fire work is of course rough, but I’ve now dry fired it a few hundred times and things are a little smoother. The Apex trigger changes are not as tight as my XD’s trigger. The M&P’s Apex trigger still has some take-up and some overtravel, but the break is nice and really the “work zone” of the trigger isn’t that bad. I’ll have to see how I fare in live fire. But all my dry work and I’m getting used to it.

One big thing I noticed about the M&P some time ago was how my index finger entered the trigger guard and contacted the trigger. Due to the nature of my hands, my finger actually enters the trigger guard at a slight downward angle. The way the XD frame is cut, my finger can and often does rub on the frame and I get a slight “push left” problem with my hits. I don’t get this rub with the M&P because of a slightly slimmer cut and rounding of corners with the M&P frame. Seems to be a good thing with me.

Furthermore, I played around with the backstraps (palm-swell grips). The small is just too small, feels odd, doesn’t leave me enough room to get my left hand on the gun, and causes my index/trigger finger to have too acute an angle when in contact with the trigger. Part of me wants to use the large grip because I have larger hands, but it just feels too bulbous in my palm; as well, it causes too obtuse an angle with my trigger finger, which isn’t good. So the medium grip it is, and in all my dry work so far it does seem to be feeling the best, giving me enough contact with my left hand/palm on the grip, and putting my trigger/index finger at a good angle.

On the grip, the texturing is good. It’s hardly aggressive, fine against the skin (important for against-the-skin IWB carry), but feels like it should hold well. I actually don’t have much experience with the factory texturing because most folks’ M&P’s I’ve shot have some sort of aftermarket additional texturing. Not sure if I’ll do that, we’ll see. The texturing on the front strap is nice, as well as under the trigger guard at the back end of the guard.

So now working the trigger, well… I’m getting used to it. It is a different feel than my XD’s Springer trigger, but it’s not bad. A wee heavier, a little more travel, but a good feel to it. In doing some Wall Drill work, I see my front sight behaving better than it has been with the XD. Yes, equipment matters. But once you find good equipment, leave it alone and focus on other things. Then again, don’t be afraid to revise your equipment if you find something better — I’m not emotionally attached to my gun.

I tried some reloads. Hitting the magazine release button is different. I feel like I have to stretch my thumb to hit it, but I don’t really have to stretch as much as I think. There’s just something about the ergonomics vs. the XD that is different enough that it feels strange to me. But I can still hit the button solidly and fine. At least, in dry practice… we’ll see how it goes under live fire with a timer.

On reloads, I noticed there’s not much flaring to the magwell. But, the opening to the magwell is huge. I did a bunch of Burkett Reloads and well, I’ll need more work on this because it’s just different. The magazines themselves feel weird in my hand because the baseplate has that big “toe”.  10-8 Performance has replacement basepads which I may consider getting, but I need more time with the factory mags first. I do like how things feed and seat tho… the system rolls better and just glides nicely when reloading. When reloading, the general rule is to look at the “bottom” edge of the magwell  (the edge closest to the ground); but I’m finding if instead I look at the “front” edge of the magwell (the frontstrap) and aim the tip of my index finger at that point, I’ll do better at getting the mag into the well instead of half-jammed on one of the sides of the well and fail to cleanly enter. Just something about the big opening and how my eyes/brain are perceiving things.

I will say I don’t like the magazine’s witness holes being on the sides of the magazine. I like how they’re on the back of XD mags so I can just look at the back of the mag to see how many rounds I have. On the M&P mags I’ll always have to check both sides of the magazine to determine how many rounds are in the magazine; minor thing, but it is inefficient.

Again, the factory sights aren’t horrible. Yes, immediately black out the rear dots. These aren’t what I’m used to, but they do seem to be better than a lot of other factory sights. At least the front post isn’t totally filling up the rear notch — there is airspace on the sides! Again, I’m going to stick with the factory for a while and see how it goes.

The more I hold it, the better it feels in my hand. I go back to holding my XD and it feels like I’m holding a brick. Again, it’s minor things about the frame styling, curves, rounding and so on. But yet, holding the two guns side by side against each other and they’re almost the same dimensions — the M&P actually slightly longer. It’s not size, it’s cut. So interesting.

Anyways, that’s about the extent of my initial impressions from looking at it, lots of fondling, lots of dry work. The more I handle it, the more I like it. The real question will be how I perform with it. I hope to get to the range soon. My plan is at least 500 rounds flawlessly through it before I will carry it (tho I expect the first 100 rounds may have excusable hiccups). This also includes at least 50 rounds of my carry ammo (Gold Dot 124 +P). I want to shoot it off a rest to see how it groups at 25 yards (both my 9mm reload practice ammo and carry ammo). Then do a bunch of tests and drills. See how my times (overall and splits) are with Bill Drills. See how I run the FAST test. The 3 Seconds or Less drill. Whatever. Enough drills to 1. get enough rounds through it to break it in and ensure she’s not having problems, 2. see how it performs (e.g. grouping), 3. see how I perform with it. Will probably bring the XD as well and do some side-by-side comparisons.

More to report later.

Updated: A couple more observations.

The M&P lacks a cocking indicator, whereas the XD has one. Frankly, this is fine. I haven’t done a comparison of the internals of the XD vs. the M&P, but generally speaking less dohickies means simpler engineering. The simpler something is, the less likely for things to break or something to go wrong and cause problems. Simple is good.

To that end as well, I like the M&P’s “loaded chamber indicator”. It’s just a small hole at the top/back of the barrel. See a glint of brass or nickel? It’s loaded (or at least, there’s a case in the chamber). Whereas on the XD, it’s a little dohicky that protrudes up when the chamber has a case in it. That’s the little piece of metal, a pin, and a spring… vs., a hole. The hole is simpler, no moving parts; in fact, no parts at all. Granted, the XD’s cocking indicator and loaded chamber indicator have the advantage of providing tactile feedback, so you can note things in the dark or without looking at the gun, and there is merit and value in that approach.  But over my years with the XD I really haven’t needed either. But then again, who knows: now that I don’t have them, will I miss them? Perhaps I did appreciate them being there without realizing it?

And yes, the word of the day is “dohicky”.

Updated 2: My MTAC holster came in. I set it up just like my current MTAC (for the XD) and tried some dry work with things. The beavertail on the M&P pokes into my side fat *sigh*, and there’s some little rough edges on the frame that scratch my skin. I haven’t fully pinpointed the locations, but I figure some fine sandpaper on a couple spots to eliminate manufacturing seams will help. No big deal, all really just a matter of getting used to it and it being different from what I’m used to. Plus, on my regular MTAC I’ve cut the tails of the clips off, the bottom edge of the leather backing, and other minor fitting things to help it better fit and work with me; the M&P MTAC is brand new and I’m not going to cut it up until I’m settled with it.

Otherwise, draw and other ergonomics are really about the same. Had no problems working stuff and it all still felt natural, save again for the fact the MTAC is new and a little stiff.

Itching to go to the range. 🙂

Updated 3: More dry work. I’m finding I like the factory sights. Again, these aren’t just “slot filler” sights but those Novak sights. All too often the front sight post is as wide as the rear sight notch, but not so here (I need to get out some calipers and measure). The front sight is a little wider than I like and the notch is filled a little more than I’d like, but it’s still a lot better than most factory sights. The fact the rear sight has a “hook” of sorts to facilitate one-handed manipulations is nice too. I did of course black out the rear sight dots, and the white on the front dot isn’t too bad tho if I keep these I am likely to get some red florescent model paint to color that dot. Still, I have to get S&W some kudos for having decent factory sights.

Last night made me consider something I hadn’t considered before. See, all these years I carry under a shirt. If I had to wear a suit jacket, things that are OWB like my spare magazine get put into a pocket. Last night I wore semi-OWB, with my mag pouch out and while my gun was IWB I tucked everything in behind it so if I took my jacket off you’d see the gun. And then of course, jacket over. Since OWB-style and “just an jacket” cover garment is new to me, I’m VERY aware of what I’m doing and trying to not expose anything. And so last night I realized another nice thing about the M&P — the magazines are black. By comparison, the XD magazines are bright and shiny. Flat black does a lot less to attract attention.

10 thoughts on “The M&P, First Impressions

  1. Will be very interested to see how yours performs on the range 😉 And how you find the KKM barrel. I carry the same ammo – and it’s consistently grouped best in my M&P (don’t know if it’s the JHP, or the fact that the bullet is really cooking out of there vs. practice ammo… or both)…

    • Your experiences are one of many regarding the poor grouping. Which reminds me that I probably should pick up some additional ammo brands to see if mine has the same “ammo pickiness” that yours did.

      Ultimately, I want it to group well with my carry ammo, and group acceptably with my handloads. Other ammo well, not going to sweat it as much but hopefully it’ll at least group respectably with whatever I feed it. Carry ammo matters most tho.

  2. Good write-up. I really like my M&P but it doesn’t group well at 25 yards, I suspect most of it is due to my inability to hit well at that distance. I’m curious how the KKM barrel performs for you compared to the factory barrel.

    • It could be you or it could be the gun. Again, I’ve heard MORE than enough stories from folks I know and respect about their M&P and grouping performance, and there’s lots of reports online too. I kinda hope I’m one of the lucky ones and won’t need the KKM barrel. We’ll see how it goes and certainly I’ll report back.

  3. Nice review, John. I’ll be interested to see if your example auto-forwards and what your opinion will be if it does.

    • It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’ve also not loaded any ammo in it (not real, until I get to the range; and I’ve been too lazy to dig my dummies out).

      Frankly I hope it doesn’t… or if it does, I’m not going to use it. It’s not a mechanism (bug or feature) that I wish to count on.

      I can say this. You know how every new gun you buy comes with a little envelope that contains a case from a test firing at the factory? Mine was dated just a few weeks ago, so it’s a very new gun. If in fact the auto-forward is a bug, it’ll be curious to see if it’s “fixed” in this gun. I can say trying to thumb the slide lock to release the slide is VERY difficult.

      • I have two examples. I think they are both dated August of this year. With administrative loading they auto-forward about 50% of the time. When training, however, whether live or dry (with dummy rounds), they auto-forward 99% of the time. With my secondary it was nearly impossible to release the slide with the slide lock. It’s gotten a bit easier with use, but to be honest I almost always use the hand-over-slide method, so it doesn’t get used that much.

        During the Paul Howe class I took in October, my primary M&P auto-forwarded every single reload. There were some grumblings about my (uncharacteristically) fast times in the standards that included a speed reload. Paul stated that he manipulates the slide everytime, even if that results in ejecting a live round that auto-forwarded. I think that is sound advice.

        After a decade of running 1911’s with 8-rnd magazines I have developed a habit of seating magazines with authority, and perhaps the angle that I’m used to exacerbates the issue. To be honest, running a 1911 has instilled in me the need to confirm that there is no FTRB after every single reload, so I’m not too bothered by the auto-forwarding due to my constant diagnostic checks of the pistol’s condition. YMMV.

        • I don’t thumb the slide lock to drop the slide (reach over the top, horseshoe method). I did want to just try it to see how it performed. I was surprised how stiff and difficult it was. But despite that stiffness they still auto-forward on you. Interesting, but I guess not surprising when you think about the mechanics.

          But yes, I will still strive to rack the slide even if there is an auto-forward. The thing is, auto-forwarding doesn’t always happen (bug or feature) so it’s not something I want to count on. Plus, what happens if I use a gun that doesn’t auto-forward and I build my habits around assuming auto-forward? Not good. And you know… it’s “tap, rack, bang” not “tap, assume it went forward, bang”…. so let’s keep building consistent muscle memory. So yes, I’ll strive to always rack it even if it means losing a round. Heck, this is 17+1 whereas my XD was 16+1 so I didn’t need that extra round anyways. 😉

  4. Pingback: The M&P, second impressions « Stuff From Hsoi

  5. Pingback: The M&P, Third Impressions « Stuff From Hsoi

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